"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Politics 2006 Archives
January 4, 2007
LAW: The People Rule
It's still amazing to me that the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative ran better with the voters than the GOP candidates did, even in a state where the Democrats control everything and have failed miserably in managing the state's economy.
January 3, 2007
BLOG: Flipping the Calendar
As usual this time of year, I'm creating new categories for the new year. This is especially important for those of you who come here directly to the baseball category page, which should now be here. Update your bookmarks accordingly. Also note that posts about the 2008 presidential race will be in the Politics 2008 category.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:37 AM | Baseball 2006 | Baseball 2007 | Blog 2006-14 | Politics 2006 | Politics 2007 | Politics 2008 | War 2006 | War 2007-14 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
December 17, 2006
POLITICS: The Wedge Worked!
As I have noted before, Democrats are very proud of themselves for using the destruction of embryonic stem cells for medical research as a wedge issue, one that seems to have been a crucial factor in some of this year's Senate races, notably Missouri. Conservative concerns about the horrifying incentives created by turning the tissue of unborn humans into an input in scientific research were brushed off as hysteria.
No longer; the inevitable is now with us:
Healthy new-born babies may have been killed in Ukraine to feed a flourishing international trade in stem cells, evidence obtained by the BBC suggests.
Read the whole thing, in all its horrifying detail. Only those unfamiliar with human nature could have failed to predict this.
Those Democratic campaign consultants must be so proud. But then, they won the election, didn't they?
December 14, 2006
POLITICS/WAR: Connecting the Dots
BLOG: Quick Links 12/14/06
*One of the more doleful implications of a very narrowly divided polity is the places it leads partisans to go in search of that one last vote that turns an election, a court, a majority, a presidency. So it is difficult for Republicans to resist the temptation to hope for a change in the Senate upon the news that South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson is in critical condition after what may or may not have been a stroke. The right thing to do, of course, is to wish Senator Johnson and his family well (this is especially so because Tim Johnson, whatever his ideology, is not a loathesome human being like Ted Kennedy). Thinking otherwise may be only human, but it's a reflex to resist.
All things considered, it probably would be for the better if more states had laws that require the appointment of a replacement Senator of the same party, followed by a special election, if an incumbent dies or needs to be replaced - I believe such a law is in place in Hawaii, which has a GOP Governor and two elderly Democratic Senators, and a similar law (the details of which I forget) was enacted in Massachusetts when John Kerry was running for president. That said, existing practice in the absence of such a statute is to replace the Senator however the governor wants, as happened when the Republicans lost Paul Coverdell's Senate seat in Georgia and John Heinz's seat in Pennsylvania (both of which the GOP recaptured at the next election), or when Jesse Ventura appointed an independent to fill out Paul Wellstone's term.
*Count Rudy Giuliani and John McCain with the skeptics about the Iraq Study Group. As of Sunday, Mitt Romney was ducking the issue and saying he hadn't read the report, although a commenter at RedState has a purported statement from Romney that likewise hits the right notes in rejecting consensus for its own sake and rejecting negotiations with Iran and Syria. Still, there's a worrisome pattern to Romney's delayed reactions. The GOP needs its next candidate to be someone who can roll with the punches and drive the public narrative.
On the other hand, Syria loves the ISG report:
The United States will face hatred and failure in the Middle East if the White House rejects the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, Syria warned on Sunday, according to The Associated Press. Syria's ruling party's Al-Baath newspaper urged President Bush to take the group's report seriously because it would "diminish hatred for the U.S. in region," AP reported.
*Academic Elephant over at RedState notes a movement (see also here and here and here), apparently with at least tacit U.S. approval, to break up the current governing coalition in the Iraqi Parliament so as to remove the increasingly ineffectual al-Maliki as leader, build a new coalition that does not depend on the support of Muqtada al-Sadr, and set the stage for a second and hopefully final military showdown with the Sadrists. This would be a necessary step to finishing the job in Iraq.
*This is just a really cool article about turtles. It also pretty well captures the NY Times science section, which still does about the best stuff in the paper - but the headline writer couldn't resist going for an anti-people headline that is really only a small part of the article.
*Great New Republic profile of Sam Brownback, once you make allowances for Noam Scheiber's view of the Catholic Church as a secretive cult. I'm not inclined to support Brownback for president because I don't think he can win (not least of which, the man isn't exactly Mr. Charisma), but I probably agree with him on more issues than most of the other candidates. He'd make a great Senate Majority Leader someday.
*Peter King (the football writer, not Peter King the Congressman) admits error, supports Art Monk for the NFL Hall of Fame.
*I'm all for attacking terrorism at its roots, but poverty ain't it. It's political and religious extremism married to anti-American and anti-Israel ideologies.
*Eliot Spitzer under pressure from Democratic legislators to allow drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants. New York moved to require more secure driver's licenses after September 11 by requiring social security number background checks before issuing a driver's license. Little faith though I have in our new Governor, you would think he won't be this indifferent to law enforcement and security concerns, let alone allowing the privileges of citizenship without its burdens.
*I'm sorry, this is just hilarious.
*Linda Greenhouse on the shrinking Supreme Court docket. This point is a useful fact:
One [reason] is the decreasing number of appeals filed on behalf of the federal government by the solicitor general’s office. Over the decades, the Supreme Court has granted cases filed by the solicitor general’s office at a high rate. In the mid-1980s, the office was filing more than 50 petitions per term. But as the lower federal courts have become more conservative and the government has lost fewer cases, the number has plummeted, opening a substantial hole in the court’s docket.
This, I'm less convinced of:
In private conversations, the justices themselves insist that nothing so profound is going on, but rather seem mystified at what they perceive as a paucity of cases that meet the court’s standard criteria. The most important of those criteria is whether a case raises a question that has produced conflicting decisions among the lower federal courts.
I can certainly attest from my own practice that I routinely encounter issues of federal law that are deeply unsettled or as to which a circuit split exists (in areas like securities law, RICO, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, class action procedure, etc.). The Court has been wise to trim its docket from the days of the 1960s-70s; the quality and care with which opinions are crafted has noticeably increased, and it's crucial for the Court to get things right because it often will not return to a particular question again for decades, if ever. But if the Court really wants to take on a few more cases it should have no problem finding appropriate vehicles to clarify unsettled issues.
*Consumer fraud statutes as a remedy for descendants of slaves? (See p. 14). (H/T). I know at least under New York's consumer fraud law, you need to show some loss beyond than just having bought something you would not otherwise have bought, and Justice Breyer has worried about the free speech implications of such lawsuits, which I guess puts him to the right of Judges Posner and Easterbrook on this one.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:08 AM | Blog 2006-14 | Football | Law 2006-08 | Politics 2006 | Politics 2008 | War 2006 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
December 7, 2006
POLITICS: Preemptive Apology
December 5, 2006
POLITICS: ACLU: Democratic Victory Renders Election Law Claims Moot
OK, that's not precisely how they put it, but this letter ending a major dispute over voting machines in Ohio would not have been written if the plaintiffs had any reason to claim that the just-completed election showed evidence of disenfranchisement. (H/t).
Which is sort of a shame - the underlying Sixth Circuit decision, if appealed to the Supreme Court, could have given the Court the opportunity to clarify a point I always thought was implicit but not properly explained in Bush v. Gore (see here, here and here): that the real risk of unequal protection of the law was not the existence of differing standards for vote-counting but rather the use of a standardless post hoc, non-statutory judicial remedy devised only after the election (and by an appellate court, no less, reversing the judgment of the trial court and overturning the pre-litigationstatus quo). In short, what the Court in practical effect did was to apply a heightened level of scrutiny to judicial remedies in election law cases filed after the election has taken place and not based on neutral rules laid down before the voting was done.
POLITICS: Um, Never Mind
Patterico catches the LA Times yet again stirring up unnecessary racial animus in a feature story and then burying in a correction the real facts that destroy the entire point of the article. You should go and read the whole thing, but the central point is that there is a big difference between a population that is 69% white male and one that is 69% white - the latter figure being smaller than the proportion in the population as a whole.
POLITICS: A Child, or a Choice?
December 4, 2006
BLOG: Quick Links 12/4/06
*This essay on the Democrats' coming move to strip funding from missile defense programs is one of the best I have read on the subject of SDI. This is an especially good point about the Democrats' insistence that the program be shown to be 100% effective before money is spent improving or deploying it (a rather different tack than they take when dealing with, say, medical research or alternative energy sources - or global warming, for that matter, even though unlike the battle against combustible fuels money spent on missile defense is a single, transparent cost and imposes no burdens on individual liberty):
[L]ike software, most successful weapons systems are best debugged after being deployed. And some weapons systems were never tested at all before deployment.
Yes, missile defense is expensive and unlikely to ever be 100% foolproof, and yes, we have other means of deterrence. But especially if we are unwilling or unable to act militarily to stop nations like Iran from getting nuclear weapons, the reduction in the potential threat to the U.S. and its key allies is enormous, and well worth the money. But then, it's never really been about the money but about guys like Carl Levin having an ideological fixation on stopping missile defense no matter the underlying facts. The Democrats' move will also break faith with and alienate one of our key allies, Japan. As usual, when they get on one of their left-leaning foreign policy jags, the Democrats treat the actual commitments of our allies as a worthless trifle.
*This December 2005 Iraq analysis from Steven den Beste looks prescient now. I'm still deeply alarmed by the mounting indications that Maliki is taking orders from Sadr and Sadr is taking orders from Iran. We are now locked in a battle for regional supremacy to see if the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Taliban-Al Qaeda axis can strangle democracy in its crib in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon - a battle that looks more and more everyday like the battles we fought in Central America in the 80s and Southeast Asia in the 70s against Communism.
*Patterico catches the LA Times consistently telling only part of the story of a discrimination lawsuit against the LAFD. This is one of those stories I had seen and thought there was something missing from it - Patterico fills in the blanks, which make the whole episode sound more like a sophmoric prank than racism.
What galls me is this, from an LAT editorial:
Scathing audits have outlined the LAFD's erratic disciplinary policies, poor leadership and hostile work environment, yet those reports have failed to dislodge the frat-boy culture. Maybe a public airing of its dirty laundry will.
Now, fixing a bad disciplinary system is fine, and stamping out racism is a noble cause. But a "frat-boy culture" is the concern of the law, why? These are firemen. They run into buildings that are on fire for a living, buildings that have a nasty habit of collapsing on or under them or otherwise acting in a highly dangerous and unstable fashion. Fire departments, like military organizations and police departments, are sustained in their dangerous mission by their unique institutional cultures. People who haven't walked a mile in their boots should be very hesitant to tamper with that culture.
*Speaking of employment law, the Democrats are also poised to add homosexuals to the list of protected classes who can raise the shield of federal litigation to prevent them from being fired or passed over for promotions. Via Bashman. Now, in theory, private businesses (as opposed to, say, religious organizations) should not be able to fire people because they are gay. But anyone with even passing familiarity with the three-ring circus of employment law can tell you that these statutes do not exist in theory - they are, instead, a practical weapon reached for by the kinds of people who get fired from jobs, and usually deservedly so, or to force companies to go through all sorts of contortions in figuring out the proper demographic composition of layoffs rather than just running the best business case.
What is more, what is often an issue is whether a person is perceived as being a member of a protected class, or what the employer knew about their membership in that class. Now, it's usually not hard to figure out who is black, or a woman, or in a wheelchair, but after that things get complicated, and with sexual orientation we enter unchated ground. Do we really want to create a whole cat-and-mouse industry over employers' knowledge of their employees' sex lives? A federal gaydar jurisprudence? ("The court finds that the company's awareness that the plaintiff enjoyed men's figure skating. Summary judgment denied.") If there's one thing the Democrats are experts at enacting, it's the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Or maybe, for their backers in the plaintiffs' bar, not so unintended.
*Good RCP Blog look at Barack H. Obama. I'm split on whether, as a matter of practical politics, this really is Obama's moment to run at the top of the ticket. On the one hand, his liberal record will only grow the longer he is in the Senate, especially now with a Democratic majority, blunting the appeal of his rhetorical moderation. The usual rule is that you run when people want you to run - that's the moment. On the other hand, it seems awfully presumptuous to run after one unfinished term in the Senate, when he has manifestly not accomplished anything. My guess is that moreso than John Edwards in 2004, Obama would be well served by running for VP even if on a losing ticket.
*Speaking of finding the right moment, the GOP field seems to be attracting people whose moments would appear to have passed - like Tommy Thompson and Frank Keating, two star GOP governors from the 1990s.
*Matt Welch takes a harsh look at John McCain from his perspective as a left-leaning libertarian. I loved the subtitle.
*Via Instapundit, Eugene Volokh notes a decision from the Washington Supreme Court recognizing an individual right to bear arms. This only sharpens the conflict I noted three years ago with a Ninth Circuit decision holding that California could impose tort liability on legal sales of firearms within Washington State.
*TV sictom/romantic comedy comes to the factory floor. I will be more than a little surprised if Hollywood gets this one right and is entertaining in the process.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:34 AM | Blog 2006-14 | Law 2006-08 | Politics 2006 | Politics 2008 | War 2006 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
December 1, 2006
POLITICS: Defending the 17th
It's a hardy perennial in the more philosophically-oriented conservative circles, despite its manifest political infeasibility: the argument that the Seventeenth Amendment should be repealed or should never have been passed. While this argument does have its virtues, I disagree. Regardless of whether it was a good idea at the time, repealing the 17th Amendment today would only weaken the mechanisms that are essential to conservative policies and conservative philosophy. Specifically, restoring to state legislatures the power over the election of Senators would make the Senate less directly accountable to the people and insulate the federal courts even further from public accountability, would increase rather than decrease state spending of federally-raised revenues, and would increase the importance and influence of gerrymandering over public policy and electoral politics.
The Role of the 17th Amendment
Just to review, the Framers of the Constitution provided that the House of Representatives would be elected directly by the people; the Senate would be elected by the state legislatures; and the President and Vice President would be the top two vote-getters in the electoral college, which would be elected by the people of each state. It was a carefully drawn compromise designed to balance parts of the government responsive to the people with those insulated from popular pressures, and to balance the interests of the nation as a whole, the interests of states, and the interests of local districts. Senators, with extended six-year terms, were given unique responsibilities not given to the House, such as the ratification of treaties, the confirmation of federal judges and executive officers, and the trial and removal of officers (including the President) impeached by the House. The sole power given to the House over the Senate is the power to originate "[a]ll Bills for raising Revenue," although the Senate is permitted to offer amendments to such bills, a power that in practice renders the House's privilege largely meaningless. Const. Art. I Sec. 7 cl. 1.
The Framers were wise and worldly men, but even they weren't perfect, which is why they made the Constitution subject to later amendments. The part of the system dealing with presidential elections broke down almost immediately and had to be scrapped to abolish the practice of saddling the President with a hostile Vice President, and the electoral college soon thereafter became a formality, with voters and candidates alike assuming that the electors (who today aren't even named on the ballot) were automatic proxies for the candidates they pledged to support. The House has remained unchanged since 1789, but its responsiveness to the people was limited almost from the outset by the venerable practice of gerrymandering, so named after a man who signed the Declaration of Independence and was a delegate to the Constitutional convention.
The current system of direct election of Senators was instituted by the 17th Amendment, one of a pair of "progressive" amendments ratified in the spring of 1913 as Woodrow Wilson entered the White House; the other was the 16th Amendment, which overturned Supreme Court decisions to give the federal government, for the first time, explicit authority for an income tax. Before 1913, federal sources of revenue were spotty and dependent on tariffs. At the time, proponents of the 17th Amendment argued that it would reallocate power from vested financial interests to the people - a project expressly intended to facilitate liberal economic programs of expanded federal regulation.
Federal power, federal spending and federal regulation, of course, have grown exponentially in an almost unbroken march since 1913, and opponents of the 17th Amendment often argue that making Senators once again answerable to the States would thus shift power back from the federal government to the states. In my view, that bell cannot be un-rung, at least in this way, and the desire to make Senators into creatures of the state legislatures fundamentally misunderstands the way politicians behave. More specifically, critics of the 17th Amendment fail to understand that the goals of repeal would fail utterly so long as its companion, the 16th Amendment, remains on the books.
The first and most significant reason to prefer direct rather than indirect election of Senators is that direct election means direct accountabillity to the voters. It's true, of course, that the voters have a checkered record of holding federal officeholders accountable on issues of spending, regulation and arrogation of federal power. But time and time again we have seen that the directly elected branches of government, and only the directly elected branches of government, will stand up for conservative principles on taxes, national security, and especially social issues. Why? In part because of the "elite consensus" phenomenon, where people who answer only to other politicians end up listening only to other politicians and the things they believe in, rather than being compelled to tailor their ears as well as their messages to the population as a whole.
If you want examples, look no further than the world's most prominent examples of indirect government - the European Union and the United Nations. Both consist of representatives appointed by governments rather than elected by the people. And both are easily captured by faddish political correctness and infamously disinterested in limited government. If you like the EU and the UN, if you adore federal regulatory agencies and the federal judiciary, you will love an indirectly elected Senate.
Or look at parliamentary systems, including our own systems for electing legislative leaders. Throughout Europe, parliamentary systems are famously unresponsive to "populist" concerns they deem to be beneath their notice, like crime and immigration. Here at home, both parties often end up with congressional leadership that is out of step with the majority of the party's voters - how many rank-and-file Democrats would vote for Nancy Pelosi, if given a chance? Did you vote for Trent Lott? No, but your Senator may have.
Or consider the issue of judicial nominations. Your red-state Senate Democrat will run for re-election, it is true, on a menu of issues - but he or she can be pounded for obstructing good judges or supporting bad ones. It's the Senator's own vote. This was a key issue in a number of Senate races in 2002 and 2004. But it's much harder to hold a local state legislator responsible for those votes in far-off Washington, cast by someone else. The state legislator will have his or her own record to run on as well, and probably much deeper local community ties that help him or her to get re-elected regardless of votes on Senators who vote on judges who vote on social issues - or, specifically, judges who vote to take social issues out of the hands of state legislators who may not want to have to vote on them anyway.
Experience has shown that better government, and more in line with conservative principles, comes about when government officials can be held directly accountable for the things they support and oppose, while liberal priorities are best promoted when lines of accountability are blurred and power removed from those who can be fired by the electorate. Let us not cast away that lesson in a vain pursuit of 1912.
The accountability issue takes on a particularly problematic cast when you consider spending. One of the developments that disturbs me most about federal spending, whether it's done through pork-barrel earmarks, block grants, or entitlement programs, is the tendency to use the vast revenue-raising powers of the federal government to raise money, and then kick it back to states and localities to spend. More local control of how funds are spent may be the lesser of evils here, but either way, state and local officials are getting the retail political benefits of handing out goodies, without being held responsible for having extracted the money from taxpayers for things they might not have agreed to pay for if given the choice. Because the money comes from the vast federal till, people are less apt to think of it as coming out of their own, local community. (I discussed some detailed examples from my own congressional district here).
The dynamic is bad enough as it is under the current system. If you think we could solve this accountability shell game by creating a class of Senators whose only constituency is state legislators . . . well, it just wouldn't work. State legislators would love nothing more than to solve all their budgetary problems by taking handouts raised by the federal treasury (I discussed a classic example of this plea in the 2003 Democratic response to the State of the Union - or just listen to Hillary Clinton some time and count the number of references to federal money being sent to state and local governments). Put another way: an indirectly elected Senate would be AFSCME's dream.
Consider: the Senate is the only legislative body among the two Houses of Congress and the various state legislatures where the elected officials don't get to choose their voters. At present, state legislatures (or, in a few states, nonpartisan commissions) get to draw the district lines for the state legislature and for the House. And those lines not only lead to a lot of partisan mischief but also to efforts to place incumbent-entrenchment above even the interests of the parties.
Today, the Senate alone is free of that concentration of power, providing a genuine democratic check on the power of the gerrymander. Having Senators elected by the state legislature would remove that check.
I haven't discussed here all the possible objections, but these three stand out. Conservatives should stand for accountable government because our principles are best enforced directly by the people. Whatever the original intention of the 17th Amendment, it has become an ally in that battle, and should not be disregarded.
November 29, 2006
Jay C at Toys in the Attic makes a good point about John Edwards' lame attempt to use his six-year-old son as a prop in his assault on Wal-Mart. Of course, I don't object to the fact that Edwards, like the rest of us, wants his kids to believe the things he believes - but the fact that the kid parrots Dad's opinions doesn't make those opinions any more valid.
November 27, 2006
POLITICS/WAR: So You Say John Kerry Was Only Joking?
I want to make it abundantly clear: if there's anyone who believes that these youngsters want to fight, as the Pentagon and some generals have said, you can just forget about it. No young, bright individual wants to fight just because of a bonus and just because of educational benefits. And most all of them come from communities of very, very high unemployment. If a young fella has an option of having a decent career or joining the army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life that he would not be in Iraq.
Sure, some people join the military because the best way of advancement available to them, and maybe that's particularly true in Rangel's Harlem district - it was true of Rangel himself, by his own account (though I somehow doubt that that is the only motivator even for soldiers from Harlem, either). But the incoming Chairman of one of the House's most powerful committees has been in Congress for 36 years, and has no excuse for his ignorance about the nature of the all-volunteer military.
UPDATE: A commenter at RedState linked to this November 2005 Heritage Foundation study of the economic background of military enlistees (it also quotes Rangel making the same point four years ago):
Put simply, the current makeup of the all-voluntary military looks like America. Where they are different, the data show that the average soldier is slightly better educated and comes from a slightly wealthier, more rural area. We found that the military (and Army specifically) included a higher proportion of blacks and lower proportions of other minorities but a proportionate number of whites. More important, we found that recruiting was not drawing disproportionately from racially concentrated areas.
Notably, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the data shows a distinct shift away from lower-income, less-educated recruits after September 11 - which is unsurprising. People who join the Army mainly to get job training and education, after all, are the ones who are less likely to enlist during a war.
November 25, 2006
POLITICS: Now, Why Did He Do That?
An article in the New York Times, discussing the fact that nothing has changed on the NSA wiretapping front - the program to listen to international al Qaeda phone calls (even ones entering or exiting the U.S.) continues with no Congressional action to give it clearer legal authority and no resolution to the court cases - begins oddly:
When President Bush went on national television one Saturday morning last December to acknowledge the existence of a secret wiretapping program outside the courts, the fallout was fierce and immediate.
If you didn't know the history, you'd almost believe that the President up and spilled the beans on this secret program on his own initiative - curiously absent is the role of the Times itself in revealing the program, an essential part of the news story (as well as of the political controversy) that the Times can't bring itself to mention.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:50 AM | Law 2006-08 | Politics 2006 | War 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
November 24, 2006
POLITICS: Why They Should Be Thankful
POLITICS: Election's Not Over
The last Democrats trailing in close races are gradually throwing in the towel (most of the similarly situated Republicans did so a while ago). That leaves two races:
In his FREEZER, people.
November 21, 2006
LAW/POLITICS: I've Been MSM'd!
You can read my coverage of the Federalist Society Convention at RedState here and here. At lunch at the convention on Thursday I sat down and started chatting with the other people at my table, one of whom introduced himself as Neil Lewis of the New York Times. I introduced myself by my name and city (as well as giving him my impromptu RedState.com press pass and giving him permission to quote me by name) and we talked about the aftermath of the elections; it was obvious that he was working on a story that would include the reactions of Federalist Society members to the Democratic takeover of Congress. Lewis seemed pretty much a Times reporter from central casting, a pleasant middle-aged bearded guy in a suit, with a bit of a tone of pretension in his voice and quick to quibble with a woman at our table who said she enjoyed Fox News and found it fair and balanced.
Let's see how Mr. Lewis quoted me in Sunday's paper:
How glum was the mood? "Well, I guess I've just about climbed back from the ledge - the one I was about to jump off of," said Daniel McLaughlin, a New York lawyer who attended the convention. Mr. McLaughlin said he could not stop fretting over who would be confirmed to the federal bench in the next two years.
The part in quotes is, in fact, an accurate quote, albeit leaving aside the smile I delivered it with. (I should add that I thought that the line about coming in off the ledge was self-explanatory; I added the latter part when he asked for clarification). "Could not stop fretting" is another matter. As I have said to several people, I told him that I was more concerned about the loss of the Senate than the House because I'm concerned about getting the president's judicial nominees confirmed, but I didn't intend to leave him with the impression of despair; what I added was that since there were still 52 Senators left who voted for Justice Alito, my main concern was getting floor votes. That part didn't fit the theme of Republicans hanging their heads in defeat, I guess, and so it was blurred into "fretting".
All in all, a fairly typical mainstream media treatment - not a fabrication, no made up words; nothing so dramatic. In fact, as I said, the part in quotes is accurate, and might have bothered me a bit less if it stood on its own. And yet, there had to be a bending and selective truncation of my words to fit a pre-selceted narrative. Which, by now, is not news.
November 14, 2006
POLITICS: Onion Classics
POLITICS: Don't Build The Fence?
Mickey Kaus sees signs that the Democrats will try to prevent the border fence from being built. This would be an obvious example of overreaching - while the politics of immigration are vexing and the public may be willing to accept a compromise solution including legalization of existing illegals and a guest worker program, public opinion will turn very quickly against the view that there should be no additional enforcement on the border.
(Of course, knowing the Dems they will counter the perception of lax enforcement by adding a bunch of additional funding for new Border Patrol agents but no meaningful authority for them to accomplish anything, thus treating enforcement of the law as just another jobs program for unionized government workers)
POLITICS: Too Little, Too Late
Bush meets with the heads of the Big Three automakers. Why? I can't imagine. The meeting is just empty theater. And the Democrats in Michigan killed the GOP candidates for Governor and Senator over Bush's failure to stage this pointless meeting before the elections. Holding it now accomplished nothing. Holding it in October, when it might have mattered, would have been something else.
POLITICS: Abortion and Illegal Immigration
"We hear a lot of arguments today that the reason that we can't get serious about our borders is that we are desperate for all these workers," [the panel's chairman] said. "You don't have to think too long. If you kill 44 million of your potential workers, it's not too surprising we would be desperate for workers."
What's interesting is that the Washington Post article presents this argument as something of a curiosity, but is unable to identify any possible counterargument, relying on Missouri Democrats who called the report "ridiculous and embarrassing" and "a little delusional".
Now, you could argue - not persuasively, I would add - that illegal immigration is not caused primarily by the available supply of cheap labor and demand in a labor market that wants more of it. Or you could argue, somewhat more persuasively, that the real driver is the demand for illegal labor, i.e., a labor black market in workers who will underbid the minimum wage and other expensive labor laws, in which case more American workers would not matter that much. Or you could affirmatively argue, albeit rather cold-bloodedly, that keeping the population of workers down through abortions is good because it drives up wages. But it seems hard to argue with the more general observation that the nation has fewer workers available as a result of 47 million abortions.
POLITICS: Looking On The Bright Side
For conservatives, we should look at the silver lining in Democrats taking over Congress: it should renew our lack of faith in government.
November 11, 2006
WAR/POLITICS: The Last Don
In many ways the summary announcement Wednesday that Don Rumsfeld would be stepping down in favor of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense was more distressing than the elections themselves. It's not entirely clear exactly how much Rumsfeld was fired as opposed to quitting, but at a minimum it's obvious that he wasn't begging to leave and Bush wasn't begging him to stay, so given the timing immediately following a bad election the public is reasonably interpreting this as Rumsfeld being sacked.
Was it time for Rumsfeld to go? Maybe. Certainly Rumsfeld had his characteristic flaws, specifically that as a former Navy pilot his zeal for flexibility and mobility in warfare sometimes seemed to give short shrift to the value of infantry. Equally certainly, his critics were often motivated by the most parochial of interests, as his quest for modernizing the military made many enemies among those wedded to the status quo. An outsider to the Pentagon can never truly assess the value of each of his initiatives, though it seems unfortunate that a man of his energy and institutional knowledge will not be around to see to the end his program of reform.
In the specific case of Iraq, while the Bush Administration is losing a man with tremendous faith in the mission and unmatched determination, at the end of the day the importance of Robert Gates is secondary; Gates is, whatever his other virtues and vices, the classic professional manager. If President Bush keeps faith with the mission, I have no doubt that Gates will carry it out; if he doesn't, it would take more than Don Rumsfeld to set him straight.
What is dismaying is the timing and handling of the announcement. It came too late to help embattled Republican moderates in districts and states unhappy with the Iraq war, yet too soon after the elections to be read as anything but a show of weakness and capitulation to Bush's political enemies. Perhaps it is true that the Democratic takeover of the House made it necessary that Rumsfeld dedicate himself full time to appearing at investigative hearings while someone else takes the reins of the war, but concessions to a party more interested in score-settling than in winning the war do not inspire confidence in President Bush's steadiness in the final two years of his term.
Then again, like it or not, Rumsfeld himself would be the first to admit that you can't win wars without the support of the public and the Congress and a decent effort at media relations. With all three now having turned decisively against Rumsfeld, his ability to do his job going forward was probably fatally compromised anyway.
Despite the shabby treatment he received from the president, I can't weep too much for Rumsfeld himself, for two reasons. First, Rumsfeld is a veteran bureaucratic infighter who has himself been the moving force behind more purges and palace coups than you could count; just to name a few, he has variously been suspected of engineering the 1965 overthrow of House Minority Leader Charles Halleck by Gerald Ford, the 1970 purge of the notorious Terry Lenzer from the Office of Economic Opportunity, the 1975-76 purge of moderates and "realists" (including Henry Kissinger and Nelson Rockefeller) from the Ford Administration, leading to promotions for Rumsfeld to Secretary of Defense and Dick Cheney to White House Chief of Staff, as well as numerous power plays within the Bush Administration, resulting in Rumsfeld outlasting Colin Powell, Jay Garner, Paul Bremer, Andrew Card, and a constellation of generals, among others. He's the ultimate grownup, he knows how the game is played, and his turn was due to come eventually. Hs will retire to a position of great prominence and personal wealth and with the respect and loyalty of many in Washington, the military, and the GOP.
And second, of course, he has had a tremendous run. He started once upon a time as the youngest Defense Secretary in the nation's history and ends as the oldest, and he will leave office having held the job for the longest continuous tenure as well as the longest total tenure, having been the only man to serve in the post twice. He has been hugely influential in many ways within Washington since his arrival as a congressional staffer in 1957, and his protege remains as the Vice President. His legion of aphorisms have entered the popular consciousness, from "known unknowns" to "you go to war with the army you have," to of course the sneering phrase "Old Europe" and the stir it created within Europe itself. And in the end, the fate of the Iraq project will guarantee Rumsfeld's place in history for good or ill, regardless of the circumstances of his departure, just as MacArthur is judged today mainly on his conduct of the war in the Pacific, the occupation of Japan and the landing at Inchon rather than his losing battle with Harry Truman.
There are tough decisions ahead about Iraq, as the reality on the ground has changed over time and the strategies needed to meet that reality will have to be adjusted just as they have been adjusted in the past. It is unfortunate that a man as gifted, energetic and knowing in the ways of the Pentagon as Don Rumsfeld will not have a place at the table to make those decisions. But then, the genius of the American system of war-making is that no one man is indispensable.
November 8, 2006
POLITICS: The Day After
Well, that was no fun. Some disjointed thoughts:
*We lost the battle. Now, it's up to the President to make sure that doesn't result in losing the War.
*It's been a long time since Republicans have had a bad mid-term loss, so we forget that this is normal. Certainly 2006 was not significantly worse than 1982 or 1986. Ask President Dukakis if a Democratic sweep in the sixth-year midterms is an omen for the next election.
*There are three things Republicans should not do that separate us from our adversaries in how we handle defeat.
First, we should not blame the voters. While I continue to believe that sticking with the GOP was the right decision, the bottom line is that our leadership and candidates just gave people too many reasons to vote against them. I can't blame the voters for rejecting them, even if in some cases they took their more general frustrations out on good and decent public servants like Jim Talent. (Well, OK, I do sorta think the voters in Michigan will get what they deserve for deciding they want 4 more years of Jennifer Granholm's economic policies, but other than that).
Second, we should not mutter darkly about voter fraud, voter "intimidation," etc. Where there are specific and provable problems, as there sometimes are, we should highlight those. But we should not undermine faith in the process just on vague suspicions and fantasies that we were robbed in secret.
Third, we should not try to win with lawyers and vote-counters what we could not win at the polls. On that, I agree 100% with Leon Wolf.
*A sign of how bad last night was in New York is that even the scandal-plagued Alan Hevesit won after Spitzer renounced him and all the New York .
*John Cole should get his wish: a Congressional majority that combines the fiscal discipline of Robert Byrd and the integrity of Alan Mollohan.
*The defeats that hurt the worst: Talent, Santorum and presumably Steele in the Senate, and Ehrlich in Maryland. All of them are real stars. A couple of the good House conservatives also bit the dust, along with a fairly long list of deadwood. The silver lining is that nearly all the people with ethics or personal scandal problems got swept away.
*There were a few bright spots. Tim Pawlenty, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mark Sanford all won their governor's races, Pawlenty surviving narrowly in Minnesota, and good Republicans won the governor's mansions in Florida and Alaska (I know less about the new GOP governor in Nevada). In the House, Roskam defeated Duckworth, Heather Wilson seems to have survived, Bachmann beat Wetterling, Musgrave and Shays won (if anyone doubted that there is still a big tent), Reynolds, Kuhl and Walsh won in upstate NY.
On the VP side, Condi Rice's stock probably dropped, as any 2008 GOP candidate will want at least a cosmetic degree of separation from Bush on Iraq; the stock of Pawlenty and Sanford as VP candidates is through the roof this morning, and one of them may even be tempted to run for the top job.
*On the D side, harder to discern winners and losers, but remember this: Hillary ran under the best possible conditions, in a deep blue state in a Democratic year, with tons of money against an overmatched and underfunded opponent who got no media traction. Those conditions allowed Eliot Spitzer to draw 69% of the vote (Chuck Schumer got 71% in 2004). Hillary drew 67%. Which goes to show that she starts with a guaranteed third of the electorate that just will not pull the lever for her under any conditions. Apply that nationally to states less Democratic than New York and conditions less favorable than 2006, and see where it gets you.
*Speaking of George Allen, the moment when the Allen-Webb Senate race turned from a low-level longshot bid to a nail-biter was, of course, the "macaca" controversy triggered by a young Webb staffer looking to provoke a confrontation with the candidate.
The anti-Allen campaign escalated that recently with a heckler shoving people over to get close to the candidate so as to hurl an unsubstantiated accusation at him and provoke a confrontation with the candidate. This resulted in the heckler getting (well-earned but probably hoped-for) rough treatment from Allen's staff and a spate of additional bad publicity for Allen.
My prediction: if Webb hangs on to what looks like a victory (though all the ballots have not been counted yet), these kinds of tactics will be validated, especially among the lefty activist base, and we will see a lot more efforts to generate controversy by hecklers and other "guerilla" campaigners seeking verbal and physical confrontation. Whether or not one of them crosses the line to Travis Bickle territory, that is likely to lead to ever more stage-managed and security-controlled events and ever fewer genuine, open interactions between our elected officials and the people they work for.
*There is, as there ought to be periodically in any movement, some soul-searching to be done after yesterday's setbacks, and I agree with the general view that for the most part, with only limited exceptions, Republicans suffered at the polls less for what we believe in as conservatives than for the failure to live up to those ideals.
But in our haste to blame the leaders of the party, let us not overstate the case. I hear it said sometimes that President Bush is somehow not really a conservative. Now, it is true that Bush has not governed as a small-government conservative, and the cause of smaller government is certainly an important one for conservatism. President Bush has failed to stand up for conservative principles on a few other fronts, and it is right for us to point that out. But conservatism is a philosophy, not an all-encompassing litmus-test-intensive ideology, and it has many different elements (I have a long-brewing essay on that topic that I should try to finish some time over the next several weeks). As I said the other day, Bush is the second-most-conservative president we have had since Coolidge, and he has taken principled stands on a number of key conservative priorities and stuck by them, notably on national security and war, lower taxes, and the nomination of conservative judges. And his doing so won him election in 2000 and re-election with a majority of the voting public in 2004.
In 2008, we will again run candidates for the White House and Congress who are conservatives in broad outline and on key priorities, but who may compromise on some specific issues. Perhaps, as is quite likely, they will offer different compromises than President Bush has. I can live with that, if the compromises are ones I can live with. Getting back to first principles is important and worthy, even necessary. But we should not pretend that absolute purity will be necessary to do so, or even feasible in rebuilding a majority coalition and winning national elections.
November 7, 2006
POLITICS: Today Is Our Day
Even here and now, on Election Day, you can still hear the grumbling of disaffected Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians who will tell you that our elected representatives in Washington, and their leaders, deserve to lose this election. Many of us have felt the same way at some point or another over the past two years.
But this is not their day. This is our day. You can hear that in the GOP's emphasis on GOTV - an acknowledgement that, in those states and districts where the politicians have failed to persuade the persuadable and swing the swingable, the job of saving our majorities at the end comes down not to the party's leaders but its voters. They vote all year long; we vote for representatives in Washington but once every other year. And we live with who we vote for.
The question you have to ask yourself, or ask of anyone you know who still feels that way, isn't what the politicians deserve. It's what we deserve. Why should we and our posterity be punished for their mistakes with the kind of folly that a Speaker Pelosi and a Majority Leader Reid would visit upon us?
Today is our day. Don't vote for the politicians on the ballot. Vote for yourself, your family, your country.
November 5, 2006
POLITICS: Wabbit Season
Dick Cheney is nothing if not a man who doesn't care what the polls, focus groups and anything else resembling public opinion says about him: he's going hunting on Election Day.
POLITICS: Predicting Tuesday
Such a typical headline that we have seen lately; the Left and the media (but I repeat myself) seem utterly certain of a GOP collapse.
There are a lot of reasons to question that certainty, which I won't get into here except to say that while it could be the case, way too many people have been way premature on the Democrat side in declaring victory in the Congressional races (the governor's races are, in fact, trending strongly Democratic). And the foreign press has been the worst of all, and will face the rudest awakening Wednesday morning if the GOP manages to hold on against the tide with a majority in the House and 52 or more GOP Senators.
If you put a gun to my head, I'd say the most likely result is a Republican setback of a lower order than, say, 1986 - a net loss of between 20 and 25 House seats, giving narrow control to the Democrats, and of 4 Senate seats, leaving a 51 seat GOP majority (how stable that would be depends on whether Lincoln Chaffee is one of the survivors). And as this RedState diary aptly explains, at least a handful of the potential Democratic gains are odd one-off races like Bob Ney's seat, Tom Delay's seat and Mark Foley's seat, heavily Republican districts that are likely to come home in 2008.
Anyway, I'm not ready to do the postmortem on why Republicans did so badly or did better than expected until we see what actually happens. But I do think the people taking victory laps before the race has been run are the ones who seem most likely to regret it.
November 2, 2006
POLITICS: Great Caption
Spiderman doesn't look like he quite gets what is going on.
POLITICS: The 109th Congress
With the re-election of the second-most-conservative Republican president of the past 75 years, the retention of a solid Republican majority in the House, and 55 Republican senators including a raft of new Republicans elected in 2002 and 2004, it was understandable that conservative hopes for the 109th Congress would be sky high. To hear some people talk, we were supposed to have the Big Rock Candy Mountain of Conservatism, where conservative judges hang from the trees, you can pick constitutional amendments on social issues right off the vine and bathe in pools of entitlement reform, where it rains tax cuts in the morning and spending cuts in the afternoon, and you can go to sleep on a bed of tort reform to the gentle hum of tough border enforcement off in the distance.
Congress, of course, doesn't work that way, never has. If you don't believe me, look at all the years over the past four decades when the Democrats held both Houses of Congress and the White House was in the hands of a Democrat or a politically weak and beleaguered Republican, and they still couldn't even get legislation on national health insurance to a floor vote.
That's not to say that conservatives lack for reasons to be disappointed in the fruits of the majority. But as disgruntled conservatives consider whether to come home and vote Republican again on November 7, they also have to remember that there have been reasons to be happy with the accomplishments of the 109th Congress (even aside from the mischief that the very fact of a Republican majority prevents a Democratic majority from doing). I present a short but significant list of areas in which the 109th Congress has gotten results for us. A number of these came with some or even significant bipartisan support, but in nearly all cases the results would have been very different under Speaker Pelosi, her team of arch-liberal committee chairs, and a Senate run by Harry Reid and Dick Durbin with key committees chaired by Patrick Leahy, Ted Kennedy and Carl Levin.
This list focuses only on accomplishments that actually got passed into law, although some good bills passed the House but not the Senate. And the GOP caucus also in one case (federal funding for embryonic stem cell research) provided the votes to sustain a presidential veto. Also, for those who are focused on the charge of a "do nothing" Congress (an oldie from the 40s! old slogans never die!), I haven't mentioned here other legislation whose merits for conservatives are more debatable, like the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, the SAFE Port Act, and the Pension Protection Act.
1. The Courts.
In two short years we have seen the Senate confirm John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Roberts' ascension to Chief Justice solidified the legacy of William Rehnquist, while Justice Alito should be a more reliable judicial conservative than Sandra Day O'Connor. Plus, the existence of a solid GOP majority was undoubtedly a factor in convincing President Bush to drop Harriet Miers (Reid's preferred candidate) in favor of then-Judge Alito.
Despite Democratic obstruction and delay, we have also seen the confirmation of 15 Circuit judges: Bill Pryor, Janice Rogers Brown, Brett Kavanagh, Priscilla Owen, Kimberly Ann Moore, Jerome Holmes, Neil Gorsuch, Bobby Shepherd, Michael Chagares, Thomas Griffith, David McKeague, Richard Griffin, Sandra Segal Ikuta, Milan Smith, and Susan Bieke Nielson (Judge Nielson has since died). Many, though not all, of these are well-known judicial conservatives. The Senate has also confirmed 35 federal District Court judges. You may not think that's enough, but it's more than would get through a Democratic Senate; of that we can be sure.
2. National Security
The President has particular authority and responsibility for military and foreign policy matters. But Congress has a role to play too. Some of that comes in the form of appropriations to continue the war effort, appropriations that could be held up by Democratic committee chairmen in the next Congress. But it is also reflected in legislation. This Congress passed two significant pieces of legislation. In March 2006, Congress renewed the Patriot Act, which was due to expire and which provides essential tools to fight the War on Terror. Just the past month, Congress - in a deal brokered among two factions, both led by Republicans - passed the Military Commissions Act, resolving by statute a difficult and knotty set of questions about the handling of detainees, questions that will be with us for the duration of the war.
No, Congress has not passed comprehensive immigration reform - but then, there are legitimate reasons why not, given deep divisions in the public and even among members of the Republican coalition on this issue. But as neoliberal commentator Mickey Kaus spent months arguing, there is a strong consensus on building a fence along the border with Mexico as at least a first step towards reducing the torrent of illegal immigrants crossing that border. Sometimes, starting with the easy questions makes sense, and so at the end of its term in October the 109th Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, which provides for 700 miles of fencing in the areas of the border that the Border Patrol has the most difficulty policing. Some may argue that the Republican leadership only got this done because the voters they depend on at election time were demanding that something be done about immigration. To which I respond: precisely. Because Nancy Pelosi's caucus would not see the same necessity.
Given the major cuts in the income, capital gains, dividend and estate taxes in 2001, 2003, and 2004, it is not surprising that new and additional tax cuts have not been a major priority for this latest Congress. And for now, the Bush tax cuts are not quite in danger of expiring in the immediate future. But at least one significant tax bill passed in this Congress, with the passage in May 2006 of the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act, which extended the capital gains and dividend tax cuts out from 2008 to 2010, created relief for 2006 from the Alternative Minimum Tax, and offered tax breaks on the conversion of traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs.
The battle over making the remainder of the tax cuts "permanent" (i.e., so that Congress can't raise taxes merely by letting them expire) will go on - if there is a Republican majority to carry it on.
The federal budget is a massive and ever-expanding thing, and to be frank, the fight against overspending has been suppressed by dynamics at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue: Congress is institutionally set up to demand federal spending in every state and district, and President Bush simply hasn't led any battles for major reductions in spending.
For all of that, though, this Congress did manage to pass into law or rule three steps towards restraining the runaway spending train. In February 2006, the Deficit Reduction Act was signed into law, bringing with it a projected savings of $40 billion (more here from the CBO and here from the Heritage Foundation on the House version of the bill). Even granting the congenital unreliability of government budgetary forecasts and even though about a quarter of the savings come from projected revenues from an analog spectrum auction by the FCC (which doesn't count as a spending cut in my book), the Deficit Reduction Act did at least trim tens of billions of dollars from entitlement programs, which is the biggest part of the budget and the hardest one to cut.
Two other spending reforms were passed in September of this year. The first was a new rule of procedure in the House of Representatives, H. Res. 1000, which requires a list of earmarks and the Representatives requesting them, even (or perhaps especially) earmarks dropped into bills at the conference stage (i.e., when the House- and Senate-passed bills are being reconciled). Per the "Boehner protocol," at least as long as the current Majority Leader is in place, H. Res. 1000 will be applied broadly and without loopholes to all new bills containing earmarks, regardless of form.
The other was a bill, passed and signed as the culmination of a campaign begun in the blogosphere, entitled the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, a/k/a the Coburn-Obama bill, which provides for a public database of federal grants and contracts.
H. Res. 1000 and the Coburn-Obama bills don't cut a dime by themselves, but anybody who knows Washington can tell you that changing the procedures is half the battle; by providing increased public and media oversight over earmarks and pork-barrel spending - as well as simply a better mechanism for Members to see what they are voting on and at whose behest - the rule and the bill together provide a first step towards getting the pork problem under at least the beginnings of control.
6. Free Trade
This Congress passed two significant free trade acts, the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act (CAFTA), signed in August 2005, which opens markets in Latin America, and the United States-Oman Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act in September 2006, which eliminated trade barriers for an ally in the Middle East. That is, if you are keeping track, two more examples of less government and more liberty - and with the benefit of making more friends abroad. Given the anti-free-trade tilt of the post-Clinton Democrats, a Republican majority is crucial to getting trade deals done.
Free trade pacts with Peru and Vietnam remain pending for the next Congress.
7. Lawsuit Reform
This is perhaps the one I'm most intimately familiar with, and one that has had immediate practical significance - the Class Action Fairness Act, passed in February 2005. Like a lot of subjects on this list, reform of the civil justice system will likely take many incremental steps, but this one went right to work, immediately re-routing scores of multimillion-dollar nationwide class actions with nationwide effects out of the handful of plaintiff-friendliest state court jurisdictions and into federal court to be governed by uniform national procedural standards (including the fact that federal courts are less likely to apply a single state's law to a lawsuit involving people from all over the country). Though it operates to transfer power from state to federal government, CAFA is actually a significant boon to federalism by reducing the ability of any single state to export its laws and the biases of a particular locale to the nation as a whole.
Not such a terrible job for two years' work, two years in which much attention was consumed by natural disasters at home and war abroad and during which the House leadership underwent a significant mid-course reshuffling. More can, and should, be demanded of future GOP majorities. But much less should be expected if those majorities don't survive November 7.
November 1, 2006
POLITICS: The First Law of Holes
No time to write this morning except to note that this whole Kerry story is helped along greatly by Kerry's utter inability to ever admit he is wrong. I will leave you with something I wrote two years ago this week in the closing days of another election:
[W]here, I would ask, is the evidence that Kerry is better at admitting mistakes than Bush? This is a guy who brought all sorts of political grief to himself by stubbornly refusing for three decades to admit that he was wrong to repeat false charges, under oath and on national televison, that smeared his comrades in Vietnam as guilty of pervasive war crimes. Has Kerry admitted he was wrong to oppose nearly every aspect of the foreign policy strategy that President Reagan pursused to great effect in the closing and victorious chapter of the Cold War? Has he admitted he was wrong to oppose the use of force to kick Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991? Maybe I missed something, but I don't even recall him admitting he was wrong for trying to slash the intelligence budget in the mid-1990s following the first World Trade Center bombing. Indeed, one of the most common threads throughout Kerry's behavior in this campaign has been his unwillingness to take any personal responsibility for mistakes, from blaming his speechwriters for things that come out of Kerry's own mouth to picayune things like blaming the Secret Service when he falls down on the slopes. As Jonah Goldberg notes, Kerry's "liberal hawk" backers may argue that the decades of bad judgment in Kerry's past are rendered inoperative by September 11, but Kerry's stubborn insistence that he hasn't changed in response to September 11, and that he had the right answers all along even when he wrote a book in 1997 that barely mentioned Islamic terrorism, gives the lie to the notion that Kerry is a model of self-reflection. Even the man's own supporters can't seriously defend the proposition - on which many of them heaped well-deserved scorn during the primary season - that Kerry has been consistent from the start on whether Saddam was a serious threat that justified a military response. Yet there Kerry stands, insisting to all the world what nobody believes, that he hasn't changed his position. Preferring Kerry to Bush because Bush won't admit mistakes is like preferring fresh water to salt water because salt water is wet.
October 29, 2006
POLITICS: But We're Controversial!
I saw a bit of a show on CNN or somewhere following up on the Time cover story on the Dixie Chicks' latest effort to revive the old controversy, and invest with Great Meaning for the national mood the fact that their current venture hasn't created a great and visible wave of anger at the band.
Really: get over yourselves. As I wrote at the time, the Dixie Chicks' problem wasn't just the comments but the way they insisted on playing the whole thing as a morality play with their own fans cast as the villians, which turned out to be a good way to alienate a lot of those fans. Obviously somebody still buys their albums, whether people who agreed with their politics or people who decided they didn't much care, but we should not be surprised that the rest of the world has moved on.
October 27, 2006
POLITICS: Victims of Their Own Propaganda
October 26, 2006
POLITICS: Frank J Is A Genius
October 25, 2006
POLITICS: Ben Cardin's Stem Cell Hypocrisy
So, Democrats think they have found a winning political issue with public funding of embryonic stem cell research. The issue seems to present a classic battle of science versus religion, and Democrats always know which side of that fight they want. And in fact, polls regularly show that many voters, weighing the benefits of improved healthcare against the loss of microscopic embryos, take the side of encouraging such research. As a result, pro-life Republican opponents of the research are often reduced to windy explanations of the distinctions between types of stem cells and between the government banning such research (which it has not tried to do) and simply refusing to fund it with taxpayer dollars.
But as was true with the Terri Schiavo case, I remain skeptical that public support for the liberal/Democratic position is as warm, deep, or unconflicted as it sometimes seems. Again and again, we face hard questions about when and where life begins, who gets to decide who is and is not a human being worthy of the law's protection, what rights we have to end our own lives, and what rights we have to place the utility of living and speaking adults above the claims of the very old, the very sick, and the unborn. Sure, these questions are painful ones - even those of us who find it easy to see the taking of a human life in abortion sometimes weary of doing battle on behalf of microscopic embryos who are unlikely ever to find a home in a mother's womb. But just as pro-lifers can be ambivalent on these issues, so are those who come out on the other side. To be an enthusiastic supporter of stem cell research that destroys embryos, or of pulling the plug on a living human adult whose quality of life has deteriorated almost to nothing, you have to have blithe, cold-blooded confidence that there is no moral issue at all in these questions. And I just don't think most Americans are in that place.
As we have seen from Claire McCaskill's effort to make the Missouri Senate race a single-issue referendum on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, Democratic campaign consultants clearly believe that the public shares their lack of moral ambiguity. And other Democrats are flogging this issue as well, now including Maryland Senate candidate Ben Cardin, who is running an ad with Canadian actor Michael J. Fox, exhorting Americans to spend their tax dollars on such research. (Apparently, Fox isn't satisfied with public funding by his own home country; but even the Canadians have guidelines that betray their own sense that this is an issue fraught with moral peril, as well as dissenters from the governing status quo).
As Michael Steele's campaign has pointed out, however, the problem with Cardin's unbridled enthusiasm for throwing taxpayer money at stem cell research that destroys embryos is that Cardin voted against legislation designed to fund stem cell research that doesn't destroy embryos. That's a position so extreme even Maryland's two liberal Democratic Senators, Barbara Mikulski and the retiring Paul Sarbanes, didn't take it.
Apparently, Cardin isn't in it for the benefits of the research - just for the political benefits he thinks he can get by demanding the destruction of embryos. What a great humanitarian Ben Cardin is.
POLITICS: Spencer for Ire
I can't very well imagine anything stupider politically than Hillary Clinton's US Senate opponent, John Spencer, criticizing Hillary's appearance in an informal conversation with liberal Daily News columnist Ben Smith, generating days of front-page stories. As reported by Smith:
Spencer and his wife, Kathy, by chance, sat beside me on a Friday morning JetBlue flight to Rochester. Spencer read The New York Times, I read The New Yorker, and early in the trip, Kathy opened New York magazine to its cover story on Al and Jeanine Pirro, the troubled state attorney general candidate.
Now, in context it is clear that Spencer was just speaking off the top of his head, but still - there is no subject that dovetails more perfectly with Hillary's chief political strength than an entirely un-political critique of her appearance, which allows her to play the aggreived-on-behalf-of-all-women card for all it is worth, questioning whether a male candidate would face such criticisms, generally appealing to the insecurities many women face about their appearance as they reach her age, and making out the race as a put-upon woman against a mean male. (Heck, even my wife, who loathes Hillary, was tempted to not vote for Spencer over his decidedly ungentlemanly comments).
If there is one subject that Republicans need, desperately need, to leave be in the 2008 race, it's Hillary's appearance. Issues? Yes. Scandals? Yes. Personal character? Yes. But leave the gibes about her looks to the comedians. It's neither nice nor wise.
(Of course, I should ask as a postscript - and I emphasize that I'm not doing this to let Spencer off the hook - where is Bill in all this? I know he is trying to learn to stay mum and let his wife fight her own battles, but another man has insulted his wife's appearance and asked why Bill married her. Them's fightin' words, and unless I have missed a press acount somewhere he hasn't stirred himself to defend her. Especially for a man who has repeatedly and publicly gotten caught cheating on his wife, you would think he would stand up and come out swinging on this one).
October 12, 2006
POLITICS: Clinton Justice Comes to Massachusetts
Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick insisted, during his years in the Clinton Justice Department, on inserting the federal government into the following state and local prison complaints:
In a 1996 letter obtained by the Herald, Patrick slammed Maryland prison officials for serving "lukewarm" food and denying inmates their rights to "exercise," "fresh air" and "natural light." He also complained about a requirement that psychiatric visits be supervised by guards, a rule put in place because inmates masturbated in front of a female doctor.
Now, I'm all for trying to solve the genuinely serious problem of prisoner-on-prisoner violence, including gang violence and sexual assault in our prisons (although it's still questionable whether this needs to be a federal rather than a state issue); the blithe societal assumption that prison time includes prison rape really goes further than a decent society should allow.
But prison rape is one thing; lukewarm tuna fish sandwiches are entirely another. You would like a governor who knows the difference.
October 10, 2006
POLITICS: Winter Patriots
FOOTBALL/POLITICS: Worlds Collide
Not the usual intro to a story about a low-profile statewide race in Wisconsin:
Sex! The Green Bay Packers! Sex WITH the Green Bay Packers!
I also did not realize the La Folletes, like the Tafts, were still active in politics.
October 9, 2006
POLITICS: Inside the Pundit's Studio
So, despite ending up on the cutting room floor, I did get a learning experience out of my appearance on "The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch" on Thursday. First of all, as to at least one way they get guests: I got the call Thursday around 10am from The Weekly Standard, which the show's bookers had called on account of my article on scandals. The taping of the show was around 2:30-3pm. Once I agreed to do the show, they put on an assistant who ran through some pre-interview questions - which ended up being very different from the questions Deutsch asked, although in both cases they mainly walked through the 10-category framework of my article.
They initially offered to send a camera crew to me, but ended up telling me to go to a studio on Fifth Avenue in Midtown (they offered to send a car but given hiw close it was to my office I chose to walk - crosstown traffic can be terrible). The building was one of those utterly nondescript 70s-era Midtown office buildings; the studio had a front desk, a room or two for shooting, a little closet-like makeup room and a couple of waiting rooms - basically, it was set up like a small dentist's office. I had to sit still through the makeup routine - I had never worn makeup before except on Halloween, but I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't that heavy (though I made sure to wipe it all off before leaving, especially since I was headed to court after the taping).
Eventually they sent me in to the studio, which was just a couch facing a camera, with blindingly bright lights above and below on either side. If I turned to the right I could see a monitor showing me - but there was no monitor anywhere showing the host, wherever it was he was taping his part from. I was also surprised by how little direction I got - you would think that, having all but picked me out of the phone book with no idea if I had any TV experience, they would have spent more than a sentence or two with me on what to do on camera (basically just: look at the camera), but then it's a busy show with a lot of guests. I sat and listened to Deutsch run through intros with other guests, and to the House page hotline message that he ultimately ended the show with, but basically had no idea what the rest of the show had been about or what anyone else had said before me. The whole disembodied nature of the thing lent it a decidedly unreal air - an interview by a host I couldn't see, no clue what the rest of the show looked like, and when I was done I basically just got up and walked out with nobody giving me any further information. I would have at least thought that there would be something to sign or a cheesy little souvenir or something, or maybe someone saying farewell with an insincere assurance that I did well. But that's TV for you, I guess.
Live and learn. Now, next time someone asks me to be on national TV...
October 5, 2006
POLITICS: I Get Results
October 3, 2006
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Politics and Baseball
The New Republic has a silly effort to compare the Mets to the Democrats. Much as I do both baseball and politics on this site, I try not to mix the two, and I have mocked similar efforts in the past.
That said, if we are just having fun with the numbers, it's time to update one of my favorite factoids: The Hated Yankees haven't won a World Series with a Republican in the White House since 1958. In fact, the Yankees won their first pennant in 1921, and since then:
Democratic Administrations: 40 seasons, 19-3 in the World Series
(If you are wondering, just for comparison, the Mets have won 4 division titles, 3 pennants and 2 World Championships with a Republican in the White House, compared to 1 pennant and 2 Wild Cards under Democratic presidents; they've also had 9 last place finishes during Democratic administrations compared to 4 under Republicans).
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:18 PM | Baseball 2006 | Politics 2006 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
September 26, 2006
POLITICS: A (Very) Modest Proposal
Shouldn't Congress bar federal funds from being spent on any project named after a current elected official? I mean, I realize that legislating against the self-interest of the legislators isn't the most likely thing, so maybe let's rephrase that - shouldn't challengers pick up this suggestion? One of the enduring temptations for the Robert C. Byrds of the world, after all, is to seek out federal funds for projects in their states and districts that will be named in their honor. How does this not horrify anyone who even pretends that these folks are guardians of our money? What possible argument could be made, openly, for opposing such a proposal?
September 25, 2006
POLITICS: How Wrong Was Josh Marshall?
Now that it has been revealed that the main source for Bob Novak's column "outing" Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA employee was Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's right-hand man at the State Department and (like Novak) no fan of the Iraq War, with Karl Rove and a CIA spokesman merely confirming what Novak had already been told by Armitage - and that the White House was kept in the dark for many months, at a minimum, about Armitage's role - it is clear that there was never any validity to the notion that Novak's column was the result of some neo-conservative cabal seeking retaliation against Wilson and his wife for Wilson's publication of a NY Times Op-Ed detailing what should have been a classified intelligence-gathering mission to Niger. This "neocon retaliation" theory was, as you will recall, the central and original theory of why the Plame story was a scandal at all, rather than a one-day story of a run-of-the-mill imprudent leak, and not even in the top ten as far as the most damaging leaks of the past five years.
Joe Wilson himself, of course, was the original source of this theory. But I thought it would be instructive to look back at one of the main blogospheric advocates of that theory - Josh Marshall - to get a full sense of how long and hard he pushed this notion, and thus how badly he ended up leading his readers astray. (I may get to look back at some of the other top Plame-ologists of the Left, but Marshall was perhaps the most visible and this post is long enough as it is). In Marshall's case, the conspiracy theory was particularly attractive because it fit in with his broader attack on Vice President Cheney and the "neocon" advisers in the Vice President's office and the Defense Department - indeed, Marshall repeatedly tried to retail a particularly baroque explanation in which the "outing" of Mrs. Wilson was tied to forged documents passed through Italy relating to Niger.
I should start by noting that re-reading Marshall's archives reminds me how slippery he is - he truly is a master of implying things without coming out and saying them. But the sheer volume of his posts on this story has, unsurprisingly, yielded up more than a few instances of Marshall actually saying what he intended his readers to believe:
Read More »
First of all, the volume. Marshall has posted on this story 231 times since July 2003, as of a count I did a few weeks ago - 48 posts in 2003, 59 posts in 2004, 99 posts in 2005, and 25 posts through the end of August 2006. Let's look at the way he pushed this story - not each and every one of these quotes is damning in and of itself, but they give you the overall picture of Marshall's full-throated pursuit of the completely wrong direction on a story to which he devoted enormous efforts:
We know that two senior members of the Bush administration intentionally blew the cover of an undercover CIA officer whose job is combating weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation. And their motivation was pure politics.
To get back at Wilson, they blew the cover of his wife, Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative specializing in tracking other countries' efforts to acquire WMD.
Whammo! NBC has a late report that the CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the White House broke federal law by exposing the identity of one of its undercover employees, Valerie Plame, to retaliate against her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson.
The Post got one "senior administration official" to concede that "two top White House officials" disclosed Plame's identity to at least six journalists.
[Quoting the Post story]: "Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the senior official said of the alleged leak.
(OK, this one you need to read at length, not for any particular assertion of fact but just for its hyperventilating tone in detailing an interview of Condi Rice by Brit Hume)
[E]veryone's saying: that the problem centers on the vice president's office. And people are adding a name: Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's chief of staff and close advisor.
[T]he war between the White House and the CIA is the big story. It's the feud from which this law-breaking springs.
I've avoided the rush of Novak-bashing that's swirled around this story. But his stance as a journalist simply trying to report out a story is being rapidly and severely diminished by his desperate effort to advance the agenda of those who leaked to him in the first place, i.e., to smear and discredit the Wilsons.
For the last ten days we've known that two senior administration officials blew the cover of an undercover CIA employee for some mix of retribution and political gamesmanship.
Meanwhile, back in wingerville, the search for the Holy Grail, or rather an innocent explanation of the Plame mess, continues.
Those two "senior administration officials" just finished the job that [Aldrich] Ames --- one of the arch-traitors of American history --- started.
The White House was at war with Joe Wilson. And they were using everything in their arsenal to take him down. The authors of [a Washington Post] piece seem to have spoken to "administration sources" who told them that the motive for naming Plame wasn't retaliation but an effort to destroy Wilson's credibility and thus get reporters to ignore him. That theory of the crime, shall we say, seems to conflict with the account of the administration official who told the Post on he September 28th that the calls were "meant purely and simply for revenge."
All the available evidence points to the conclusion that Novak and his sources knew full well that Plame was a clandestine agent.
[L]ook at these various controversies: possible subpoenas over White House stonewalling of the 9/11 investigation, the multiple investigations of the pre-war intel on Iraq, the criminal investigation into the Plame disclosure.
If the real perps are indicted, the political implications will be obvious and undeniable. And the fall-out will be rapid.
On whether it's possible that the leaker didn't know Plame's status was classified:
[L]et's stop the charade. They're guilty as sin. It's now crystal clear that from the very beginning the folks at the White House have known who did it.
At the moment the discussion is about whether the doers can beat the rap. (Did the person at the White House know she was covert, etc.?)
[T]he basic facts of the matter have been in plain sight from the beginning. And whether an aide to the president is indicted or goes to prison is largely an issue for that particular person.
Democrats at least have the consolation of the Plame investigation, which continues to validate their least generous suspicions about how the Bush White House operates and underscore the president's seeming indifference to recklessness and law-breaking among high-level members of his own staff.
[For defenders of the White House t]heir tactic lately is no longer to deny that some key White House officials tipped columnist Robert Novak off to the fact that Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert employee of the CIA. These days, they just say that it wasn't a crime.
No matter how you slice it, top White House officials acted in a way that should disqualify them from future service on the president's staff.
That burn campaign against Joe Wilson got off the ground pretty quickly, didn't it? And the Plame hit came out of the Vice President's office.
On a controversy surrounding Richard Clarke:
This is Plame all over again, just with the lights on -- a kind of behavior -- a mix of pervasive secrecy and the use of state power to punish political enemies -- that is literally a danger to the republic.
Who is Dick Cheney? . . . When challenged, violence seems always to be his preferred method of response, that of first resort --- often a literal sort on the world stage, but with bureaucratic (viz. Plame) and what we might call verbal violence at home.
We don't know that the president knew about the decision to use Plame's work at CIA against Wilson in advance, though given the high-level working group assembled at the White House to go to war with Wilson, it's reasonable to suspect that he did.
Approvingly quoting a reader:
[T]he reason the Republicans were angry with Wilson is that he told the truth. And their preferred method of retaliation was to attack his wife.
Nope, wrong. You could look it up.
« Close It
September 23, 2006
POLITICS: Great Moments in Public Education
On the latter, the people who mocked the slippery slope arguments yet again owe Justice Scalia and Senator Santorum an apology:
Emanuel relies heavily on a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Lawrence vs. Texas, that struck down as unconstitutional a state law prohibiting "deviate sexual conduct" between same-sex adults. The nation's highest court in that ruling took note of the "emerging awareness that liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex."
As I said at the time, I hold no brief for anti-sodomy laws, but the erosion of the principle that laws grounded in community moral standards are a rational and permissible basis for democratic lawmaking is a dangerously intrusive and anti-democratic, as well as irredeemably inconsistent with two centuries of constitutional tradition.
September 21, 2006
Libertarian Megan McArdle isn't too happy with a lot of the Bush Administration's moves on detainees and surveillance, but at least she has perspective:
POLITICS: Don't Mess With Mama
There is, it is true, something creepily anti-Semitic (given the history of what anti-Semitism sounds like) about asking a candidate, in a televised debate, the following:
It has been reported, your grandfather Felix, whom you were given your middle name for, was Jewish. Could you please tell us whether your forebears include Jews and, if so, at which point Jewish identity might have ended?
I mean, wouldn't you expect the next question to be a request for his papers?
For all of that, though, it seems to me that the larger lesson of this flap about the question and George Allen's response, when combined with earlier questions about whether Allen had learned the word "macaca" from his mother, is that you don't mess with a man's mother, ever. I'm guessing that voters in Virginia who watched that debate understood that without having to have the newspapers explain what it all means.
POLITICS: Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs
A Republican tidal wave isn't going to emerge from nowhere, but Jim Geraghty sees signs that may point to better tidings by Election Day. This may, as Howard Fineman suggests, be a "dead cat bounce," but falling gas prices in particular are yet again robbing the Democrats of a crucial talking point down the home stretch (as job growth did in 2004).
Geraghty's been right before, of course, with his pep talks in 2004. While I remember 1996 and 1998 quite well, the fact is that the elections of 2002 and 2004 are the only ones that have really been blogged (with the flood of timely information that entails), and that have taken place after September 11. Which means that it may be hard for Republicans like me who saw almost everything break right in those elections to correctly identify the signs of a true strong home stretch versus the dead cat bounces that Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush enjoyed in the late Octobers of their races against Clinton.
WAR/POLITICS: Democrats Finally Identify Iraq Policy: Hold Hearings
Because, you know, the one thing we haven't had is a debate about the war.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
"Three years into war, the American people still don't have a clear picture of what's gone wrong in Iraq -- or how to set it right," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
"We've been going backward for too long," he said.
Democrats said they had invited Republicans to attend the hearings, which will start in Washington on Monday and move across the country in October and November -- before and after the November 7 congressional elections in which control of both houses are at stake.
Reid and other top Democrats told a news conference the current Congress had conducted fewer oversight hearings than previous wartime Congresses. They said lawmakers held 152 days of hearings on the Korean War and 328 days on Vietnam.
A moment of silence, please, for all those who courageously held hearings in past wars. History may little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that chairs a hearing now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
POLITICS: Job Creation, Granholm Style
Cut taxes? Nope. Reduce red tape? Nah. How about building prisons instead of factories:
The prison now could be used for out-of-state prisoners, a Michigan prison population, county prisoners or federal detainees.
The measure is designed to help the local economy by possibly rejuvenating one of the area's largest employers.
Now, there's nothing necessarily wrong with opening prisons - but the state that was once the engine of the world's auto industry deserves better than aspiring to be America's Jailer.
September 20, 2006
BLOG: Quick Links 9/20/06
Yeah, another bunch of links and quick hits, heavy on politics and war.
*First of all, for my own purposes I should note here that as of this week I have been at my law firm for 10 years. A milestone, of a sort.
*This putatively hostile profile of Mitch McConnell makes him sound like the ideal leader for a legislative majority - a guy who's a brilliant master of parliamentary rules and techniques, a workhorse rather than a showhorse who has a keen understanding of how to hold his caucus together and has been an instrumental player in some of Bill Frist's biggest successes. The authors criticize him for not writing "landmark legislation" or taking to the airwaves, but they have to concede that McConnell has done, in his fight against campaign finance regulation, the very thing the Framers most hoped a a Senator would do - wage an unpopular one-man battle against landmark legislation that is simultaneously self-interested (by protecting incumbents) and hostile to our constitutional guarantees of free speech. And as for his partisanship, (1) the authors don't really even pretend that Tom Daschle wasn't an arch-partisan and (2) "bipartisan" legislation is usually a warning to watch your wallet anyway.
*While I share David Frum's frustration that Bush didn't spend more of his UN speech pressing the case against Iran, I thought this passage in the speech was one of the best articulations yet of why the battle against tyranny in the region is so important to the battle against terrorism - as Bush's predecessor would say to himself, "it's the propaganda, stupid":
Imagine what it's like to be a young person living in a country that is not moving toward reform. You're 21 years old, and while your peers in other parts of the world are casting their ballots for the first time, you are powerless to change the course of your government. While your peers in other parts of the world have received educations that prepare them for the opportunities of a global economy, you have been fed propaganda and conspiracy theories that blame others for your country's shortcomings. And everywhere you turn, you hear extremists who tell you that you can escape your misery and regain your dignity through violence and terror and martyrdom. For many across the broader Middle East, this is the dismal choice presented every day.
This is, by the way, a signal difference from the Cold War - the Communist bloc may have fed its citizens propaganda, but at least they were literate and educated, and thus easier to reach with a contrary message. Illiteracy is a particular problem in Egypt and one of the reasons why Egyptian society presents a greater danger than, say, Iraq or Iran of the populace embracing Islamist nutcases if given the vote.
*Links on the continuing saga of the threats of violence against the Pope for implying that Islam preaches violence: was Pope Benedict trying to build pressure for Christians to receive the treatment in Muslim lands that Muslims receive in Christian lands?; the archbishop of Sydney isn't backing down; David Warren on the BBC; and Fr. Neuhaus at First Things has some reflections. More detail on the violence and threats of violence here, here, here and here. Josh Trevino offers trenchant analysis, especially this parallel:
There's an illuminating historical incident from the tenth century that deserves wider dissemination, and that the Pope might have used in lieu of Manuel II Paleologue's quote. That Emperor was the last to enjoy a full reign in a free Empire; but nearly four hundred years before, the Empire was enjoying a resurgence. Manuel II Paleologue ruled barely more than Constantinople itself - but Nikephoros II Fokas ruled from Italy to the Caucasus, and from Bulgaria to Syria. He was a longtime foe of the Muslim Caliphate, and he observed that a signal advantage of the Muslims was their jihad doctrine. The Orthodox Church then - as now - regarded war as a regrettable necessity, with emphasis on the regrettable part, and soldiers returning from war would be made to perform some manner of penance before again receiving communion. By contrast, Nikephoros II Fokas observed that the Muslims who went to war were directly fulfilling the commandments of their faith, and were accordingly more motivated, violent, and relentless. The Emperor decided that the Christians needed a similar spiritual edge, and so he asked the Patriarch Polyeuktos in Constantinople to declare that any Christian who fell in battle was automatically a martyr. In effect, he requested a Christian version of jihad. The Patriarch and the entire Church hierarchy, so often in that era mere tools of Imperial policy, refused. The Emperor was forced to back down, and within a few short centuries, the Empire was overrun by the Muslims.
Trevino also points out something else. While the founder of Christianity was martyred by the State and the Church endured three centuries of persecution from its founding, Islam began as, and has for most of its existence been, the religion of power and the powerful, united with the State. There are examples of Muslims living under both the culturally light yoke of colonialism (in British India and the brief Western mandates over the former Ottoman territories from 1918 until just after WW2) and Communist opression (mainly in Kazakhstan and the other southern republics that left Russia at the collapse of the Soviet Union), but Islam for the most part does not share the heritage of other faiths in surviving separate from and in opposition to the State. None of this suggests that Islam is necessarily or by nature bad or dangerous, but it does underline why Islamic doctrines have been such potent and hard-to-defuse weapons in the hands of actual and would-be tyrants.
*I had hoped to get to the issue of the Senate Intelligence Committee reports on pre-Iraq-War intelligence sooner and in more detail, but I have only thus far had the chance to read parts of the reports. Critics of the reports have been out in full force on the Right - Stephen Hayes says the report glosses over Saddam's history with jihadist extremists, as does Deroy Murdock, Byron York looks at the fact that Chuck Hagel, a Republican on the committee, had a former Kerry campaign staffer on the committee staff, Wizbang has a link here to a piece that appears to rehash some of Hayes' reporting, and here to a CNN report from 1999 (quoted by Hayes in his book) claiming that Saddam offered asylum to bin Laden. Read and judge for yourself - like I said, I haven't had time to digest all of this yet.
"There are some stand-out cases and each of them will test whether this is a 'restrained' Court," said constitutional law scholar Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine University School of Law, referring to the abortion, affirmative action and punitive damages challenges.
Kmiec concedes that it is "very difficult at first blush" to see why a conservative, restrained court would take the [partial-birth] abortion challenges, since there is no circuit split and there is a recent precedent.
Um, the Executive Branch has asked the Court to reverse lower court rulings that struck down an Act of Congress. I don't care what your judicial philosophy is in deciding a case like that, the Court is almost always going to take a case in those circumstances; it would be a serious dereliction of its institutional role not to.
*A female Supreme Court justice in Yemen? Baby steps.
*Lawrence of India: funny how this statute didn't get mentioned in Justice Kennedy's discussion of international precedents in Lawrence v Texas. Remember, foreign law only counts if it helps one side.
*Correction: Hekmyatar wasn't actually captured.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:15 AM | Blog 2006-14 | Law 2006-08 | Politics 2006 | Religion | War 2006 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
September 18, 2006
POLITICS: The Coming Democratic Takeover
Or not, perhaps. I still think the most likely outcome is one that will disappoint all sides, with both parties losing some close and apparently winnable races and the GOP returning narrowed majorities in both Houses. How damaging that will be to the Republicans depends in large part on which races we lose - Lincoln Chaffee, for example, almost never comes through on close votes of significance, whereas people like Santorum and Talent always do (a similar dynamic exists in the House).
September 15, 2006
POLITICS: Blame The Dead Guy
When I first wrote about Bob Menendez' ethical troubles (at least the ones that are currently under federal investigation, his receipt of $3,000/month in rental income from a community group while he was working in Congress to get them millions in federal grants), I figured it was only fair to quote his explanation, claiming that "[t]his transaction was already approved by the House Ethics Committee".
Well, well, well. It turns out that alibi is shakier than I could have imagined, which goes a ways to explaining why this is under investigation. Menendez claims not that the House Ethics Committee had approved the deal, but one staff lawyer for the committee, and there is apparently no documentary evidence of the approval. And the staffer:
Menendez said he sought and received verbal approval for the transaction from Mark Davis, an ethics lawyer with the House ethics committee, in 1994, when he was a U.S. congressman. However, an obituary for Davis in a Capitol Hill publication says he left the committee in 1993 and died last October.
Isn't that convenient?
POLITICS: Rightroots Rattles the Cup
POLITICS/WAR: Staying in the Back Seat
Now, I'm not one to put a lot of stock in anonymous quotes that are against the speaker's interest and fit perfectly into the reporter's storyline (much less declare myself a member of a movement built around such a quote), but Chuck Todd in the Atlantic Monthly ($), in explaining why some strategists in each party are hoping not to win a majority in the Congress in 2006, has a quote from "[o]ne Democratic Senate staffer" that so perfectly captures the Democratic attitude that it hardly matters if it's a real quote or not:
(Emphasis in original). Yes, and it's easier to be "tough and strong" or "tough but smart" or "strong at home and respected abroad" or whatever the latest slogan is, than to take responsibility for getting the job done.
September 10, 2006
POLITICS: Karl the Avenger
"His voice was chilling," McAllister recalled in an interview Friday. "He says, 'Look, I got a Web site here called georgewbush.com and I got 900 subscribers and every one of them is getting e-mail from you.' He said, 'You gotta stop this right here and now. You've got to leave my subscribers alone.'"
On Jan. 17, 2005, at 9:12 p.m., Rove e-mailed an assistant in the Bush campaign, B.J. Goergen: "Find where this company is headquartered," with the attached spam for Voicescape.
Good for him.
September 9, 2006
POLITICS/WAR: The President, Still Fighting
Paul Gigot interviews President Bush in today's Wall Street Journal. Some excerpts - on Palestine:
Take the Palestinian elections that elevated the terrorist group Hamas to power. "I wasn't surprised," he says, "that the political party that said 'Vote for me, I will get rid of corruption' won, because I was the person that decided on U.S. foreign policy that we were not going to deal with Mr. Arafat because he had let his people down, and that money that the world was spending wasn't getting to the Palestinian people. . . . They didn't say, 'Vote for us, we want war.' They said, 'Vote for us, we will get you better education and health.' "
On his management of the Iraq War:
"Now, my view of the country is this: Most people want us to win. There are a good number who say, get out now. But most Americans are united in the concept--of the idea of winning."
On the nature of the war:
"[T]his is a different kind of war. In the past, there was troop movements, or, you know, people could report the sinking of a ship. This is a war that requires intelligence and interrogation within the law from people who know what's happening. . . . Victories you can't see. But the enemy is able to create death and carnage that tends to define the action.
Read the whole thing.
September 8, 2006
POLITICS: "[O]ur patriotism is very low"
Please, please tell me the first letter in this Slate advice column is a parody. Comments opened.
POLITICS: With Kerry, It Broke
Andrew Cline at the Weekly Standard doesn't think much of the Democrats' move to abandon Iowa and New Hampshire as the presidential primary kickoff. There are plenty of reasons to question whether IA/NH's lead role makes sense, although there are at least two reasons to leave them in place. One is the immediate fact that, at present, both states are very closely divided (they are two of just three states to vote for George W. Bush in one but not both of the 2000 & 2004 elections) and they are fairly representative of the demographics of a number of the other "purple" states like Wisconsin and Minnesota. The second is the small-c conservative answer: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The system has served us well in selecting nominees, so why ditch it?
The second of these reasons is why the Democrats' rush to abandon the old calendar is, implicitly, such a damning indictment of John Kerry, the winner of the only seriously contested Democratic primary season since 1992. Whatever else may be said about the decision, if Democrats had faith that the existing system could be trusted to pick the right man (or woman), they would not depart from it. Their willingness to do so speaks volumes.
POLITICS: Bob Menendez Steered Millions To Group That Paid Him
Yes, I know: corruption investigations into New Jersey Democrats are a dog-bites-man story. But New Jersey voters have to ask themselves how many times they are willing to throw the bums back in. WNBC reports that federal investigators are probing whether there was a quid pro quo in Menendez receiving $3,000 a month from an organization as he was helping them receive millions of taxpayer dollars - your dollars:
The U.S. attorney's office has subpoenaed the [nonprofit] agency's records pertaining to a house once owned by then-congressman Menendez, sources told NewsChannel 4's Brian Thompson.
Now, I don't know; $3,000 a month may be a fair market rent for the property, in which case this isn't outright corruption, just a too-cozy relationship between a Congressman and a major recipient of federal largesse. That's Menendez' defense:
Menendez campaign spokesman Matthew Miller released a statement saying the senator's dealings with the agency had already been approved by authorities in U.S. Congress.
On the other hand, above-market payments for real property is a convenient way to launder a bribe - you will recall that was where the Duke Cunningham investigation started.
Will the Democrats pull a Torricelli and end up having to drag some geriatric retiree out of mothballs if Menendez implodes under the weight of this story? Stay tuned.
POLITICS: Yet Again, Less Accurate = Less Favorable To Republicans
Stuart Buck and Megan McArdle explain at length why a widely-circulated Detroit Free Press graph purporting to show a dramatic drop in median household income from 1999 to 2005 isn't reliable. (Of course, we all know George W. Bush was responsible for the dramatic decline of the stock market that began in March of 2000 - in the interests of even minimal accuracy one would begin with 2001 rather than 1999).
WAR/POLITICS: Questioning the Questioners, Part I
Jeff Goldstein discusses why it's a good thing that President Bush's Tuesday speech laying out the Administration's past successes in interrogating Al Qaeda detainees in CIA custody and proposing a new strategy for dealing with detainees in light of the Supreme Court's Hamdan decision represents a political strategy to put Democrats on the defensive and force them to take responsibility for either agreeing with the new policy or advocating a less aggressive approach to collecting intelligence from detainees. (Via Instapundit). (Ironically, of course, getting less information from detainees would only make us more reliant on our other best source of information, that being electronic surveillance). Goldstein focuses on the hypocrisy of critics like Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald (and they're not the only ones) who have been beating Bush over the head with the detainee issue for at least two and a half years now and have suddenly decided that it's not fair play for Bush to make a political issue of the standards for holding, questioning and trying detainees. Of course, Bush would have been perfectly happy to stick with the prior detainee-interrogation standards and keep them from the public eye, so it's absurd in the extreme to suggest that he chose to politicize this issue; all he's doing is taking an issue that's been used against him and making the best of it.
In fact, Bush is trying to replicate two of his signal accomplishments from four years ago. First, he's replicating his strategy in dealing with the Department of Homeland Security. You will recall that Bush initially opposed the creation of a massive, labrynthian new bureaucracy as part of the response to September 11. The Democrats thought they had the perfect strategy: advocating the new bureaucracy could, in one fell swoop, (1) put them to Bush's right, (2) without having to support more aggressive policies or give more power to their old foes the Defense Department, NSA and CIA, and potentially set up a countervailing power base to those agencies and (3) create lots of new job opportunities for their core constituency (government employees). But when Bush realized that opposing the new leviathan was politically untenable, he instead made demands (removing civil-service protections from DHS employees, a position anathema to the Democrats' union backers) that placed him once again on the side of greater emphasis on security, and in a way the Democrats couldn't support. The issue ended up helping sink a number of Democratic incumbents who put the interests of the unions first, most notably Max Cleland in Georgia. In short, Bush took up a battle he never wanted and found a way to turn it to his advantage.
Second, Bush is doing here what he did with the Iraq War vote in the fall of 2002: more than using national security for political purposes, Bush used partisan politics for national security purposes, counting on the fact that Democrats' principles were sufficiently pliable that they would vote for the war out of fear of being held accountable by the electorate for opposing it. And it's the Democrats whose partisan calculations are exposed by this maneuver, as Goldstein notes:
Sullivan characterizes this as a gambit to "legalize torture" and despairs that those who secretly wish they could vote against such legalization won't be able to now, because politically they would see doing so as a liability.
September 6, 2006
POLITICS/WAR: Valerie Plame Wilson Revealed
David Corn, the Nation writer who launched the Plame story with an interview with Joe Wilson back in July 2003 and now has a book out (with Michael Isikoff) in which he tells the tale as if he were a disinterested observer rather than a prime mover in the story, has an excerpt up on "What Valerie Plame Really Did at the CIA". Corn's article, probably unintentionally, confirms much of what obervers on the Right have been saying all along.
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[T]he officers of the [CIA's] Joint Task Force on Iraq--part of the Counterproliferation Division of the agency's clandestine Directorate of Operations--were frantically toiling away in the basement, mounting espionage operations to gather information on the WMD programs Iraq might have. The JTFI was trying to find evidence that would back up the White House's assertion that Iraq was a WMD danger. Its chief of operations was a career undercover officer named Valerie Wilson.
In other words: Mrs. Wilson was not an innocent bystander to the Iraq War debate - she was at its epicenter, having led the CIA's efforts to find WMD in Iraq. Now, we know that the CIA battled with the White House and the Defense Department over a number of the details in this debate, and that the CIA's Iraq team generally sided with the faction in the State Department (including, ironically, Richard Armitage) who opposed the war. Reading between the lines here, and leaving aside Corn's implicit spin about how these folks had no agenda of their own, it would appear that Mrs. Wilson may even have been the leader of that internal CIA faction.
Her specific position at the CIA is revealed for the first time in a new book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, by the author of this article and Newsweek's Michael Isikoff. The book chronicles the inside battles within the CIA, the White House, the State Department and Congress during the run-up to the war. Its account of Wilson's CIA career is mainly based on interviews with confidential CIA sources.
First off, the irony here is too rich: Corn, having wailed to high heaven over the disclosure of Mrs. Wilson's identity, now reveals much more non-public information about her undercover work, and does so with the complicity of "confidential CIA sources".
Second, note the promise of revelations of "inside battles within the CIA" - I'll give you one guess which side Mrs. Wilson comes down on.
Another issue was whether Valerie Wilson had sent her husband to Niger to check out an intelligence report that Iraq had sought uranium there. Hubris contains new information undermining the charge that she arranged this trip. In an interview with the authors, Douglas Rohn, a State Department officer who wrote a crucial memo related to the trip, acknowledges he may have inadvertently created a misimpression that her involvement was more significant than it had been.
Chief Plame-ologist Tom Maguire greets this claim with the scorn it deserves:
Please - Ms. Plame was head of the JTFI Ops group, had proposed her husband for his 1999 trip to Niger, but was not involved here? Well, then, why does Libby's indictment include this:7. On or about June 11, 2003, LIBBY spoke with a senior officer of the CIA to ask about the origin and circumstances of Wilson's trip, and was advised by the CIA officer that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and was believed to be responsible for sending Wilson on the trip.
So, what did the then-Valerie Plame do with the CIA?
Valerie Plame was recruited into the CIA in 1985, straight out of Pennsylvania State University. After two years of training to be a covert case officer, she served a stint on the Greece desk, according to Fred Rustmann, a former CIA official who supervised her then. Next she was posted to Athens and posed as a State Department employee. Her job was to spot and recruit agents for the agency. In the early 1990s, she became what's known as a nonofficial cover officer. NOCs are the most clandestine of the CIA's frontline officers. They do not pretend to work for the US government; they do not have the protection of diplomatic immunity. They might claim to be a businessperson. She told people she was with an energy firm. Her main mission remained the same: to gather agents for the CIA.
Again, to the extent that some of this stuff hasn't been disclosed or confirmed publicly, why is Corn doing that? (You will recall that Novak's initial column was vague on Mrs. Wilson's job at the CIA - it was Corn, presumably at the insistence of Joe Wilson, who first publicly asserted that she had been a covert operative).
In 1997 she returned to CIA headquarters and joined the Counterproliferation Division.
Which underlines the fact that she had been non-covert and working at headquarters for six years, leaving her uncovered by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
JTFI officers, under Wilson's supervision, tracked down relatives, students and associates of Iraqi scientists--in America and abroad--looking for potential sources. They encouraged Iraqi emigres to visit Iraq and put questions to relatives of interest to the CIA. The JTFI was also handling walk-ins around the world. Increasingly, Iraqi defectors were showing up at Western embassies claiming they had information on Saddam's WMDs. JTFI officers traveled throughout the world to debrief them. Often it would take a JTFI officer only a few minutes to conclude someone was pulling a con. Yet every lead had to be checked.
As to Mrs. Wilson, Corn is straining here to imply some covert overseas role, but if she was meeting with "Jordanian intelligence officials" as an official representative of the CIA (I doubt she told them she was a private energy consultant looking to recruit defectors from Iraq), her cover in that region wasn't ever going to be secure - I'd guess that a lot more hostile governments have sources in Jordanian intelligence than read Bob Novak.
As to the actual intelligence gathering process, this just emphasizes what we've known for some time now: while there were a broad array of indicators as to Saddam's historical WMD programs and continuing interest in such programs (including, ironically, his feelers to Niger to explore buying yellowcake), there was simply no way we could rule out the possibility that he still had or was on the verge of getting the robust WMD programs he'd been pursuing for two decades.
The results were frustrating for the officers. Were they not doing their job well enough--or did Saddam not have an arsenal of unconventional weapons? Valerie Wilson and other JTFI officers were almost too overwhelmed to consider the possibility that their small number of operations was, in a way, coming up with the correct answer: There was no intelligence to find on Saddam's WMDs because the weapons did not exist.
Of course, no weapons wasn't the correct answer, either, but that's another day's argument.
When the war started in March 2003, JTFI officers were disappointed. "I felt like we ran out of time," one CIA officer recalled. "The war came so suddenly. We didn't have enough information to challenge the assumption that there were WMDs.... How do you know it's a dry well? That Saddam was constrained. Given more time, we could have worked through the issue.... From 9/11 to the war--eighteen months--that was not enough time to get a good answer to this important question."
Well, this has been a talking point of war opponents for some time. Corn confirms that it was the view of people on Mrs. Wilson's task force. 2+2= . . . ?
When the Novak column ran, Valerie Wilson was in the process of changing her clandestine status from NOC to official cover, as she prepared for a new job in personnel management. Her aim, she told colleagues, was to put in time as an administrator--to rise up a notch or two--and then return to secret operations.
In other words, she was moving from one Langley-based bureaucratic job to another. And how practical it was to go back to the NOC world is, at best, dubious, given that her cover had previously been compromised by Aldrich Ames, given that she had met with foreign intelligence services as a CIA officer, and given that she was married to an American diplomat who was injecting himself in public controversies over intelligence-gathering.
[S]he would now be pulled into the partisan warfare of Washington. As a CIA employee still sworn to secrecy, she wasn't able to explain publicly that she had spent nearly two years searching for evidence to support the Administration's justification for war and had come up empty.
No, but she could send her husband out to telegraph the same message in the pages of the NY Times. You can feel here someone's frustration - perhaps it's just Corn's, but perhaps it is genuinely Mrs. Wilson's feeling that she needed a way to go public without leaving her own fingerprints - a way that was gift-wrapped by having the message delivered by her husband. The fact that Joe Wilson trumpeted his own involvement in a CIA-sponsored intelligence-gathering trip violates the most fundamental rule of the CIA, which is to keep your mouth shut. That breach of trust is the critical wrongdoing of this whole episode, and set off a chain of events in which it was increasingly unlikely that his wife's role in sending him on the trip could be successfully concealed.
It's unfortunate that Mrs. Wilson's role, however compromised it already may have been and however many years in the past, became public. But her husband's lunge for the spotlight probably made her role untenable anyway.
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September 5, 2006
POLITICS: Hey, That's Not Funny!
September 1, 2006
POLITICS: The Making of Pro-Lifers
Fred Barnes looks at five examples - including his own - of how people who hadn't much cared about abortion came to be among the most ardent of pro-lifers.
POLITICS: Racial Hardball and George Allen
First of all, blogospheric congratulations are in order for QandO's Jon Henke, who has been brought aboard the George Allen Senate re-election campaign as "Netroots Coordinator". Jon gets quickly to work with a post explaining how Democrats threatened to cut off contributions to historically black colleges to pressure the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund not to give Allen an award for his work on legislation benefitting the colleges. After all, it just wouldn't fit the narrative to have Senator Allen honored with a "Thurgood Marshall Award" for his actual record, as opposed to his Democratic/media caricature.
August 16, 2006
POLITICS: Silly Ned
Governments aren't businesses. They're governments.
The Wall Street Journal humors Ned Lamont with some prime op-ed space to make his case to business-minded voters, with unintentionally hilarious results. Here's his #1 "lesson" he draws from his experience in business:
[E]ntrepreneurs are frugal beasts, because the bottom line means everything. In Connecticut, voters are convinced that Washington has utterly lost touch with fiscal reality. We talked about irresponsible budget policies that have driven the annual federal deficit above $300 billion and the debt ceiling to $9 trillion. Meanwhile, the government is spending $250 million a day on an unprovoked war in Iraq while starving needed social investment at home. I am a fiscal conservative and our people want their government to be sparing and sensible with their tax dollars.
Let's say you owned a bank, and you noticed that the bank's security guards were costing money, and weren't bringing any revenue into the bank. Would you fire them on the theory that "the bottom line means everything"? Maybe Ned Lamont would. But to the rest of us, the bank's security guards are there to protect the parts of the bank that make the money. This is one reason why the obsession with equating deficits to private businesses or households is so silly - there are reasons, yes, why it is preferable not to run deficits, but the idea that government should be run with an eye to its own bottom line is not one of them. The purpose of government is to protect the rest of society, enabling private citizens to make money and do all the other good things of life. Once you treat government like an enterprise with value and profit motives unto itself, you head down a very dark path.
August 15, 2006
POLITICS: Abuse of Office Claims Yet Another NJ Democrat
Jon Corzine's Attorney General resigns "after a state investigation found that she had violated her own department’s code of ethics by going to the aid of her live-in companion during a traffic stop.". This is not to be confused with Bob Torricelli's shady use of his Senate office, or Jim McGreevey giving his lover a state job for which he was unqualified, or Corzine himself having an affair with the head of a key state employees' union and paying her off to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars.
"Culture of Corruption," anyone?
August 11, 2006
POLITICS: About That Schools Study...
The Department of Education released a National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP) study last month comparing performance of students in private vs. public schools nationwide, based upon tests conducted in 2003; the study compared a total sample of over 6,900 public school fourth grades and over 530 private school fourth grades, with a similar sample for 8th grades. As the study itself notes, NAEP tests "typically show a higher average score for private school students than for public school students." (at 7) This study, however, found that when you adjust for various characteristics of the student body, the usual advantage of private schools seemed to disappear: the average performances of private and public school students were close enough as to be, for statistical purposes, identical.
Predictably, this finding was trumpeted by many on the left who oppose private school choice, on the theory that it showed that there is no benefit to sending kids to private instead of public school. (See here and hereand here for samples from the blogosphere, and here and here for a big-media pundit and the New York Times making the same claim). In fact, this argument overreads the results of the study and entirely misses the point of the case for school choice.
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I should note that I am building here on the observations of Megan McArdle and Stuart Buck (hat tip to Jon Henke of QandO), both of whom have focused on the central problem with the study, which is the comparison of mean (i.e., average) scores. For a deeper look at the study's methodological problems (including the fact that the study selects out smaller private schools that may be superior, partly for that reason, to gargantuan public schools) and an alternative study showing private school advantages, see the Cato Institute's blog.
1. The Study Itself Notes Its Limitations
From the executive summary:
When interpreting the results from any of these analyses, it should be borne in mind that private schools constitute a heterogeneous category and may differ from one another as much as they differ from public schools. Public schools also constitute a heterogeneous category. Consequently, an overall comparison of the two types of schools is of modest utility. The more focused comparisons conducted as part of this study may be of greater value. However, interpretations of the results should take into account the variability due to the relatively small sizes of the samples drawn from each category of private school, as well as the possible bias introduced by the differential participation rates across private school categories.
2. Not All Schools Are Average
As Buck points out, "children who are likely to be eligible for vouchers do not attend schools that equal the nationwide average." The entire point of school choice is to ensure that every student who could benefit from picking a private school (or another public school) over his or her current school has a chance to do so. You don't knock down the case for doing so by showing that the average public school is equal to the average private school - to make the case against choice on grounds that it won't provide a better education, you need to show that every public school is at least equal to every private school in its immediate geographic area. Otherwise, you are consigning kids in one school district to a bad school simply because somebody else doesn't need an alternative.
3. Means Are Not Medians
Any decent statistical study will give you both means and medians (i.e., the 50th percentile, the student right in the middle), and the study from start to finish speaks only of mean results. Without detail on the median results, there's a distinct possibility that the best public schools are pushing up the averages, concealing a greater number of truly failed schools in the public school sample. It is cold comfort to parents in Bedford-Stuyvesant that kids in Scarsdale are pulling up the average, or for that matter that the best kids in one school are well ahead of the worst.
4. Competition Makes Schools Better
A basic principle of markets is that competition improves services by the monopolist, not just the competitor. In wealthy communities, school choice already exists - if the public school doesn't serve the kids, the parents will take them elsewhere. Thus, public schools in such communities already benefit from choice because they have to keep up with private schools to retain their students. In fact, the wealthiest communities tend to have public schools that are particularly academically successful, because people who are focused on education will move into those districts (ask any real estate agent about this) and willingly pay more taxes to improve the school. Even with the effort at weighted averages, including such schools in the study undermines the entire effort to compare private schools to true monopoly public schools where the kids don't have meaningful alternatives.
5. Let The Parents Decide
If it is really true that there is no advantage to private schools, then does that mean that all the parents paying to get private educations for their kids are fools who could be getting an equally good education for free? Conservatives are not so arrogant or collectivist as to assume that a government study of a national average is a better judge of each kid's needs than his or her own parents. At the end of the day, each student is different - no student is the New Average Man. If you give people choices and those choices are no better than what they have, they won't go anywhere. If liberals believe that there really is nothing gained by kids leaving for private schools, what are they afraid of?
Republicans shouldn't be cowed by those who argue that an aggregate national study is a substitute for a parent's own knowledge of their child's needs. On this issue, as with so many other issues that don't involve the taking of a human life, we should remain the pro-choice party.
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August 9, 2006
Red? Blue? How 'Bout Red, White & Blue?
Unless you've been living under a rock for a couple months, or are so apolitical that I advise you to stop reading this post right now, you know that Joe Lieberman's been in the political fight of his life against an outsider, Ned Lamont, for the Connecticut Democratic Nomination for the Senate.
And unless you went out and got hammered last night, passed out at 8:00, and slept in this morning to nurse your hangover, you also know that Lamont won.
I'm not gonna go off on a ideologically driven political rant here at Crank's site, nor am I gonna try to make a bigger point about the War, right vs. left, or even the balance of party power in the Senate. There are plenty of sites doing so (in fact, my post on this topic on my own blog gets a little deeper into such issues, if you're interested).
I'm neither Democrat nor Republican, so I'm not really interested in those topics.
What interests me is the ability of American voters to get their message across. Whether right or left, I think we can all agree that things aren't perfect in America right now. Whether one's shibboleths revolve around the so-called Culture Wars, the fiscal profligacy both parties engage in, the monetary shenanigans of the ostensibly independent Federal Reserve; the War in Iraq and our inability to either win outright or withdraw honorably & intelligently; concerns over Executive Power; worries about Judicial Power; the list goes on and on.
And I challenge anyone -- left or right, Democrat or Republican -- to think of a time in their politically sentient lives when they felt that Capitol Hill was pulling less weight than now. A time when our political leaders were as far out-of-touch with the electorate than now.
And, to me, Joe Lieberman is a symbol of that failure. Not because he's a "conservative" Democrat, not because he supports the war, or is pro-choice, or because he's a God-fearing man. Oh, I have my opinions about those things, believe me. And they'd be enough to convince me of his relative worth, or lack thereof, as a candidate.
But more importantly, he's shown a capricious disregard for the will of the elctorate.
I know a primary doesn't represent the entire electorate. But Lieberman has never before rejected the support of his party, he's never expressed any interest in "going it alone." Yet, last night, following his defeat, he "conceded" by declaring:
For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand.
(Emphasis added). There's your fealty to country. There's your loyalty to his constituents. And, while hardly a respectable trait in my opinion, there's the loyalty to party that so many seem to value.
The man is out for himself, and obviously the "patrons" who've supported him in the past (and may again do so in November should he run). I want officials who put the country ahead of themselves.
By the way, Joe wasn't the only incumbent to go down in flames last night: moderate Michigan Republican, Joe Schwartz, lost to a more conservative opponent, Tim Walberg, in his House primary; and Cynthia McKinney lost her Democratic House primary to a less-insane candidate, Hank Johnson (which says little, as Mel Gibson's slightly more sane than Cynthia).
And you know what, I like both those results too, even though it should be clear that I'm not a Walberg fan (to the degree I know much about him, which admittedly I don't). Why? Schwartz had the support of the Adminstration. I want outsiders who'll challenge the status quo. Are Walberg & Johnson the answer? I dunno. But unlike Schwartz & McKinney, we know they might do something other than play politics-as-usual.
Finally, I'm aware that many (if not most) of Crank's readers are conservative, and probably Republican. That's fine. But as a fellow American, I hope we all vote for the candidates that mean to do something to get us back on track, even if only a little bit: balance the budget, return balance to the tripartite government, demand accountability from the Fed, follow the Constitution. Whatever your particular issue.
But we're gonna need new blood on Capitol Hill to pull it off.
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Unless I've horribly misunderstood his e-mail of last week, Crank should be back tomorrow. (Ok, you don't have to cheer that loud, do you? This hasn't been that bad, has it?).
I've enjoyed this guest blogging stint a lot, and I hope you enjoyed reading what I had to say as well. I'll continue to comment here on Crank's posts, and I hope some of you decide to come check out my site from time-to-time.
August 8, 2006
Voices In The Wilderness
I've beaten the drum lately regarding entrenched, out-of-touch incumbents, more interested in securing their own fortunes & legacies than in working for their constituents, so it's only fair that I draw some attention to a couple of Representatives actually doing something.
I've also written a few time about Ron Paul, the only politician in Washington who seems completely outside the standard influences. Paul's an odd collection of characteristics: a libertarian who holds to a very archaic notion of governance that many of us wouldn't like, but also a degree of honestly & consistency I admire very much. For instance, his opposition to the Iraq War is coupled with a genuine repulsion towards large, federal programs for . . . well, just about everything.
Anyhow, here's an excerpt from a speech Paul gave, as cited in a Whiskey & Gunpowder piece dealing with oil prices & the situation in Iraq:
We must reassess our foreign policy and announce some changes. One of the reasons we went into Iraq was to secure oil. Before the Iraq war, oil was less than $30 per barrel; today, it is over $70. The sooner we get out of Iraq and allow the Iraqis to solve their own problems, the better . . . We must end our obsession for a military confrontation with Iran. Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, and, according to our own CIA, is nowhere near getting one. Yet the drumbeat grows louder for attacking certain sites in Iran, either by conventional or even nuclear means. An attack on Iran, coupled with our continued presence in Iraq, could hike gas prices to $5 or $6 per gallon here at home . . . We must remember that prices of all things go up because of inflation. Inflation by definition is an increase in the money supply . . . the Fed creates new dollars out of thin air to buy Treasury bills and keep interest rates artificially low. But when new money is created out of nothing, the money already in circulation loses value. Once this is recognized, prices rise . . . this contributes greatly to the higher prices we're all paying at the pump.
(Emphasis added). The piece also goes on to include a letter that Representative John Murtha wrote to President Bush. You may remember that Murtha, who served as a Marine in Vietnam, has spoken out rather vehemently, demanding that we withdraw from Iraq and bring the troops home. In his letter to the President, he states:
Despite the latest evidence that your administration lacks a coherent strategy to stabilize Iraq and achieve victory, there has been virtually no diplomatic effort to resolve sectarian differences, no regional effort to establish a broader security framework, and no attempt to revive a struggling reconstruction effort. Instead, we learned of your plans to redeploy an additional 5,000 U.S. troops into an urban war zone in Baghdad. Far from implementing a comprehensive 'Strategy for Victory,' as you promised months ago, your administration's strategy appears to be one of trying to avoid defeat. Meanwhile, U.S. troops and taxpayers continue to pay a high price as your administration searches for a policy. Over 2,500 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice, and over 18,000 others have been wounded . . . American taxpayers have already contributed over $300 billion, and each week we stay in Iraq adds nearly $3 billion more to our record budget deficit . . . We believe that a phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq should begin before the end of 2006. U.S. forces in Iraq should transition to a more limited mission focused on counterterrorism, training and logistical support of Iraqi security forces, and force protection of U.S. personnel . . . Mr. President, simply staying the course in Iraq is not working. We need to take a new direction. We believe these recommendations comprise an effective alternative to the current open-ended commitment, which is not producing the progress in Iraq we would all like to see.
Now my point here isn't whether I do or don't agree with both Paul & Murtha, though I think they're both on to something.
No. My point is they're doing something: speaking out, addressing problems, challenging executive power, looking out for their fellow citizens. And, at least superficially, these ideas seem based on something other than pleasing their "patrons" or looking for the next round of campaign dollars. I'm not denying that Murtha's riding the wave of anti-Bush sentiment. He is. But a look at the issues he supports (and doesn't) indicates a man with at least a shred of integrity. Not sure how many in the big building he works in can say the same.
As I (hopefully) read tonight that the voters of Connecticut said No to Joe, I'll remember what I've been saying and hopefully will say until November: unless our elected officials come out explicitly and demonstrate that they're looking out for their country or their constituency, we need to kick them out. If I lived in Texas or Pennsylvania, Paul & Murtha would've just gotten their stays of execution.
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August 5, 2006
The Ugly Underbelly Of An Emotional Topic
Hello again. This piece below probably won't seem too controversial in this forum. In fact, I suspect it'll summarize the opinions of a lot of Crank's readers. Nonetheless, I put it up on my site early last week after observing an alarming trend on both the left & right extremes of the blogosphere. On my blog I labeled it "We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming," because I tend to cover things from a humorous/entertaining angle, but I felt I had to do what I had to do. Here it is, in it's entirety (one or two minor edits for grammar/spelling):
That said, I want to weigh in briefly on something that's been more than bugging me: a creeping, metastacizing anti-semitism in otherwise neutral blogs. Mostly from commenters, but from the authors themselves at times. I'm not talking about criticizing Israel's current policy, and I'm not even talking about writers against Israel in the big picture. I certainly don't mean commentators who question Israel's role in US foreign policy, and I don't overly scrutinize authors who wish to hold Israel to normal levels of accountability.
No. What I'm talking about are folks who need to say "Zionists" or "Jews" in place of "Israelis." Or people who can't stop saying "Neo-Con" when they actually mean "Republican" or "The Administration." Which says nothing about the growing hoards obsessed with the "Jewish make-up" of the "Neo-Cons." You know what I mean; the writers who need to allude at all times to Wolfowitz or Perle, but seem to conveniently forget that "Quayle," "Fukuyama," "Rice" and others fit well within the "Neo-Con" group as defined by the PNAC.
Other symptoms of which I speak: obsession with "AIPAC control" of the US government. The over-representation of Jews in the media, among the roll of US billionaires, in the financial world. The way that Jews will ultimately "support Israel over the US," or "send American boys" to do Israel's dirty work in the Middle East. Anyone who frequents the left or right reaches of the blogosphere knows what I'm talking about. For those of you not familiar, let me assure you: while not directly quoting, every phrase I've included so far is a faithful paraphrase of multiple posts I've read. And these sentiments are anything but rare.
I'll admit that beyond massive disappointment (and a small dose of fear), I'm mostly surprised at this. And I feel like an idiot for being surprised. I've long taken pride in my historical perspective on events, for always viewing events through a skeptical (some would say, cynical) lens. I know as well as any Jew the history of anti-semitism, of it's roots, its manifestations, its effects.
And, despite all that, I thought that the United States in 2006 was different. I honestly believed that the European left, the European ultra-right nationalists were capable of discussing what I've been reading. But I thought that in America, our faults notwithstanding, we'd moved beyond the most base forms of ethnic hatred, of racism. That these ugly phenomena had been "Americanized," turned into tools of economics, of marketing, of cultural compartmentalization.
Maybe I was right in that regard. Maybe, like so many otherwise well-intentioned people will tell me, I'm just paranoid.
But maybe I'm not. And I firmly believe that the final line from propaganda-to-action is shorter than that initial road from open mindedness-to-fear. Yes, you're following my point. As said, I harbor a small amount of concern.
Nevertheless, even for those who think that America is just exercizing some well-needed analysis of Israel's role in US policy, I think they need to admit to themselves that an ugly underbelly has been exposed for the first time in a while. First time in my life, and I've been politically/culturally sentient for three decades or so.
Now I know there are those who'll tell me that this element is always there. They've always been there. Just ignore them. They're the lunatic fringe. I hear you, you're right, they've always been there. But what's blowing me away lately is how they've all crawled out from under their rocks, and have started to speak. To yell. To pontificate.
And not only are they rarely called out onto the carpet for this by the rank-and-file in the cyber-community, but they're often encouraged. It's become a rather popular rallying cry among disparate communities of commentators. And it has me stunned.
I'm gonna keep my eyes and ears open. I wish I didn't have to. But, as I said, I know my history, and any Jew who chooses to pretend he doesn't at least recognize what he's seeing is a fool. And any American who chooses to see otherwise is fooling himself as well.
August 3, 2006
POLITICS: Right With the Roots
For those of you who, like me, want to see more Republicans (and particularly more new Republicans) elected in 2006, now have a convenient place to donate money to Republican House and Senate challengers - RightRoots, an effort to identify four Senate challengers and 14 House challengers, all in competitive races, endorsed by a group of conservative bloggers. The roster of candidates is here, John Hawkins' longer introduction to RightRoots is here, and Congressman Jack Kingston's challenge to raise $26,000 by Friday is here (we're close). I've already kicked in money to a handful of the House candidates, and will be coming back later for the Senate candidates (hopefully, more will be added to the list after the late Senate primaries in Tennessee and Michigan). And if you want to make a difference, spread the love; Diana Irey is getting more than her share for her race against Jack Murtha, but there are other candidates in lower-profile races who need the money just as badly.
To give some perspective on the four Senate candidates endorsed by RightRoots, here are the latest figures from the National Journal's roundup of FEC filings showing these candidates' cash on hand (in millions) compared to their opponents as of June 30. As you can see, Kennedy faces a well-funded opponent, as will Steele if Cardin wins. And Kean and McGavick are both in danger of being hugely outspent, even when you account for the fact that McGavick can probably pump some more of his own money into the race (remember, Cantwell is a multimillionaire). And in Kean's case, New Jersey races are prohibitively expensive because no TV stations reach the whole state - NJ candidates need to do ad buys in both the NY and Philly TV markets, each of which is very expensive. In short, all four need your help.
Machiavel at Red State notes that Chris Wakim, one of the RightRoots-endorsed challengers, is running against the notoriously corrupt Allan Mollohan.
August 2, 2006
POLITICS: Best Scrappleface Post Ever
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter today downplayed rumors that he's on "the short list" of potential replacements if surgery fails to restore the health of ailing Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
July 13, 2006
LAW: The Plame Complaint
So, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame have filed suit against Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Scooter Libby, among others, over Bob Novak's disclosure that Plame worked for the CIA. I've read the complaint, which is posted over at NRO; it alleges various theories of denial of civil rights, essentially on a theory of retaliation against Plame, as a government employee, for Wilson's exercise of his free speech rights. Thoughts:
1. There's a good deal of predictable partisan posturing here, and big chunks copied from the Libby indictment and press accounts, but Plame and Wilson cagily allege as few additional facts as they can. Basically, a blogger who had never spoken to Plame or Wilson could have written most of this. In particular, there's no detail on Plame's career at the CIA other than that she was "an operations officer in the Directorate of Operations" and "her employment status was classified," neither of which necessarily implies any covert activities.
2. Fitzgerald's press conference is quoted as providing a basis for a civil lawsuit against people who were not even indicted, giving a good example of why prosecutors should not give press conferences about topics outside the four corners of their charges.
3. There's a cause of action for violation of a "Fifth Amendment right to privacy," and while I'm not familiar with the caselaw on constitutional torts, that sounds like a stretch. The complaint does not reference the Vanity Fair photo shoot or what happened to the profits from the book deal Joe Wilson got out of all this.
4. The complaint provides nothing to connect Cheney or Libby to the actual press disclosure of Plame's identity.
5. It appears from the "JDB" docket number on the NRO version of the Plame complaint that the case was initially assigned to Judge John D. Bates, a George W. Bush appointee. However, it may be that Judge Bates would recuse himself from a lawsuit naming Cheney and Rove in their personal capacities, and it is possible that the case could be sent to Judge Walton, who is handling the Libby trial.
6. The initial issue in the case, before the legal sufficiency of the allegations and before any discovery is taken, is whether some or all defendants (or other interested parties) will ask for a stay or dismissal of the litigation. There are three bases for doing so. One, the liberal quotation from the indictment underscores the fact that this suit overlaps substantially with the subject of a pending criminal trial. Fitzgerald may well intervene to ask for a stay of all proceedings - he won't want his trial witnesses deposed in a civil suit. Second, Dick Cheney in particular has duties as the Vice President, including dealing with an unstable and dangerous world potentially lurching into another war on top of the two-front war we're already fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under Clinton v Jones, there's no absolute bar to such a suit but the district court can balance the intrusion of the litigation, among other factors - here, with the case focusing on Administration foreign policy, the level of intrusion could be significant. And third, there's the state secrets privilege, described extensively in this opinion (later upheld by the DC Circuit) dismissing claims by Sibel Edmonds, who charged retaliation by the FBI relating to her work as a translator of national security documents. Basically, if a civil suit would involve discovery of national security information (such as, for example, details of any covert activities by Plame, to say nothing of discovery directed at Cheney), the court can dismiss it in the greater national interest. The Bush Administration has been loath to press the envelope on the kinds of legal privileges asserted by the Clintons to deflect personal scandals (as opposed to expanding the rights of the Executive Branch more broadly) but the desire to get this lawsuit out of the way may compel them to seek a stay or dismissal on this basis.
July 11, 2006
POLITICS: Novak Shows A Little More
Via Drudge, Bob Novak has now come forward with a fuller - but not yet complete - account of his column on Valerie Plame. What's frustrating - in the purest sense of wanting all the facts out - is that he doesn't identify his main source or give a detailed account of his conversation with Karl Rove, who apparently was a confirming source for the information. Key quotes:
When Fitzgerald arrived, he had a third waiver in hand -- from Bill Harlow, the CIA public information officer who was my CIA source for the column confirming Mrs. Wilson's identity. I answered questions using the names of Rove, Harlow and my primary source.
Note that this means that Fitzgerald had the names two and a half years ago; the rest of his investigation has been about figuring out who said what and when, and who knew what and when. And, of course, it confirms the role of the CIA's press office, which in retrospect was at least severely negligent if this was information at all worth protecting.
I have revealed Rove's name because his attorney has divulged the substance of our conversation, though in a form different from my recollection. I have revealed Harlow's name because he has publicly disclosed his version of our conversation, which also differs from my recollection. My primary source has not come forward to identify himself.
Bob, could ya tell us what your recollection is?
In my sworn testimony, I said what I have contended in my columns and on television: Joe Wilson's wife's role in instituting her husband's mission was revealed to me in the middle of a long interview with an official who I have previously said was not a political gunslinger. After the federal investigation was announced, he told me through a third party that the disclosure was inadvertent on his part.
More grist for the mill, but we're not yet all that close for any of the people involved to line up (1) what they said, (2) what they knew, and (3) what the truth was about Plame's status. Which is what matters. Also, note the very un-Clinton-Administration-like extent of the cooperation with Fitzgerald's investigation.
I still tentatively think there's much to recommend Tom Maguire's thesis that source #1 was Richard Armitage, a Powell deputy at the State Department who is pretty much the antithesis of a Cheney-supporting neocon and who is unlikely to have been taking marching orders from the White House or the Veep. The facts may yet bear out the conclusion that Rove said things he shouldn't have, but assuming Novak's account is accurate, there's not much evidence to support the claim that there was some sort of organized campaign to disclose Plame's status as a CIA analyst, nor any sign that anyone involved in the disclosure knew that she had ever been a covert agent. (That conclusion can be revisited if we ever do see evidence pointing in that direction, but it's still not there).
July 7, 2006
POLITICS: Champions of Free Speech
You know, if you compare the roll call votes, only two Senators voted against the flag burning amendment and voted against the free-speech-suppressing McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform" bill: Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Robert Bennett. If you are looking for an example of Senators truly and consistently committed to free speech even when it's not popular, that's the whole list right there.
July 6, 2006
POLITICS: The Litmus Test List Gets Longer
POLITICS: Rush to Judgment
For some odd reason, it's considered news that Rush Limbaugh won't be prosecuted for possessing drugs that had been lawfully prescribed to him. I guess they won't be charging any of his fans with orderly conduct, either.
(Hat tip: Jon Henke). Lots and lots of lefty blogs (like digby) owe Limbaugh an apology over this story. Don't hold your breath.
July 5, 2006
POLITICS: The Borough of Immigrants
Independence Day is celebrated once a year in most of America. In Queens, the most ethnically diverse county in the nation, where an estimated 44 percent of the 2.2 million residents are foreign born, it is celebrated again and again and again.
The article is pro-immigrant, of course, like all NYT articles (I consider myself fairly pro-immigration, but the Times is too typical of mainstream press organs in treating the issue as wholly one-sided). In fact, one could read the ode to diversity here as making another point less palatable to the Times: that places in the Southwest where the immigrants all come from the same place are not so easy to assimilate.
June 23, 2006
POLITICS: Hype For Hire: Where Are Warner & Brown?
OK, it's all been good fun following the interesting coincidence of Kos supporting candidates after they hire his friend, co-author and sometime business partner Jerome Armstrong, and watching Kos' subsequent meltdown trying to contain the damage. But as I have said from the start, the real story here remains Armstrong himself and the revelation that he was - according to the SEC - the paid front man touting a stock whose trading was dominated and controlled by the participants in a classic pump-and-dump scam that cost investors millions. Dan Riehl rounds up more on this story, including what appears to be a rather lame "they didn't really pay me" defense by Armstrong before he settled with the SEC.
The question of the day is how presidential contender Mark Warner and Ohio Senate candidate Sherrod Brown, both employers of Armstrong, will react to the news of his involvement in such a scam.
To Mark Warner: you are still in the process of introducing yourself to the American people. Is Jerome Armstrong representative of the kinds of people you will appoint to important jobs in your Administration? We're waiting for your answer.
To Sherrod Brown: are you planning to bring Jerome Armstromng's ethics to the Senate? If so, how can you say things on your website like this?
We've got to put a stop to the pay-to-play system that runs unchecked by Republicans like our current senator Mike DeWine.
The people of Ohio deserve an answer.
June 22, 2006
POLITICS: The Left's Townhouse
So, it turns out that Kos tried to use a discussion group including "many bloggers and other representatives of the netroots as well as a large number of partisan journalists and grassroots groups" to coordinate a conspiracy of silence on the latest series of stories on (1) Jerome Armstrong's run-in with the SEC and (2) speculation about the pattern of Kos supporting candidates who hired Armstrong. The relevant excerpt:
My request to you guys is that you ignore this for now. It would make my life easier if we can confine the story. Then, once Jerome can speak and defend himself, then I'll go on the offensive (which is when I would file any lawsuits) and anyone can pile on. If any of us blog on this right now, we fuel the story. Let's starve it of oxygen. And without the "he said, she said" element to the story, you know political journalists are paralyzed into inaction.
Now, there's nothing sinister about having a non-public discussion group - I belong to two such groups, one just for the RedState contributors and a more random, open one run by Jon Henke of Qand) and including a bunch of mostly conservative and libertarian blogs. But it really is revealing of the minset at work here that anyone would even try to get not only bloggers but journalists to not write on a story. Trust me, the idea that you could get, say, Glenn Reynolds, Michelle Malkin, Jeff Goldstein, Hugh Hewitt, Mike Krempasky, Ed Morrisey and John Hinderaker to agree on a single approach to a story or, more particularly, to not touch a story - the idea that you would even broach that topic across a list of the top conservative and libertarian blogs - is inconceivable. Despite the Online Left's insistence that conservative bloggers march in unison on an agenda handed down by Karl Rove, it's apparently the lefties who are the ones seeking to enforce message discipline behind the scenes.
June 20, 2006
POLITICS: Jerome Armstrong - Hype for Hire
June 15, 2006
POLITICS: Hollywood/Dilettante Lefty Follies
*When the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces needs testimony on the best military equipment for soldiers in the field, who should they call as a witness? Why, Cher, of course.
*Stephen Colbert asks RFK jr, who is still peddling discredited conspiracy theories about the 2004 election (the presidential election, not the Washington governor's race), "Was it easier for Bush to steal Ohio in 2004 or for your uncle to steal Illinois in 1960?" No word yet, I assume, from the people who demanded laughter at Colbert's White House Correspondents' Dinner routine.
*A judge wants Alec Baldwin's head examined. I'm sure they won't find anything.
WAR/POLITICS: A Little Demographics
I've been playing around lately with the CIA Factbook, which has, among other things, reasonably up-to-date population and demographic data for every country on earth, and I thought I'd pull together a chart that hopefully can serve as the basis for some interesting analysis. Looking to narrow the list to major/significant countries, I focused on the 53 countries of 20 million or more people. I started with the CIA's figures for existing population density (expressed in people per square kilometer - yes, the data uses the metric system) and birthrate per 1000 people, and combined those two to come up with a rate of births per square kilometer - a truer measure of the potential for future population density (although of course future population density is also affected by infant/child mortality, adult life expectancy, and net immigration rates). I present here my results and just a few observations, leaving a more extensive analysis (including the consequences of this data for debates about abortion, immigration, entitlement reform, the environment and the War on Terror) to others or to another day:
1. For the most part, countries are grouped here by region - trends in population tend to be more regional than national.
2. The eye-popping figures for Bangladesh really stick out - there's no country on earth close to Bangladesh's overpopulation problem. Bangladesh squeezes half the population of the United States into a land mass smaller than Iowa.
3. Russia is well on its way to being uninhabited. By contrast, the fairly high rate of births per sq km for a number of the developed countries like Japan, Germany and the UK, suggesting that (a) their falling populations are a reasonable and natural correction for excessive population density and (b) they are, Steynian doomsaying to the contrary, in no danger of being depopulated. The real problem those countries have is not too few young people but too many old people, especially in light of their public pension systems. I should stress that I'm not at all questioning the reasoning of Mark Steyn and other demographic doomsayers, especially as to the consequences for Europe's and Japan's economies and welfare states and the resulting economic pressure to take on immigrants without being choosy about who. But the data suggests a little caution in extrapolating to sweeping generalizations about those countries ending up depopulated.
June 14, 2006
POLITICS: Boltin' Joe
Lieberman sounds increasingly like a guy who will run as an independent if he loses the primary. In which case, if he's re-elected after being essentially expelled from his party, you have to wonder if he would caucus with the GOP - not become a Republican or change his policy positions, but take GOP-provided committee seats in exchange for voting for GOP control of the chamber.
June 13, 2006
POLITICS: Amnesty, National
On immigration I've long been in the President's camp in the mushy middle, looking to use the countervailing pressures for enforcement and "legalization" to cobble together support for a comprehensive bill that deals with both. More recently, though, I am - reluctantly - beginning to drift into the camp that thinks that the recently passed Senate bill is so bad that we'd be better off just getting an enforcement-only bill now and deal with the rest later.
As we stand at this pass, though, with the legislative process still fluid (House GOP stalwart Mike Pence is promoting an alternative of his own to the House and Senate bills), it's still worth considering the merits of "legalization" - i.e., the process of allowing illegal immigrants to become legal residents and, ultimately, American citizens. And that means confronting the question of amnesty - what it is, what it isn't, why you would consider any sort of amnesty, and under what circumstances.
First of all, when you speak of amnesty, you need to remember that you may be talking about two different things, because there are two different types of amnesties. Under one view, an amnesty means that an individual has no liability or penalty whatsoever for a prior crime - the same as a pardon. This is what I would call "Complete Amnesty." Under another view, an amnesty is any mass reduction in the prescribed penalty for a violation - what I would call a "Partial Amnesty." The distinction can be a significant one, and given the bad reputation of amnesty in the immigration arena, the distinction is often blurred both by politicians eager to explain that they are not supporting anything that could be called an amnesty when in fact they are supporting a Partial Amnesty, and by critics who accuse supporters of Partial Amnesty of supporting amnesty, without clarifying that they are not talking about a Complete Amnesty.
It is a misconception to suggest that amnesty is somehow unheard-of outside of the immigration laws. In general, there are three main reasons why governments may rationally choose to offer an amnesty for violators of some particular type of law.
1. To Correct an Injustice. If a law is unjust, and society has recognized that injustice by repealing the law, it often makes sense to wipe clean the records of those who were unjustly convicted; the classic examples of this are releases of political prisoners after a change in regime or, in the U.S. context, the amnesty for violators of the Alien and Sedition Acts by the Jefferson Administration.
A variation on the idea that the law itself is unjust is the notion that an otherwise just law has been applied unjustly - for example, I believe that some of the arrests and prosecutions of protestors against segregation were under laws prohibiting trespassing, breach of the peace and similar offenses. Nobody would argue that trespassing laws are unjust in themselves, but clearly they are unjustly applied when the purpose is to enforce segregation. Jimmy Carter's rationale for amnesty for Vietnam-era draft dodgers (a whole 'nother can of worms in itself) was, at bottom, based on a similar theory: not that the draft was unjust but that its use to send people to Vietnam was unjust.
Now, there are fair arguments that the current system for legal immigration is so broken and dilatory that the difficulty of navigating it is a mitigating factor in the decision to come here illegally, especially for people who are very poor and willing and able to work when they get here. But the fact is, people from countries poorer than Mexico line up at consulates the world over to try to come to America legally; it would be unfair to the people who play by the rules to grant too easy a path to those who disregarded them.
Finally, there is the argument that America's lax enforcement of the border has conveyed a wink-and-a-nod message to prospective illegal immigrants, especially those who crossed the border on foot or by truck from Mexico, that we would look the other way; some would argue that it is unfair to take away the lives they built here in reliance on this state of affairs. I'm sympathetic to the situation of illegal immigrants who have made a home, family and career here, but this argument ignores some basic facts: first, that it's always been clear and well-known that illegal immigration was, in fact, illegal, and those who have prospered here have had to repeatedly and consciously evade and in some cases deceive the long arm of the law to do so; second, even as lax as enforcement has been, people are still arrested and deported by the thousands every day in this country; and third, deporting illegal immigrants isn't so much a punishment as a restoration of the status quo - the fact that we didn't enforce the law in the past is no reason to expect it won't be enforced prospectively, and long-time illegal residents are still illegal.
2. To Remove A Source of Social Tension. A second reason why amnesties are sometimes granted has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with peace: sometimes, a society simply finds it easier to look the other way at certain past crimes than bring everyone guilty to justice. Countries like Chile and South Africa (and, less formally, East Germany) have taken this route at least to some extent after a change away from a repressive government, concluding that too many people were complicit to prosecute them all without expending massive resources on a backward-looking process and undergoing the wrenching process of tossing huge numbers of people in prison.
Certainly, fear of social disruption is why nearly all of even the most aggressive opponents of illegal immigration blanch at the notion of mass deportations of millions of people (including whole families and long-term residents), despite the fact that we have the perfect legal right to do just that. (The preferred solution is generally an 'attrition' strategy of gradually drying up the opportunities for illegal employment)
But we have had millions of illegal immigrants in this country for years without massive social unrest; if we simply continue the status quo or replace it with moderately more vigilant interior enforcement, that is unlikely to rend the fabric of American society. Thus, a "path to citizenship" isn't needed for that purpose.
3. To Bring People or Activities Out of the Shadows. One of the most common types of amnesties is tax amnesty; go here, for example, for an explanation of how a recent tax amnesty in California operated. Tax amnesty isn't about justice - nobody is seriously arguing that tax evaders had a legitimate excuse to avoid oppressive taxes that the rest of us paid. Nor is it about social peace - it would be difficult, yes, to lock up everyone who underestimates or avoids paying taxes, but the Republic would survive. No, the main reason why tax amnesty is regularly pursued by state governments is to make money. Governments understand that a lot of activity takes place off the books, and that giving people an incentive to report that activity and pay taxes on it is worth the cost to deterrence of allowing people to pay those taxes with little or no penalty. Part of the theory is also that people who have taken advantage of an amnesty in the past will no longer be afraid, in the future, to report income for fear of being investigated over their prior years.
Much of the theory of providing a legalization/"path to citizenship" process is similar - not a sense that illegal immigrants necessarily deserve to be rewarded for illegal activity or even that we need to allow them to become legal residents or citizens, but that bringing a big chunk of that population out of the shadows, where they pay little or no taxes, fear cooperating with the police, are beyond the reach of laws governing the workplace, etc., will be an overall benefit to society and government in the long run.
Is this worth it? That's an empirical question, but the first thing that needs to be asked is what society is getting in return. Absolutely non-negotiable, in my view, is that anybody seeking legalization must pay all back taxes of any sort, including Social Security and other withholdings, and that any doubts presented by the scanty documentation many workers have should be resolved against the applicant for citizenship (perhaps by establishing a minimum level of presumed income). That is the bare minimum for tax amnesty, and it should be no less for prospective citizens who seek amnesty both for unpaid taxes and for being here illegally. (Also, requiring full payment of all back taxes reduces the incentive to exaggerate how long you have been here, since a longer term of residence means more tax liability).
Of course, to some people, any sort of amnesty in the immigration area is out of the question, period. Partial amnesty treats citizenship as a thing of value: if you are willing to pay enough (not just in money but in other efforts such as learning English), you can have it. If you view illegal entry fundamentally not as a debt, a forgivable sin or a crime for which society can choose at its discretion to negotiate or remove the penalty but as a stain that can never be washed away, then you're not going to go for anything that looks like an amnesty. But if you accept the possibility that amnesty can have positive practical consequences, then it's worth putting aside those objections and focusing on the practical pros and cons.
That said, the practical objections to many of the plans that have been mooted about are considerable. The main line of argument goes like this:
1. A record of past amnesties - like the 1986 fiasco - encourage more people to come here illegally hoping and expecting future amnesties.
2. That's not a problem if we can radically improve border enforcement, but (a) it's not clear we can ever do that, (b) we should try out enhanced enforcement first and see how it works, and/or (c) unless we hold the legalization process in limbo, there won't be an incentive for the political class, which tends to be lax on this issue, to get serious about enforcement.
These aren't unreasonable objections, but as to #1, at least, I continue to believe that the best check against the vicious cycle of repeated demands for amnesty is, paradoxically, to create a legalization process - rather than have one-time amnesties, set in place a permanent process by which future illegal immigrants can become legal residents. Any process that is too lenient to set up as a permanent, ongoing process is too lenient to do as a one-shot deal, precisely because there will always be future demands for more one-shot deals.
A final thought along those lines; I'm not an expert on the ins and outs of all the pending bills. But the idea that we should treat citizenship as a thing of value that could be sold is one thing; the idea that we should sell it for $1,000 is ludicrous. A New York City taxi medallion sells for many multiples of that, and certainly many immigrants manage to at least rent one. We haven't seen an economy car retail for under $4,000 since the Yugo, and if the Yugo isn't the symbol of a devalued birthright, I don't know what is. The fact is, if we are letting illegal aliens buy their way into citizenship mainly on the theory that they will become sufficiently productive members of society to be worth looking the other way at how they got here, we should treat that citizenship as a valuable asset, not a discount appliance.
POLITICS: Never Mind
No indictment for Karl Rove. The statement from his attorney, Robert Luskin:
On June 12, 2006, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald formally advised us that he does not anticipate seeking charges against Karl Rove. In deference to the pending case, we will not make any further public statements about the subject matter of the investigation. We believe that the Special Counsel's decision should put an end to the baseless speculation about Mr. Rove's conduct.
Chairman How isn't taking very well the news that he did all that digging in that huge pile Fitzmas morning and there was no pony. Hopefully, in time, we will find out what really happened - the true extent of Valerie Plame's "covert" status, how well known it was, who knew what and when and who said what and when. Assuming Scooter Libby goes to trial, much will likely come out then, but probably not everything. In the meantime, hopefully this will clear Rove to do more public appearances - he's actually a very sharp and impressive guy, and a strong spokesman for the president's agenda, his reputation as a secretive sorcerer notwithstanding.
UPDATE: The MinuteMan, of course, has been the go-to guy on this story for years, so go check out his review.
June 12, 2006
POLITICS/SCIENCE: What Causes Global Warming?
*As I've said in the past, I accept that the Earth has been getting warmer as a historical matter, but there are several more steps required from that simple proposition of historical global warming to the proposition that such warming (1) constitutes a man-made phenomenon (2) with predictable future consequences (3) that can be altered by future human actions (4) at a cost we can all live with compared to the marginal benefits of such actions. Dale Franks at the outstanding blog QandO offers a lengthy look at reasons to doubt that the current climate models have really proven much of anything about (1) and (2). Among his less technical objections:
1. Despite the fact that, since the end of the 19th century, human produced CO2 emissions have increased exponentially, the earth's temperature has increased in basically linear fashion since 1800, despite the fact that modern industrialization did not add any signifigant amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere until well into the 20th century.
June 8, 2006
POLITICS: Nancy Pelosi's Plantation?
Remember when Hillary Clinton argued that Republicans ran the House like a plantation? Well, looks like it's the Democrats who are facing a revolt along racial lines for high-handed tactics:
A drive by the Democratic leadership to strip embattled Rep. William Jefferson of his committee post triggered a backlash Thursday as the Congressional Black Caucus opposed the move and said the Louisianan deserves a "presumption of innocence."
In point of fact, Pelosi is actually trying to do the right thing as well as acting in the best interests of her party. But she who lives by the race card . . .
June 7, 2006
POLITICS: Hawaiian Punch
There's been surprisingly little attention paid to Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka's race for re-election, but wavering Republicans thinking of voting for the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act should consider - in addition to the general distatefulness of supporting an apartheid bill - the potentially beneficial political impact that a defeat of the bill would have in this race. The 81-year-old Akaka is being challenged in a September 23 Democratic primary by 53-year-old Representative Ed Case, who has painted himself as an outsider challenging the Democratic machine:
"Clearly the bunker mentality of the shrinking Democratic status quo in Hawaii has been resistant to my candidacy," Case said. "Can you micromanage voters and spoon-feed them on who should represent them in the Senate? This campaign will be a referendum on what is a broken political culture."
Hawaii races tend to be lightly polled and fly under the national political radar - the Bush-Cheney campaign hastily arranged to send Vice President Cheney to the islands near the end of the campaign when the first poll in months showed Bush within striking distance of Kerry (who still won the heavily Democratic state, albeit by less than 10 points). Hawaii elected a Republican governor, Linda Lingle, in 2002, although her record since then has been mixed, at best.
Case - like Lingle, for that matter, who is also up for re-election in 2006 - supports the Akaka bill, but its defeat in the Senate would be a severe blow to Akaka's efforts to paint his seniority and Senate experience as assets in getting things done (Time Magazine recently labelled him one of America's 5 worst Senators). It's unclear how this race will poll after this vote, and no incumbent Senator has ever lost an election in Hawaii, but a SurveyUSA poll showing a drop in Akaka’s popularity rating from 60 percent to 50 percent in just the last month has to be a concern for Akaka, as well as other polls, which may or may not be reliable:
Three recent polls, including one conducted and made public by Case, show the 53-year-old Case is ahead of Akaka. The other two polls (one done by a Congressional candidate and the other by a non-profit) also show Case is in the lead (one the Big Island by a 2-to-1 margin). However, the challenge for Case is to win the support of enough independent and moderate Democrat voters to make it through the primary election this September.
Would Akaka's defeat open up a safe seat to a possible Republican challenger? Given the state's partisan tilt, that seems a stretch - I'm not sure the GOP even has a candidate (someone feel free to correct me on this) - but a Case victory would be good news nonetheless. Unlike Akaka, he has been willing to support the Bush Administration on the Iraq War, the Patriot Act and other legislation. Chris Bowers of MyDD has labelled the race as the opposite of the Lieberman-Lamont race in Connecticut - here, the "progressive" is the incumbent and the more moderate Democrat is the challenger. (H/t) (There are also Republicans looking to replace Case in the House - former state House Minority Leader Quentin Kawananakoa and state Sen. Bob Hogue.)
GOP Senators shouldn't be lining up to throw a life preserver to one of the most liberal members of the Democratic caucus.
June 1, 2006
POLITICS: Time For Hastert To Step Aside
Quin Hillyer at the American Spectator argues that it is time for Dennis Hastert to step down as Speaker of the House. Hillyer focuses on two issues: the Contract with America-era promise that no Republican Speaker would serve more than the 8 years to which the President is limited, and Hastert's bad in intervening to object to an FBI search of the offices of a Democratic Congressman who'd been caught on tape taking bribes (and who'd had a history of interfering with FBI searches).
In general, I'm not a fan of throwing the leadership overboard for minor infractions, and as bad judgment as Hastert showed in the William Jefferson affair, neither that alone nor the generally adrift nature of the Congressional GOP is reason enough to toss Hastert over the side. Besides, it's hard for those of us outside the Beltway to really judge the role that the low-key, personally honest Hastert has played behind the scenes in various policy battles. But Hillyer does make a good case that Hastert should be bound to the promises that built the Republican majority in the first place, and certainly his record hasn't otherwise been so covered in glory to justify the idea that he has earned a special exemption. Time for Hastert to keep his promises and let someone else take the helm.
May 30, 2006
POLITICS: 22 Problems With The Senate Bill
John Hawkins has a rundown of 22 things wrong with the Senate immigration bill. As I think I've said before, I'm something of a moderate on immigration issues, but Hawkins does raise some good points. It's worth a read.
May 24, 2006
POLITICS: The Stupid Party
House Republicans, apparently determined to hand the Democrats a majority, have decided to circle the wagons around a corrupt Democrat; see here for the tip of the iceberg of RedState's comprehensive coverage of this idiocy.
Handed a golden opportunity to fight corruption and score political points at the same time, Speaker Hastert instead basically recorded a Democratic campaign commercial - on behalf of a corrupt Democrat! He has acted like a Congressman first, a Republican second, and a defender of honest government and the rule of law not at all. This is one of the poorest examples of political judgment I have ever seen.
You know, I've been as big a critic as anyone of the tendency to declare political obituaries over 1-week news stories; how many times, for example, have we read that thus-and-so will be the end of John McCain or Hillary Clinton? But this Hastert/Jefferson thing has just about broken the back of my remaining optimism about the 2006 elections. It's appalling to see the GOP concocting bogus legal privileges to stonewall an investigation, and doubly so to see it done on behalf of a Democrat, in a situation where there could not possibly be less to gain. It is impossible to watch the GOP leadership's behavior here and have any faith that the relevant decisionmakers have any political instincts at all.
May 23, 2006
POLITICS: Dean 1, Drudge 0
In the face of the DNC's denials of Matt Drudge's story on Howard Dean supporting Ray Nagin's opponent in the New Orleans mayoral race, Drudge says cryptically that "[t]he DRUDGE REPORT takes chairman Dean and his spokesman at their word." Which is a frustrating response, since if Drudge thought he had good sources and has since decided to retract the story, he should say so, and if he never had sources he had faith in, he shouldn't have run the item. But then, Drudge's record on retractions hasn't been terribly consistent, despite the obvious fact that he's had to do a number of them.
May 22, 2006
POLITICS: The Black Sheep of the Democratic Party?
So, New Orleans has re-elected Ray Nagin, defeating fellow Democrat Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco's #2, the brother of Louisiana's senior senator, Mary Landrieu, and son of former New Orleans Mayor and Carter-era HUD Secretary Moon Landrieu. There are many things to be said about this race, and what it says about New Orleans' voters and Louisiana's byzantine politics after Hurricane Katrina and the relative standing of Nagin, Blanco and Mary Landrieu. For example, Paul at Wizbang - who knows New Orleans first hand - says that a Nagin victory spells doom for Mary Landrieu's hold on her Senate seat in 2008.
What's interesting tonight is that Matt Drudge is reporting that the Democratic National Committee worked behind the scenes against Nagin. (Paul's response: "Duh!"). This being Drudge, one can never be 100% certain, and of course Howard Dean is hardly going to publicly admit that he not only tried to run a Democratic incumbent out of office, but failed miserably in the attempt.
Why did Dean try to unseat Nagin? If you buy Paul's logic that this is bad news for the national Democrats because Landrieu wanted to rebuild New Orleans' slums and a Nagin-led New Orleans may not be as friendly turf for statewide and national Democrats who need it to have a chance in Louisiana, then the partisan logic is clear. Moreover, Nagin is a former Republican who endorsed Bush in 2000, and DNC loyalists may have felt he was an unreliable party man.
Or, perhaps the pull of family and the DC social circuit was a factor here: Landrieu's father and sister both served in Washington, and nobody in Ray Nagin's family has those kind of ties with the DNC old-boy network. Which brings us to why this could be really embarrassing if (hypothetically, of course) other news sources actually looked into this, and if they then discovered that the DNC did what Drudge said they did. Because, you see, Ray Nagin is black, and Mitch Landrieu is white. White like nearly everyone in Howard Dean's administrations in Vermont. White like Howard Dean's senior campaign advisers - and most of his supporters in 2004. And even forget Dean: imagine if the national GOP backed a member of a prominent Republican family against an African-American incumbent Republican elected official. We would never hear the end of it. It would be Selma, Alabama all over again. (Heck, some Democrats still complain that Republicans are racist for supporting George W. Bush over John McCain, who is roughly the color of Elmer's glue, in the South Carolina primary in 2000). And let's not ask how many Maryland Democrats are supporting Ben Cardin over Kweisi Mfume, when Maryland has never elected an African-American Democrat to statewide office.
Like I said: it's Drudge, and Drudge isn't always right. Further investigation is in order. But will the national media dig into this story and ask Howard Dean what Ray Nagin did to become the black sheep of the Democratic party?
UPDATE: The Raw Story (sorry, no permalink) says that, unsurprisingly, the DNC is denying any involvement. There are also rumblings about consulting lawyers, but if the Democratic Party files a lawsuit that opens up discovery of its activities in a Louisiana election, I'll eat my hat.
May 18, 2006
POLITICS: Hey! Kool-Aid!
While we're on a theme here, just go now and watch Markos from Daily Kos make his TV advertising debut in a jarringly cheesy ad for Connecticut Senate candidate Ned Lamont, who's challenging Joe Lieberman. The effect is much the same as if in 1998 a Republican candidate had put Matt Drudge in a TV commercial.
May 11, 2006
POLITICS: Fortunate in Our Adversaries
Bush's approval ratings may be low, but they're still higher than those for Kerry and Gore. Via Kaus.
May 4, 2006
POLITICS/LAW: Roe Below 50
POLITICS: The Real Eliot Spitzer
April 26, 2006
POLITICS: All About Oil: A Short and Long-Term Energy Strategy
Gas prices are high, very high, and keep getting higher. The fact that they are still much lower, in inflation-adjusted terms, than they were in the late 1970s is not much solace to the average consumer suffering from sticker shock at the pump. We need a short- and medium-term strategy to lower prices of crude oil and retail gasoline and a long-term strategy to replace oil as the principal source of energy for transportation (there are already competitive alternatives for home heating and industrial production).
High crude oil prices in the world market and high retail gas prices in the United States are bad policy and bad politics for four main reasons:
1. Bad for the economy. People travel by car, and if gas prices go up they travel less. Goods travel by truck and by plane, and if gas prices and jet fuel prices go up that has a ripple effect on inflation throughout the economy. Overall, the high cost of oil and gas is a choke point that acts as a drag on economic activity.
2. Bad for consumers. Lots of people - indeed, the majority of American adults - drive cars and buy gas. High gas prices hit them in the pocketbook. Government doesn't exist to solve every economic problem or every bite on the family wallet, but when the economy as a whole and lots of individual consumers are feeling a pinch from high gas prices, the government should at least take a look in the mirror and start by asking what it's doing to exacerbate the problem.
3. Bad for national security. High crude oil prices mean lots of profits - not for oil companies that refine and market gasoline but for the owners of the oil as it comes out of the ground. Yes, that includes American and European oil companies and friendly powers like Iraq, Kuwait, Canada, Mexico and Norway. But it also includes an awful lot of governments that range from the unstable or semi-dysfunctional (Russia, Nigeria, Kazakhstan) to passive-aggressive hostile and subversive (Saudi Arabia) to openly hostile (Iran, Venezuela), and the stream of oil revenue - because it depends so little on the existence of free people and free markets - often winds up propping up despotic or corrupt regimes and financing terrorism, extremism and the development of weapons of mass destruction.
4. Bad politics. From a Republican perspective, people are upset at high gas prices, and with a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and a Republican president and vice-president who spent years working in the oil business, people are - fairly or unfairly - going to blame Republicans for high gas prices. In fact, the case has been made that President Bush's approval rating is closely tied to gas prices (for a dissenting view, see Gerry Daly here).
The answer is not trumped-up investigations or tax hikes that cripple American oil companies while giving a free pass to the Iranians and the Venezuelans. The fact is, American oil companies aren't even all that profitable compared to other industries, and really the last thing we want is punitive measures that just outsource even more of our energy production and make us more dependent on foreign concerns. The answer, instead, is doing something that will actually cut prices, now, and do something to put downward pressure on them for the foreseeable future.
So, how do we solve the problem? I don't have all the answers. But a few things seem obvious.
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High prices are generally a function of three things: too little supply, too much demand, and too many taxes. The one we can affect most easily in the short run is the third: cut taxes at the pump. The intermediate-term strategy, which will cut prices and reduce profits to rogue-state oil producers, is to increase domestic supply. The long-term strategy, because it's the hardest to change without corresponding disruptions to our economy and culture, is to reduce demand through alternatives to oil.
1. Cut Taxes at the Pump.
Republicans are, after all, supposed to be the party of low taxes, especially low taxes on people who work for a living. And people may not realize this, but few things in this country are more heavily taxed than gasoline. As RedState diarist Mark I pointed out in calling for a cut in gas taxes last week:
The federal per gallon gasoline tax is 18.4 cents. Together with local and state levies, fuel taxes make up about 45.9 cents per gallon, according to the Tax Foundation. In fact, tax receipts from the various fuel taxes outstrip oil industry profits in most years.
Let's repeat that last point (more here): the government makes more money from each tank of gas than the oil companies do. If Republicans, whose lifeblood is combatting the high price of government, can't or won't educate the public on the fact that high gas prices include taxes that range as high as 62.9 cents/gallon in New York, 52.4 in Michigan and 49.5 in Pennsylvania, then we really have lost our way.
Now, I understand that the gas tax is, in the grand scheme of things, one of the less-bad taxes. While it is a regressive tax and one that serves as a choke point to economic activity, it also helps push us in the long-term direction of encouraging switches to other energy sources, it is at least theoretically avoidable (although most commuters and families don't have a lot of leeway to avoid driving), and as currently designed, the tax is tied more closely to related spending (on highways, mainly) than your typical general-revenue tax. All fine macroeconomic points, but the fact remains that it's a tax that's hitting people hard right now, it's paid by the vast majority of voters, and - as is true of the estate tax, another of the generally less-bad of federal taxes - you don't get many political opportunities to tear a tax out by the roots. Republicans should take that opportunity when they can, and force Democrats into their usual position of defending high taxes - and high gas prices - and have an electoral winner on their hands, doubly so by calling on states to follow suit. Indeed, some Democrats have already sensed the political opportunity here: New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez has called for a temporary cut in gas taxes (via Instapundit), although he appears to be looking to pay for the cut in part by raising corporate taxes on U.S. (but not foreign, obviously) oil companies, instead of cutting spending (although he does propose cuts in one corporate-welfare program that at least sounds like a good idea). Support from a few other endangered Democrats could make a tax cut at the pump a political reality in a hurry.
2. Pump and Refine More Oil
This really should be a no-brainer: when you're too dependent on foreign automakers, you try to develop a domestic car industry. When you're too dependent on foreign airplanes, you try to develop a domestic airplane industry. When you're too dependent on foreign steel, you try to develop a domestic steel industry.
So, why not try procuding more oil here at home? President Bush's plan already calls, yet again, for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - with oil a vital economic and national security issue, this ought to be a front-and center subject for repeated up-or-down votes in the Senate, and Democrats should have to answer: would FDR have refused to drill for this oil when people are hurting from high gas prices and high oil prices are financing our enemies? Pat Cleary goes further and suggests we should also be tapping more of the potentially massive reserves in the Outer Continental Shelf, something Fidel Castro is already beating us to. And, as much discussed, environmental restrictions have prevented the US from opening a new oil refinery in the past 30 years; we need to have more refining capacity. None of these steps will cut oil prices tomorrow the way a tax cut could, but each of them could aid in cutting prices over the next few years.
3. Demand: Incentivize Alternative Fuel Sources
We've been hearing calls for reduced demand for fuel for years, but let's face it: U.S. car culture is a good thing and not going anywhere, and you really only need to travel a little bit outside of the Northeast - or look at a map - to understand why. Anyway, government crusades against demand usually don't work, whether they be anti-cigarette ads, throwing boozers and potheads in jail, or putting a cardigan on the president. If we're going to live in the real world, the long-term answer to the demand problem has to be about making alternatives cost-effective.
Now, I'm no expert on the science and technology of what is and isn't a practical alternative fuel source (Larry Kudlow thinks we should cut tarriffs on imported ethanol, which sounds like a good idea but as with President Bush's enthusiasm for ethanol and hydrogen I have no idea if it's a practical alternative). Certainly some of the President's micro-solutions, including tax credits for hybrid vehicles, are potentially a start.
But I do know this: investments in R&D don't come mainly from R&D tax breaks. The goal here should not be to turn alt-fuel boondoggles into corporate tax shelters. No, as those of us who lived through the dot-com boom of the late 90s well recall, what investors want most of all is to be the first ones into a mass market. And the best way to incentivize successful R&D, to get companies to put real resources and their best people behind it, as we've seen in the pharmaceutical industry, is to give companies the ability to make BIG money at the end of the research trail. That means:
*Extend or expand patent protections for alternative fuel sources.
*Pass legislation guaranteeing multi-year tax exemptions for profits on alternative fuels - and make clear the legislative intent to encouarge reliance on that exemption, such that it can't be repealed in the future without payment of just compensation under the Fifth Amendment.
*Stop harrassing the oil companies. Investors who see today's energy producers subjected to grandstanding hearings, investigations and "windfall" taxes will get the message that being a profitable business in tomorrow's fuel source will bring them all the same headaches some day.
It may be objected that this is rolling out the red carpet to alt-fuel monopolies. But the alt-fuel producers will still have to break into the market in competition with gas, and as we've seen in the internet and pharma businesses, a short-term monopoly (even a patent-protected one) can still crumble once the market matures and generic substitutes are allowed in. Frankly, the prospect of an alt-fuel gold rush is exactly what we want to produce.
I don't pretend to have covered every angle of the energy quandary here. But this three-pronged strategy - cut taxes in the short run, increase domestic supply in the intermediate term, and encourage the private sector to see big profit potential in creating substitutes that will dampen long-term demand - is both good policy and good politics for Republicans who want to show leadership in battling high gas prices and a world of dangerous oil producers.
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April 25, 2006
POLITICS: Van Taylor
If you're interested, as I am, in keeping a Republican majority in Congress (even with the inevitable disappointments that entails), you may want to chip in to RedState's campaign to raise funds for Van Taylor, an Iraq War vet running as a GOP challenger in a Texas district that went 70% for Bush in 2004:
UPDATE: The 17th District isn't just figuratively Bush Country - it actually includes the President's own Crawford ranch.
April 24, 2006
POLITICS: The General Interest
Taranto points us to this essay by Michael Tomasky in the American Prospect returning yet again to the question of What Do The Democrats Stand For? Tomasky argues - correctly - that the Dems have become increasingly effective as an opposition party, but that when it comes to retaking a majority:
What the Democrats still don't have is a philosophy, a big idea that unites their proposals and converts them from a hodgepodge of narrow and specific fixes into a vision for society. Indeed, the party and the constellation of interests around it don't even think in philosophical terms and haven't for quite some time. There's a reason for this: They've all been trained to believe - by the media, by their pollsters - that their philosophy is an electoral loser.
This is old hat by now, even from Tomasky, but this time he offers up a solution:
[New Deal and Great Society] liberalism was built around the idea -- the philosophical principle -- that citizens should be called upon to look beyond their own self-interest and work for a greater common interest.
Leave aside for now the correctness of this characterization of the New Deal and Tomasky's arguments about where and when the Democrats lost their connection with the common good and the general interest, and how Ronald Reagan appropriated that theme for the GOP. I'm not that familiar with Tomasky's writings in general, but he does make a good faith effort, as New Republic neoliberals like Peter Beinart and Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan have been doing for years, to get to the heart of what is most reactionary and illiberal about today's Democrats, and his essay is worthy of reading at length. But the simple fact is that placing the general interest above special interests runs so completely contrary to the core of how today's Democratic Party operates that suggesting that the Democrats become champions of the general interest seems like a crude parody of the party. Tomasky gravely underestimates the difficulty of breaking the habit of casting issue after issue in terms of how it affects the concrete interests of particular subgroups of voters. A quick tour of issues vital to bedrock Democratic constituencies only underlines this:
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1. Racial Preferences. There is no more glaring example of a policy that rejects the notion of the general common good than the use of racial classifications to give preference to some individuals over others in education and employment. Yes, there are pretextual, fig-leaf "diversity" justifications for using such preferences four decades after the death of Jim Crow and extending them in perpetuity into the future, but try arguing with any supporter of preferences and you will very quickly cut through the pretexts to what remains the core justification, and the only one that could support explicit state-sponsored race discrimination: the idea that African-Americans and other minority groups are owed a debt by the rest of society that justifies transferring benefits to them at the expense of other citizens along racial lines.
Tomasky does make an effort at finessing this question:
[T]here exist powerful common-good arguments for affirmative action. In addition to the idea that diversity enriches private-sector environments, affirmative action has been the most important single factor in the last 40 years in the broad expansion of the black middle class, which in turn (as more blacks and whites work and live together) has dramatically improved race relations in this county, which has been good, as LBJ would put it, for every American.
On closer inspection, this argument collapses. Yes, diversity in and of itself is a good thing, and yes, that justifies some mild forms of affirmative action, from outreach and mentoring programs to a general posture of inclusiveness in considering candidates for jobs and schools. But that's not the issue - the issue is formal or informal practices of giving one man a leg up on another by virtue of the color of his skin. Pointing to the fact that this has brought benefits to African-Americans as a group just underlines the fact that the argument for preferences is the strictest of special interest arguments. Whatever the merits of that argument, you can't with a straight face present it as anything else.
2. Anti-Competitive Economic Policies. Few things get Democrats more exercised than the constellation of issues that, at their core, amount to efforts to protect particular workers or particular businesses from competitive pressures that could drive down the wages of some workers and cut prices for consumers. The list goes on and on - just a few examples:
*The minimum wage, which props up the wages of some workers at the expense of retarding the growth of low-wage entry-level jobs.
*Opposition to free trade and "outsourcing", on the grounds that competition from low-cost foreign producers would put downward pressure on wages.
*Hatred of Wal-Mart by businesses that compete with Wal-Mart and unions that see Wal-Mart as a threat to unionized competitors.
*Farm subsidies and other programs that keep food prices artificially high.
*The Davis-Bacon Act, which drives up taxpayer expenses for public works - a public good if ever there was one - to benefit construction unions.
You know by heart the responses in favor of these policies, which amount to the idea that the interests of "working people" (i.e., distinct subsets of people who work for a living) trump the general interests of consumers and the broader interest of the economy. Indeed, Democrats mock as "trickle-down economics" the notion of doing things to benefit the economy as a whole rather than to benefit particular subgroups within the economy.
3. Public Sector Unions. If the Davis-Bacon Act is a glaring example of preferring the particular special interests of certain workers over the general interests of taxpayers and those who benefit from government services, the same philosophy operates writ large throughout the Democrats' approach to public sector workers: the insistence on above-market wages and job protections and benefits unavailable to comparably-skilled workers in the private sector, and the support of strong unions that exist in opposition, not to particular capitalists, but to the taxpayer and the citizenry at large.
4. Targeted Tax Cuts. A classic example of preferring special to general interests can be seen in tax policy - the Democrats are constantly arguing that this or that sub-constituency, behavior or activity is deserving of targeted tax relief, rather than taking the Reagan/Bush approach of cutting taxes for everyone who pays them. Whatever else may be said about those arguments, they are classic special interest arguments.
These are, I should add, just a few of the clearest examples, but you can spot your own examples of appeals to the interests of narrow groups in almost any speech of any length by any Democrat. None of this is to say that Republicans are immune from the temptation to pander to special interests, nor to suggest that special pleading on behalf of particular special interest groups is always illegitimate. Sometimes, some people do have special claims on the public. But the identification of Republicans with policies that apply the same rules and distribute the same benefits broadly to benefit the general interest, and of Democrats with a collection of policies narrowcasted to particular constituencies, is neither an accident nor simply bad P.R. The style of special pleading and the belief in the moral primacy of special interests over the general common good is so deeply ingrained in today's Democrats, and so central to the way in which the most faithful voters, donors and organizers are rallied in election after election, that it is simply inconceivable (and yes, I know what that word means) to imagine a Democratic Party built around the theme that Tomasky envisions.
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April 20, 2006
POLITICS: And I Agree With Myself!
Patterico catches his nemesis, LA Times writer and blogger Michael Hiltzik, posting comments under a pseudonym - even on Hiltzik's own blog! And better yet, Hiltzik cited the pseudonym's comments as if they were independent support for his position in a battle with another commenter at his site. You have to read the whole thing to get the full effect (even better if you've followed Patterico's lengthy and acrimonious feud with Hiltzik). Chalk this up as further proof that any time a journalist gets in an argument with a practicing lawyer, bet on the lawyer.
UPDATE: Hiltzik responds, essentially admitting the charge but - rather than apologize for deceiving readers through the use of multiple online identities who interacted with each other - setting up a straw man (that the issue is about pseudonyms generally) and ranting generally about Patterico (no such attack would be complete without calling Patterico a racist, and Hiltzik manages to work that hoary canard into his rant). Really, I'm starting to wonder if Patterico is actually Hiltzik - this guy is just too pitch-perfect a weaselly, sneering, blinkered, high-handed caricature of a big media liberal to be for real.
SECOND UPDATE: Hiltzik's blog is down now, but there was an announcement earlier that the blog was being suspended pending an LA Times investigation:
The Times has suspended Michael Hiltzik's Golden State blog on latimes.com. Hiltzik admitted Thursday that he posted items on the paper's website, and on other websites, under names other than his own. That is a violation of The Times ethics policy, which requires editors and reporters to identify themselves when dealing with the public. The policy applies to both the print and online editions of the newspaper. The Times is investigating the postings.
Wow. Even Dan Rather didn't go down this fast. I didn't and don't think this was a firing offense, but I can understand why they suspended the blog. The Real Ugly American explains that the problem was Hiltzik's failure to observe the rules of the medium he chose:
What is bad form, and cowardly, and has resulted in lots of people being run off of websites, blogs, message boards, video game communities, etc in shame and ridicule is using multiple names in an attempt to hide your already anonymous self to make a particularly offensive comment, or create phony allies for your arguments.
April 6, 2006
POLITICS: Katie Rather
Lest anyone think that CBS has changed its spots by signing Katie Couric as the permanent replacement for Dan Rather, check out the Media Research Center's 15-year "greatest hits" list of Couric's on-air liberal leanings. Many of these aren't that damning in isolation, but the overall pattern - negative characterizations of Republicans, conservatives and their ideas, aggressive, loaded questions for conservative guests and softballs and sycophancy towards liberal guests in general and the Clintons in particular - paints a compelling picture of a standard-issue liberal Democrat who brings her biases to work. I suppose marrying her to the existing institutions of CBS News kills two birds with one stone (although Matt Lauer, the surviving Today Show lead, isn't much better).
March 29, 2006
POLITICS/LAW: DC Circuit Punishes Unlawful Domestic Eavesdropping
The DC Circuit yesterday upheld an award of $10,000 in statutory damages, $50,000 in punitive damages, plus attorneys' fees against a government official who received and caused the publication of a telephone conversation obtained through illegal eavesdropping within the United States. (Via Bashman). The defendant in this long-running legal saga: Democratic Congressman James McDermott. The court found that it was undisputed that McDermott knew that the phone conversation was recorded illegally, a fact that he then conveyed to Adam Clymer of the New York Times, who ran the contents of the illegally tapped phone call on the front page of the Times on January 10, 1997. The plaintiff? None other than House Majority Leader John Boehner, whose cell phone was illegally intercepted when he joined a conference call with the then- House Republican leadership regarding an ethics complaint against Newt Gingrich.
Interestingly, Judge David Sentelle, who was relentlessly demonized by Democrats throughout the 1990s for his role in appointing Ken Starr, disssented, noting among other things that under the majority's reasoning, Rep. Boehner could also have sued the Times.
So, if you are keeping score at home, that would be one House Democrat to zero current Congressional or White House Republicans who have been found by a court of law to have participated in illegal domestic surveillance of political opponents.
POLITICS: "Where in the World Is John Snow?"
Yesterday's NY Sun asked a good question about why the Bush Administration isn't getting more credit for the current economic good times and pushing harder for its economic agenda. And speculated that Treasury Secretary John Snow should have been replaced by now:
To the untrained eye . . . Mr. Snow is not being pushed as the administration's finance spokesman, even though there are a number of crucial economic issues being debated. According to Washington insiders who did not wish to be quoted, Mr. Snow agreed last fall to resign, and was expected to step aside earlier this year. A Treasury spokesman declined to comment on the issue. It appears that the White House has simply been too busy to find a replacement. Among those mentioned to possibly take his place is Chief of Staff Andrew Card. The administration may have concluded that the timing for advancing Mr. Card's career was poor, and decided to wait for a bit.
March 27, 2006
POLITICS: The High Priesthood
Bloggers are not news-gatherers, but opinion-mongers. I have long argued that no one should be allowed to write opinion without spending years as a reporter -- nothing like interviewing all four eyewitnesses to an automobile accident and then trying to write an accurate account of what happened. Or, as author-journalist Curtis Wilkie puts it, "Unless you can cover a five-car pile-up on Route 128, you shouldn't be allowed to cover a presidential campaign."
It's bad enough to have to listen to the argument that citizens of a democracy shouldn't be entitled to publish opinions on a war if they haven't fought in one; it's even worse to hear that those citizens - whether or not they have fought in a war - shouldn't publish opinions on one if they haven't covered a war from the hazardous terrain of the Pentagon briefing room . . .
I'm tempted to retort that reporters shouldn't be allowed to offer opinions about the law, legislation, judges or the courts if they haven't gone to law school. The fact is, one of the beauties of the blogosphere is the diversity of experiences people bring to bear - there are many bloggers who can write about law, business, the military, science, medicine and other topics from first-hand experiences that few journalists can match. And on the topic of politics in particular, with the exception of academia, hardly any business in America is less subject to regulation than journalism; journalists tend, if anything, to be uniquely unqualified to understand how government interacts with the governed.
Anyway, I've never been in the "blogs will replace and destroy old media" camp, so to some extent I actually agree with Ivins' broader point that blogs can't really replace the newsgathering resources of newspapers. But if there's one area where blogs are every bit the equal of old media, it's the ability to dispense informed and incisive opinion. Bloggers who are more worthy of attention than Molly Ivins just aren't hard to find.
February 23, 2006
POLITICS: Nominating Veterans
POLITICS: Shoot to Die
This is one of the worst ideas I've ever heard, and makes you wonder how tough Eliot Spitzer's administration would be on criminals with weapons rather than Blackberries:
[State] Sen. David Paterson is pushing a bill that would require cops to shoot to wound, rather than using deadly force - drawing outrage from officers.
First of all, this man has obviously never fired a gun - not that I have either, but I at least respect the fact that it's extremely difficult to hit a moving target in the arm or leg. My dad was NYPD and always told us the cops were told to shoot for the middle, that way you have a chance of hitting something and stopping the guy. As any soldier or cop knows, you don't shoot with intent to kill or intent to wound; you shoot with intent to stop someone coming at you (or at someone else) - you shoot to immobilize, to incapacitate.
And second, cops are also (wisely) instructed that firing a gun is deadly force, which it is. You start shooting, somebody could die. That's a lesson that shouldn't be diluted with fantasies of sci-fi style stun-setting shootings and Hollywood marksmanship. Shoot to kill or don't shoot at all is the only sensible rule.
UPDATE: I forgot until after I'd posted this that Paterson has been blind since infancy. Maybe that makes him less of a fool for having no clue how hard it is to shoot to wound, but it doesn't make this any more practical as public policy.
February 21, 2006
POLITICS: Enforcing Campaign Finance Laws
Apropos of this story:
Most campaign finance laws are toothless, which only adds to their hypocrisy. But a good test of whether a law regarding campaign finance - or elections generally - is worth enacting is whether a violation should be sufficient to result in (a) imprisoning a public official, (b) overturning an election result or (c) calling a new election. And you should consider that possibility in the worst case scenario, where it means convicting a politician you strongly support and/or handing over an election to an adversary you loathe.
Some laws are clearly worth that: laws against voter fraud, laws against outright bribery, even laws against taking money from foreign governments. I would argue that if you replaced the current scheme with clear, bright-line full-disclosure rules, non-trivial violations of those rules could be sufficient to result in one of those three severe outcomes.
If the purpose of the law in question isn't worth overturning an election or throwing an elected official in the slammer, then it shouldn't be on the books in the first place. Free speech, even about politics, has its outer limits, but within those limits the government shouldn't be handing out speeding tickets.
February 15, 2006
POLITICS: The Smoking Gun
I just have to say, to all the media people hyperventilating over a day's delay in reporting the news that Dick Cheney accidentally shot a hunting companion: get a grip! Is the story newsworthy, in the sense of being interesting? Of course. But in the sense of being important? No. And news that's interesting but not particularly important can wait.
And to all those on the left looking to make a 'scandal' of some sort out of this: really, it's time to apply the Clinton-Gore test: what would you say if this was Gore during the Clinton years. Certainly, we conservatives would have mocked Gore mercilessly, which is all in good fun (I'd have run some Cheney jokes here myself the last few days, but the good ones were pretty well-circulated already). But I just can't imagine people on the right getting angry or indignant over such a story, as opposed to rolling on the floor in laughter.
(And it should go without saying that anyone who tried to use this story to draw a lesson that's anti-gun or anti-hunting is not going to find a lot of votes in that position; there's a reason guys like Gore and Kerry have taken such pains to be photographed while hunting).
February 12, 2006
POLITICS: The King Funeral
Peggy Noonan argues that the funeral of Coretta Scott King, despite its political content, should not be compared to the Paul Wellstone funeral (which she savaged at the time). Via Kaus. It's worth a read.
February 11, 2006
POLITICS: That Crafty Devil Bush At It Again
This time, he's sneaking private account transition costs into the budget. It's hard, I know, for Democrats to keep up with our clever, wily President.
February 9, 2006
POLITICS: The Trouble With Harry
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid wrote at least four letters helpful to Indian tribes represented by Jack Abramoff, and the senator's staff regularly had contact with the disgraced lobbyist's team about legislation affecting other clients.
Abramoff's records show his lobbying partners billed for nearly two dozen phone contacts or meetings with Reid's office in 2001 alone.
Abramoff's firm also hired one of Reid's top legislative aides as a lobbyist. The aide later helped throw a fundraiser for Reid at Abramoff's firm that raised donations from several of his lobbying partners.
There's more; read the whole thing. Is all of this the end of the world? No. But it certainly shows that Reid was every bit as much in bed with Abramoff, and maybe moreso, than many of the Republicans he is criticizing, and as such his ties to Abramoff will become a major liability to the Democrats' need to make the Abramoff issue a campaign theme this fall (as Reid himself has signalled it will be their main theme, if not their only theme). If there's nothing wrong with what Harry Reid did - a position Democrats will need to take if they don't want to throw their own leader under the bus - then the bar for a Republican scandal over ties to Abramoff will have to be set pretty high.
February 6, 2006
POLITICS: A Joke, Folks
Yeah, it's a cheap shot, but this one amused me (well, except for the implications about sports fans, that is).
February 2, 2006
POLITICS: Now That's More Like It
Original headline on CNN.com regarding John Boehner's victory in the race for GOP House Majority Leader:
House GOP picks man to replace indicted DeLay
Which, typically, simultaneously downplayed Boehner ("man," as if they just picked some random dude off the street) and trumpeted DeLay's indictment, which isn't exactly news.
The headline now, last I checked:
Reform candidate wins GOP House leadership battle
Actually, that's taking it a little far; John Shadegg was the Mr. Outside, root-and-branch small-government reform candidate; Roy Blunt was the Mr. Inside, big-spending, spread-the-wealth status quo candidate. Boehner, perhaps wisely, positioned himself in the middle, allowing Members to vote for reform without radical change. He actually played this whole thing out pretty shrewdly, which is an encouraging sign for his future stewardship of the House GOP; while Blunt was loudly high-handed and Shadegg's public supporters tore into Blunt, Boehner managed to hang back a bit. He was nobody's favorite candidate, but then that's usually the type of person who becomes the leader of a legislative caucus. And he did - in part thanks to Shadegg - end up campaigning for spending reforms, particularly transparency and reform of the earmark process. Not a great day for Republicans, but a good start.
February 1, 2006
POLITICS: A Taxonomy of Washington Scandals
Continuing this week's theme of writings in other venues, I have a column up at the Weekly Standard this morning on the ten basic types of Washington scandal.
Space and time didn't permit me to do an exhaustive comparative look at the scandals of the Bush and Clinton Administrations, but the bottom line is that the Bush White House simply hasn't been implicated to the same extent in the types of scandals that turn on personal greed, vice and venality. Congressional Republicans, however, have been another story.
January 29, 2006
POLITICS: Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow - Yesterday's Gone, Yesterday's Gone
Via Instapundit, we have word from Tom Elia that Marty Meehan's staff went to Wikipedia to delete references to a term limits pledge Meehan made in 1992 that is now inconvenient to the Massachusetts Democrat.
January 24, 2006
POLITICS: Targeting the Burbs
Pejman and McQ take on the farce of Maryland's legislation attempting to raise Wal-Mart's cost of hiring employees - or, alternatively, depress its wages - by mandating that a fixed percentage of its payroll be spent on health insurance. The attack on Wal-Mart, of course, comes from a variety of directions; unions and small store owners who view the company as a competitive threat are the leaders. This particular bill seems to have been driven as well by legislators looking to beef up government revenues. I particularly liked this bit of economic illiteracy:
Let's consider what this could mean:
1. People who had health insurance at their prior job quit to work at Wal-Mart, thus becoming eligible for Medicaid. This seems unlikely to have happened in large numbers, unless of course the prior job made less in wages and they preferred to get more wages instead - a choice the state wants to take away.
2. People turned down a chance to get a job with health insurance so they could work at Wal-Mart instead. Same deal as #1.
3. People had health insurance at their prior jobs but were forced to work at Wal-Mart when Wal-Mart drove their previous employer out of business. This may be the case in some situations, but remember that Wal-Mart's primary competitors are usually mom-and-pop stores that don't typically have generous benefits packages.
4. People left smaller employers with no health insurance to work at a bigger company with no health insurance. This is more likely - so the state is just punishing Wal-Mart for being big enough to attract enemies, even though it's no different from a host of small businesses and creates no additional Medicaid liabilities.
5. People who got jobs at Wal-Mart previously did not have jobs. In such cases, of course, no additional Medicaid liabilities are created, but unemployed people are put to work and get a steady paycheck and work experience. This should be discouraged?
Meanwhile, if attacking the nation's largest retailer isn't enough, Joel Kotkin enumerates a variety of ways in which left-wing radicals, including the mayor of Los Angeles, are trying to resist the natural desire of Americans of all kinds to pursue what was once known as the "American Dream" - single-family house, yard, car - in the suburbs. I say "left-wing radicals" because I have to hope that, as with the attack on Wal-Mart, the Democratic party as a whole knows better than to attack the suburban lifestyle.
If the GOP cements itself as the party of people who live in suburbs and the party of Wal-Mart, its customers, its shareholders and its employees, there won't be a whole lot of America left for the Democrats to represent.
January 22, 2006
POLITICS: Seeing Beyond Today
As some House Republicans campaign to oust their scandal-blemished GOP leadership team, they are facing an obstacle back home. It seems many voters could not care less.
I'm sure this is quite true: voters are perenially cynical about corruption, and few of them have the foggiest clue who Roy Blunt, John Boehner and John Shadegg are, or what they stand for.
Now. In January.
But anybody who takes this as a sign that nothing needs to be done doesn't know the first thing about the rythms of the political caldendar. What it really means is, there's still time to fix the problem. But once the Democrats start rolling out attack ads in September and October, it will be too late, and Republicans who don't have a good answer won't have time to do anything about it.
As for corruption as an issue: yes, there's no reason to think the Democrats would be any better. And everyone knows that lobbying reform, from either party, is a pointless farce, just like campaign finance reform. As long as people have huge financial incentives to redirect Washington's vast influence over taxes, spending and regulation, there will be corruption; as long as there is politics in money there will be money in politics. But for all of that, when the voting public thinks the incumbents are corrupt, its default assumption is to throw the bums out and start with some new bums.
Republicans may yet survive all of this anyway, of course. Many of the "corruption" charges are overblown; gerrymandering keeps many House seats permanently uncompetitive; and voters are far less likely to "throw the bums out" if the economy is doing well and the other side can't be trusted to deal with foreign policy crises. But only a fool would ignore the need and opportunity to inject new vigor and direction into the GOP House leadership and make a clean break with business as usual. John Boehner would be an improvement in that regard over Roy Blunt, and Shadegg would be a very significant improvement, which is why I - like many conservatives outside of elective office - am supporting Shadegg. While there's still time.
January 19, 2006
POLITICS: To Be Blunt
Roy Blunt seems to have missed the memo about not ticking off Dale Franks. Tell us how you really feel, Dale:
I'll make a deal with Rep. Blunt. How's this sound? I'll go ahead and write whatever the hell I want to write. In return, if Rep. Blunt doesn't like it, then he can cry me a river. I think that sounds fair. Somehow, I managed to get along fine for the first 41 years of my life without talking to Roy Blunt, and things turned out OK. I'm not a Washington journalist. My livelihood doesn't depend on having access to powerful DC insiders. So, I think I'll be fine if I never talk to him again.
Read the whole thing; it's priceless, and yes, it really does take me back to what the House was like in the early 90s. Blunt may well be a great Majority Whip - nose-counting and arm-twisting are useful skills, and someone in the leadership needs to have them - but I'm not optimistic about November if Blunt winds up as the face of the House GOP.
POLITICS/LAW: Advice and Consent
Article II of the Constitution provides that the President "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Judges of the supreme Court." There remains, however, lingering controversy about the role of the Senate in giving (or withholding) that advice and consent, and all the moreso in today's world of powerful (and, hence, politicized) courts.
There remains broad, bipartisan agreement that the Senate's role in this process is not as a rubber stamp, and that the Senate has an obligation to assure itself that a judicial nominee is competent to the job, qualified by some relevant experience, has the necessary honesty and integrity, has at least some measure of independence from the person of the President, and is not otherwise disabled by conflicts of interest from serving on the bench. That's the easy part, and we have seen nominees in the past fail to surmount one or more of those basic tests, from Abe Fortas to Douglas Ginsburg to Harriet Miers.
The trickier question is ideology: the compatability of a judge's judicial philosophy and likely (as predicted by the public record at the time of confirmation) rulings on contentious issues with the beliefs and ideals of Senators and their constituents. Each Senator's determination of when and whether to vote for or against a judicial nominee (or, in the extreme case, to filibuster) will be determined and publicly justified on at least two levels. One, as is familiar, is the level of political calculation: each Senator seeks to please the wishes of the voters in his or her State, the broader electoral interests of his or her party, the demands of activist groups that provide funding and logistical assistance in re-election campaigns, and (for many Senators) the wishes of primary and general election voters in future presidential contests. Often, these interests are conflicting: Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, by committing to vote for Samuel Alito, is clearly acting in a way that will please Nebraska voters but disserve the interests of his party at large and the wishes of activist groups that customarily support Democrats. Democratic Senator Evan Bayh, if (as expected) he votes against Alito, will displease his Indiana constituents but please the primary voters for his anticipated 2008 presidential bid.
Aside from pure politics, however, Senators must give some thought to the public, philosophical justifications they advance for supporting, opposing or filibustering a nominee. There are seven basic models a Senator can follow in making and justifying that decision:
1. Deference to the President: The "Deference to the President" model assumes that, so long as a nominee is qualified and has no ethical issues, the Senate's job is done, and the nominee should be approved. This model is usually advocated by a number of Senators from whichever party holds the White House - especially if that party is a minority in the Senate - and by a handful of Senators from the other party who need cover for voting to confirm because the president is popular in their state. While there's certainly an argument in favor of this model - after all, the president gets to do the nominating, and his election should have consequences - as any number of liberal pundits have pointed out over the past five years, giving carte blanche to the president may depoliticize the confirmation process, but it only increases the incentive to politicize the nomination process, since there's no check on the president's nomination of highly ideological judges.
2. Judicial Philosophy: The "Judicial Philosophy" approach, popular now among conservatives, appears, at least, to be a variant on the Deference model; the argument is that nominees should not be voted up or down (or filibustered) based on their likely or anticipated votes, but should be confirmed so long as they demonstrate a reasonable process for deciding cases. At the extreme, a lack of coherent judicial philosophy may indicate a lack of competence, as was a key concern with Harriet Miers; while there is no need for a judge to swear allegiance to an all-encompassing theory of judicial legitimacy, a judge must at least show the ability to offer reasoned justifications for his or her decisions.
The downside of the Judicial Philosophy model is that it is unsatisfying. There's too much disagreement on what constitutes a reasonable philosophy for such a model to produce consistent results across both parties, thus defeating the ability of such a model, even if widely adopted, to deliver on its promise of a depoliticized judicial nomination process (which is not to say that a sound judicial philosophy is unimportant to reducing political influence within the judiciary, just to recognize that the political process finds it insufficient to answer its demands). And there are too many pressures even from conservative adherents of this model to nominate "good" judges on particular issues for anyone to pretend that we are all entirely indifferent to the results of the process.
3. The President's Promises: This is the model I personally prefer, as I explained back in October:
[P]residents are entitled - indeed, obligated, if you take seriously the idea that legitimacy flows from the people's approval of the principled positions taken during an election campaign - to nominate Supreme Court Justices who are consistent with the publicly declared philosophy of the president, and the Senate is justified in rejecting nominees on ideological grounds only if the nominee is far out of whack with what the people were entitled to expect from the president they elected. To give an example, Bill Clinton ran as essentially a social liberal - as far as the issues that are decided by courts are concerned - but with one significant exception, that being that Clinton supported the death penalty. There were a number of Supreme Court Justices in the late 80s/early 90s - I believe Brennan, Blackmun and Marshall all did this - who made a practice of voting to overturn all death sentences, to the point of dissenting from the Court's orders denying certiorari in each and every death penalty case not taken by the Court. Clinton was entitled to appoint liberal Justices, as he did, and as were confirmed by the Senate with significant Republican support. But I do think the Senate would have been justified in rejecting a Clinton nominee who was, in the Brennan mold, a doctrinaire, no-exceptions opponent of the death penalty, because that would have been out of step with the philosophy the president campaigned on.
4. The Senator's Choice: The Senator's Choice model, advocated by Chuck Schumer, treats the nomination process like any ordinary legislation and allows the Senator to vote against anyone he or she disagrees with: the president nominates who he wants, but the nominee gets confirmed only if 50 Senators approve of and agree with the nominee. This model, which treats Senate elections as particularly important in shaping the courts, is little different from Deference to the President when the president's party controls the Senate (unless there are significant dissenters within the president's party) but it rises in importance when the Senate and the White House are in opposite hands. Traditionally, most Senators have been hesitant to follow this model explicitly without any deference to the president's right to nominate; Ginsburg, Scalia and Roberts all received many votes from Senators who disagreed with them, and Clarence Thomas was confirmed by a Democratic-controlled Senate.
5. Consensus: The Consensus model is a variant on the Senator's Choice model, but even more demanding and explicitly supportive of the filibuster: the demand for a "consensus" nominee broadly acceptable to a lage component of the Senate presupposes that a nominee who is unacceptable to as many as 40 Senators should not be confirmed. The main weakness of this model is the Framers' unwillingness to require a supermajority for judicial confirmation; Article II speaks only of the consent of the Senate, not any special proportion thereof.
6. Litmus Test: Under the Litmus Test model, the philosophy/ideology of the nominee is a factor in confirmation only to the extent it can predict the nominee's votes on particular issues, but the nominee's view on one or more non-negotiable issues (usually abortion is #1 on this list) becomes a make-or-break factor. Conservative senators and many liberals regard this model as one that should not be admitted to in public, whether followed or not, but there are open exponents of it, most notably pro-abortion Senators like Arlen Specter (who has voted for apparently anti-Roe nominees anyway) and Dianne Feinstein, and it has had popularity at times in the past in fights over segregation and the New Deal. The Litmus Test model is perhaps the most supportive of the filibuster, since it assumes that some issues are too important to be left to uncommitted judges.
7. Status Quo: The Status Quo model has been cited much by Democrats lately, with talk of nominees who will "preserve" the Court's "balance" and adhere to "legal mainstream" positions, but at its core it's the most incoherent and in some ways the most small-c conservative model, as it expects that the nomination process will be used to ossify the current state of the law and prevent the appointment of judges who will bring their own, independent judgment to the bench. It's also deeply anti-democratic, assuming that the nomination and confirmation process will be entirely unaffected by elections.
January 17, 2006
POLITICS: Cleaning Your Own House
This story from Daily Kos diarist Mark27 is clearly written more in the spirit of bitterness than dispassionate analysis, but of course Mark27 is right that if the GOP picks a new House Majority Leader who is seen as a genuinely clean reformer - and John Shadegg does seem by far the best of the three candidates on that score - and is able to make some headway against the corrupting influence of earmarked spending and special-interest tax breaks that attract lobbyists, the Democrats' "culture of corruption" theme will dissolve, as the GOP will have proven itself capable of fixing the problem.
What I wonder is whether Democrats who agree with this analysis recognize its corollary: the harm inflicted on their own party by their to-the-last-dog defense of Bill Clinton.
January 15, 2006
POLITICS: The Roe Effect
For every 100 babies born in New York City, women had 74 abortions in 2004, according to newly released figures that reaffirm the city as the abortion capital of the country.
First of all, what's a "spontaneous abortion"? Please tell me that's not a euphemism for miscarriages intended to make abortion sound like a natural occurrence.
Second, when you subtract out the out of town abortions, 40% of pregnancies are aborted - a number far too high to square with the common rhetorical effort to tie abortion to situations of rape, incest and other extreme cases.
Now, on to a not-unrelated story:
Southern and Western states are growing so much faster than the rest of the country that several are expected to grab House seats from the Northeast and Midwest when Congress is reapportioned in 2010.
The projections are based on state population estimates by the Census Bureau. The bureau released its July 2005 estimates Thursday, showing that Nevada grew at a faster rate than any other state for the 19th consecutive year, followed by Arizona, Idaho, Florida and Utah. Kentucky grew a modest 0.8 percent.
Strangely, when you kill off 40% of your children, your population doesn't grow so fast. And one more thought, while we're on that subject:
Read More »
January 4, 2006
POLITICS: Misleading Headline
AP: "Bush to Give Up $6,000 Linked to Abramoff". Which makes it sound like Bush took that amount in personal gifts - when, in fact, the $6,000 is legitimate, lawful donations to the Bush campaign, and the give-back (donations to charity, actually) is just a gesture of putting a xleazy character at arms' length rather than a sign that the BC04 campaign accepted anything it shouldn't have.
In a similar vein, I'm guardedly skeptical of the efforts to tie various Democrats to Abramoff to the extent that they just show Democrats taking campaign funds from a lobbyist who was particularly crooked; to get real traction, you either need to show officials taking personal benefits or receiving campaign contributions linked in some improper way to official action.
And while I wholeheartedly with National Review that Tom DeLay should remain stepped-down and that the House GOP needs to use the occasion to enact some real reforms, including reforms of the process by which taxpayer funds are routed to earmarked pet projects (repeat after me: you can't get money out of politics unless you get politics out of money), I don't agree with Captain Ed that the Abramoff scandal will decisively shift the balance of power from Congress to the White House and destroy the 2008 presidential aspirations of all current Senators. This scandal stinks and will stink some more, and it will be noticed by voters already sick of runaway spending and coziness with special interests, but it ain't Watergate and may not even be Abscam.