Wednesday, March 09, 2005

News for March 9th: Stripping Constitutional Rights Edition

I have a confession: I’m not a very good liberal. Yes, I support most of the progressive causes, such as social security, health care reform, and equal rights, but I have also, slowly, come to support gun rights, and even understand the conservative stance on guns. Simply put, I think that the American people should be able to reserve some right of force for themselves in case the need for revolution ever does arise. I used to think that the “well-armed militia” bit referred to the National Guard, but I see the need for citizens to own weapons in this country.

Yes, I know all the liberal arguments for gun control, as I used to use them, as well. I’ve come to realize, however, that the problems presented by rampant gun ownership in the US are a symptom of cultural problems, not the availability of guns themselves. People will find a way to kill each other if they really want to.

Thus it is with great trepidation that I’m hearing about the move to ban people on terror watch lists from acquiring guns. It strikes me as either an extraordinarily bad idea or politically motivated. These watch lists operate by:

One more right that’ll be dissolving in the name of national security.

FBI suggests Congress ban gun sales to terrorism suspects
By Thomas Frank, USA TODAY

FBI Director Robert Mueller suggested Tuesday that Congress consider barring terrorism suspects from legally buying guns after an audit found that 47 people on a terrorism watch list were approved for purchases last year.

Gun sales are denied to convicted felons, fugitives, convicted drug users, illegal aliens and others under federal gun laws. But a Government Accountability Office report made public Tuesday pointed out that being suspected of having a link to a terrorist or a terrorist group is not among the nine criteria that prevent someone from legally buying a firearm. It only triggers a more intense background check of the person before a gun dealer can sell them a gun.

"We ought to look at what can be done to perhaps modify the law," Mueller told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee.

The National Rifle Association says the current law is protecting Americans from terrorists while allowing citizens the freedom to own guns. Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's chief executive, said under the law, if the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System gets a hit that someone applying for a gun permit is on a terror watch list, the government official who put that person on the list and other counterterrorism personnel are notified.

"They are specifically asked whether there's a good reason to deny this person buying a firearm," LaPierre told the Associated Press in an interview. "If there is, the person is denied. If there is not, the person is not denied."

More at Yahoo News.

Here’s the no-duh prize…

Graham Says GOP Erred By Focusing on Accounts
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 9, 2005; Page A08

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who has spent weeks attempting to recruit Democratic support for a plan to restructure Social Security, said yesterday that Republicans "made a strategic mistake" by initially focusing on a proposal to create individual investment accounts.

The accounts, the centerpiece of President Bush's proposal, would benefit young and poorer workers by letting them use compound interest to help make up for any benefit reductions, Graham said. But he said the accounts, by themselves, will not fix the solvency problem Social Security faces as baby boomers begin to retire.

"We've now got this huge fight over a sideshow," Graham said during a meeting with Washington Post reporters and editors. "It's always been a sideshow, but we sold it as the main event. [Critics are] attacking it as the undoing of Social Security. That's what frustrates me -- that we're off in a ditch over a sideshow, and there's plenty of blame to go around."

The House will take its first formal step toward a Social Security bill today when Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) holds a hearing about the future of the benefits system. The session will feature testimony from Comptroller General David M. Walker, who heads the Government Accountability Office, and two trustees of the Social Security system, Thomas R. Saving and John L. Palmer.

More at The Washington Post.

Ugh, I hate that Bush is taking credit for what’s happening in Lebanon. It has nothing to do with him, but he’s sure latching on to it.

Bush Calls Democracy Terror's Antidote
By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 9, 2005; Page A16

President Bush said yesterday a fledgling democratic movement that he sees spreading through the Middle East is essential to defeating terrorism, and warned Syria and Iran against thwarting the "momentum of freedom" and fomenting instability in the region.

"The chances of democratic progress in the broader Middle East have seemed frozen in place for decades," Bush said at the National Defense University at Fort McNair. "Yet, at last, clearly and suddenly, the thaw has begun."

Following up on his inaugural pledge to "end tyranny around the world," Bush demanded that Syria immediately withdraw its troops from Lebanon, called on both Syria and Iran to stop terrorist activities in the region, and directly pressed for open presidential elections in Egypt.

Speaking at a war college where Dwight D. Eisenhower and Colin L. Powell studied, Bush, for the first time, claimed some measure of credit for the democratic changes taking place in the Middle East and sought to explain how these developments will make the United States safer from terrorists. In the past months, Iraq and the Palestinians held democratic elections, Egypt and Saudi Arabia signaled their intentions to open up their voting processes -- although in a very limited fashion -- and the Lebanese people took to the streets and forced the resignation of the Syrian-controlled government.

More at The Washington Post.

Well, this will be interesting: where is Congress going to go with the budget? I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

Tax, Spending Cuts Packaged
Congressional Panels Offer Budget Blueprints Today
By Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 9, 2005; Page A08

The House and Senate Budget committees will unveil fiscal blueprints today that pave the way for additional tax reductions while seeking billions in spending cuts that target Medicaid, farm assistance, major weapons systems and just about every other domestic program.

Offsetting tax breaks mostly for the affluent with spending cuts that could hurt the poor could be politically risky, particularly in the Senate, where moderate Republicans have already warned that the juxtaposition may be untenable.

Last year, Congress failed to produce a budget over a similar tax fight. Four Republican senators -- Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain (Ariz.), and Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.) -- joined Democrats to insist that further tax breaks be paid for through revenue increases or spending cuts. House Republicans and the White House refused to go along.

Collins said this week that including tax cuts in the budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 could prove to be an even tougher sell, "given all the sacrifices that we're asking of some very important programs." Snowe said her position on the budget and tax cuts is unchanged from last year.

Concerns about Republican opposition led Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) to initially consider omitting tax cuts from the 2006 plan.

More at The Washington Post.

I wish I could say that the selection of John Bolton for UN Ambassador surprises me, but after Negroponte, nothing surprises me.

Bush's Perverse UN Pick
by Ian Williams, The Nation

The nomination of John Bolton to be US ambassador to the United Nations is a resounding declaration of American contempt for the organization and the rest of the world. When Condoleezza Rice forced Bolton out of his niche at the State Department, it was taken worldwide as a positive indication of the prospects of multilateralism in Bush's second term, in some measure compensating for the retirement of Colin Powell--not least since no one was sure how much of a multilateralist Rice is.

Some playful souls scared colleagues by suggesting that Bolton could end up as UN ambassador, but the consensus was that not even Bush could be that crassly insouciant about the views of the rest of the world.

This week showed that once again, the world has underestimated the President.

Bolton's nomination sends a message to the Europeans that on his recent European tour Bush was only kidding about a joint approach to global threats. It sends a message to the rest of the world that the United States will not listen to them, but will pursue its own obsessively theological agenda in the teeth of almost universal opposition.

Some UN officials are halfheartedly trying to convince themselves that the job will make Bolton more amenable to working within the system. Sadly, they are almost certain to be disappointed. He has shown no compunction about working the system for his own and his conservative colleagues' benefit. As far back as 1992, when he was Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, he was trying to shake down the UN Development Program for a $2 million grant to an organization that was little more than a pension fund for a conservative colleague [see Williams, "Why the Right Loves the U.N.," April 13, 1992].

More recently, Bolton was an assistant to James Baker when the former Secretary of State was Secretary General Kofi Annan's (failed) representative for Western Sahara. But Bolton has remained unrelenting in his opposition, both rhetorical and practical, to the UN even as he took the money.

More at the Nation.

This bankruptcy bill is terrible. I’ve been very close to a position where I would have to declare bankruptcy, and only dug myself out through a stroke of good luck. I can tell you this: the majority of people who get screwed by the exorbitant interest rates and sharklike tactics of credit cards and the unbelievable burden of being uninsured in America would like to pay these bills, but sometimes it really comes down to deciding between having a roof over your head or paying MBNA. The roof tends to win.

Oh well, at least the corporations will be protected from the evil poor.

Bankruptcy Bill Nears Final Senate Vote
By Kathleen Day
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 9, 2005; Page A01

The Republican-controlled Senate cleared the way for a final vote as soon as today on an industry-backed bill to make it harder for consumers to wipe out debt through bankruptcy.

Senators voted 53 to 46 against an amendment offered by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) that had helped sink the legislation in prior years. The measure would have made it harder for people who break the law while protesting abortion to use bankruptcy to avoid paying court-ordered fines.

In another vote yesterday, 14 Democrats joined Republicans in a 69-to-31 majority to limit to 30 hours further debate on the legislation. Sixty votes are needed to cap debate in the Senate, and the chamber's 55 Republicans were uncertain just hours before the afternoon vote whether enough Democrats would join them.

Democrats intend to offer dozens of amendments in the debate time remaining, but Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), think they have the votes to defeat them and then easily pass the legislation, which the credit card and finance industry has pushed for nearly eight years.

The bill would then go to the House, where Republican leaders have promised to move quickly if the Senate keeps it free of controversial amendments. A final House vote could come as early as next week or after Congress returns from a week's vacation for Easter, congressional aides said yesterday. President Bush has said he would sign the bill, which would be the most significant change to bankruptcy laws in more than a quarter-century.

"The sooner we finish work in the Senate and get the bill to the House, the sooner our bankruptcy system will be focused as it should be on helping those with real need and less vulnerable to abuse by consumers who have the ability to repay their debts,"
Grassley said after the Schumer amendment was defeated and the limit on debate passed.
More at the Washington Post

There was also this great little sidebar that summarizes the argument well:

Bankruptcy Debate

Credit card issuers favor reform, saying that currently:

Source: American Bankers Association

Consumers groups oppose the legislation, saying that it would:

It’s just a bad idea all around.

Your quote of the Day:

"There's no such thing as the United Nations…If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.'” – U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton

Posted by crimnos @ 9:32 AM