Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Enforceability of the BBA

I never really thought of this, but how exactly would a Balanced Budget Amendment be enforced?
I can think of three models that make sense. The first would involve judicial enforcement. In other words, if the budget is not balanced under whatever specific language is adopted, someone would have standing to sue and stop money from being spent. The second would be self-enforcing. In other words, the amendment could contain a legislative trigger that would be activated if the budget was unbalanced, saying, for instance, that any additional spending would have to approved by a supermajority of Congress.

The third view would treat the amendment as aspirational. Advocates of including positive rights in the text (the right to housing, the right to education, or the right to a job) often say that the point is not to make these rights judicially enforceable. Instead, the idea is that their codification will change the political culture and exert a strong pull on elected officials. The same could be true for a balanced budget amendment.

I don't think proponents of the BBA anticipate or would be satisfied with options two or three. But with respect to the first, it is worth noting that -- unless the amendment contained specific language privileging spending cuts over all other tactics that could be used to balance a budget -- judicial enforcement could easily include injunctions to raise taxes or sell off government property.

And if they do cut spending, how exactly would they determine which programs to cut? Would it just be the ones the judge disliked the most? Finally, a way for Jack Weinstein to get us out of Iraq!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Random Connection of the Day

Two years ago, I posted a baller ad by a New Orleans mayoral candidate named James Perry. It shows his fellow candidates at a public forum answering a question about the "Youth Study Center". Clearly not knowing what it was, the candidates assumed it was something nice, like a library, and started extolling its virtues, saying things like "we need more of them" and "put them in the schools". It was left to Mr. Perry to inform his fellows that "the Youth Study Center is a jail." Love.

Anyway, turns out James Perry is the "Perry" in Melissa Harris-Perry. No wonder he was so awesome!

Debtpocalypse Watch: Day Two

As we move into the second day of Speaker John Boehner's furious negotiations with the far-right fringe to secure the votes needed to pass his debt ceiling plan, which would solve this crisis once and for all is a massive waste of time because it's DOA in the Senate, let's examine what is sticking in the right-wing's craw:
The inclusion of the extra money for Pell Grants could cost Republican votes.

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) has compared Pell Grants to “welfare”.

"So you can go to college on Pell Grants — maybe I should not be telling anybody this because it’s turning out to be the welfare of the 21st century," Rehberg told Blog Talk Radio in April. "You can go to school, collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, Section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don’t have to graduate from college.”

"Hmmm ... I could vote to save the country from economic ruination. But then poor people might go to college. I hate these tough, grueling political choices."

Meanwhile, word is that Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has flipped to "yes" on the Boehner plan. Flake had called the negotiations over this bill "refreshing" because nobody's children were threatened. Folks think Flake is exaggerating about the bad old days. Tell that to former Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI).

I have to admit, having basically resigned myself to debtpocalypse, I know find this whole charade to be uproariously funny. Boehner is killing himself to crawl across the finish line of a bill which stands no chance of ever becoming law. As Jon Chait points out, Republicans are delusional if they think this will ever pass. It is "like a kidnapper demanding for the release of your child $100,000 and your other child." It's a terrible plan, that will likely be made worse by whatever Boehner will have to do to wrangle those last couple extremist votes, and isn't going anywhere.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

All Teed Up

Dear Anderson Cooper,

I know it was an eventful night what with the Republican Party being massive fuck-ups, but you can't interview Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) and not ask him whether he's massively delinquent on child support. I mean that story just broke! Do you think that if the Democrats anointed Rep. David Wu (OR) to speak for them tonight, folks wouldn't ask about his alleged sexual assault? Trick question -- David Wu would never take on the voice of a leading Democrat right now.

Meanwhile, my dad says that if Boehner can't rustle up the votes for this plan, he's got to resign as Speaker. Not in the "out of shame" sense (though sure), but in the "he clearly doesn't have the ability to control his own caucus anymore" sense.

Duke It Out

Marc Tracy is scoring the Twitter war between Atlantic (soon to be Tablet) columnist Jeffrey Goldberg and Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. He's got Goldberg up 78-73 after eight rounds (including a seventh round knockdown). Incidentally, I agree with Goldberg that the most newsworthy thing about their exchange might be Ayalon furiously denying he wants Israel to maintain control over the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Hussein Ibish recaps his debate with far-right settler activist David Ha'ivri. Ibish accurately characterized the debate as not between "Israelis" and "Palestinians" per se, but rather between "modernists" and "medievalists" on both sides:
Modern thinking, I explained, recognizes both the inherent rights of individuals as human beings and the rights of self-defined peoples to national self-determination. Medieval thinking, on the other hand, relies on holy texts and symbols, and conceives of people not as individuals and groups of individuals, but as fixed categories in a divinely ordained hierarchy.

Extreme revanchist settlers like Ha'ivri have far, far more in common with Hamas supporters than they do with mainstream liberal Zionists. And Ibish has far more in common with the average Kadima voter than he does with Islamic Jihad. One can recognize that there needs to be considerably more work in building a political constituency for the modernist perspective (at least as applied to Jews) amongst Palestinians, without deluding ourselves into thinking that folks like Ha'ivri even remotely resemble a friend of the Israel most Jews wish to support.

Shuler's New Seat?

DKos elections wonders if Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC), widely rumored to be retiring in order to take a position as Athletic Director at Tennessee but who just issued a statement nixing that, may run in the newly drawn NC-10? That district is currently represented by Rep. Patrick McHenry (R), one of the dimmest bulbs in the House (and that's saying something) who declared his vote against the Voting Rights Act a strike against "political correctness".

I'm not the biggest Shuler fan (I am from DC, after all), but I would be willing to forgive a lot if he was able to knock off McHenry.

Sleep Chronicles, Part II

Like most people, I sleep differently in different beds. Most of the time, it's obvious that I like some beds better than others. But there are two types of sleep patterns I experience where I'm honestly unsure which one is superior.

Imagine a typical, decent night's sleep. Not absolutely blacked-out bliss, but pretty solid. And when you wake up, you feel relatively awake -- not Woody Woodpecker-on-meth chipper, but in a good spot to start the day.

The only difference is that in bed X you naturally wake up relatively early (say, 8 AM) and in bed Y you naturally wake up relatively late (say, 11 AM).

So, which is better? On the one hand, you could say that bed X gave you the same level of restfulness, but in a shorter time period. It's more efficient! On the other hand, bed Y gave you the same degree of restfulness for longer. It's sustained quality!

Obviously, one way to check this would be to see how you feel at the end of the day. But that's tough to do, given that one's tiredness at the end of any given day is reliant not just on the quality of sleep you got before, but also what time you woke up and, oh yeah, the activities you engaged in that day. So I'm trying to rely on intuition, and it is failing me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Perfect Bar Question

"Is the statute unconstitutional?"

(A) Yes, because of the non-delegation doctrine.

(B) Yes, because of the 14th Amendment's Privileges and Immunities clause.

(C) Yes, under the 3rd Amendment.

(D) No.

And with that, I hereby resolve to not think of the bar again (until I find out if I pass -- which won't be for months).

Monday, July 25, 2011

Ding Ding Ding!

I believe Ellie Merton wins the prize for being the first to claim the Norwegian massacre was an Israeli government plot! Congratulations -- though I'm sure you'll soon have plenty of company.

Meanwhile, while it is true that Breivik claimed to be pro-"Zionist" ... not really. Breivik is philo-Semitic the same way that the KKK became friends with the Nation of Islam. They both liked the idea of Black people being separate from White people. Breivik, for his part, likes the idea of Israel because he likes the idea of Jews being somewhere else. His critique of the Nazis was that they should have expelled the Jews, not killed them. He currently thinks that Europe's Jewish population is small enough so as to not constitute a problem, but that America might need to start thinking about getting rid of us. And where better place to put us than in Israel? But while, yes, one of the justifications for Israel's existence is to serve as a haven for when folks like Breivik advocate our expulsion (or worse), that hardly means it is supportive of the Zionist vision to overtly promote said expulsions.

Finally, Glenn Beck compared the slaughtered children in Norway to the Hitler Youth. So folks are just covering themselves in glory all over.

The Israeli-Russian Right

Bradley Burston has a great piece up on the fracturing of the Israeli right-wing, separating the "old-guard" Likud from incoming Russian immigrants (mostly represented by Yisrael Beiteinu). Basically, the "old" right is founded on a two-pronged dream:
First, a vision of Israel as an authentic democracy, sensitive to and respectful of minorities, governed by principles of civility, diplomacy, freedom of expression, and mamlachtiyut, statesmanship.
Second, doing everything possible to see to it that the West Bank and East Jerusalem remain in Israeli hands forever.

Needless to say, those two goals are in considerable tension, and in general the folks who have recognized that the tension is unsustainable already bolted to form Kadima. But delusional as it might be, there are folks in Likud for whom respect for minority rights and democratic values is quite genuine, such as Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.

The Russian right, by contrast, is more or less a set of transplanted Putin clones, and the right they are trying to build in Israel is scarcely different from unrepentant fascism.
At one almost frighteningly revealing moment, MK Anastasia Michaeli of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu, speaking of herself and her many party colleagues born in the U.S.S.R., declared that the NGO probe bill "shows how patriotic we are."

"We grew up on values of patriotism. We arrived in this country, and we want to teach the citizens of Israel what patriotism is, what love of country and loyalty to a country are."

Michaeli, named to serve on one of the proposed NGO probe panels, spoke over widespread interruptions from both Arab and centrist Jewish MKs. Ordered to leave the podium (by an Israeli-born party colleague chairing the session) because of what she called "propaganda" pictures she displayed in contravention of Knesset rules, she dug in for one final full-throated blast.

"You have to learn how Israeli Arabs conduct propaganda against the People of Israel, the way Goebbels built up Nazi Germany, the same way you [Arabs and the left] are continuing to use fascism. You are knocking us down … using democracy and nice words. The real fascist is he who doesn't want the State of Israel to exist.

"Beware! Shame on you! Learn patriotism!"

At some point, the old right is going to have to realize that the new right isn't compatible with the vision of Israel they think they're defending. And then they'll need to make a choice.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Who We Thought They Were

Spencer Ackerman has a provocative post arguing that Anders Behring Breivik, the perpetrator of the Norwegian terror attack, is, in effect, a member of al-Qaeda. Not because he's a closet sympathizer with Islamic terror. But because the "critique" he levels at Western society is, effectively, the same as the one al-Qaeda levels at the Muslim world. That he happens to have a different definition of who the purists and who the apostates are is essentially a matter of happenstance. The ideology is more or less the same.

Ackerman also argues that the ideology espoused by folks like Pam Geller is more or less identical to that held by Breivik. You could see that in this panicked post at Pajamas Media worrying that Breivik's massacre would discredit the cause of Islamophobia.

Now Ackerman is clear -- and I agree entirely -- that this is not to say that Geller and her ilk are on the verge of becoming violent terrorists. This is a common misunderstanding -- that noxious ideologies are repellent because they're violent, and that anyone who supports a terrible ideology that has violent supporters is someone who believes in violence themselves.

But this is not the case. The world al-Qaeda wants to build is a terrible world, and it wants to reach that world through violent means. There are plenty of people who support al-Qaeda's vision of the future, but do not support violence to get there. It is obviously better to not support violent action against innocents than to support it, but not endorsing violence does not cleanse the sins of the worldview. And so it is with Breivik and his cousins -- violent and non-violent. We shouldn't impute violent instincts on persons just because their ideological compatriots commit violent acts. On the other hand, we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking non-violent Islamophobes or non-violent Islamic supremacists represent anything other than a disgusting perversion.

UPDATE: I think the rightfully-condemned Jerusalem Post editorial is a good example of this. Folks are saying that they're defending Breivik. Well, no, they're not -- they're quite clear that they abhor violence against civilians, and there is no reason to doubt them on that. The problem with the JPost editorial -- aside from being utterly tasteless -- is that the substantive vision it promotes is risible even if the Jerusalem Post wishes to pursue it non-violently. It confuses two separate criticisms to protest an entity's support for violence against innocents in support of contemptible policies, and their support for those policies themselves.

Blessed be the Fools, For They Are Loved Most of All

Today, I received resounding proof that God watches over and loves me -- or at least loves me when I'm an utter idiot.

First, some background. As you may know, I'm taking the bar exam on Tuesday. However, in what is probably best described as equal parts loyalty and hubris, I spent this past weekend in Casper, Wyoming to be a groomsman in my college roommate's wedding (Congrats, Bob and Sarah!). This entailed flying to Denver, renting a car, driving four hours to Casper, partying all night long like a good Carleton alum, then waking up at 8 AM this morning to drive back to Denver and fly into DC (by way of Chicago).

A lot could go wrong there. But, amazingly, nothing did! The flights were smooth and on-time, the road trip went perfectly fine (given that I hadn't driven a car for any trip longer than a grocery run in several years, no small thing), the wedding was fantastic -- I even managed to strike a decent balance between sleep and celebration.

Indeed, everything was going great when I landed in Chicago's Midway airport for a layover on the way to DC. I called my mom to let her know where I was, and she told me that she had some roast beef waiting for me as well as a packet of bar materials on my desk.

"Packet of bar material." That rang a bell. I knew that it had been sent to Bethesda. I also knew that she had forwarded some of it to me in Chicago. It was the usual informational material: Directions to the site, how to use your laptop -- and a little slip of paper that says "TO TAKE THE MULTISTATE BAR EXAMINATION (MBE) YOU MUST DISPLAY THIS CARD AT YOUR SEAT NUMBER."

Oh shit.

That card was still sitting in my apartment in Chicago.

I thought frantically. Could we scan the letter? I was doubtful they would accept that. Could we FedEx it overnight? Still probably wouldn't get here on time. My last, best hope was to call Jill and see if she could bring the material to me at the airport.

I call Jill. She doesn't answer. I leave a message that was probably incomprehensible. I then text message her, trying to balance between conveying the urgency with which I needed to speak with her without causing her to worry I'd been shot. I call Jill back. She picks up.

"Are (gasp) you (gasp) at the apartment?"

"No, I'm at Potbelly's."

That's okay. That's not far from the apartment. I explain to her the situation, and she rushes home. Long story short, she finds the materials, and catches a cab to the airport. I meet her outside, grab the paper and kiss her while yelling "I always love seeing you but I particularly love seeing you now!", rush back through security, and am back at the gate with 30 minutes before my flight departs. All is good.

Now, let's pause to reflect on just how many ducks had to line up here such that complete disaster was evaded:

(1) It was essentially an off-hand remark that caused me to remember I needed this slip of paper in the first place. Had my mom not mentioned a different packet of paper, or had I had not called her when I landed in Chicago, I wouldn't have remembered at all.

(2) Jill could have not picked up the phone. Or she could have been having dinner across town. Or she could not have been able to find the papers. Or she could have had trouble finding a cab. Or there could have been a traffic jam (it was rush hour).

(3) I had no reason to be in Chicago! I happened to have a layover there. But there are direct flights from Denver to DC. Hell, there are plenty of other cities one can stop in on the way to DC. That I happened to stop in this one, and have a layover long enough for Jill to get home, pick up the papers, and get to the airport without me missing my flight, is nothing short of amazing.

So yes, I credit some Divine Intervention. Which makes Jill -- literally -- a heavenly messenger (not that I needed any proof of that).

And how will this effect the actual taking of the bar, you ask? Well, I guess I could let it rattle me. But I prefer to analogize it to that scene in The West Wing where, just prior to the presidential debate, Abby cuts off Jed's tie. The frenzied chaos that ensued to avert catastrophe gave President Bartlet the adrenaline rush he needed to have a brilliant performance.

So it is only appropriate the words Jill left me with: "Game on, boyfriend."