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Saturday, November 22, 2003

Lee Harvey Oswald's Legacy...

Tony Adragna
I wish I could say that JFK's presidency and assassination had a profound personal impact on myself. That I can't say so is an accident of history — he was murdered a month shy of two years before my birth.

I did experience Vietnam as a young child living in Saigon. I've heard contradictory arguments from both opponents & proponents of the war about what JFK would've done as staying the course on maintaining an "advisory" presence became untenable. We do know that he declared Vietnam's problems ought be solved by the Vietnamese — he was for Vietnamization before there was a need to argue for such a policy. But would he have changed his mind had he lived?

I'm tempted to say that's a good question, except that it isn't. It's rather a counterfactual — JFK was killed, and we don't know which way he would've gone. I'm inclined, though, to believe that he would've been for deepening our involvement if the only alternative was to back down. This is the JFK who stared down Kruschev — he who lost his job a year after JFK's murder — when the stakes were much higher. I can't see JFK having muffed his hand on Vietnam.

But this is just as much speculation as arguments that Gore would've muffed a response to 9/11, or that the attack wouldn't have happened, had he been president.

Oswald's legacy is that he took from us what might've been... or maybe what might not have been... we just don't know...

As for conspiracy theories, I think Mark Shields has it right
"[T]he idea that this small troubled tormented man could do something so large and change history by doing it is just somehow, offends people's sense of rationality. I think they're looking for something deeper, something to explain the magnitude of the enormity of what this little man did.
I think there's something to that vis a vis conspiracy theories about Pres. Bush's & 9/11.[ ie. How could these nobody's from Saudi Arabia do what they did without our government catching wind of it? What's with the stand down of fighter aircraft on the east coast? Why did it take so long for NORAD to respond? There just has to be something the government knew, but they purposefully let it happen.]

Certainly, some folks are putting the theories forward for purely malevolent reasons, but I think lots of people buy into them for the same reasons they buy into stories the likes that Oliver Stone tells.


Brooks on marriage
The conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments. It is to expect that they make such commitments. We shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity.

Taxes... hmmm... You know, I'm neither an advocate for nor against taxes. What I'm for is fiscal discipline, which to me means that you've got to balance revenue & spending. But that means making some tough choices, and I suspect the reason for our governors' zigging & zagging has less to do with their ability to make those choices, and mostly to do with not wanting to take the blame for action unpopular with their supporters... Look at what happened when Ehrlich voted for the property tax hike — he was looking for ways to blame Democrats, never mind that he proposed the measure...

Forty Years Ago

Will Vehrs
This is the actual anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. It's been marked by a week of television reports, investigations, and retrospectives. I watched both Court TV's special and Peter Jennings' two hour ABC special. I thought both were extremely persuasive in demonstrating by a preponderence of the evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed the President and that the single bullet theory is correct. There remains a faint, but tantalizing possibility that a shot was fired from the grassy knoll. If it was, it missed.

No substantial evidence exists to link Oswald or his killer, Jack Ruby, to any conspiracy.

I am glad to see major media outlets, however reluctantly, discarding exotic conspiracy theories and embracing the thrust of Gerald Posner's masterful analysis, Case Closed. Jennings' take-down of Oliver Stone was particularly gratifying. Still, conspiracy theories will continue to thrive and probably continue to be believed by a majority of Americans. It's a wonderful cottage industry.

Forty years ago I was in Mrs. Orndorff's fifth grade class at Manassas Park Elementary. We had just that year gotten televisions in our classroom as an education experiment. Principal Ernest Hill came to our room, told us what had happened, and allowed us to watch as history unfolded. I cannot be absolutely sure, but I believe I was watching at home when Ruby shot Oswald. Little did I know that the events of that weekend would, in many ways, haunt and influence everything I subsequently leaned about history, government, and politics.


Tony, you know David Brooks is my favorite pundit. He was my "Pundit of the Year" for 2002 and he's making a late run for 2003 honors. I know you like Mark Shields, too, but I think Shields increasingly looks petty and hidebound against Brooks on The News Hour. Brooks is on the rise and I think he will become, in time, the most influential columnist in the country. That won't be a bad thing.

Interesting about Ehrlich. Here in Virginia, Governor Warner will release a tax overhaul plan on Monday. It appears to still be in flux, but indications are that it will not be as sweeping as originally promised. Warner has zig-zagged on taxes throughout his term, sometimes promising never to raise them, other times insisting they must go up to save the Commonwealth. At the hour of reckoning, he appears to be wavering between the zigs and the zags.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Dvorak is still clueless

Tony Adragna
In Feb 2002 PC Magazine's John Dvorak wrote a piece titled "The Blog Phenomenon" in which he pretty well pooh poohs blogs & bloggers. At the time I responded
This treatment of "blogging" overlooks the most recent trend - the proliferation of web logs that engage in serious critique of the media, analysis of issues, and even some original reportage.
Well, via Andrew I discover that Dvorak got worse.

I would respond, but Dvorak's colleague at PCMag's sister publication eWeek does a much better job of it
I could take Dvorak's post apart line by line, because of course it is a post in blog space. Sure, it's gone through the filter of "a stern corporate editor" but so has mine and every single blog post I've ever written. Sometimes I'm the editor too, other times I'm not. But always I'm trying the best I can to use the right words at the right time to tip the balance in favor of information, perhaps knowledge, and hopefully insight.

"It's no coincidence that the most-read blogs are created by professional writers," Dvorak warns. And this: "So much for the independent thinking and reporting that are supposed to earmark blog journalism." Here's a test you can try at home: take the word blog out of the last quote.
Hear, hear!

What's Gov. Ehrlich up to?...

Tony Adragna
Continuing on from where I left on in the item below, let me put those three grafs up again
During the interview on the "Ask the Governor" radio show, Ehrlich also said the budget he will propose in January is likely to include several small tax increases, possibly including new levies on corporations and gasoline.

Ehrlich said he is also considering an increase in the vehicle registration fee to help replenish the state's road-building fund.

A commission appointed to study methods of funding new roads is considering a proposal to increase the fee, currently $81 every two years, to as much as $200.
At the end of the last legislative session Mr. Ehrlich vetoed a tax hike on corporations, and now he's coming back with one?

The governor is considering a rise in vehicle registration fees? And he supported a 60% increase in property taxes during the last session — raising them from "8.4 cents per $100 of valuation to 13.2 cents." [n.b. This increase was done not by the legislature, but administratively by the state's Public Works Board, of which the governor is one of three members. The other members are Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.]

Maybe an extra "$96 to the annual tax bill for a house assessed at $200,000" isn't a lot of money. But, that's on top of property taxes assessed at the county level — 96 cents per $100 in Prince Georges County, and rising despite a property tax cap. There's a mood in the state against further increases.

Maybe tripling the vehicle registration fee [tax] is a good idea. But look at the situation in California if you wanna see what tripling vehicle registration fees can do to public mood.

What's Gov. Ehrlich up to?...

And what's the press up to?...

I guess the culture war makes better news for both press and politicos, never mind more important issues...

Can I Marry David Brooks?...

Tony Adragna
OK, beside the fact that he's already spoken for, he's straight. But, I have been gaining appreciation for David Brooks since late last year [scroll down], and tonight's political wrap [transcript not posted yet] impressed me no end.

It's not just what Brooks said about "gay marriage," his postion being perfectly agreeable to me, but his willingness to take on "conservatives" the same why I like to take on "liberals." You hear what he said about the administration's legislative & budget priorities and how they're being enacted: "Big government conservatism without the conservatism."

But, instead of dealing with real problems facing the country, we're gonna get stuck again with wedge issues. Look at today's WaPo story on Gov. Ehrlich's response to the Mass. ruling and an expected legislative battle on this issus in Maryland.
During the interview on the "Ask the Governor" radio show, Ehrlich also said the budget he will propose in January is likely to include several small tax increases, possibly including new levies on corporations and gasoline.

Ehrlich said he is also considering an increase in the vehicle registration fee to help replenish the state's road-building fund.

A commission appointed to study methods of funding new roads is considering a proposal to increase the fee, currently $81 every two years, to as much as $200.
Those three grafs come at the end of the story, and contain some news of real import...

Queer Marriage for this Straight Guy

Will Vehrs
Tony, good to see your by-line again! You chose a pretty dramatic moment to return.

Let me go on record as supporting gay marriage. I can't find anything in my belief system or my "slippery slope" antenna that would cause me to oppose the marriage of same sex couples.

That said, I am not going to belittle or disavow the majority of those who continue to oppose same-sex marriage on religious or other grounds. It may not be logical, it may not be rational, and it may not be consistent. A lot of beliefs people hold can't be explained. Only time and experience will change their hearts.

It's going to take time to implement gay marriage everywhere. There will be long bitter battles in the courts and legislatures. Various factions will use the debate as a "wedge issue." Politicians will bob and weave. It won't be pretty. I can only hope that those in opposition will show compassion and those fighting for their rights show restraint. This is an issue about same sex marriage, not about sex. Take gay sex out of the discussion and I think the idea of marriage is easier for opponents to take.

Lord knows the sex has been taken out of most hetrosexual marriages.

As for Rush, Tony, I always found his political monolgues to be entertaining, but I've never held him as any kind of example or role model. If he broke the laws regarding drug use or currency violations, put him on trial. He'll get expensive lawyers and walk, just like most celebrities do.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The Right to Marry...

Tony Adragna
I wanted to make a post dealing with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision on marriage my maiden post upon reentering the blogosphere, but I just had to hit the Limbaugh item [below] while that iron was hot...

My own opinion is that the worst possible result here would be for the state to respond with a "Civil Unions" law the likes of Vermont's. The state can't respond with a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage before the ruling goes into effect — it won't be 'til 2006 before such an amendment can be put to the people.

Why do I dislike the Vermont solution? Simple: It's fundamenatally dishonest. As I wrote on Sept. 10, "Vermont's Civil Unions Law [...] recogniz[es] something exactly like a marriage" in every way except calling it "marriage."

Update: Just a bit more on this... I've just read the opinion again, and the following passage stuck out
The larger question is whether, as the department claims, government action that bars same-sex couples from civil marriage constitutes a legitimate exercise of the State's authority to regulate conduct, or whether, as the plaintiffs claim, this categorical marriage exclusion violates the Massachusetts Constitution. We have recognized the long-standing statutory understanding, derived from the common law, that "marriage" means the lawful union of a woman and a man. But that history cannot and does not foreclose the constitutional question.
The "constitutional question" being asked here isn't whether there's a "right to same-sex marriage", but whether the use of the state's police powers — its regulatory authority exercised in the case of marriage by either issuing or denying marriage licenses — is properly exercised in the denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The Court says that this exercise doesn't even meet the test of rational basis review...


So, Now Rush is a Money Launderer?

Tony Adragna
Did I just hear correctly? I can't find linkage, but this is interesting... FOX just ran a clip of Rush Limbaugh defending himself against charged of money laundering. Seems that Mr. Limbaugh made some large cash withdrawls from his bank, said transactions having been structured so as to avoid compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act requirement that transactions over $10,000 be reported to the Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforment Center.

Rush said that the funds were used mostly on remodeling his NY apartment, and the transactions totaled [if I heard correctly] $300,000.

Did Mr. Limbaugh break a law? The answer is, yes.

See, Rush says that the transactions were structured at the suggestion of the bank, so that they wouldn't need to report the transactions. If this is what happened, then the bank is in violation — the bank willfully violated the prohibition against structuring transactions so as to avoid the reporting requirement, and Rush agreed to structure the transaction.

Does it matter whether there was an underlying criminal activity? Yes, it does, but only so far as some underlying criminal activity is an aggravating factor. But if you fail to report reportable transactions, or structure transactions so as to avoid the reporting requirement, then you are in violation of the law.

Update: Here's a link to Rush's transcript. I did hear the dollar amount correctly.

Now, what gets Limbaugh off the hook is that he didn't know that what was happening was illegal, and I'll hafta take him at his word on that — most people wouldn't know that it was illegal, and my own knowledge comes from having been someone who used to fill those damnable forms out on a daily basis.

But, didn't he even once wonder whether there was something not quite right going on? I mean, that reporting requirement exists for a reason...