May 15, 2010

Maintaining vital heat

I suppose if I were going to write a book about the economy, or the transformation of the American lifestyle, I would give it some such title as the above. It's from Walden, of course. Thoreau, that most logical and empirical of thinkers, performed his experiment in rudimentary living, on land owned by Emerson in rural Massachusetts, to figure out just how much of the complications of modern life were strictly necessary in order (a) to stay alive and (b) to thrive, spiritually and emotionally. He reduced the basic necessities to food and shelter, and then deduced that these in turn were essential only because they maintained vital heat.

It appears, therefore, from the above list, that the expression,animal life, is nearly synonymous with the expression, animal heat; for while Food may be regarded as the Fuel which keeps up the fire within us — and Fuel serves only to prepare that Food or to increase the warmth of our bodies by addition from without — Shelter and Clothing also serve only to retain the heat thus generated and absorbed.

[18] The grand necessity, then, for our bodies, is to keep warm, to keep the vital heat in us. What pains we accordingly take, not only with our Food, and Clothing, and Shelter, but with our beds, which are our night-clothes, robbing the nests and breasts of birds to prepare this shelter within a shelter, as the mole has its bed of grass and leaves at the end of its burrow! The poor man is wont to complain that this is a cold world; and to cold, no less physical than social, we refer directly a great part of our ails.

Thoreau didn't stop there; he wasn't actually suggesting that we should reduce human life to eating and getting dressed. He was simply attempting to establish the basic framework for existence, and to determine how little effort, time and complication were unavoidable in creating such a framework. Despite claims to the contrary (envy and professional jealousy are always prime motivators of criticism, and we secretly hate people who prove they're right by putting their money where their mouths are), Henry David proved his thesis; he stayed in the cabin on the shore of Walden Pond for 26 months, and figured it all out.

It seems like a reasonable thesis that modern American life is about as far removed from Thoreau's sylvan idyll as it is possible to be. Many of the simplicities of his approach appeal to us, naturally, but we have taken the idea of specialization, and the abstraction of existence, to extreme lengths, so that even our relationship to nature is for the most part mediated through electronic means. We still like the old verities, the ideas of conscience and ethical behavior, but they are hard to descry through the electronic static and Byzantine complexities of modern life.

I was thinking about this the other night while watching "60 Minutes" and its piece on "strategic default," the growing practice of home"owners" whose mortgages exceed the value of their houses simply walking away and starting over. Morley Safer was trying to generate some controversy over this no-brainer by shaming the defaulters into a sense of guilt and not living up to their end of the contract. Such ideas are sort of the vestigial tail of old-fashioned business practices. Think about what this hallowed "mortgage" is that Safer was referring to. It's a loan put together on the fly, immediately sold into the secondary market of the shadow banking system or mortgage bundler, jammed into a mortgage-backed security, then tranched and stuffed with many other such securities into a collateralized debt obligation full of thousands of mortgages, then sold off as a marketable security to the Norwegian Teachers Pension Fund or the California Public Employees Retirement System. Let's just say that the relationship between Mr. & Mrs. Smith in Sun City and CalPERS is a little too "attenuated" for anyone to get too excited about ethics or responsibilities. It's a very remote and impersonal business deal; if it works for both sides, fine; if it doesn't, then one side or the other has its legal remedies. End of story. Leave off with the moralizing, Morley. Go guilt trip the ratings agencies who assigned these stacks of crap gold plated Triple A's. Leave the realm of ethics to two people who depend on one another's performance and fidelity, shaking hands and looking each other in the eye. If we want to do business on the mass, impersonal and "scalable" level we now do things, this is what we get.

Oddly enough, if you read about all the sovereign debt crises, and the looming specter of hyperinflation, it seems pretty evident, almost at the level of virtual certainty, that we're headed toward a form of economic collapse which is going to bring some of Thoreau's ideas back to the forefront of our thinking. Foreclosure, job loss, worthlessness of paper money all fix the mind on essentially one issue: how do we maintain our vital heat in the face of such dislocation? That simplifies and localizes matters in a hurry. The international system of world trade, "globalization," Friedman's "plug-and-play, flat Earth" nonsense, are all pretty useless when that happens. America has so hamstrung itself with income and wealth disparities, with moving its means of production offshore, with corporate farming, with creating a giant cohort of dependent "consumers," that we're almost uniquely ill-equipped to deal with this looming crisis. This is why the national mood is so unsettled; whether the fat part of the bell curve completely figures it out cognitively or not, instinctively humans start freaking out when they see their abstract and incomprehensibly complicated means of support begin to unravel before their very eyes.

That's why I think a new energy regime designed to bring the means of maintaining vital heat to the localized level is the only way out. If the United States moved to a paradigm of a highly local system of solar power (in its various forms, wind, photovoltaic, ethanol from switchgrass and other non-food sources), then we would develop a means of support independent of the inherently unreliable, prone-to-Black-Swan vicissitudes of globalization, which plays against the interests of all but the highly-placed business and government elites.

Which, as a political digression, is why I have been so dismayed by the revelation that Barack Obama is simply another conventional American politician. I suppose it was a matter of projecting my own hopes onto someone who seems, in the fullness of realization, primarily interested in his own ambition and in proving that a slender African-American can pull off a convincing reenactment of the Clinton presidency. He's succeeded in that, but he didn't "change" a damn thing. Now he writhes and thrashes about, attempting to convince us that he's anti-oil drilling this week (since it's politic to be so) or anti-Fat Cat Banker the week before (for the same reason), as his weathervane follows winds blowing from the direction of the Villain of the Moment.

I think we'll eventually get there, to the idea of locally-produced renewable energy and a more basic economy centered on production we ourselves control, but it will be a bumpy transit as we attempt to hang on to the unworkable regime we have lazily allowed to become dominant, with its crushing trade deficits and debt-fueled "prosperity." First, unfortunately, things have to get considerably worse.

May 14, 2010

My very own Nobel Prize

A Friday joke for the cognoscenti (pronounced "cone yo shentee"):

Descartes walks into a bar and the bartender asks "The usual, Descartes?"

Descartes replies "I don't think.." and disappears.

I salute Paul Krugman for fighting the good liberal fight. He styles his blog, somewhat sententiously, "Conscience of a Liberal." I'm sure he often regrets that; there are many days when I wonder whether "Waldenswimmer" has much to do with what I'm writing about, but at least I'm not rather ostentatiously advertising the precious quality of my "conscience."

Anyway, the noted Princeton economics professor, Nobel Prize winner and New York Times columnist weighs in today with his insistence that the United States is not Greece. Good to know. Personally, I didn't think we were. Krugman means it in a good way, of course. He gives some passing recognition to the key difference: Greece is locked into the euro, which it can't print on its own, whereas the United States is the paper-hanger of the world's reserve currency, the almighty dollar. Thus, no one really has to worry about U.S. default on its sovereign obligations - if we hold an auction and no one shows up, the Federal Reserve will create the "money" to buy our own debt. It can do this in a variety of ways, such as lending a few trillion more to the so-called "Primary Dealers" of the Federal Reserve cartel, who can then bid this virtually free money into Treasuries and earn money on the spread. If you're wondering how Goldman Sachs, the BofA, JP Morgan Chase and others managed to achieve absolutely perfect trading (no day with a proprietary trading loss) for every day of the last quarter, look no farther than that factoid. You could do it, too, if someone offered to lend you money at 1/2 percent and gave you privileged access to an auction where the instruments pay you 2-3% on your trades. This has been going on for a very long time now, as Bernanke continues to insist that despite the robust recovery underway that "extraordinarily low" interest rates are justified by the "subdued inflation" and tentative nature of our recovery. Something along those lines. He seems to fall asleep as he says it over and over again to Congressional committees, and I can't blame him.

So here's Krugman on another reason we're not Greece, aside from the lack of a Parthenon:

The U.S. economy has been growing since last summer, thanks to fiscal stimulus and expansionary policies by the Federal Reserve. I wish that growth were faster; still, it’s finally producing job gains — and it’s also showing up in revenues. Right now we’re on track to match Congressional Budget Office projections of a substantial rise in tax receipts.

It's naturally predictable that the good professor would salute the fiscal stimulus, since Krugman has staked his professional reputation (and the validity of his Stockholm award) on Keynesian economics. Personally (and it's the basis for my own self-nomination for a Nobel), I think that Krugman's favorite student, Barack Obama, has made a serious mistake. Obama bought into the idea of a huge ($700 billion) stimulus, exacerbating our deficit problems, and then, realizing that he wasn't being bipartisan enough, followed this move immediately with a call for austerity in spending. No, you can't do that. If you're going all in, you need to play your bluff all the way through. You don't shove all your chips into the center of the table and then fold. That's what Prez O has done. As for Krugman's claim, we can look at the Treasury's own recently published spreadsheet for the month of April. April, of course, has a particular, shall we say, significance for tax receipts - I mean, if we're going to rake it in, that's the month you'd expect to do so. So how did we do?

Well, we hauled in $245 billion, of which $68 billion was FICA taxes. FICA taxes tend to be higher in April because it is then that Schedule C filers (self-employed) pony up the rest of what they owe for the prior year. Year to date (since October 1, 2009, beginning of the last fiscal year) we have received $1.199 billion in taxes. In the prior year (deep in the Great Recession, in other words) the tax receipts were $1.255 billion. So what does the Nobelist mean when he says that our prosperity is showing up in tax revenues? It must be in the sense of that key word "projections" of the Congressional Budget Office, and also in the recent job growth figures.

Those job growth figures are interesting, actually. Of those 290,000 new jobs, 60,000 were Census hires. 188,000 are attributable to the "Birth/Death" estimate by the Ministry of Truth (Bureau of Labor Statistics), which refers not to human beings, but to the notional increase in new businesses (Births) versus closing businesses (Deaths). One might reasonably ask, during a Recession, is it actually reasonable to suppose that new businesses are being formed at such a prodigious rate, and if so, why is the commercial real estate market cratering? But never mind. If we subtract the Census and B/D numbers from the 290,000 number (in other words, if we eliminate the numbers the Federal Government itself actually controls), we are left with 42,000 jobs. Since 120,000 new employees enter the job world each month because of population growth, we can begin to see why the actual U-3 unemployment rate went from 9.7 to 9.9% despite the "job growth."

Still, I appreciate the Good Professor's chauvinist cheerleading. Someone needs to be optimistic, even if there is no statistical evidence whatsoever for such optimism. The growth in GDP is not "thanks to" stimulus spending; the GDP growth is government spending, but since it was done on a one-time, save-government-jobs basis, we've probably already seen its zenith of effectiveness. If I'm right, then the "jobs saved" by the Stimulus will begin to disappear, because the conceptual fallacy of spending money the way Congress did (the politically expedient method of supporting employment only for the existing way of doing things) means that the "investment" is short-lived.

In truth, there is no political will to undertake steps which would actually transform the American economy, which depends on a massive reworking of our energy regime. Tepid tinkering with the economy while we await some magical process to "restore" the consumerist Shangri-la built upon borrowing from houses is what the Nobelist actually thinks will happen. I am staking my own Stockholm Dreams on my theory that it will not.

May 12, 2010

The Elena Kagan Nomination

Not to name drop or to attempt to sound more worldly and sophisticated than I really am, but time and circumstance once placed me in a tour group in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July, 1999. And as part of that experience, I was led around sites of Jewish historical significance by a rabbi/scholar who remarked, in words I still recall, that the inscription on a monument was significant in terms of "Jewish theology, to the extent there is such a thing."

I like that. After Elena Kagan is confirmed, the "religious" tally on the Supreme Court will be five Catholics and three Jews (Breyer, Ginsburg & Kagan for the Hebrew team; Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Kennedy, Sotomayor and Thomas for the Papists.) No Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists or Rastafarians. No explicitly proclaimed atheists, either, but that's where the Jewish members always give me hope, because it's possible (and quite common) to be a "secular" Jew, meaning among other things an atheist, while still self-identifying as a Jewish person on ethnic or cultural grounds. It doesn't really make much sense to talk about "secular Catholics," since Catholics, as on the Supreme Court, can be Irish, Italian, African-American or anything else. The absence of Protestants on the highest bench disturbs some people greatly:

"I'd like to offer here... a lament for the passing of American Protestantism," American religion scholar Diana Butler Bass wrote on about Obama's decision to nominate Kagan, a Jew.

That is almost certainly overstated. In fact, I think I'll say it's anti-Semitic, just for the hell of it. And speaking of contradictions in terms, how about "American religion scholar." Can one actually be a "scholar" about religious matters? That would seem to have as much meaning as "Jewish theology." If one is "studying" something completely made up, how can there be any scholarship to it? It would be like writing a doctoral thesis on "Puff the Magic Dragon." You can do it, but what do you really know when you're done that you didn't know when you started?

As far as Elena Kagan's credentials are concerned, not surprisingly President Obama has chosen someone who is not ideologically controversial. She's kind of liberal, kind of centrist, sort of like the President himself. Not a boat-rocker, not a firebrand. Sometimes appointees surprise the Presidents who appoint them (such as the retiring Stevens, or Souter, or, most notably, Earl Warren), but I doubt that's going to happen here. The magnificent days of judicial trailblazing are over now, and Elena Kagan should fit right into the new style of mostly deferring to the Executive Branch except when it's just so far over the line (Bush's attempt to eliminate habeas corpus, for example) that even the somnolent, pro-corporate Supreme Court says whoa.

Attempts to compare Kagan to Bush's nomination of his office wife, Harriet Miers, are absurd. Harriet's biggest job prior to nomination and her job in the White House had been as President of the Texas State Bar, a largely ceremonial, inconsequential position mainly attributable to political connections. Kagan has been Dean of the mighty Harvard Law School and Solicitor General of the United States, which means she's been a working lawyer. Miers let her bar membership lapse for nonpayment of dues while she lolled around Bush's White House making ditzy remarks.

Kagan's obviously real smart and she's got a nice smile, and it's just possible she's our third atheist on the bench. Catholics tend not to be atheists, in my experience, and their religiosity often colors their view of the "liberal social agenda," as with Scalia, for example, who is a "Strict Constructionist" only in the sense that Antonin interprets the Constitution in strict conformity with Deuteronomy.

In other words, I think Elena is just fine, and who really cares? Obama could do a lot worse, as Bush tried to do in making a laughingstock of the whole nomination process. I mean, really: Harriet Miers? Why not Matlock? Why even insist that nominees be real people? Kagan will move the Court more toward normality, away from the coven of weirdos represented by Roberts, Alito, Scalia and Thomas. Good enough. That's my new standard of expectations with this Administration: does the latest action make things weirder or more tolerable?

Kagan makes things more tolerable. Case closed.

May 10, 2010

Bernanke to ECB - Here, Drink Some of My Pee

What a difference a weekend makes. On Thursday night, Brian Williams disclosed to David Letterman that the dirty little secret was that the "world has no money, and the emperor has no clothes." It's Monday now and not only is the world awash in dough, the emperor is draped in more finery than a Harlem pimp.

It was so easy. The European Central Bank came up with one trillion dollars, just like that. All those dodgy PIIG bonds? No problem: the ECB is going to buy them, with help from the International Monetary Fund and the Federal Reserve. Solvency is restored, debt is paid down, and everything is okay.

Why did we wait? I don't get it. Why allow all those CDS speculators betting against European bonds to play their games so long? The solution was always within the Western world's (and that of Japan's) grasp. The central banks make entries on their computers (monetization) with which to buy all of that government debt for which buyers are scarce, and voila!, as Trichet would say (though with the accent on the final ah). We're back in the money.

It's a program pioneered by Ben Bernanke of our own Federal Reserve. When there was no support for the housing market, what did Bernanke do? He "bought" $1.25 trillion in mortgage-backed securities and threw in another $300 billion to buy the Treasury Department's own debt (see where the stodgy old Europeans got the idea? They're not as quick as we are.) Did he raise the money, for example, to buy Treasuries by using the proceeds of Treasury sales, deposited by the Treasury in the Federal Reserve "Bank." C'mon, don't be silly. That's drinking your own pee. Works for a while, but...No, Bernanke declared that the money to fund Quantitative Easing existed, and that was that.

It must have been a tedious and dreary seminar where Bernanke had to teach these European cretins how it's done. Just to be in the room, I mean. They smell funny, with all that cologne, reeking of unfiltered cigarettes. The Eurodogs were talking about dumb things like austerity and belt-tightening, and recognizing the debt and dealing with it realistically. There's no need for that anymore. America always leads the way. We're the Innovators. What you do is, you borrow as much money as humanly possible, until the buyers at auctions start to thin out. Then you start buying your own Treasury issuance, and when that's still not enough, you just print the damn money and say there! (It sounds better in French, actually.)

The alternative is to acquiesce in a mindless, old-fashioned recognition of poverty, the way Brian Williams was trying to do. It's to say, we've borrowed far more than we can ever repay, we're way underwater in debt, it's time to tell the truth about our broken banking system, with all its Mark-to-Myth accounting, it's time to recognize that taking the liabilities of Fannie & Freddie onto the Treasury's balance sheet added another $6 trillion in contingent liabilities on top of the $13 trillion we already recognize, and so very much more. Where's the fun in that? Are we going to revert to an international system where seafaring traders swap beaver pelts for spices? Why did we even come up with a free-floating fiat system of money if we're going to bind ourselves into a monetary straitjacket?

Not on your life. We have computers, and if the ECB types in one trillion dollars, and that shows up on the monitor screen, then everything's okay.

As usual, Joseph Heller anticipated all of this when Yossarian comes up with a brilliant plan for avoiding the dangerous bomb run to Bologna:

"I really can't believe it," Clevinger exclaimed to Yossarian in a voice rising and falling in protest and wonder. "It's a complete reversion to primitive superstition. They're confusing cause and effect. It makes as much sense as knocking on wood or snapping your fingers. They really believe we wouldn't have to fly that mission tomorrow if someone would only tiptoe up to the map in the middle of the night and move the bomb line over Bologna. Can you imagine? You and I must be the only rational ones left."

In the middle of the night Yossarian knocked on wood, crossed his fingers, and tiptoed out of his tent to move the bomb line up over Bologna.

I "I really can't believe it," Clevinger exclaimed to Yossarian in a voice rising and falling in protest and wonder. "It's a "I really can't believe it," Clevinger exclaimed to Yossarian in a voice rising and falling in protest and wonder. "It's a complete reversion to primitive superstition. They're confusing cause and effect. It makes as much sense as knocking on wood or crossing your fingers. They really believe we wouldn't have to fly that mission tomorrow if someone would only tiptoe up to the map in the middle of night and move the bomb line over Bologna. Can you imagine? You and I must be the only rational ones left."

In the middle of the night Yossarian knocked on wood, crossed his fingers, and tiptoed out of his tent to movedI really can't believe it," Clevinger exclaimed to Yossarian in a voice rising and falling in protest and wonder. "It's a complete reversion to primitive superstition. They're confusing cause and effect. It makes as much sense as knocking on wood or crossing your fingers. They really believe we wouldn't have to fly that mission tomorrow if someone would only tiptoe up to the map in the middle of night and move the bomb line over Bologna. Can you imagine? You and I must be the only rational ones left."

In the middle of the night Yossarian knocked on wood, crossed his fingers, and tiptoed out of his tent to move the bomb line up over Bologna.

ve the bomb line up over Bologna. reversion to primitive superstition. They're confusing cause and effect. It makes as much sense as knocking on wood or crossing your fingers. They really believe we wouldn't have to fly that mission tomorrow if someone would only tiptoe up to the map in the middle of night and move the bomb line over Bologna. Can you imagine? You and I must be the only rational ones left."
In the middle of the night Yossarian knocked on wood, crossed his fingers, and tiptoed out of his tent to move the bomb line up over Bologna. can't believe it," Clevinger exclaimed to Yossarian in a voice rising and falling in protest and wonder. "It's a complete reversion to primitive superstition. They're confusing cause and effect. It makes as much sense as knocking on wood or crossing your fingers. They really believe we wouldn't have to fly that mission tomorrow if someone would only tiptoe up to the map in the middle of night and move the bomb line over Bologna. Can you imagine? You and I must be the only rational ones left."

In the middle of the night Yossarian knocked on wood, crossed his fingers, and tiptoed out of his tent to move the bomb line up over Bologna.

May 09, 2010

The only Miranda left wlll star in Sex & the City

George W use to tell us that "9-11 changed everything." In my own, obtuse way I used to resist this, probably because my hangup is an insistence that life be looked at rationally. As a result, and paradoxically, I'm sometimes late to the Zeitgeist party. I tended to think that 9-11 represented mainly a massive breakdown in government security, pulled off by a group of committed terrorists who operated virtually out in the open (taking flying lessons at American schools, for example), overstaying their visas, and in general just being pretty damn obvious about it all. Anyway, some of the main characters involved in the 1993 plot against the World Trade Center were back in action on 9-11, and the idea of a massive terrorist plot using multiple American commercial aircraft had been around for a long time. The Bojinka plot of the 1990's, for example, was another wet dream of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, where as many as a dozen passenger jets were to be hijacked and crashed over the Pacific. Spooky even to think about.

A friend of mine of many years duration and I were emailing recently about what I perceive as an erosion of basic due process rights in America. The whole ideological superstructure is under assault these days, on many fronts, and, as W would have it, you can trace it all back to 9-11. Terrorism is used these days to justify a steady, relentless rollback of the "activist" decisions of the Warren and Burger courts of the 1960's and 1970's, including Miranda vs. Arizona, the landmark 1966 case, the language of which has been quoted by everyone from Jack Webb to Jack Lord (although Lord usually delegated the duty to Dan-O). You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law, you have the right to an attorney, if you can't afford one, an attorney will be provided to you, do you understand each and every one of these rights. Then, in the police procedural TV shows, the perp always talks anyway.

The subject has come up again because the usual blowhards (John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Rush Limbaugh, Joe Lieberman) are weighing in on whether the Times Square bomber should have been given a Miranda warning. He was, apparently, after an initial delay, and then Faisal proceeded to unburden himself, implicating the Pakistani Taliban and telling the whole story. That often happens in police detention situations. Miranda was a controversial decision even in 1966 (a 5-4 decision, with some highly principled conservative judges, such as John Harlan, strenuously dissenting). I think I can understand that; Chief Justice Warren's gloss on the 5th Amendment was that police detention is "inherently coercive," and thus violative of the 5th Amendment's privileges against self-incrimination and effective right to counsel unless the situation was balanced by informing the defendant of his rights. The 5th Amendment itself does not spell out what must be done, so who knows whether the Constitution's drafters really had something like Miranda warnings in mind. The privilege against self-incrimination simply details that a defendant cannot be compelled to be a witness against himself, as in police use of rubber hoses (or the CIA's use of waterboarding).

I watched Eric Holder today on "This Week," and he discussed the possible need to "codify" exceptions to the Miranda rule through an act of Congress. As far as I know, Miranda itself is not codified, other than as an interpretation of the 5th Amendment, so it's maybe a little anomalous to propose a legislative amendment to a Supreme Court interpretation of a Constitutional right. I mean, how can one be certain that the scaling back of a Supreme Court decision does not result in a legislative reinterpretation of settled Constitutional law? Anyway, I'm beginning to get the picture with Mr. Holder: any and all problems are "dealt with" the same way: by punting the decision to some other branch of government, as with the venue question for Khalid Sheikh's trial.

The interesting point to me about all these Constitutional revisionist arguments, as they apply to terrorists, is their circular quality. A suspect does something kind of "terroristy" (to use a Stephen Colbert kind of word), as Faisal is alleged to have done near Times Square, to wit, build and attempt to detonate a car bomb. Although an American citizen, Faisal is kind of foreign: Muslim, roots in Pakistan, et cetera. Thus, reasoning backwards from (a) the general kind of crime and (b) Muslim attributes, we decide that the Bill of Rights which would otherwise apply to an American citizen should be waived altogether. The thwarted crime (a car bomb) is suggestive of stuff that goes on in Iraq, which we call terrorism, and the defendant looks like someone who would do something like that. Using these facts, we decide (at the front end, or ab initio as the lawyers say), that this is not a garden variety American crime (as committed by someone like the Unabomber, for example), but an act of war which might qualify the perp for Padilla-type detention, or, perhaps, for targeted assassination instead of due process, which Obama has expressly authorized in appropriate cases even where the suspect is an American citizen.

There is no real exaggeration in this analysis, I don't believe. The question I have is: how do we actually know all these things about the crime (its terroristy quality, the foreign connections, the political motivation) at the point of detention, which is when we must know such things in order to dispense, Constitutionally, with Miranda warnings? Giuliani argued this morning that Faisal should be designated an "enemy combatant" because of his connections to Pakistan and the nature of his crime, but the first factor could not be definitely determined at the point of detention.

It seems to me that if you take the cumulative effects of the Bush/Obama reworkings of due process rights, as it applies to terroristy situations, that we've arrived at the point where government officials are arguing as follows: an American citizen, if he commits a certain kind of crime, and if he has certain kinds of connections, can be (1) questioned without Miranda warnings, (2) detained indefinitely without trial, (3) designated an enemy combatant and denied the civilian justice system altogether, and/or (4) shot before trial (even before arrest, as in the Anwar Al-Awlaki example), which certainly streamlines and obviates the previous complications altogether. I understand that the KGB operated along these lines, but I'm continually surprised that we're going down the same road. The curious thing to me is that none of these changes seems to have anything to do with enhancing American security. They are all purely a matter of political posturing, with Right wing demagogues (including Democratic reactionaries such as Lieberman) demanding a "get tough" attitude, and the "bipartisan" White House buying in to avoid being outflanked on the yahoo flank. A dangerous game, a slippery slope we started down, and yet the actual record of convicting, incarcerating and even executing terrorists (such as McVeigh, the Shoe Bomber and Zacarias Moussaoui) using standard due process approaches and the civilian courts is very good, and did not require any of these Constitutional shortcuts.

As W said, 9-11 changed everything. I'm probably being too technical. None of this stuff seems to bother people in general. I am curious about how Holder's legislative proposal would be worded. How would you say it? A Muslim, including an American citizen, who attempts or commits a certain kind of terroristy crime involving possible mass American casualties, can be treated as a prisoner of war, and deprived of life, liberty and due process of law if the Executive Branch thinks that's the way to go? That probably still wouldn't go far enough to satisfy Joe Lieberman, but as far as a repeal of the Bill of Rights goes, it's a damn good start.