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Monday, November 10, 2003

My posts will be slim to none for a little while.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Unbelievable...well, sort of 

JAMES TARANTO has this gem in today’s Best of the Web.

End of an Era
Let history record Nov. 6, 2003, as the day on which the civil rights movement in America drew to a close. For that is the day the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the following sentence, in an article on the judicial nomination of Janice Rogers Brown:

Prominent blacks charged President Bush deliberately chose a conservative black woman so it would be harder for senators to vote against her.

Having long ago achieved the indisputably noble goal of ensuring that America lives up to the promise of equal justice under the law for all citizens regardless of race, the civil rights movement turned to the more dubious pursuit of "affirmative action." Now, however, they are complaining that blacks receive favorable treatment. Lamenting President Bush's choice of a black woman, and senators' discomfiture in voting against her, are leaders of such venerable civil-rights organizations as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the National Council of Negro Women.

leaked memo 

Former Senator Bob Kerrey (D-NE) on the leaked Intelligence Committee memo: “In those instances where intelligence failures become important public issues, the danger arises that partisan politics will become destructive of the committee's purpose. Whenever they caucus with their parties, the chairman and vice-chairman are under pressure to use the failure for political gain rather than simply trying to make certain the failure doesn't happen again… For the sake of peace and security, Americans should hope and insist that this cynical memorandum be used as a wake-up call to push the partisan politics out of the work of these committees.”

Still trying to understand... 

I’m a little confused by Michael Kinsley’s column today. He begins by explaining what a “grandfather clause” is and using California’s property tax laws as an example. He then goes on to compare that to two Bush Administration initiatives: Medicare Rx drug legislation and the 2001 tax cuts. Kinsley writes about Medicare:

A more straightforward, almost literal, example of grandfather-clause politics is President Bush's Medicare reform proposal. (And the various Democratic proposals generally do the same thing.) As Bush describes it, the process of saving Medicare from financial ruin will primarily involve adding new services and offering delightful new options for the nation's wonderful senior citizens. But just in case seniors don't find these options quite so wonderful, Bush promises that all current and imminent retirees will be allowed to opt out of nirvana and retain their present arrangements. Unsaid but implied: Future retirees will not have this choice. These folks (possibly including you) will be stuck with the new options, which are not going to solve the Medicare problem or are not going to be as pleasant as Bush portrays them.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Bush’s proposal in its current form will do nothing to solve the problems facing Medicare. There is a new, voluntary drug benefit with little to no reform. The voluntary drug benefit is, I assume, to what Kinsley refers when he says that current and imminent retirees can opt out. I have no idea, however, where he gets the idea that future retirees won’t be able to opt out. He may be alluding to concerns that private plans will drop prescription drug coverage because Medicare would offer it so, in practice, there will be only one choice for seniors. If this is his concern, he should say so explicitly. If he’s referring to some particular provision that eliminates the voluntary nature of the plan, I have yet to hear anyone on the Hill talk about it. To me, the concern about private plans dropping seniors’ coverage is a good reason why Medicare should not be expanded without serious reforms, such as public-private competition for seniors’ health care needs. The House plan would offer this in 2010. Does Kinsley support this?

He then discusses the tax cuts:

Bush's most recent round of tax cuts includes a gimmick that isn't exactly a grandfather clause but has the same political use and effect. Some of the cuts are scheduled to expire after nine years. This helps the 10-year budget outlook appear less catastrophic, although nobody believes it will really happen. Politically, that doesn't matter. People can enjoy their tax cut and worry about what happens nine years from now in eight years and 10 or 11 months.

How soon we forget. The reason that tax cuts were written to expire after 2010 is because permanent changes in the tax laws require 60 votes to pass the Senate. There were not 60 Senators who would vote for permanent changes so they had to add an expiration date. Does anyone really think that Bush, or Republicans in general, wouldn’t have wanted permanent changes? In general, I think it’s a pretty confusing column intended to score some sort of political points…I think Kinsley misses the target though and isn’t even sure what kind of weapon he’s using. It’s unusual for him.

New Senate candidate? 

Katherine Harris (R-FL) is seriously considering a Senate run.

Votes on the Hill 

Yesterday the Senate voted to lift the travel ban on Cuba as well as to force the USDA to move ahead with country of origin labeling of meat products.

The House voted to force Federal Prison Industries, Inc. to compete with private firms for contracts. “Lawmakers complained that the cheap labor and guaranteed contracts of Federal Prison Industries, Inc., has been putting small businesses in their states out of business through laws that require federal agencies to buy products there.”

We received this warning by email this morning: 

A mail security advisory from the House of Representatives Chief Administrative Officer: Reports have been received of potential, but limited, anthrax contamination at the Naval Automated Processing Facility in Washington, D.C. Testing continues and final results will be forthcoming.

As a precaution, the United States Postal Service is closing its V Street government mail facility because it supplies mail to the Naval facility. The V Street USPS facility also supplies mail to the House of Representatives and other government agencies.

House personnel are reminded that USPS mail and national shipper packages (UPS, FedEx, etc.) go through additional testing and quarantine before delivery to House offices. To date, testing has been negative, showing no contamination.

The House, as a precaution, will hold all mail and package deliveries until the Naval and Postal Service V Street facility situations have been clarified. For Friday morning, November 7, a delivery of Dear Colleagues and periodicals will occur.

An update to this message will be provided when additional information is available.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

What are you? 

A liberal, isolationist, neocon, or realist? Find out after taking this quiz. I came out as a realist.

Democrat predicament 

Jack Balkin makes some smart comments, to which the Democrat presidential candidates and many of the rank and file in their party should listen. He writes in the wake of Dean’s “confederate flag controversy.” Everyone who is honest would admit that Dean didn’t mean that the Democrats should try appeal to racists, he was saying that Democrats should not look down a whole region of people just because elitists in Manhattan, Boston, our Universities, and Hollywood look down their noses at them.

Here's what George Will says:

For Dean and Deanites, the idea of courting the Confederate-flag-and-pickups cohort gives them the frisson of walking on the wild side, the tingle of keeping bad company, like a professor in a biker bar. But Dean's statement, which dripped a kind of regional disdain, was a clumsy attempt to make a sensible point: Disdain no voters.

Dean’s decision to not back down from his previous endorsements by the NRA is a wise move. He may take heat in the primaries, but in the long run it may pay off. Over a year ago Dean was on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” and said that he would not let the Democrats lose another national election on the issue of guns. It made sense to me then and it makes sense now. Al Gore lost a few vital states that he may have won because of that issue (West Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas?). Any of those would have won him the election.

Here are Balkin’s comments:

The reason is that the gun control question is about much more than the specific issue of gun regulation. It is a cultural indicator or cultural signal-- one of a small number of highly resonant cultural symbols that people use to ascertain a person's larger set of values and commitments. The Republican Party has understood and manipulated this feature of human psychology particularly well since 1968, deliberately choosing appeals on a key set of issues that allow many Americans to feel that the Republican party stands for their values, even if Republican candidates by and large are not working in their economic interests.

Speaking as a liberal Democrat, I would much rather compromise on what is in practice a largely symbolic issue like gun control than on economic issues that hit ordinary people where they live…

I would rather that the Democratic party be more populist than it currently is. Let me be clear: I don't particularly like Dean's way of exemplifying the working class Americans he wants to appeal to: the Confederate Flag, after all, reemerged into popular consciousness as a symbol of massive resistance to Brown in the 1950's and 1960's. But I do think that it is important to show people who have a gun rack on their pickup trucks-- to change the metaphor-- that the Democratic Party is working in their interests. In my view, the elitists that people should be worried about are not cultural elitists but economic elitists, people who want to grab everything and leave ordinary Americans to fend for themselves. The Democratic Party will do much better if it compromises on a few cultural issues like gun control while promoting the economic issues that more Americans can identify with.

While I don’t agree with his characterization of what he terms “economic eletists” his general point is a good one. The one problem is that much of the Democrat constituency is made up of focused interest groups. Democrats must be willing to lose a few of them in order to win the “ordinary Americans.”

Richard Cohen sums up the Democrats' problem:

For some people, the Confederate flag is a loathsome symbol. But we all know what Dean meant. And we know Dean is not a racist…but you would not know it from the way he was treated by fellow Democratic presidential candidates Tuesday in Boston. Sharpton was the most indignant, demanding that Dean "apologize.”…Sharpton accused Dean of promoting "an anti-black agenda," a far worse slur than anything Dean said about the Confederate flag.

It is both instructive and ironic that on the night the Democrats were roasting Dean, GOP candidates won gubernatorial races in Kentucky and Mississippi. It was further proof that the once solidly Democratic South is now solidly Republican -- and it will go that way come 2004 if the Democratic candidates keep up this nonsense.

He's right. As long as Democrats continue to try to appeal to every aggrieved interest group, and, in the process forgot about what average Americans care about, they will continue to have to write off a large, important portion of the country.

Halliburton deals 

Steven Kelman, a Harvard University professor and President Clinton’s administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy from ’93-’97, explains why the charges of cronyism in government contracting is pure political rhetoric. Kelman begins by debunking the myth that contracts are handed out by political operatives to big campaign donors. He then moves on to challenge this bit of conventional wisdom:

Many people are also under the impression that contractors take the government to the cleaners. In fact, government keeps a watchful eye on contractor profits -- and government work has low profit margins compared with the commercial work the same companies perform. Look at the annual reports of information technology companies with extensive government and nongovernment business, such as EDS Corp. or Computer Sciences Corp. You will see that margins for their government customers are regularly below those for commercial ones. As for the much-maligned Halliburton, a few days ago the company disclosed, as part of its third-quarter earnings report, operating income from its Iraq contracts of $34 million on revenue of $900 million -- a return on sales of 3.7 percent, hardly the stuff of plunder.

While this doesn’t mean that the federal government is getting the best bang for its buck (a coworker of mine has a friend in Iraq, who works in logistics, who has said that Iraqis were offering to do laundry services of the Army for around half a million dollars, while the government contractor’s lowest offer was $7 million) the higher costs are most likely a result of higher wages, overhead, and operating costs. Perhaps the contracting procedures need to be adjusted, but this doesn’t mean that there is corruption going on.

Kelman also writes:

The whiff of scandal manufactured around contracting for Iraq obviously has been part of the political battle against the administration's policies there (by the way, I count myself as rather unsympathetic to these policies). But this political campaign has created extensive collateral damage. It undermines public trust in public institutions, for reasons that have no basis in fact. It insults the career civil servants who run our procurement system.

Perhaps most tragically, it could cause mismanagement of the procurement system. Over the past decade we have tried to make procurement more oriented toward delivering mission results for agencies and taxpayers, rather than focusing on compliance with detailed bureaucratic process requirements. The charges of Iraq cronyism encourage the system to revert to wasting time, energy and people on redundant, unnecessary rules to document the nonexistence of a nonproblem.

It’s extremely frustrating to listen to the Democrat presidential candidates make allusions to "sweat heart deals for Halliburton" to get applause lines at debates when there is no such thing going on. But I guess that’s politics. Read the whole thing. It’s informative.

Latest read 

Last night I finished reading Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. Despite the fact it was written over 40 years ago it was still very prescient and the vast majority of the ideas are still worthy of discussion. Some of his ideas, such as public school vouchers, have become mainstream political proposals, while others, such as the elimination of the various public welfare projects and the replacement of them with tax credits or cash handouts, are still only being discussed on the political fringes.

I would recommend this book to just about everyone. As a Conservative bordering on libertarian who majored in economics and political science, I found it a great basic text. I would recommend that young Conservatives, instead of buying the latest Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity book, pick this one up. I would also recommend it to Liberals who want to learn the true reason why conservatives and libertarians take the positions they do on so many issues (believe it or not it isn’t because we like to starve children, steal seniors’ Social Security checks, rape the environment, or enact tax laws to further enrich the wealthiest one percent).

I would also be interested in hearing suggestions from my readers who are of the more Liberal persuasion a basic Liberal text that lays out the basic principles of Liberalism (preferably written by someone who is not running for office or wasn’t at the time the book was written). In college I read Robert Reich’s The Work of Nations, which I thought was worth reading. Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Leaked memo 

When I originally saw a headline about a leaked Senate Intelligence Committee memo, I didn’t even read the article. Memos meant for someone else are always being made public on Capitol Hill. However, someone put the text of this memo in front of me and I was aghast. Now, I realize that memos such as this are commonplace on the Hill. Attempts to politicize hearings and official reports happen all the time. The major difference here is that this is the Senate Intelligence Committee. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are the most non-partisan of any Committees on the Hill. When these Committees issue statements or reports or hold hearings, people on both sides of the isle listen. Partisan politics never enters the picture. That is what is so shocking to people about this memo.

Here is the complete text:

We have carefully reviewed our options under the rules and believe we have identified the best approach. Our plan is as follows:

1) Pull the majority along as far as we can on issues that may lead to major new disclosures regarding improper or questionable conduct by Administration officials. We are having some success in that regard. For example, in addition to the President's State of the Union speech, the Chairman has agreed to look at the activities of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (e.g. Rumsfeld, Feith and Wolfowitz) as well as Secretary Bolton's office at the State Department. The fact that the Chairman supports our investigations into these offices, and cosigns our requests for information, is helpful and potentially crucial. We don't know what we will find, but our prospects for getting the access we seek is far greater when we have the backing of the Majority. (Note: We can verbally mention some of the intriguing leads we are pursuing).

2) Assiduously prepare Democratic "additional views" to attach to any interim of final reports the committee may release. Committee rules provide this opportunity and we intend to take full advantage of it. In that regard, we have already compiled all the public statements on Iraq made by senior Administration officials. We will identify the most exaggerated claims and contrast them with the intelligence estimates that have since been declassified. Our additional views will also, among other things, castigate the majority for seeking to limit the scope of the inquiry. The Democrats will then be in a strong position to reopen the question of establishing an independent commission (i.e. the Corzine amendment).

3) Prepare to launch an Independent investigation when it becomes clear we have exhausted the opportunity to usefully collaborate with the Majority. We can pull the trigger on an independent investigation of the Administration's use of intelligence at any time -- but we can only do so once. The best time to do so will probably be next year either:

A) After we have already released our additional views on an interim report -- thereby providing as many as three opportunities to make our case to the public: (1) additional view on the interim report; (2) announcement of our independent investigation; and (3) additional views on the final investigation; or

B) Once we identify solid leads the Majority does not want to pursue. We would attract more coverage and have greater credibility in that context that on e in which we simply launch an independent investigation based on principled but vague notions regarding the "use" of intelligence.

In the meantime, even without a specifically authorized independent investigation, we continue to act independently when we encounter foot-dragging on the part of the Majority. For example, the FBI Niger investigation was done solely at the request of the Vice Chairman; we have independently submitted written questions to DoD; and we are preparing further independent requests for information.

Summary

Intelligence issues are clearly secondary to the public's concern regarding the insurgency in Iraq. Yet, we have an important role to play in revealing the misleading -- if not flagrantly dishonest methods and motives - of the senior Administration officials who made the case for a unilateral, preemptive war. The approach outline above seems to offer the best prospect for exposing the Administration's dubious motives and motives.


I found a response by Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) on NRO’s The Corner.

"This strategy memo lays bare what we've started to see for some time: an orchestrated effort by Democrats at a time of war to improperly use an intelligence investigation as a weapon against President Bush. The memo completely shreds Democrats' claims of bipartisanship in this investigation and falsely attributes ugly motives to the President, members of his administration, and fellow members of Congress. It has reached conclusions about this investigation before it's even been concluded. The Senate should examine whether its rules have been violated by this memo. It is, for example, improper under Senate rules to impugn the motives of fellow Senators. Additionally, committee staff should never be involved in partisan political scheming, most especially Intelligence Committee staff members, who in the past have always acted in a nonpolitical, bipartisan fashion. If Senators continue to attribute this memo to staff, then those staff members should be fired. Additionally, I call on Senator Rockefeller and Senate Democratic leaders to immediately disassociate themselves from this partisan attack plan. A failure to denounce this memo publicly would clearly seem to be an acknowledgement of its authenticity."

Panning the Matrix 

Jonathon Last and Stephen Hunter don't like "The Matrix: Revolutions."

Senate non-vote 

Harold Meyerson rightly criticizes the Senate for not taking a recorded vote on the Iraq reconstruction funding.

In the fall of 2002, the administration was positively gleeful about forcing Congress to go on record to authorize the coming war, and Democrats from swing states or districts knew they voted no at their own peril.

This week no such pressure was forthcoming. Those Republicans who live by the wedge issue understand when they could die by it, too. There was simply no percentage in compelling members to vote yes on a floundering occupation that could easily grow far worse.

It's instructive, though, that opponents of the occupation weren't exactly clamoring to be recorded against it either. Only old Robert Byrd stood on the Senate floor and shouted no when the vote was taken, but Byrd has been casting recorded votes since the waning days of the Roman Republic, and it's a hard habit to break.

He then goes on a rant about how the strategy used during the war and reconstruction is a failure. Isn’t it a little too early to tell? He also suggests a new reason why the Administration wishes to maintain control of the reconstruction:

It turns out that Paul Bremer, our man in Baghdad, has decreed that come next year Iraq shall have a flat tax on individuals and businesses of 15 percent.

It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Is Iraq to become a laboratory for all those right-wing brainstorms that have gone nowhere in this country but that we are free to impose there during our short-order mandate? While we're at it, we could also outlaw stem cell research and elevate Charles Pickering to the Baghdad bench.

Yes, that must be it… Thanks Harold.

But The Hill reports:

Some Republican Senators also think that the voice vote on Iraq funding was a bad idea. Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY), John Kyl (R-AZ), Trent Lott (R-MS) and Larry Craig (R-ID) all express regret. Top Democrats disagree. “I personally was glad to get it done this way,” said Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV). “Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) told reporters that a number of senators felt that a second vote on the issue was unnecessary.”

Republicans also gained something by accepting the deal. Several Republicans, including Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), and others, had successfully amended the package to convert $10 billion of the money into loans, rather than grants.

The administration overrode the Senate-passed position and threw out the loan provisions in a conference committee with the House. This left some Republicans in the uncomfortable position of either voting for the package without the loans for which they had fought, or voting against it altogether. A Senate GOP leadership aide said a recorded vote would have put those members “in a box.”

Congrats! 

A good man, physician, and three-term House Member was elected governor of Kentucky. Ernie Fletcher (R-KY) is the first Republican to hold the governorship in that state in 31 years. He won by over 100,000 votes, 55-45 percent. Congrats!

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Interesting discussion for election day 

On NRO's "corner" Andrew Stuttaford posted a report from Wired magazine highlighting some of the problems with e-voting. His problem with online voting is essentially this: "if someone discovered software problems serious enough to raise real questions about a result, how exactly would the votes be recounted?"

Jonah Goldberg responded with these comments:

The core problems with e-voting are that those technical problems might actually be solved (and, come on, eventually they will be solved). Once that happens, the argument against online voting, i.e. "cyber democracy" will be even harder to make. Going to a polling place at a specific time and place cultivates certain civic virtues. The peril of e-voting is that voting will be something we can do in the bathroom, on the couch, during a commercial break, whenever. In other words, voting will become even less deliberative and the less deliberating will have fewer impediments to voting. By focusing on the technical aspects we concede the more important argument because implicitly we agree that if it did work we would be for it. Well, I wouldn't. I'm okay with moving elections to weekends, if we must as a political sop who say voting is too hard. But in reality, I think voting should be more difficult, not less.

Jonah then links to this column he wrote back in 1999 criticizing internet voting. Besides the basic argument made above, in this column he expands his argument to include the future ramification of internet voting: the erosion of our republican form of government and a gradual movement to direct democracy based upon the whims of the majority. It’s worth a read. While I don’t think voting should be made more difficult, I don’t know how anyone could think that voting in this day and age is too onerous. I got up 30 minutes early this morning and went to the church down the street and voted before work. It wasn’t hard.

More House security problems 

In another bizarre incident involving House office building security, a random woman spent a portion of the weekend in an office used by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) in the Longworth House Office Building. The woman, Suzanne Michele Jensen, has been charged with unlawful entry, a misdemeanor.

Nunes spokesman Justin Stoner said a female aide who works in the annex, Room 1020, discovered Jensen when she attempted to enter the office Sunday afternoon only to find an interior deadbolt had been locked.

The aide contacted the building superintendent to gain access to an adjacent office, from which she stepped onto a terrace and entered her office through a window.

“[Jensen] was eating out of our refrigerator,” Stoner said. “When she was discovered she was sitting on our conference table ... looking over some books.”

According to the Capitol Police, the Nunes aide spoke briefly with the woman, who could not produce identification, before pulling a duress alarm in the office….

It is possible Jensen, a Virginia resident who is approximately 41 years old, has a mental disorder, according to Capitol Police reports.

Well, it is the people's house!

Broken window 

There’s not much information in this news story about he guy who threw the brick through the glass door of the Cannon building yesterday.

Capitol Police arrested a man Monday after he threw a brick that broke a window at a House office building, less than a week after a gun scare at the same building briefly closed the House of Representatives, police said.

The man was shouting and appeared to be protesting something, "but we're not sure what it was," said Capitol Police spokeswoman Jessica Gissubel.

Identified as Jasper Crown, 46, he will be charged with destruction of government property, police said.

The man, wearing a business suit, threw the brick twice, breaking the window of an entrance door to the Cannon Office Building on the second attempt, Gissubel said. Four officers immediately detained him, she said.

Political races 

The Hill has some interesting information on races going on around the country that will be decided today and in 2004. The article also reminds us that Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the Democrat “king-maker” in South Carolina politics has yet to make an endorsement for president. He doesn’t seem to care for Wes Clark though. There is also a run down of the ramifications for Florida politics of Sen. Graham’s announcement not to run for another term.

My home state... 

Greg Pierce has a short summary of the battle for the state Senate in New Jersey:

"The quiet but crucial race for control of New Jersey's evenly divided (20-20) Senate appears too close to call — much closer than the GOP blowout on tap in Virginia's legislative races," CNN political editor John Mercurio writes in the network's daily e-mail newsletter, the Morning Grind.

According to www.politicsnj.com, the best Web site (actually, the best publication of any sort) devoted exclusively to New Jersey politics, Republicans hold 17 safe or likely GOP seats, while Democrats hold 18. The real battle is over five seats (three Republican, two Democratic) that are either tossups or lean narrowly toward one party. Democrats enjoy a narrow edge in the state Assembly, which they currently control by a three-seat margin. Only eight seats are being heavily contested in the lower chamber — five Republicans, two Democrats and a Green.


And my new home:

The Washington Post has an article about the population growth in the D.C. metro area,

The region gained more than 25,000 people in this group from other parts of the country in the late 1990s, census numbers show. That increase ranked fourth among the nation's 20 largest metropolitan areas, after San Francisco, Los Angeles and Atlanta.

The figures reinforce the region's reputation as one of the most educated in the country, but they add a new dimension: The youth and single status detailed in the study are especially desirable. Educated people in their twenties and thirties not only have the brainpower to fill high-skilled jobs, they also make good money that they spend freely while not costing much in government services.

Well…except for the “brainpower,” “good money,” and “spending freely” I fit right in!

Monday, November 03, 2003

Senate "passage" 

The Senate agreed to the Iraq reconstruction funding. They passed a unanimous consent agreement that stated that the appropriations bill had been passed. There was no recorded vote. This saved the Democrat presidential contenders from a controversial vote and, at the same time, saved some Republicans from having to vote for the grant proposal, which they opposed. It also saved the Senate a lot of time, which is at a premium over there considering the number of bills left to complete.

In an anticlimactic moment for which only a handful of senators appeared, the Senate approved the bill by voice and handed a legislative victory to President Bush who had requested a similar package two months ago. The voice vote — in which Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., was the only one to shout "Nay" — let lawmakers sidestep the roll call that usually accompanies major legislation.

Cannon again... 

Someone just threw a brick at a glass door to the Cannon House Office building. He or she is in custody. We heard this through the enunciators…at least they’re working this time.

Rauch on Bush 

Jonathan Rauch has a very good column on Reason.com on Bush’s “unilateralism.” Here’s an excerpt:

The larger problem, Daalder and Lindsay write, is Bush's determination to throw America's weight around. "Bush preferred to build his empire on American power alone rather than on the greater power that comes with working with friends and allies."

Really? Obviously much of the world opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but to speak of America as isolated or Bush as unilateralist seems an exaggeration, to be charitable. The administration tried hard to get the Security Council to put teeth in its own resolutions against Saddam Hussein. It went to the council not once but twice, when unilateralists said the right number of times was zero. It received support from dozens of countries, including some European biggies (Britain, Spain, Italy, Poland). It sought and obtained the Security Council's blessing for the occupation. It received $13 billion in reconstruction pledges from many countries. It is getting help from 24,000 foreign troops in Iraq, most of them British and Polish, but with support from more than 30 countries. (More than 50 foreign soldiers have died in Iraq.)

And on other fronts? The administration is insisting on a multilateral approach to North Korea—not grudgingly, as NPR's Shuster would have it, but in the teeth of allies' reluctance to get involved. It is trying to mobilize the United Nations on Iran. It has set up a multilateral Proliferation Security Initiative to interdict weapons, with France and Germany among the eight European participants. It recently won a multilateral agreement with 20 Asian and Pacific countries to curb the trade in shoulder-fired missiles.

Bush is not going it alone. He is setting his agenda and then looking for support, rather than the other way around. That is what presidents and countries typically do.

Check out "The Buck Stops Here" 

Stuart Buck links to some good thoughts on Iraq reconstruction contracts and has some of his own.

A few bloggers have been taking the "Political Compass" test. I decided to take it and post my results. I am exactly in the middle of the libertarian-authoritarian line and to the right of center on the right-left line. I agree with Stuart Buck that some of these questions/statements are a little strange. Like this one: "In a civilised society, one must always have people above to be obeyed and people below to be commanded." What does that mean? I don't think this is a prerequisit for a civilized society, but, in general, this is how it works out because of the free market.

Buck also has some thoughts on the estate tax.
This Pfc. should have been the real hero of the 507th ambush.

Tighter security 

The Capitol Hill police promise that the incident last week will mean closer scrutiny of people and bags coming through the doors of the office buildings.

Lines to enter the Capitol complex will likely move more slowly as police try to avoid repetition of a scare over a toy gun that made it through security and into a House office building.

In an interview published Saturday in The Washington Post Chief Terrance Gainer acknowledged the incident exposed serious security gaps and communication failures in his police force and he vowed protection would be improved.

He said more than 200 of his supervisors would attend a weekend work session to analyze what went wrong when a Halloween prop, a fast X-ray machine belt and a distracted officer combined Thursday to shut down the House of Representatives.

This morning there were three guards at my door instead of the usual two and they weren't engaging in the usual chitchat with people coming in and out.

D.C. news 

Last Friday Greg Pierce reported on more clashes in the Ways and Means Committee.

A group of House Democrats crashed a private meeting of lawmakers discussing the Medicare prescription-drug bill yesterday, in protest that they have been excluded from the bill negotiations.

"I came to say, 'Look we don't know what you're doing,'" said Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. Mr. Rangel and Rep. Marion Berry, Arkansas Democrat, were appointed to the conference committee charged with producing a final Medicare prescription-drug bill, but have not been invited to daily, closed-door meetings held by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican…Mr. Rangel and Mr. Berry, along with about 12 others from the Ways and Means Committee, walked into yesterday's private meeting, sat down and asked Mr. Thomas why they've been excluded.

Mr. Rangel said he was told the private meetings are for "willing participants" interested in producing a final bill. "Subjectively, he decided I'm not one of those members," Mr. Rangel complained after he left the room.


Today he reports on the fact that 132 Members of the House represent districts in which a majority of households are headed by unmarried adults.

Single head-of-household voters apparently prefer Democrats. Only 19 of the majority-single districts have Republican representatives in the House.

Among the 113 House Democrats representing majority-single districts (with the percentage of households headed by unmarried adults):

Illinois Reps. Bobby L. Rush (63.9), Rahm Emanuel (58.2) and Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (56.9); California Reps. Nancy Pelosi (69.9), Barbara Lee (62.8), Henry A. Waxman (60.0) and Maxine Waters (57.7); Michigan Reps. John Conyers Jr. (63.1); Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (52.6); Texas Reps. Martin Frost (52.1) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (60.8); and New York Democrats Charles B. Rangel (75.0), Carolyn B. Maloney (70.0) and Jerrold Nadler (66.1).

Furthermore, the Census Bureau reports that a majority of households in 13 states are headed by unmarried adults, and Democrats hold a 16-10 majority of Senate seats from those states, which include California (50.5 percent unmarried households) and New York (54.1 percent).

Friday, October 31, 2003

reconstruction 

The House, last night, approved $87.5 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan security and recontruction. The money is in the form or grants, not loans. Here’s the roll call.

The package, for expenses during the current budget year, includes nearly $65 billion for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and $18.6 billion to rebuild Iraq and improve the country's security and law enforcement…

The Iraq reconstruction money includes $3.2 billion for security and law enforcement, $5.6 billion for the electric sector, $1.9 billion for rebuilding the oil industry and $4.3 billion for water and sanitation. Afghanistan would receive $1.2 billion for rebuilding efforts.

The legislation also designates $245 million for peacekeeping activities in Liberia, $44 million for a secure embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, and $50 million to reward those providing information leading to the capture of Saddam and Osama bin Laden.

Shimkus staffers 

Roll Call and The Hill both have stories this morning on the two female staffers who brought a fake gun into the Cannon building. They were both staffers for Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL). He doesn’t plan on releasing their names and they probably won’t face any sort of charge.

Here’s what CNN says:

U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance said people in the building were notified by telephone, electronic messaging pages and announcements over the intercom system.

He gave his force an "A" for its response to the alert, saying the lockdown and search unfolded in an orderly fashion.

[Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY)] disagreed. She said she learned of reports of a possible gunman in the building from her staff in New York. And then, she said, she heard it on television, before her Washington office received any formal notification from the Capitol Police.

A pager-type alarm, issued to each congressional office, did not go off, she said, despite drills this past summer for such a scenario.

"I'm not concerned," McCarthy said. "I'm mad."

She’s right about the pager-type alarm or “enunciator.” All offices have enunciators which are essentially warning systems that blast an annoyingly loud beep and follow that up with an alert message from security. We didn’t receive our first enunciator message until about 30-45 min after the story first broke. I first heard about the story fom staffers emailing others and then from the news media before we were even alerted in our offices by the Capitol Hill police.

This morning I noticed that the officers at the door I came in were intently scanning the X-ray monitor as I put my cell phone and keys through. No joking around today.


UPDATE: Kathryn Jean Lopez at "the Corner" notes the first (at least that I have seen) Congressperson
to use
this incident for political gain. The winner is Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY).

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Suspects caught in Cannon 5th floor 

It looks like the two suspects are in custody. They were carrying a Halloween costume and a toy gun. Why would they run? Hmmm...

UPDATE: The rumors are already flying around about who the two hill staffers who brought a fake gun through security as part of a Halloween costume. It is rumored that they are from a particular Member’s office on the 5th floor of the Cannon building. I don’t want to give out the Member's name out of respect for the privacy of the office. I am sure it will be in the Hill papers by tomorrow morning though. What were they thinking!!??

Gun in Cannon 

Supposedly a young man with dark spiked hair went through a metal detector in the Cannon House Office Building and put his bag through an X-ray machine. A guard noticed a gun in the bag and before the guard could stop him the man grabbed the bag and ran down the hallway. I’m in the Rayburn building-two down from Cannon. The Capitol Hill Police have asked us to all lock our doors as the buildings are all connected underground. The film from FOX right now is from inside the Cannon rotunda.

I can’t believe these Members who are so hungry for media time that their first thought is to call media outlets and talk about what’s going on. It is true…Congress loves the idea of Hollywood and being stars and Hollywood loves politics and the power it grants. Of course, here I am blogging about it...we're all so vain!

How soon until a liberal calls for more gun control or a conservative makes the point that D.C. has the most strict gun laws in the country and still this happens? Clock is ticking...

University bias 

I agree with Betsy on this one. I don’t think the federal government should try to legislative a solution to this problem.

Hill news 

Despite a provision being included in both the House and Senate FY2004 Transportation Appropriations bills to allow Americans to travel to Cuba, the House and Senate conferees are probably going to strip this provision from the bill in conference. This is an example of the enormous power that conferees have. A majority in both Houses support this provision but it can be eliminated from the bill by a few Members meeting in private.

Last night the House voted to increase the $6,000 death benefit for service members killed in action to $12,000. The bill also would make the entire payment tax-free.

Reconstruction 

The House-Senate Conference Committee voted 16-13 to make the Iraq money a grant instead of a loan.

Vietnam? 

Richard Cohen tells us why Iraq is not Vietnam. Here are his reasons:

1) The nature of the insurgency: “The Vietnamese independence movement was both long-standing and widespread. That cannot be said about whoever is behind the Iraq terrorism attacks -- bitter-end Baathists or Islamic zealots taking a short cut to heaven. Neither embodies Iraqi national aspirations.”

2) Iraq has no North: “In Vietnam, the war on the ground was waged in the South, but supplies and manpower came down the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail from the North. Iraq has no triple-canopy jungle to screen a supply line. It's an arid, desert country where a goat can be spotted from the air. Iraq is not Vietnam.”

3) Iraq in a way is much more important: “It is not on the periphery of Asia but dead in the center of the oil-rich Middle East…a reversal in Iraq would surely show -- as Somalia did once before -- that the United States lacks the stomach for a fight. It can fight from the air and with precision-guided missiles launched from the sea, but on land it has a glass jaw and cannot take a punch.”

I would add one more reason why Iraq is not Vietnam. The administrations that ran the Vietnam war did not commit totally to the cause. This administration, so far, has been committed to the war and has every desire to see it through to the end.

Tom Friedman has his own column in the same subject today in the New York Times:

What to do [about Iraq]? The first thing is to understand who these people are. There is this notion being peddled by Europeans, the Arab press and the antiwar left that "Iraq" is just Arabic for Vietnam, and we should expect these kinds of attacks from Iraqis wanting to "liberate" their country from "U.S. occupation." These attackers are the Iraqi Vietcong.

Hogwash. The people who mounted the attacks on the Red Cross are not the Iraqi Vietcong. They are the Iraqi Khmer Rouge — a murderous band of Saddam loyalists and Al Qaeda nihilists, who are not killing us so Iraqis can rule themselves. They are killing us so they can rule Iraqis.

Have you noticed that these bombers never say what their political agenda is or whom they represent? They don't want Iraqis to know who they really are. A vast majority of Iraqis would reject them, because these bombers either want to restore Baathism or install bin Ladenism.

Let's get real. What the people who blew up the Red Cross and the Iraqi police fear is not that we're going to permanently occupy Iraq. They fear that we're going to permanently change Iraq. The great irony is that the Baathists and Arab dictators are opposing the U.S. in Iraq because — unlike many leftists — they understand exactly what this war is about. They understand that U.S. power is not being used in Iraq for oil, or imperialism, or to shore up a corrupt status quo, as it was in Vietnam and elsewhere in the Arab world during the cold war. They understand that this is the most radical-liberal revolutionary war the U.S. has ever launched — a war of choice to install some democracy in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Latest reading... 

Last night I finished reading A Season on the Brink, John Feinstein’s book chronicling the ’85-86 Indiana Hoosiers basketball team coached by Bobby Knight. It was a great look into what drives Knight. It is a true inside view from someone who was granted access to every intimate detail of the season. I would recommend it to anyone who likes college basketball or who is interested in knowing what makes Bobby Knight tick. Now I know why it is the best selling sports book of all time.

Justice Brown 

Clint Bolick says that Justice Janice Brown is more libertarian than conservative and is worthy of appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He writes:

What is most remarkable about Brown's jurisprudence is that she sees all basic individual rights as equally fundamental. Unlike many liberals, she counts property rights and economic liberties as deserving of judicial protection. In Santa Monica Beach, Ltd. v. Superior Court (1999), for instance, she dissented from a decision upholding a rent control ordinance, declaring that "[a]rbitrary government actions which infringe property interests cannot be saved from constitutional infirmity by the beneficial purposes of the regulators.",,,

Brown also consistently upholds such rights as freedom of speech, privacy, and the rights of criminal defendants—a position that bothers many conservatives. In People v. Woods (1999), Justice Brown objected to a police search of a home justified by the fact that a roommate was an ex-felon. "In appending the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, the framers sought to protect individuals against government excess," she wrote. "High in that pantheon was the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures."

T.V.'s in the bedrooms of 2 year olds? 

What are these parents thinking??

Nethercutt's comments 

Andrew Sullivan defends Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA).

Sharpton reminds us why he's a joke... 

Al Sharpton on Howard Dean:

"Howard Dean's opposition to affirmative action, his current support for the death penalty and historic support of the NRA's agenda amounts to an anti-black agenda that will not sell in communities of color in this country," Sharpton said. "Any so-called African-American leader that would endorse Dean despite his anti-black record is mortgaging the future of our struggle for civil rights and social justice to back a candidate whose record on issues of critical importance to us is no better than that of George W. Bush."

So if someone supports the death penalty, supports gun ownership, and is against affirmative action they have an anti-black agenda? This is so typical of liberal black leaders. First, Sharpton assumes that all black people think the same way about these issues. Does he not think that there are black people who think the same way that Dean does on one or all of these issues? Second, instead of telling Dean why he may be wrong about these issues he makes a racial issue about it. Sometimes when I hear Sharpton speak I think he’s funny and harmless and I am amused, but then he says things like this and I realize he’s just a sideshow freak starved for attention and fame and it reminds me some of the horrible things he’s done in his lifetime. Dean, if he wanted to, could bury this guy in a debate, but it’s just not worth the effort.

Alaska Senate race 

Tony Knowles leads by 9-points Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in a poll.

In a poll of 459 registered voters conducted in late September and early October by Alaska Democratic pollster Ivan Moore for a corporate client, Knowles was preferred by 52 percent of the respondents, while Murkowski was the choice of 43 percent. The rest of those polled were undecided.

The poll, conducted Sept. 27-Oct. 3, had a 4.6 percent margin of error.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Which books influence those on the right? 

John Hawkins at Right Wing News asked 150 right-of-center bloggers to pick the books that most influence their thinking. I participated and a few of my choices made the list. Hawkins lists the 20 picks with the most votes. Now that I look at the list there are others that I should have thought of for my list but I didn’t think of them at the time. C.S. Lewis was the big winner with three of his books making the top 20. Ayn Rand and George Orwell have two apiece. The Bible is number one on the list.

Is D.C. corrupt or are humans? 

Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH) has asked his wife of 21 years for a divorce after admitting to her that he has a girlfriend in D.C.

“He called me on Friday and said he wants a divorce,” Susan LaTourette said in a telephone call from her workplace near the Cleveland suburb of Madison Village, where she, her husband and their four children live.

Susan LaTourette, who said she doesn’t know where her husband lives when Congress is in session, blamed the Washington culture for the breakup. “I think Washington corrupts people,” she said.

Or maybe it's because he's a despicable person.

Manufacturing tax cuts 

Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA), of the House Ways and Means Committee, is looking to move his tax legislation to assist manufactures sometime soon. It would also resolve the debate surrounding the U.S. corporate tax laws that "the World Trade Organization ruled a tax break for exporters an illegal subsidy. Lawmakers are looking to eliminate and replace that $5 billion annual subsidy or face up to $4 billion in sanctions imposed by the European Union."

Space Plane 

The top Democrat and Republican on the House Science Committee support delaying the implementation of the Orbital Space Plane, what was to be the next generation of space vehicles.

Monday, October 27, 2003

The real problem, again 

Mort Kondracke, in Roll Call gets past the tax cut arguments to focus on the real problem with the federal deficit.

Democrats blast President Bush for ballooning federal deficits, but their no-cuts, no-reform stance on Social Security and Medicare threatens the nation’s economic future at least as much as his tax cuts….

Moreover, all of the Democratic candidates advocate not just creating an expensive new Medicare prescription drug benefit — Bush is for it, too — but also a high-priced guarantee of insurance coverage for the uninsured. These new initiatives certainly are meritorious, but if the nation is to avoid a fiscal abyss as the baby boom generation retires, entitlement reform also is necessary.

Persons over 65 now make up 21 percent of the population. That will increase to 35 percent by 2030 and 42 percent by 2075. The number of workers paying payroll taxes for each retiree is now 3.7. In 2030, it will be 2.4 and in 2075, only 2.0. Without reforms, the burdens will be intolerable…

In chilling testimony before the Senate Aging Committee in July, Social Security trustee Thomas Saving said that to maintain current benefits, by 2025 Social Security and Medicare will use up 28 percent of all federal income tax revenue and 47 percent by 2040.

“Clearly, elderly entitlement programs are out of control,” he said. “If nothing is done, by 2060, the combination of Social Security and Medicare will account for more than 71 percent of the federal budget,” double today’s level.

UPDATE: RealClearPoltics has since transcribed the column here.

D.C. "anti-war" protests 

Andrew Sullivan comments on the protests that took place this weekend.

There were so few "anti-war" demonstrators in DC this weekend that I barely noticed any. I had one amusing exchange with a stereotypical aging hippie couple who were both wearing 'Free Iraq" t-shirts. As I walked past them with the beagle, I pointed at their t-shirts and said, "We just did." They scowled. The BBC did its best to pump up the demonstrations, of course:

The march was thought to be smaller than the mass demonstrations before and during the war. But the BBC's Jon Leyne, who was at the Washington rally, said it was probably more in tune with the mood of Americans, who are increasingly concerned at the president's policy in Iraq.

Notice the scientific reporting: the march "was thought" to be smaller than the pre-war ones (it was obviously not even in the same ball-park). And the rally - which was full of the usual anti-globalization Luddites and bitter anti-Semites - was "probably" in tune with American public opinion. They don't even make stuff up with real confidence any more.

SO WHY CARE? So why bother with these extremists? Because it seems to me that the far left anti-war message, misguided before the war, is close to obscene today, and tells us something about what we're up against. Before the war, these people claimed they weren't pro-Saddam; they were just pro-peace. But now that the Iraqi people have the first chance in living memory to have a decent, pluralist and democratic country, these demonstrators want to abandon them to chaos, terror, civil war and a possible new dictatorship. The only connective thread in this movement is hatred of the United States… Here's a prediction: the fledgling links now forged between left-wing anti-war campaigners and Islamo-fascism will get stronger in the years ahead. The anti-globalization far left has nowhere else to go. Fanatical political Islam provides them with an over-arching structure for the loathing of the West. Now that Marxism is dead and post-modernism has shown itself inept as a basis for a real political movement, Islam will fill the void.


UPDATE: Anna at Pet Bunny has some disturbing pictures from this weekend’s protest.

Free state 

The New York Times has an update on the Free State Project and interviews people who have already picked up and moved to New Hampshire. Here’s one:

Although Jackie Casey had voted for Wyoming, she just moved from Portland, Ore., to Merrimack, between Nashua and Manchester, renting a basement apartment with her cat, Soopa Doopa Hoopa, and her two 9-millimeter handguns. (She wants a machine gun "or at least a rifle" for Christmas.) She has already hung one wall and her bathroom with framed posters of Frank Zappa, who was a libertarian himself.

"I don't like to go places that don't let me have my gun," said Ms. Casey, 33, who sells memberships to a Las Vegas survivalist training institute and models for comic books (her likeness has graced the cover of one called Reload). Her New Hampshire plans include starting eight businesses "because nine out of every 10 fail, and I've already started two, so I need to do eight more."

"I want to be a billionaire in my lifetime," she added, "and I don't want to live among people who think that's bad."

Is this good or bad? 

Haley Barbour and Ernie Fletcher both lead their Democrat rivals in polls in the race for governor for Mississippi and Kentucky. Some GOP strategists think, that should these men win, it could bode well for the GOP in 2004. While they may be right, it would be wise to remember that Democrats thought that Democrat victories in Virginia and New Jersey in 2001 would bode well for Democrats in 2002. We know how that turned out.

Member in the news 

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) has an op/ed in today’s Washington Post criticizing President Bush for not repealing some of the tax cuts to pay for the cost of the postwar in Iraq.

Waste, fraud, and abuse 

Jeff at Pornlitics takes me to task for complaining about waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government while blogging at work on the taxpayer’s dime using a federal government computer. Jeff writes:

Now, this isn't just a meaningless statement by Eric. Oh no. It's much, much more. His statement, in its particular form, is evidence that wasteful and abusive government employees are nearly "impossible to fire."

How's that, you ask?

Because Eric is a federal government employee, posting to his blog during business hours, probably from a government computer terminal…

Given this, I guess it isn't so hard to see why Eric doesn't think ferreting out waste, fraud, and abuse will be an effective means of finding budgetary savings after all.

I wonder how widespread Eric's views are among other young Republican Congressional staffers like him? Do the bulk of his colleagues also subscribe to budget-hawk doctrine which says "balance budgets by cutting Social Security benefits for deadbeat seniors, but don't bother trying to save cash by stopping waste and abuse, because you'll never fire me anyway"?


Although most of the writing for my blog takes place before 9 AM (when the work day here officially begins) I do post and read the Internet during the workday. Now, much of this reading also aids me in my work for my boss so I would probably be doing most of it anyway, but I will concede to Jeff that blogging makes me a less efficient worker. That being said, I think he has Capitol Hill staffers confused with civil service employees. Hill staffers have none of the protections civil servants enjoy. We also are not paid like civil service employees. Our salaries are at the discretion of the Member. My Member or Chief of Staff could call me into his or her office today and fire me and I would be out the door before six o’clock. If they knew I was blogging they might very well do it.

I also never said that we shouldn’t “bother trying to save cash by stopping waste and abuse.” I’m sorry I gave that impression. I think we should try to ferret out all the waste, fraud, and abuse we can. Chairman Nussle is trying to do just that. I was merely saying, for the purposes of my discussion, that it would be unrealistic to include all the identified waste, fraud, and abuse in any budget calculations I do. If I did I would feel like I was being unrealistic and similar to Democrats who say they would fix the deficit problems by repealing the tax cuts without saying how they would get this plan through the GOP-led Congress.

On another note, Jeff must have misread my post because I, not once, suggested “slashing federal entitlements” or “cutting Social Security benefits.” The whole point of Rep. Toomey’s budget plan was that it left Social Security and Medicare alone. Non-defense/Homeland Security discretionary spending programs would have been the only programs cut.

I’ll give Jeff another thing…he’s right that my ideas aren’t exactly cutting edge. However, I was only responding to Matthew Yglesias who wanted some ideas on how the budget could be balanced without repealing Bush’s tax cuts. I wasn’t attempting to impress others with some ground-breaking plan. I’m not that smart.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Rx Drugs status 

It looks like the Medicare conferees are moving closer to a few market reforms in the Medicare Rx Drug bill. The GOP leadership knows that House conservatives will not support a bill that does not contain the 2010 reform provision, which would enable seniors to choose between Medicare and private plans. Should they drop the “premium support” provisions they could probably obtain enough Democrat votes to pass the bill, but Bush would end up with many angry House Republicans.

Hmmm... 

Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) thinks that a particular Democrat presidential candidate needs to address the plank in his eye before engaging in criticism. John McCaslin reports:

There is a "continual drumbeat" among Democratic presidential candidates in particular regarding the "faulty intelligence" that President Bush relied upon before marching into Baghdad.

But Sen. Robert F. Bennett, Utah Republican, says anybody asking the question "How could the president have been so stupid?" should be reminded that intelligence "is never hard and fast. It is always an estimate. It is also a guess. And it is often wrong."

He recalls traveling with a U.S. delegation to China after U.S. troops under the command of Gen. Wesley Clark, now a presidential candidate critical of Mr. Bush and his war in Iraq, mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in Serbia.

"We said: 'It was a mistake. It was an error.' And the Chinese ambassador, with whom we were talking at the time, said: 'You have the best intelligence in the world. You must have known that was the Chinese Embassy. ... You did that deliberately.' "

Mr. Bennett said Congress later investigated the bombing, and "we found the reason that happened is because General Wesley Clark, the commander of NATO, was demanding targets: 'I need more targets. I'm running out of targets.'

"And under the pressure of those demands from that commanding general, the CIA came up with targets, and they came up with an old target with bad information, under the pressure from a commander who was anxious to keep bombing even though he had run out of legitimate targets."

Clinton on Rummy 

Here’s what Bill Clinton has to say about the Rumsfeld memo that was leaked:

I just thought it was a candid statement of the facts. I think this is a big, long-term challenge. Whether you agree or disagree with the policy in Iraq, we are where we are, and I take it that almost a hundred percent of Americans believe we have to pursue the action against al Qaeda and any other terrorist cells that are or may in future plan to attack us in the future here in the homeland, and that we ought to be helping our allies to deal with some of the problems in their countries. In that sense, it was candid.

Andrew Sullivan also posts a good comment on the memo on his letters page.

Fun weekend in D.C. 

International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice are sponsoring another protest rally this weekend in D.C.

“The purpose of tomorrow's march, organizers said, is to demand the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and to protest the Patriot Act, the legislation enacted two years ago that expanded the government's powers of surveillance and detention.” Do these people not realize what the consequences would be if the U.S. were to withdraw its troops right now? The main criticism Iraqis have of the U.S. is that it abandoned them in the mid-1990s. It would be disastrous to do so again.

While I was familiar with International ANSWER, I had never heard of United for Peace and Justice so I decided to check them out. It turns out it is a coalition of about 650 groups that come together for one purpose: “to oppose our government's policy of permanent warfare and empire-building.” Some of the groups are the usual left wing groups such as Friends of the Earth , National Organization for Women, Communist Party USA, Rainbow/Push Coalition, and the Young Communist League, USA. There are also some pretty eclectic groups too. The Chicago Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, Raging Grannies, Anti-Capitalist Convergence, Corporate Lawyers Against War, House of The Goddess Center for Pagan Wombyn, and Students Against Testing (don’t all students dislike testing?) will also be in attendance.

I’m glad I’ll be hiking in the Shenandoah on Saturday. It’s supposed to be nice weather.

Thought for the day: 

One of the discussions heard pretty often on blogs is that politics is getting nastier and more distasteful every day. Whether or not this is true is not the discussion I am interested in at this point, but it is clear, at least, that this is the impression that people have today. Many immediately begin the blame game saying that political nastiness began with the Bush-bashers or the Clinton-haters. I forgot which blog I was reading lately, but the blogger had a quote from a former Reagan official who said, no, it started back in the 80s. People blame Michael Moore and Ann Coulter. While I am not refuting the fact that there are people out there that strongly hate certain presidents and that politicians often resort to hardball tactics to accomplish their goals, perhaps we should stop looking for scapegoats or guilty parties and instead look at the system we are building.

I started reading last night, for the first time (yes, I’m an economics major and I was never asked to crack this book open during my four years in college), Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. While I am only onto the second chapter I found this excerpt interesting:

The use of political channels, while inevitable, tends to strain the social cohesion essential for a stable society. The strain is least if agreement for joint action need be reached only on a limited range of issues on which people in any event have common views. Every extension of the range of issues for which explicit agreement is sought strains further the delicate threads that hold society together. If it goes so far as to touch an issue on which men feel deeply yet differently, it may well disrupt the society. Fundamental differences in basic values can seldom if ever be resolved at the ballot box; ultimately they can only be decided though not resolved, by conflict. The religious and civil wars of history are a bloody testament to this judgment.

The widespread use of the market reduces the strain on the social fabric by rendering conformity unnecessary with respect to any activities it encompasses. The wider the range of activities covered by the market, the fewer are the issues on which explicitly political decisions are required and hence on which it is necessary to achieve agreement. In turn, the fewer the issues on which agreement is necessary, the greater is the likelihood of greeting agreement while maintaining society.

He goes on to say that while there are some things that can’t be resolved by the market and that we must decide using politics, they should be kept to a minimum. He also says that if political means must be used to solve a disagreement a society should start with the most decentralized political entity and work from there -- meaning local political control is best because it effects the least number of people. If my county or state is making decisions with which I strongly disagree I can always pick up and move. It is a lot harder to do so if it is the federal government making decisions with which I disagree.

This seems to suggest that as long as we continue along the present course of greater centralization of power in Washington, politics will only get nastier. It will have nothing to do with the personalities and actors involved. We might have momentary lulls in partisanship, but the fight will always resume because there is so much at stake. The more power we cede to the federal government, and governments in general, and the less we let markets control society, the more vitriolic our political debates will become.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Abortion politics 

Does the paragraph below, from a New York Times story, strike anyone else as a little strange? The article is about how voting in support of the ban on partial-birth in the Senate was difficult for some Democrat Senators because pro-choice interest groups are so important to Democrats. Here’s the paragraph:

For many of those senators, the issue was sealed years ago when abortion opponents coined the term "partial birth" for a procedure that doctors call intact dilation and extraction. Critics of the procedure described it in terms so gruesome and detailed that many lawmakers who otherwise support abortion rights already felt compelled to vote against it when the issue repeatedly came before Congress during the Clinton administration.

The reporter, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, acts as if the Democrats who voted for the ban did so because of some rhetorical gimmick on behalf of the ban’s supporters. To Stolberg it couldn’t be that the actual procedure itself concerns these Democrats or their constituents, it must have been some slick politics on behalf of abortion opponents. Stolberg then reports that Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) said the procedure was morally repugnant. Does she think this Senator, who’s a pretty intelligent guy, was brainwashed by abortion opponents?

Here’s what Kate Michelman had to say:

“They ran away with this debate in the public domain by constantly describing this procedure," said Kate Michelman, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, one of three advocacy groups that intend to challenge the measure in court. She added, "Politicians got nervous."

This would be like Republicans saying that it’s not fair that Democrats explained the details of President Bush’s tax cuts to the American people and showed them that the majority of the benefits would go to the wealthy. Would she prefer that the American people not know what the procedure entails?

Iraq funding 

Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), a moderate, has a good op/ed in the Baltimore Sun today after returning from Iraq.

City councils are being elected throughout the country. Hospitals are being resupplied. About 1,600 schools have been rebuilt. Almost 80,000 Iraqi police officers are being trained and will be deployed within the year. Electric power is finally being restored. There's a new currency to reflect a new dawn.

These accomplishments represent only a small fraction of the progress American men and women in uniform, government workers and civilians have brought to Iraq. But the scope of the challenge before us in Iraq is much more than statistics. After spending the better part of a week there, I saw infrastructure in worse condition than I could have imagined, all because of the sheer neglect and malice of Saddam Hussein.

Much damage was also done to the psychology of the Iraqi people. They are embarrassed and humiliated by the condition of their nation. They have a fundamental craving for democracy, yet are still stricken with fear at the prospect of a return to a brutal totalitarian regime.

After talking with Iraqis, their biggest fear of all, however, is that the Americans will leave too soon and the low-grade resistance from Hussein loyalists and foreign fighters, whom the vast majority of the Iraqi people hate, will spiral into a new and dangerous regime of oppression.

We cannot afford to cut and run or come up short when rebuilding Iraq.

News... 

The Washington Post reports:
“The National Park Service has scrapped plans for an underground visitors center at the Washington Monument because of public and congressional opposition but will proceed with a project to replace concrete Jersey barriers with low stone walls set into a regraded landscape. A wooden fence surrounding the site will remain for more than a year, officials said.”

I grew up in Jersey and I always thought that Jersey barriers were the large, brown walls along highways to shield residents from the sounds of the traffic. Until I moved down here I had never heard of the low, concrete barriers being called Jersey barriers. Who knows?

And on another subject

“Environmental Protection Agency rule changes could lead to almost While 1.4 million tons more air pollution in 12 states and jeopardize Clinton-era lawsuits against power plants, two studies concluded yesterday, contradicting Bush administration claims.

The General Accounting Office, Congress's investigative arm, said EPA rule revisions could lead to reduced fines and pollution controls in some of the clean air lawsuits against utilities.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Correction on the uninsured Part II 

An astute reader from J.B. McCraw’s class writes to point out a mistake I inadvertently made in reporting news about the uninsured. I posted a link to a chart, which looks like it was put together by the AP from data obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, that has a headline stating: “Nearly half of uninsured are non-citizens.” This headline led Rice Grad, Courreges, and myself to believe that the Census Bureau had found that 43 percent of the uninsured were not citizens of the U.S.

The reader did some research and found the actual Census Bureau report that states 43.3 percent of non-citizens in the U.S. do not have health insurance. This would also explain the discrepancy in the numbers that have confused Stephen Laniel and I. This is why the three categories do not add up to 100 percent. These numbers represent the percentage of each group that do not have health insurance, rather than a percentage of the uninsured that fall into each group. While the AP is responsible for, what I think is, a misleading headline, I probably should have done a little more research before I posted a link to this chart.

Tax cut or tax reform? 

President Bush is planning an election year tax cut plan.

The Bush administration, unfazed by aggressive Democratic opposition, is working on its fourth consecutive tax cut plan, which will be unveiled during next year’s presidential election campaign, according to sources close to the White House.

But unlike President Bush’s previous tax cut proposals, the White House plans to sell its election-year package as a narrowly targeted pension reform bill designed to help individual taxpayers by letting them stash thousands of additional dollars in tax-free IRAs, 401(k)s and other retirement accounts…

That plan would allow individual Americans to save up to $7,500 per year in tax-free savings and retirement accounts for a total of $15,000 a year. Treasury would put few limits on the accounts, permitting a family of four to save up to $60,000 a year, for example. Investments in the accounts would not be taxed when participants cash out down the road.

By eliminating more taxes on savings, the so-called lifetime savings accounts (LSAs) and retirement savings accounts (RSAs) would move the U.S. tax code one notch closer to a consumption-based system — a dream of fiscal conservatives.

This is another example of Bush using the government to encourage Americans to become more self-sufficient and responsible for their own long-term security.

Freshman mistake 

Something doesn’t seem quite right here.

A nonprofit drug treatment foundation set up by freshman Rep. Frank Ballance has been “riddled with conflicts of interests and financial improprieties,” including payments to the North Carolina Democrat’s relatives and political supporters, according to an audit by state regulators released Wednesday.

Interviews with grant recipients indicated that some used the funds they received for drug and alcohol treatment and prevention projects, while others used the funds for projects that had no apparent connection to substance abuse, the audit said…Auditors also revealed that the foundation paid Ballance’s daughter $5,000 for work that was not performed. And the nonprofit provided a grant to an organization that employed Ballance’s mother, the audit stated.

In addition, the foundation wrote an undocumented $35,000 check for rent to a church where Ballance served as chairman of the board of deacons.

Roll Calls 

Here's a Roll Call vote from yesterday. This one was a non-binding resolution to instruct the conferees on the Conference Committee resolving the differences in the Iraq Supplemental to accept the Senate loan provision. The motion to instruct passed by a vote of 277-139. The Leadership does not seem inclined to follow this advice.

Here’s the Senate Roll Call for the Partial Birth Abortion ban, which passed the Senate yesterday by a vote of 63-34. Tim Graham gives us a first-hand report on how the media reported this news.

When Senators speak... 

Senators Joe Biden (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Orin Hatch (R-UT) are quoted defending the USA PATRIOT Act. The Washington Post says that they believe it "has drawn unmerited criticism from civil libertarians at both ends of the political spectrum who have targeted it with complaints over unrelated issues."

I think it is important to separate the criticisms of the civil libertarian groups from the complaints of the "man on the street" or those who just want to bash the President. While the civil libertarians criticisms, in these Senators minds, might be unfounded, I don’t think they are the ones getting the Patriot Act confused with other unrelated issues. They shouldn’t be dismissed. The civil libertarian criticisms are pretty clear and do relate to the Patriot Act. The main ones can be found here.

I think the Senators do have a point about complaints about unrelated issues when it comes to the average American though. Numerous constituents have contacted our office complaining about unlawful detentions and the arrests of illegal immigrants and allude that the Patriot Act is to blame. This is not the case. The Patriot Act has nothing to with the abuses that took place in the New York detention center. I think it is important, should criticisms be made about the Patriot Act, that people know the facts. Here’s what DOJ has to say about it.

Another Senator, Chuck Hagel (R-NE) thinks that Congress has given President Bush too much leeway.

One quote Hagel makes about Vietnam is strange though.

"The one great mistake that America made in those 58 years [since World War II]...was we tried to do something alone. That was Vietnam," Hagel said.

I realize I wasn’t even born at the time and Hagel actually served in Vietnam but I never thought that “going it alone” in Vietnam was the problem. I was always told that the problem was lack of overall commitment and strategy along with too many decisions being made in Washington rather than in the field. Maybe my history books failed me…

More from the Senate
In the Washington Post, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Don Nickles (R-OK) make the case for means testing Medicare for those individuals earning more than $100,000 and couples earning more than $200,000 annually. Here are my thoughts from the other day. I am leaning in support of this proposal.

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