Sunday, January 29, 2006

Misrepresentation - or a Syntax Error?

My view of politicians is rather simple – there are good and bad in both parties. The reason I consider myself a Republican is that at I believe that they take a stand and stick to it. You can rely on them, for the most part, not to flip-flop on issues based on the latest poll data.

Interestingly enough, I have read several articles lately from MSM predicting the demise of the Republican Party – or at the very least, the loss of power in the next election. And I have seen Democratic leaders make complete fools of themselves in public by saying things that were either too ridiculous to believe, or were just plain misleading. I’m speaking of “plantations”, “chocolate city”, “OWL club”, “AIIIYEEEEEEEEEEE”, “We defeated the Patriot Act”, calling for a filibuster before counting votes, etc. Finally I see MSM bending the facts – slanting the truth – to attempt to bring this about.

But what is worse, is when poll data used by the MSM and the leading democrats is slanted like the recent polls by AP-IPSOS (Sorry – I can’t get to the original poll data any more, but AnkleBitingPundits has the information) and LA Times/Bloomberg.

Let’s take a quick look. First off – the AP-ISOS poll was reported in several large, left-leaning newspapers. But the problem with the poll was the fact that 52% of the respondents were Democrats and only 40% were Republican. Now compare that with the fact that during the 2004 election, voters of both parties were split evenly at 37%. Right away you can see that the results are going to be slanted – yet they were reported as fact by the MSM.

The LA Times/Bloomberg poll situation is different. The report from the poll does not contain the demographic information on the respondents, so nobody can actually tell how honest the poll was. They gloss over this by reporting:

The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll contacted 1,555 adults nationwide by telephone January 22 through 25, 2006. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the nation, and random digit dialing techniques allowed listed and unlisted numbers to be contacted. Multiple attempts were made to contact each number. Adults were weighted slightly to conform with their respective census figures for sex, race, age, education and region.

Note that results were weighted by everything except political affiliation. So it begs the question. But there is more:

Poll results may also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.

There…they said it, not me. The wording of the question counts. Let’s look at some questions to see how they are worded:

Q30. Which do you think is more effective in stimulating the nation's economy: An economic agenda focused on returning money to taxpayers through tax cuts, or an economic agenda focused on reducing the federal deficit and paying down the national debt?

Q31. Which do you think is more effective in stimulating the nation's economy: An economic agenda focused on returning money to taxpayers through tax cuts, or an economic agenda focused on spending on such issues as health care and education?

I won’t debate the poll results from these questions, because of the wording. That is because the way they are worded makes it sound like tax cuts are simply designed to put money back in taxpayers pockets. But the issues is different. As John F. Kennedy asserted, tax cuts are designed to spur the economy by giving people more money to spend and invest. The economy is not driven by what the government does, but by how much money people are spending. These questions misrepresent, on purpose I would opine, the reason tax cuts are done.

Q34. As you may know, George W. Bush authorized federal government agencies to use electronic surveillance to monitor phone calls and emails within the United States without first getting a court warrant to do so. Do you consider this an acceptable or unacceptable way for the federal government to investigate terrorism? (IF ACCEPTABLE/UNACCEPTABLE) Do you feel strongly about that or not?

Q35. Would you mind if you found out that your phone calls were being monitored by the U.S. government as part of the fight against terrorism?

In each of these examples the entire question is biased by the way it is worded. In Q34 it says “use electronic surveillance to monitor phone calls and emails within the United States…” What is wrong here is that this particular question does not take into account the fact that the NSA program is monitoring phone calls and emails of people with links to international terrorist organizations. Quite clearly, if the question made that distinction, the answer would have been very different. The next question is in the same vein – they fail to point out that the people being targeted by the program are suspected of ties to organizations that have attacked – and are claiming to be planning additional attacks – on US citizens. Again, if the questions had been worded the answers would have been much different.

A different take on the same issue is from this Fox News Poll. The same basic questions are asked but worded differently. It is obvious from the results what a difference a word or two makes:

30. Do you think the president should or should not have the power to authorize the National Security Agency to monitor electronic communications of suspected terrorists without getting warrants, even if one end of the communication is in the United States?

31. In an effort to identify terrorist activity, do you think the president should or should not have the power to authorize the National Security Agency to do computer searches of large numbers of international phone calls coming in and out of the United States without getting warrants?

Clearly there is a tremendous difference in the way these questions were worded. It is somewhat disingenuous to word questions to purposely slant the answers. But there is more to it than that. Just as a glaring example, the LA Times/Bloomberg poll asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?” The result of the question was that 43% of the respondents said they approve and 54% said they did not. The next question is how did the LAT report this result?

Overall job rating: A majority of Americans (54%) disapprove of the way the president is handling his job, while 43% approve. This includes 39% who strongly disapprove. This is a big drop from the beginning of last year, when a January L.A. Times Poll had Bush’s job rating at 50% approve (47% disapprove). Throughout much of 2005, most national polls have shown Bush’s popularity declining dramatically. The poll results are very close to the average of other national polls released in the last two weeks.

This analysis is at best misleading. It compares Bush’s ratings now, to those of January 2005, and reflects a 14% decline since then. What they fail to point out is that Bush reached a low in his ratings shortly after Hurricane Katrina. At that time his rating was at 35%. Since then, his rating has risen almost 23%. The analysis truthfully states that through much of last year Bush’s approval rates were dropping. But it completely ignores the fact that Bush’s approval rating has risen at a much quicker rate than when it was dropping. Unfortunately for all of us, this is what passes for “unbiased” journalism at the LA Times.

All of this leads me to be suspicious of every single story I see in MSM. To doubt every single word that comes out of the mouths of Democratic Party leaders. And that is sad. But it is funny at the same time. I can’t understand how a party that wants to be a centrist force in the United States can continue to rely on the MSM to be their PR branch, or make statements that so clearly go against the wishes of the American people.

If you want to see something even funnier, check out Jon Stewart’s take on some of the Democratic leaders. The Political Teen has the clip.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Passport Forgeries

Thomas Jocelyn is carrying the story of the Columbian forgery ring that was making fake passports for Hamas/Al Quaeda. He is taking the news directly from a CNN report, and raises an interesting question. Here are some of the highlights of the article:

Colombian has dismantled a false passport ring with links to al Qaeda and Hamas militants, the acting attorney general said Thursday after authorities led dozens of simultaneous raids across five cities in collaboration with U.S. officials…

…An undisclosed number of those arrested are wanted for working with the al Qaeda terror network and the militant Palestinian group Hamas, said acting Attorney General Jorge Armando Otalora.

The counterfeit Colombian, Spanish, Portuguese and German passports were used to enter the United States and Europe, he said.
But Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said an indictment unsealed Wednesday in Miami charges 10 foreign nationals with smuggling "people that they thought were members of FARC into the United States."

"We are not alleging any connections to any terror organization other than the FARC," said Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra.
He said the U.S. will seek to extradite the 10 alleged smugglers, of whom eight have been arrested.

I guess it remains to be seen if there is any connection to Al Quaeda or Hamas. But the big question is, how did the US authorities pick up on the fact this was going on at all? Wish I knew the answer to that.

Stay Tuned for further developments.

Direct Flights From Iran - Yea Right!

Iran has asked to have direct flights to the United States. According to Reuters (and a hat tip to Generation Why):

The request comes as the United States and its European Union allies are pressing for the Islamic Republic to be reported to the United Nations Security Council where it could face possible sanctions for its nuclear program.

"We sent a letter to the relevant American officials on Wednesday, announcing Iran's willingness to resume direct flights," Nourollah Rezai-Niaraki, head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization, told state television.

The reason given is that Iranian people living in the United States have been complaining to the government in Iran that:

"They have repeatedly complained about wasting time and losing their baggage on connecting flights", the official said.

Let’s analyze this for a moment. A country with direct ties to terrorists, who is actively trying to (or so it appears at the moment) develop a nuclear weapons capability, and has vowed to wipe Israel off the map now wants direct flights to the United States. Direct flights between Iran and the country referred to as “The Great Satan”. Couple that with the new islamofacist fascination of killing lots of people using airplanes.

Now why would anybody be suspicious about this? Apparently, “the decision to make the request was taken by hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I’ll put my two cents in:

  1. Close down your nuclear facilities Iran.

  2. Allow completely unencumbered inspection of any site we choose to look at – any time we want to look at it.

  3. Get rid of Ahmadinejad.

  4. Give us “free” oil for life.

  5. In twenty years we will take the issue up and consider it again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What Did He Say?

What to make of someone like Joel Stein? He says:

I DON'T SUPPORT our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car. Supporting the troops is a position that even Calvin is unwilling to urinate on.
I'm sure I'd like the troops. They seem gutsy, young and up for anything. If you're wandering into a recruiter's office and signing up for eight years of unknown danger, I want to hang with you in Vegas.
And I've got no problem with other people — the ones who were for the Iraq war — supporting the troops. If you think invading Iraq was a good idea, then by all means, support away. Load up on those patriotic magnets and bracelets and other trinkets the Chinese are making money off of.
But I'm not for the war. And being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken — and they're wussy by definition. It's as if the one lesson they took away from Vietnam wasn't to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward.

I guess he better hope that a platoon of Marines is not tasked on him. Or a squad of SEALS.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Monday, January 23, 2006

Eminent Domain

I want to give you my feelings on the issue of Eminent Domain and the drives that have been started to take property from Justices Stevens and Souter. This entire issue is fraught with emotions and questions about government power.

When I began this piece, I was out to lambaste a recent Supreme Court decision (Kelo vs. New London) as abetting an abuse of governmental power. I admit that I had a preformed notion and that my gut feeling was for the “little guy” – that the government should not have the power to take people’s homes and turn them over to a private development interest. That feeling has not changed. But as I read more of the case law behind the recent Supreme Court decision, I have come to understand why the vote on this case was so close – it was decided by a 5-4 margin.

I am not a lawyer, but I am able to read and form opinions by myself. Many of the people I debate with insist that since they are not lawyers, they can’t argue things using information from actual laws or court rulings. Personally I believe that is the lazy way out of a debate. As citizens we are bound by many, many laws. And as we all know, ignorance is not a defense. Therefore it is incumbent on us all to read and do our best to understand the laws that govern us, and the way those laws are being used.

Let’s start at the beginning. In this issue that would be Article V of the Constitution of the United States of America:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The key phrase here is “…nor shall private property be taken for public use…”. I would guess that any regular person reading this, including me, would note that property should only be taken for public use. And that is the crux of the issue.

The Case

In 1997, Susette Kelo purchased a home in the Fort Trumbull section of New London, Connecticut. Fort Trumbull is an old-fashioned neighborhood of well maintained family homes, with views of Long Island Sound. There are families there with roots that go back over 100 years. Ms. Kelo planned to live there for many years.

The City of New London decided that the land of Fort Trumbull could put to better use. With that in mind they turned over their Eminent Domain power to a private corporation – the New London Development Corporation. NLDC put together plans for economic development of the Fort Trumbull area, and began the process of taking private property from the homeowners. According to the corporation’s web site their purpose is:

The New London Development Corporation (NLDC) is committed to creating public-private partnerships that act as an engine for economic development in New London. The goals of this private, not-for-profit organization are to increase the city's tax base, to promote an increase in the number of jobs available in the city and to enhance the quality of life for New London's residents.

In the long run, Ms. Kelo sued the City of New London on the grounds that the seizure of her, and the other family’s, property was in violation of her Fifth Amendment rights. The case eventually came before the Supreme Court, and on June 23, 2005 a decision was handed down in favor of New London. The decision in Kelo vs. New London was very close with a 5-4, split amongst the Supreme Court Justices. The decision in this is also considered quite controversial in that many people believe that it has undermined homeowner’s rights to protection against government seizure of their homes. And that is the source of the dissatisfaction with Justices Souter and Stevens.

The Supreme Court Ruling and the Definition of Public Use

In the Syllabus of the ruling for the Kelo vs. New London case, it is stated:

The city’s determination that the area at issue was sufficiently distressed to justify a program of economic rejuvenation is entitled to deference. The city has carefully formulated a development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including, but not limited to, new jobs and increased tax revenue. As with other exercises in urban planning and development, the city is trying to coordinate a variety of commercial, residential, and recreational land uses, with the hope that they will form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. To effectuate this plan, the city has invoked a state statute that specifically authorizes the use of eminent domain to promote economic development. Given the plan’s comprehensive character, the thorough deliberation that preceded its adoption, and the limited scope of this Court’s review in such cases, it is appropriate here, as it was in Berman, to resolve the challenges of the individual owners, not on a piecemeal basis, but rather in light of the entire plan. Because that plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy the Fifth Amendment.

As I read through this part of the case, the thing that kept coming to the forefront is, “Well – what the heck does public use mean.” To me it seemed simple – parks, utilities, rail roads, etc. But apparently there has been years and years of legal debate on this particular subject. According to this article at FindLaw, it appears that my definition of “public use” was much too narrow (footnotes from original deleted – see the original for more; emphasis mine):

At an earlier time, the factor of judicial review would have been vastly more important than it is now, inasmuch as the prevailing judicial view was that the term ''public use'' was synonymous with ''use by the public'' and that if there was no duty upon the taker to permit the public as of right to use or enjoy the property taken, the taking was invalid. But this view was rejected some time ago. The modern conception of public use equates it with the police power in the furtherance of the public interest. No definition of the reach or limits of the power is possible, the Court has said, because such ''definition is essentially the product of legislative determinations addressed to the purposes of government, purposes neither abstractly nor historically capable of complete definition. . . . Public safety, public health, morality, peace and quiet, law and order--these are some of the . . . traditional application[s] of the police power. . . .'' Effectuation of these matters being within the authority of the legislature, the power to achieve them through the exercise of eminent domain is established. ''For the power of eminent domain is merely the means to the end.'' Traditionally, eminent domain has been utilized to facilitate transportation, the supplying of water, and the like, but the use of the power to establish public parks, to preserve places of historic interest, and to promote beautification has substantial precedent.

The Supreme Court has approved generally the widespread use of the power of eminent domain by federal and state governments in conjunction with private companies to facilitate urban renewal, destruction of slums, erection of low-cost housing in place of deteriorated housing, and the promotion of aesthetic values as well as economic ones. In Berman v. Parker, a unanimous Court ob served: ''The concept of the public welfare is broad and inclusive. The values it represents are spiritual as well as physical, aesthetic as well as monetary. It is within the power of the legislature to determine that the community should be beautiful as well as healthy, spacious as well as clean, well-balanced as well as carefully patrolled.'' For ''public use,'' then, it may well be that ''public interest'' or ''public welfare'' is the more correct phrase.

Reading this certainly opened my eyes. It would seem that the practice if legislating from the bench has been the reality for much longer than I had considered. It appears that to go from the traditional definition of “public use” to the one we have today was not done by “rule of law”, but rather by judicial decision. And while we see the Court deferring to the power of the individual states, as should be the case, there are times when it is necessary for someone to intervene for the “little guy” – for us regular citizens. And we can take it for granted that the homes of the Kennedy’s, Bush’s, Clinton’s, Kerry’s, and their like, will never be threatened.

The Opinions

As I said before, this case was very close. It is therefore necessary to do a review of the opinions of the Court. The first part quoted below is the majority opinion penned by Justice Stevens (as always, emphasis mine):

Two polar propositions are perfectly clear. On the one hand, it has long been accepted that the sovereign may not take the property of A for the sole purpose of transferring it to another private party B, even though A is paid just compensation. On the other hand, it is equally clear that a State may transfer property from one private party to another if future “use by the public” is the purpose of the taking; the condemnation of land for a railroad with common-carrier duties is a familiar example. Neither of these propositions, however, determines the disposition of this case.

As for the first proposition, the City would no doubt be forbidden from taking petitioners’ land for the purpose of conferring a private benefit on a particular private party. See Midkiff, 467 U.S., at 245 (“A purely private taking could not withstand the scrutiny of the public use requirement; it would serve no legitimate purpose of government and would thus be void”); Missouri Pacific R. Co. v. Nebraska, (1896). Nor would the City be allowed to take property under the mere pretext of a public purpose, when its actual purpose was to bestow a private benefit. The takings before us, however, would be executed pursuant to a “carefully considered” development plan. 268 Conn., at 54, 843 A.2d, at 536. The trial judge and all the members of the Supreme Court of Connecticut agreed that there was no evidence of an illegitimate purpose in this case. Therefore, as was true of the statute challenged in Midkiff, 467 U.S., at 245, the City’s development plan was not adopted “to benefit a particular class of identifiable individuals.”

On the other hand, this is not a case in which the City is planning to open the condemned land–at least not in its entirety–to use by the general public. Nor will the private lessees of the land in any sense be required to operate like common carriers, making their services available to all comers. But although such a projected use would be sufficient to satisfy the public use requirement, this “Court long ago rejected any literal requirement that condemned property be put into use for the general public.” Id., at 244. Indeed, while many state courts in the mid-19th century endorsed “use by the public” as the proper definition of public use, that narrow view steadily eroded over time. Not only was the “use by the public” test difficult to administer (e.g., what proportion of the public need have access to the property? at what price?), but it proved to be impractical given the diverse and always evolving needs of society. Accordingly, when this Court began applying the Fifth Amendment to the States at the close of the 19th century, it embraced the broader and more natural interpretation of public use as “public purpose.” See, e.g., Fallbrook Irrigation Dist. v. Bradley, 158—164 (1896). Thus, in a case upholding a mining company’s use of an aerial bucket line to transport ore over property it did not own, Justice Holmes’ opinion for the Court stressed “the inadequacy of use by the general public as a universal test.” Strickley v. Highland Boy Gold Mining Co., , 531 (1906). We have repeatedly and consistently rejected that narrow test ever since.

One of the cases the Supreme Court relied on in ruling in this case was Berman vs. Parker. In that case a store owner whose store was in the middle of a blighted area of Washington, DC, claimed that his store was in good shape – that it was not blighted. The Court ruled against his claim, and Stevens notes this in his opinion in Kelo:

The Court explained that “community redevelopment programs need not, by force of the Constitution, be on a piecemeal basis–lot by lot, building by building.” Id., at 35. The public use underlying the taking was unequivocally affirmed:

“We do not sit to determine whether a particular housing project is or is not desirable. The concept of the public welfare is broad and inclusive…. The values it represents are spiritual as well as physical, aesthetic as well as monetary. It is within the power of the legislature to determine that the community should be beautiful as well as healthy, spacious as well as clean, well-balanced as well as carefully patrolled. In the present case, the Congress and its authorized agencies have made determinations that take into account a wide variety of values. It is not for us to reappraise them. If those who govern the District of Columbia decide that the Nation’s Capital should be beautiful as well as sanitary, there is nothing in the Fifth Amendment that stands in the way.” Id., at 33.

Here the Court has overtly based the decision on both Midkiff and Berman. The problem with those cases, according to Justice O’Connor (see below) is that, “In both those cases, the extraordinary, precondemnation use of the targeted property inflicted affirmative harm on society–in Berman through blight resulting from extreme poverty and in Midkiff through oligopoly resulting from extreme wealth. And in both cases, the relevant legislative body had found that eliminating the existing property use was necessary to remedy the harm.” Stevens went on to say:

For more than a century, our public use jurisprudence has wisely eschewed rigid formulas and intrusive scrutiny in favor of affording legislatures broad latitude in determining what public needs justify the use of the takings power.

And finally the Court states:

Just as we decline to second-guess the City’s considered judgments about the efficacy of its development plan, we also decline to second-guess the City’s determinations as to what lands it needs to acquire in order to effectuate the project. “It is not for the courts to oversee the choice of the boundary line nor to sit in review on the size of a particular project area. Once the question of the public purpose has been decided, the amount and character of land to be taken for the project and the need for a particular tract to complete the integrated plan rests in the discretion of the legislative branch.” Berman, 348 U.S., at 35—36.

In affirming the City’s authority to take petitioners’ properties, we do not minimize the hardship that condemnations may entail, notwithstanding the payment of just compensation. We emphasize that nothing in our opinion precludes any State from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power. Indeed, many States already impose “public use” requirements that are stricter than the federal baseline. Some of these requirements have been established as a matter of state constitutional law, while others are expressed in state eminent domain statutes that carefully limit the grounds upon which takings may be exercised.

As we can see, and as I discovered, it appears that the Supreme Court made the ruling in this decision on a few narrowly defined cases. Personally, I find myself more closely aligned with the dissenting opinion of Justice O’Connor. She states:

Over two centuries ago, just after the Bill of Rights was ratified, Justice Chase wrote:

“An act of the Legislature (for I cannot call it a law) contrary to the great first principles of the social compact, cannot be considered a rightful exercise of legislative authority…. A few instances will suffice to explain what I mean…. [A] law that takes property from A. and gives it to B: It is against all reason and justice, for a people to entrust a Legislature with such powers; and, therefore, it cannot be presumed that they have done it.” Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386, 388 (1798) (emphasis deleted).

Today the Court abandons this long-held, basic limitation on government power. Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded–i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public–in the process. To reason, as the Court does, that the incidental public benefits resulting from the subsequent ordinary use of private property render economic development takings “for public use” is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property–and thereby effectively to delete the words “for public use” from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly I respectfully dissent.

This is much closer to what I believe was the intent of the original framers of the Constitution (and admittedly, I am not an expert in this and can only rely on my basic intuition). And then Justice O’connor’s opinion turns specifically to the cases that the majority relied on:

This case returns us for the first time in over 20 years to the hard question of when a purportedly “public purpose” taking meets the public use requirement. It presents an issue of first impression: Are economic development takings constitutional? I would hold that they are not. We are guided by two precedents about the taking of real property by eminent domain. In Berman, we upheld takings within a blighted neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The neighborhood had so deteriorated that, for example, 64.3% of its dwellings were beyond repair. 348 U.S., at 30. It had become burdened with “overcrowding of dwellings,” “lack of adequate streets and alleys,” and “lack of light and air.” Id., at 34. Congress had determined that the neighborhood had become “injurious to the public health, safety, morals, and welfare” and that it was necessary to “eliminat[e] all such injurious conditions by employing all means necessary and appropriate for the purpose,” including eminent domain. Id., at 28. Mr. Berman’s department store was not itself blighted. Having approved of Congress’ decision to eliminate the harm to the public emanating from the blighted neighborhood, however, we did not second-guess its decision to treat the neighborhood as a whole rather than lot-by-lot. Id., at 34—35; see also Midkiff, 467 U.S., at 244 (“it is only the taking’s purpose, and not its mechanics, that must pass scrutiny”).

In Midkiff, we upheld a land condemnation scheme in Hawaii whereby title in real property was taken from lessors and transferred to lessees. At that time, the State and Federal Governments owned nearly 49% of the State’s land, and another 47% was in the hands of only 72 private landowners. Concentration of land ownership was so dramatic that on the State’s most urbanized island, Oahu, 22 landowners owned 72.5% of the fee simple titles. Id., at 232. The Hawaii Legislature had concluded that the oligopoly in land ownership was “skewing the State’s residential fee simple market, inflating land prices, and injuring the public tranquility and welfare,” and therefore enacted a condemnation scheme for redistributing title. Ibid.

The Court’s holdings in Berman and Midkiff were true to the principle underlying the Public Use Clause. In both those cases, the extraordinary, precondemnation use of the targeted property inflicted affirmative harm on society–in Berman through blight resulting from extreme poverty and in Midkiff through oligopoly resulting from extreme wealth. And in both cases, the relevant legislative body had found that eliminating the existing property use was necessary to remedy the harm. Berman, supra, at 28—29; Midkiff, supra, at 232. Thus a public purpose was realized when the harmful use was eliminated. Because each taking directly achieved a public benefit, it did not matter that the property was turned over to private use. Here, in contrast, New London does not claim that Susette Kelo’s and Wilhelmina Dery’s well-maintained homes are the source of any social harm. Indeed, it could not so claim without adopting the absurd argument that any single-family home that might be razed to make way for an apartment building, or any church that might be replaced with a retail store, or any small business that might be more lucrative if it were instead part of a national franchise, is inherently harmful to society and thus within the government’s power to condemn.

The last part is the key. In the current case, Kelo, it was not even claimed that a “harmful” condition existed. It was just that the city of New London wanted to harvest additional revenue. Justice O’Connor concludes with:

It was possible after Berman and Midkiff to imagine unconstitutional transfers from A to B. Those decisions endorsed government intervention when private property use had veered to such an extreme that the public was suffering as a consequence. Today nearly all real property is susceptible to condemnation on the Court’s theory. In the prescient words of a dissenter from the infamous decision in Poletown, “[n]ow that we have authorized local legislative bodies to decide that a different commercial or industrial use of property will produce greater public benefits than its present use, no homeowner’s, merchant’s or manufacturer’s property, however productive or valuable to its owner, is immune from condemnation for the benefit of other private interests that will put it to a ‘higher’ use.” 410 Mich., at 644—645, 304 N. W. 2d, at 464 (opinion of Fitzgerald, J.). This is why economic development takings “seriously jeopardiz[e] the security of all private property ownership.” Id., at 645, 304 N. W. 2d, at 465 (Ryan, J., dissenting).

Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result. “[T]hat alone is a just government,” wrote James Madison, “which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.” For the National Gazette, Property, (Mar. 29, 1792), reprinted in 14 Papers of James Madison 266 (R. Rutland et al. eds. 1983).

I don’t know about you, but that fits my feelings about “big government” vs. the “little guy” much better. Hopefully, there will be a regression at some point to, at least on this issue, to take the Constitution more literally.

Where Does All This Lead

I started this discussion in relation to the efforts of two separate groups to take land from Justices Souter and Stevens using Eminent Domain. Underneath everything, I would like to see those efforts succeed. But, I think they will not. The reason is simple. Eminent Domain action can only be undertaken at the direction of a government entity – a legislative body. I suspect that the groups in question will find that a difficult hurdle to overcome.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Sorry I haven’t posted in a few days, but sometimes life here at the plantation just catches up. You know what I’m talkin’ about….

But, I am working on an article about Hillary and hope to post it today.

In the meantime, I’ve been keeping up with my reading. If you are in need of a laugh, take a look at Bear Creek Ledger and the Talking Deer (h/t: CrazyPolitico).

And over at Confederate Yankee there are a few commentors (ArthurStone and Fat Bastard) that claim that the Democratic party has no racists within.

That’s it for now. I will be putting my regular blog roll up sometime soon…..

Monday, January 16, 2006

Petitions Without Professional Lobbyists

If you haven’t visited it yet, you should check out the Appeal from Center-Right Bloggers at Truth Laid Bear. It is interesting in that bloggers from different points of view are advocating the same thing – Clean it up! I think you will find it amazing the number of people supporting this.

For even more fun, check out this letter. In many respects I agree with this more than anything I’ve read lately – in an off-hand way. I mean, our original governmental structure was not set up to give full-time jobs to people, some of whom would not make it in the “real world”. But it is another interesting take on the issue.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Pelosi and Oversight

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, has a somewhat convoluted op-ed piece in the Sunday, January 15, edition of I call it convoluted because she seems to waffle back and forth about what “oversight” is. In one section she says:

“Congress is not an afterthought in assessing intelligence activities; federal law requires that it be kept informed of all such activities.”

This seems pretty clear, she insists that Congress be kept informed of all such activities. In the very next sentence though, things become less clear:

“But despite that clear statutory directive, the Bush administration consistently acts as though it alone owns intelligence information.”

You see the story has changed. Pelosi is not asking to be “kept informed of all such activities,” rather it seems that she wants access to the data. But here she has stated fact. There is a reason that the Bush administration acts like they own the intelligence information – that is because they do! Basically all of the intelligence gathering agencies – what I will term Intelligence Community (IC) for the rest of this essay – are owned by the Executive Branch, and therefore, the President and his administration. That fact alone gives him the right to decide who gets to see information gathered by the IC. It doesn’t get much simpler than that Congresswoman!

But, let’s talk about this for a minute. In intelligence gathering activities there is a reason that certain types of information are kept secret from all but a few people. Basically, release of that information could cause lives to be lost – either by letting the target of the activity know what is going on, or maybe even by revealing the source that is gathering the information. All of this revolves around the concept of “need to know” – only those who need to know should be given access to the information, whether it be raw data or finished material.

In 2004 Congress passed a law called the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-458; S.2845) which is sometimes pointed to as the authority for the Congress to see all intelligence data. Specifically, Sec. 102A.(a)(1)(D) states that the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) shall provide national intelligence to various government authorities including “the Senate and House of Representatives and the committees thereof…” Of course, there are no caveats in this section of the law as to what “national intelligence” consists of, nor any specifics as to who it must be given.

Here we have another instance of Congress passing a law that may (or may not) circumscribe the constitutionally based powers of the President. In a letter from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to Senator Dianne Feinstein, Alfred Cumming, Specialist in Intelligence and National Security Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division, lays out the type of intelligence data that typically is not shared with Congress (footnotes removed – see the letter for the references):

Congressional Access to Intelligence Information Not Routinely Provided in Four Areas
The executive branch generally does not routinely share with Congress four general types of intelligence information:
  1. the identities of intelligence sources;

  2. the "methods" employed by the Intelligence Community in collecting and analyzing intelligence;

  3. "raw" intelligence, which can be unevaluated or "lightly" evaluated intelligence, which in the case of human intelligence sometimes is provided by a single source, but which also could consist of intelligence derived from multiple sources when signals and imagery collection methods are employed; and,

  4. certain written intelligence products tailored to the specific needs of the President and other high-level executive branch policymakers. Included in the last category is the President's Daily Brief (PDB), a written intelligence product which is briefed daily to the President, and which consists of six to eight relatively short articles or briefs covering a broad array of topics. The PDB emphasizes current intelligence and is viewed as highly sensitive, in part, because it can contain intelligence source and operational information. Its dissemination is thus limited to the President and a small number of presidentially-designated senior administration policymakers.

The letter points out two important reasons why some information is not shared with Congress. I summarize below:

  1. There is a need to protect the most sensitive information against “leaks” The bottom line is that the more people that know, the greater the chance information will be leaked and sources and methods compromised. Sources and methods need to be protected so that they can continue to be used.

  2. The second concern is over access to the actual “raw” intelligence. If that material somehow makes its way into the wrong hands, there is a possibility that sources and methods can be determined by analyzing the data. In addition, since “raw” data has not been analyzed, there is a concern that a lawmaker could try to enact legislation based on incorrect information.

Mr. Cumming points out that in general Congress has access to a tremendous amount of the intelligence that is gathered. First and foremost is Congress access to “Finished Intelligence.” According to Cumming:

Congress generally receives access to most finished intelligence products that are published for general circulation within the executive branch. A finished intelligence product is one in which an analyst evaluates, interprets, integrates and places into context raw intelligence.
Although congressional access is limited to such finished products, the volume of such products provided to Congress has increased over time. Between 1947, when the National Security Act establishing the CIA was enacted, and the mid-1970s, the executive branch shared relatively little intelligence with Congress, and access to it was quite limited. But after two special congressional investigative committees headed by former Sen. Frank Church and Rep. Otis Pike launched investigations of the Intelligence Community in the mid-1970s, the executive branch permitted the Community to increase the volume of intelligence information it provided to Congress.

And if you follow the letter to Feinstein further, it is pointed out that Congress is also exposed to intelligence data via briefings and thirteen other sources. Congresswoman’s Pelosi’s contention that Congress should have access to all intelligence (no pun intended), is dubious is best. More likely it has been shown that they receive more than enough intelligence data to facilitate their “oversight” function.

When speaking of the IC, Pelosi asserts:

“Congress oversees and pays for them -- and thus has a responsibility to ensure that they are effective and carried out in a manner consistent with the Constitution, our laws and our values.”

In some respects I can not argue with this statement. But the question still becomes how much does Congress have to know to exercise their oversight responsibilities? With the number of leaks that have been attributed to Congress over the years, it makes sense that any administration would seek to keep legislators from the material.

The issue comes back to “need to know.” Pelosi argues that Congress should be able to decide, even though they do not own the information, who within their bailiwick has “need to know.” She says:

“In the executive branch, decisions about who should have access to intelligence are made on a "need to know" basis. Congress must adopt a similar principle. The members of the intelligence committees are entrusted by their colleagues with the responsibility for making sure that intelligence practices are consistent with our laws and our values. Unless the entire committee has access to the same information, under tight confidentiality rules, Congress cannot respond legislatively to intelligence activity by the executive branch.”

As Cumming pointed out to Feinstein, the President owns the IC, and the product which the IC produces. The Executive Branch decides who has the right to know. Not Congress.

So there you have Pelosi’s arguments. She feels that Congress needs to have access to intelligence data so they can properly oversee IC activities. That sounds reasonable. She argues that Congress should have access to all intelligence data. That is a lot less sensible, not only for the reasons listed above, but also the ludicrous picture of Congressional leaders trying to keep up with the amount of intelligence gathered each day (How does Pelosi propose to handle this? Hire extra staff?). Finally she argues that Congress should have the right to determine “need to know” basis within their own ranks. This is the least reasonable of all her arguments. In the post NSA-leak world, where there exists a real possibility that one of the leakers was a ranking Democratic member of an Intelligence Committee, we should be deciding how to tighten controls over national secrets, not trying to figure out how to let more people know.

Note: Thanks to Harry Arthur for reminding me the difference between Senators and Congresspeople. Sheesh – I had a mind slip on that one.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Dirty Money?

Dirty Money?

You know, there is a lot of trouble in our capitol when it comes to our representatives, of both parties, taking money from lobbyists. Don’t get me wrong – lobbying has been a part of our traditions for as long as we have had a government. And it truly is one of the ways that private interests get requests in front of the government. But that doesn’t make the money issues – the abuse of money in these instances the right thing to do.

The latest “scandal” is Abramoff. It appears that the man, and his organization, gave money (a lot of it) to both sides of the aisle. But more than that, it appears that he also played a few tribes off against one another to line his own pockets.

The Democrats have tried to paint this problem as entirely a Republican issue. That is simply not the truth. If you look at the information provided by the Center for Responsive Politics on the site, you will find that both parties are well represented (if I can use those words).

So the real question is not whether we should have lobbyists; it is not whether they should have access to government representatives. What is comes down to is how do we make the process transparent so that people like Abramoff don’t have the opportunity any more.

I Couldn't Resist

I don't know if you have been following the Alito hearings, but I sure have. Unfortunately I stay up late and watch the reruns because I can't pay attention during the day - other things to do. But I really have to laugh about the lack of integrity shown by the Democratic Senators - especially the obviously addled Ted Kennedy.

The two biggest issues they seemed to be able to come up with were Vanguard and CAP. Vanguard was a non-starter from the beginning because Alito, even though he did not have to; and even though he did not break any law or ehtics rules, recused himself (after a request from one of the lawyers in the case) from the proceedings and asked that another panel from the 3rd Circuit decide the case.

But what was funnier was watching Kennedy read the same paragraph over and over again from the CAP magazine. For those of you who didn't follow - CAP was a conservative men's club at Princeton. According to many documents and interviews, the club was against the idea of women and minorities being placed ahead of others (particularly white men) simply because of their sex and race. This is the same old argument against Affirmative Action that has been used for many, many years.

To give you more background - what Kennedy was reading was one paragraph from one issue of the magazine, and the author was not Alito.

The questionable paragraph said:

"People nowadays just don't seem to know their place. Everywhere one turns blacks and hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and Hispanic, the physically handicapped are trying to gain equal representation in professional sports, and homosexuals are demanding that government vouchsafe them the right to bear children."

With this in hand, Kennedy (and other Democratic Senators) started speaking - yes speaking meaning pontificating - not really questioning - about Alito being a bigot; a racist. At one point Kennedy stated point blank:

In an era when America is still too divided by race and riches, Judge "Alioto" has not written one single opinion on the merits in favor of a person of color alleging race discrimination on the job. In fifteen years on the bench, not one.

This quote was from the first day of the hearings during Kennedy's opening statement. Note that he did not even know the judges name at that point. Nevertheless, the statement was basically a lie. Alito has participated in over 4,000 cases and in many, many of them ruled in favor of minorities, people discriminated against on the job, etc. You can read some of the cases - actual cases, not rhetoric here.

And then yesterday, when seven judges that have worked with Alito over the years, including self-admitted liberal judges - including a black judge - many appointed by the Clinton Administration - when these judges came to the conference room to deliver their glowing reports on Alito, Schumer did not attend, Kennedy fact the only Democrat that stayed for the proceedings was Dianne Feinstein. What kind of respect does that show? What kind of fair hearing is it that the Democratic Senators can spend their time not asking questions, but smearing a qualified person with lies and innuendo, and then not even being present when people who have worked with the judge for so many years want to clear the record.

And Kennedy - what a hypocrite. Are you aware of the all male conservative club he belongs to at his alma mater - Harvard? It is called the OWL Club and Kennedy just renewed his membership in September 2005. Their have been several stories about it this week, but here is one from the Washinton Times. I just quote one paragraph:

The club has long been reviled on campus as "sexist" and "elitist" and, in 1984, was booted from the university for violating federal anti-discrimination laws, authored by Mr. Kennedy.

So here we have Kennedy, who still belongs to a club like the one Alito bleonged to in his Senior year (and apparently not since), criticizing the philosophy of Alito's club, using associative innuendo to intimate that Alito is against women and is a racist, when he - Teddy "Splash" Kennedy still belongs to the same type of club. Well maybe not the same. Kennedy points to one paragraph from one article from one edition of a magazine. His entire club was kicked off campus for violating the anti-discrimination law.    

Welcome Message

Welcome to SpecterVision.Some of you may recognize my name. I have been around the Usenet and Blogging world for many years. Some members of one of the local sites I publish on got tired of me always being right and politely asked if I would start my own blog. Of course, they were of a different political persuasion than me. I do still post there, and will continue to post on many other blogs.I will tell you that I am an ardent fan of the "blogosphere". The reasons for this are probably much like many of yours - I got tired of trying to get real truth from newpapers, magazines, and television. I decided that I did not need some "talking head" to tell me what my opinions should be.I know now that I will not agree with all of you. I am by nature pretty conservative. But I do like lively debate, and will apologize in advance if I become a little overzealous. In that case, just slap me a little and bring me back to earth!I also think that the advantage here is that we can use this wonderful medium to hone our ideas and opinions, and maybe even to educate each other. And now....let's have some fun.Specter