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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Unicameral Term Limits

The first group of legislators in Nebraska's Unicameral (one house legislature, for non-Nebraskans) are now running into term limits. The limits, prohibiting more than two consecutive terms, were established in a 2000 amendment to the state constitution. Not surprisingly, the politicians are pushing back: "Some of the 20 senators announced this week they plan to fight term limits in the courts. Sen. Dennis Byars of Beatrice was the first, saying Wednesday he plans to file for re-election next week.

When the secretary of state rejects his filing, Byars will appeal to the state Supreme Court on the grounds his constitutional rights are being violated.

Secretary of State John Gale expects more senators to do the same; Lincoln Sen. Marian Price said Thursday she might follow Byars' lead."
Others lining up to use the courts to thwart the will of the 56% of voters who enacted the amendment include Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha. Chambers, a 35-year veteran of the legislature, will not hit the limit until 2008.

Apparently the low salary offered our state senators is not such an impediment to attracting and keeping "career politicians" as we have been led to believe. Senators Byars, Price, Chambers, and others to be named later are even willing to spend their own money on a court battle to prevent the state from be deprived of their collective wisdom. Such selfless dedication to The Public Good brings tears to our eyes.

In an ideal world, these kinds of suits would be tossed out of court immediately or never even filed. An amendment to the state constitution cannot be unconstitutional under the document it amends, obviously. So presumably Byars has found a right in the US Constitution that allows him to serve in the Nebraska legislature indefinitely.

The US Constitution leaves the state government structure and makeup largely to the states and the people. While a requirement that legislators be of a particular gender, religion or race would run afoul of the Constitution, term limits are more like age or residency requirements. If federalism is to have meaning, states need to have broad latitude in how they govern themselves.

Sadly, the courts have largely sided with encumbents in the battle for Congressional term limits. We hope the desire of the citizens to break the hold of encumbents on the levers of government power will be respected in this case.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Cindy Sheehan for President

Just in case you missed this the first time, the Village Voice offers up a "flashback." That must have been some trip they were on for these kinds of flashbacks.
Flashback: Cindy Sheehan for President: "Last month, DeBar, himself a former Green Party candidate, proposed a Draft Sheehan effort on a Green message board. Unlike some Greens who are pushing a Sheehan for President initiative, DeBar wants to see her move from her home state of California to run against Clinton in the New York primary next year. That way, he writes in his post, 'she could force a seismic shift in the direction of the Democratic Party.'

Activists see obvious potential in Sheehan. The movement's icon did, after all, rescue anti-war activists from hibernation, breathing new life into their cause from the moment she set up her bivouac at Camp Casey. At the Brooklyn Peace Fair, hordes of fans flocked to her as she descended the platform, lining up for pictures, praising her speech, offering to escort her if she ever comes back to town. After Sheehan signed the back of a postcard with 'Peace, Cindy,' an ebullient middle-aged woman produced it, repeatedly, for all to see.

Besides, she has proven to be astute politically, as evidenced by anyone who has seen her work a crowd. At a recent vigil of Grandmothers Against the War, she pressed the flesh with dozens of aging activists, shaking each hand, thanking each volunteer, just like any politician."
It's hard to imagine even the Democrats being that eager to fling themselves off a cliff, but I guess there are some that can't wait to take the plunge. We have to laugh at anyone characterizing Sheehan as "astute politically." Even Nancy Pelosi would be a much better candidate, and she would only be terrible.

Campaign slogan: "Cindy Sheehan--Shooting for Mondale's and McGovern's Records*"

*Mondale got 13 electoral votes on 40.56% of the popular vote. McGovern pulled down 17 electoral votes with just 37.54% of the popular vote.


There are lots of non-blog activities going on lately. Yesterday we went to bring Tycho back from college for the holiday. Tonight we went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (thumbs up from all). Friday we'll be headed up to Neligh, Nebraska, for a funeral service.

All this leads to a forecast of continued light blogging. For those seeking further insight into the French psyche, we suggest Mark Twain's story of his participation in a French duel. This Twain guy is a pretty good writer.

Monday, November 21, 2005


As many cities around France were embroiled in riots, was relatively quiet. However, several years ago Marseille was one of the first French cities to experience this sort of unrest. A front page article today in the Wall Street Journal (unfortunately, subscription only) takes a closer look at how "Marseille Seeks Calm by Blurring Church-State Line:"
"Marseille would seem ripe for revolt. Its unemployment rate is 14%, one-third higher than the national average. Its 800,000 people include a higher proportion of immigrants -- many of them jobless -- than any other major French metropolis. It has some of France's most militant trade unions. And it is polarized. About one-quarter of the population is Muslim, mostly of North African descent, while more than 20% of voters support the anti-immigrant far-right National Front party.

Marseille has had trouble shaking a reputation for lawlessness that, in 1971, made it a setting for the hit movie, 'The French Connection.' Even in ordinary times, says the mayor, five to 10 cars get set alight each day. The daily count rose to more than 20 at the peak of the unrest. Nonetheless, Marseille didn't see the level of turmoil experienced in Paris's bleak ghettoes, and didn't resort to the curfews and massive police deployments used elsewhere."
The mayor, Jean-Claude Gaudin, has "quietly" broken with the strict secularism that is a hallmark of the French idea of government. You may recall last year's controversy over the French ban from public schools of the hajib, the headscarf worn by some Muslim women. From an American perspective one wonders why such a general ban would even have been considered, but to the French it was "obvious" that secularism required the ban.

As militant as the French are about "separation of church and state," there are some bizarre elements to the way they have implemented the concept. For example, the governments own all the church buildings in the country, and tax money is used for upkeep. This dates back to a power struggle between the church and the government that ended in 1905. The government won (obviously) and banned state funding or recognition of religion, while at the same time nationalizing all religious buildings. This apparently was a way to assert some governmental control over church policies. It's hard to see how this can be called "separation of church and state." It's more like a hostile takeover.

Mr. Gaudin has softened the rules for Marseille, allowing a role (and some money) for religious groups of all kinds. Like most French, Gaudin is a Catholic. Unlike most French, he's a practicing Catholic.
"The city first reached out to religious leaders in 1990 by setting up Marseille Esperance, a body that groups the local leaders of seven faiths. With a small staff paid by city hall, it is credited with helping calm tempers after the 1995 murder of a Muslim student by far-right extremists and after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Its role is mostly symbolic, says Aberahmane Ghoul, the recently elected head of a Marseille Muslim council, but 'symbolism is not a game. It is very important.'

After years of complaints by Muslims that Marseille had no grand mosque, the mayor in 2001 offered a large building on the grounds of a disused slaughterhouse. The city said it wouldn't give away the property, but, to skirt a ban on direct state support for religion, it would lease it for 99 years at a token rent. The far right denounced the offer, saying immigrants shouldn't be encouraged to stay. Strict secularists also complained, as did some Muslims who said the slaughterhouse had made the land unclean. The project remains stalled by squabbling between rival Muslim groups."
One might ask why the Muslims couldn't simply build a Mosque on their own without direct government assistance. The answer is: they are not allowed to do so.
"The city's effort contrasts sharply with the approach taken by Nice, which lies 95 miles to the east. For years, local authorities and residents there have thwarted attempts by Muslims to open a mosque. 'Mosques, as places of worship, have no place in a secular republic,' Nice's mayor wrote in 2000 in a letter that surfaced in the press. When Muslims moved recently to rent a commercial property for use as a mosque, the mayor, citing the rise of radical Islam and urban riots, vowed to block the rental. Nice, though much wealthier than Marseille, was hit by recent unrest and imposed a curfew on minors."
Nice's mayor shows where the aggressive, anti-religious mindset eventually leads. He thinks places of worship have "no place in a secular republic?" Freedom of religion evidently, in his view, requires elimination of religion entirely from everywhere in the country. Not even the ACLU calls openly for an outright ban on religion in the US today ("openly" being the key word in that sentence).

Marseille is certainly not out of trouble in the integration of its Muslim immigrants. Mr. Gaudin seems to be sitting on a bit of a powder keg, but he's clearly doing some things right. We wish him well.

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