Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Adieu, Princess

I am sad to report that we had to have Natasha put to sleep last night. She had been ill while we were in France, but seemed to be responding to treatment until yesterday afternoon, when she failed suddenly. We are saddened by her passing, but although she had diabetes and thyroid problems, for the fourteen years that she was with me (and seven since Diane and I have been together), she did not suffer until the last couple of weeks of her life, and for that we are grateful.

The Princess, as we called her, came to me after having been abused--when I brought her home, she still had one leg in a cast. She mostly recovered, although her right hind leg remained gimpy and she was never a lap cat, and would generally make herself scarce when strangers came in the house. She would sit near me, but always where she could get away. If I was seated at the computer in a chair with arms, she would sometimes seek attention, seeing that I was pinned in the chair and could not do more than reach out and fluff her. Still, for many years she would like on the floor, roll over on her back and expose her belly, and she would let me tickle her there and seemed to like it.

Natasha was the number one feline--hissing at her brother, Shay-Shay, whenever he came near except, strangely, around the food bowls. Still, he misses her; he's wandering around the house looking a little lost.

In an earlier post, I suggested that I might not deserve to go to heaven, but Natasha and Shay-Shay do. So, if there is such a place, I guess she's there or on her way, but I like to think that she also lives whenever we think of her.

Adieu, Natasha. You'll always be our princess.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It's not always about politics

Regular readers will know that TONE will never be confused a with non-partisan or putatively objective outlet. Sometimes, however, we must acknowledge that politics is only part of the life of the world and, really, a small part in the lives of most people.

This rumination is caused by news that the White House spokesman, Tony Snow's, cancer has metastasized to his liver. There are new treatments all the time, but as far as I know, liver cancer remains intractable. (If I'm wrong about that, post a comment correcting me, please!)

I don't know Tony Snow, but I don't like his slant on the news and I don't like the administration for which he speaks. Still, from human beings to one another, we must all wish him well.

Profiles in courage

I hope you saw John and Elizabeth Edwards on 60 Minutes the other night. If not, take a look.

John Edwards has always been a person that I've liked, but had a hard time focusing on. I hate to admit it, but his accent may have something to do with that. He and his wife, however, showed the world an honesty, frankness, openness and courage that sets an example for all of us, not just those in politics or public life. (People who are interested in going into politics should watch the interview for a lesson in how to behave--a lesson generally not learned or ignored.)

After watching and listening to the Edwardses, I have more a great deal more respect for them than I did before, and wish them well in everything they do.

An insight

I was going to put a couple of posts on here last night, but instead I wound up spending a few hours in the ER. Not to worry, it turned out to be nothing. In fact, I left without seeing a doctor. Which gave me an insight into one small corner of our healthcare "system." When I asked about satisfying my co-pay, the nurse replied that there was none, because I hadn't seen a doctor. I did, however, get the services of a number of hospital employees, blood work and an EKG. But because I didn't see a doctor I, at least, face no charge. (Presumably my insurer will be billed.)

Does that seem as illogical to you as it does to me?

On a related note, CBS News had an enlightening story on the prevalence of hospital billing errors, which, as one billing advocate noted, always seem to be made in favor of the hospital. The scale of the errors reported--anecdotes only, let's note--makes me wonder how much of our bloated healthcare spending goes out in overpayments.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The magic word

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) has uttered the magic word--impeachment. While not urging Congress to take the ultimate step against George W. Bush, the Senator did acknowledge that some view impeachment as a legitimate tool to rein in a president who refuses to listen to the legislative branch.

Hagel's declaration marks the largest crack in Republican ranks to date, and gives the idea of impeachment legitimacy that it lacked before. This does not mean that W will be impeached, of course; the numbers in Congress and the clock ticking down on the Bush administration make even hearings on a move to impeach a remote possibility at best. But Hagel's words take the struggle against Bush's slow-motion coup against the Constitution to a new level.

(Is the Senator from Nebraska also signaling that he will not run for President? Recently, he called a news conference--and effectively brought his home state to a standstill--to announce that he was undecided about a presidential candidacy. Many wondered at such a quixotic escapade. Perhaps Hagel has not determined that he will not try for the White House.)


Yes, TONE is back, and your editor's back, which got cranky in Paris, is one big reason why we've been off line for more than a week. The back started to ache in Paris, almost certainly due to an old injury (a couple of ruptured discs over the past couple of decades). The good part was that walking was fine, standing was OK; it was sitting that was most painful. Hence, posting--especially in Internet cafes--became problematic.

Meanwhile, the world ground on. So, now that I'm back home and better, let's turn to more important matters.....

Friday, March 16, 2007

The view from here

Here being the Quartier Latin, hard by the Pantheon.

We're staying in a small appartment just down the block from the Pantheon. The TV gets only a few channels, all of them news and most in English, which is fine by moi.

The big US story here has been the announced confession of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the killing of Daniel Pearl, as well as the long-known masterminding of the 9/11 attacks. My sources tell me that in the still-classified portion of the transcript he also confessed to involvement in the still-unsolved disappearance of Judge Crater, the Lindbergh kidnapping, Lincoln's assasination and the stabbing of Thomas à Becket. (Thanks to this French keyboard I'm struggling with, I can at least put in the proper à.)

The other big story from the US, on BBC has been the scandal over the fired US attorneys and demands for Gonzalez's head. As they say here in France, he's pain grillé (toast). And likely Karl Rove too, as Bush' duck walk gets more lam every day.

Eh bien, I'm going to go off and enjoy Paris--as much as I can with the Euro at $1.33; when we started coming here regularly, in the last days of the Clinton administration, it was $.96. Thank you, George Bush.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A bientot

I'm off for a week in la Belle France tonight. Specifically, Paris. We'll be staying in a flat in the 5th Arondissment, the Latin Quarter, just down the hill from the Pantheon. This is a section of the city that I know only slightly, so it will be interesting to explore.

What with traveling and being in another city, not to mention those annoying French keyboards, I don't expect to be posting much, although I'll try to check in now and again if I can find a decent Internet cafe in the neighborhood.

What's going to happen between now and when I return, on March 22nd? Will we still have Alberto Gonzalez to kick around? He's dead meat, the only question is when the White House will throw him out. I suspect that he may well be in the trash within a week. The bigger question is Karl Rove. As Congress gets closer and closer to his role in the politically-motivated firing of the US attorneys, his job is really threatened, especially after the Repubs' dismal showing last November and given W's present unpopularity ratings. I don't expect him to be out the door by next week, but don't be surprised if he's gone by tax day.

And you can be sure that, with the way new scandals, and new developments in old scandals seem to pop up every day, I'll be searching for the CNN, the BBC and the International Herald Tribune.

Au 'voir mes amis.

Monday, March 12, 2007

It's not the heat, it's the cupidity

So Halliburton is moving its corporate HQ from cosmopolitan Houston to Dubai. Well, maybe. According to the headline in the The New York Times, "Halliburton Is Moving Its C.E.O. From Houston to Dubai." The Times also reports that the company will remain incorporated in the US, which shoots down my first reaction--that this was a tax dodge.

Why do it, then? Surely, the company must know how this will be--is being--received by the public. It's another black eye for Halliburton alumnus and prime patron, Deadeye Dick Cheney. Could it be that David Leasar, Chairman and CEO, prefers the climate in Arabia to that in Houston?

Or is it, as one of my law partners put it, that Lesar will be getting out (of the country) ahead of the indictments?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Strict construction

What happens when a "strict constructionist" meets a result he doesn't like? That was illustrated this past week when the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down the District's strong gun-control law.

At issue was the Second Amendment. For a short provision, the Second Amendment has generated a great deal of controversy. The Amendment reads as follows: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

That language has always seemed pretty clear to me. An eighth-grade grammarian of average skill would tell you that the first phrase, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state," modifies--or conditions--the rest of the sentence. From this, we might conclude that the framers wrote of the right to keep and bear arms in the context of preserving the militia system that was in place in the United States at the time.

Permit me to step outside of the language of the Amendment for a moment (I do not claim to be a strict constructionist, at least not in the usual sense). In 1791, when the Amendment was adopted, the United States had no army. In 1775, when the Revolution began, it was the militias of the 13 colonies who provided the backbone of the first forces to oppose the British. All through the Revolutionary War, militia forces--for good or ill--remained a substantial part of the American military establishment. Remember, too, that the British Army was the opposite of the American militias: a long-service professional force. It would have been perfectly logical for the framers of the Second Amendment to regard the establishment of such an army, particularly if there was no militia to guard the rights of the people as anathema.

Today's militia is the National Guard.

So, did the DC Circuit declare that the District's gun-control law must be interpreted in light of the states' interest in maintaining a militia? (Or did it note that, as something other than a state, the District might not even be covered by the Amendment?) Nah. That would have led to the wrong result.

Writing for the majority, Judge Lawrence Silberman said, according to The New York Times, “It seems passing strange that the able lawyers and statesmen in the First Congress (including James Madison) would have expressed a sole concern for state militias with the language of the Second Amendment. Surely there was a more direct locution, such as ‘Congress shall make no law disarming the state militias’ or ‘states have a right to a well-regulated militia.’"

To begin with, this is not strict constructionism: that doctrine would look to the language of the provision at issue as the key to its meaning. Judge Silberman, instead, offers his own interpretation. That can be a respectable means for interpreting the Constitution, but it's not strict construction.

But then the judge goes off on what courts used to call "a frolic of his own." He actually proposes alternative language for the Amendment. Why? Because to read the language of the Second Amendment as written must lead to the conclusion reached by nine of the ten courts of appeal that have considered the question: that the Second Amendment relates to the establishment of a militia, not to the private possession of firearms.

Mightn't we expect that a judge of the second-highest court of the land would have sufficient respect for the men who wrote the Constitution that he or she would refrain from trying to re-write their words, or from criticizing the reasoning that led them to write our founding document the way they did? Mightn't we hope that judges will interpret the Constitution by trying, as hard as they can, to avoid decisions dictated by political ideology?

Friday, March 09, 2007

That's rich

So Newt Gingrich admits that he had an affair even as he was prosecuting Bill Clinton over the Lewinski matter.

Is this going to derail a possible presidential bid? Don't count on it. The Right seems to have a blind spot when it comes to hypocrites in its own ranks.

Government by subpoena

Back in the fall, when Repubs were fearful (with good reason, as it turned out) of losing control of Congress, they tried to frighten voters by saying that the Democrats would govern by subpoena. The Democratic leadership denied any intention to do so, and the first couple of months of the new Congress pretty much bore them out.

However, with the scandal over conditions at Walter Reed and other military hospitals (wait for more on the Veterans Administration hospitals to hit the media soon), and revelations over the politically-motivated firings of US Attorneys--particularly now that Repub senators and congresspeople are being drawn into the mess--it's impossible for a responsible congressional leadership not to conduct multiple investigations.

How many other scandals are just waiting to break?

A convenient loss?

Federal prosecutors admit that a videotape--classified, naturally--of the final interrogation of Jose Padilla in a Navy brig is missing.

Those of you old enough to remember Watergate are undoubtedly thinking, "18-minute gap."

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What a difference a Democratic Senate makes

The Senate has voted to permit airport screeners to unionize--the same right that almost all other federal civil servants have had for decades. The vote was 51-46; I strongly suspect that it was pretty much along party lines (at least one Repub must have crossed over, because Tim Johnson (D-SD) is still hors de combat), and there's little doubt that the President will veto the bill if he can, should it come to his desk. The provision is part of broad anti-terrorism bill, so Bush might have to swallow hard and permit it to become law.

Anti-union forces in the Senate have not found themselves bound by scruples or honesty on this measure. For instance, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) said, "Terrorists don't go on strike. Terrorists don't call their union to negotiate before they attack." The senator seems to have forgotten that unionized federal workers are not permitted to go on strike. He might also consider whether the right to join together to advance worker rights is one of the things that is supposed to set us apart from the terrorists.

Similarly, Repub leader Mitch McConnell (KY), a man who gives new meaning to the word "slimy," said "We're not going to let big labor compromise national security." I'm sure that's going to endear him to all the unionized workers to build our planes, tanks, guns and ships. Sen. McConnell doesn't bother to note that despite it's name, the Transportation Security Administration is not a law enforcement agency. Screeners are not armed and have no power to arrest anyone or even to stop someone who runs through a security checkpoint or a
gate. They must call on law enforcement--generally local police--for that.

TSA has been a deeply troubled agency. Complaints of favoritism, discrimination and incompetence have been legion. To take one instance, the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation signed a letter to the TSA administrator noting that more than 200 complaints of discrimination had been lodged about TSA's Boston operation.

A union might well improve the operation of the agency by reducing the number of complaints, and thus actually enhance security. But don't expect the mad-dog union-busters of the GOP to acknowledge that.

Editorial Note: The original post should have noted that your editor represents two TSA employees in his career as a lawyer.

Monday, March 05, 2007

A prediction?

As news comes that lawyers for detainees at Guantanamo Bay have formally asked the Supreme Court to review the decision of a federal appeals court upholding the Military Commissions Act--including its denial of habeas corpus rights--The New York Times' Adam Liptak offers a trenchant analysis of why it may not be too difficult for the justices to reverse the lower court's decision. Indeed, he suggests that the judges of the D.C. Circuit are liable to be slapped down for impertinence.

Couldn't have said it better myself

"At the foundation of our civil liberty lies the principle which denies to government officials an exceptional position before the law and which subjects them to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis, J., in Burdeau v. McDowell, 256 U.S. 465, 477 (1921)

(Thanks to Barry Roseman of the National Employment Lawyers Association)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Good news or bad?

There have been increasing reports of violence within Iraqi sectarian blocs--Sunni against Sunni, Shi'a on Shi'a. Is this a signal of even further disintegration in Iraqi society, or might it show the first stirrings of a reversal of the sectarianism that has thrown the nation into chaos? Certainly some reports speak of attacks, particularly on Sunnis who are accused of seeking reconciliation with Shi'a, opposing al Qaeda and/or cooperating with the Americans. Might that be a sign that there is an increasing number of people--sufficient to worry those whom we lump together as insurgents--who are thinking of themselves as Iraqis again?

Even if there is such a shift in sentiment, it is a long, long way from being the kind of social movement that could damp down and ultimately end the violence. Such a movement is, however, just about the only way to avoid ultimate disaster.

What is to be done?

The Times presents a fine editorial today. Entitled "The Must-Do List," it urges Congress to take action to set right a long string of outrages against our Constitution and our democracy, from restoring habeas corpus to those accused of being enemy combatants, to defining that term itself (it now means pretty much whatever the administration wants), and stopping warrantless searches of Americans' telephone calls.

Unfortunately, the one suggestion that the editorial omits is the one that is necessary if we are to restore the Constitution to its rightful place in our society: to get rid of George W. Bush and his gang.

A welcome contest

Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) were both in Selma, Alabama for ceremonies commemorating "Bloody Sunday," the day 42 years ago when Alabama State Police and sheriff's deputies attacked a group of demonstrators marching to demand the vote for black citizens, an event that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The presence of the two senators--they spoke at black churches three blocks apart--symbolizes the fight between them for black votes in Democratic primaries. (I do not mean to count out other candidates from appealing to the black vote, too.)

Some have suggested that Sen. Obama should naturally expect to pull in black voters, because he is one of them. I disagree.

Although your editor supports Sen. Obama, this contest is a good thing. It is good for Barack Obama, because it will help to make him a candidate who is black (African-American if you prefer), rather than a black candidate. It is good for Hillary Clinton, because it will make her think more about what representing all Americans really means. It is good for the Democratic Party, because a real contest--one that focuses on issues, not on silly political games like the one played last week over David Geffen's remarks--will strengthen the party for 2008.

And most of all, it is good for the nation, because it is a sign that the ideas behind the civil rights movement--particularly the importance of democracy--remain vital today.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

More good news

The Employee Free Choice Act passed the House today, on a vote of 241 to 185. While WAPO describes it as a nearly party-line vote, it's notable that a number of Republics crossed party line to support the measure. Would that have happened a year ago?

The Act would permit unions to be certified by a "card check," that is, by turning in signed cards from more than half of the workers. Companies typically prefer to make the union win an election. While a secret ballot might sound democratic, in fact election campaigns give management the chance to use a large number of unfair (and illegal) tactics to defeat attempts to organize. All too often, employees are threatened with firing; active union supporters frequently do lose their jobs. Even if unfair labor practices can be proved, obtaining relief from the NLRB is a tortuous process and, with the Board dominated by Republics, anything but certain. Card checks result in a lot fewer complaints about management strongarming.

The Republics have vowed to block the Act in the Senate and the White House promises a veto if it should somehow pass, so it won't become law this year. But its advance is a sign that the wind may be changing and that labor's long-sought resurgence may, at last, be gathering steam.

A straw in the wind

The Boston Globe reports that "conservatives" are shifting their focus from the 2008 presidential race to the congressional contests, hoping to recapture one house of Congress as a bulwark against a Democratic or "moderate" Republic president. (Who among the Republics qualifies as a moderate?)

Flop sweat, already.