AP on filibuster of Texas abortion bill

I don’t know the specifics, but Texas apparently wants to be more restrictive than Indiana on allowing women access to abortion services. They had a bill ready to go in a special session that was set to end at midnight last night. The Texas Senate just barely missed the deadline due, mostly, to a filibuster by state Senator Wendy Davis.

Through procedural methods probably most of them don’t even fully understand, Davis’ filibuster was broken – but that required a lengthy, time consuming debate about the procedure now that it was broken. Then, in the final minutes, when the Senate was scrambling to get a vote in under the wire, protestors made enough noise to confuse the issue enough for the clock to run out. This bit caught my eye, and I’d be interested in the details:

Initially, Republicans insisted the vote started before the midnight deadline and passed the bill that Democrats spent the day trying to kill. But after official computer records and printouts of the voting record showed the vote took place Wednesday, and then were changed to read Tuesday, senators retreated into a private meeting to reach a conclusion.

I obviously don’t know squat about the Texas legislative computer system, so maybe that doesn’t mean something nefarious happened; but it looks awfully sketchy.

The victory for the Democrats, such as it is, is probably mostly symbolic. The Governor is being encouraged to call another special session, and this isn’t the kind of trick that works a second time.

Rep. Stutzman and the Farm Bill

Derek Pillie, writing at Hoosier Access (a conservative blog on Indiana politics for those who are unfamiliar), has an entry on Rep. Marlin Stutzman’s activity with respect to the federal Farm Bill. The blog post cites an article by Gary Truitt in Hoosier Agriculture.

Two main parts of the Farm Bill typically get a lot of attention: the food stamp program and the subsidies and payments to farmers and agricultural interests. Pillie has an interesting construct in describing an amendment proposed by Stutzman. “Yesterday he filed amendments with the House Rules Committee that would split off entitlement programs from the agriculture programs.”

I presume “entitlement” programs are those with money for Them while “agriculture” programs are those with money for Us. Stutzman is certainly one of the “Us,” having received about $200,000 in farm welfare assistance for his own agricultural interests. Farmers are hard working and good whereas food stamp recipients are lazy and bad. That’s the economic morality play narrative that underlies the politics of this thing anyway. In my mind, the distinction between government money given to agricultural interests and government money given to feed people is tenuous and largely artificial. If you want to insist that non-farmers earn their own way or starve, then you probably ought to insist that agricultural interests profit or perish.

As I understand the conjoined history of the farm subsidies and food stamp program, it was a fairly simple proposition at first. We have farmers who can’t make money, and we have hungry people who need food. Lets give farmers money for their food and give food to hungry people. Divide that house, and both sides will probably fall. And, if you’re a small government purist, that’s probably a good thing. Otherwise, it probably looks like a recipe for unnecessary suffering all around.

SOPA: More Deck Chair Rearranging

SOPA and today’s protest against it reminds me of something I wrote back in 1995 concerning increasingly draconian efforts to impose old copyright laws on new technology. It was published in the Indiana Law Journal in 1996:

In a sense, the Task Force’s attempt to tighten the reins is quite understandable. As noted above, copyright law attempts to protect expression by proxy through its embodiment in the physical world. The embodiment of expression in the physical world is becoming more and more tenuous, however, as digital technology grows. The capability to convey expression from one person to another is fast approaching direct exchange of thought without embodiment of an intermediate physical form. Or, at the very least, if the previous description seems too transcendental, the intermediate form of expression is becoming “liquid” where previous and current copyright law deals with a solid.

One can view the Task Force’s recommendation as akin to attempting to hold on to a melting object; one clutches it more tightly in a vain attempt to prevent it from falling to the ground. As John Perry Barlow puts it:

Since we don’t have a solution to what is a profoundly new kind of challenge, and are apparently unable to delay the galloping digitization of everything not obstinately physical, we are sailing into the future on a sinking ship.

This vessel, the accumulated canon of copyright and patent law, was developed to convey forms and methods of expression entirely different from the vaporous cargo it is now being asked to carry. It is leaking as much from within as without.

Legal efforts to keep the old boat floating are taking three forms: a frenzy of deck chair rearrangement, stern warnings to the passengers that if she goes down, they will face harsh criminal penalties, and serene, glassy-eyed denial.

The legal efforts attempting to reconcile digital technology with copyright law reflect a larger problem. It has always been the case that new technology creates unforeseen difficulties. In fact, Lewis Mumford suggested that the invention of the clock by and for the use of the monasteries led to their undoing. The new technology made it possible to abstract time in humans’ minds and, once abstracted, time could be controlled and regimented. Control and regimentation led to the rise of capitalism which in turn led to the decline of religion and the monasteries. While this description is something of an oversimplification, the main point is straightforward. New technology is created in pursuit of purposes which are consistent with the status quo, but aside from the original goals, the new technology also creates possibilities which challenge the status quo. Once these possibilities are available, humans naturally explore them and disrupt the established order with these new possibilities. The law can recognize this and embrace the new possibilities with as little disruption as possible, or the law can futilely attempt to barricade that which is new, different, and disruptive.

The video and musical recording industries have benefited from the development of digital technology. The technology allowed a cleaner and more refined sound and picture. But those industries will learn, if they have not already, that in addition to providing better pictures and sounds, digital technology allows nearly unlimited dissemination of works without any deterioration in quality. Interested parties, such as the established recording and movie industries and the authors of the Green Paper, would like to keep the intended benefits of digital technology–the improved picture and sound quality–while squelching the unintended disseminatory possibilities of the new technology.

This course of action is almost certain to fail. The law needs to adapt and embrace new technology, not become more rigid and try to withstand it. As the Court recognized in Sony:

From its beginning, the law of copyright has developed in response to significant changes in technology. Indeed, it was the invention of a new form of copying equipment–the printing press–that gave rise to the original need for copyright protection. Repeatedly, as new developments have occurred in this country, it has been the Congress that has fashioned the new rules that new technology made necessary.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court noted,

“The fortunes of the law of copyright have always been closely connected with freedom of expression, on the one hand, and with technological improvements in means of dissemination, on the other. Successive ages have drawn different balances among the interest of the writer in the control and exploitation of his intellectual property, the related interest of the publisher, and the competing interest of society in the untrammeled dissemination of ideas.”

Digital technology is a significant new means to disseminate information and it is time for copyright law to change accordingly. It is time for the law to recognize properly the media which it attempts to govern. If the law remains unchanged– attempting to govern as solid that which is essentially liquid–it will have to create an unnecessary and inexcusable scarcity of access to copyrighted works in order to work. This is so because current copyright law is premised upon a need (a need which is becoming less pronounced) for works to manifest themselves tangibly before communication between people is possible. Therefore, an artificial scarcity would arise in large part from precarious balancing acts which try to pay homage to the old ways, but which also attempt to recognize the new possibilities.

A concrete example of such a balancing act is a policy which allows the public to access a public digital library only from existing physical libraries. Such access would allow at least a slight improvement in the collections of existing libraries; it would make it at least theoretically possible for the public to have access to digital works by means of a computer terminal in the physical library; it would prevent the obsolescence of existing libraries by making them a legal requisite to digital library access; and inconvenient access would encourage the purchase of one’s own physical copy of the work. Unfortunately, these access requirements would also create inexcusable waste and unnecessary scarcity. The waste would arise from the inefficient movement of people to gain access. Direct distribution of digital works to the home would be just as cost effective, if not more so, than a more centralized method of distribution, such as a library or software store. Creating an informational bottleneck at the physical library would in turn create an unnecessary deprivation of knowledge for those without the time, inclination, or transportation necessary to reach a physical library capable of accessing the requisite information.

On a side note, I can’t believe it’s been sixteen years.

Head for the Fainting Couches!

Rep. Andre Carson said that the Tea Party is “protecting its millionaire and oil company friends while gutting critical services that they know protect the livelihood of African-Americans, as well as Latinos and other disadvantaged minorities.”

“This is the effort that we’re seeing of Jim Crow,” Carson said. “Some of these folks in Congress right now would love to see us as second-class citizens.”

“Some of them in Congress right now of this Tea Party movement would love to see you and me … hanging on a tree.”

Folks who likely never cared much for Rep. Carson in the first place are, pretty much on cue, hitting the ceiling, clutching their pearls, getting the vapors, and heading for the fainting couches.

Rep. Carson is alluding to the days of Jim Crow when, like it or not, lynching was a problem. Now, let’s start here: do Tea Partiers want to lynch black people? There might be a couple, but that’s probably about it.

So why might the allusion occur to Rep. Carson? Because he has an irrational need to tell lies about the Tea Party? I doubt it. I think it starts here: “We need to take our country back.”

Yet the speech that opened the Nashville event yesterday, an address greeted with whoops and cheers from the mainly white audience, reflects a movement that also appears to have a less attractive side to it.

Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman who ran for president in 2008 on an anti-illegal immigration platform, said of the voters who elected Mr Obama: “They could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English and they put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House — Barack Hussein Obama!”

Decrying America’s multiculturalism, Mr Tancredo said that Republicans and Democrats had voted for a black man because they felt they had to. To a standing ovation, he shouted: “We really do have a culture to pass on to our children: it’s based on Judaeo-Christian values.”

“This is our country,” he declared. “Let’s take it back!” He added, to applause: “Cultures are not the same. Some are better. Ours is best!” The crowd, some wearing recently purchased T-shirts saying “Keep the change — I’ll keep my FREEDOM my GUNS and my MONEY”, loved it.

This is not isolated craziness from Tom Tancredo. “We need to take our country back” has been a drum beat. The question “back from whom” is rarely asked. But, President Obama is a committed socialist in the same universe where Tea Partiers are lynching black people. Somehow the socialism accusation doesn’t prompt the blood boiling pearl clutching that these Jim Crow allegations from Rep. Carson have.

Now, what must this “take the country back” business sound like to the part of the American population from whom the Tea Party wants to take the country back? What does “back” mean to them in historical terms? In some cases it’s lynching; in a lot of cases it’s a deprivation of civil rights.

But, when Matt Tully’s editors tell him to drop everything and go report on Rep. Carson’s “hanging from trees” comments; I’ll bet they’re not looking for a nuanced discussion. They’re looking for a story on how Rep. Carson has hurt the feelings of folks like Sen. Banks who is outraged and offended and, consequently, demanding an apology.

Perhaps it’s because I’m on the other side of the fence on (just to take an example — not seeking to describe the universe of topics where political rhetoric gets overheated) reproductive rights, but I don’t see this kind of push for political food-fight coverage every time a pro-life lawmaker refers to “baby killing.” In part, I think that’s because the Left doesn’t do outrage and taking offense nearly as effectively.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, all of this unpleasantness has left me quite unsettled.

Lee Hamilton on Constituent Demands

Former Congressman, Lee Hamilton, has a good column in the Evansville Courier Press on the subject of contradictory constituent demands. Basically, they want more with less and, if sacrifices are necessary, they should be made by someone else. General lobbying demands are at odds with specific demands.

He singled out the Business Roundtable for using anti-deficit rhetoric while “it consistently lobbies for a higher deficit” in the form of corporate tax breaks and infrastructure spending. But the criticism applies equally to all the groups that lobby to help themselves and their members, usually through specific tax cuts or spending initiatives, while expressing concern over the deficit.

To help things a bit, he suggests:

We can do the basic work asked of us by our democracy: Learn our facts, know what’s fact and what’s opinion, keep a broad perspective, understand the overall problem legislators must resolve, remember that what’s good for us might not be good for our neighbors, and think through the implications of our positions.

Good luck with that.

Bayh: They Like Me For My Personality

Maureen Groppe, writing for the Indianapolis Star, has an article (h/t Advance Indiana) on Citizen Bayh who, you might remember, retired from the Senate with a great deal of sanctimony bemoaning special interest influence and a lack of public spirit.

A funny thing happened after his retirement, however. Bayh took on a bunch of jobs that reflect special interest influence and a lack of public spirit. But, one presumes, they pay well.

He is a partner in the Washington office of the McGuireWoods law firm; a senior adviser in the New York-based private equity firm Apollo Global Management; and a contributor to the Fox News Channel. On Tuesday, Bayh was named to the board of directors of Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp. And, now he’s also working for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But he’s totally not a lobbyist. In fact, he’s “amused” by the notion:

Bayh said he’s amused by criticism that he’s trying to cash in on his Senate career, which included service on the Senate banking committee.

“I’ve asked no government official for anything,” Bayh said. “If people want to hire me, it’s because of my knowledge and because I can give sensible advice, not because I’m attempting to wield influence.”

He’s either delusional or thinks we are if he’s serious in thinking that all these people are hiring him because he’s just such a sensible, knowledgeable fellow. He’s like the rich kid with all the cool toys who thinks people are always coming to his house simply because they think he’s a really great guy.

Update Matt Yglesias suggests that Mr. Bayh might be single-handedly responsible for the job crisis. Concluding:

They forgot that he’s also holding down a third job as a lobbyist and a forth job with Apollo Capital Management as a private equity rainmaker. That’s a lot of jobs for one man, especially since in a few years he’ll be eligible to double-dip on pensions as a former governor of Indiana and a former senator.

I Like Ike

I’m naturally pre-disposed to hold Dwight Eisenhower in high regard. Besides bringing the Thousand Year Reich to an abrupt end, he is also a distant cousin on my maternal grandmother’s side. I like him even better after reading this passage from a letter he wrote to his brother on November 8, 1954:

Now it is true that I believe this country is following a dangerous trend when it permits too great a degree of centralization of governmental functions. I oppose this – some instances the fight is a rather desperate one. But to attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything – even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon “moderation” in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

(emphasis added). The numbers, or at least the influence, of people who believe that we can or should eliminate these things is no longer negligible. But their wisdom is the same as it ever was.

Eisenhower’s brand of Republicanism was the sort I was raised with; and the one with which I am most comfortable. And that’s why I look at what’s going on today and have to shake my head.

Newt Gingrich, of all people, looks at Paul Ryan and the House Republican plan to eviscerate Medicare and calls it a bridge too far. Rather than taking Gingrich’s comments as a call to back off, discuss, or reconsider its position on Medicare, the G.O.P. – at least the prominent national voices of the party – views this as an opportunity to double down on the Medicare position and to punish Gingrich for daring to give voice to heretical views.

Friends, in a political environment where Newt Gingrich is regarded as insufficiently conservative, a man such as Eisenhower would be hounded from the ranks as a communist or worse.

Tax Cuts for the Rich & UI Benefits

I had been relatively sanguine about deficit spending because I anticipated: a) an economic recovery; and b) expiration of the ill-advised Bush tax cuts. Obviously I’m an idiot. Obama and the GOP have struck a deal whereby the tax cuts would be extended and Congress would allow for an additional 13 months of unemployment benefits. They’re calling these things “temporary;” Mr. Obama says that *next time* he’ll fight extension of tax cuts for the rich, but we’re in Lucy-with-the-football territory here. That’s not going to happen.

If Mr. Obama thinks I’m being sanctimonious by calling this a horrible idea, then, with respect, bite me Mr. President. Call their bluff. See if they’re really willing to raise taxes on huge majorities to protect the interests of the wealthy. Push a new tax plan, maybe get credit for your own tax cuts. As it is, Bush continues to get credit for tax cuts, Obama gets blamed for the deficit.

I suppose I am insufficiently compassionate for the unemployed and for millionaires, but my suspicion is that my economic prospects would be better if I lost whatever tax benefits I receive under the Bush versus the Clinton era tax structure and, in return, the money lost on this deal was available to reduce the deficit, pay down the debt, or other purposes. At least the Depression era public works projects gave us tangible infrastructure we still use today. To me, this just looks like another squeeze on the middle class for the benefit of the rich and the poor.

Senate Minority Pledges to Block Tax Cuts

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill cutting taxes for the portion of a household’s income that is less than $250,000. However, the minority Senate Republicans have promised to filibuster the measure because, if the very wealthy don’t get to keep more of their income in excess of $250,000, apparently the rest of us can go pound sand.

And, it’s not like we’re talking about Nixon or Eisenhower era levels of taxation; it would be a return to Clinton-era tax levels. As I recall, people were doing fairly well through that period. Given the expense of the tax cuts for the wealthy, it’s pretty clear that the posturing on the deficit by those calling for extending tax cuts for income above $250k is just for show.

A couple of other items – I found it remarkable that Republicans were complaining that this hurt the spirit of bipartisanship; a spirit, that near as I can see, has been dead and buried since Obama took office; perhaps since sometime during Dubya’s first term. We saw that Obama’s misguided efforts at bipartisanship during the healthcare debate got him exactly nowhere.

The article also notes Obama’s tendency to bid against himself in negotiations. He gives up stuff as a gesture of good will without demanding concessions in return. I think pretty much any negotiator would tell you that all this does is move the mid-point of a potential settlement in favor of your adversary. At least that’s been my experience in negotiating settlements in civil suits.

There is also a prisoner’s dilemma dynamic going on in D.C. these days. If both sides are “good,” both get rewarded a little. If both sides are “bad,” then both get penalized a little bit. But, if one side is “good” and the other side is “bad,” then the bad side gets rewarded a lot and the good side gets penalized a lot. Obama extending his hand to people who routinely smack it away just makes him look like a chump. The rational way to play the game is to be nice at first, but if the other guy pounds you, you pound him back until he starts playing nice, then you play nice too.

AP Warns of Backlash Against Republicans Pursuing Social Issues

The AP has an article warning Republicans across the country that there might be a backlash if they pursue social issues. I guess the warning isn’t technically from the AP; the author stuck the fact in someone’s mouth when writing the article, so I guess that makes it a news piece. But, I have a hard time believing the author couldn’t have found a person willing to say there would be a backlash if they didn’t pursue social issues.

Anyway, the premise of the article is that voters voted for Republicans because of economic issues and they pursue social issues at their own peril. That might be true. In fact, I suspect it is true, but the article seems weird as a news piece instead of an opinion piece.

Anyway, I expect the temptation to go to the social legislation bag of tricks will prove irresistable. Economic solutions are difficult, painful, complicated, and unlikely to be rewarded by voters. Social issues are emotional and immediate, even if divisive. Social issue solutions don’t need to be effective to be popular in some quarters. (See, e.g., ‘abstinence only’ education’s ineffectiveness.) And they’re easy to talk about on the campaign trail. Try talking about homestead replacement credits, and watch eyes glaze over. Talk about how They are taking away Our country and how it’s time to Fight Back, and suddenly you’re William Wallace in Braveheart.