An actual Muslim president

Today on Meet the Press, Dr. Ben Carson said “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

I would have liked Chuck Todd to follow-up with the question, “what attributes common to all Muslims make them unfit to occupy the Oval Office?” What is there about Islam that is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution, Dr. Carson? Do you think a Muslim president would be a Manchurian candidate?

I would also have been curious to know how Carson would feel about an atheist president. If the Constitution requires the separation of church and state, why would a president’s religion (or lack of one) matter?

New Orleans’ road to recovery

Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans ten years ago on this date. Since then, there has been a lot of retrospective on the aftermath of the hurricane and the recovery of New Orleans. The attention is well deserved considering the devastation and the importance of learning from it. Sadly, too much of it is misdirected.

Five years ago, the most popular opinion was that New Orleans was rebuilding too slowly. People expressed concerns about the hundreds of thousands of former residents who had not returned; the neighborhoods dominated by destroyed homes and empty lots; the unviable business environment; and the lack of infrastructure in the city. But after spending $9-billion on federal housing programs in New Orleans, more than half of the city’s 72 neighborhoods have recovered ninety percent of their pre-Katrina population and the population in the city overall is only twenty percent less than it was a decade ago.

But insurance companies stopped covering real estate against flooding in New Orleans. Rather than complaining that this is unfair to residents who stayed in New Orleans, no one should be surprised insurance companies have done so. They sustained monumental costs in New Orleans related to the hurricane. Insurance companies won’t be able to insure anyone if they can’t make a profit to stay in business. When their actuaries calculate the probability that New Orleans will sustain a catastrophic flood in the future, it comes out to one hundred percent. It is not possible to profitably insure against something that is certain to occur.

New Orleans is surrounded by the great Mississippi River on one side, a large lake on the other, and the Gulf of Mexico on the third side. The city itself sits as much as eight feet below sea level with only some levees keeping the ocean out. The federal government spent $14.5-billion rebuilding the levees but only did so to 100-year-flood levels, not the 500-year-flood levels to which the Netherlands’ dikes are built. With rising oceans and increasing severity of storms from Climate Change, New Orleans will be lucky if it goes even a decade or two before the next catastrophic failure of its levees. Other than that, New Orleans’ only protection from the hurricanes that are sure to periodically make landfall nearby are rapidly dwindling wetlands. But the entire area should be mangrove swamps and other wetlands acting as a natural buffer against hurricanes. New Orleans should be a community of marine life, not humans.

The wise former residents of New Orleans took the money their insurance companies paid them for damages from Katrina and relocated elsewhere to rebuild their lives. The government should have made relief to victims of the hurricane contingent on using it to relocate away from New Orleans. Had the billions of tax dollars spent on rebuilding New Orleans been spent instead on helping New Orleans residents rebuild their lives elsewhere, the Americans who would have benefited the most from it are those poor souls who instead are still living in New Orleans. Insured or not, the only thing certain in their lives is that a day will again come when their closest neighbors will be red snapper.

Nonetheless, although it’s not a matter of if it will become victim to another catastrophic flood, it’s a matter of when, America will continue to squander her treasury on rebuilding New Orleans. And the city has grown large enough that the damage will be about as great as from Katrina when the next major hurricane makes landfall there. Meanwhile, the only road to the permanent recovery of New Orleans is paved under the waters of a coastal wetland.

President Obama on Social Security

Motivated by news that the Social Security disability trust fund could run dry soon, I wrote to my federal representatives. So far, only President Obama replied. Although his reply doesn’t directly address my concerns about the disability trust fund, he shared his position on Social Security in general:

Dear David:

Thank you for writing. It’s clear you have faced great challenges, and I want you to know I am listening. I have heard from many Americans who are concerned about their financial security in retirement, and I want you to know I am listening.

As President, one of my top priorities is keeping Social Security a rock-solid, guaranteed progressive benefit that every American can rely on. However, a Social Security check often is not enough on its own. After a lifetime of hard work, too many Americans reach their golden years unable to supplement their Social Security and enjoy a secure retirement. At a time when Americans are largely responsible for making their own choices about how much to save and how to invest their savings, my Administration is making it easier to prepare for retirement. In every budget I’ve put forward since taking Office, I’ve proposed legislation that would give 30 million additional workers access to a workplace savings opportunity. And last year, the Treasury Department launched “myRA,” a simple, safe, and no-fee savings program that stays with you even if you switch jobs.

At the same time, families who act responsibly by building up their savings should be able to trust that the retirement advice they receive is in their best interest. But right now, outdated regulations allow brokers to put their own financial gain ahead of their clients’ retirement security—costing savers approximately $17 billion each year. That is why my Administration is updating the rules and requirements for retirement investment advice. The bottom line is that what you earn on the nest egg you’ve worked a lifetime to build should work for you, not anybody else.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts. A critical test of the strength of our economy is whether hardworking Americans feel confident in their retirement security. As long as I hold this Office, I’ll keep fighting to preserve the basic bargain that anyone who works hard all their life can enjoy a stable and secure retirement.

Barack Obama

In all fairness, there’s little President Obama can do about the disability trust fund at this point. When the fund runs dry, he will have to make some executive decisions but he’ll nearly be leaving the Oval Office by then. In the meantime, he can only respond to what congress brings to the table.

Fast Track to the sky falling

Congress has passed the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 known colloquially as “Fast Track” or trade promotion authority. The law allows the president to submit international trade agreements to Congress for an expedited, up-or-down vote without amendments. As expected, this has raised a chorus of voices from Chicken Littles complaining that the proverbial sky is falling. Specifically, they claim that:

These are all absurd claims. As per the Constitution of the United States, president Obama cannot pass any treaty, which is what a trade agreement is, without the consent of two-thirds of the US Senate. Granted, Fast Track requires congress to make an expedited, up-or-down vote on trade agreements without allowing them to make amendments. But these conditions prevent trade agreements from becoming mired in filibustering and pork-barreling. Congress can barely pass a domestic bill. Could you imagine if the president had to not only negotiate every trade agreement with foreign countries but also negotiate the terms with congress? If congress doesn’t like the terms of a trade agreement as it’s brought to them by the president, they can simply vote it down and it will not go into effect.

The claim that the USA has lost its sovereignty is perhaps the most absurd of all. Section 108 of the law, explicitly titled “Sovereignty,” states:

No provision of any trade agreement entered into … that is inconsistent with any law of the United States, any State of the United States, or any locality of the United States shall have effect.

No provision of any trade agreement entered into … shall prevent the United States, any State of the United States, or any locality of the United States from amending or modifying any law of the United States, that State, or that locality.

This conforms with existing law which makes any treaty found to be unconstitutional null and void. Furthermore, congress can repeal any treaty they previously ratified by simple legislative action.

Finally, I’ll dispel the claim that the president can make secret treaties. The trade promotion authority requires the president to “provide, at least 90 calendar days before initiating negotiations with a country, written notice to Congress of the President’s intention to enter into the negotiations with that country.” It also says that “the President, at least 60 days before the day on which the President enters into the agreement, publishes the text of the agreement on a publicly available Internet website of the Office of the United States Trade Representative.”

The will of the people to be unconstitutional

The California Marriage Protection Act, which provided that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” was voted into law by Californians in the November 2008 election. Earlier this month, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker overturned the law more commonly known as Proposition 8.

This has supporters of the proposition in an uproar, claiming that Walker denied the people of California their free will. It’s ironic that the California Marriage Protection Act itself denies an entire class of people their free will to marry. Of course, Proposition 8 supporters would argue that all it does is to explicitly define “marriage” in the state’s constitution as it has been defined for millennia.

In fact, polygamy—one of the more ancient practices—was long considered a legitimate marriage, both in religions and in society. It was not uncommon for a marriage between an adult and a girl in her early teens to be recognized without controversy. Because the Confucian philosophy dictated that Chinese marriage brings together families of different surnames, it was not considered incestuous to marry one’s maternal relative, and families would intermarry from one generation to another.

In modern marriage, neither religion nor moralities have any relevance, at least insofar as the state of California is concerned. Walker made this case in his ruling when he wrote the following clause:

Marriage in the United States has always been a civil matter. Civil authorities may permit religious leaders to solemnize marriages but not to determine who may enter or leave a civil marriage. Religious leaders may determine independently whether to recognize a civil marriage or divorce but that recognition or lack thereof has no effect on the relationship under state law.

He was also careful to recognize that overturning the law in no way impinges on anyone’s religious freedoms:

Proposition 8 does not affect the First Amendment rights of those opposed to marriage for same-sex couples. Prior to Proposition 8, no religious group was required to recognize marriage for same-sex couples.

A marriage in a California church, temple, or synagogue is not legally recognized if the state has not licensed the couple to marry. A legal marriage licensed by the state is valid even if there has been no religious ceremony. From the perspective of the state of California—which is the only jurisdiction of the California Marriage Protection Act—marriage is simply a legal status of two consenting persons, with the associated rights and responsibilities prescribed by law.

Furthermore, within the scope of authority of Proposition 8, marriage is a state matter. California is obligated to execute state law only to the extent that it is constitutional under the United States Constitution. That constitution happens to have an equal-protection clause—Amendment XIV—that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Judge Walker wrote that “Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license.” Proposition 8 reflected the will of the people of California…to enact an unconstitutional law. For that reason, it should not stand.

Cake decorated with the words
Same-Sex Marriage

Congress passes law establishing the Christian religion

The Establishment Clause is one reason why the USA has remained one nation, indivisible for so long. Now the House of Representatives is trying to tear Americans apart by religion. They have passed the House Resolution 847, Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.

How is it possible that congress did not recognize something even more important? HR 847 is unquestionably a direct violation of the Constitution. The very first amendment of the Bill of Rights says unequivocally that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.? Yet HR 847 does just that, establishing the “Christian faith.”

And where does this leave Muslim and Jewish Americans or, for that matter, any American of any faith other than Christianity? Congress is implying that they’re unimportant.

Then there are atheist Americans: since atheism is the absence of any faith, including Christianity, should they infer that they, too, are unimportant to congress? Ironically, many atheists ‘celebrate’ Christmas, albeit secularly. Since HR 847 also establishes the importance of Christmas, does that mean congress considers atheists who observe Christmas halfway important?

Be afraid, be very afraid!

After bouncing from yellow to orange to yellow to orange to yellow countless times, Bush’s Homeland Security Advisory System on the threat level no longer terrorizes Americans as he intended it to do. As his primary tool for keeping Americans in line with his agenda, Bush constantly has to find new tactics to frighten America. His latest is to have foiled bomb plots “leaked” to the press.

Today’s story is about a disrupted plot by eight terrorists to blow up a commuter train tunnel connecting New Jersey and Manhattan. After painting this scary story as “what we believe was the real deal” by FBI assistant director Mark Mershon, he put America at ease by assuring us that US authorities had collaborated with foreign ones to break up the attack before it occurred. So just how well developed was the plan and how real was the danger?

Mershon conceded that the plot was in its preliminary stages. He said, “They were about to go to a phase where they would attempt to surveil targets, establish a regimen of attack and acquire the resources necessary to effectuate the attacks.” When you analyze the statement, you realize that means the terrorists had not even begun to even attempt surveillance of the tunnel. In fact, none of the suspects had ever even been to the United States. What Mershon really said was that the terrorists had not even formulated a systematic plan of attack or acquired the materiel and equipment needed to execute the non-existent plan. What the plot boiled down to was nothing more than some extremists brainstorming by email some outlandish ideas of how they might try to hurt America. Considering how much Bush has driven foreigners to hate America, this sort of thing must go on countless times every day around the world.

We found out more about this when New York City police commissioner Raymond Kelly was interviewed on the News Hour today. He validated the fact that the plot was nothing more than transmissions on the Internet and:

…was still very much in the planning phase. Nothing of an operational nature had gone forward. They had not obtained, again, to the best of our knowledge, the means to go forward with actually executing this plan.

This plot was just the second in a series. A couple of weeks ago, federal agents captured the “Miami Seven”—a group of homeless religious fundamentalists living in a warehouse. They were accused of plotting to bomb Chicago’s 110-story Sears Tower and wage other attacks inside the United States. However, like the plot broken up today, FBI deputy director John Pistole admitted it was “more aspirational than operational.” That’s quite the understatement. Anyone who watched CNN’s interview of member Brother Corey on television could see that this troupe is sadly lacking in the capability of fully rational thinking.

So be afraid, America, be very afraid! Thank Bush’s administration for their crack detective work to intercept these grave threats to our safety. As long as Bush keeps you terrorized, he holds on to the last shred of undeserved credibility in his arsenal.

To be a worker and to be a criminal are not mutually exclusive

Last week, half a million people poured into the streets of LA carrying signs declaring “We’re workers, not criminals” to protest HR 4437.

HR 4437 is a bill being debated in Congress that, if passed, would “amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to strengthen enforcement of the immigration laws, to enhance border security, and for other purposes.” The bill would make it a felony for an immigrant to reside in the USA without the required documentation.

Nonetheless, the undocumented aliens carrying those signs were wrong. A person does not have to be a felon to be a criminal. Even if an illegal alien is only committing a misdemeanor, they’re still by definition a criminal.

Criminal activity should not be rewarded because it only encourages more illegal behavior. Furthermore, as long as there are American citizens going to bed hungry and living without access to healthcare, their taxpayer dollars should not be paid to support other people intentionally breaking the laws of this country.

Undocumented aliens should not be eligible for any government benefits paid for by taxpayer dollars like:

  • Medicare or Medi-Cal
  • housing subsidies
  • AFDC
  • Social Security
  • food stamps
  • welfare

If a child in public schools is not a US citizen or Resident Alien, a surcharge should be levied against the parents to fully cover the expense of educating them. An illegal alien should not be licensed by a state or the federal government to drive, be a contractor, practice healthcare, sell securities or real estate, or any other activity in this country formally sanctioned or regulated by a government entity. If all these restrictions were in place, it would staunch a great deal of illegal immigration. This is a land of limited resources, so our government is obligated to meet all the needs of its citizens first and has no obligation to serve foreign criminals.

Are many illegal immigrants hard working? Sure. Are many of them otherwise law abiding? Yes. Regardless, they could stay in their native countries and work hard and obey the laws there. As soon as they choose to illegally cross our borders, they have intentionally decided to conduct themselves as criminals and should be treated as such. The excuse that they suffer great hardships in their home countries is invalid. If a natural-born US citizen faced hard times and was in great need and chose to rob a bank to relieve his hardships, would you excuse that illegal act? Of course not. Why would we hold illegal immigrants to a lesser standard?

There are complications to dealing with undocumented aliens. Many of them have children that are US citizens, and those children have as much right to a public education as those born to US citizens. These children know nothing of life in their parents’ native country. Many of them are not totally fluent in their parents’ native language. Could you imagine the hardship these children—natural-born American citizens—would suffer trying to adjust to living in a foreign land if their parents were deported? This is but one example of the complexities of the problem.

There are no easy solutions to the problem of illegal immigration. HR 4437 might not be the solution and this post does not purport to have the right answer. Regardless, we cannot move closer to discovering the right solution until we acknowledge the truth that undocumented aliens are breaking the law. Perpetuating a fallacy like an illegal alien who works is not a criminal only serves to cloud our judgment when we address the problem.

Alito v Judiciary Committee – Final Round

Today was the last day of Q&A between Judge Samuel Alito and the Senate Judiciary Committee in Alito’s confirmation hearings for his nomination to the Supreme Court. Before I analyze it, besides the disclaimer I made in my first post on this topic applying again, I should additionally make the following legal disclaimer: I am not an attorney—in fact, I’ve never even played one on TV. However, I am a pretty smart guy and I have studied quite a bit of law. Most importantly when it comes to the law, I understand the principles of logic & critical thinking and many would say that I apply them excessively. Subsequently, my analysis here is devoid of emotion but critically analytical and, therefore, relatively unbiased.

The best part of today’s hearing is that the Democrats finally gave up on the CAP and the Vanguard issues. Democrats repeatedly slashed at Alito with these issues for two days but made no fatal cut…because they are very blunt instruments. Although the issues looked like they could inflict some damage when they were first drawn, the more they were wielded, the less of an edge they held. Granted, they might have said something about Alito personally, but CAP & Vanguard were just red herrings in the context of Alito’s qualifications for the Supreme Court.

Of course, as you would expect with the straw men knocked down, Alito looked much better than he did in Round One. Nonetheless, he was still nowhere near as adept as Roberts at addressing—or deflecting, as the case may be—the committee’s questioning. Subsequently, Alito was much more forthcoming and provided more insights into what he would look like on the bench. In a nutshell, a conservative, thoughtful, analytical, and (like me) unemotional justice.

In effect, whether I agree with his personal ideologies or not, because he appears to think much like I do, I have to appreciate his approach. And when it comes to a Supreme Court justice, the approach is crucial. A justice cannot allow his or her decisions to be driven by emotion. They must have the law drive their decisions, even if that decision ends up to be contrary to the justice’s personal beliefs.

The Democrats on the committee made it clear that they do not agree with Alito’s personal values. However, that’s outside of the scope of the Senate’s purview on this matter. They’re supposed to provide advice and consent, but not selection. Therefore, if they find no substantial grounds to deny the qualifications of the president’s selection for the bench, then the Senate is obligated to confirm the president’s nomination. Regardless of the fact that Alito had nowhere near the superstar performance Roberts did, no one could rightfully say that his performance was grounds for disqualification (at least if you let logic drive that claim rather than emotion).

If Alito gets confirmed and sworn in to the Supreme Court, Americans cannot blame the Judiciary Committee. The Senate cannot blame the president. If you think that Alito should not be on the bench, then you have to lay the blame at the feet of the American electorate. That’s right: the Constitution gives the president the responsibility of nominating Federal judges. The electorate made their bed, now they’ll have to sleep in it—for the next few decades.

Alito v Democrats – Round One

Today was the first day of Q&A between Judge Samuel Alito and the Senate Judiciary Committee in Alito’s confirmation hearings for his nomination to the Supreme Court. Before I analyze it, I should make the following legal disclaimer: I did not watch the hearing from end-to-end. That said, I did watch a good chunk of it.

How did Alito do today? In whole, he delivered very mixed results. Compared to Chief Justice Roberts‘ performance a few months ago, Alito could not hold a candle. However, compared to mere humans, Alito held up okay.

As a staunch supporter of many traditional conservative principles, I was comforted by much of the responses Alito had to today’s questioning. For the most part, he responded as a traditional conservative would.

Sidebar: Why do I keep using the term "traditional" conservative? Because many contemporary conservatives, and in particular neo-conservatives, have abandoned the traditional principles of conservatism. Instead, the most noted people called conservatives nowadays—especially the president—are actually radicals. Ironically, the definitions of "conservative" and "radical" are almost antonyms. Therefore, when I refer to traditional conservatism, I have to be clear that I do not include neo-conservatives.

There was one response in particular Alito made that I was pleased to hear: “The Bill of Rights applies at all times,” he said. “And it’s particularly important that we adhere to the Bill of Rights in times of war and in times of national crisis, because that’s when there’s the greatest temptation to depart from them.” Then he dotted the ‘i’ by adding, “No person in this country is above the law, and that includes the president and it includes the Supreme Court.”

That’s not to say that Alito’s performance was without flaw. He was subjected to withering questioning by the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Considering that the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment, it’s only fair that the scrutiny of all nominees is rigorous, comprehensive, in-depth, and without boundaries. After all, a man of Alito’s age could sit on the bench effecting Americans for well over a generation, so they deserve an eminently qualified justice. However, the Democrats’ questioning of Alito went beyond what’s required to confirm him and extended to the lengths of becoming simply the pursuit of a partisan agenda.

However, his responses to partisan questioning were not the ones that were problematic. Instead, he had a couple of major stumbles in personal matters. First of all, he was asked about his statement that he would recuse himself in any case related to Vanguard mutual funds and his subsequent failure to do so. His response sounded disingenuous, simply saying “I just didn’t focus on the issue of recusal.” Considering numerous references to “Vanguard” in his finding in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, he couldn’t credibly claim to have forgotten his commitment.

His second major stumble was around questioning on his proud reference to membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP) that he included in his CV. Under questioning from Democrats, he tried to dismiss his involvement. At one point he claimed to not have been active in the organization, even though he used his membership to help get him a higher-level job in the Reagan administration. His claims to having joined CAP only for its relationship with ROTC rang hollow—at least on the left side of the Hart hearing room. Personally, I doubt that Alito was involved in CAP so much for its exclusionary position towards women and minorities as much as he was to distance himself from his modest roots and cast himself as an elitist, but that’s a weak endorsement.

All in all, Alito was much more forthcoming in this first round of questioning than Chief Justice Roberts was when he faced the committee. This was good because it gives Americans a better picture of what kind of a justice Alito would make than we had of Roberts. However, it also exposed some of his flaws. But in terms of the fundamentals of Alito’s commitment to uphold stare decisis, his penchant for the Constitution & Bill of Rights, and his unequivocal statement that no one is above the law, he fared very well. Stay tuned for round two.