Shouting 'Cross the Potomac

barstool philosopher,
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but never a Monday morning quarterback

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Saturday, June 29, 2002

QP Saturday

Will Vehrs
What a week. It started with President Bush's speech on the Middle East and I was sure his dismissal of Arafat would dominate the news for days. It's almost been forgotten now that the Supremes and the Ninth Circuit have spoken, now that even more corporate malfeasance has oozed from the balance sheets. The Sunday talk shows are going to be another feast for Punditwatch.

I wanted to make one small comment on the Supreme Court case allowing drug testing of the high school choir, debate team, and Future Farmers of America. Many have claimed that this population is least likely to do drugs, so it is punitive to test them as if they were "guilty." How naive. I suspect that many of the kids that we think are doing well because they're in extracurricular activities are in fact trying/using drugs. Drug use by these kids is more pernicious than use by the slacker population; it can lead to the dangerous perception that everyone can use drugs and still function at a high level.

On a lighter note, I thought I could ignore Dodd's Caption Contest, but somehow it has pulled me back into its clutches. This week's winner is a first-timer--quite a feat. I wonder how she found the contest. There were good entries from JulieC and Dan, a snide entry from "Rags," and my underappreciated literary entries, featuring W. B. Yeats and Catherine Millet. It's amazing that next week's contest will mark one year of hilarity. That's worthy of a blog lifetime achievement award.

Friday, June 28, 2002


Will Vehrs
As much as I disagree with the Pledge of Allegiance ruling, I disagree more with Judge Alfred T. Goodwin's gutless stay of his own order finding the pledge unconstitutional. Judicial independence is a fundamental concept. By issuing the stay so quickly after the firestorm erupted, the Judge has set a terrible precendent--it's possible to roll the judiciary immediately, not in the usual "follow the election returns" manner. No matter how much we disagree with a court's ruling, it's the law until it is overturned or affirmed by the last appeal process. Sure, the stay was a valid procedural move, but Goodwin obviously made it under pressure. If a judge can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Goodwin should resign.

The threats and vile messages that the plaintiff in the Pledge case, Dr. Newdow, have received are disgusting and unworthy of our political processes, but they are a part and parcel of "liberty and justice for all." Free speech isn't pretty and the language in the messages on Dr. Newdow's isn't any worse than in the rap lyrics that so many ardently defend. If the plaintiff can't stand the heat, he, too, should get out of the kitchen. Let's be honest here--he wanted attention. No second grader is "harmed" by saying the pledge. He is an atheism advocate--nothing wrong with that--but he had to know he was going against some pretty strong advocates on the other side.

E. J. Dionne, Jr., as usual, has a very thoughtful commentary on the Pledge flap, in today's Washington Post. An excerpt:

There is only one viable principle for upholding the reference to God in the pledge. It would assert that we need to strike a balance between the rights of believers and the rights of nonbelievers. That means that the public arena should not be godless, but neither should it be dominated by religion.

Politicians are angry with the two judges not because they are "nuts," but because their unfortunate yet principled decision has forced us to decide explicitly if this is what we really want

I think he frames the issue just right, and I say "under God" recognizes the rights of believers without unduly offending non-believers. The mere mention of "God" does not a religion make.

George Will is unusually passionate about the school voucher decision in today's Washington Post:

The opposition to school choice for the poor is the starkest immorality in contemporary politics. It is the defense of the strong (teachers unions) and comfortable (the middle class, content with its public schools and fretful that school choice might diminish their schools' resources and admit poor children to their schools) against the weak and suffering -- inner-city children. Happily, yesterday, socially disadvantaged children had their best day in court since Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

I want to make it clear that I support vouchers only for economically disadvantaged K-12 students who live in manifestly failing school districts. I don't want this ruling to be a opening for middle or upper class parents to get subsidies for their private school choices. I am even open to considering penalties for school districts, such as those in the Cleveland suburbs, who refuse to honor inner city vouchers. Shouldn't children in well-heeled districts be exposed to "diversity," or do we only support diversity in the abstract, when it's far away and doesn't affect our children?

Thursday, June 27, 2002

Tony Doesn't Do Corporate America Anymore

Tony Adragna
Well Will, I said that there was going to be more problems found in corporate books, but I didn't expect something bigger than Enron. Along comes Worldcom. Go figure.

I think the "accounting scandal" has brought to light a lot of failures. The problems aren't theoretical, though -- they're practical. There really isn't anything intrinsically wrong with the accounting rules, the presence of "highly compensated" individuals, or tax shelters/tax havens. In theory, the way that we run and regulate businesses in the U.S. isn't broken.

What's broken is our focus on "fundamentals". The Enron story is a classic example -- if anybody had bothered to look at Enron's financials, then it would have been quite apparent just how shaky Enron's position was. But, everybody was just looking at the stock value.

Of course, how Enron got there was due to bad corporate governance. Enron didn't have to go down, and probably wouldn't have if the board and senior management hadn't been negligent at their duties.

I do think that congress is headed down the wrong track in proposing a moratorium -- somebody is even proposing an outright ban -- on "expatriation". The problem isn't what the tax code allows. Rather, there's been too much abuse. There's been a lot of confusion on the "off-shore" point, mostly because it's not a black and white issue. Putting money in tax shelters/havens isn't illegal, so long as the primary purpose isn't tax avoidance -- that is, there must be a legitimate business purpose for the transaction.

The reason we see problems with these types of transactions is because people have pushed the ethical envelope, i.e. let's find a way to justify the questionable transaction rather than doing what's unquestionably correct.

Don't even get me started on how it is that CEOs of failed companies walk away with a reward for failure -- some even end up getting hired by other companies. I was definitely happy to hear Honywell's CEO on the tube tonight talking about CEO compensation -- paraphrased: CEOs who fail oughtn't get those sweetheart deals. If the boards who hire these senior managers would adopt the same thinking, then maybe we'll see some change.

The question then is, are there any senior managers up to the task? I think the "No Thanks" story you cite hints at what the answer might be...

The Supremes

Yeah, I went back and looked at that story, and I misrembered the whole damn thing. But, looking at it again, the story did lend some support to my argument on which way Kennedy might go. I do think that the comparison to Chief Justice Warren is apt.

I wanna see the reasoning in the dissent on the school voucher case before I comment on what the 4 did. I do think that the majority decided correctly. Forget about how the numbers work -- just look at an analogy. If these vouchers were unconstitutional, then so would government aid to students at any university run by a church be unconstitutional. Why would it be not OK in k - 12, but OK in higher education?

Hell, students at the seminary I attended -- studying for the priesthood can't be anything but a religious education -- were eligable for federal dollars to help pay tuition. Would the 4 consider this funding an "establishment", and unconstitutional?

I'm still thinking about the "Pledge" -- mixed feelings. The decision is embarrassing, but I've been listening to and reading arguments, and there's merit to the argument that "under God" shouldn't be in the pledge. I don't buy the argument that it's meant as a "neutral" expression -- it's clear from the history that God of the Bible is what was meant. On the other hand, "God" appears in so many other places where we conduct our civic business that we tend not to even notice until somebody takes issue.

What I do object to is everybody questioning Dr. Newdow's patriotism simply because he objects to "under God" in the pledge.

Actually, I object to the pledge itself, but that's another argument...


You know, there was some discussion recently about "Homeland". I don't see it as particularly Germanic. In fact, the first time I heard it I though of the British Home Guard during WWII. "Patriotism", however, gets closer to the German use of "Fatherland" during WWII -- the root of "patriotism" is the Latin word for father.

I'm not suggesting that the people slinging around the word "patriotism" are anything analogous to the NAZIs. But, the way that people who dissent in any way are labled "unpatriotic" in a lot of the rhetorical hyperbole does irk me...

Teach Your Children Well

Will Vehrs
I'm incredibly pleased that the Supremes have upheld Cleveland's school voucher program, though I wish it had been 6-3, not 5-4. A majority is a majority, though.

There's some great commentary about the case on Kevin Holtsberry's site. He's intimately involved with the voucher situation in Ohio.

I hope this decision allows carefully drawn and targeted voucher programs to be established without vicious, obstructive tactics by voucher opponents. As Kevin pointed out, it is disingenuous for opponents to decry the fact that vouchers overwhelmingly go to subsidized sectarian schools while fighting increases in voucher amounts that would allow private non-sectarian alternative schools to be economically viable.

The argument that vouchers take money from public schools seems dishonest. If total per pupil expenditures from all sources are $9000 per child in the public school and a voucher for $2500 is issued from that budgeted amount, the public school is ahead $6500--they get the $6500 and don't have to educate one child. Or don't the numbers work that way?

This Is Rich

Will Vehrs
Pardon the pun. Remember those corporate CEOs, the ones who were so talented and valuable that they needed outlandish pay, stock options, loans, and grand perks to be kept "competitive," lest some other company lure them away?

Well, a front page story on the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) is headlined:

No Thanks
Fearing Scandals, Executives Spurn CEO Job Offers
Lucrative Posts Go Begging As Some Managers Await a Trouble-Free Company

Amazing. These self-proclaimed management gurus are afraid of jobs that might require them to "clean up" a company, or do real, fundamental work to get a company on track.

Inside the WSJ, a great column by Yale Economics Professor Robert J. Shiller, Celebrity CEOs Share the Blame For Street Scandals, provides a useful backdrop to the front page story. Three key excerpts:

Control over corporations shifted away from teams of managers who worked together over long periods of time and towards charismatic visionaries, often recruited from outside the corporation, who focused on increasing the share price above all else. The recruitment process of these "corporate saviors" developed its own celebrity culture, restricting the group of suitable candidates to a small number of people with the star quality to impress the market and boost share price.

This selection and incentive method for top management is a grand social experiment that often turned managers into market manipulators, shifting their focus toward acting out phony new paradigm fantasies, boosting the market price at the expense of real fundamental value, and even occasionally fudging value.

Our selection process for managers needs to put more weight on their experience with and loyalty to the firm, and less on their charisma and celebrity status. Incentive schemes should put far less weight on stock-market performance, and more on peer evaluation of the consistency of the managers' own performance. We will then be left with managers not only less likely to manipulate the books, but also more likely to bring in the real profits that can ultimately support investor confidence

Hear, hear.

Tony, Let's Roll

Will Vehrs
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Funny how people still come to this country to escape religious persecution, despite this onerous establishment of religion.

Funny how a relatively recent "consensus" against executing the retarded is grounds for declaring it unconstitutional, yet a 50 year consensus that a simple statement is acceptable for our children to recite does not pass constitutional muster.

Funny how "Fuck you" gets more protection than "under God."

It's great to be back, Tony, and to have the opportunity to "influence" you, although I wish I'd been the one to encourage you to take the LSAT. I think it's a good move and I wish you well. Please keep us posted. Let Dodd be your inspiration!

Tony, are you sure the rumor was a Justice Kennedy retirement? I heard that it was Rehnquist, with Kennedy lobbying for the Chief's job--as I predicted when we last discussed this ....

Today's Washington Post has Richard Cohen and Mary McGrory criticizing Bush's "Arafat must go" speech, while William Safire at the NYT is enthusiastic. Go figure. I'll let "Zathras" dissect these three fiddlers in The Refuge.

Tony, what's your assessment of the ever-widening corporate ethics "malaise?" Martha Stewart makes an attractive poster child for all this, don't you think?

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Welcome Back, Will!!!

Tony Adragna
I've sorely missed your influence -- temperance is something I'm not known for, and I've hardly been able to restrain myself from stirring a few chamber pots 'roun heah. My post on perjury prompted an email exchange -- a very respectful one, at that (neither of us has called the other stupid) -- with somebody practising civil law. I'll let y'all know how that turns out.

You've been busy since you got back!

You picked up on the retarded Supreme Court decision (pun intended). I think it was unneccesary -- if somebody is competant to stand trial, they ought be also fit for whatever punishment is deemed appropriate to the crime. Let the defense argue "mental retardation" as a mitigating factor, and the jury can decide.

But, I think the decision is defensible on constitutional grounds. Of course the justices cited a public consensus, and that has some people in an uproar over the Court getting involved in "social policy." I don't see how the justices could avoid that charge, though. The Constitution prohibits "cruel and unusual punishment", but the definition of "cruel and unusual" has always been a target that moves with the changes in what society considers acceptable.

I'm more interested in today's 9th Circuit opinion on "God". Sen. Feinstein put her finger right on how I feel about those knuckleheads from our (Diane & me) "hometown" -- the decision is embarrassing. But, before everybody blames those "liberals", I think it only proper to recognize that one half of the majority in that decision was a Nixon appointee...

Speaking of the Supremes, there's a new challenge to my analysis of what might happen to the balance under Bush. Summertime is "Supreme Court retirement rumor" time, and the Post floated something recently about a potential Kennedy retirement. All bets are off...

I don't know 'bout that thing with hostility toward males on college campuses -- the only college campus I attended was all male (except for a few nuns on the faculty, and they were nice to us guys).

I do know a little 'bout the culture of mom & pop bankrolling underachieving sons. I didn't know that was a real problem here, but it's definitely a big deal in southern Italy and Sicily. Everybody goes north for work, then returns home to momma when they can't get any. Of course, these are real "momma's boys", and they get away with it.

In fact, an Italian court recently decided that a 30 year old law school graduate living at home with momma was entitled to child support. Why couldn't I have been born over there?

How was the beach?

Hey, I'm gonna take the LSAT next time it's offered -- I may be going to law school!!!

p.s.: Nothing about my comments on the death penalty case should be construed as support for the death penalty. I am still fundamentally opposed, on the same grounds that my church is opposed (but, not because the "Pope says so"). I take the same position as E.J does (but, not because he does -- it's a position that I've always held).

p.p.s.: I did read those three pieces on the train this morning, and I couldn't have disagreed with Hoagland any more than I do. Seems to me that Bush's speech was just the right thing at just the right time. With all of the talk lately about "a new Mideast peace plan", the President really needed to cut off all the speculation about what was going to be in his statement. I don't think there was ever any serious consideration of dealing with Arafat (mainly because that wouldn't go anywhere - the Israeli's properly won't deal with Arafat), and I'm happy to see that the administration has finally made clear what myself and others have been saying for months -- as long as Arafat is the only person to talk to, then we ought not talk...

Instantman Attacked by a Big Boy

Will Vehrs
Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post takes a shot at Glenn Reynolds for his comment about hostile environments for males on college campuses:

Evil predators? We'd like some more evidence, please.

It's interesting that Kurtz would pick out this speck of flotsam from the vast quantity of Reynolds commentary yesterday. Might he be trying to take "the Professor" down a peg?

For a really insightful commentary on the original issue that prompted Glenn's outburst, check out Fritz Schranck at Sneaking Suspicions. As usual, Fritz combines personal experience with research to put some perspective into the discussion.

I still say parents and educators are not tough enough on boys. This lack of discipline applied to boys allows their tendency toward lack of focus to be magnified. Boys end up with lackadaisical academic habits and no real accountability. If they're 18 and don't go to college, Mom and Dad will keep bankrolling them.

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

Will Vehrs
Today, three Washington Post columnists look at President Bush's recent policy pronouncement on the Middle East. Two enthusiastically endorse it; one agrees but finds some fault.

Michael Kelly predicts Arafat will be gone in 6-12 months and evaluates the new policy this way:

There is some limited truth in seeing what Bush is trying to do in the Middle East in traditional terms -- hard-liners vs. State Department softies, etc. -- but this is missing the elephant on the settee. For better or worse -- a great deal better, I think -- Bush has set the Palestinian issue within the context of a larger approach that is fundamentally, historically radical: a rejection of decades of policy, indeed a rejection of the entire philosophy of Middle East diplomacy.

This philosophy has rested on a willingness to accept a U.S. role as a player in a running fraud.

George Will sees the new policy as clearing the way for concentrating on the War on Terror:

President Bush's Monday statement was the most clearsighted U.S. intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in the 35 years since the 1967 war, and perhaps in the 54 years since the founding of Israel. It enunciated a policy that makes eventual peace at least conceivable, and meanwhile frees the president to pursue the global anti-terrorism agenda articulated in five other speeches in the past year.

Jim Hoagland snipes at Bush:

But circumstances and short-term expediency -- not principle or reason -- dictated the timing and outlines of the speech, delivered in Bush's increasingly unconvincing apocalyptic rhetoric. The president edged toward sweeping U.S. commitments to bring democracy and prosperity to the world's most explosive region. But Bush called into question his own sincerity and grasp by failing to offer even modest indications of how his goals could be accomplished.

I generally applaud the content of the speech and hope this new policy is embraced by the State Department. Unfortunately, I am not as optimistic as Kelly, and see Arafat clinging to power by whatever means are necessary.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Two Minute Drill

Will Vehrs
I just got back from my first ever kids' swim meet. It was a three ring circus. God love the parents who volunteer to oversee the chaos and turn it into a clockwork series of mind-numbing mite, midget, junior, and senior races. Wish me luck on Friday--I'm on the volunteer list.

Amtrak Speaking of chaos, I don't think Amtrak should shut down all at once, but it's time to begin a phased-in dismantling of this failed operation. Amtrak's assets should be sold off to allow commuter rail operations that have a chance at profitability to continue or to expand. It's crazy to have the government subsidize long haul rail travel. If the government subsidizes anything, it should be commuter rail operations in ozone non-attainment areas, with incentives to localities that increase ridership.

College Men Glenn Reynolds attributes the increase in the female percentage of college graduates to a college environment that is hostile to men. While there might be a lot of anti-male sentiment on campus, I don't think that explains the numbers at all. Men are not enrolling in college in the numbers that women are because they aren't qualified, not because they think higher education is hostile to them. I believe the problem is that males are being mollycoddled before college and are not subjected to the kind of discipline they require to succeed. Boys generally need more supervision and strong, no-nonesense parents, teachers, and coaches. We're afraid to give them the tough love so many need to succeed, and few end up in the military, the place where they could get it at long last.

Virginia Observations My favorite Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist, A. Barton Hinkle, has a column today on the Virginia tax code. Here are a couple of gems from his piece:

The first rate bracket ceiling of $3,000 was set in 1919. The second bracket was set in 1926. The top bracket, which applies only to Daddy Warbuckses pulling down $12,000 a year or more, was created in 1972. In other words, Virginia duns its poorest citizens almost as harshly as it duns its richest. There is much to be said for a flat tax, but it should kick in at an income level somewhere north of abject penury.

Little of consequence gets done in the Old Dominion before it has been studied not just to death but through the funeral service and into the afterlife.

Monday, June 24, 2002

Back from the Beach

Will Vehrs
Here I am, tanned, rested and ready, after my vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The lousy beach weather was mitigated by consistently wonderful seafood prepared by my brother-in-law, Ed. His Pecan-Crusted Dolphin (he caught it himself) and Coconut Shrimp is to die for. I was able to sneak online for about a half-hour per day and was surprised that I didn't miss the web more. I didn't even enter the Caption Contest, prompting Dodd to inquire about my health.

I notice that at least one thing has changed since I left--Tony is no longer feuding with Robert Musil. He's taking on Rand Simberg now. To meet Tony, you wouldn't think he was a pugnacious guy ....

Two quick thoughts from my sojourn to Avon, NC:

I was shocked and saddened by the death of Slate's Scott Shuger. I was a huge fan of Today's Papers, right from the start. Shuger was a pioneer, a great writer, and a pretty pugnacious guy himself. As soon as I heard of his untimely death, I left the computer and dragged a kayak down to the beach. I rode the kayak into the waves over and over again, thinking of how suddenly life can be snatched away, even from the most vigorous among us. I don't think Scott Shuger left anything on the table. He will be missed.

I was appalled during my stay by the callous disregard for the environment of those who vacation at the Outer Banks. People and dogs violating turtle nesting areas that are cordoned off, dog owners not even having the decency to carry a shovel when they walk their pets, huge bonfires at night on the beach with whatever is handy, leaving nails and other debris on the beach where people walk in the daylight, trash left on the beach, trash cans at the beach houses overflowing and not even set out for the trash truck ... I could go on and on.

The decision of the Supremes to ban the execution of the "mentally retarded" bothered me. I think retardation is a very subjective concept. If a killer has a driver's license, for example, how can he/she be considered "retarded?" Should we issue a license to those who, if they kill with a vehicle, can claim diminished capacity? This decision has far-reaching implications. As always, I believe juries should decide guilt or innocence and the death penalty.

I'm glad to be back and hope to write more frequently than I have the last few months.