Jan 08

Conditional separation

Heard on NPR about televangelists fighting Senator Grassley’s request for information on their finances and how these tax-exempt organizations spend their money.

For example, Grassley wants to know for what tax-exempt purpose Joyce Meyer Ministries, based in Fenton, Mo., bought a $30,000 malachite round table, and spent $11,219 on a French clock and $19,162 on Dresden vases.

He’s also interested in the total amount of “love offerings” received in lieu of salary by Bishop Eddie Long of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., and how Long reports them on his W-2 forms to the Internal Revenue Service.

Kenneth Copeland Ministries, in Newark, Texas, also received a letter. Grassley is curious about reports that a gathering of ministers presented Kenneth Copeland with a “personal gift” in excess of $2 million, in celebration of the organization’s 40th anniversary.

On the one hand, some religious groups want to abolish the separation of church and state when they want to change the law to reflect religious principles, but when it comes to protecting their finances from taxation and scrutiny they want to preserve the separation of church and state.

Influence is a two-way street.

Oct 07

The Renunciation Vote

During past presidential elections I have been swept away with a fever for politics. Like with many other people, it seemed to happen only during the presidential election cycle. For me, it was similar to how I ignore sports except during the playoffs. When everyone starts to care about the outcome, it is easy to join in and become excited.

Over time though, I grow more and more disinterested in politics. In 2004 and in this current election, I have been sitting on the sidelines, watching both factions battle it out for the quarterback position in American government. When you watch from a disinterested perspective, everything seems so vain and not a little bit ridiculous. Consider the kind of people who want to be president. They are either true reformers and leaders, who will never compromise enough to make it, or they are craven careerists, who will serve their benefactors. In either case, all outcomes are inconsequential. Our electoral system is such that we are guaranteed a president that most people will not care for. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it tempers any interest in the outcome.

Anyway, with all the attention on the Internet about Ron Paul, I feel like we’ve been here before. It seems like every election there is a scrappy outsider candidate. A candidate with strong feelings and beliefs but with little chance of becoming president. These are the idealist candidates and they often appear in the form of a kindly grandfather figure with the gentle authority of wisdom and morality. The idealist candidates don’t have a prayer at getting elected, but becoming president is not their goal. Usually a vote for the idealistic outsider is a vote for the renunciation of politics. It is a vote for a world where things make sense.

They are good at stirring up emotions while inspiring and galvanizing people, but bad at resembling someone you would actually want as president. Can you imagine the bizarro universe in which Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, or Ron Paul actually became president of the United States? It would be entertaining for a while, but ultimately a train wreck. These candidates are good for people who dislike politics because they appeal to ideals rather than mundane realities. Idealists want to change the world, but they don’t really want to deal with the world on its own terms. Who can blame them?

Jul 07

LBJ: The Path to Power

Lyndon JohnsonI have been reading the first volume of Robert Caro’s biography of President Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power, and it is fascinating. I don’t normally read biographies, but I had heard good things about this one. It hasn’t disappointed.

Caro takes his time and paints a complex portrait of LBJ, the man and political genius, rooted in the Texas hill country, but always straining against his own limitations and the limits of his circumstances for more. At times one wonders whether Caro holds a grudge against Johnson since his narrative seems to focus on Johnson’s cynical ambitions for power and prestige, however, by dispensing with sympathy, Caro has created a sense of drama and mystery around the man.

From the story of Lyndon Johnson, you learn a lot about the power of will and the power of dreams and goals. From an early age, LBJ possessed an ambition to be important. While many children have wanted to grow up to be president, how many approached their goals with a single-minded determination? How many have done everything they could to achieve what they wanted out of life? In LBJ, you see a man of extraordinary political genius who, while deeply flawed, worked tirelessly to achieve what he wanted. In that energy and will, there is a compelling example: you can accomplish great things through work and desire.

May 06

Hank Paulson is new Secretary of Treasury

In a huge nod to Wall Street, Bush nominates Goldman Sachs’ Henry “Hank” Paulson for Secretary of the Treasury. This is about as high profile a cabinet pick as you can get as Paulson is one of the most well known and respected captains of finance. This follows on the heels of the high profile selection of Fox talking head, Tony Snow, for White House spokesman. It looks like Bush is signalling the business world (rather obviously) that he may need their help to keep the wheels on.

I found this quote, which in this context is rather interesting:

“The thing I learned in Washington is that just as important, or more so, as what you do is who you do it with.” -Hank Paulson, CEO Goldman Sachs

Oct 05

SCOTUS: Now With More Italian Seasoning!

The news was all over this morning about Bush’s new pick for the Supreme Court, Samuel Alito. Like everyone else, I don’t know anything about him aside from his support for spousal notification with regards to abortion, which is likely to create a lot of controversy. Ideological considerations aside, it is interesting to me that there would be two Italian-Americans on the Supreme Court if he is confirmed. We are legion.

On the McLaughlin Group on Sunday, John McLaughlin put forth the compelling theory that Bush withdrew Miers’ nomination to swap in a more ideological Conservative so that he would have the motivated support of his base in the event the Plame-gate damage gets worse.

Oct 05

Plunge Protection Team

Jorn Barger linked to a provocative article today on the Plunge Protection Team, a secretive group charged with manipulating the stock markets in the event of a potentially market destabilizing crisis.

The markets seemed on the edge of a meltdown, but the abyss failed to open up. This lack of a meltdown has generally been attributed to the Federal Reserve Board’s (FRB) steady hand and promises of liquidity. But sophisticated research on the events of those two days indicates that a sudden and unprecedented rise in the Major Market Index (MMI) sparked a recovery across the board. There is good reason to suspect that this recovery was the result of concentrated buying by a few firms.

Jun 05

Scalia on YOUR side

In reading about the Supreme Court decision to support local powers of eminent domain I found myself in the somewhat unusual position of agreeing with the more conservative members of the court like Scalia. Supreme Court Rules Cities May Seize Homes (via robotwisdom):

Continue reading →

Jun 05

Felt’s motive: Money

We now know why W. Mark Felt, the “American hero”, and his family came forward with their secret: money and book deals. To safeguard their scheme, they had to scoop their own co-conspirators: Woodward and Bernstein. This is outlined in the Washington Post: Deep Background:

The problem for Vanity Fair, Friend said, was that O’Connor wanted the magazine to pay Felt and Felt’s family for the story — a condition the magazine would not agree to.

O’Connor — who had become acquainted with the Felt family through Felt’s grandson, a Stanford classmate of O’Connor’s daughter — decided instead to publish Felt’s account as a book. But after a year of trying to find a publisher, Friend said, O’Connor was back at Vanity Fair’s doorstep.

May 05

Questions you may only hear here: On “Deep Throat”

Although I’m far from being a close observer of politics I was surprised as anyone at Mark Felt’s admission that he is the mysterious Watergate source known as “Deep Throat”. I thought about this a lot, as I’m sure many people around the country are now doing. When I heard the family’s reasons for coming forward now it sounded calculated. I wince whenever I hear anyone talking about themselves or a family member as a “hero”. After all, if you’ve kept the secret for 33 years why not just keep it until you die? It seems strange unless you desire some sort of fame or celebrity while you still draw breath.

The revelations are not that surprising given Mark Felt’s position within the FBI at the time. As a deputy director, he would have been privy to the findings of the original Watergate investigation. Still, the entire affair begs a number of questions:

  1. Given that the now public Mark Felt is Jewish, does this effect in any way the widely held negative perception of Nixon as a paranoid anti-Semite? Clearly, his suspicions about Felt we now know to be justified.
  2. What was Felt’s motivation for the original leak? Moral repugnance? Patriotic duty? Personal gain? We know that Felt was passed over by Nixon for the directorship of the FBI. Nixon’s removal or defeat as president could have changed his own fortunes. As for moral or patriotic sentiment, Mark Felt was convicted in 1980 of authorizing FBI agents to secretly break into the homes of Weather Underground members without a search warrant. Searches both he and Nixon regarded as legal. Nixon even appeared at his trial as a defense witness. In light of this, Felt should not be regarded as a champion of civil liberties or democracy.

A lot of people have had to lie to conceal the truth of “Deep Throat” and things are never as they seem. We will probably never know everything as it happened then for what it really was, but there is one thing I do know. Few villains and heroes of history are quite as villainous or as heroic as they appear.

Oct 04

I voted today

I voted today and the whole thing pissed me off. The only sense of certainty I possessed was in voting against the commuter rail business. I’m typically unsupportive of any kind of large public expenditure, and especially so if it mainly benefits people in Leander. A train from Leander to downtown Austin seems idiotic.

I’m also very tired of people trying to convince me of their various points of view. I now realize how completely obnoxious I must have been back in 2000 when I tried to convert as many people as possible to my own viewpoint, completely convinced I had it all figured out. In day to day matters of politics and religion, I try to keep most of my opinions to myself. If I’ve changed in any way in the past four years, it’s in the sense that I really don’t trust certainty or the opinions of anyone else, even close friends or family. I take in everything that people say and do, then I make up my own mind. If a person’s mind can be changed by one debate or argument, or if they can be swayed by one impassioned appeal for their support, I find that suspicious. It’s the opposite of close-mindedness.