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Archive for January, 2010

Obama Ain’t All That Bright

One of the recurring themes surrounding the anointed one’s campaign and presidency has been his towering intellect. Never in the history of man have we seen such a genius, such a brain, and such a capacity for sagacity. His acolytes would have you believe that he combines the intellectual wattage of Aristotle, Einstein, and Hawkings and yet can still shoot hoops and drink a beer with the boys. He’s a legend among men, a veritable man become god.

Well, after the state of the union address the other night, I can tell you it just isn’t so. He’s not that smart, and there’s plenty of evidence for that assertion.

First, he’s a lawyer. Or at least he has a law degree.  I have a law degree, and have practiced law for the past eighteen years. I have seen a wide variety of practitioners and judges, I’ve read Supreme Court opinions, and listened to innumerable lecturers during continuing education classes. After all this time, I have come to a number of conclusions. One is that Warren Burger was right when he claimed that most of the lawyers who appeared in front of the supreme court were unqualified to be there. I would extend his criticism to the local level.  Another is that most, if not all, of the lawyers I have known, are average minds.  Even those justices touted as great aren’t geniuses; they’re merely adept at using a particular language, which to the layman appears highly complex.

Secondly, he just doesn’t understand the people’s reaction to his health care proposals. During the state of the union address, he said, “I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people.” Follow me on this. The problem, according to him, is that we’re not smart enough to understand it. If only he had explained it better, we’d understand how wonderful it is! There are a couple of problems with this. First is the implicit assumption on his part that we’re too stupid to understand it. He understands it, and sees it as a failure to “dumb it down” enough for us. Perhaps it is more correct to say we do understand it, and reject it. Second, he feels we’re pretty stupid not to go along with Obamacare.   He said, “the process left most Americans wondering, “What’s in it for me?”” If only he had explained that there was something in it for us, like there was for Mary Landrieu or Ben Nelson.

Third, he doesn’t understand the constitution as well as one might expect for a law professor. Which could go to show that law professors aren’t all that sharp, either. But in this case, he misstated the effect of a Supreme Court decision so badly that Justice Alito was seen to mouth the words, “not true,” during the state of the union address. Obama said, “the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests –- including foreign corporations –- to spend without limit in our elections.” What he fails to realize is that the decision in question leaves untouched numerous federal laws that prohibit foreign corporations from contributing to campaigns. Or perhaps he does realize it, and like FDR, is using populist rhetoric in an attempt to force the court to hew to his marching orders.

The funniest part of his screed against the court is his statement that, “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.” He, of course, had no complaints when George Soros (nee Schwartz) spent 25 million to defeat Bush. He didn’t complain either about the powerful interests that donated vast sums to his campaign, like the University of California, bundler of 1.5 million, or GoldmanSachs, an investment firm, that bundled 1 million. Other banking concerns that donated to Obama were Citigroup ($700,000), JPMorganChase ($700,000), and MorganStanley ($500,000).

I just can’t buy that he is some sort of genius. Genius is in short supply in the world, and it very rarely wastes itself on becoming a lawyer or politician.

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Max Baucus and Great Legislation

It was reported in today’s Tribune that the U.S. Senate has rejected the plan proposed by the anointed one that would have created a budget commission. This budget commission would have required the Senate to approve the commission’s budget recommendation in it’s entirety, or to disapprove it totally. The senate rightly decided that this was a poor proposition, that would have divested the senate of its discretion and its responsibility on budgetary matters.

I had to laugh, though, when the gasbag from Montana, Max Baucus, was quoted in regard to this matter. He said, “Bureaucrats do not enact great legislation, senators do. ” Which, of course, spurred me to take a look at one of my favorite web sites, http://thomas.loc.gov/. This is the very informative web site run by the Library of Congress, that reports on legislative matters. So, in the interest of finding out about great legislation, I went to thomas, and queried bills sponsored by Sen. Baucus during the last year or so. Let’s take a look.

S.RES.57 : A resolution designating the first week of April 2009 as “National Asbestos Awareness Week.”

S.450 : A bill to understand and comprehensively address the oral health problems associated with methamphetamine use.

S.1823 : A bill to renew the temporary suspension of duty on certain footwear.

S.1824 : A bill to extend the temporary suspension of duty on lug bottom boots for use in fishing waders.

S.1826 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on certain glass snow globes.

S.1827 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on certain glass polyresin magnets.

S.1828 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on certain metal key chains with acrylic mini-globes.

S.1829 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on certain acrylic snow globes

S.1928 : A bill to extend and modify the temporary suspension of duty on golf bag bodies made of woven fabrics of nylon or polyester sewn together with pockets, and dividers or graphite protectors, accompanied with rainhoods.

I was unaware that we had a veritable Solon in our midst. When the history of the 20th and 21st centuries is written many years from now, I am certain that Max Baucus’ great legislative contributions to the snow globe industry will be featured prominently, right next to his belated appreciation of the dangers of asbestos and golf bags with rainhoods.

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Census Bureau Racism

January 26, 2010 1 comment

Time magazine has reported that certain black activists are objecting to the use of the word “negro” in the 2010 census.  I am curious as to whether these are the same black activists who rushed to forgive Harry Reid for using that very same word? Apparently, I was right, you can buy the right to be a racist.

Just as an aside, am I taking the moral high ground to refuse to donate to the NAACP because of their flagrant use of the word “negro?”

The Census Bureau is also making fifteen other changes to their race-based portion of the decennial enumeration. You can now hyphenate to your heart’s content. One of the possible changes the Census is testing during the 2010 count is allowing respondents to check more than one box not just for race but for Hispanic origin as well. And finally, the Bureau is pondering whether to allow people to explain their “whiteness” more fully.

I fully applaud these changes. Finally, I will be able to express to the bureaucrats my self-identification as a white-black-asian-hispanic pangean. I have to admit, however, to being confused by some of the questions. For example, question number eight asks whether the person is of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin. If one answers it yes, one is then asked to further delineate his origins. In the list that follows, Spaniard is 11th. Mexican is3rd, and Mexican–American is fourth.

If I were a Spaniard, I would be highly annoyed. All the other Hispanic ethnicities mentioned exist only because of the Spanish bravery, curiosity, intelligence, and drive that led them to the new world. The fact that Mexico, central, and south America identify as Hispanic is a tribute to the country that was in the vanguard of civilizing the western hemisphere. To list them as eleventh is an insult.

The note that follows is, as Alice might have said, curiouser and curiouser. It directs you to answer both question eight, about Hispanic origin, and question nine, about race. It also goes on to state that Hispanic origins are not races. It then lists thirteen separate categories of race, plus space to write in some other subset of a couple of them. It is interesting to note that white is a race, without subdivision, as is black. If, however, you are asian, you can be asian-indian, Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Thai, etc.   Oddly enough, you can even be Pakistani and be considered asian. Likewise, if you are from the pacific island region, you can be Hawaiian, Chamorro, Tongan, Samoan, etc.

So, if I understand the government’s reasoning, a Hmong from Viet Nam differs in race from a Vietnamese person, but a Norwegian is indistinguishable from a Sicilian in racial terms. So, as I understand it, a Spaniard is ethnically different from a Greek, but racially they are the same. A Fijian is ethnically the same, but racially different from a Tongan?

I wish I could remember who it was that decried the coming “balkanization” of America, but it seems closer every day.  The official rationale for needing this information? “Race is key to implementing many federal laws… State governments use the data to determine congressional, state, and local voting districts. Race data are also used…to plan and obtain funds for public services.” State government uses the data to determine congressional districts? Like, let’s redraw this district to capture the black vote for x party? What shocks me is not that politicians play the race game for their own nefarious ends; what shocks and saddens me is that they announce it openly, and no one objects or revolts.

In a country where the election of a black man was hailed as a harbinger of a post-racial spring, I find the governments insistence on racial classification offensive and counterproductive.

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Surely You Jest?

Unless you’ve been in hiding recently, you’re probably aware of the flap over Trijicon, the maker of sights for weapons. Apparently, Trijicon has been placing chapter and verse bible citations on their products, right after the serial number. The markings include references like “JN8:12,” and “2COR4:6.” Trijicon, a defense contractor from Michigan, makes what are, perhaps, the finest optical targeting systems around. They are used by military, police, and civilians around the world, and the owners have been putting the inscriptions on for thirty years.

Along comes New Zealand, which has a long-standing practice of preventing U.S. nuclear warships from visiting the country, and decides to remove the inscriptions from their soldiers’ sights. The New Zealand defense force has determined that the inscriptions are “inappropriate.” They will, of course, continue using the sights after the offending numbers are removed, because “they are the best of their kind.” The New Zealanders have about 260 of the devices.

I am embarrassed to repeat the reason the Kiwis gave for this action. Defense Minister Wayne Mapp said with New Zealand soldiers in Muslim countries, the Bible references could be misconstrued. “We all know of the religious tensions around this issue and it’s unwise to do anything that could be seen to raise tensions in an unnecessary way,” he said.

I am almost speechless with the number of responses to such pusillanimous cavilling. The first thing that springs to mind is the excessive sensitivity displayed by the bureaucrats. They have no objection to using a device that makes it easier and more efficient to kill people, but they don’t want to offend anyone, especially the target, while doing so.

The second thing is the exquisite delicacy of the New Zealanders. They are aware of the “religious tensions” around this issue. Do they mean the tensions involved when our enemies blow up buildings here, there, anywhere? Do they mean the tensions involved when our enemies cut off the heads of journalists? Do they mean the tensions when our muslim enemies kill men, women, and children indiscriminately in the name of their god?

I am curious to know if the New Zealanders are aware of the religious tensions attendant in a war against a politico-religious movement that seeks to subdue the world under their vision of a 14th century theocracy?

The Kiwis’ concerns seem, well, a little disproportionate, to say the least. Perhaps they would do well to remember that the purpose of a war is, after all, to kill your enemy. As General George Patton put it, “No-one ever won a war by dying for his country. They won it by making some other sonofabitch die for his country.” It seems a little foolish to say “I’m here to kill you, but please don’t take it personally.”

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Garrison Keillor’s Mind, R.I.P.

I was distressed this morning when I read my daily paper. The Chicago Tribune carries what purports to be opinion pieces by Garrison Keillor. After reading today’s column, I can only conclude that he has finally twisted free of the last grasp of sanity.

Today, in addition to insulting tea drinkers, whatever their political persuasion, he also manages to insult cruise takers. He then goes on to accuse the right, i.e. anyone right of center politically, of being paranoid and suffering hallucinations. The right, he says, spends time ganging up and waving their arms, instead of sitting around drinking coffee and reading “reliable” newspapers.

He then goes on to claim that the health care bill is murky, and likely to strike people as dangerous or unreliable. He claims that the bill is an “intricate web of compromises” created for the benefit of the republican senators. Who, by the way, are all “demagogues,” conveniently forgetting that the democrats are the demagogues in power.

Keillor puts me in mind of a grandfather. The slightly crazy, slightly creepy grandfather character that embarrasses us all. Slightly deaf, he makes his rude, racist, and anti-catholic remarks loudly enough to be overheard, while those around him shush him and apologize for him. Years ago, I am told, some people considered him funny. I admit, I was not among them. I just found him to be a long-winded gasbag.  Now I find him to be a long-winded gasbag who is rude and foolish.

He suggests that churches have been silent on the issue of Obamacare. He is woefully ignorant, then, of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has been one of its leading advocates. Not to mention that the Catholic Church has been “tending the sick” for quite some time.

Keillor fills his column with personal attack, personal and group insults, and in general, acrimonious agitprop.  He despairs of finding common sense, then calls senator-elect Brown (R-MA) a bozo, Rudy Guiliani an empty helmet, while at the same time canonizing Harry Reid as the gentlest soul in congress.

Keillor isn’t opinion page material.  He is a loud-mouthed, angry buffoon. I’m sorry for his lapse into senility.

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What if they’re right?

I was thinking the other day about Kenya, Indonesia, and Obama, and an interesting question came to mind. Suppose, for a moment, that all the “birthers” are right. Since the anointed one is the only one who can disprove the birthers’ contentions, and has yet to do so, there is a material question of fact. As a matter of fact, the anointed one has refused to release any records of interest, making him the most unknown president in history. But in any case, suppose they are right, and the public elected Barry Soetero of Indonesia as president.

Aside from the political and societal implications of such an event, I was struck by a more pragmatic question. If it turns out that Barry was (is) ineligible to hold the office, what becomes of the laws, regulations, and orders issued during his “term?”

There is, at least in some areas of the law, a difference between acts that are “void,” and those that are “voidable.” If, for example, a man gets married before divorcing his current wife, that makes him a bigamist. If he then procures a divorce from the first wife, in the two states I am familiar with, the second marriage is valid, but the wife can have it declared void. The presumption is, however, that the marriage is valid. At least, this is what I remember from my years in law school more than three lustrum ago. There are some acts that are, by their very nature, void from the start.

What of the laws passed during an invalid Barry Soetero presidency? Would they be void or voidable? I suspect that either way, the practical effect would be the same. Entire apparati (apparatuses?) would have to be dismantled. None of the regulations could be enforced; perhaps even his appointments would be undone. The country would be in upheaval.

I’m not really sure of the ultimate outcome of such an event coming to pass. But it sure is an interesting gedanken, yes?

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Enough Kvetching already!

The drum beats over Benedict XVI and Pius XII have been quiet lately. The visit by Benedict to the Great Synagogue of Rome is over, and the Jews have been largely silent in the US media about it. The problem is this. The constant harping by the Jews that the Vatican didn’t do enough, and the harping by the anti-Catholics in the media that the Vatican was somehow complicit, has left the impression that the Church was in league with the nazi regime. Like many stories, the truth is something entirely different.

Let’s look at the facts:

On January 11th, Reuters reported that a group of American Jews attending a “Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants” planned this week to petition Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, to decry Benedict’s December 19 decision to declare Pope Pius XII “Venerable” and set him on the road to canonization as a Catholic saint.

The petition reads in part: “The group appeals to you to convey our pain and emotion to Pope Benedict when he is received by you at the main synagogue on Sunday… Truth and memory must be vigorously affirmed. The historical record of Pius’s silence during the period of Nazi barbarism against the Jewish people is a signal of moral failure. Our repeated pleas that Vatican assertions that Pius acted to save Jewish lives be documented through the opening of relevant archives have been met with silence.”

There are four issues involved here. The first is the demand to convey their “pain and emotion” to the Pontiff. I’m all for pain and emotion, as anyone who knows me will affirm. But in the context of a historical investigation, they are useless to reaching a conclusion.

The second issue I almost agree with. Truth and memory are both valuable, but we must not sacrifice truth to memory, no matter how vigorously affirmed. Truth is the ultimate defense, not memory.

The third and fourth issues raised by the petition are the crux of the matter.  Was Pius silent, and are the archives dealing with that issue available? Let’s find out.

In November 1945, a large group of Jewish survivors came to the Vatican, specifically “to thank His Holiness personally for the extraordinary generosity which he had shown them when they were persecuted during the frightful period of Nazi-Fascism.” (Angelic Shepherd: the Life of Pope Pius XII, by Jan Olav Smit, New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1950, p. 154)

When Pius XII died in 1958, the Jewish community hailed his wartime leadership, above all because he did “speak out.” Golda Meir, then Israel’s Foreign Minister, reacted with this tribute: “We share in the grief of humanity at the passing away of His Holiness, Pope Pius XII. In a generation afflicted by wars and discords, he upheld the highest ideals of peace and compassion. When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised in compassion for the victims.”(Reuters, October 10,1958)

In his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus (October, 1939), in his Christmas addresses, in his radio appeals, in his allocution to the College of Cardinals on June 2, 1943, Pius XII condemned race-based murder, and came to the clear, public defense of European Jews.

On October 1, 1942, the Times of London editorialized: “A study of the words which Pope Pius XII has addressed since his accession in encyclicals and allocutions to the Catholics of various nations leaves no room for doubt. He condemns the worship of force and its concrete manifestation in the suppression of national liberties and in the persecution of the Jewish race.”

Charles Pichon described Pius XII’s wartime addresses succinctly: “The pontifical texts condemned most strongly the anti-Semitic persecutions, the oppression of invaded lands, the inhuman conduct of the war, and also the deification of the Race, the State and the Class.” (The Vatican and its Role in World Affairs, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1950, p. 167)

In reaction to his 1942 Christmas address, the Nazis themselves, furious about Pius XII’s public stand, railed: “That this speech is directed exclusively against the New Order in Europe as seen in National Socialism is clear in the Papal statement that mankind owes a debt to ‘all who during the war have lost their Fatherland and who, although personally blameless have, simply on account of their nationality and origin, been killed or reduced to utter destitution.’ Here he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice towards the Jews, and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals.” (The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators, 1922-1945, by Anthony Rhodes, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973, p.273).

Similar examples of Pius’s anti-Nazi, pro-Jewish statements are found in the wartime issues of the Palestine Post, the New York Times, the Tablet of London and the Jewish press of various countries.

Among the first to refute the allegations against Pius was Robert M. W. Kempner, the Deputy Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg and a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s genocide. Having mastered the “relevant archives,” he exposed the false allegation that Pius XII was silent, and that he failed to protest Hitler’s unspeakable crimes: “The archives of the Vatican, of the diocesan authorities and of Ribbentrop’s Foreign Ministry contain a whole series of protests – direct and indirect, diplomatic and public, secret and open.” (Hungarian Jewry and the Papacy: Pius XII was Not Silent, by Jeno Levai, London: Sands and Company, p. X).

As for the claim that the Vatican is holding back key documents regarding Pius’s actions, from 1965-1981, the Holy See published 12 thick volumes of wartime documents (Actes et Documents), four of which deal with the Holy See’s humanitarian assistance alone. Father Robert Graham, one of the 12-volume collection’s editors, describes their importance: “They embrace every imaginable form of activity to help stricken mankind without discrimination.” I wonder how many of the various Jewish groups that complain about the Pope, have ever consulted or read these volumes, or indeed, are even aware of their existence?

As Dimitri Cavalli showed, in his article, “The Good Samaritan: Jewish Praise for Pope Pius XII,” originally published in Inside the Vatican (October, 2000), Actes and Documents, as well as the Jewish wartime press, chronicle and record Pius XII’s extraordinary efforts on behalf of persecuted Jews, and the Jewish community’s extremely high praise of him.

The War Refugee Board knew of the key role the Vatican played. In his final Summary Report (September 15, 1945), Executive Director John H. Pehle wrote: “The Holy See and the Vatican hierarchy throughout Europe were solicited time and again for special assistance both as a channel of communication to the leaders and people of enemy territory, and as a means of rendering direct aid to suffering victims of Hitler. The Catholic clergy saved and protected many thousands and the Vatican rendered invaluable assistance to the Board and to the persecuted in Nazi hands.” (Cited in “Relations of Pius XII and the Catholic Community and Jewish Organizations,” by Father Robert A. Graham, S.J., in The Italian Refuge: Rescue of Jews During the Holocaust, edited by Ivo Herzer, Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1989, p. 232)

Among Pius XII’s acts was the establishment of the Pontifical Relief Commission, and the Vatican Information Office. The first distributed massive amounts of food, medicine and clothing to people of all creeds and nationalities, throughout war-torn Europe; the second fielded millions of wartime inquiries, on prisoners of war and other missing or displaced people, helping re-unite countless desperate families. In 2004, the Vatican, adding to the abundance of material in Actes et Documents, released over 1,500 pages of new documentation on this extraordinary agency, showing the depth and breath of Pius XII’s creation. Some of Pius XII’s interventions for Jews was so great that it actually stirred complaints from others who believed Pius had a “preference” for them (“Pius XII’s Aid to Jews was so Great that it Stirred Protests,” Zenit News Agency, July 4, 2004. In a sense, that was true: those most at risk garnered Pius’s most immediate attention.

A prime example of the Pope’s concerted efforts on behalf of Jews occurred during the German Occupation of Rome (Sept. 1943-June, 1944), as Michael Tagliacozzo  has documented. Tagliacozzo, a Roman Jew who was himself a survivor of the Nazi roundup of Rome’s Jews in 1943, and the outstanding authority on that event, has testified that Pius XII “was the only one who intervened to impede the deportation of Jews on October 16, 1943, and he did very much to hide and save thousands of us. It was no small matter that he ordered the opening of cloistered convents. Without him, many of our own would not be alive.” (“Jewish Historian Praises Pius XII’s Wartime Conduct,” Zenit News Agency, October 26, 2000

So we see, by even this cursory glance, that the group of Jews petitioning the rabbi to treat the Pope poorly are wrong. Flat out, unmistakably, nakedly wrong. I believe that this is the end result of years of propaganda designed to instill the belief that World War II was, somehow, “jewish-centric.”

Those claiming that memory must be affirmed would do well to remember the words of Isaac Herzog, the chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, in 1944: “The people of Israel will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion which form the very foundations of true civilization, are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters in this most tragic hour of history, which is living proof of divine providence in this world.” (February 28, 1944, Actes et Documents, volume X, pp. 291-292).

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