Monthly Archives: September 2007

Hourly Updates on Burma/Myanmar

Visit the Buddhist Channel for hourly updates on the situation in Burma/Myanmar.

Posted in Politics: International | Leave a comment

Under-Standing (In) Yesterday’s Patriot Act Case

Orin Kerr has a thoughtful analysis of yesterday's decision in Mayfield v. United States.

I think Orin has a very strong take on the standing issue — the issue bothered me when I read the decision, and he crystallized what bothered me. I don't know enough about the criminal justice system to know to what extent if any this case differs from the (IMHO wrongly decided) Los Angeles v. Lyons case, but unless the plaintiff's lawyers can do a better job explaining why than the judge did, I think the government stands a good chance of winning on this issue at whichever higher court hears the case last.

And that's a shame. Orin sees the merits as a murky issue given the precedents, especially the Keith case, which is a fair point. Nonetheless, I see this as a pretty clear case given the underlying Constitutional principles. And I have to wonder what set of reasonably likely facts would ever give a plaintiff standing to make these claims in a post-Lyons world.

Being the sort of person who believes that in a constitutional system of government there is no legal right without a remedy (the very idea of 'right' being synonymous to me with 'claim to a remedy' and being disjoint from any issue of natural right which is an utterly separate issue), I am not at all comfortable — indeed gravely dislike — legal doctrines which shield alleged intrusions on our rights from judicial determination. Even if the court were to rule against my view on the merits, I think that's better than ducking behind ahistorical and unjustified standing rules.

There's maybe just enough in the facts here to let a court that wanted to make some new exception to existing standing rules — which are already not that coherent. But I don't see Justice Kennedy as a likely person to do that.

Posted in Law: Constitutional Law | 1 Comment


Posted in Linkorama | Leave a comment

Straussian Economics?

Walter J. “John” Williams is an economist with a website called Shadow Government Statistics..

It leads off with an arresting graph claiming to show a big gap between the true rate of inflation and the official Consumer Price Index (CPI):

I don't know if I am qualified to opine as to how accurate this chart is, and to be honest I haven't delved deep enough into the supporting materials to form a view.

But the bones of the argument are simple: the revised official Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a lie, since it leaves out food and energy, and these goods are a major part of household purchases. As the prices of these goods are rising much faster than the items in the basket tracked by the CPI, the series fails to capture the real measure of inflation.

A corollary of this conclusion is that most workers' wages, which were barely keeping up with the CPI if that, have in fact been eroding in real terms (while the richest get much richer).

Why might a government design a misleading CPI in this fashion? The answer is overdetermined. There may be some technical advantages to ignoring cyclical commodities (those pesky 'seasonal adjustments') and manipulated foreign / exogenous commodities, but surely these must pale in the face of the importance of food and fuel?

One cynical reason is that the rate of increase of lots of federal transfer payments are based on the CPI. Keep the CPI down and the feds don't have to pay beneficiaries as much. Should payments to social security beneficiaries be much higher?

Another reason that I can imagine (and this is just my idea, not one I found at Shadow Government Statistics) is sort of Straussian. Inflation has a psychological element: people raise prices (or wage demands) in an effort to at least keep pace with inflation, thus spurring more of it. If inflation gets out of control, especially if coupled with lousy monetary and fiscal policy, this competition to stay ahead/stay even can even lead to hyperinflation. One way to keep inflation lower than it might otherwise be is to persuasively mislead people as to extent. If people believe the CPI is a good measure of inflation, and they are therefore deluded into believing that inflation is 2-3% lower than it actually is, that must surely have a significant anti-inflationary effect.

At least until it is found out. Note that Williams also argues that if inflation is measured right, the GDP deflater grows too, shrinking the true measure of GDP…. Do we have national money illusion too?

Posted in Econ & Money | 7 Comments

Judge Rules Two Parts of Patriot Act Violate Fourth Amendment

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken of Oregon ruled that 50 U.S.C. §§ 1804 and 1823, as amended by the Patriot Act, are unconstitutional because they allow search warrants to be issued without probable cause.

Full 44-page opinion in Mayfield v. United States for those who want their news unfiltered.

(Thanks to JST for the tip.)

Posted in Law: Constitutional Law | 1 Comment

Spanish ‘Downing Street Papers’

They're calling the scoop by El Pais the Spanish Downing Street Memo.

Just as with the UK version, the leaked Spanish transcript of a talk between GWB and Spanish PM Aznar in February 2003 shows Bush planning to invade privately while publicly denying it. This time he's saying,

Saddam Husein will not change and will keep on playing games. The time has come to get rid of him. That's the way it is. For my part, I will try, from now on, to use the most subtle rhetoric possible, while we seek approval of the resolution

In other words, as if you didn't know, the invasion decision was taken well before the authorizing resolution.

But, come on people, were there really many folks who thought Bush had sent basically the whole US Army to sit on Iraq's borders just to bring them home again?

No, the issue now is if they ever get to come home.

Posted in Iraq | Leave a comment

Two Questions About the GM Strike Settlement

The news of the proposed GM Strike settlement leaves me with two questions, one political, one legal, both about the part of the deal in which GM sheds its long-term obligation to provide health care for retired workers.

The political question is whether GM getting off the hook for long-term care will reduce its political will for national health insurance. Only the intervention of the big corporations will provide the sort of political coalition that makes a worthwhile reform possible — and until now it looked as if we were on track to get it due to the ever-increasing costs being shouldered by big firms. Will their remaining obligations for their existing workers suffice to motivate the GMs of the world? I hope so.

The legal question stems from ignorance due to the fact that I never took labor law. Ordinary labor contracts are between worker and employer. Collective bargaining agreements introduce the the union as bargaining agent for the workers. When there are 'givebacks' as in the current deal, workers get a new contract in consideration for whatever the union gives away. But existing (as opposed to future) retirees are in a different position. The firm's obligation to them to provide retirement benefits has matured, has vested, and they are not getting much in exchange — unless one has reason to believe that the new entity being created has a better chance of long-term solvency than GM (could that possibly be true? I'm pretty dubious.). So my no doubt very basic legal question is, why are the retired GM workers bound by this agreement? Are they in the bargaining unit forever? And, secondarily, what happens in so-called “right-to-work” states: If there are nonunion workers, are they in or out of this deal? Wouldn't it be ironic if the very right-to-work laws that firms championed for so long as a union-busting device were to turn out to be a shield against corporate attempts to shed liabilities to former workers that those firms had voluntarily undertaken but now wish to abandon.

Posted in Econ & Money | 6 Comments