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Sunday, June 24, 2007


What Do You Read Every Day?

You're not supposed to talk politics in social situations, but as you can imagine, redwave72 has a pretty difficult time avoiding the subject. The next time your friends seem to be quoting from moveon.org or the American Enterprise Institute, you should ask them what they read every day, and are they hearing both sides of these issues. Unless you do, I think it is easy to fall into the propaganda trap. Musings readers know I read WSJ cover to cover every day (though I am often behind) and that takes care of hearing from the neocons. I just can't take the NY Times very often, and since I need to get the Long Island news, I let Newsday handle the left wing by perusing that daily. If anything, it is even left of the Times (yes it's possible). You have to search a little harder for the right wing mouthpieces, and frankly I don't think the lefties I debate with have that much motivation.

But if you do seek out the Journal, make sure not to omit its improving weekend edition on Saturday, which features the incredibly gifted writer Peggy Noonan, who used to write speeches for President Reagan. Pretty good combination since he delivered them as well as she wrote 'em. Anyway, whether or not you agree with Peggy's outlook every week, her prose is worth the $1.50 all by itself. Here's an excerpt from her take on the immigration issue from June 16:

"What gets lost in the alarm, and will get lost in the fissures, is the old affection the whole country felt, and still feels , for its newcomers. Not shallow sentiment or softness but something more constitutional, more civic.
" As in: I'm in Mass or in the deli down the street, or the bathroom of a restaurant, and I see a Hispanic woman, obviously hardworking, obviously so far not lucky, not yet. This is what I think: Hi Grandma. My grandmother was a bathroom attendant on the fifth floor of the A&S department store in downtown Brooklyn. She was an immigrant from Ireland.
"When I see new Americans, I think I'm seeing her. And I am not alone. And I know what we feel and it is not antagonism. It is some kind of old civic love, some kind of connection that echoes back, that doesn't quite have a name but is part of who we are."


Another way to evaluate what you are reading is to occasionally peruse the letters to the editor, not only for substance but for some measure of intelligence. The WSJ's letters leave little doubt about the thoughtfulness of its readers. I guess the Times is not bad in that respect either. Newsday's readers, on the other hand, leaving me shaking my head, like so many conversations at the local pub. It seems not a day goes by without some mindless call to impeach someone, usually Bush or Cheney, though they never specify an impeachable offense, high crime, misdemeanor or otherwise. Most of these folks still want to recount the Florida 2000 ballots.

Last Wednesday, WSJ published two thoughtful letters concerning the Fourth Circuit's decision overturning the Administration's position on enemy combatants. The first was by the brother of an FDNY captain killed on 9/11, criticising the decision (and supporting WSJ's editorial position). "It is reassuring to know that under the ruling by the Fourth Circuit court, if a Mohammed Atta were apprehended today, before he could murder several thousand people, he would be properly freed and ...the authorities who seized him appropriately castigated. Thankfully, the Fourth Circuit is there to protect our civil liberties and protect our right to die at the hands of terrorists who are not enemy combatants... The morning of September 11, 2001, my brother...called from his firehouse to his family and friends in New York before the second plane hit to warn them, "We are under terrorist attack!"... Regrettably he did not have time to consider their combatant status...He had an idea of what duty demanded of him - not nuance, not ambivalence, not legal technicalities..."

The second letter, published the same day,was from a lawyer who held positions in the Nixon and Ford administrations. "...The essential difficulty with the position of the administration and the Journal is that your concept of enemy combatant is unmoored to any recognizable precedent or principle under the Laws of War. it is a recipe for authoritarian rule with few if any discernible boundaries. Equally disturbing is your familiar disdain for our system of criminal justice. that system though far from perfect is one of the cornerstones of the liberty of which we are justly proud. We denigrate it at our peril."

Strong words, carefully chosen, that illustrate that intelligent minds can disagree about important issues. My own view is that the terrorists captured on the battlefield were prisoners of war and should have been treated as such. However, since Al Queda is not a Geneva signatory, and, in fact, repeatedly treats its captives barbarically, the Administration did not have to observe the strictures of the Convention and was entitled to interrogate those prisoners to prevent further terrorist attacks. Once those interrogations were over (and that should have been quite a while ago in most cases), the captives should have been accorded full POW status and kept in prisoner status (at our option) for the duration of hostilities (and who knows how long that will be). I think the administration just was politically stupid to insist on military tribunals and to hold captives indefinitely (as opposed to the duration of hostilities). If any captives were directly tied to terrorist acts (such as KSM), they could have been handed over for a civilian criminal trial.

If the Administration had adopted that approach, i doubt any constitutional questions would have been raised.


My favorite Democratic Senator, Joe Lieberman visited Iraq, so unlike many of his colleagues, his discourse on the subject would be informed, rather than merely political. He returned with a mixed report of progress and the difficulty of the task at hand. It led me to believe all the more that the troop surge idea was correct, but that what we got was merely cosmetic (about 20,000 additional soldiers when we needed 80,000 or more) and that Senator McCain has had it right pretty much all along - but has not had his way very often. Ironic that his presidential candidacy is tied to a Bush policy over which he has had too little influence.


On 6/20, I sold 100 shares of SGR at 45.43, purchased for 9.50 on 8/9/04. This bit of serendipity resulted from SGR's receiving a whole lot of Government paid for hurricane Katrina work. I remember wondering how to rationalize the success I knew my Gulf based stocks would have in the midst of such a horrible catastrophe. But clearly it would have made no sense to sell to relieve one's conscience. On the contrary, that's when Gulf based employers needed our investment more than ever. If it bothers you to make money that way, you can always give it away to charity. On 6/22, I bought 100 shares of CTX at 41.92. This is another one of those risky "average downs" I do, and not because I think we are at a bottom in housing. However, CTX is a quality builder and its valuation has finally reached my buy trigger point, especially since the debt to equity ratio is now reasonable.

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