Sunday, January 14, 2007

The beast is starving -- except that it isn't a beast

"Starve the beast" has been the slogan of tax-cutting conservatives for decades. Starting with the Reagan administration, they have attempted to reduce the capability of government to do anything by cutting off its revenue sources through tax cuts. And in this, they have been sucessful.

And those conservatives now regret it. President Bush is planning to send a few tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq, despite the fact that nobody really believes that such a small increment will do any good. Why not send more? Well, even if there were still popular support for the war, there aren't any troops to send. And there isn't the money to enlarge the military. Why? The sucess of the tax cuts. They worked.

I do not gloat over this situation. President Bush has no capability to do anything about the real dangers like the actions of the current government of Iran. He seems to have bought the idea that forcing Israel to make peace with the Palestinians will solve a substantial part of the problems of the middle east. It won't, partly because the Palestinians don't want peace (look who won their last election) and partly because the problems in Iraq and Lebanon would still be there even if Israel were to disappear tomorrow.

The conservatives have been successful. And for that we all lose.

And I haven't even begun to enumerate the tremendous domestic problems for which government might be able to contribute to a solution.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

First Muslim in Congress is more American than Dennis Prager or Virgil Goode

Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim ever elected to serve in the US Congress, has chosen to be sworn in using a copy of a translation of the Koran that was once owned by Thomas Jefferson:

Mr. Jefferson's ancestors arrived in Virginia in the 17th century. Mr. Jefferson himself wrote the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Jefferson separated Church and State in Virginia and campaigned for a degree of separation (he originated the term "wall") that the ACLU would approve of today. I think that Congressman Ellison is teaching America a lot by using Mr. Jefferson's Koran. It is a history and civics lesson that Mr. Prager and Congressman Goode could use.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Jewish Press, Jonathan Pollard, and Presidential Candidates

The Jewish Press made two factual errors in its recent editorial calling for Presidential candidates to be asked to do something regarding the plight of Jonathan Pollard:

The first excerpt is blatant:

"Mr. Pollard is the only person in U.S. history to have received a life sentence, or anything even approaching it, for spying on behalf of an American ally."

To the contrary, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for spying for the Soviet Union at the time that it was an ally during World War II.

UPDATE: The below is not accurate. See for a retraction.

The second is more subtle. The assumption of the editorial writers is that there is in fact something that a President can do to release Pollard from prison. In fact, by current regulations having the force of law, Pollard must take the first step and apply for parole or clemency. AFAIK he has never done so despite the fact that he has been eligible for parole for over 10 years. An excerpt from the clemency regulations:

"A person seeking executive clemency by pardon, reprieve, commutation of sentence, or remission of fine shall execute a formal petition."

The entire regulations are at

And from the parole regulations:

"Everyone except those committed under juvenile delinquency procedures who wish to be considered for parole must complete a parole application."


It is clear that barring a change in statuatory law to repeal the current regulations, or an attempt by the President to change the regulations to allow clemency or parole to someone who does not ask for it, Jonathan Pollard must take the first step in the process if he is not to spend the rest of his life in prison. Without that, no President can help him.

Rabbi Boteach and US history

Rabbi Shumuley Boteach gives former President Jimmy Carter a well-deserved bashing in his recent Jewish Press article:

But one sentence in his essay goes over the top:

"It would not be a stretch to say that Jimmy Carter was arguably the most hapless president in all American history, and indeed most presidential historians rate him at or near the very bottom of the list."

While nobody considers Carter to have been a successful President, his ranking by presidential historians ranges from 19 to 34 (out of 43). That isn't great, but he isn't at the very bottom:

His consensus ranking is a tie for 27th with Gerald Ford!

Regarding haplessness, Rabbi Boteach should read up on the administrations of Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Andrew Johnson -- the incompetance of the first two precipitated the American Civil war, and that of the latter resulted in a failed reconstruction and many of the difficulties the US faced in the 20th century. Only Harding ranks lower in the historians' consensus.

Or, even worse, cry a bit regarding the deer in the headlights paralysis of the current president, who doesn't seem to have a clue as to what to do in Iraq. His last press conference was downright depressing. Bush's consensus ranking, currently a mediocre 22nd, will probably drop as the consequences of the Iraq war sink in over time and are considered by history. But there is a big gap between Ford and Carter, and the 29th place President (Hoover) and all below him. I doubt Bush will ever drop below Hoover, whose (in)action precipitated the Great Depression.