"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Politics 2005 Archives
December 31, 2005
POLITICS: Renaming Albany "Trump City"?
If you missed it yesterday, the Daily News is floating the rumor - backed, apparently, by a tantalizing quote from State Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno - that Donald Trump is thinking of running for governor as a Republican. The News is pushing this story again today. Random thoughts:
*Is the NY GOP this desperate? Why, yes, in fact, they are. I haven't followed the travails of Bill Weld lately, but I'm not feeling very optimistic about him at this stage.
*Would I rather have Trump as my governor than Eliot Spitzer? Yes, but that's hardly saying much.
*Trump does have some obvious selling points. He'd be self-financing. He understands business, which makes an effective contrast to the business-hating Spitzer. He knows how to get things done, and likely would work better and less confrontationally with the Legislature than celebrity governors like Schwarzenegger and Ventura have. He'd finally get the Trade Center site working.
*I have neither the time nor the energy here to recount the downsides of Trump as a public official (or as a campaigner), but let's just say there's no shortage of those, either. And he'd be only the most nominal of Republicans, even compared to Weld.
*The NY tabloids could not invent a better candidate for the purpose of selling newspapers.
December 28, 2005
POLITICS: Donkeys in a Nutshell
Dave Barry's political humor, like the rest of his humor, is always hilarious and often true as well, which is just one of many reasons why news that his weekly columns won't be returning is too bad. Barry's a libertarian, which explains why he's able to consistently target both sides of the partisan aisle. Anyway, there's one line in the first segment of his 2005 in review column (which has plenty of laughs at Bush's expense as well) that captures the Democrats in a nutshell:
In a strongly worded rebuttal, angry congressional Democrats state that, because of a scheduling mixup, they missed the President's speech, but whatever he said, they totally disagree with it, and if they once voted in favor of it, they did so only because the President lied to them.
December 22, 2005
POLITICS: One Penny At A Time
*Jon Henke calls for Line-Item Budgeting - not just a line-item veto by the president, but forcing Congress to vote on each expenditure. More here. There would obviously be some practical hurdles: how do you decide what is a separate item? For example, can the Army budget include tanks and guns in the same item? One could see how even the hardiest advocate of creating obstacles to government spending might blanch at this if it's not carefully crafted, even leaving aside the practical poilitical obstacles to either (1) amending the constitution to require this or (2) getting our legislators to agree to it, to the detriment of their own influence.
A similar problem besets two similar ideas I keep coming back to. One is the idea of some sort of prohibition on items of spending and taxation that are, in effect, special-interest legislation. I do think you could, if you were writing this all from scratch, devise a fairly clear test for expenditures and tax breaks that do not benefit the general public, and perhaps even use the courts to enforce that line. But there would still be problems in policing the marginal cases.
Similarly, my other idea, which would require a narrow exception for certain critical national security functions: prohibit the federal government from sending money to state and local governments, or from imposing most mandates on them. Each governmental entity should raise through taxation whatever it needs, and no more than it can justify to the voters in its own jurisdiction.
December 12, 2005
POLITICS/LAW: Same Sex Marriage and Children
Last Thursday, the New York Appellate Division, First Department - the intermediate appellate court in Manhattan - upheld, against constitutional challenge, the New York Domestic Relations Law's extension of marriage only to opposite-sex couples. (H/T: Althouse). In so doing, it touched on some arguments on the issue that I've been thinking about for some time now.
In particular, our democratic polity has a rational basis for preferentially allocating scarce resources to benefit opposite-sex rather than same-sex married couples to promote two vital interests: promoting the population growth needed to sustain a healthy society and discouraging illegitimacy and abortion.
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With a subject as divisive as same-sex marriage, it's necessary to spend a little time first rehashing where I stand on the issue and why. The same-sex marriage debate, at least as it plays out in the realm of law and public policy, really encompasses four distinct questions about of rights and privileges:
1. Is there a social interest served by having government license and regulate marriage?
2. Is there a social interest served by having government provide financial benefits and incentives to encourage marriage?
3. Should same-sex couples be entitled to enter into a relationship licensed and regulated by the state?
4. Should same-sex couples be entitled to financial benefits and incentives that are provided to encourage marriage?
Not everyone comes out the same way on all four questions. Some libertarians, for example, argue that the state shouldn't be involved at all in licensing and regulating marriage. I don't buy that argument, not least because - much as I hate divorce - I recognize that in the absence of recourse to the courts to handle the dissolution of marriages and child custody disputes, you'd end up with more couples resorting to violence to resolve such disputes.
Libertarians and some small-government conservatives also argue that even if the state licenses marriage, it shouldn't be in the business of favoring any one relationship over others in handing out benefits and tax breaks. A 1999 GAO study estimated that the government alone preferential treatment of some kind to married couples in over 1,000 places in federal law, from pensions to the tax code. The libertarian/small-government conservative argument - that a smaller, less intrusive government would intersect with families at fewer points and that government shouldn't make any effort to encourage or discourage any particular behavior beyond what is legitimately criminalized - has its merits, but for now, I'll just leave that debate for another day. Like it or not, government is in the social-policy business, and until the day comes when we can create a radically smaller and less intrusive government, we're going to have to decide how that government allocates scarce resources among competing claimants.
As I explained at greater length here and here, I support legislatively extending to same-sex couples the right to have their relationship recognized and sanctioned under law, and I support as well allowing such couples those benefits that are provided to married couples principally for the purpose of enabling them to dispose of their own property and to participate in each other's major life events - benefits like joint title to property, inheritance rights, hospital visitation rights, etc. None of these rights imposes any substantial costs on society at large - except, perhaps, for the right to seek court assistance in dissolving the civil union - and they are consistent with the view that the decision to spend your life with a same-sex partner is between you, your partner and the Lord, and isn't fundamentally the state's business.
But where I disagree with proponents of same-sex marriage is on two counts: first, the effort to forbid the state from offering any benefits to traditional, opposite-sex married couples unless it offers them to same-sex couples on the same terms, and second, the effort to impose changes in the legal status of marriage through the courts rather than the democratic process. As I've explained before, what I find particularly offensive about the latter is the fact that its core argument - that there is no "rational basis" for the state to favor traditional, opposite-sex marriage - is precisely the denigration of such marriage that same-sex marriage proponents are constantly trying to disclaim:
[W]hat does stick in my craw rather severely is the Goodridge approach of having a bunch of judges pronounce not only a change in the thousands-of-years-old definition of marriage, but also that there is no rational basis whatsoever for that institution as it has always existed. . . [W]e're being asked to swallow a legal declaration that our longstanding and sacred institutions have no meaning, and we're supposed to smile when they tell us that. Why shouldn't that bother me?
Anyway, all of this is background. The New York court's decision properly recognized that this issue should be dealt with by the state Legislature (as is being done in Great Britain), not the courts, and distinguished the Supreme Court's 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia, involving interracial marriage, finding that "that Court held that the intent of the anti-miscegenation statute directly conflicted with the fundamental right to be free from racial discrimination based on the Equal Protection Clause, as well as with the fundamental right to traditional marriage based on substantive due process." Hernandez v. Robles, 2005 NY Slip Op 09436, at *9 (N.Y.A.D. 1st Dep't Dec. 8, 2005).
The portion of the opinion I'm interested in dealt with the rational basis the state does have in offering additional benefits and protections to traditional, opposite-sex marriage:
Marriage, defined as the union between one man and one woman, is based upon important public policy considerations and has been recognized as a fundamental constitutional right. These considerations are based on innate, complementary, procreative roles, a function of biology, not mere legal rights. The reasons justifying the civil marriage laws are inextricably linked to the fact that human sexual intercourse between a man and a woman frequently results in pregnancy and childbirth.
Plaintiffs fail to carry their burden of demonstrating that the legislative facts on which the statutory classification is apparently based could not reasonably be conceived to be true by the governmental decisionmaker. They do not dispute the Legislature's assumptions concerning the advantages of encouraging the rearing of children by both biological parents. Their argument that the statute does not have a rational basis because it allows heterosexual couples unable or unwilling to have children to marry ignores precedent holding that the classification created by a statute need not be perfect. Nor does it lack rational basis because it addresses one legitimate policy interest or problem (regulating heterosexual marriage) over others even if they are related to the same subject. The legislative process involves setting priorities, making difficult decisions, making imperfect decisions and approaching problems incrementally, and rational basis analysis does not require that a legislature take the ideal or best approach.
Slip op. at *6-8 (Emphasis added; citations omitted).
There's a couple of critical points here. Proponents of same-sex marriage often treat the connection between marriage and children as an argument that can be disposed of by syllogism: that since heterosexual couples are able to marry even if they have no intention or ability to have children, it must be the case that bearing and begetting children has no rational relationship to marriage and can't be a proper basis for distinguishing between opposite-sex and same-sex mariage. There are, however, four major reasons for finding this argument unpersuasive.
The first, not discussed above, is one I'll touch on just briefly here: privacy. The state can determine just by looking at a same-sex couple that they're not likely to bear children, and can't do so through traditional means. With the exception of the aged and a few other classifications, that's not true of opposite-sex couples: the government would need to conduct an intrusive investigation to ascertain that an opposite-sex couple was infertile, not having sex, using birth control or otherwise unable or unwilling to bear children.
The next two reasons are related. As the court notes, the rational basis test doesn't require a perfect "fit" between the preferred solution adopted by democratic policymakers and the ends they seek to promote. There are scores of examples of government programs, tax credits and the like that provide benefits to a group of people or institutions not because they will all advance the interests the government is trying to promote, but because it can be rationally determined that they are more likely than another group to provide the desired social benefits. If we required a perfect fit, precious few government programs could survive rational basis scrutiny.
The third, related reason is that society as a whole has an interest in promoting childbearing, an interest the Hernandez court dryly notes is "critical, but presently undervalued." A look at the demographic crisis in Europe, Russia and Japan is all that needs to be said for the importance of this interest: without a decent level of childbearing, society becomes top-heavy with old people and enters a spiral of declining population, which is problematic on many levels.
Now, it's certainly true that same-sex couples can now use modern technology to have children without being in a heterosexual relationship. And it is argued - and argument I won't even try to wade into - that same-sex parents can be just as good at raising children as opposite-sex couples. That's still not enough to show that there's no rational basis for preferring opposite-sex couples if your goal is to promote having children.
Let's give a hypothetical example to illustrate why. Let's say that you're an investor in a new planned community, to be started from scratch in a part of the country that presently has little population. And let's further suppose that, based on the mix of businesses you are hoping to attract to your planned community, your consultants and investment bankers inform you that the economic assumptions of the project require that a fairly large proportion of the new residents be families with children. And, finally, let's suppose that you had a finite budget for advertising and sales, and that budget included a deal with an airline to bring in, say, 500 prospective residents at little or no cost to inspect the place.
It doesn't matter what your agenda or your biases are - acting out of pure rational economic self-interest, wouldn't you very strongly prefer that the 500 seats went to opposite-sex married couples? Aren't they very obviously the people most likely to produce children in general, and multiple-child families in particular? Granted, I don't have an empirical study in hand on the point, and I suspect that if you did one it would be objected to on the grounds that many obstacles stand in the way of same-sex couples having children . . . but even so, is it really so irrational to believe that a set of 250 opposite-sex married couples would, in almost any conceivable circumstance, produce more children than 250 same-sex married couples of the same age and socioeconomic background? If that isn't a rational conclusion for government to draw, there are precious few of the conclusions supporting any legislation that will withstand scrutiny.
The fourth point is the flip side of promoting the begetting and bearing of children: promoting the raising of children in two-parent homes rather than single-parent homes by "set[ting] up heterosexual marriage as the cultural, social and legal ideal in an effort to discourage unmarried childbearing". If underpopulation is a bit of an abstract, big-picture public policy problem, illegitimacy is not. An endless march of empirical studies has found that illegitimacy correlates strongly with poverty, criminality, and virtually every other social problem you can think of.
And, by definition, illegitimacy is an exclusively heterosexual problem. Unmarried gay sex does not lead to unplanned or unprepared-for pregnancies, period. Unmarried gay couples will not produce single-parent homes, nor will they have abortions, whereas the number of children aborted by or born to unmarried heterosexuals every year is very large. By targeting tax breaks and other preferential benefits towards opposite-sex married couples, government can help encourage unmarried opposite-sex couples to marry and can reinforce existing social norms in favor of such marriages.
Like I said, neither of the two arguments depends in any way on a legislative determination of whether same-sex couples are or are not as qualified to raise children as opposite-sex couples. Rather, they simply recognize that opposite-sex couples are more likely to have more children once married, and are also far more likely to have children even outside of marriage. It's an entirely rational policy choice, therefore, to focus scarce societal resources on promoting opposite-sex marriage as a way of sustaining population growth while discouraging illegitimacy.
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POLITICS: The Cost of Abortion
A new study from the University of Oslo compared women who miscarry and women who have abortions:
The Oslo team found that, after 10 days, 47.5% of women who had miscarried suffered from some degree of mental distress compared with 30% of the abortion group.
Naturally, the article reporting the study, from the BBC, includes quotes from representatives of the British abortion industry denying any ill effects from their product. As you would expect the industry to say. But avoidance of the truth requires a sustained commitment to avoiding empirical study of the facts.
December 2, 2005
POLITICS: The Bush Tax Cuts, Illustrated
This handy chart from the Treasury Department illustrates the recovery in employment since the 2003 tax cuts - which, unlike the original 2001 cuts, were phased in imemdiately and thus could immediately affect incentives - quite nicely.
November 27, 2005
POLITICS: The Other Novak
Viveca Novak, a reporter in Time's Washington bureau, is cooperating with Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity in 2003, the magazine reported in its Dec. 5 issue.
It can't be good news that the special prosecutor is looking at things done and said after the investigation began, although of course there are many explanations for why, any number of which end without anyone else getting indicted.
Is there anybody reporting on this story who isn't part of the story? Next we'll hear that Kaus and Maguire have testified.
November 16, 2005
POLITICS: Rove on the Courts
A rare speech by Karl Rove, to the Federalist Society on the topic of the courts. Rove notes a familiar refrain in recounting the battle over the Alabama state courts:
It began in 1994, when Republican Perry Hooper challenged sitting chief justice and trial lawyer-favorite Sonny Hornsby. Hooper pulled off a stunning upset. Outspent, outworked, he won by 262 votes out of over 1.2 million votes cast. And then, the day after the election, several thousand absentee ballots mysteriously surfaced, none of them witnessed nor notarized, as required by Alabama law, and Sonny Hornsby tried to have them counted. It took a year of court battles before Hooper was finally seated.
November 9, 2005
POLITICS: Status Quo 6, Reform 0
At least among the six campaigns I paid any attention to yesterday - the Governor's races in NJ and Virginia, the Mayor's races in NY City and Detroit, and the referendum packages in California and Ohio - if there's any lesson to be drawn from yesterday's votes, it's one that conflicts with the apparent public mood: the voters chose the status quo and rejected calls for reform:
1. Incumbents and incumbent parties won. Virginia and NJ stayed in the same party hands. Incumbents were re-elected in NYC and Detroit.
2. Packages of reform-minded referenda, anchored by anti-gerrymandering efforts, were defeated in Ohio and California.
3. Longstanding concerns about corruption in the state-level New Jersey and California Democratic parties, the state-level Ohio GOP and the local government in Detroit were brushed aside by the voters. No wake-up calls were sent, except perhaps to the Virginia GOP to offer a choice, not an echo.
POLITICS: Ackerman Ducks The Question
You may recall my effort, in connection with the "porkbusters" campaign, to get my Congressman, Gary Ackerman, to commit to give back local pork-barrel transportation spending (including money for parking lots, sidewalks, bike racks and public parks in Queens) to help offset the cost of Hurricane Katrina. Well, yesterday I received his response, which is set forth in full in the extended entry. As you can see, Ackerman fails to even acknowledge the question; his response includes not a word about transportation funding. Instead, he scrolls through the usual hot buttons - Iraq, tax cuts, no-bid contracts, etc. - and appears to oppose any effort to cut any spending of any kind:
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Thank you for contacting me to express your concerns about the federal response to the devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Like most Americans, I have been appalled by the incompetence and the lack of preparedness that has resulted in so much loss of life and property.
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October 28, 2005
POLITICS: The Hidden Hand
This is a bit too much of a political inside joke to post under a "baseball" heading, but the Weekly Standard sees the hidden influence of Leo Strauss and his secretive cabal in Ozzie Guillen's White Sox.
October 23, 2005
POLITICS: Trying to Hit a 5-Run Homer
Mickey Kaus notes that it is the wrong approach for Democrats, should there be indictments in the Valerie Plame case, to try to use the case to re-argue the entire case for war in Iraq rather than just stick to the basic charge of jeopardizing the CIA:
It's not just that this would be a mistake, but that it's the exact same mistake they've made before: most notably in 1987 when the Democrats discovered the Reagan Administration doing something politically explosive and contrary to its stated principles - trading arms to Iran for hostages - and frittered away all the political benefits of this revelation by instead staging a huge fight over the Nicaraguan side of the Iran-Contra scandal, which to most of the general public amounted to the allegation that Reagan's people were going too far in fighting Communism in the Western Hemisphere. This was, of course, an issue on which the Dems had been whupped by Reagan in the past, and they were so eager to settle the score that they wound up getting a lot less mileage out of the scandal than they probably should have.
We may see a related mistake brewing in the Harriet Miers hearings - there have been rumblings that the hearings will turn into a rehash of the Ben Barnes/National Guard story, a mistake the Democrats just can't stop making.
October 20, 2005
POLITICS: Join The Swarm
If there's enough of us, Patty Murray can't threaten us all.
October 19, 2005
POLITICS: The Legend of Dagger Chuck
No sooner had [former] Senators [Connie] Mack and [John] Breaux unleashed their ideas on making the federal tax code more simple and fair than Senator Schumer unsheathed his rusty old dagger, describing the idea of eliminating the federal deduction for state and local taxes as "a dagger to the heart of the people of New York." Voters might be inclined to listen -- except for the fact that Mr. Schumer sees a dagger virtually everywhere he looks.
(Emphasis added). Via Taranto.
October 15, 2005
POLITICS: Don't Drink The Water
At least as to the bottled water thing, Ramesh is right on. Most of us have an instinctive belief that paying good money for water in a bottle is ridiculous. And yet, if you live in a city like New York or Washington (or Worcester, Mass., where I went to college and where the tap water was brown), where drinking the tap water is not a sane option, bottled water has become a necessity - and all the moreso after September 11 and especially after Katrina, when bottled water has become an emblem of disaster preparedness.
(As for wine, I believe recent surveys have shown that Americans as a whole now drink more wine than beer.)
October 10, 2005
POLITICS: The Stealth Strategy
I should have linked to this when it ran, but if you are pondering President Bush's objectives in nominating a Supreme Court Justice, you should definitely read the analysis offered by the always-incisive Jay Cost back in July.
October 2, 2005
POLITICS: Meeting His Targets
POLITICS: Ackerman's Pork
Getting back to the original reason I was checking the website for my Congressman, Gary Ackerman (D-Queens), I was looking for examples of pork barrel spending in my district that could be a target for the Instapundit/N/Z. Bear "Porkbusters" campaign to put pressure on Senators and Members of Congress to accept spending cuts on pork projects in their states and districts to help pay for the massive rebuilding efforts needed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (and, perhaps, Hurricane Rita as well).
Now, Ackerman's not shy about bringing home the bacon. He prominently displays a link to this September 2002 press release:
U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens/L.I.) today announced that his fifth Congressional district is number one in New York State and 37th in the nation for receiving the most in federal dollars - $9.5 billion in 2001 - according to a study conducted by the Associated Press (AP).
Well, let's take a look at where that money goes, from First up is a July 30, 2005 press release on Ackerman's own websiteannouncing Ackerman's cut of the transportation bill (more here, here and here). I'm posting this now, but I will try to follow up with Ackerman via email to get a response.
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$2.240 million: Reconstruction and expansion of Little Bay parking lot at Fort Totten in Bayside. This project is designed to expand the parking capacity of the former army base which is now a new public park. The plan includes:
There's more on the Fort Totten project here:
Fort Totten was a U.S. Army base built in 1857. Most of the facility was slated to be excessed by the federal government in 1995 as part of military base closings across the nation. The property, which is among the most prime pieces of waterfront real estate in New York, is in the process of being transferred from the federal government to the City for use as one of the region's most creative and beautiful public parks, pursuant to the community's wishes. Completion of the transfer is imminent.
Once Fort Totten becomes a park, the property will be managed by the New York City Parks Department which will also administer the parking renovation project. The Cross Island overpass/212th Street undertaking will be performed by the City Transportation Department.
All of this sounds very nice . . . I'm certainly in favor, within reason, of spending some money on public parks in the City. But if the park will benefit only local residents - as it will - and the land is being turned over to the City, why should federal money be spent on this? Or, more properly, (1) why should my tax dollars have to go to Washington to come back to Queens to spend on a purely local project, and (2) why shouldn't the decision about whether this project makes budgetary sense be a decision made locally by the City, to be balanced against other local spending priorities? Pork.
· $3.376 million: Redesign and Reconstruction of the Cross Island Parkway bridge overpass and 212th Street in Bayside (the only road providing access to Fort Totten). This undertaking is intended to reduce any potential traffic congestion. It entails:
This, again, is local spending on local roads; there's nothing here to suggest that this is needed to, say, improve the flow of interstate trucking or some similar national purpose. If it's worthwhile, let Bloomberg ask for the money. Pork.
· $880,000: Downtown Flushing Multi-Modal. Funds for this project are to be used for increasing connectivity for pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles between the Downtown Flushing retail core/transit hub and areas located to the west including College Point Boulevard., Shea Stadium, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and the Flushing World’s Fair Marina. The project is also designed to decrease traffic congestion. It is composed of 3 interconnected components:
We're getting down to penny-ante stuff here by federal budget standards, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Pork.
· $800,000: Downtown Flushing Traffic and Pedestrian Improvements. Funding for this undertaking has been earmarked for the studying, designing and construction of numerous bikeway enhancements, pedestrian improvements and traffic management measures. It is intended to build upon and complement ongoing initiatives being undertaken by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and NYC Department of City Planning. These efforts will help provide inter-modal transit support in the area, while improving pedestrian circulation, linking bike and pedestrian routes with public transit, reducing pedestrian/vehicular conflicts and accidents, proving traffic calming measure, thus improving vehicular congestion and air quality.
Local, local, local. Pork.
$384,000: Roosevelt Avenue Waterfront Access. This project is designed to improve this underutilized, city-owned waterfront site located under and adjacent to the Roosevelt Avenue Bridge to provide pedestrian and bicycle access to the Flushing River Waterfront. This revitalization is a mandated component pf the Downtown Flushing Waterfront Access Plan, adopted in 1998 by the New York City Council. The Plan requires that new commercial or mixed-use development on seven parcels along the Flushing River provide shore public walkways, upland connections to the shore public walkway and visual corridors in locations indicated by the Plan. Specifically, this project is for construction of a shore public walkway and sitting area on the only City-owned site located within the Downtown Flushing Waterfront Access Plan. It will improve the deteriorated sidewalk adjoining the Roosevelt Ave. Bridge and design and construct a 40 foot space along the river, as well as a bike rack, signage and improved lighting.
Sidewalks. Bike racks. We've come a long way from providing for the national defense, here. Pork.
$4.8 million: Parking and road improvements at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park. This project will enable the North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System to build a new parking facility and improve roadway access through its Long Island Jewish Medical Center campus in New Hyde Park. The project will provide 650 additional parking spots for patients, visitors and employees of the medical center, significantly reduce parking problems and traffic congestion within the neighborhoods surrounding the L.I.J. campus and greatly enhance emergency vehicle access to the L.I.J. Emergency Department by creating a dedicated entrance for ambulances.
A parking lot? And can't LIJ - which is a fine hospital, by the way - pay for some of this stuff itself? Pork.
· $320,000: Traffic Calming and Safety Improvements for Great Neck Road in Great Neck. This project, which includes the stretch of Great Neck Road between Water Mill Lane and Clair Street, is designed to mitigate traffic and substantially improve pedestrian and motorist safety. The plan includes street parking improvements, travel lane upgrades, a mid-block speed table with a crosswalk, direction control and neckdowns (curb extensions at intersections that reduce roadway width for pedestrians).
Traffic calming? OK, that's just a bad description. Still, we're talking about yet another local traffic project here. Pork.
A further amusing aside: you can tell from Ackerman's website that trumpeting local spending is priority #1 for his use of the internet. While there are up-to-date press releases for the 2005 transportation bill, his site is otherwise woefully out of date: there's still what looks like an anthrax-related disclaimer on the site:
Although mail delivery to United States Capitol offices has resumed, the delivery process is still very slow. Until the process is more timely, the best way to contact me is email. Please click on the link to the left labeled Contact Gary.
And the "WAYS TO SUPPORT OUR TROOPS!" link leads you to this announcement:
While the war in Iraq is over, American forces are still there and will be for quite some time. Please take a moment to send a message to the brave men and women serving our country overseas.
Even a die-hard optimist wouldn't put it that way today.
UPDATE: Here is the email I submitted on a form on Congressman Ackerman's website:
Dear Congressman Ackerman:
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October 1, 2005
POLITICS: Apocalypse Roberts
September 30, 2005
POLITICS: Ronnie Earle, Movie Star
Apparently, the Austin, Texas DA has been letting a film crew record his pursuit of Tom DeLay. And Earle's methods of pressuring corporations to pay off his favorite causes in exchange for leniency are . . . unorthodox, to say the least. And we remember Earle's use of the DeLay investigation to raise money for Democrats, which the Houston Chronicle called "a stunning display of prosecutorial impropriety."
You know, I was appalled by the personal attacks heaped during the Clinton years on Ken Starr, an upstanding public servant and a man whose previous career had been one of unblemished integrity and civility. I felt then - and still do - that the relentless attacks on Starr, as a means of delegitimizing his inquiry and distracting from the merits of the case, were bad for the administration of justice. And so, I have deeply mixed feelings about the "pig pile on Ronnie Earle" playbook. But the more I see of Earle's record, the more obvious it is that this is a guy with a long track record of troubling behavior with regard both to this investigation and other politically charged investigations. Maybe he has the goods on DeLay; I'm still in the process of absorbing the ins and outs of Texas campaign finance law in the hopes of making sense of this whole thing. But his behavior certainly doesn't inspire confidence.
September 29, 2005
POLITICS: The Slope Slips
Tacitus thinks Rick Santorum is owed an apology.
September 28, 2005
POLITICS: Time For DeLay To Step Aside
Now, unlike Bill Frist, Tom DeLay has now reportedly been indicted. [Report confirmed]. We shall see what merit there is to the charges, given the history of partisan prosecutions here, but either way, an indictment does warrant DeLay stepping down as Majority Leader until and unless he is aquitted or charges are otherwise dropped or dismissed.
UPDATE: Here's the indictment in PDF form, via CNN; you can read the whole thing yourself, as it's only four pages. You will notice that DeLay is not charged with any violations of law in his own right, nor with having committed any "overt act" in furtherance of the conspiracy. In other words, he's not accused of doing anything.
Of course, in the context of an elected official's role in his subordinates' raising of campaign funds, that's not surprising. Under conspiracy law, what is unlawful is the act of agreeing that the other conspirators will seek an unlawful objective. Thus, whether there's any basis for this indictment depends almost entirely on what DeLay knew about what these guys were doing, when he knew it, and whether there is any proof that he agreed to it. The indictment, rather typically of conspiracy indictments, gives almost no indication of what that proof might consist of. It does, however, allege that the unlawful agreement was formed "on or about the thirteenth day of September, A.D., 2002," the date on which the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC delivered a check for $190,000 to the Republican National State Elections Committee (RNSEC). One would ordinarily expect proof of some meeting or other contact by DeLay on or about that date, although with whom is left a bit vague, since he is alleged to have conspired with "one or more of" John Colyandro, James Ellis, "or with . . . Texans for a Republican Majority PAC," so that the charge could be satisfied by proof that DeLay agreed with some person affiliated with Texans for a Republican Majority PAC other than Colyandro or Ellis.
More on this another day, and of course, while I'm familiar with federal conspiracy law, I can't say I know anything offhand about any peculiarities of conspiracy law in Texas. If Texas is like federal law, the jury would be instructed that it needs to find that DeLay personally knew he was breaking the law and had the specific intent to violate the law. But the bottom line here is that a charge of this nature will have to go to trial to determine what DeLay's personal involvement was.
POLITICS: Dog Bites Man
UPDATE: Meanwhile, stop the presses: three liberal journalists say the media hasn't been anti-Bush enough! Media Matters, with characteristic lack of perspective, treats this as a confession of press conservatism.
September 27, 2005
LAW/POLITICS: Selling Frist Short
Well, the latest Beltway feeding frenzy is on, and Bill Frist is the main course. If you haven't followed this story, which as Jon Henke notes has already hit the front pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post, Frist
is facing questions from the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission about his sale of stock in his family's hospital company one month before its price fell sharply.
In contrast to the Democrats, Republicans have a tendency to panic and throw their leaders under the bus at the first whiff of ethical trouble. Sure enough, even hardy souls like Captain Ed and Leon H, as well as the libertarian Henke, are calling for Frist to step down, and Tom Maguire doesn't much seem to have his heart in defending Frist. The desire to have nothing to do with this kind of trouble derives from a healthy impulse, and in Frist's case - as was true with Trent Lott - it is driven in part by unrelated frustrations over his shortcomings as Majority Leader. But based on what we know so far, there is absolutely zero reason to believe that Frist did anything wrong, or that he will or should be in any legal jeopardy.
As an initial matter, some people have questioned whether there was a problem with Frist making any investment decisions at all, given that his assets were supposedly in a "blind trust" to comply with Senate ethics rules. Shockingly, however, Senate ethics rules on the matter turn out to be fairly porous, as Tom Maguire notes: precisely because ethics rules require federal officials to make regular disclosures about their assets, it's not really possible for them to be entirely unaware of their holdings.
Professor Bainbridge, who was one of the first people on the Right to jump on this story, gives the necessary legal background. Basically, under the securities laws - my own area of practice, by the way - the initial question in an "insider trading" case is whether the trader was aware of information about the company that is material (i.e., information that would be important to an investor making a decision to buy or sell) and nonpublic (which means what it sounds like: information not in the public domain). As Prof. Bainbridge notes:
If some SEC enforcement lawyer in fact were to start looking into this, the first question will be whether Frist had material nonpublic information about HCA at the time he ordered the sale. If he had the common sense God gave gravel, the answer to that will be a resounding no. For somebody in his position to retain access to such information would exacerbate the inherent conflict of interest that arises when he deals with health care issues, as well as potentially exposing him to insider trading liability.
He goes on to discuss the longstanding dispute over whether the SEC needs to show trading while in possession of material nonpublic information, or whether it needs to show that the trader actually used the information. That is indeed a vexing issue, albeit one that is somewhat theoretical in many cases (the evidence of use is often circumstantial anyway). Prof. Bainbridge suggests that it might matter here if Frist could show a different motivation for selling, such as a desire to eliminate a conflict of interest that would no doubt only become a larger issue if he runs for president. But if Frist can be shown to have had access to information about HCA's upcoming earnings news before it became public, he is politically toast no matter what the legal outcome.
The same goes, I suspect, for a second part of the legal inquiry that Prof. Bainbridge doesn't address. Frist, as far as I can tell, has no formal relationship with HCA, so he is not technically an "insider" who owes legal duties to its shareholders. Thus, at least under the securities laws, he can only be prosecuted if (1) he was a "tippee," i.e., some person inside the company tipped him off to inside information in violation of that person's own duties to the company and in exchange for some benefit (such as a share in the profits), or (2) he "misappropriated" confidential information that was entrusted to him by the company in some relationship of trust and confidence. The misappropriation theory would likely not apply to information Frist may have received from members of his extended family who were involved in running HCA; the Second Circuit rejected application of the theory in such circumstances to a member of the Waldbaum (grocery chain) family in United States v. Chestman, 947 F.2d 551, 570-71 (2d Cir. 1991).
It's not entirely clear if the "misappropriation" theory could be extended to, say, someone who learned information in his capacity as a government official. The Fourth Circuit rejected such liability in the case of officials of the West Virginia Lottery who bought stock in a company before awarding it a contract in a lengthy and scholarly opinion by Judge Michael Luttig in 1995, United States v. Bryan, 58 F.3d 933 (4th Cir. 1995), but on grounds of wholesale rejection of the theory, which was later approved by the Supreme Court. It should be noted, however, that in Bryan and United States v. ReBrook, 58 F.3d 961 (4th Cir. 1995), the same court upheld the same defendants' convictions for mail and wire fraud. Thus, again, the issue of whether Frist is really in any trouble here all comes down to whether he had any inside information about HCA, which he denies.
On that score, what we know now suggests that there's no reason to be concerned. At the moment, there is only pure speculation that Frist had any material nonpublic information. The suggestion (or assumption) being made by his critics is that if Frist sold a huge, long-held block of stock before bad news made the stock drop, he must have had some inside information, absent some other, rational explanation for why he sold. But Tigerhawk, in a post that's a must-read for anyone attempting to discuss this issue intelligently (link via Instapundit), looks at the trading history of HCA and provides an obvious explanation: HCA had just had a huge run-up in value, and it was publicly known (due to SEC reporting requirements) that a lot of HCA insiders had sold stock (which can be and often is perfectly legal, by the way, depending on the circumstances):
Bill Frist, if he had any information at all about HCA when he ordered his trustee to sell his shares, knew what everybody else knew: that the management was shoveling stock out the door. That fact alone would be sufficient for many investors to sell their shares, and so it should have been for Frist, who was probably trying to get rid of them anyway in advance of his presidential campaign.
Now, this is speculation, just as assumptions of Frist's guilt are speculation, and maybe we will learn something later that changes this picture. But Tigerhawk's analysis certainly shows why - in the absence of any evidence to the contrary - the most logical explanation is that Frist, having sound political reasons to want to sell the stock anyway, chose to instruct the trustee to sell at what looked to be an opportune time to sell.
(One final point: while they don't happen in every case, SEC investigations of trading in advance of big announcements - particularly by people, like Frist, who are related to management - are sufficiently routine that there's really no significance that should attributed to the existence of the investigation by itself.)
Two concluding notes:
1. I don't have time here to address the fact that Frist seems rather clearly to have lied in TV interviews about the degree of his knowledge of the HCA stock in his "blind" trust except to say that it's an incredibly stupid lie, given that his ownership of HCA stock was sufficiently public knowledge that interviewers kept asking him about it.
2. As I commented on Leon H's post, it's all too easy to bail on Frist's ineffectiveness as Majority Leader. Remember how disenchanted we Republicans were with Trent Lott? Remember how disenchanted we were with Bob Dole? Remember how happy we were to see both of them go? Have you noticed how unhappy Democrats are with Harry Reid? How miserable they were with Tom Daschle? (Moreover, neither Reid nor Daschle nor Nancy Pelosi nor Tom DeLay nor Dick Armey nor Dick Gephardt has, within the last several years, been an effective spokesperson for his or her party.)
Face it, being a Senate leader is hard, and on issues where the caucus splinters, I'm not sure that personal leadership can do much to pierce the armor-plated egos of Senators with either fear or persuasion. I think the last really popular Senate leader, within his own party, was George Mitchell.
In short: Frist has been a disappointing Senate leader in a number of ways, and certainly his public statements on this issue haven't helped him. It will be a good thing for the GOP to get a new Senate leader yet again in 2006. But I wouldn't call for his head over an investigation that shows no sign of being anything more than a routine inquiry that is likely to clear him.
UPDATE: I should add that the mail/wire fraud theory pursued in the Bryan and ReBrook cases wouldn't be available here - the government's theory in those cases was that the defendants defrauded the government because their investments deprived the government of the defendants' "honest services" in the process for awarding the lottery contract. Here, since there's no allegation of anything affecting Frist's performance of his legislative duties, that theory would be unavailable.
September 24, 2005
POLITICS: Tax and Spend
There's been a lot of talk going around lately about government spending, and I thought I'd add some hard data in here on the percentage of GDP consumed by federal taxes and by federal spending. These are official government historical data and projections based on the Fiscal Year 2005 budget. I'll hold the analysis for now, but this chart gives something to refer back to in later posts:
Read More »
UPDATE: Looks like the image from the chart didn't post well (it's cutting off on the right on my monitor), so I'll have to try this again.
« Close It
September 20, 2005
POLITICS: Gary Ackerman Goes Blue
Ackerman noted that "since last fall, I have tried again and again to work with FEMA on this rule so that 9/11 first responders and their families could start collecting the funds raised by the 9/11 Heroes Stamp. But at every step, FEMA - which does a spectacular job responding to disasters and emergencies throughout the country - refused to accept input or provide any feedback as to the content of the rule or when it would be published. I have enormous respect and admiration for what FEMA does in crises, which is why I'm so disappointed in this rule. Unfortunately, more than 45 months since the stamp was created, 38 months since the stamp went on sale, and more than six months since beginning work on the rule, what's been produced is, frankly, half-a__ed bureaucratic bulls__t. New York's best and bravest deserve far, far better than this."
(Emphasis added). I've omitted the language here, which is unfortunately not omitted from Ackerman's press release. Isn't this crossing a line that should not be crossed? I mean, it's one thing when a politician uses foul language in a private conversation and it somehow goes public, most famously in the case of Nixon's White House tapes but also, more recently memorably, in the case of George Bush in 2000 calling a New York Times reporter an unprintable name while talking to Dick Cheney in front of what turned out to be a live microphone. And it's another thing when that conversation is had in a setting where the politician should have known his conversation would be overheard and publicized, as with Cheney's use of an expletive to Patrick Leahy in a meeting on the Senate floor. And it's another thing still when a politician uses a bad word in a magazine interview that's expressly intended for publication (even if, as in the case of John Kerry's Rolling Stone interview, the magazine in question is one that uses such language freely), or in a radio interview (as in Ray Nagin's outburst during the hurricane).
But this is a new low, putting this sort of language in a press release. Now, while I refrain from using bad language on this blog, I'm certainly not innocent of doing so in my daily life, so I'm not getting squeamish here about the words themselves. My point is, simply, that it is yet another step to the coarsening of our culture to incorporate obscenties into the public vocabulary of our elected officials, one of the few areas of public discourse in which that is still taboo, and in which a measure of formality and civility is still expected to prevail. Recall Lileks' prediction, in August 2002:
Once vulgar words are commonplace in the papers and the television, there's no going back - and public life just gets cruder and cruder. I know it's a losing battle. Fifty years down the road a presidential candidate will say "My opponent says I'm soft on the military, and to him and all his advisors, I can honestly say: f**k you." He'll be celebrated in some corners for connecting with the genuine people, with those not bound by musty conventions. The authentic people! The ones who really f**kin' live!
It turned out to be one year and four months down the road, not 50. And Ackerman's press release is another step down that road. By 2008, will we have candidates who, like Atrios, call everyone who disagrees with them "f___ers" and leave it at that? Even if we don't, we are headed in that direction.
UPDATE: Jesse Taylor makes the opposite case, and in the process pretty well plays right into the popular caricature of the Angry Left as over-agitated, immature, reflexively oppositional and utterly lacking in perspective.
September 14, 2005
POLITICS: Mr. Chirac, Tear Down This Wall!
We already knew that George W. Bush was a (rhetorically) committed free trader, even if his actions haven't always lived up to his rhetoric (ahem, steel tariffs). But this call for the total worldwide abolition of trade barriers, as pie-in-the-sky as it may be under present international political conditions, ought to warm the hearts of conservatives, libertarians and Clinton-style liberals everywhere. Nothing wrong with shooting high and setting goals we can work to, even if it takes the next few decades.
September 12, 2005
POLITICS: Blue on Blue
If you missed them, two of the most biting denunciations of far-Left bloggers have come recently from their own side of the aisle: Bob Somerby on Atrios (scroll down; lots of adult language involved), and, from a few weeks back, Mark Kleiman on Juan Cole.
September 8, 2005
POLITICS: The Flood and The Recriminations, Part I
Like a lot of people on the Right, I was appalled last week at the rush of people on the Left seeking to blame anything and everything related to Hurricane Katrina on President Bush, even at the height of the disaster when partisan point-scoring should have been the last thing on anyone's mind. We saw at work two classic features of a left-wing swarm: (1) the belief that you can win an argument by being the angriest guy in the room, and (2) the effort, as we've seen so often in the past, to nail down the perception of events before the truth has a chance to lace on its boots.
Now, we see the same people reacting in shock and horror at the thought that the White House might try to get its side of the story out. Go figure.
It is, for the most part, still too early to reach any kind of definitive judgment about where the blame lies and what things can't fairly be blamed on anyone. If you don't believe me, think back to September 11, and all the times over the first few weeks after the attacks that we had to revise the things we thought we knew. (See Matt Welch here - updated here and here, via here - and McQ here on the slew of initial reports, especially regarding violence at the Superdome, that may have been overstated or outright wrong).
That being said, obviously, the effort to hold off on the fight over "who lost New Orleans" is one that can't be won. (There don't seem to be similar questions for the rest of Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama, none of which faced the same catastrophic breakdown of government services, nor are there questions about how New Orleans handled the hurricane itself, so much as the ensuing flooding). And in the long term, recriminations and finger-pointing will be a necessary and healthy part of the process; without that, nobody gets held accountable, and nothing gets changed. So, in the spirit of preliminary assessments, I offer my own framework for thinking about the issue. As usual, I'm trying to frame the questions; I don't pretend to have answers to all of them.
I. Primary Issues
There are four primary questions that need to be answered in the wake of the flood that devastated New Orleans: why did the city flood, why were so many people trapped in the flood, why were they without basic supplies, and why did it take so long to get supplies, evacuation and law enforcement to the people trapped in the flood?
A. Why Did New Orleans Flood?
The initial question is why the levees were breached. In part, as far as I can tell, this was a result of a long-ago decision made at multiple levels of government not to reinforce the levees beyond the strength needed to survive a Category 3 hurricane; Katrina was a Category 4 or 5 (depending on when you measure it). On the other hand, Katrina didn't score a direct hit on the city. The question of why the specific sections of the levees gave out is mainly an engineering question, and thus one that will take some time and patient investigation to figure out.
Aside from "why" is the question of "who". Apparently, the construction and maintenance of the levees had been principally a federal responsibility since the Army Corps of Engineers, in what was apparently one of its signature early successes, took over the job as part of the War of 1812 (in which the Battle of New Orleans was a key engagement), and - in a development that should be familiar to observers of federal agencies - never relinquished that role. However, it appears that much of the work is carried out by local contractors, and it's unclear to me what role the state and local governments play in implementing federally funded projects. Tom Maguire predicts that before this is over we will see the relevant local contractor investigated for corruption or other improprieties.
Some commentators have fairly asked why, as a policy matter, funding and execution of projects protecting one city in one state should be a federal responsibility, and specifically why - if Louisiana officials actually believed that the levee maintenance project was dangerously underfunded - they didn't step in with funds of their own. These are good questions in the abstract, and they do point to some local responsibility for getting serious on the issue, but in the real world, if the feds have been funding something for 190 years, it's presumptively a federal responsibility unless there is a clear statement by the Administration that the state will now be on its own.
The Bush Administration has come under fire for cutting the funding in recent years for the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, an initiative begun in 1995. It's deeply ironic, of course, that an administration that has shown so little willingness to fight to cut spending would end up in hot water for actually succeeding in the task. Still, while there may have been pork in this project - one pre-Katrina account quotes project manager Al Naomi saying that "When (former Rep.) Bob Livingston (R-Metairie) was chairman of the Appropriations Committee, we didn't have a monetary problem. Our problem was how do we spend all the money we were getting" - even most conservatives would agree that preventing catastrophic floods should not be one of the first places you look to cut the budget (As Mark Steyn observed, "why did the porkmeisters of the national legislature and national executive branch slash a request by the Army Corps of Engineers for $105 million for additional flood protection measures there down to just over $40 million, at the same time they approved a $230 million bridge to an uninhabited Alaskan island?"). Unless there's a real good explanation from Bush as to why these funds were cut (and if there was, I suspect we'd have heard it by now), he's going to deserve the criticism he gets on this.
Of course, just because Bush cut funding on the project doesn't mean that those cuts actually contributed to the breaches that flooded the city. In fact, at least one of the major levee breaches was in a concrete section that had just been upgraded. Democratic critics conceded that the funding cuts didn't cause the floods. And there is reason to believe that a genuine fix for the levees would have been decades away anyway.
And the Bush Administration wasn't alone in questioning levee-maintenance projects. The New York Times repeatedly criticized the Army Corps of Engineers' levee-building and maintenance plans on environmental grounds and called for funding cuts, and environmental groups stopped an earlier, more comprehensive project with a 1977 lawsuit. So, Bush may have some strange bedfellows in the dock on this issue.
UPDATE: Instapundit points to an article in this morning's Washington Post fingering Louisiana Senators and Congressmen for diverting hundreds of millions of dollars from flood control to other water projects in Louisiana. Louisiana Democrat John Breaux's words may be an epitaph for a generation of Louisiana's political class:
"We thought all the projects were important -- not just levees," Breaux said. "Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but navigation projects were critical to our economic survival."
And a perspective-giving excerpt:
Louisiana's politicians have requested much more money for New Orleans hurricane protection than the Bush administration has proposed or Congress has provided. In the last budget bill, Louisiana's delegation requested $27.1 million for shoring up levees around Lake Pontchartrain, the full amount the Corps had declared as its "project capability." Bush suggested $3.9 million, and Congress agreed to spend $5.7 million.
SECOND UPDATE: John Berlau at NRO has a closer look at environmental lawsuits, including one in 1996, obstructing the building and maintenance of the levee system. Also, Rich Lowry notes a 2004 federal indictment of Louisiana officials for "obstruction of an audit of the use of federal funds for flood mitigation activities throughout Louisiana."
THIRD UPDATE: Looks like Louisiana's state and local governments didn't make levee building and maintenance much of a priority, to the point that "local and state officials did not use federal money that was available for levee improvements or coastal reinforcement and often did not secure local matching funds that would have generated even more federal funding." (Via QandO . . . really, I think I'm gonna end up linking to everything McQ has written on this in the past week; you should be over at the QandO site for all the latest on Katrina and the recriminations).
TO FOLLOW: The other three primary issues, the secondary questions, and the red herrings.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:19 AM | Hurricane Katrina | Politics 2005 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
September 7, 2005
POLITICS: Ironies of the Day
Two of them, from this AP report:
1. Now, Ray Nagin orders a genuinely mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. Great timing there. Yet, even now, we see who continues to drag their feet:
The new evacuation order has been drafted and will be issued shortly, Mr. Nagin said, even though Louisiana state officials question his authority to issue such a command. "I don't care, I'm doing it," he said. "We have to get people out."
2. Guess who said this, in calling for "an independent commission to investigate the federal response to the disaster, saying neither Congress nor the administration should do it":
"I don't think the government can investigate itself."
Yes, that's right: Hillary Clinton. Oh, the irony.
I'm heartened to see that the Senate and House are launching their own investigations; back in the days when John Dingell and Henry Waxman were committee chairmen, Congress didn't punt all of its investigative powers to secretive prosecutors and unelected commissions. It's about time Republicans acted like they were elected by the people to be in charge.
Inevitably, there will also be an "independent" or "bipartisan" federal commission to study the question, and I suppose there's nothing wrong with that, too, although if it follows the 9/11 Commission model it will consist of Kathleen Blanco, James Lee Witt, a left-wing lawyer and a handful of retired liberal Republicans. As we have seen in the past, though, such commissions tend to redirect public attention away from the facts (see Claudia Rosett on the UN Oil-for-Food inquiry, due to issue a report today) and to be treated in their bottom-line conclusions as gospel by a lazy media, even when their investigative work has been shoddy or biased. Let's make sure that the facts get a little play, too.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Hurricane Katrina | Politics 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Crossing Over
I was watching the local NBC affiliate on Monday and you know it's not good news for the Democrats challenging Mike Bloomberg that a new poll showed Bloomberg leading the field . . . among Democratic primary voters. By a 2-to-1 margin: 43% for Bloomberg to 21% for Fernando Ferrer. And the accompanying report had no trouble finding Bloomberg supporters at the West Indian Day Parade, not normally a hotbed of Republicanism.
Like him or not, Bloomberg is a competent manager and as close to a genuinely bipartisan mayor (by New York City standards) as you can get. He'll be re-elected.
August 24, 2005
POLITICS: Funded and Unfunded Mandates
Via Econopundit, I see that Connecticut is suing the federal government over "unfunded mandates" in the No Child Left Behind Act, arguing that it is impermissible for the federal government to require testing without paying for the tests.
As a matter of constitutional law, this may be a bit of an uphill battle, although there is Supreme Court caselaw supporting the arguement that the federal government can attach conditions to funds it gives the states but can't outright compel the states to do things, whether it pays for them or not. As Steve Antler notes, though, it is liberals and Democrats who would be the real disappointed parties if unfunded mandates of this sort were declared unconstitutional.
Personally, I'd like to go farther and ban, all but entirely, the practice of the federal government giving money to the states to carry out policy. There may be a narrow class of cases where (1) the national interest is sufficiently imperiled to justify the federal government requiring states to follow a uniform national standard and thus justify out-of-state taxpayers footing the bill, and yet (2) the job is best carried out through the infrastructure of state/local government. Counter-terrorism, border security, and vaccination/response for epidemic infectious diseases are all potential examples of this. But the great bulk of areas in which the feds give money to states and localities are simply for services to benefit the people of that state or locality. And that means one of two things:
A. The federal government is taking taxes from the people of the state and routing it, redundantly, back to the people. In this case, why not have the taxes raised locally? That would improve the transparency and accountability of government by making clear who was responsible for deciding how much to tax and how and where to spend.
One of the worst examples is Medicaid. The Medicaid program, by providing matching funds to the states, effectively takes a big chunk of the federal budget and hands over control of it to elected officials in the states; at the same time, the incentive to use Medicaid funds drives states to spend more, ultimately costing their own budgets as well. If states simply had to choose between spending their own money or not spending it, both state and federal government would be more accountable for their own choices.
B. The federal government is taking taxes from the people of a different state or locality and diverting it. Of course, there are endless controversies over who benefits more from this, but I think most observers of Washington would have to admit that what the federal government does not do is work out a plan based on reasonable policy criteria for deciding which states and localities get a net benefit and which are net losers. Instead, the real division of funds winds up being (1) a patchwork of contradictory programs and (2) heavily influenced by which states and localities have powerful Senators and House Committee Chairs.
Now, a lot of conservatives have championed "block grants" and the like - no-strings-attached funds given to states - as a way of reducing federal influence. Cutting these off, though, would in the long run hand more real authority back to state authorities that are closer to, and thus more directly accountable to, the people. Unfortunately, it would almost certainly require an amendment to the Constitution to do this, and one that would require a sufficient number of exceptions that it would be difficult to police.
August 18, 2005
Dean Barnett notes a dynamic among left-wing bloggers, especially younger ones, that I addressed recently: "writing like they’re politically obsessed Quentin Tarantino characters." Link via Instapundit. It may be morally satisfying to spew profanity-laced insults at anyone and everyone who disagrees with you (and not just Republicans; go search lefty blogs like Atrios and Kos for "DLC" and see what you come up with), but it's no way to expand the tent.
August 4, 2005
POLITICS: Just One Question
OK, maybe Mark Kleiman has never worked in an office with a busy professional or executive. But for those of you who have: what are the odds that the person who keeps Karl Rove's phone log is Karl Rove?
(Of course, if Rove instructed someone not to log the call, we're in Betty Currie territory, and Rove could be in a heap of trouble. But my point here is, it's much more likely that Rove's secretary, not Rove, was the person deciding what calls to log, and how).
POLITICS: The Republicans are Doomed, I Tell You!
August 1, 2005
POLITICS: The Original Reality Show
In a totally free market for information, politics must have popular entertainment value in order to be viable.
July 29, 2005
Drezner, as you would expect, has some thoughts on the House's passage of CAFTA. Among other things, he quotes the Washington Post on Bush's personal appeal to House Republicans:
Underscoring the importance that Bush attaches to the pact, he put his prestige on the line by making a rare appearance with Vice President Cheney at the weekly closed-door meeting of the House Republican Conference. Bush spoke for an hour, lawmakers said, stressing the national security implications of CAFTA, which are rooted in the concern that growing anti-American sentiment in Latin America would flourish if the United States refused to open its markets wider to the nations that negotiated the pact.
July 28, 2005
POLITICS/LAW: Tea Leaves and the Court
First up, Alberto Gonzales declares that the Supreme Court "is not obliged to follow" Roe v. Wade. On one level, this is a truism: the Court has reversed prior precedents many times before, more often than not at the instance of the more liberal members of the Court, and if a majority of the Court decided to overturn Roe, there's nothing anyone could do to stop them. I admit that the Court has never really enunciated a consistent or principled standard for when to overturn a constitutional precedent - in fact, it's hard to identify even a single Justice who's been thoroughly consistent on the question, and such decisions are usually bitterly divided - but clearly there are few situations more appropriate for overruling a precedent than when a prior decision (1) was wrongly decided, (2) is not at all tied to the text of the Constitution, (3) was clearly not intended at the time the relevant constitutional provision was enacted, (4) resulted in taking an issue out of the hands of elected branches of government, and (5) has resulted in endless controversy and repeated litigation.
That said, Gonzales' statement is interesting as much for why he said it. There would seem to be at least three motives at work for saying this now:
1. The White House wants to reassure nervous conservatives that John Roberts will take a similar tack;
Next up, a fascinating WaPo article looking behind the scenes (as far as they were permitted) at how Bush tabbed Roberts. Read the whole thing; I'll just add here my impressions of what the article means:
*Andrew Card was the guy in Roberts' corner (as every successful nominee needs a patron in the process). Which shows that Card has real power. Which, in turn, suggests that Card was a source for the article.
*Then again, David Vitter also comes off as a player, a freshman Senator who got his candidate (Edith Brown Clement) into the final round. This will play well at home. Could also be a deliberate White House effort to do a favor for Vitter, painting him in this fashion.
*Dick Cheney interviewed everyone, if you were wondering if he was engaged in this process.
*Harvie Wilkinson talked to the WaPo, Clement didn't. This suggests to me that Clement thinks she's still on the list for the next opening, but Wilkinson doesn't and is glad it's known he was considered.
*Card thought Justice Thomas would love the Roberts pick. O'Connor and Rehnquist obviously do. Bush is being savvy picking a guy the other Justices already like. (Which suggests that Bush might well have taken Roberts' old boss Ken Starr, who shares many of the same traits and has more experience, had Starr not become politically radioactive as a result of being Independent Counsel). Again, the White House may be trying to signal that Roberts is a conservative by noting that Card thought Thomas would like Roberts.
*Justice Thomas attends black-tie dinners for visiting heads of state? I did not know this.
*Bush didn't even need to interview Larry Thompson. This suggests that the president's comfort level with Thompson is such that he'll get tapped for something else big again, especially if Gonzales leaves the Justice Department at some point.
*We get confirmation that outside conservative pressure really mattered in stopping Gonzales. Something for conservatives to remember.
*The detainee issue is one that Bush is focused on. Thus, he appears to have seen Roberts' joining a ruling upholding the Administration's policy as a key sign that he was a guy who would stick to his conservative guns. I suspect war-on-terror issues matter more to Bush in the long run than social issues, given Bush's intense focus on the war.
POLITICS: Leaky Vessel
Jon Henke, on the Plame leak:
If a White House official 1) consciously knew that Valerie Plame was a covert agent 2) whose identity ought to have been protected, and 3) that White House official initiated a leak of her name to the press 4) in order to disclose her identity, then he ought to be removed from his position and prosecuted.
Even leaving aside the issue of prosecution - which I've about beaten to death at the moment - I'd pretty much agree with this, and I'd add that the White House should fire anybody who meets (1) and (2) and initiated or participated in a leak, and that (4) is only marginally relevant if people in the White House gave out her name, knowing her status. It's actually amazing - at least if you're not familiar with how politics works - how much heat has been expended on the issues of who can be prosecuted and what regulations require and what the president said he should or should not do, as opposed to the central question of what is bad enough conduct to justify firing someone in the first place. And to me, if somebody was just negligent with the identity of a non-covert agent and accidentally revealed that she'd been covert in the past, that's a blunder, but it's not something you organize a lynch mob over. Listen to former Director of the National Security Administration and former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Admiral Bobby Inman, who at one time was nominated by Bill Clinton to be Secretary of Defense:
[The leaking of Plame's identity] is still one I would rather not see, but she was working in an analytical organization, and there's nothing that precludes anyone from identifying analytical officers. I watch all the hand-wringing over the ruining of careers… there are a lot of operatives whose covers are blown. It doesn't mean the end of their careers. Many move to the analytical world, which is where she already was. It meant she couldn’t deploy back off to Africa, but nothing I've seen indicated that was possible in the first place.
Inman also notes the pervasive leaking from the CIA directed at the Bush Administration during the 2004 election, about which the cheerleaders of the Plame investigation can muster no outrage.
July 25, 2005
LAW/POLITICS: A Name Is Not A Document
I'm overdue to get back to some of the legal loose ends on the Valerie Plame case, including the last bit of my response to Mark Kleiman on the Espionage Act. I see Kleiman half-heartedly pitches a John Dean column discussing the application of 18 USC 641:
I am referring to the prosecution and conviction of Jonathan Randel. Randel was a Drug Enforcement Agency analyst . . . working in the Atlanta office of the DEA. Randel was convinced that British Lord Michael Ashcroft . . . was being ignored by DEA, and its investigation of money laundering. . .
[T]he London Times said that . . . it had DEA documents showing that [Lord] Ashcroft was index-numbered on the DEA files, a measure that, it said, is taken only when serious suspicions exist.
Dean doesn't address whether the government contended otherwise, but leave that issue aside for now. Here's how Dean describes that indictment:
Count One is based on the general theft statute - with information, once again, alleged to be the "thing of value" stolen. Count Two relies on a statue adopted in 1994 designed to protect information in government computers, where most government information now resides. The government charged that Randal "knowingly and with an intent to defraud" the government, exceeded his authorized use of the DEA computer by pulling information about Lord Ashcroft.
Now, let's look at Section 641, which punishes:
Whoever embezzles, steals, purloins, or knowingly converts to his use or the use of another, or without authority, sells, conveys or disposes of any record, voucher, money, or thing of value of the United States or of any department or agency thereof, or any property made or being made under contract for the United States or any department or agency thereof; or
The obvious problem with this is that Randel apparently made off with documents. Nobody in the Plame case is alleged to have handed over to the press any classified documents. That doesn't end the inquiry under other statutes, but under Section 641 I can't see how you could prosecute anybody for stealing just by passing along a name. This is particularly the case because language like "embezzles, steals, purloins, or knowingly converts to his use or the use of another" is generally read to require taking unauthorized title to property. (This is even before we get into the all-important intent question. I remain convinced that it will not be possible to successfully criminally prosecute anyone who did not know they were passing along the name of a current or former covert agent).
July 22, 2005
POLITICS: Year of the African-American?
Remember how 1992 was the Year of the (liberal/Democratic) Woman? Think the media will buy 2006 being the Year of the (conservative/Republican) African-American? Let's list the races:
*Michael Steele is all-but-openly running for an open Senate seat in Maryland, and the Lt. Gov. is likely to get the GOP nomination.
*Detroit City Councilman Rev. Keith Butler looks like he could be the GOP frontrunner to challenge Debbie Stabenow, a potentially vulnerable Democratic Senator in Michigan.
*Former Steeler Lynn Swann is gearing up to challenge Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and Swann's high name recognition could make him the GOP frontrunner.
*Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is expected to be a serious contender for the governor's mansion in 2006, and is a favorite of conservatives looking to shake up the scandal-ridden establishment in the faltering GOP stronghold.
*NY Secretary of State Randy Daniels appears to be considering entering the wide-open race (assuming George Pataki doesn't run again) to challenge Eliot Spitzer for Governor of NY.
*To top it off, a conservative African-American Democrat, Harold Ford, will be running for an open Senate seat in Tennessee.
Now, there are few hardier perennials in political commentary than the vain hope that the GOP can break through with black voters. And all six of these guys are varying degrees of long shots, although none of them besides Daniels seems like a certain dead loser. These will mostly be hotly contested races, and black Republicans will be in the thick of several of them. How many of the five Republicans will get the nomination and win more than 10-12% of the African-American vote? It could be a trend to watch, even if the media winds up having to be dragged kicking and screaming to acknowledge it.
July 15, 2005
POLITICS: Novak to Rove, Who To Novak?
Well, today's big story will obviously be the report (see here and here) that Karl Rove testified to the Plame grand jury that he learned Plame's identity from Bob Novak and not from official channels. Of course, if that's true it would make it nearly impossible to prosecute Rove, since access to Bob Novak is not classified. It also makes it more likely that Rove neither knew nor had reason to know that Plame was or had been a covert operative; if there's one thing that's clear in all this, it's that you would never successfully prosecute anybody who only knew that Plame worked for the CIA if they didn't know that she had been a covert operative. The NY Times report says Rove said that he didn't know:
The person who has been briefed on the matter said Mr. Rove neither knew Ms. Wilson's name nor that she was a covert officer.
(More challenging is the question of what consequences would ensue if Novak told Rove she was covert; I'm still mulling that one over).
Of course, Rove may not be out of the woods just yet. The news report could be mistaken as to what he told the grand jury; there may be evidence contradicting his testimony; or, like anyone involved in a grand jury investigation, he could still be prosecuted if he committed perjury or obstruction of justice or lied to investigators or destroyed documents, regardless of any underlying crimes (ask Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart or Arthur Andersen).
And it still leads back to the question: who told Bob?
UPDATE: As usual, Tom Maguire has comprehensive thougts on the matter.
SECOND UPDATE: Cliff May points out that if you actually read what Bob Novak wrote, and what followed, Plame's status as a covert or clandestine agent was never revealed, only her CIA employment; the fact that she'd been undercover was first revealed by David Corn of The Nation, most likely based on information provided by Joe Wilson himself. Needless to say, regardless of whether you think this should be a scandal, this is a point that would be of enormous significance in any criminal prosecution. May also reprints an email exchange with Corn over the subject, in which Corn defends himself by saying that he was speaking of Plame's undercover status hypothetically.
July 13, 2005
POLITICS: Crybaby Chuck?
Is it just me, or has Chuck Schumer given the GOP a golden opportunity? You've doubtless seen Schumer's latest demand, from the floor of the Senate, on the White House:
"For consultation to work, and we all want it to work, the president should suggest some names and get the opinion of those of us in the Senate," he said. The senator also suggested the president convene a summit at Camp David or "a dinner at the White House" to privately discuss the nomination.
Now, during the Clinton years, Newt Gingrich was ruthlessly lampooned by the NY Daily News as a "Cry Baby" over the charge that the 1995 government shutdown was partly motivated by Newt's pique over not getting a good seat on Air Force One. That was doubtless an oversimplification, but isn't Schumer opening himself up to similar charges here when he inevitably leads the charge to filibuster Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court: Schumer wanted Bush to wine and dine him before announcing the nominee, and now he's pitching a fit and shutting down the Senate because he didn't get his ego-stroking dinner invitation. Is it really such a good idea to hand your opponents such an obvious talking point?
July 12, 2005
POLITICS: The Two-Nominee Strategy
Erick at Red State asked the question whether Republicans have a better chance of confirming conservative Justices if two are nominated at once, rather than one at a time. Let me explain in a little detail here why I think we do.
Let's start with a trenchant analysis (as always) by Patrick Ruffini, which I'm quoting here at some length to make a point. Ruffini argues that Republicans need to come out swinging, as Ted Kennedy did with Robert Bork in 1987, on precisely how the two parties' different views of judging will lead to different outcomes:
*Complaining about ideological opposition to a nominee is about as effective as whining about your opponent running a negative campaign. *Lauding a judge's qualifications is a soporific exercise. On paper, John Kerry was "qualified" to be President. But he was dead wrong on everything that mattered, and he was hammered relentlessly for it.
Ruffini then offers an example of what a bare-knuckled, Kennedy-style argument would look like:
What kind of America do Democrats want by opposing President Bush's judicial nominee? The kind that the judges they prefer are trying to make for us:
In contrast to this, Ruffini offers the positive vision of conservative judging:
How do we "strict constructionists" frame our "agenda?" As an anti-agenda. As one that opposes the imposition of any particular worldview through the Courts. As a simple sentiment, animated by faith in the body politic, and borne of 229 years of democracy in America:
I agree with most of this, particularly the juxtaposition of bad results flowing from liberal judging with a more general discussion of the positive philosophy of conservatism of ensuring that all judicial decisions are rooted in the legitimacy of popular sovereignty, whether through the current democratic process or the prior approval of express provisions in the Constitution.+ Conservatives generally do well when arguing about ideas and badly when we argue inside-baseball "fair play" type issues, on which it's too easy for the media to play referee and side with the Democrats. On the other hand, I do think that some of the procedural points will at least be worth making: an ideological long-term filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee would be wholly unprecedented, and Republicans will need to make the case that the nominee, whoever it may be, is well-qualified to the job.
But here's the thing Ruffini overlooks in his view of an effective communications strategy: while the GOP is making general arguments about judicial philosophy, the Democrats will be busy trying to pin down the nominee to commit to specific answers on specific issues, e.g., "do you believe in the right to privacy found in Roe v. Wade?" The nominee, for many good reasons, will want to avoid answering these questions and avoid pre-judging specific issues that will come before the Court. Unfortunately, there's no way to avoid doing so - whether by having the nominee be evasive, refuse to answer, or by having the committee chair rule such questions out of order - without creating some bad visuals implying that the nominee is hiding something.
The challenge, then, is finding a way to simultaneously have the White House arguing about judicial philosophy and the specific bad results of a liberal judicial philosophy, without getting the nominee tangled up in having to implicitly adopt all of the arguments made on his/her behalf and defend them in hearings.
This is where it becomes highly advantageous to have more than one nominee at once. With two nominees, after all, the White House can talk effectively about its own judicial philosophy, and argue that President Bush has chosen these two judges out of a belief that they will generally uphold this philosophy, but at the same time acknowledge that there is no guarantee that either nominee will always rule in a predictable fashion (you need only look at the numerous recent examples of cases on which Justices Scalia and Thomas wound up on opposite sides of various decisions to see that this is inevitable even among judges who have fairly clear and rigid judicial disciplines). And with two nominees, it becomes harder for the Democrats to focus on specific objections to each judge, since some things that appear objectionable about one will not be true of the other.
This is all an extrapolation from the basic rule of politics that it is often easier to beat a candidate in the polls with "opponent" than with a single, flesh-and-blood opponent with specific flaws that can be the subject of a negative campaign. Opening a second front, if Chief Justice Rehnquist announces his retirement before a nominee to replace Justice O'Connor is confirmed or perhaps even nominated, would thus work to the benefit of conservatives in crafting a strategy to win public support for two conservative nominees rather than one at a time.
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+ - Yes, as I've discussed before, I understand that this is not an ironclad rule, but it's certainly true as a general matter that conservative judges are more likely to leave a broader array of issues to be dealt with in the democratic process.
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MoveOn.org has taken some of the most extreme positions on the left in recent years, most notoriously by opposing the war in Afghanistan. Now, Republicans are planning to make the group's support an issue for Democrats like Bob Casey who accept MoveOn.org money while campaigning as moderates.
July 6, 2005
LAW/POLITICS: Jockeying For Position
I'll have lots more on the coming Supreme Court battle as we go along. For now, the process is a dream for political junkies and game theorists, as multiple actors try to plan their strategies: Bush, Gonzales, conservative groups, liberal groups, swing-state Senators, presidential candidates (including those outside the Senate, especially on the front-runner-less GOP side, who have to weigh the benefits and risks of staking out a divisive position against letting someone else make their bones with the base).
One thing Bush has made clear lately is that he doesn't much like conservative groups criticizing Alberto Gonzales. Seeing as Bush can be pretty stubborn, that raises the concern that loud public attacks on Gonzales could just reinforce his determination to nominate his friend.
If Bush does tap Gonzales, liberals will be in a fascinating bind. On the one hand, there are several reasons to want a fight: liberal interest groups have been itching for one for a decade; presidential candidates need to preen; there's a partisan interest in doing political damage to Bush, which is greatly heightened by the fact that Bush would be going into battle under heavy fire from his own best troops, and thus would find it nearly impossible to overcome strenuous and united Democratic opposition; Gonzales is young and could be on the Court for decades; and Gonzales is mistrusted on the Left due to his closeness to Bush and some of his positions over the years on issues like the death penalty and war-on-terror legal issues. On the other hand, Gonzales is almost certainly the least conservative candidate who's likely to be nominates; there's a political risk in opposing the first Latino Supreme Court nominee; there's a political risk for swing-state/red-state Democratic Senators in opposing Bush; and there's political risk for the party in general in knee-jerk obstructionism of a guy widely painted as a moderate, especially since defeating him - with a Rehnquist retirement still possible within the year - would exhaust much political capital needed for two more fights.
The GOP presidential candidates will have a variety of conflicting interests. If a conservative is nominated, Bill Frist will need to get him/her through to a vote. Rudy Giuliani will likely need to get involved - and Mitt Romney as well - to show nervous social conservatives that they can fight for conservative judges. John McCain, on the other hand, obviously continues to see his path to the White House in looking moderate and bipartisan, so his main interest will be - regardless of who the nominee is - in appearing to build a bipartisan compromise.
By contrast, if there's a nominee detested by the conservative base, the non-Senators will keep their heads down, Frist will be completely doomed no matter what he does, and George Allen will be under strong pressure to vote against the nominee, especially since Sam Brownback might well do so. Of course, Bush can keep some of the GOP Senators in line with personal appeals and arm-twisting, but if the grassroots of the party goes into open revolt (something we haven't seen since the first Bush broke his tax pledge), everyone with a future in the party will want to do what Newt Gingrich did in 1990 and side with the voters.
(On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, of course, need do nothing; her position is utterly secure, or at least is no longer subject to events).
June 29, 2005
POLITICS: Fatina Abdrabboh - Fit to Print?
In case you missed it, the NY Times ran the most ridiculous op-ed piece I think I have ever seen last week; a woman named Fatina Abdrabboh (apparently a student at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, naturally) wrote, from Cambridge, Mass., about how
[T]he Muslim headscarf, or hijab, that I wear makes me feel as if I am under a microscope. I try to go to the gym just about every morning. Because I work out with my scarf on, people stare - just as they do on the streets of Cambridge.
Then she described how upset she got watching the news in the gym:
Every television in the gym highlighted some aspect of America's conflict with the Muslim world: the war in Iraq, allegations that American soldiers had desecrated the Koran, prisoner abuse at Guantánamo Bay, President Bush urging support of the Patriot Act. The stares just intensified my alienation as an Arab Muslim in what is supposed to be my country. I was not sure if the blood rushing to my head was caused by the elliptical trainer or by the news coverage.
But wait! Her faith in the nation was restored by an act of staggering heroism:
Suddenly a man, out of breath, but still smiling and friendly, tapped me on my shoulder and said, "Ma'am, here are your keys." It was Al Gore, former vice president of the United States. Mr. Gore had gotten off his machine behind me, picked up my keys, handed them to me and then resumed his workout.
You should read the whole thing, although I've excerpted almost all of it as is; there's so little there it's amazing that a reputable college newspaper would find room for this piffle, let alone the New York Times (one staggers to think of all the worthwhile things written in the blogosphere last week that NYT readers would never learn about while they publish the likes of this). Chris Lynch and Jonah Goldberg make appropriate mockery of various aspects of the column (links via Lyford). Ankle Biting Pundits had some more serious background on the numerous times that Fatina Abdrabboh - presumably the same one - had been quoted in the media complaining about perceived ill-treatment in the U.S., particularly on account of her headscarf; it's a must-read.
I had a few thoughts of my own:
1. Isn't it, um, kind of dangerous to bend down on a treadmill while wearing a headscarf? Am I the only one who thought this was a tort case waiting to happen? (A scene at the end of "The Incredibles" comes to mind, if you've seen it).
4. As my wife pointed out, if people in Cambridge stare at her, it's probably just because she doesn't have green hair and a pin through her nose.
June 28, 2005
POLITICS: You Know You Have A Problem When . . .
I think my favorite detail from this story is the fact that the NY Times has a "Credibility Committee." When you need to appoint a committee to figure out why you have credibility problems . . .
June 27, 2005
POLITICS: The Flag Burns Back
POLITICS: Krugman on Ohio
I had meant to link to Don Luskin's brutal takedown of Paul Krugman's article on scandals with the pension funds in Ohio; Krugman's mendacity in spinning the news to create falsely negative impressions about Republicans is pretty boundless. (Via Maguire). Of course, the real scandal here isn't the perfidy of Republican politicians and businessmen or the perfidy of Democratic politicians and businessmen or even (as Luskin suggests) the distorting effects of racial preferences; the real issue is that big giant honey pots of other people's money are being invested by politicians and people appointed by politicians. That's a dangerous trend and one that GOP reformers should crusade against at the state and federal levels. I hope Arnold succeeds in changing that in California.
POLITICS: Political Math
Partisans of social-justice mathematics advocate an explicitly political agenda in the classroom. A new textbook, "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers," shows how problem solving, ethnomathematics and political action can be merged. Among its topics are: "Sweatshop Accounting," with units on poverty, globalization and the unequal distribution of wealth. Another topic, drawn directly from ethnomathematics, is "Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood." Others include "The Transnational Capital Auction," "Multicultural Math," and "Home Buying While Brown or Black." Units of study include racial profiling, the war in Iraq, corporate control of the media and environmental racism. . . .Teachers are supposed to vary the teaching of mathematics in relation to their students' race, sex, ethnicity and community. . .
The mischief just never ends, does it?
June 20, 2005
PETA employees charged with cruelty to animals. Evidence of James Taranto's theory that PETA is a right-wing plant continues to grow.
POLITICS: So Quit, Then
Maureen Dowd is complaining about "the psychological pressure of being original." That's like Kaz Ishii complaining about the psychological pressure of having pinpoint control.
June 17, 2005
POLITICS: Poor Seniors Don't Eat Dog Food
Clip and save this one for the next time this urban legend gets trotted out in a Social Security debate: Dr. Weevil confirms that no matter how poor you are, you can't save money by eating dog food instead of people food.
POLITICS: Harmonic Convergence of Wingnuttery & Moonbattery
A Kansas preacher and gay rights foe whose congregation is protesting military funerals around the country said he's coming to Idaho tomorrow to picket the memorial for an Idaho National Guard soldier killed in Iraq.
UPDATE: This guy has pictures. What loathesome characters.
June 16, 2005
POLITICS: Strange Tales
A Kansas City abortionist is out of business after investigators discovered a grisly house of horrors at his clinic – with fetuses kept in Styrofoam cups in his refrigerator and one employee accusing him of microwaving one and stirring it into his lunch.
But is the story accurate? The Kansas City Star makes no reference to the more explosive allegations, and if I recall correctly, WorldNetDaily doesn't seem like the kind of outfit I'd rely on if it's alone in its reporting (in fact, that's a good rule of thumb for any news organization). Count me skeptical for now.
POLITICS: And The Horse You Rode In On
June 15, 2005
POLITICS: The Wrong Man?
After years of left-wing writers insisting that George W. Bush has a secret drug arrest in his past, could it be that they were looking at the wrong George W. Bush? (via Tim Blair).
June 11, 2005
WAR/POLITICS: The Constable Blundered
Go read Captain Ed's thorough summary of the new report on the FBI's failings leading up to September 11. Of course, it's easy to find law enforcement errors with the benefit of hindsight; investigation's a tough job. But the blow-by-blow both emphasizes why the Patriot Act was needed and underlines the damage done by fear of racial profiling.
June 9, 2005
POLITICS: Bad Times
Megan McArdle catches a New York Times editorial using one of Paul Krugman's favorite tricks, comparing the ten-year projected cost of a tax cut to the one-year annual cost of a spending program, in this case aid to Africa. She notes some other problems as well with the Times' math.
June 7, 2005
POLITICS: Oily Numbers
Gerry Daly points out a Washington Post editorial that mixes and matches numbers to severely understate the potential impact of drilling for oil in ANWR.
UPDATE: Todd Zywicki notes the same bad math in another op-ed in the Post, and an attempt to correct the record with a letter to the editor.
POLITICS: The Truth Leaks Out
Not that I think college transcripts tell you a whole lot about a presidential candidate, but it's emblematic of the way the media let John Kerry get away with hiding things a Republican would have been pilloried for that we're only now discovering that his college grades at Yale were just as bad as Bush's, despite the incessant claims of Kerry's supporters that he was a much smarter, more complex and nuanced thinker. We did also get Kerry's tax returns very, very late in the game. The rest of his military and medical records are still, ahem, AWOL, although this Globe article does hint that they may be available.
UPDATE: Jay Tea notes that the military records are now available, but only to the Boston Globe. The Globe says there's nothing to see, and that may be the case, but until the records are more widely available, it's wait-and-see.
June 4, 2005
POLITICS: Quick Links 6/4/05
*Interesting battle in Michigan over a bill - opposed by Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm - to require abortion clinics to make ultrasound images available to mothers contemplating abortions, so they can see the baby before they decide it isn't a human being worthy of being given a chance to live. Of course, the stickier issue would be the more intrusive step of requiring the clinic to show the images; if that's not required, I doubt that many abortion mills would go out of their way to make the option known. What's a little unclear from the article is whether most clinics already have ultrasound equipment (if not, this is an expensive new burden); I would think, given the nature of the business, that they would have to for safety purposes.
*I've been skeptical of claims that Robert Byrd is vulnerable, but this West Virginia blogger says polls show his likely Republican opponent is well-positioned to make it a real race. via Instapundit.
*Yes, the seedy lobbyist tied to Tom DeLay was also a big backer of Harry Reid, Tom Daschle, Patrick Kennedy and Dick Gephardt. Don't the Democrats ever investigate these things before making these kinds of charges?
June 2, 2005
POLITICS: 2006: The Terrain
There's been a lot of talk, more than usual this early in the election cycle, about the 2006 Senate races and the odds of either party picking up seats and changing the dynamics in a Senate now perennially deadlocked over judicial nominations and other business. In fact, much partisan strategy over these battles will, as always, be shaped by the prospects for the next election - where the parties hope to gain, where they fear to lose, and whether they expect to be dealing from a stronger or weaker hand come January 2007. With that in mind, let's take a look, using some hard numbers, at the political terrain for the 2006 Senate races.
There are polls, of course, but polls this early are volatile. Before we get to the polling data, there are two main pieces of hard data - actual votes - that we can use to evaluate the political climate in a state entering the beginning of a Senate race. The first is the red/blue issue: when people were paying greatest attention, which party did they side with? The polarizing nature of the 2004 election, with a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat, sharpened that distinction. The second is the history of this Senate seat: how did the incumbent do in his/her last election? This second item is of particular importance where the incumbent is running again, although you do have to bear in mind that you are dealing with election results from six years ago, before 9/11, the Iraq War, the Florida Recount, Enron, judicial filibusters, Terri Schiavo, blogs, etc., etc., etc. Rather than rest on one or two of these data points, let's combine the two. I present a ranking of the Senate seats to be contested in 2006, from most to least likely to change parties, based on adding (1) the incumbent party's percentage of the vote in the last race for this seat (S%) to (2) the incumbent party's percentage of the vote in the 2004 presidential election (P%) (all numbers from FEC sources here, here and here):
Observant readers will note that I'm missing a state, Vermont. The problem is that Jim Jeffords ran there as a Republican in 2000, so it's hard to make anything of his 65.56%-25.42% thumping of his Democratic opponent. Kerry won 58.94% of the vote in Vermont, so if you double that and throw out the Jeffords anomaly, the D% should probably be 117.88, ranking the state near Maryland as an open seat the Democrats ought to be able to defend.
These notes are important. John Kyl is in a very strong position, but he ran unopposed in 2000; he's not quite as bulletproof as he looks. The Democrats may seem weak in several spots because they ran the table in close Senate races in 2000, but several of those candidates knocked off incumbents last time around, and will start in a stronger position this time around with the headwind of incumbency at their backs rather than in their faces. I figured "divided opposition" where the two main candidates pulled below 96%, leaving a number of voters on the table, but since Ted Kennedy beat his opponent 72.69%-12.86% in 2000, that doesn't amount to much.
I'd hesitate to say what threshhold indicates a realistic chance of a seat changing hands, but obviously anyone below 100 has to be viewed as an opportunity for the other side, and anyone above about 110 is - other than open seats - an extremely tough race. You can see that most of the most competitive races, based on this criteria, involve Democratic-held seats.
Of course, all of this is prologue; the 2006 races will be fought, like every election, with a new backdrop of issues and partisan mood and momentum, which so far seems to be favoring the Democrats. The number of genuinely competitive races is bound to be reduced if credible challengers can't be located, as was the case in 2004 in Nevada, for example, where Harry Reid was vulnerable but the GOP couldn't get a serious challenger. But the numbers above at least provide a solid guide to where the needle stands entering those races, and how far it has to move to save or defeat the incumbents listed above.
UPDATE: Don't miss Gerry Daly's effort to tweak some of the variables here to create a more accurate measure. I don't necessarily agree that the other Senate seat is all that instructive, as demonstrated by longstanding in-state splits: D'Amato and Moynihan, Grassley and Harkin, Domenici and Bingaman, etc. and the fact that some states just get in the habit of re-upping incumbents. For example, the persistence of Robert Byrd does nothing to help Jay Rockefeller. On the other hand, for similar reasons, I'm inclined to agree with a commenter at RedState that the last Senate election isn't that useful in evaluating open seats, at least not in the case of someone like Frist or Sarbanes who ran as an incumbent six years ago.
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UPDATE #2: Here's the table re-done to just double the presidential vote in the four states where there's an open seat:
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May 25, 2005
POLITICS: Cease Fire
I can't add a lot to the rivers of pixels that have been expended on the filibuster "deal." Obviously, it's not a good deal for Republicans, who for the future get only vague assurances of not filibustering except in "extraordinary" cases, which means nothing. Plus, as with cease-fires in war, an agreement of this nature is only useful if the will to enforce it can be summoned at the first violation. Making a deal when you have your forced mobilized always makes it harder to rally them again later.
Then again, it's not such a great deal for Democrats, either, as the Republican promises in the deal are entirely unenforceable once the Democrats filibuster again on ideological grounds. Thus, the only thing the Democrats get is to step back for a while from the brink at a time when the GOP may or may not have had the votes.
In that light, the deal's not a disaster overall - both sides went home unhappy, and Bill Frist got humiliated, but Bush does get a floor vote on three appellate court nominees, so unlike the typical Trent Lott-era deal at least there should be something lasting to show for all this.
Anyway, the pressure will only increase now on both parties not to compromise again at the next stage, when a Supreme Court nominee comes up. It's gonna be ugly.
May 24, 2005
POLITICS: What Is An Extremist?
POLITICS: Health Savings Accounts
But let's say conservatives are right. Let's say the main problems with the US healthcare system really are overconsumption (i.e., third party payment encourages people to use health care services they don't really need) and overregulation (i.e., mandated features on insurance plans designed to make them better just price them out of the range of too many consumers) and that, therefore, HSAs are a good solution. Isn't universal health care still the way to go?
I think Yglesias undercounts the conservative objections, which also include lack of individual choice, erosion of the profit motive needed to drive further innovation, and the interposing of unnecessary third-party insurers. But anyway, let's look at his solutions:
First, eliminate the tax preference for health insurance as compensation vis-à-vis money.
This would politically difficult, but I'd certainly agree that having people go through their employers to get health care involves an extra level of intermediary that does no good.
Next, implement a national catastrophic care program where the government will pick up the tab for any health expenses you incur over a "deductible" of $X which you need to pay out of pocket. Providing catastrophic care to the entire under-65 population shouldn't be particularly expensive.
I'd agree with this - the present system is backwards. Insurance should be there, whether public or private (and in some cases public makes sense) to pick up costs that we can't handle, not to pay ordinary expenses.
Of course, this still leaves Health Savings Accounts as a logical solution for those intermediate-cost expenses, things that you can and should save for - Yglesias doesn't get to those.
POLITICS: Quick Links 5/24/05
*This probably means less than meets the eye. But if it doesn't . . .
*Is Cuban dissident Luis Posada Carriles a terrorist or a freedom fighter? I say both, and we should hold him accountable for terrorism. Should he be turned over to Cuba or Venezuela? I'd say he should be. Of course, some may disagree on the grounds that Cuba, in particular, has a record of torturing prisoners. Presumably those who are opposed across the board to "rendition" of prisoners to countries with outstanding warrants and records of torturing prisoners in the past will oppose extradition of Carriles.
*Speaking of Cuba: Down with Fidel.
May 22, 2005
POLITICS: Oh, That Liberal Media
May 20, 2005
POLITICS: Three Links
Poliblogger has another systematic look at obstruction of judicial nominees, and why it's particularly unprecedented to see this level of obstruction when the president's party controls the Senate. Unfortunately, the data only goes through 2003. Via Wizbang.
Dale Franks has a good discussion of income inequality and (1) its connection to the fact that people who make more money tend to work more and (2) the fact that people tend to make more money as they get older. Neither of which should be news except for the New York Times' persistent efforts to oversimplify the issue. Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of hardworking people who make peanuts, but the broad generalizations drawn from statistics on the subject are almost always misleading.
And Ann Coulter has a typically blistering column comparing Newsweek's willingness to run a poorly sourced Michael Isikoff item on Koran-flushing with Newsweek's unwillingness to run extensively sourced Isikoff items on Clinton scandals. (Standard disclaimers about Coulter columns apply).
May 18, 2005
POLITICS: Really Bad Advice
Brendan Miniter wants Mitt Romney to run against Ted Kennedy in 2006 to promote Romney's chances of running for president in 2008. This is horrendously bad advice. First of all, you don't run for a new job two years before you run for president. It's too hard and looks too transparently careerist. Second, Romney fought the good fight vs. Ted once, and if Ted couldn't be beaten in GOP-friendly 1994 he never will be. Third, you lose and it rubs some of the luster off no matter how expected. Fourth, to be a serious 2008 challenger Romney probably needs to get re-elected, hard as that may be.
May 17, 2005
POLITICS: Senate Smart Bomb
With the showdown on judicial filibusters escalating, Republicans have an opportunity rare in Washington: they possess the raw political power to do essentially whatever they want, in the sense that on most or all of the filibustered judges they possess the 51 votes neeed both for confirmation and to change the rules to eliminate obstacles to confirmation. The debate has thus focused on two questions about how they should use that power: whether they will suffer an electoral backlash, and whether changing the Senate rules or otherwise ramming through nominations will come back to haunt them when, some day, the Democrats regain a majority in the Senate.
Let's review the options:
1. The "Nuclear Option": Changing Senate Rules to require 51 votes rather than 60 for "cloture" of debate on a judicial nomination, i.e., to break a "filibuster" and force a floor vote.
Pro: Will eliminate possibility of Democratic filibusters for the remainder of Bush's term. This is particularly appealing now that Harry Reid has threatened to filibuster a Bush Supreme Court nominee. (Link via Daly)
Con: There are three downsides here. One is that Republicans will suffer at the polls. I'm not convinced of that - breaking the filibusters should help solidify the conservative base, and couldn't inflame the liberal base more than it is already. And to the extent that moderate swing voters pay attention to judicial fights at all, the GOP has probably taken its lumps with them already for the nomination of conservative judges, which Bush has broadcast widely. (Although I will concede that the phrase "nuclear option" is the winningest Democratic spin since the government shutdown). Certainly, almost every Senate race in which judicial nominees was a major issue went to the GOP, except for Mary Landrieu and Ken Salazar, both of whom got elected/re-elected in part by making promises of support for votes on judicial nominees (promises they never intended to keep, but that's another story).
The second is that the GOP would be disarming itself in future battles over the judiciary. First of all, I don't buy this, because it assumes that if Republicans don't change the rule, Democrats won't either. Yeah, and I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. Banking on future Democratic good faith is foolhardy in the extreme. Democrats aren't even pretending to promise that they won't support the same thing later; consider their past track record on changing the filibuster rule to suit their purposes.
The third concern is a related one, one that is of more concern and is openly discussed by liberal pundits: that disregarding the availability of the filibuster for judges will give political cover to wholesale elimination of the filibuster for legislation. This concerns me more, because the filibuster as a brake on bad, complicated legislation is a check and balance that conservatives have depended upon in the past (see: Hillarycare), and may again. Unlike the judicial filibuster, which I suspect Democrats will bulldoze as soon as they are in position to benefit from doing so, eliminating the filibuster entirely would be seen as a radical move even by the media - but perhaps less so if the filibuster were completely eliminated for nominations.
The filibuster for legislation is, as a matter of policy, more sensible - while Mickey Kaus argues that the filibuster's compromise-forcing function is more important in judicial nominees, I disagree because compromises in legislation are easier to reach - and more likely to yield intended results - because both sides can be assured of what they are getting. Judicial nomination compromises often wind up a lose-lose situation for principled conservatives; should we accept a system in which "compromise candidates" wind up as Souter or Blackmun?
Bottom Line: I'm willing to live with the "nuclear option," but I'd prefer the more targeted solution I discuss below.
2. The "Conventional Warfare" Option: A number of commentators (see here) have suggested that Republicans should force the Democrats to live up to their rhetoric and actually stage an old-fashioned, talk-to-exhaustion filibuster. I'm not sure if this requires an actual rule change or just an announcement or interpretation of the rules, but you'd need a majority of the Senate to enforce it.
Pro: Filibustering is hard work, and Democrats would quickly get exhausted by the talkathon. A filibuster would spotlight the issue, putting pressure for a resolution that the GOP could use to its advantage.
Con: Several. First of all, the media would likely buy the Democrats' argument that the GOP was shutting down the government if the old-time filibuster ended up squeezing out all other Senate business. Second, anything that raises the public stakes makes it harder for Democrats to visibly back down. Third, I gather that - although I've forgotten where I read this - the old rules would only require a single filibusterer to be present, while the whole majority would have to be there (although I see no reason why that couldn't be altered by rule change). And when a Supreme Court nominee comes up, the Dems would never budge.
Bottom line: This ain't gonna happen, because it's physically taxing on the Senators themselves, none of whom wants to be martyred to a debate about judges. I'm also less and less enthusiastic about how it would play out in the media.
3. The 60 Seats Option: Change nothing, and use the judges issue again in 2006 in hopes of getting to 60 seats.
Pro: Judges have been a winning issue, and the zero-sum nature of the issue keeps social conservatives motivated and mobilized. The map favors the GOP: Republicans are defending 15 seats to the Democrats' 18, one open seat to the Dems' three, and are defending fewer seats in states they lost in 2004. A gain in Senate seats is very possible.
Con: A decent chance at a net gain, yes; but 5 seats would be a shocker, and the most likely outcome is no more than a 1-seat net pickup, as both sides have their vulnerabilities and hurdles to clear. Local conditions (e.g., poor challengers) always reduce the number of seats truly in play, and sooner or later the trend against the incumbent party is bound to catch up with Republicans. In the meantime, nothing gets done. Plus, social conservatives may start to feel disenchanted if nothing out of Washington-as-usual gets attempted.
Bottom Line: Fear and greed both suggest that this option could happen, as nervous Republicans yet again kick the issue down the road. But the momentum and logic of the battle, plus Frist's presidential ambitions, makes this an unsatisfying outcome. Besides, how often do you get to rewrite the rules to fix the process? It's time to use that power.
4. Cut a Deal: Trent Lott seems to have taken a stab at this, but was swatted down by Bill Frist - cutting a deal where the GOP tables the rule changes but some of the nominees get a vote.
Pro: Get a few judges in.
Con: The underlying stalemate remains, the stakes escalate for a Supreme Court battle, and even the Democrats look hypocritical for changing direction on people they've tabbed as "extremists".
Bottom Line: The Senate loves deals, but I just don't see what's in it for either side to cut one.
5. The Advice-Without-Consent Option: Patterico suggested, back in November, having Republicans vote on non-binding resolutions of support to (a) formalize the fact that filibusters were blocking nominees with majority support and (b) force fence-sitting Democratic Senators to come out from behind the procedural battle and admit that they oppose these nominees.
Pro: Put people on the record.
Con: Voting to filibuster a nominee in perpetuity is basically a stronger form of voting them down. Can we shame the Democrats into changing positions? I don't think so - the liberals are proud of what they're doing, and the rest are already cemented in place by intense pressure from party leadership. And you might lose a few liberal Republicans who oppose the filibuster but don't support the nominees.
Bottom Line: This should have been tried before the elections. But it's a PR stunt, not a solution.
6. The Smart Bomb Solution: OK, we've been through the rest. Some of the options above are ones I can live with. But the GOP shouldn't be satisfied with a solution that's temporary, and shouldn't demand one that goes further than necessary to fix the problem. And thinking long-term in politics means not only blocking tactics abused only by the other side, but removing powers you yourself have used - like tying up nominees in committee and "blue slips" that enable single Senators to hold up certain nominees - if they have contributed to the overall problem.
What's the problem? Not the filibustering of judges per se, but the open-ended, indefinite delay of floor votes on judicial and other nominees, especially by a minority of the Senate. The filibuster is a new and extreme addition to the arsenal of delay, one not used before; the lone precedent Democrats can cite is Abe Fortas, but that was a short-term filibuster (with bipartisan support, of an already-sitting Justice) designed at getting more information about ethics charges. That's a function we shouldn't preclude: the use of the filibuster, of delay in committee, or even of "blue slips" to delay a nominee long enough to get information and build opposition.
But there is a world of difference between the use of parliamentary delaying tactics to allow the opposition to coalesce and using those tactics to allow the losing side to delay any action at all once the lines of support and opposition have hardened. Neither the Constitution nor the historical advice-and-consent practices of the Senate (by "historical" I mean, more than the past three Administrations or so) provide any support for a minority power to perpetually obstruct nominees with majority support. The judicial filibuster is not, perhaps, a wholly new creation, but it's a plant that has grown up rapidly in recent years to obstruct and choke off all the other traditional growths around it. The best solution isn't to pull the old fellow up by the roots but to prune it back to reasonable size.
There are various ways to do this, but I would suggest a sliding scale: initially, 60 votes needed for cloture, for forcing nominations out of committee, or for overriding a "blue slip." Once the first cloture vote fails, the threshold starts dropping, say, by one vote every 30 days or some such until you get to 51. The goal should be to ensure that every nomination (except for those truly made at the last minute) gets an up or down vote within about a year, sooner of course if there's broader support or if the White House can successfully exert pressure for a vote, as will generally be the case for a Supreme Court vacancy.
This is a stable solution that could become permanent. It meets the needs of majorities while preserving a role for the opposition. It also, of course, allows a Senate of one party to bottle up nominations by the other party, which was the source of tension between 1991 and 2002, a tension many voters thought they were resolving by turning over the Senate to the party of the President. But the descending threshold ensures - I think* - that such opposition will have to go on the record repeatedly and will have to be uniform across 51 votes, enabling the president to take his case to the people and target the wobblers. (* - This assumes that the minority can make a motion for cloture. I believe that's the rule but I could be wrong).
May 14, 2005
POLITICS: Beyond The Pale
Michael King notes Cosby critic Michael Eric Dyson comparing Cos to Timothy McVeigh on the Today show (in what was, given Today's politics, naturally a sympathetic interview). Words fail me.
POLITICS: Secrets and Smears
"Henry Saad would have been filibustered anyway," Reid said. "He's one of those nominees. All you need to do is have a member go upstairs and look at his confidential report from the FBI, and I think we would all agree there is a problem there."
Now, look: if there's something really nasty in Saad's record, Bush should pull the nomination. And I am, in fact, uncomfortable with the idea of keeping genuinely material information from the public. But given the nature of FBI files - which tend to be loaded with unverifiable hearsay and gossip - that's unavoidable.
Either way, given the confidential status of a nominee's FBI file, the Democrats just should not go smearing the guy with dark hints about his secret files. There's also an elephant in the living room that York and the others ignore: the uniquely explosive nature, in the current climate, of dropping hints about the classified FBI file of an Arab-American (I believe Saad, if confirmed, would be the first Arab-American to sit on a federal court of appeals, but I could be wrong about that). If that's not McCarthyism, I don't know what would be. As far as playing to crude stereoytpes, that's like calling a black judge stupid (whoops, Reid's already done that). Where's CAIR and James Zogby on this one?
May 11, 2005
POLITICS: DeLay Not DeOnly One
I've generally not blogged about the various ethics claims raised against Tom DeLay, mainly because it's hard to stick a toe into the subject without triggering insistent demands to denounce anything and everything DeLay-related without exception. My general impression from the things I've read thus far is that the charges against DeLay are something of a mixed bag - some are self-evidently bogus (like giving jobs to his family), some are ethically indefensible but apparently legal and commonplace, and on some the jury is still out as far as the facts.
I would generally agree that the aggregation of charges can ultimately justify the need to get rid of even an effective political leader even if no one charge is fatal, and of course I don't want to fall into the various traps of the Clinton bitter-enders, such as (a) assuming that because some of the charges are bogus, they must all be, or (b) accepting "everybody does it" as a complete defense even when your guy is by far the worst offender. On the other hand, a political party, like any other large organization, does owe its members some loyalty, some willingness to give their own guy the benefit of the doubt on the close calls, and the fact that a practice is common is always relevant to the degree of its impropriety. Short answer: I haven't entirely made up my mind yet on whether there's sufficient basis for Republicans to dump DeLay.
With that caveat out of the way, this is a very interesting study on privately-funded Congressional travel. Turns out that, to no one's surprise, the Democrats live in one very large glass house on this issue, and while DeLay is one of the worse offenders, he certainly doesn't stand out, with the top 8 slots all going to Democrats, including moderates like John Breaux and Evan Bayh and far-left nutballs like Maxine Waters, Maurice Hinchey and Jim McDermott. (It's also amusing that Henry Waxman is right behind DeLay).
May 9, 2005
POLITICS: The Money Rolls In
The deficit improves. via Kaus. As usual, efforts to project the future of the federal budget prove elusive. If you learn nothing else from annual arguments about the budget, remember that financial projections about the government are a mug's game.
POLITICS: Tory Hunters
May 4, 2005
POLITICS: Sex Ed for Kids
In the second grade. Some people just don't get it.
POLITICS: For Attribution
This seems like a good idea. It's sort of ridiculous to have regularly scheduled briefings be anonymous. If the White House wants to get information out without committing itself to a position on an issue, there are plenty of other avenues to do that.
April 29, 2005
POLITICS: Health and Freedom
I agree completely with the Radley Balko post on pharmacists and abortion quoted in the third item of Jon Henke's post here. I also agree with Henke, in his second item, that "pro-choice" feminists are being hypocritical (what else is new?) in opposing freedom of women to choose whether to have silicone breast implants. I'm no fan of implants, but given the shoddy plaintiff-lawyer science used to attack them, the choice should really belong to the women who want them.
April 28, 2005
POLITICS: Filibuster Buster
Dale Franks argues in favor of a Dick Morris proposal to force the Democrats filibustering judges into an old-fashioned full-time round the clock Jimmy Stewart/Strom Thurmond-style shut-down-all-other-Senate-business filibuster. It's a good idea both now and in the future, and in many ways preferable to formally abolishing the filibuster entirely. There will be times when it's worthwhile to do a real filibuster; the Abe Fortas nomination in 1968 was an example, where the nomination was delayed only a week on grounds that more time was needed to air serious ethics charges that ultimately caused Fortas (a sitting associate justice nominated for Chief Justice) to resign entirely from the bench. But the need to do real filibusters would end the practice of multiple indefinite filibusters on strictly partisan or ideological lines.
I don't agree that the first shot at this should be one of the less nationally significant judges, though; the Republicans might as well lead with their strongest cases.
April 25, 2005
POLITICS: EU Living Standards
April 8, 2005
POLITICS/LAW: Conflict of Interest
Well, look at who's confusing his roles of public prosecutor and campaigner:
Eliot Spitzer was accused on Wednesday of blurring his role as New York attorney-general with his political ambitions to run for state governor after his campaign office paid Google to link a search for "AIG" to a website promoting his gubernatorial bid. AIG, the world's largest insurer, is at the centre of investigation by Mr Spitzer and others regulators into alleged improper accounting.
The thing about Spitzer is, of course, that he's never yet been put to proving one of his high-profile cases in court; he generally targets heavily regulated public companies, and such companies generally can't survive a court battle with the government. But it makes for good press.
April 7, 2005
POLITICS: Screw Up
Turns out that the memo pushing the legislation to save Terri Schaivo's life on, among others, raw partisan political grounds was after all created by a GOP staffer working for Mel Martinez, who apparently - I assume without reading the thing, unless he's a complete idiot - handed it to arch-liberal Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, who in a rare display of aisle-crossing was supporting the bill but obviously was not doing so for purposes of putting heat on other Democrats. Instapundit has the links. (UPDATE: Patrick Hynes has a more direct apology).
I like this quote, from hyper-partisan New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg:
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a member of the Rules and Administration Committee, wrote to the panel's leaders last week to ask for an investigation into the "document, its source, and how it came to be distributed."
And this one:
Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in an interview Friday that he considered it "ludicrous" to suggest that his party created the document and said Republicans were using such talk to divert responsibility.
And this one:
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said he believed that the memo originated with the GOP because it is "totally consistent" with how the Republicans have operated for the past four years. "They just shouldn't lose their memos," he said.
And now that that's settled, I hope Lautenberg, Reid and Biden can all get to a substantive discussion of these memos circulated among Senate Democrats.
March 24, 2005
POLITICS: Not This Again!
The Powerline guys are hot on the trail - maybe too hot, because this doesn't look like a slam dunk just yet, but they may have a point - of showing that a memo purportedly circulated by Senate Republicans touting the political advantages of the emergency legislation on the Terry Schiavo case is actually a hoax, maybe perpetrated by Democratic staffers. Of course, we shouldn't get carried away with the need to show this is a hoax. To any mature adult, after a little reflection, the memo's not that damaging - what, you think politicians don't care if something's a political issue? Grow up. (We elect people with known convictions so the convictions will act as a check on political opportunism, but we don't expect poiliticians to act in a vacuum as to the electoral consequences of their acts; precisely the contrary).
That said, it's certainly worth figuring out if the WaPo and other news outlets got hoaxed here, and by whom.
March 18, 2005
POLITICS: In Praise of Claudia Rosett
Hugh Hewitt argues for a Pulitzer Prize for the Wall Street Journal's Claudia Rosett (hat tip: Roger Simon) for her work on the Oil-for-Food scandal, her dispatches on North Korea, and more. Rosett has done tremendous, tremendous work, and should indeed be honored for it.
(And, it is worth noting these days, she didn't need Susan Estrich to get her a job, either, any more than did Susan Lee, Peggy Noonan, Dorothy Rabinowitz, or Mary O'Grady - the WSJ has quite the stable of brilliant op-ed page reporters and writers who are women).
POLITICS: There Goes Da Judge
Gerry Daly has a great why-didn't-I-write-that post breaking down the rates of Senate confirmation for each president's noominees for the federal Courts of Appeal going back through Truman. The numbers here punch a hole in the Democratic talking points that seek to obscure what's going on by lumping in District Court nominees, who will wield a good deal less national influence.
Here's the key table, showing the percentage of nominees to get approved, although you should be sure to read the whole thing:
One of these things is not like the others . . . Gerry traces the break in the pattern to Reagan, although I'd point to the last years of the first President Bush, when George Mitchell decided to bottle up all of his nominees and run out the clock to the election. Either way, things got significantly worse under Clinton, but the Clinton experience was nothing compared to the wholesale obstruction we're seeing today, which is all the worse because it's obstruction of nominees with majority support.
UPDATE: I fixed the Bush number up from 36.8% to 40.7% - Gerry had been counting in 9 judges who were actually nominated by Clinton in January 2001, due to the fact that the Congress elected with Bush was already in session. I agree with him that those shouldn't be counted for Clinton, either, since they were basically lame-duck stunt appointments (although John Marshall might disagree).
SECOND UPDATE: Dales explains why the number looks high:
I went to the Library of Congress search engine on Presidential nominations, and chose a search on all nominations referred to the judiciary committee during the 107th Congress, and then counted how many nominations were to Circuit Courts. The correct number is 61.
That's technically true, if you're counting nominations rather than judges, and it does give a flavor of the duration of the obstruction at issue here, but I would not count those guys twice. Then again, I'm not sure how many judges are similarly double-counted in the prior administrations, since he appears to use a consistent methodlogy (i.e., this also double-counts anyone Clinton renominated in consecutive sessions). I'm pretty sure we're still at a number significantly lower than the Clinton years once you adjust, but I can't have a lot of confidence in the table at this stage.
THIRD UPDATE: Gerry has more in the comments, one conclusion of which is that - as far as the actual percentage of different individual nominees who were confirmed, the numbers are 73% for Clinton and 61% for Bush. Note that a lot of the Republican efforts to stymie Clinton gave way in his second term, while the Democrats are pledging to shut down the Senate over this. (Also, Clinton nominated two Supreme Court justices who have been reliably liberal votes on nearly every significant issue, and both were easily confirmed; just try to imagine Democrats giving similar consideration to Bush appointees who would vote as consistently conservative as Ginsburg and Breyer have been consistently liberal).
I actually don't object to the use of the filibuster for limited purposes in judicial confirmation fights - to delay a nomination sufficiently to ensure adequate fact-finding and to buy some time to build opposition to a nominee. Although, in the usual case, most of that function is discharged by the process of having the Judiciary Committee conduct a reasonable investigation of the nominee. But that's worlds away from the present system, in which the Democrats are insisting that it is right and proper that a nominee chosen by a duly elected president and supported by a majority of duly elected Senators can and should be prevented indefinitely from getting a vote.
Of course, even this analysis assumes that conservative and liberal judges are otherwise equally fair game. But they aren't; despite an extensive scholarly and media campaign dedicated to obscuring this reality, the simple fact remains that in the great majority of cases involving liberal/conservative splits over Constitutional matters, adopting the conservative position creates rules that can be overriden by democratically elected legislators, either in Congress or in the states, whereas in a large proportion of such cases, the liberal position, often with little or no explicit textual support in the Constitution, removes issues - the death penalty, abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. - from democratic debate (whereas the more "activist" conservative rulings, other than on the issue of racial preferences, at most tend to allocate power as between Congress and the states, leaving one or the other with the power to act). It is all the more illegitimate to use the tactics adopted by the Democrats in the service of permanentlt stripping democratically elected bodies of power to decide issues of importance to the public.
UPDATE: Dales also discusses the filibuster of Abe Fortas, which is precisely the type of limited filibuster I would approve of, but which may fall by the wayside as collateral damage of the Democrats' recent abuse of the filibuster. And, of course, the ability to filibuster legislation is an entirely separate controversy that shouldn't be affected by any of this.
March 16, 2005
POLITICS: Always Rather Slippery
POLITICS: Jeff Gannon, Call Your Office
OK, for all the folks up in arms about Gannon asking the president a loaded, biased question, let's take on another White House correspondent, Elizabeth Bumiller of the New York Times:
Bumiller described Wolfowitz as "a chief architect of one of the most unpopular wars in history." The president was clearly surprised by the opinionated slant of the question, as was just about everyone in the room. After laughing, President Bush responded, "That's an interesting start."
March 14, 2005
POLITICS: The Status-Quo Based Community
Jonah Goldberg absolutely nails a point I've been meaning to make, and in precisely the same terms: that if you actually paid attention to the anonymous quotation from which many left-wing bloggers draw the phrase "reality-based community," and the real-world context in which it was offered (assuming the quotation's accuracy, which with Ron Suskind is far from certain), what many on the Left are proclaiming fealty to is really a status quo-based community, in which present realities - in particular, present governments - are assumed to be unchangeable. Applied to the Arab/Muslim worlds, the Left has spent its time trying to argue over how we deal with the existing regimes, rather than how to change them. Applied to Social Security, it means arguing about the cost of transitioning from the current system rather than starting with the question of what kind of system is sustainable and beneficial over the long haul.
At first glance, this seems ironic: isn't it conservatives who have spent years mocking liberals for promoting unrealistically utopian plans for radical change, and isn't it liberals who used to use the mantra, popularized if not coined by Robert Kennedy, of not seeing what exists and asking "why" but dreaming things that never existed and asking "why not"? Well, yes. But there's a critical difference. When the Left has proposed radical changes, they tend to involve things like altering social structures (say, to eradicate gender differences), or instituting big, complicated government programs with all sorts of potential for unforeseen consequences (think HillaryCare). In other words: trying to change human behavior. Whereas conservative initiatives aren't about changing the longstanding nature of the people to suit the government, but about changing governments to suit the longstanding nature of the people. Democracy in the Middle East? Well, it's worked for hundreds of years and has been successfully installed in many and varied other situations. More private control over Social Security, health care, education? Well, all of human experience shows that people are more responsible when making decisions for themselves. Nothing in conservatism says you have to worship the status quo, but you do have to respect tradition and history as guides to how people behave. The status quo based community somehow manages to take the stasis without getting the reason for it.
February 27, 2005
POLITICS: Where's The Hypocrisy?
David Corn, who's nobody's idea of a right-winger, thinks the "hypocrisy" angle in the Gannon/Guckert story has nothing to support it. Link via Andrew Sullivan, who - unsurprisingly given his history - is outraged at the attacks on Guckert. I wouldn't go as far as Sullivan does, but it's consistent with his well-known views on the subject.
February 25, 2005
You know, I'm no expert on Social Security or macroeconomics, so I try to confine my commentary on the subject to obvious examples of logical fallacies and factual whoppers. But those somehow seem all too easy to find. Take this, from Will Saletan:
Republicans won't raise taxes; Democrats won't cut benefits. It looks like there's no way out. But there is a way.
Now, raising the retirement age is certainly a defensible idea, and one worthy of discussion. But I suspect Saletan - who details later on how much money this would save in outlays - is being deliberately deceptive here in order to sell his idea when he says it's not a "benefit." What he's talking about is eliminating two whole years (or more) of benefits - and for people who die between 65 and 67, eliminating their benefits entirely. I mean, everybody knows this - saying that raising the retirement age isn't a benefit cut is like saying that a baseball team that offers a player $10 million a year for 5 years is offering the same amount of money as one that offers the same player $10 million a year for 7 years.
By the way, have you noticed that the same people who keep telling us that private accounts aren't really that much better a deal for workers than the current system . . . are also the same ones who keep saying we can fix the system with more taxes and fewer benefits? But Eliminating the contribution caps and slashing benefits will greatly increase the number of workers for whom Social Security will produce a net negative return on investment.
As for the frequent charge that private accounts aren't really a fix to the financing problem - a debate I won't get into directly - look: the system has accrued huge unfunded liabilities that we will not be able to cover with the existing structure of receipts. Private accounts won't help us pay those off, but they will stop the bleeding by replacing part of an unsustainable system that's continuing to rack up liabilities with a system that will be inherently sustainable over the long run without repeated crises. Saying that private accounts do "nothing" to fix the financing problem is like saying that cutting up your credit cards does "nothing" to get you out of debt - it ignores the fact that at least you've stopped making the problem worse.
The private accounts option is like the way FIRREA worked with the S&L bailout, or the way the IMF is, at least in theory, supposed to work: a condition of bailing out the current system is that Social Security lock up the booze cabinet and hand over the car keys.
February 21, 2005
POLITICS: Closing Ranks
Instapundit links to this article by Joseph Curl of the Washington Times, which gets the reactions of three prominent White House correspondents to Daily Kos' destruction of James Guckert, a/k/a Jeff Gannon. To their credit, the reporters who are quoted recognize that reporters with an axe to grind aren't exactly a novelty:
"We all ask all kinds of questions; we all come to the briefing room with different points of view; we all serve different corporate masters," said Terry Moran of ABC News. "I don't know anything about Gannon's—or Guckert's—private life, and frequently he sounded like a shill for the administration. But he also challenged the White House from time to time with pointed questions—from the right. And that always struck me as valuable and necessary."
Of course, a major offense by Gannon in the question at issue, and of which Thomas has often been guilty, is speechifying - asking a question where the reporter is basically making a statement more than trying to elicit information.
It's not surprising, though, that White House reporters like Moran (formerly of the New Republic and one of the more open Bush antagonists) would be deeply appalled by the use of Guckert's sex life to drum him out of the business and publicly humiliate him; I'm sure every reporter can imagine how allies or foes of an administration could start using similar tactics against unfriendly reporters.
February 20, 2005
POLITICS: Makings of a Conservative
Continuing on the theme of the Left's tendency towards scorched-earth tactics against people who agree with them some but not all of the time, Patrick R. Sullivan wonders in the comments to this Jane Galt post whether Harvard president Larry Summers will still be a Clintonian liberal when he's through getting burned in effigy by leftists on the Harvard faculty.
On the other hand, while I think the reaction to Summers' comments has been absurdly overblown, it's just a bit simplistic to complain that attacks on Summers are inconsistent with academic freedom. It's not unreasonable to argue that people with unpopular opinions should be secure in their tenured professorships but at the same time complain when such people become university presidents or department chairs. (Much like the reasons why the GOP was right to tell Trent Lott he couldn't be Majority Leader anymore).
She's cookin' with heat, that's for sure. But as usual, Donna's fry pan contains more sizzle than steak. . .
There's more there, some of it substantive and quite probably justified, but yet again Kos shows that he will use whatever ammunition you put in his hand, even against enemies in his own party. Brazile has, at times, shown that she's willing to be civil, even friendly, with people like Karl Rove and Jonah Goldberg, which apparently makes her (like Summers) a heretic who must be burned. If you want to purge the likes of Donna Brazile from your party, be my guest. You're gonna need a smaller tent.
February 16, 2005
POLITICS: Burying The Hatchet
Hillary Clinton, who voted alone against Clinton prosecutors Michael Chertoff and Viet Dinh for DOJ posts (before Chertoff was elevated to the Third Circuit) has apparently finally set the vendetta aside, as she joined in the 98-0 vote to confirm Chertoff for Homeland Security head (a vote, the cynical might note, that strips Chertoff of life tenure as a federal judge).
POLITICS: In a Laffer
Maybe it's just me, but I don't remember Arthur Laffer, the father of supply-side economics, supporting Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 (link for WSJ subscribers only).
POLITICS: Good Bye, Loser
Also, on the NR front, check out the Beltway Buzz, a new feature.
February 15, 2005
POLITICS: Jordan and Guckert
I haven't blogged on either story thus far - I suppose I should have blogged about Eason Jordan when I first read the story in Opinion Journal's Political Diary - but Jonah Goldberg nails the difference between the two: Jordan, much like Howell Raines and Dan Rather before him, was a senior executive with a news network with hugely influential global reach, while Jeff Gannon, a/k/a James Guckert, was an obscure member of the vast White House press corps working for a tiny, openly right-wing news service almost nobody seemed to pay any attention to (Captain Ed makes the same point here). In this sense, of course, the two were typical of the positions held in the media by liberals and conservatives; outside of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, it would be inconceivable for a guy with Guckert's politics to rise to a position like Jordan's. And yet, to the Left, the real scandal is not the pervasive reach of guys like Jordan but the tiny toehold of guys like Guckert.
Of course, some are now bemoaning the fact that Jordan lost his job. Yes, that seems extreme, and it's odd that he didn't first try to get the tape of his actual remarks out there and see if things died down. But let's recall what the Jordan story is about: the problem with Jordan's treatment of Saddam's regime (i.e., his admission in 2003 that CNN pulled punches on stories of atrocities while reporting from Saddam's Iraq so as to retain access) and with his comments at Davos (where he reportedly received effusive praise after the panel from Arab attendees after claiming without evidence that the American military was deliberately murdering journalists in Iraq) was two instances of the same thing: a CNN exec telling anti-American audiences what they want to hear (or not saying what they didn't want to hear) as a way of buying access at the expense of the truth. (Powerline also noted that the Davos comments were not an isolated incident with Jordan). You couldn't find a more perfect example of the polar opposite of 'speaking truth to power,' which supposedly is the mantra of journalists. Why this type of behavior should be defended by anyone in journalism is beyond me.
On the other hand, Guckert's main offense is a little hard to pin down. Yes, he asked some oddball questions, a few of which served up softballs for the White House, but anybody who's seen a Democrat on the Today show, for example, knows that softball questions aren't exactly a rarity in this business. Yes, he used a pseudonym, but so did George Orwell and Mark Twain. Did the White House know his real name? This part I missed, since obviously concealing his true identity from the Secret Service would be a major grounds for revoking his press pass to the White House, and would probably justify a thorough review of screening procedures. The Kos press release makes much of Guckert's paltry credentials, but I don't see why Guckert's credentials are less impressive than those of Kos himself, who has had press passes to a number of big events (maybe it's Kos' Solomonic impartiality). All that's really left is that a hack journalist had a creepy sex life on the Internet. I guess that's disturbing news, but it does seem like the kind of thing that the party of Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank shouldn't be getting itself too worked up about.
UPDATE: I shouldn't let this post end with a reference to Frank's role in sex scandals a decade and more ago without noting that I agree with others on the conservative side of the aisle that Frank should be commended for standing up to Jordan at Davos; it was really Frank who made this story. He was served up an opportunity where the petty partisan thing to do would have been to spread Jordan's smear and use it as further ammunition against Bush and the Iraq war, and the patriotic thing to do was to defend the honor of the United States before a foreign audience, and Frank chose the latter. If Democrats made that choice more often when flimsy charges are levelled against America's conduct overseas, perhaps they wouldn't be in the same pickle today.
February 12, 2005
POLITICS: Prospects For The Future
American Prospect editor Michael Tomasky has a thoughtful piece on why liberals need to do some rethinking and decide which are really their first principles. It's instructive, of course, to see the defensiveness in his explanation to readers of why TAP would run articles critical of Michael Moore and of pro-choice rhetoric.
Tomasky also makes an interesting point about the differences between contemporary liberals and Goldwater-era conservatives:
Some will say at this point: But wait. When conservatives were at the bottom of the well, they didn't spend a lot of time engaged in namby-pamby navel-gazing. They went out and said what they believed, repeatedly, loudly, unapologetically. And they won. And, therefore, that's what our side needs to do now.
Of course, Tomasky doesn't draw any conclusions from this - such as the fact that this means that most of liberalism's best ideas have already been tried, or that the Democratic party is much more encumbered by interest groups that don't want their existing honey pots taken away. But it's an interesting essay, and worth reading the whole thing.
LAW/POLITICS: Nah, Just The Fox, Ma'am
It's a time-honored publicity technique: prepare an ad likely to be rejected by media outlets, and when they turn you down, complain to the press that you're being denied a fair hearing. . .
February 10, 2005
POLITICS: Unhealthy Fixation
Tuesday's fun with the "chicken hawk" argument was, at first blush, about yet another of the stupid arguments you encounter (from Left and from Right) in political debates, an ad hominem that feels good to toss around but makes no logical sense. But this argument is much more than that: it's political hemlock that the Left/liberals/Democrats can't seem to stop imbibing, with catastrophic consequences in the 2004 election. You would hope that they've learned something from that. Let me count the ways:
1. The Wesley Clark Boomlet: One of the problems the Democrats faced, once Howard Dean flamed out, was the absence of meaningful alternatives to John Kerry that anti-Kerry voters could rally around. One reason for that was the time wasted in the fall of 2003 fawning over Wesley Clark, whose only qualification for running was his military experience. The willingness of Democratic pundits, bloggers and (for a time) voters to swoon over Clark's military pedigree was a bad early sign of their confusion of military experience with good ideas on foreign policy. Significantly, some of the biggest Clark boosters in the blogosphere, like Kevin Drum and Mark Kleiman, were the same people who went ga-ga over the "AWOL Bush" story. Coincidence? I think not. They convinced themselves that you could defeat Bush in a foreign policy debate by comparing Clark's distinguished service record to Bush's.
2. The Rise of Michael Moore: Moore had been on the political scene for some time, with his books and movies. But you may recall that his first direct insertion into the campaign came in January 2004 when he endorsed (who else) Wesley Clark and, in the process of his endorsement, called President Bush a "deserter." In retrospect, that was the best opportunity then and there for somebody to smack down Moore and keep the debate focused on things that happened less than 30 years ago. Nobody did; to the contrary, Moore kick-started a blog and media frenzy over the previously dormant AWOL story, setting off, among other things, comments from DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe on the subject. This created a monster, as Moore quickly learned that he could say whatever he wanted and still be embraced by the party's leadership.
3. The Kerry Nomination: Of course, the biggest debacle of all was the decision to nominate John Kerry. I believe, and I doubt too many people would disagree with me on this one, that Kerry would never have won the nomination had it not been for the widespread perception that he could take advantage of the distinction between his own combat record and Bush's military service record. That calculation wound up overcoming a wealth of reasons, well known to many Democrats, why Kerry could be a terrible candidate.
Now, Kerry did have a decent resume at first glance (two decades in the Senate) and did have his strengths as a candidate, notably his startling aggressiveness as a debater. And he didn't get blown out in November. But he did lose a lot of ground Al Gore had held, and as more than a few people pointed out during the primaries as well as later on, he was a sort of Frankenstein's monster of bad candidate traits: in a Senate divided between work horses and show horses, Kerry is a show horse who doesn't show well, a faux populist who's bad with people, an orator who gives deadly dull speeches, a guy who's all image and no substance . . . and his image is as a guy who's dull, condescending, mean, arrogant, and insincere. A glass-jawed bully who picks fights and boasts "bring it on," yet whines when attacked back. He's basically spent thirty years living off youthful exploits that he himself denounced, hiding behind medals he pretended to throw away. And, of course, there was his famous inability to take a clear position and stick to it.
All of this was well known to Democrats. But they overlooked it all in their obsession with proving that Bush was a chicken hawk and Kerry a noble war hero.
4. The Convention: You know the story: the Democratic Convention produced almost no bounce in the polls, and turned out to be a missed opportunity to lay out a coherent message. Why? Does the phrase "reporting for duty" ring a bell? Yet another blind alley, as the Democrats stressed over and over the contrast in Kerry's and Bush's service records at the expense of talking about a winning strategy in the war on terror or even laying out a stronger and more detailed critique of Bush's.
5. The Swift Boat Vets: We knew all along that Kerry would take some heat from Vietnam veterans over his conduct after the war. But nobody had really expected Kerry to suffer such damage from attacks on his service itself. There's no question that those attacks were motivated and given more visibility by the extent to which Kerry sought to play the "I served and you didn't" card.
6. Rathergate: The final way Bush's critics went astray over their obsession with hunting chicken hawks was the fiasco of the 60 Minutes hack job on Bush's National Guard service. Once again, the zeal of Bush critics who had pursued this story for five years overbore their judgment about the credibility of their sources, and led to a humiliating reversal that symbolized, for many voters, the media's mania to get Bush by any means necessary. Worse for the Democrats, the report coincided to a high degree of coordination with attack ads rolled out by McAuliffe. (And I'm leaving out here the roles of Tom Harkin and Max Cleland)
Could Bush have been beaten in 2004? It's a debate that can rage on through political history, but those of us who lived through it, on either side of the fence, certainly thought it was at least possible, and at any rate a stronger race against him might have salvaged some of the down-ticket disasters for the Dems.
Most of us who supported Bush recognized that Kerry's service record compared to Bush's was a positive for Kerry. If the Democrats had left it at that, it would have helped them. But at every turn, the obsession of Bush's critics with the "chicken hawk" argument - the idea that Bush's lack of combat service wasn't just one factor but a disabling fatal flaw for a wartime president - overbore their better judgment about sticking to the issues and the record, and wound up turning a positive into a series of disasters. Will they ever learn? Stay tuned.
February 9, 2005
POLITICS: Finance 101 - You Fail!
A lot of people, including George W. Bush himself, seem unduly impressed by the fact that the trust fund does not consist of a "a pile of money being accumulated somewhere." . . . Here in the United States . . . nobody accumulates literal piles of money. Instead they buy stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments. The Social Security Trust Fund is, like most of Bush's money, invested in bonds issued by the U.S. government.
(Emphasis added). Look, there are perfectly good arguments to be made about Social Security, but this ain't one of them. Let's say you can invest in two companies. Both are identical except that, for a third of their assets, they hold a portfolio of corporate bonds. Company A holds corporate bonds issued by, say, General Motors. Company B holds corporate bonds issued by . . . Company B. Wouldn't you be just a bit skeptical about the value of Company B's investment? Don't you think Company B would get into some trouble with its investors if it just said "a third of our assets are invested in corporate bonds" and didn't bother to disclose that they were buying their own bonds? There is a very big difference between buying bonds issued by somebody else and buying bonds you issued yourself.
Now, all of us make mistakes, and I'm certainly no expert on all the economic issues here - there's a reason I haven't delved too deeply into the Social Security debate - but if Yglesias can't grasp that simple distinction, he really should not be writing about this issue.
MORE: He's at it again here. Yglesias' point is that foreign holders of Treasury bonds will panic and fear a default by the U.S. if we don't repay the Social Security Trust Fund's theoretical holdings of Treasuries. But that's nonsense, and anybody who believes that wouldn't last a day as a bond trader, because the anticipated dramatic narrowing of risk-premium spreads between other bonds and Treasuries just wouldn't materialize. Holders of Treasuries know full well that nothing done to rearrange the U.S. government's internal accounting for what it "owes" itself (they're really IOMEs, not IOUs) will make it more likely that we would decide to default on bonds held by a non-federal-government holder, any more than the bank that holds my mortgage cares whether I keep a New Year's Resolution to put more of my money into my 401(k). You can argue over whether Bush's plan would improve or harm the federal government's overall long-term fiscal outlook (we'll leave that one for another day), but there's nothing here that remotely suggests the likelihood of a general default on Treasury bonds.
POLITICS: Memory Lane
POLITICS: Dayton Bails Out
Mark Dayton (D-MN) won't run again for the Senate, giving the GOP a major opportunity to pick up a Senate seat. Rod Grams, who held the seat for one term before losing a close race to Dayton in 2000, is said to be in the running to seek the GOP nomination. (via regular commenter Large Bill). Dayton is one of three Senators whose seats are up for election in 2006 who were elected with less than 50% of the vote; the others are fellow Democrats Maria Cantwell of Washington and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan (yes, this reminds me I'm overdue to do my early roundup on the 2006 races).
SECOND UPDATE: The Dayton v. Kennedy blog will need a new URL.
I have a simple question for Mr. Drum. The last time I checked, Democrats can still introduce legislation. They may not have the votes, but they can introduce their own plans. If they are unified and can peel off some Republicans such as Lincoln Chaffee, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins, they might even be able to pass something. And if it does not pass, they will be able to point to their plans during the next election cycle. Why are they not doing so?
It's George Bush who's insisting on a private account plan that even his own people admit won't do anything to shore up Social Security's finances. It's George Bush who's insisting that the only cures he'll consider are ones that include huge - but quiet - benefit cuts...
If "small benefit cuts" are part of, in Mr. Drum's analysis, an 'easy' solution, then how can it be that Bush's plan "won't do anything to shore up Social Security's finances" when it includes "huge - but quiet - benefit cuts"? If benefit cuts are part of a solution to shore up Social Security's finances, wouldn't a plan that includes benefit cuts at least be doing something towards that end, directly contradicting the "won't do anything" claim? And if private accounts "won't do anything to shore up Social Security's finances", then why would Democrats be "happy to support add-on private accounts"? Do the Democrats often support things that don't do anything (or at least, that they think won't do anything)? Or do the Democrats think that private accounts have some positive, desirable benefit? What might that benefit be, and could it be part of the reason they are in Bush's plan?
The Democrats could negotiate with the American people. They could do so by offerring their own detailed plan. If Republicans blocked it, then Democrats could use that during campaigns. What the problem for the Democrats really is, is that their solutions are distasteful to Americans. As such, the Democrats are pretty much stuck with a strategy of trying to claim there is no big problem (contrary to things that party leaders like Bill Clinton had been saying for the last decade) and trying to make sure that people do not understand the President's plan and how the two parts of it (the indexing change and the private accounts) fit together.
REID: Well, but, see, that's easy, Tony, to throw those words out. My father, probably as smart as any of the three of us, but he had no education. My father never graduated from the 8th grade. And to think he can invest his own money, he couldn't do that.
This highlights one of the main reasons that Democrats will not offer "Bill Clinton's proposal for the government to invest part of the Social Security trust fund in the stock market" (Drum's description). The argument for that as opposed to Bush's personal accounts boils down to who do voters trust with their money- themselves, or government? The Democrats, or at least Reid, take the position that government is to be better trusted than individuals. The Republicans position is the opposite. This difference in political philosophy has been a theme of the past few elections, and the Democrats have not liked how those have turned out.
(Emphasis mine; read the whole thing). Meanwhile, as if to cement the negative perceptions of Democrats on this issue, Dales points out that the governor of New Jersey is planning to tax 401(k) contributions.
February 8, 2005
POLITICS: The Simpleton
The Minute Man continues his dissection of Paul Krugman's broadsides against Social Security reform, and argues that Krugman gets three points wrong in the macroeconomic case against private accounts helping to close the funding gap. As I understand Maguire's argument, on #1, Krugman contends that it "is mathematically impossible" to have growth in returns on stocks in the neighborhood of 6.5-7% without very high levels of growth in the economy as a whole, higher than any reasonable current estimate. Maguire contends that it is possible, and that this can occur if corporations hold down wage growth and thus pass on to investors much or all of the benefits of economic growth. (You would think that liberal/Democratic pundits, of all people, would grasp this zero-sum-game workers vs. capital dynamic as at least a possibility.) As Maguire has noted before, this scenario becomes more plausible when you consider the possibility of capital invested in low-wage foreign markets.
If Maguire is right, not only is this a possible outcome, but it is one in which it becomes uniquely desirable for laborers to become capitalists to offset their vulnerability to stagnant wages. Which explains why #3 is wrong too: since private accounts are an investment in the international stock and bond markets while the current pay-as-you-go means (on a macro level) an investment in domestic payrolls, any scenario in which (a) wages don't keep up with profits or (b) jobs go offshore is likely to throw off the 1:1 relationship of returns on capital:payrolls, and thus defeat Krugman's tidy syllogism.
#2, I'm not sure I understood, however. I think Krugman is saying that corporate profits (before, or after payment of interest to bondholders?) determine the return on capital to the corporation's owners. I get that Maguire says this is not necessarily so, but I'm not sure I followed why.
Anyway, go check the comments, where Don Luskin actually says he thinks Krugman is sort of right on these points (but wrong overall, by Luskin's projections).
POLITICS: Chairman How
From where I sit, I think the problem for the Democrats with Howard Dean as DNC Chair isn't organization or ideology; the problem, which Jonathan Chait just nails, is the gaffes:
The DNC chairman has two main jobs. First, he transmits the party's message - an important role when the party lacks a president and majority leaders in Congress. This job requires one to master the dismal art of "message discipline," boiling down the party's ideas into a few simple phrases and repeating them over and over until they have sunk into the public consciousness.
Read the whole thing (via Will Collier). The history of the decline of the Dean campaign is the story of Dean's gaffes - the three worst of which, at least while he was still running, were (in debatable order) (1) the bin Laden line Chait notes, (2) his grudging response to the capture of Saddam, and (3) perhaps the most damaging of all - in ways the mainstream media never quite understood but that Iowa voters, even Iowa Democrats, got: the "George Bush is not my neighbor" crack. A lot of Christians have trouble living up to that Biblical injunction, but no real Christian would make that statement, nor would any polite Midwesterner. (I'm not even getting into when he sorta-kinda endorsed the Cynthia McKinney theory that Bush knew in advance about the 9/11 attacks) What Dean gives Republicans is the ability to dominate a news cycle with some similarly foolhardy quip and tattoo it on every Democrat in the land.
POLITICS: Quick Links 2/8/05
*Was Rehnquist "Deep Throat"? Hey, who in the Nixon White House hasn't been the subject of that speculation? I suppose it's more plausible that it would be Rehnquist than Pat Buchanan, and it would explain why the source's identity could never be revealed.
*The old saw about a liberal being a man too broad-minded to take his own side in an argument doesn't even begin to capture the madness of the Dutch banning their own flag in Dutch schools "because this would provoke students of other nationalities". (I'd give 10-to-1 odds on this report showing up in a Mark Steyn column in the next two weeks)
*I've always hated columns like this one, ripping Michael Jordan for being circumspect with his image and opinions. It's not like we haven't seen plenty of glimpses of the realm MJ, from tearful or fist-pumping victory celebrations to the decidedly uncommercial decision to become an outfielder in AA ball at the peak of his career following the murder of his father. But Charles Pierce gives away his real gripe:
Had Jordan been as willing to be as reckless with his influence on the stump as he was with his money at the blackjack table, poor Harvey Gantt might now be in his third term as senator from North Carolina.
(Actually, Jordan was a big backer in this election of Barack Obama, giving him money early in the primaries). So, MJ hasn't played ball for the Democrats, and that makes him some sort of phony? Get real.
*These two Margaret Carlson columns, on why criticism of Barbara Boxer is sexist while criticism of Condoleazza Rice isn't, and in praise of Hillary, pretty well capture why I look forward to a possible Hillary-for-president campaign with such loathing: we will hear over and over and over from Carlson and Anna Quindlen and their ilk that any criticism of Hillary is criticism of all women (this is not true of criticism of Republican women, who after all are Republicans). Of course, you don't have to be a He-Man Woman-Hater to think Boxer is as shrill and as far out of her gourd as Howard Dean and Ted Kennedy.
*Speaking of Ted,Noemie Emery nails him:
"Defeat is an orphan," Ted's big brother the president once famously said, but this fails to apply when Ted is in the neighborhood. He preemptively embraced failure in Iraq, declaring defeat three days before the election, just in time to demoralize American troops and Iraqi voters (and calling to mind another JFK comment, that his youngest brother was not "terribly quick"). But it wasn't the first time Ted had stumbled over his feet in his rush to proclaim a defeat for the United States. In 1990, he wanted to leave Kuwait and its oil fields in Saddam's possession, proclaiming a war would kill 50,000 Americans and become a new Vietnam. But things lately have been confusing for Teddy, what with George W. Bush morphing into JFK, while he himself turns into something rather more like his father, famous in 1940 for saying democracy was finished in England and attempts to save it would lead us into a quagmire--call it FDR's Vietnam.
*Powerline rips Bill Moyers for spreading lies (what else is new?). (Via Instapundit) The critical point the Powerline guys keep making is not just the things that big media liberals get caught doing, but the fact that until recently, there were fewer ways to expose them, which makes you wonder how many things like this they've gotten away with. (On the other hand, James Watt and Zell Miller aren't exactly illiterate migrant workers; I assume a letter to the editor from one of them would get printed).
*We can all stop pretending now:
Preceding its Women Who Make a Difference Awards Dinner on March 1, the National Council for Research on Women is featuring "a conversation with Teresa Heinz," . . .
*Snopes has the now-infamous Volkswagen Polo "suicide bomber" video here.
February 4, 2005
Good work by Dean Barnett of Soxblog getting an op-ed published in the Weekly Standard on Daily Kos. I can't believe Kos wants a primary challenge to Joe Lieberman. You know, what the Democrats need these days is a good purge that shakes out another ten or so Senators . .
POLITICS: On Not Being Indifferent Between Law and Anarchy
Via RCP, two good columns from Wednesday that, on closer inspection, are about related topics. First, the Rocky Mountain News calls for the firing of Ward Churchill, the state college professor who called those of us who worked at the World Trade Center "little Eichmanns" and essentially argued that the September 11 attacks were justified. The Rocky Mountain News points out that these views are consistent with Churchill's long history of openly advocating violence against the United States. Because state action would be involved, it may be difficult to remove Churchill. But the state can't be indifferent about its own survival; there have to be some outer limits to what ideas the taxpayers are compelled to finance, and their own murder should not be one of them. Moreover, academic freedom surely doesn't mean the abdication of quality control, and if you admit that there are any standards at all, you have to look skeptically at allowing a loon like Churchill to keep teaching.
Then, Michael Goodwin has a tremendous column on NYPD cops not shooting threatening suspects - and how the consequences of that forbearance with violent men aren't always good.
February 3, 2005
POLITICS: Not Quite Getting The God Stuff
I actually saw little of Bush's speech last night. I saw the Democratic response, which like all SOTU responses, was horrid. (See my vigorous fisking of Gary Locke's response in 2003 here). Harry Reid, like Locke two years ago, opened and closed with an upbeat, can-do set of personal anecdotes that were completely at odds with the relentless pessimism of the response.
Sometimes important questions like Social Security or the economy or education get reduced to dollars and cents or competing policies and political parties. But really, these are questions that are about old-fashioned moral values that don't get talked about much in Washington, but matter so much to our country. Are we willing to do right by our parents and care for our children? Do we believe that big corporations with powerful lobbyists should get special favors and that the wealthiest should get special tax breaks? Or do we believe we are all God's children and that each of us should get a fair shot and each of us deserves a say in our future? Will we be able to tell young people like Devon back in Searchlight that America is still the land of the open road and that you can travel that open road to the place of your choice?
The effort to cast Republicans as the folks who don't believe we are all God's children (apparently as evidenced by the corporate tax code?) would be manipulative if it wasn't so transparently desperate. How about that "each of us deserves a say in our future" line as a reason why letting people make their own decisions amounts to "taking Social Security's guarantee and gambling with it"? And, again, we have this upbeat "open road" rhetoric married to a message of "don't mess with the welfare state," another jarringly bad contrast.
February 2, 2005
POLITICS: World? What World?
If you're interested in the Social Security debate, you must read the Minute Man on a daily basis. Today, he points out that Paul Krugman's economic analysis completely ignores the international nature of the capital markets.
Of course, as Krugman's analysis admits, many of the arguments being made on both sides depend on economic projections far into the future, and the only thing we know for sure about such projections is that all of them are certain to be wrong. The difference is that a private-accounts model contains, within its design, an inherent check on fiscal catastrophe: the number of people who draw on personal accounts can never exceed the number who paid into them. The system thus has the flexibility to grow or contract with the population, and is therefore more stable over the long term than a system in which benefits are tied to yesterday's workers, while revenues are tied to today's. As a result of this self-correction mechanism, a private accounts system is less likely to generate a renewed fiscal crisis if the future fails to meet a specified set of financial assumptions than is the current system.
POLITICS: Liberal Meanies?
Ann Althouse complains about the different treatment she gets from Right and Left:
In the year that I've been blogging I've taken a lot of different positions, some left and some right. What I've noticed, over and over, is that the bloggers on the right link to you when they agree and ignore the disagreements, and the bloggers on the left link only for the things they disagree with, to denounce you with short posts saying you're evil/stupid/crazy, and don't even seem to notice all the times you've written posts that take their side. . .
Well, as Charles Krauthammer once opined,"To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil."
Hawkins is partly right, especially because the Left's self-identification is tied so closely to the notion of themselves as lonely crusaders against bigotry, a posture that requires you to regard all your opponents as bigots. I suspect at least two other factors at work:
1. Althouse is widely thought of, much against her will, as more a conservative than a liberal. She voted for Bush. Thus, lefty bloggers think of her as an enemy, while conservatives think of her as an ally, if an unreliable one.
2. The influence of academia and pop culture. Quite simply, college ensures that, at a fairly young age, most conservatives get the experience of being surrounded by people who vocally disagree with their political opinions, which teaches you to keep your head down a bit and stay civil. This is reinforced by the fact that a lot of us watch movies and listen to music made by people whose political opinions we find repugnant. I think a lot of liberals, particularly the more vocal ones on the internet who grew up in blue-state cities and went to blue-state colleges and got into blue-state occupations like the law or academia, just don't have the same formative experience of having had to reconcile themselves to political disagreements with people they otherwise like or respect, and it shows.
POLITICS: Making the Sale
President Bush will undoubtedly be tempted to spend a lot of tonight's State of the Union Address on Iraq, what with the wind at his back after Sunday's elections. But the "march of freedom" isn't a new story, and he just went there, very publicly, in his Inaugural Address. Instead, tonight has to be focused first and foremost on the one thing Bush needs to do: start laying out the case for Social Security reform. 2005 is Bush's best and perhaps only chance to make this happen, and he only gets so many prime-time opportunities to take his case directly to a big audience.
January 28, 2005
POLITICS: Giving Hersh the Boot
According to Bart Gellman of the Washington Post (a real investigative ace), Rumsfeld has created a new spy unit to make up for the CIA's deficiencies. Gellman's Jan. 23 story has all sorts of specifics that the New Yorker piece lacks, including the unit's name (the Strategic Support Branch). Hersh's contribution is to spin this into something nefarious by including anonymous speculation that military operatives might sponsor foreign "execution squads" or even carry out "terrorist activities." Umm, guess we'll have to take your word for it, Sy.
Hersh's credibility may not be zero, but it's pretty close.
And speaking of bad journalism, I had an exchange with a reader in the comments the other day that got me thinking. Whenever you cite anything from the Washington Times, you can be sure to get some lefty going on about the nuttiness of Rev. Moon, who owns the paper. Now, OK, Moon is nuts. But I really don't see what that has to do with the day-to-day operations of the Washington Times. I've certainly never heard of Moon getting involved in daily editorial decisions. Instead, it seems more like an effort to just wish away everything unpleasant reported by the Times: "Moon, Moon, Moon, I'm not listening . . . "
Don't get me wrong: I don't think the Washington Times is the greatest of newspapers; if you ranked the major dailies of national visibility in terms of credibility, I probably wouldn't rank it in the top half. But that record of credibility is based on the work of each paper's reporters and editors, not ad hominem attacks on the ownership.
What's funny about this is that the folks who rag on Moon never seem too interested in, say, the politics of the New York Times' ownership. Or CNN, which was founded and long run by Ted Turner. You want nuts? Turner's got an endless supply, witness his latest tirade as just the latest . . . Turner spoke at my law school graduation, and he was either drunk, off his meds or both, going on and on about how "we should never have split the atom. Those are dangerous little buggers" and similar rants. Certainly, Turner's left-leaning politics are no secret. At the end of the day, though, CNN, like other news outlets - and like the likes of Seymour Hersh - should be judged by the news it produces and the people who produce it. Just give the Washington Times the same respect.
January 24, 2005
POLITICS: Happy Birthday to The Corner
I had meant to write this up at more length, but Happy Third Birthday to The Corner at NRO, which Jonah Goldberg opened on January 24, 2002. Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus and Josh Marshall had already been in business for some time by then (as had Lileks), and people like Instapundit had already caught on after September 11; The Corner wasn't even the first blog I read daily (that would be Best of the Web Today, which started July 28, 2000). (More thoughts here from Patrick Ruffini and commenters). But like a lot of people on the Right, it was NRO that really introduced me to the world of bloggers and got me in the habit of reading blogs. The Corner is, in fact, a much underrated milestone in the blogosphere's history.
POLITICS: Budgeting Commerce
When Republicans took over Congress in 1995, there was much talk of abolishing Cabinet-level departments, particularly Education (an area of government that most conservatives feel shouldn't be handled at the federal level) and Energy (a Cabinet-level agency created in the hated Carter years). These hopes failed terribly, and there has not since been any serious talk of removing a Cabinet-level agency.
Which seems too bad; one would like to see somebody, somewhere, send the message that government can shrink as well as grow sometimes. But, of course, government agencies are very shrewd about entangling essential functions with those that are less so, and eliminating a department without eliminating its underlying functions wouldn't do much for the budget. Thus, the trick of finding agencies or departments that can be pulled up root and branch is harder than it sounds.
The department I've long thought should be abolished is the Commerce Department. Commerce would seem to fit perfectly the profile of a department the Right and Left could agree to do away with. Its publicly identified purpose - promotion of economic growth - is one that is quintessentially the province of the private sector. Its heads in the past (e.g., Don Evans, Ron Brown) have often been chosen primarily on the basis of their ability to raise money for the president. It caters to Big Business in ways that easily bring to mind the phrase "corporate welfare," most notably by means of the Secretary of Commerce's trade promotion trips with CEOs. And, of course, Commerce also rides the point for protectionism.
Anyway, that's what I've been saying for years, but I finally decided to take a closer look at the Commerce Department's most recent budget, for Fiscal Year 2004, as detailed in a "Budget in Brief" summary on the Commerce Department's website. Here's what I found.
1. The first thing you notice about the Commerce Department's budget, in the context of the budget at large, is how tiny it is: approximately $5.5 billion, a pittance compared to, say, the Defense Department or the Department of Health and Human Services. In fact, the incoming Secretary of Commerce, the former CEO of Kellogg's, may find this a bit of a step down - Kellogg's had sales of $8.8 billion in 2003. It wouldn't save much in terms of money, but in terms of size alone you could easily justify merging a department this size into one of the bigger departments.
2. The Bush Administration has, for the past few years, at least tried to hold the line on the Commerce budget, with the department's budget authority rising from $5.545 billion in FY 2002 to $5.519 billion (estimated) in FY 2004, with a dropoff in between in FY 2003. However, actual discretionary outlays have risen from $5.316 billion in FY 2002 to $5.791 billion in FY 2003 to $5.780 billion in FY 2004. The projected outlays only get worse, rising to $5.972 in FY 2007 and then leaping to $6.353 billion in FY 2008 due to a run-up in projected expenses at the Bureau of the Census in anticipation of the 2010 census.
3. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Commerce Department is the breakdown of where it spends its money, best seen on page 9 of the "Budget in Brief" document. Of a $5.78 billion budget in FY 2004, $3.323 billion - (57.9%) - goes to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, which whatever its virtues has little enough to do with Big Business, per se. Although the NOAA's functions are varied, it seems to break down into two major types of functions: collecting weather, satellite and natuical data, and managing fisheries. Only the latter, which I suppose caters to Big Fish, is really business-promotion function. While I'm sure you could easily find examples of money not well spent in those areas (and there may well be good privatization arguments as to some of these functions), the "Budget in Brief" buries them fairly well in anodyne descriptions. Either way, I'd bet you didn't know that more than half of the Commerce Department's budget is dedicated to weather data and fishing.
The next largest area of Commerce's budget ($673 million, 11.7%), and also one having nothing apparently to do with commerce, is the Bureau of the Census, whose core function is required by the Constitution.
Third on the list ($652 million, 11.4% and falling - we've now accounted for more than 80% of the department's budget) is the National Institute of Standards & Technology. This one, at least, looks like a better target for budget-cutters (as it apparently has been), as its functions are described (at p. 112) in vague terms like "providing the measurements, standards, verified data, and test methods required for new technologies and competing in the global economy," "assists industry to invest in and develop high-risk, innovative technologies," "assists small manufacturing establishments in assimilating new technologies and manufacturing practices," and, my favorite, "a highly visible quality management program focused on instilling the principles of continuous quality improvement in U.S. businesses and educational and healthcare organizations." (emphasis added). All of which sounds like something that should be done by trade associations, not your (and my) tax dollars.
After that, you get better targets like the "Economic Development Admistration" ($440 million, 7.7%, down $19 million in FY 2004 after a sharp increase in FY 2003), which lists among its chief methods (at p. 36) "promoting a favorable business environment," the mischief-making "International Trade Admistration" ($370 million, 6.4%), and a bunch of smaller programs, including the Patent and Trademark Office, which actually makes money for the government (by collecting fees), turning a $366 million profit in FY 2003, $87 million in FY 2004.
4. You also have to remember what isn't there - the Small Business Administration. The SBA seems like the classic example of an agency that you would expect to find within a department devoted to the development of American commerce, but not so. It's actually structured as a stand-alone quasi-government entity outisde the purview of any Cabinet-level department, like the Postal Service or the FDIC.
Conclusion: If you are looking to cut fat from the federal government, the Commerce Department certainly seems like a potential target - but it's simply not where the big money gets spent, and wholesale elimination of its functions does not seem like a realistic goal given how much of its budget is dedicated to functions like the Census and the collection of weather data, although I would remain open to arguments on how much of the weather and fishery-management functions could be privatized.
January 22, 2005
POLITICS: Not Good Enough For Government Work
This story about federal employees with diplomas from bogus colleges is just amazing - although in one sense the story about Laura Callahan does suggest that the Clinton White House's claims of computer incompetence may have been genuine after all. (via CrimProfBlog by way of Instapundit)
January 20, 2005
POLITICS: Going Off The Fritz
Opinion Journal's Political Diary, which is a daily must-read and worth the price, had some hilarious quotes from outgoing and often outrageous South Carolina Democrat Fritz Hollings:
In his farewell address last month, he mourned that the Senate was a duller place than when he first came in 1966. "There's nobody drunk here today," he drawled. He also complained that too many Senators were afraid to speak candidly now, and the country was the worse for it.
POLITICS: Why Didn't Someone Check This Before?
A story that won't die: Will Collier links to a Washington Times piece that points out yet another reason to regard as a fabrication the claim that Bush refused to take a National Guard physical when ordered to do so:
[F]or the weekend that 1st Lt. Bush was supposedly ordered to report for his physical, May 13-14, 1972, the Ellington Air Guard Base was closed. It was Mother's Day. Except for emergencies, Air Guard units never drilled on Mother's Day; the divorce lawyers would be waiting at the gate.
Good sleuthing there. Read the whole thing.
POLITICS: Iowa and New Hampshire
Patrick Hynes of CrushKerry.com and Daily Kos have been having an unsurprisingly bruising debate over whether the Democrats should abandon the privileged position of Iowa and New Hampshire on the primary schedule. Hynes, taking the parochial New Hampshirite view, opened with this op-ed piece in the Union-Leader, NH's most influential newspaper, arguing that
[T]hese efforts to reform the nomination process will force candidates to compete in more states conterminously, thereby driving up the cost of running for President. And the fringe elements behind such plans know that they can dominate the entire nomination process by driving up the cost of running for the Democrat nomination.
Kos responded with his usual ad hominem attacks and venom, but also took on a few of the key arguments along the way:
Small states allow for 'retail politics' Wonderful. Retail politics. Too bad the general election has nothing to do with retail politics. Give me the guy or gal who can best use the media to communicate an effective message.
Hynes fires back here, noting, among other things:
Kos is stuck in the 90's. Retail politics is back. With micro-targeting, individual contact is more important now than perhaps at any time since 1948.
Kos isn't necessarily wrong just because he's Kos. The primary season is, in many ways, like reality television or the bar exam: it's a series of sometimes pointless-seeming challenges we expect presidential contenders to overcome because, traditionally, we've learned something about them along the way that helps us pick the right guy. In that vein, I do think there's something useful about kicking off the process with a round that forces the contestants to do some retail politics. The fact that the president will spend the next four to eight years in a bubble hiding behind spokesflacks and the instruments of mass communication is all the more reason to require him (or her) to first slog through the humbling task of kissing up to oridnary Americans one at a time. It's a useful reminder that the president works for us.
Kos' real gripe is the undue influence that the Iowa victory had on Kerry's air of inevitability in 2004. But the problem wasn't Iowa; the problem was that the compressed nature of the primary schedule didn't give adequate time for anyone else to build anti-Kerry momentum after that first victory until Kerry all but had things sewn up. And, I should add, the mood of the Democratic primary voters was a desperate hunger to settle quickly on a candidate and start gearing up for the fall. The solution to that problem has little to do with who goes first.
I'm more sympathetic to some of the anti-Iowa points: that the Iowa caucuses are run in an undemocratic, unrepresentative fashion and that Iowa in particular tends to use its status to extort support from presidential contenders for parochial pork issues (ethanol, ahem). That's the natural hazard of having the same small states at the top of the calendar every four years.
Kos doesn't mention another common talking point on the Left: That Iowa and NH are unrepresentative of the Democratic electorate because they are nearly all-white states, and he doesn't get to the core question of whether he thinks that other states would produce a more or less left-leaning electorate.
On the other hand, it's sort of ironic that the effort to attack these two states would come now, at a time when IA and NH are two of the most closely divided swing states in the union, with IA one of just two Gore states to go for Bush in 2004, NH the only 2000 Bush state to go for Kerry, and both decided by razor-thin margins in 2000 and 2004. This is why I think changing IA and NH's status would be a bad idea for the Democrats at this moment in time, regardless of the abstract merits of the idea. If the Democrats are serious about finding a candidate who can appeal to swing state rural voters, you could hardly pick two better places to campaign, especially with the added appeal that a candidate gets name recognition early in a state he'll need to win later, a factor that clearly helped Kerry in both states (in fact, a rational party would simply look at whichever states were most hotly contested in the previous election and stick those at the top of the calendar). Turning with blind fury against the very states the Democrats need to win, in favor of an effort to rig the process to favor a left-wing insurgency with no base in any swing state, is not a prudent strategy.
January 12, 2005
POLITICS: Loser Take All
I didn't realize that Jon Corzine's already signed up Bob Shrum for the NJ governor's race. I guess Corzine will be "fighting for the people against the powerful."
January 9, 2005
Now, as I've long argued, the fact that a thing is indefensible, illegal and wrong does not always make it a capital offense. But let us not lose sight of the fact that when a thing is indefensible, wrong and almost certainly illegal, we should denounce it.
In that vein, I can't imagine what defense there is for the Bush Administration using $240,000 of taxpayer money to buy the support of a conservative radio host for the No Child Left Behind Act, and if I were Armstrong Williams, I'd get myself a good criminal lawyer real fast, because the federal criminal laws can be very broad when it comes to taking something the government should not have been giving out. Shame on him, shame on whoever authorized the payment, and - though this should not be a defense - shame on any prior administration that did the same thing. This is way beyond the usual esoteric question of, say, the president traveling to drum up support for his policies, or some such example of politicians using our money to promote the policies we elected them to enact. This is just graft, and should be treated accordingly.
UPDATE: Williams tells his side of the story, which he frames as accepting paid advertising:
In 2003 Ketchum Communications contacted a small PR firm that I own, Graham Williams Group, to buy ad space on a television show that I own and host. The ad was to promote The Department of Education’s “No Child Left Behind” plan.
I wonder how many ads the federal government airs to promote its policies - the most obvious would be the anti-drug ads.
January 7, 2005
POLITICS: The Gift That Keeps On Giving, Part LXIV
David Rosen, Hillary Clinton's campaign finance director and a fundraiser for Wesley Clark, indicted for filing false reports during Hillary's 2000 Senate campaign.
January 6, 2005
POLITICS: Everything You Wanted To Know About The Virginia Governor's Race
I'm late linking to this one, but John Behan at Commonwealth Conservative has an exhaustive look at the 2005 Virginia governor's race. My only quibble is with his suggestion that this year's race in New Jersey will be uninteresting; to the contrary, a showdown that could potentially come down to Jon Corzine against Bret Schundler could be a fascinating race, and should be something of a referendum on the New Jersey Democrats' manipulation of the election laws (Frank Lautenberg, ahem, and the timing of Jim McGreevey's exit) and general corruption (the cause of Jim McGreevey's exit).
POLITICS: Mouths of Babes
So my son, who's 7 and has been interested in the whole presidential race, asked me who was running in 2008, and among other people I mentioned Kerry. And my son asked me, "Doesn't he know that people didn't want him to be president?"
Which about says it all.
January 2, 2005
POLITICS: Caracas, Kiev, Seattle
SoundPolitics has been the place to follow the increasingly bizarre re-recount in Washington, with this being the most recent of Stefan Sharkansky's efforts to sniff out some real problems in King County (Seattle).
But I agree wholeheartedly with Jim Miller and Tom Bevans that the GOP, as a matter of principle, needs to set a very, very high bar for challenging an election. No election is perfect, and a big part of conservative principles as a whole is a willingness to live with the results of a process as long as the rules are set out clearly in advance.
There's also another factor at work in Washington. If Christine Gregoire winds up on the outs, she's got nowhere to go for four years until Dino Rossi is up for re-election. But Rossi, like John Thune in 2002 and like the Missouri GOP in 2000 - both of whom rebounded to knock off incumbent Democratic Senators - has another day to fight on: if he loses to Gregoire, he can, if he chooses, position himself to run against one of Washington's two Democratic Senators, Maria Cantwell, who won in 2000 with 48.73% of the vote, the lowest vote total of any Senator running for re-election in 2006. Yes, Cantwell has the advantage of being a liberal in an increasingly liberal state. But a Dino Rossi who goes out with his dignity and is perceived by the public as having been robbed would be Cantwell's worst nightmare as an opponent.
December 31, 2004
BLOG: Turning Over A New Leaf
As I've done in the past, I'm creating brand-new categories for the new year. You'll now go to Baseball 2005 for new baseball entries, Politics 2005 for new politics entries, War 2005 for new war entries, and Law 2005 for new law entries (the Law category hadn't needed an overhaul last year). I'll shortly be updating the link to baseball-only posts at the top of the page as well to send you to Baseball 2005.
Happy New Year!
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