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Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Family disagreements 

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) doesn’t seem to hold the same views as his uncle on the issue of Iraq.

“I don’t agree with his stance,” Rep. Kennedy said while campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Dick Gephardt (Mo.), according to the Boston Herald . “I believe that the [United Nations] needs to be a viable international organization, and the only way it is viable is if its proclamations and resolutions are enforced.”

Iraq spending 

The Wall Street Journal rightly goes after Congress for nitpicking the Iraq spending request but ignoring blatant waste in other spending bills. In particular they pick on Reps. Tom Feeney (R-FL) and Zach Wamp (R-TN) for recent statements they have made.

We're all for Congress paying close attention to what it spends. But would that our honorable representatives were applying as much skepticism to the fine print of, say, the energy bill as they are to President Bush's $87 billion request for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan…

It's not a good idea to charge Iraqis for spending over which coalition authorities, not an Iraqi government, will have more or less total control. If perfectly legitimate Halliburton contracts are considered scandalous in some quarters when Americans are picking up the tab, imagine what critics would say if Iraqis were asked to pay them. "So it was about the oil . . ." The signal it would send to Iraqis wouldn't help the battle for hearts and minds.

Beinart on the Dems 

The New Republic put Peter Beinart’s scathing critique of the Democrats on the web today. It was published in last week’s issue and, if you have a chance, check out the editorial in that issue as well. It’s not on the web.

Here’s Beinart:

In his speech that night, President Bush did what Democrats had been demanding: He abandoned the fiction that Iraq could be rebuilt on the cheap. His $87 billion request even included new money for Afghanistan, where Democrats had hammered his insufficient commitment to nation-building.

You'd think Democrats would have applauded the president's conversion, perhaps even claimed credit for it. Instead, leading Democrats responded to Bush's U-turn with one of their own. With the polls showing that a majority of Americans, and a huge majority of Democrats, don't want to spend more money on Iraq, prominent Democrats decided Bush was too committed to nation-building. Almost overnight, it was Democrats who wanted to reconstruct Iraq on the cheap.

Democrats support the $51 billion Bush has requested for Iraqi military operations. But they want him to separate that from the roughly $20 billion he has requested for rebuilding Iraq's hospitals, electrical grid, and police. Ask Democrats whether they support that latter request, and they give three responses, each more dishonest and opportunistic than the last.

Read the whole thing. I wish TNR put more on the web. It really is a good magazine.

Balanced Budget sometime soon? 

Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) has promised conservative Members of the House a vote on a balanced budget amendment next year. The bipartisan amendment (H.J.Res. 22) has 114 cosponsors as of today.

Workin' overtime 

The Washington Post editorializes against the Department of Labor’s new rules for overtime pay. The Senate has already passed an amendment to the DOL Appropriations bill that would prevent the rules from going into effect. The House rejected a similar amendment to their bill. I have spoken to employees at DOL who were involved with writing the new rules and they honestly tell me that there is no intention to write the rules to allow employers to drop overtime pay for people making below $65,000. Their intention is mainly to remove the ambiguity in current law so that employers and employees know exactly who is eligible.

I have read the new rules, however, and I don’t see much more specificity. If I were an employer I would probably still be confused, and if I were an employee I might have reason to worry about losing my overtime pay. I rarely believe anything labor unions have to say (besides environmentalists, they are the interest group, in my opinion, that most misrepresents facts) and their numbers of 9 million people losing overtime are definitely high.

Here’s a response to the Post from Sec. Elaine Chow from today’s Baltimore Sun.

The department's proposed reforms would reduce the complexity of these regulations nearly in half and help us recover fair overtime pay for workers without the need for litigation -- meaning that workers who had been improperly denied overtime would get their wages quickly instead of waiting for years.

Yet somehow these pro-worker reforms have been mischaracterized as an effort to take away overtime pay. That's simply not true. The nation's leading police union says that our proposal would help some police officers gain overtime, not hurt them. Firefighters and other first responders would also be protected. Hourly workers, blue-collar workers like construction workers and assembly line workers wouldn't be impacted by the changes, nor would union members who negotiate their pay under collective bargaining agreements.

While there is the potential for some high-wage white-collar workers to become exempt from overtime, the vast majority of workers would be helped by the department's proposal or be unaffected.

What is wrong with this picture??!! 

The Washington Times is reporting today that, as the fiscal year ends today, the D.C. public school system is trying to spend $23.8 million so it doesn’t revert back to the federal treasury. Yes, that’s $23.8 million. According to the article, this is about 1/3 the federal appropriations for the school system. This is the same school system that cries to the federal government every year about not having enough money and that the $13 million extra dollars for vouchers, which the school system would not have seen otherwise, is going to destroy the system. This is incredible! How does the school system say that they don’t have enough money and this lack of money is why the schools are failing when they have $20 million left over at the end of the year? Does anyone else see the problems here?! It is quite obvious that lack of funds is the least of this particular school system's problems.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Debating tactics 

John Hawkins at Right Wing news gives am insightful and amusing summary of the different debating tactics used by politicians.

D.C. news 

John McCaslin reports how the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, which is charged with guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery, did not cease guard duty during Hurricane Isabel.

He also mentions I Nicholas Cage movie being filmed in D.C. called “National Treasure.” My girlfriend and I stumbled upon this filming last week, although we did not spot Mr. Cage. We watched a scene in which a red van is driven down the street and parked for about seven takes and got tired of that.

Here’s an article for anyone interested in reading about the Senate’s Sergeant at Arms, Bill Pickle.

The $87 billion 

Max Boot has a good op/ed in USA Today. We must not fail to support the U.S. troops and reconstruction efforts in Iraq. I saw a poll this weekend that said something like 60% (or maybe it was even more) of Americans do not approve of the $87 billion for Iraq. I think the majority of Americans are dead wrong on this issue. As Boot writes, “if we pulled out today, it would be a catastrophic defeat, a confirmation to our enemies of the supposed lessons of Vietnam, Beirut and Somalia: that America is, as Osama bin Laden famously said, a "paper tiger" that can be attacked with impunity.

“We can't afford to fail in Iraq. That doesn't necessarily mean more troops. It does mean more work building up Iraqi security forces and infrastructure. Bush's $87 billion request, along with his renewed efforts to increase international support, will go a long way toward that goal.”

Friday, September 26, 2003

Pretty funny 

Jockularocracy (I’m not quite sure what that means, but hey!) has a pretty amusing minute-by-minute (well, almost) report on the Cali circus, er, debate the other night. It’s quite enjoyable.

Politics more cutthroat? 

Just Another Rice Grad has some interesting comments on the long term ramifications of the Texas redistricting.

Examples of increasingly aggressive politics are numerous: Clinton's marginally legal use of soft money in 1996 that literally won him re-election, Gore refusing to concede in Florida, 2004 Democratic presidential aspirants' boldly harsh and scathing attacks on Bush, Republicans' K Street Project to entrench allies in lobbying positions, or the increasingly political nature of both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

This is what Republicans are doing in Texas: playing for keeps, because that's what the system demands. Tom DeLay is simply doing what he must do -- aggressive politics. He is seizing a chance to add a few Republican seats. But if Republicans don't do it first, then Democrats will. DeLay saw a tradition he could exploit for partisan gain. Because of this, the rules of politics will change: both parties will now look to redistrict whenever they have an edge.

Is this good for the country? I’m not sure. The cutthroat nature of politics might turn more people off or it may energize more people to get involved.

Krauthammer on Kennedy 

Charles Krauthammer goes after Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) for his foolish comments about the Iraq War being “a fraud” and that it was launched for political reasons. I also think Kennedy should back up his assertions that millions of dollars are being used to bribe world leaders with some facts.

Iraq spending 

Republicans in Congress are starting to become concerned about the $20 billion requested for reconstruction in Iraq. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), a Member of the House Appropriations Committee asks, “The people of eastern Tennessee want to know why the $20.3 billion couldn't be repaid by the Iraqi people from the oil revenues?”

Here are some of the spending proposals:

-$164 million-new curriculum for training an Iraqi army

-Five hundred experts, at $200,000 each, to investigate crimes against humanity.

-A witness protection program for $200,000 per Iraqi participant.

-$54 million for a computer study for the Iraqi postal service

-$100 million to build seven planned communities with a total of 3,258 houses, plus roads, an elementary school, two high schools, a clinic, a place of worship and a market for each

-$10 million to finance 100 prison-building experts for six months, at $100,000 an expert

-40 garbage trucks at $50,000 each

-$900 million to import petroleum products such as kerosene and diesel

-$20 million for a four-week business course, at $10,000 per student.

Jim Dyer, the powerful Republican staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, says that the complaints are contained so far "but that is because few lawmakers have read the proposal's fine print. As more details seep out, he said, anger is sure to rise." While I think that the U.S. should assist with some of the reconstruction, especially when it comes to power, roads, schools, and other basic infrastructure I think some of these spending ideas are too much. They main question will be if Republicans on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will be willing to buck their Chairmen to adjust these spending levels.

School choice 

Senate Democrats are trying to muster the votes to defeat D.C. school vouchers. The changes that Democrats want made in the bill are: “limiting the vouchers to students in failing schools; requiring that schools accept voucher students without charging extra tuition; and ensuring that the schools show the same yearly progress as required for public schools under new federal law.” If these provisions were adopted and I ran a private school, I probably wouldn’t accept voucher students because these new federal mandates would be placed on me. Of course, this is probably the Democrats’ goal.

D.C.'s Mayor, Anthony Williams, actually came to the Senate chamber as a guest of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). This was the first time D.C.'s mayor had been to the chamber since 1979.

Do-not-call 

I had no idea that these do-not-call registries didn’t apply to charities. What is the point if they don’t apply to charities?? I don’t know about everyone else, but the vast majority of unsolicited calls I get are from charities. They're usually from some police or firefighters organization looking for money. I’m sure they’re worthy causes but for charities not to be included in the do-not-call list really defeats the purpose. If charities want to raise money they should do it other ways. Call me callous…I don’t care.

Gov't waste 

Very often in the news we hear stories of government fraud and waste, which is abundant. Very rarely do we hear some good news but…Congress Daily is reporting that the USDA has reduced fraud in the food stamp program from $660 million per year between the years of 1996 and 1998 to $395 million per year between the years of 1999 and 2002. While that’s still well over a billion dollars wasted it is less waste than before…way to go USDA. They’re slogan should be…”USDA: wasting less money than last year!”

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Janklow's crimes... 

According to this report in Roll Call (subscription required) the taxpayers might end up picking up the tab for any civil suit costs again Rep. Bill Janklow (R-SD).

Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the federal government covers liability claims for negligent and wrongful acts committed by employees or officials — including judges, lawmakers, Congressional staff and agency bureaucrats — who are acting within the scope of their official duties.

The critical question, so far legally unresolved in Janklow’s case, is whether the first-term lawmaker was acting within the scope of his official duties or employment. If it is determined that he was, then the FTCA would apply, legal experts said.

“If the FTCA applies, then the individual can’t be sued and has no financial responsibility at all. It is the government’s responsibility, not the individual’s responsibility,” said Jeffrey Axelrad, former director of the Justice Department’s Federal Tort Claims Branch.

Clyburn's choice 

People in South Carolina are waiting for Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) to make his endorsement in the Democrat primary. The smart money seems to be Gephardt.

On Internationalization 

I’m sure plenty of people have already commented on Rumsfeld’s op/ed in the Washington Post today. I thought his points, assuming they’re true, about Kosovo and East Timor, are important. Far too many people act as if "internationalizing" the reconstruction and security of Iraq would guarantee success. Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D-PA) must have used this word a dozen times on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal this morning. He, and others, use the word "internationalize" as if it ends all debate. He never gave examples of why this would be better (except that it would lessen the costs for the U.S.), when it comes to actually achieving success in Iraq. Judging by the example that Rumsfeld gives, this initiative is far to important to leave to the "international community."

Bake sales and Affirmative Action 

Drudge had this story posted this morning about race-based bake sale being shut down at Southern Methodist University. It was being used to protest affirmative action. This quote by a student supporting affirmative action was weird:

"My reaction was disgust because of the ignorance of some SMU students," said Houston, who is black. "They were arguing that affirmative action was solely based on race. It's not based on race. It's based on bringing a diverse community to a certain organization."

Hmmmm…yeah…makes sense to me…

Do-not-call 

As most people have read/heard, a court has struck down the National Do-not-call registry. It seems the problem might have originated in Congress. It seems Congress authorized the FCC to institute this registry back in 1994, but never appropriated the funds. When it did appropriate the funds this year, it gave the funds to the FTC. FTC went ahead and instituted the registry, without specific authorization, which, at least to my understanding, is why it was struck down.

The House is set to act today to pass legislation (H.R. 3161) to authorize the FTC to institute the registry. While Congress definitely intended for the FTC to have charge over this initiative I guess it didn’t make it clear enough for the court. Let’s hope the Energy and Commerce Committee gets it right this time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Campus Conservatives 

It looks like the Bucknell Conservatives Club, made famous by the New York Times piece last spring on Campus Conservatives, is attempting to get Bucknell students thinking about campus speech codes. Good for them!

School choice 

Pete Du Pont, a man who puts his money where his mouth is, goes after Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Arlen Spector (R-PA) for attempting to filibuster the Senate D.C. Appropriations Bill because of the school choice provisions.

Hero on the Hill 

Jason Smedley , purple heart recipient in the Iraq War has taken a job with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR). Welcome home Jason!

Smedley, 25, returned to Lincoln’s office this month from active military duty in Iraq to take on the job of communications and projects coordinator in the Senator’s Washington office. The Purple Heart veteran returned from the Persian Gulf in mid-April after sustaining battle wounds near Nasariyah and since his recovery has been welcomed back to Lincoln’s office. Smedley previously served as a constituent relations representative for Lincoln in 2002 before his reserve unit was activated to go overseas in January.

A Little Rock, Ark., native, Smedley first served in Lincoln’s office as an intern. He is currently completing his bachelor’s degree in English at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Florida politics 

There might be a seventh Republican candidate for Florida Senate soon. Jeffrey Saull, an “office chair magnate from Vero Beach…would be prepared to spend $10-million to $20-million on a campaign.” He is a “self-described liberal Republican and philanthropist.”

And yesterday’s latest Florida Senate candidate, Larry Klayman, has not only sued both the Clinton Administration and Dick Cheney, he has sued his own mother! I think Florida is trying to win back the title of the state with the goofiest elections from California.

Grammer for Senate 

Kelsey Grammer as a candidate for Senate in CA? Here’s his political philosophy: I'm "a centrist, but I basically believe in trying to preserve as much opportunity for the individual, as long as the individual chooses to work as hard as he can." He says he would probably run as a Republican.

Social Security reform....zzzzzz 

Former Congressman Timothy Penny (D-MN) says that personal retirement accounts are the best way to save Social Security. Many politicians in office feel the same way, but they, unfortunately, do not want to take the political risks and say so. Soem bold ones, like Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) will take that case to the voters of Pennsylvania in the 2004 election.

Here’s Penny:

Simply put, it's very hard for government to prevent the spending of Social Security money because it's the government itself that wants to do the spending. As the CBO clearly states: Even if the government had surplus receipts to invest, it's doubtful that a process to protect them would be sustainable. A future Congress, confronted by war, recession, or other urgencies, could spend the invested resources or could run larger budget deficits or smaller surpluses that offset the effect of boosting saving. Future Congresses aren't bound by the policies of preceding Congresses, so it would be easy for them to go back on any commitment to save Social Security surpluses.

If trust funds, government investment, and lock-boxes can't work, what else could?

The CBO agrees with many private analysts that personal accounts - where Social Security money would be held by individuals rather than the government - offer the best chance for success: Assets set aside to fund future obligations are most likely to be insulated by a system in which ownership and control rest with individuals. In that circumstance, each participant has property rights and legal recourse to guard against the diversion of resources. If the money didn't belong to individual participants, future policymakers could find alternative uses for it - to create a new benefit, fund a new program, or perhaps cover a budget gap.

Arnold's height 

Andrew Sullivan weighs on the major controversy brewing over Arnold Schwarzenegger’s real height. He says he’s 6-2, while Men’s Health and others say he’s really 5-10. Since Sullivan is name-dropping (telling us about his meeting Arnold) I might as well do the same. I met him this spring/summer on the Hill and actually have a digital picture of him and myself. He is definitely more 5-10 than 6-2. I’m 5-11 and Arnold is about the same height as me in the picture. I hope this sets the record straight!

Air Safety 

One of the less than exciting issues being debated by Congress right now is whether or not to allow further privatization of certain air traffic control towers. Included in the legislation being debated is language that allows the privatization of 69 towers around the country. Democrats, as one would expect, are fighting privatization while some Republicans are defending it. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) announced today that he might be willing to give in to the Democrats on this issue despite the fact that privatized towers actually have a slightly better safety record and are cheaper to run than towers staffed by federal employees. (This data comes from the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General’s office.) It seems that while logic is on the side of the Republicans, Democrats will win by appealing to people’s emotions and fears.
Newt Gingrich’s mother, Kathleen, dies at the age of 77.

Our Fears 

Anne Applebaum has an enjoyable column today about the illogic nature of people’s fears. She starts with the latest example of the D.C. Metro’s decision to close down the morning before Hurricane Isabel even hit the city.

Last week the entire Metro system in Washington, the capital of the free world, had to close down for a whole day because someone might be blown onto the tracks during a hurricane that began after dinner. This week children in Washington were not allowed to go to school for a whole day because streets were blocked by fallen trees and power lines, and because traffic lights at some intersections weren't working. A previous generation might have walked around the fallen trees and looked both ways before crossing the street, but the children of this generation clearly live in a much more dangerous world than did its parents, and we need to protect them.

She goes on…it’s pretty good and I agree. We, as a society, need to toughen up! People are still wining here in the city about lost power and ranting about who or what should be blamed. Deal with it people! So you didn’t have power for couple days…people survived for thousands of years without power. I think we can handle a couple days. Sorry, I’ll stop complaining.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Free State Project 

Here’s the latest on the Free State Project. For those who don’t know, the "Free State Project is a plan in which 20,000 or more liberty-oriented people will move to a single state of the U.S., where they may work within the political system to reduce the size and scope of government. The success of the Free State Project would likely entail reductions in burdensome taxation and regulation, reforms in state and local law, an end to federal mandates, and a restoration of constitutional federalism, demonstrating the benefits of liberty to the rest of the nation and the world." (from their website)

The article says that the voting is being done by about 5000 people and will conclude Monday. The favorites are Wyoming and New Hampshire. I actually commend these people for working to implement their goal and setting an example for their type of ideal community. While I don’t completely agree with the entire libertarian belief system, it has many merits. It certainly is better than what the proponents of liberalism want to accomplish, which is to impose any idea, no matter how zany, from Washington onto the rest of the country. This country could certainly use a good dose of federalism.

"Secret meetings" 

I was chuckling after reading this Gregg Easterbrook commentary on Cheney’s energy task force meetings.

Editorialists, fringe groups and cartoonists have blasted Cheney for holding "secret" meetings with energy-company personnel. Aren't nearly all encounters among human beings "secret" meetings? Secret in this sense seems to mean, "Not televised on C-SPAN." By this definition public-school classes meet in secret; people get married in secret; pizzas are cooked in secret; this blog was planned in secret. Government could not operate if "secret meetings" were banned. Imagine the chaos if fringe groups looking for publicity could barge into Cheney's office on demand, or even if Cheney simply had to announce the name of every person he spoke with.

The litigation over the Cheney energy guest list is especially infuriating because everything important about the energy policy is already public! All that matters is the plan itself, and the complete text is available for anyone to read here. It's a link to the White House website--the White House has already disclosed everything we need to know about the energy policy! Which leaves a lot to be desired, but its pro-energy-lobby orientation has, from the start, been fully made known to everyone in unabridged detail.

Easterbrook also has had some great commentary on energy policy in general over the last couple days. Check it out.

2004 

Right Wing News sums up Bush’s main hurdles coming into the 2004 election and gives some reasons for optomism.

More Congressmen return from Iraq 

The Hill reports that more Members of Congress have returned from Iraq and are reporting that things are not as bad the media portrays them to be. "Lawmakers charged that reporters rarely stray from Baghdad and have a 'police-blotter' mindset that results in terror attacks, deaths and injuries displacing accounts of progress in other areas. Comparisons with Vietnam were farfetched, members said."

Rep. Ike Skelton (D-M0), the Ranking Member on the House Armed Services said, "The media stresses the wounds, the injuries, and the deaths, as they should, but for instance in Northern Iraq, Gen. [Dave] Petraeus has 3,100 projects — from soccer fields to schools to refineries — all good stuff and that isn’t being reported." Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MI) stated that the stabilization effort is making headway. "In fairness, the war is neither going as well as the administration says it’s going or as badly as the media says it is going." This criticism should be added to the criticism of the media I noted yesterday by Rep. Jim Marshall (D-GA). Who would you rather trust: Democrats on the Armed Services Committee who actually visited Iraq or Sen. Ted Kennedy?

These are the kind of news reports that one finds on the Internet from independent news sources and the blogsphere. It is a sad day when, in order to get accurate news reports from Iraq, we have to rely on first-hand reports from Members of Congress and the soldiers in the field who report to family and friends back home. Again, I don’t think this is an attempt by the media to hurt the war effort, but I do think they are being lazy (as the Congressmen mentioned) and they are more interested in bad news because it will get higher ratings.

Glenn Reynolds also comments on this point today. He links to a story in USA Today in which a Time reporter expresses his concerns that people in the U.S. are not getting the "real story" on what is happening in Iraq.

Arkansas Senate race 

Former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, is considering leaving the department to take on Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) in 2004. This would be a major help for the GOP in expanding their lead in the Senate.

Steel tariffs 

There were a few different news stories on the Internet yesterday commenting on a International Trade Commission report that found that President Bush’s steel tariffs “have not significantly hurt small steel-consuming businesses.” This was the general trend of the headlines.

However, the Wall Street Journal thinks differently.

It's the classic protectionist result, with the benefits enjoyed by a concentrated and politically powerful few while the costs are diffused. According to the ITC, a quarter of the U.S. companies surveyed reported losing business to foreign competitors since the tariffs were imposed. That's a pretty significant burden for an economy struggling to come out of recession and already losing manufacturing jobs. And it's not the only cost the tariffs have imposed.

• A third of these steel-consumer companies said that they had problems getting the steel they needed because contracts they had signed with suppliers were either modified or broken when the tariffs were imposed. The corresponding loss in reported profits totaled $190 million.

• More than half of steel users said they had trouble passing costs on to customers, with 43% reporting they couldn't do it at all.

• As for jobs, nearly 34% say that employment would go up if the tariffs were lifted.

The ITC report downplays the overall impact of this damage because of a strange bit of economic logic. It argues that these private-sector costs are almost entirely mitigated by the $650 million in new revenue that Uncle Sam took in from the tariffs. In other words, because the government got richer we're not supposed to worry about the competitive hit these companies have taken.

This also does not include the $2.2 billion in retaliatory sanctions on U.S. exports that the European Union would be able to impose due to the ruling by the WTO. As Rep. Joe Knollenberg, (R-MI) said, "As these reports make clear, the steel tariffs are a tremendous burden to steel consumers, the companies that comprise the bulk of American manufacturing…Now is the time to take the foot of the steel tariffs off steel consumers' throat." There is only one justifiable reason so leave these tariffs in place: political gain.

The Godfather speaks... 

Once again, Andrew Sullivan says it best:

I don't think most Americans feel the president lied his way into war. He didn't. But his post-war strategy both in Iraq and at home has been dismal. Rummy's intransigence over the need for real troop support after the war created a security vacuum from which Iraq is still reeling. Rove's strategy of egregiously milking military victory for short-term political gain gave the impression that everything was over, done with, finished. So when conflict continued - as anyone who noticed the melting away of the Republican Guards would have predicted - it looked as if Bush was not in control. Subsequently, there hasn't been a clear and positive account from the president of why Iraq is so vital. He needs to tell the country that we have accomplished two hugely important things: we have removed Saddam from power, liberating millions and ending a continuing threat to the West; and we have begun the difficult process of trying to turn the entire region around by attempting a democratic revolution in Iraq. This broader, positive goal of the war on terror has never been as front-and-center as it needs to be. It's far more ambitious than anything the opposition favors; and it appeals to Americans' sense of their own destiny and to the deeper security matters that are involved. Why hasn't he trumpeted the Marshall Plan, rather than seem sheepishly apologetic about it? There is only one way we can lose this war now. And that is if the American people lose faith in it. That's what many in the media are trying to accomplish . Many loathe the idea of fighting back aggressively, especially if it means offending the poohbahs at the U.N., the E.U. and so on. This is where the war gets tough. It's time Bush got going on the hard domestic job of promoting it more persuasively.

Fl. Senate race 

Greg Pierce reports that there is a new entry into the Florida Senate race . Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch infamy has decided to run. Greeeat…ugh…

"Anti-Bush Moderates" 

E.J. Dionne seems to be little worked up this morning. He’s frustrated that Democrats who support any alternative to Bush are being portrayed as radical leftists. He says there are many anti-Bush moderates too. “Bush may well win next year, but it won't be because he faces a band of Trotskyists, Leninists -- or even McGovernites.”

The analytical mistake is to assume that the anti-Bush feeling, which is there, leads straight to the fever swamps of radicalism. In fact, the dislike of Bush among Democrats is more personal and partisan than it is ideological. Democrats are not, in fact, moving to the far left.

This explains why retired Gen. Wesley Clark could jump so quickly in the polls -- witness his top billing in this week's Newsweek survey of Democrats. Clark has won support from figures as diverse as Michael Moore, the angry, irreverent anti-corporate filmmaker, and Mickey Kantor, the smooth, resolutely pro-business Democratic insider. To beat Bush, they are willing to back a general whose views on many issues are unknown -- and who appears to have voted for Ronald Reagan. Whether they are right or wrong about Clark, pure ideologues don't do stuff like that. They back Dennis Kucinich.

Political novices 

Richard Cohen comments on America’s love for political novices (i.e. Schwarzenegger, Clark, Ventura, Bloomberg).

I can appreciate the yearning for the outsider, the gifted amateur, as too many politicians become so burdened by experience that they can't say anything straight. But the tendency to see all issues as contemporary Gordian knots -- one slash of the sword will do it -- severely underestimates the complexity of governing. After you win, you actually have to do something.

Monday, September 22, 2003

A fraud?? 

I watched the first 15 minutes of “Meet the Press” this Sunday before leaving for church and heard this exchange between Tim Russert and Madeleine Albright:

RUSSERT: Are you surprised that we have not found weapons of mass destruction?

MS. ALBRIGHT: I am surprised, and I think part of the problem here is that, as I understand it, the kinds of things that are missing are not necessarily the kind where some brave American soldier goes and kicks in a door to find a canister of something, but is something that needs to be looked through by people with scientific backgrounds, some of the inspectors kind of following the paper trail. But what worries me the most now, if one assumes that everything was not destroyed, where is it, and could it be in the hands of terrorists? And that I think is of great concern.

I think this is a telling response. So much of the rhetoric we hear today is that “Bush lied” or as Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) said recently, the war was a fraud. The fact that the former Secretary of State was surprised that no weapons have been found seems to indicate that she believed Saddam had these weapons at the time of the Iraq War. She had access to the same intelligence to which the Bush Administration did and came to the same conclusions. One can argue about post-war planning or whether or not the U.N. should have been more involved, but for critics of the President to say that he lied to the American people implicates many more people outside of the Bush Administration that would have had to be involved in this grand conspiracy to “lie” to the American people. The fact that no weapons have been found might be the cause of faulty intelligence, it might be the fault of incorrect conventional wisdom, and it might be that the weapons were moved at the last minute, but it is not the fault of lies.

Education spending 

John Hawkins at Right Wing News has some interesting commentary on education spending in the U.S. versus other countries. I was not aware of this at all.

What we read... 

Right Wing News has the results of a poll conducted of right-of-center bloggers and from where they get their news. Are you a right-of-center blogger who wants to, maybe, expand your news base? Check it out. Are you a left-of-center blogger who wants to know what the opposition is thinking? Check it out.

D.C. shutdown 

Charles Paul Freund, on Reason Online, is critical of the decision made by D.C Metro to close at 11AM on Thursday in preparation for Hurricane Isabel, thus creating a four day weekend for all federal employees. I agree with his criticism.

A Metro spokeswoman explained Wednesday's shutdown decision this way: It will "give people a chance to plan what to do... Folk may decide not to be out in the high winds at all." Well, folk may indeed have decided that, or they may not have, depending on a myriad of personal factors that Metro was in no position whatsoever to weigh. Moreover, canceling service didn't exactly "give people a chance to plan what to do"; a more accurate way to put it is that it sent those who depended on the system scrambling for alternatives. If they couldn't come up with any, they were left in a wholly untenable position.

That was largely true of the city as a whole. "Metro's decision had a cascading effect," as the Post put it, "with other rail services and even the city and federal governments deciding to close."

I was thinking this weekend that in the few years I have been living down here there have been some pretty wild events: the 2000 election decision, the Chandra Levy/Gary Condit events, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the anthrax attacks and subsequent shutdown of the Capitol, the bad snow storms of last winter that shut down the city, the snipers, and now Hurricane Isabel. Maybe this is how D.C. always is…who knows…

War reporting 

While I occasionally curse Rep. Jim Marshall (D-GA) privately because his discharge petition on the concurrent receipt issue has emboldened military retirees to spam our office with mail, he has a good op/ed today about how the media is hurting our chances in Iraq.

News media reports about our progress in Iraq have been bleak since shortly after the president's premature declaration of victory. These reports contrast sharply with reports of hope and progress presented to Congress by Department of Defense representatives -- a real disconnect, Vietnam déja vu. So I went to Iraq with six other members of Congress to see for myself…

So it is worth doing only if we have a reasonable chance of success. And we do, but I'm afraid the news media are hurting our chances. They are dwelling upon the mistakes, the ambushes, the soldiers killed, the wounded, the Blumbergs. Fair enough. But it is not balancing this bad news with "the rest of the story," the progress made daily, the good news. The falsely bleak picture weakens our national resolve, discourages Iraqi cooperation and emboldens our enemy.

Read the whole thing… I certainly don’t think that the media should cease reporting setbacks and American casualties, but there are many positive things to report in Iraq and they aren’t being reported. I don’t think the media is necessarily biased against U.S. efforts (I know, some conservatives will call me naive) but I think that good news is just not “good news.” The fact that schools across Iraq are being reconstructed at a tremendous rate does not compare with the latest ambush as far as the media is concerned.

On the same subject, I was listening to a reporter, Pam Hess, on CSPAN’s “Washington Journal” a couple days ago and she was reporting some good news from Iraq and callers, who oppose the war, were calling up and vilifying her for being a mouthpiece for the Bush Administration. It’s like opponents of the President want this effort to fail.

We're back... 

We're back after the Hurricane. After losing water and power I realized how much we've come to depend on these and other modern conveniences, like traffic lights. I'm surprised I only saw one accident this weekend at traffic intersections that essentially turned into "cross when you think others will stop for you" intesections. Thankfully my power returned in time for me to watch the Giants beat the Redskins last night!

A large sycamore tree came down in my backyard around 11:45 on Thursday night and I went outside to check it out. The wind was strong but I don't think I experienced 70 mph winds like they were saying we would. Maybe it was that hard up in the tree tops, but it couldn't have been that bad on the ground.

The Washington Post had a nice human interest story yesterday about how families actually had to resort to spending time with each other to entertain themselves instead of relying on T.V., video games, and the Internet.

Some call it creative parenting. Others call it what it used to be like to be a kid.

Take the Schlobohms of Bethesda, who searched yesterday for low-tech activities after spending three days hosting a sleepover, playing mini-golf, practicing the piano and learning to play blackjack with pennies. What did they come up with?

"We finally planned a time to knit, because we are really, really bored," said Cristina, 9, a fifth-grade soccer player.

In Mary Ann Troyano's Annandale community Friday night, neighbors shared and grilled thawed meats, boys played football and Troyano's husband started a fire. Around 9 p.m., the lights came on, and people cheered in the streets. Troyano groaned.

"Our good time is ruined," the mother of three said. "We were all sitting around finally enjoying our family. I could have handled one more night. Now they want to watch TV, play Nintendo."

Perhaps it wouldn't be a bad thing if we lost power more often. Kids would actually be forced into creativity instead of letting their minds turn to mush. I didn't like it at the time, but my parents' decision to severely limit my T.V. and video game time growing up was a great blessing.

"evil, greedy" Big Business does it again
Not only did Dominion Power in Virginia get my power back on in under 48 hours following what people are calling the worst storm in decades in the region, they were handing out free dry ice to residents so that they didn't lose their food in their refrigerators. Other power companies were doing the same. I applaud this greedy corporate interest and their hard working employees for the work they are doing. Remember this the next time you hear people bashing "big business" in general. Stick up for your local big business!

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Storm's a comin' 

I just got the call...we're off work for the next two days...so, until Monday...

Hill Staff salaries 

I recently noticed a listing of the average salaries of of Capitol Hill staffers and thought this might interest readers. As some of you may know, Hill staff are not considered "civil service" employees so we do not have pay grades. Our salaries are set by our Member or Chief of Staff. We do, however, participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan and can contribute to the Thrift Savings Plan (401k for federal employees).

Here are the '02 average salaries for various jobs:

Chief of Staff: $108,000

Legislative Director: $66,000

Legislative Assistant: $36-$45

Legislative Correspondent: $27,000

Press Secretary: $49,000

Scheduler/Office Manager: $36,000

Staff Assistant: $25,000

Special priviledges 

The Washington Post is pretty critical of the access that former Members of Congress have to their collogues still serving in Congress.
Former membership has its privileges. The House gym. Access to the House and Senate floors and adjoining cloakrooms. Attendance at the Republicans' and Democrats' weekly policy lunches. Free parking on the Capitol grounds and unrestricted entry at a time when tightened security has ended ordinary citizens' freedom to roam the halls. All these would be unremarkable, if cushy, retirement perks that lawmakers ensure for themselves were it not for the way they are being abused. As detailed by The Post's Juliet Eilperin, the special access afforded former members gives many of them a powerful -- and lucrative -- leg up in their new day jobs: lobbying their former colleagues.

Thus, former Arkansas Republican representative Jay Dickey, fresh from his paddleball game, could hand Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), fresh off the treadmill, proposed language sought by one of Mr. Dickey's lobbying clients in an appropriations bill. Mr. Dickey, climbing onto the dais at a House Transportation Committee session, could sneak a look at proposed legislation to make sure it included a provision favoring that client. Or he could enter a private room off the Senate Finance Committee chamber to assess the chances for a dividend tax cut important to another client, Stephens Inc.

The Post proposes that any Member who decides to enter lobbying should give up their perks. While it makes sense to me, which Member of Congress would vote to do that?

Malpractice reform 

This is the second day this week that the Washington Post has put this story on medical malpractice the front page of their website. Maybe they’re wondering why it hasn’t gotten more media attention. I was wondering too. Well, maybe my posting it on my blog will help get the ball rolling…yeah, right.

The news reports says the GAO has done as study and found that doctors around the country are not leaving states with high malpractice insurance rates as suggested by the American Medical Association.

In Pennsylvania and West Virginia, for example, two of 19 states designated by the AMA as being in a "full-blown liability crisis," the number of doctors per capita has actually increased in the past six years, according to the GAO.

In Florida, where the state medical society told congressional investigators that all the neurosurgeons in Collier and Lee counties had stopped practicing, the GAO found at least five such specialists at work in each county. Although medical groups have repeatedly warned that doctors are reluctant to come to Florida because of escalating premiums, the GAO found that the number of new medical licenses issued by the state has increased in the past two years.

This would seem to fly in the face of one of the main reasons behind the calls for medical malpractice reform. I, personally, don’t think that caps on noneconomic damages in all cases, medical or not, are a bad idea, but the GOP might need to get some new talking points on this one. It looks like the “MD’s are leaving practice” one won’t fly any more.

Here’s another interesting finding:
One GAO finding embraced by the AMA was that "limited available data" indicate that the rise in premiums paid by doctors and in malpractice payments to patients has been slower in states that capped some types of damage awards, a centerpiece of the Bush administration's tort reform proposal. Premiums in states with caps of $250,000 in noneconomic damages, typically known as "pain and suffering," rose by 10 percent in three specialties including obstetrics, compared with a 29 percent increase in states without such laws. The GAO concluded it could not tell whether this difference was "caused by tort reform laws or other factors that influence such differences."


The article also reports that:
"The vast majority of malpractice claims are dropped by the plaintiff, dismissed by the court for lack of merit, or settled before trial for an amount within the defendant's policy limits," senior editor Berkeley Rice noted. "Of those cases that do go to trial, most end in victories for the defense."

Nationally, studies have found that doctors and hospitals win about 70 percent of cases that make it to a courtroom. Multimillion-dollar awards by juries are often bigger than the amount actually paid by an insurance company or doctor; these awards can be reduced by a judge, overturned on appeal or, more commonly, are the subject of negotiations between lawyers for both sides that dramatically reduce the amount a victim receives.

Waiting for Isabel 

One benefit of Isabel is that traffic was non-existent this morning. I think everyone besides our office was given the day off. My normally 30-35 minute commute was turned into an under-20 minute commute. As of last night, every school system in the area was closed along with colleges and universities. All the civil servants were given the day off and its seems like many others were too. But here we are...doing the "people's work." How noble of us Hill staffers right?! Hehe...

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Clark's endorsements 

Roll Call is reporting that Gen Clark has already picked up the support of seven Members of Congress including Reps. Charlie Rangle (NY), Betty McCullom (MN), and fellow Arkansasonians (?) Reps. Marion Berry, Mike Ross, and Vic Synder and Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. I think Sen. Fritz Hollings comments sums up what I think nicely: “Seems like a nice fella, but I don’t know anything about him.”

Senators Bob Graham and John Edwards have only been able to pick up eight and seven endorsements, respectively, in all the months they’ve been campaigning. Poor guys…

Have fun.... 

Here's Carnival of the Vanities for this week.

Clark fatigue already...ugh 

Outside the Beltway has a good run-down of commentary on Gen. Wesley Clark's announcement (in case you need more). All bets are off until Hillary decides what she is going to do.

What's your favorite document? 

U.S. News and World Report has a vote going on the 10 official documents that they think had the most impact on the nation. You can vote here. There are obvious choices such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution but there are many other documents from which to choose. For example, the Monroe Doctrine, the Lend-Lease Act, or the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act. Check it out!

Dean on Medicare 

Dick Gephardt (or his campaign staff) has created a website that lists statements made by Howard Dean over the past decade about Social Security and Medicare. It’s called www.deanfacts.com.

For example, here are some comments Dean made about Medicare back in 1993:

“I think it's [Medicare] one of the worst federal programs ever..."

"[Medicare is] one of the worst things that ever happened… a bureaucratic disaster… You'd destroy the health care system in this country if you had Medicare for everybody."

"Medicare is the best argument I know why the federal government should never be allowed to run a national health care system."

Call the ACLU! 

Judge Roy Moore is offering to give his 10 Commandments monument to the U.S. Capitol. Ummm…thanks Judge, but I don’t think its going to happen. Don’t tell the ACLU but there are already many copies of the 10 Commandments all over the Capitol and House and Senate office buildings! Imagine that…and the government hasn’t spontaneously combusted! People meet on government property for Bible studies too! Aaaaaaaaah!

It's all a big conspiracy 

Senate Minority Leader, Tom Daschel has decided to once again try to make a political points about Dick Cheney’s ties with Halliburton.

Daschle said Cheney, "needs to explain how he reconciles the claim that he has 'no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind' with the hundreds of thousands of dollars in deferred salary payments he receives from Halliburton."

Cheney's communications director, Catherine Martin, said the payments are "not a tie" to Halliburton. She said Cheney took out a $15,000 insurance policy so that he would receive the deferred payments over five years regardless of whether Halliburton remains in business." It's money he already earned," she said. "It's not dependent on what happens to Halliburton."


Congressional Democrats think that they can score more political points with this story that has been around since Bush/Cheney took office. Matthew Yglesias tracked down some interesting info on the subject:

Cheney on Meet The Press responded to Russert's question about why Halliburton had gotten these no-bid contracts by saying "ask the Army Corps of Engineers." So I did. They said Halliburton got the contracts on a no-bid basis because it needed to be done quickly so there was no time to go through the bidding process. But why Halliburton (or, rather, Kellog Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary)? Well, turns out that KBR already had a contract (which they got through a competitve bid) with the Joint Munitions Command (a branch of Army Materiel Command, in case you care) to do various logistics and planning operations back in December 2001. In particular, Task Order 31 had them develop a plan for putting out oil well fires in Iraq. Thanks to that, they already had people on the ground with the appropriate security clearances, so they were given the later contract in 2003 on a no-bid basis.

All-in-all, it's a reasonably reasonable explanation, though the fact that the Central Command was already subcontracting planning for Gulf War II while in the middle of fighting the war in Afghanistan is a bit odd. Still, there are various conspiracy theories that could be spun about this, though I'll refrain for now.

Hitchens on bin Ladin 

Christopher Hitchens tells us why he thinks Osama bin Ladin is dead.

Must be a peaceful man! 

I was listening to C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" this morning on the way to work...well...flipping back and for between C-SPAN and other stations...and I heard one caller who actually made me chuckle. There are lots of nut-jobs who call "Washington Journal" every morning on which I could comment but this guy took the cake. He was discussing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and saying how the Israelis don't want peace. He then proceeded to say something like..."I don't understand how people can say Yassir Arafat is a terrorist. He won the Noble peace prize!!! He can't be a terrorist." He was completely serious.

Hehe...

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

These people frustrate me... 

Andrew Sullivan notes how the Guardian writes, "The militant groups abandoned the truce on August 21 after Israel assassinated a Hamas leader in a missile strike that followed a suicide bombing which killed 22 people in Jerusalem."

Sullivan writes in response: "Wouldn't that chronology suggest that the truce was ended first by the suicide bombing - or would that imply that Israel isn't always at fault?"

This reminded me of an op/ed in the Washington Post I read this weekend written by a Palestinian, Muhanned Tull, who explains why the Palestinians embrace Arafat.

In the process of explaining why, he writes that,

A few months ago, the Palestinian people had some slim reason to believe things might change, when Mahmoud Abbas became prime minister and Israeli and Palestinian leaders declared a truce while, supposedly, America's "road map" for peace was put into effect. Hope dared to flourish. It lasted for 50 days.

Then the Israeli leaders resumed their crazy assassination policies and went after five Palestinian factional leaders. The killings were soon followed by a suicide bombing in Jerusalem. And the snowball started rolling again. (emphasis mine)

He seems to imply, like the Guardian, that the truce was broken by the Israelis resuming “their crazy assassination policies” not by Palestinians.

Here’s a news article written only four days after the cease-fire was agreed to. “A big test of the deal came late Wednesday, when suspected fighters from Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction fired three anti-tank rounds into a Jewish settlement in Gaza, slightly wounding four young settlers.

“Rather than sending tanks rumbling back into the Gaza coastal town of Deir el Balah, from which the rockets were fired, the military filed a formal protest of the attack with the Palestinian Authority of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas as a violation of their handover agreement.”

Here’s another one about a bomb going off in Jerusalem a couple days later.

The only way one can say the cease-fire was broken by Israel and not by the Palestinians is if one is somehow able to separate Hamas political leaders from Hamas terrorists. In that case, then Israeli assassinations of Hamas political leaders would be a break in the cease-fire, otherwise it is dishonest to suggest otherwise as Tull does.

Queen Sheila's latest cause 

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) has taken up another important cause. No, it’s not an attempt to change Hurricane Isabel’s name to Hurricane Shanequa. She wants the House of Representatives’ cafeteria to revert back to French fries, instead of the current moniker, freedom fries. The Chairman of the House Administration Committee, Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) says no. Personally, I think the original change was a bit silly and petty, but I think this entire Congressional controversy should go down as the silliest of the year.

Carlson on Politicians 

Roll Call quotes some less than flattering anecdotes from Tucker Carlson’s new book “Politicians, Partisans and Parasites.”

The co-host of “Crossfire” all but charges that Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) is a phony. “Chris Shays doesn’t give off shifty vibes,” he writes, but “never judge a Congressman by his cover.”

Carlson issues his indictment based on an appearance on the show in which Shays was asked about his campaign finance reform bill. If soft money is so heinous, Carlson queried, why not ban it immediately, instead of after the 2002 elections?

The author recounts that Shays dodged the question by pretending there was a problem with the audio feed. He removed his earpiece and commenced a filibuster, while the Congressman next to him “looked confused” because his own earpiece was working fine.

“Pretty crafty. And doubly so, given Shays’s reputation,” Carlson writes, noting that a check of the equipment later showed there was no technical problem. “You’d never suspect him of doing something like that. He’s the shop-lifting nun.”

Carlson also takes after Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) for allegedly haranguing a young female producer who tried to fix the Congressman’s blazer before a live shot. Frank almost brought the woman to tears with his “viciousness,” according to Carlson, by growling: “I’m not here to look good. I’m here to talk about substance. Or is that against the rules now?”

"During the next break I did my best to torment him," recalled Carlson. "For a guy who doesn’t care what he looks like, I said, you sure have on a lot of makeup. Frank glared at me, then went back to chewing his fingernails, one of which was already bloody."

We also learn about easy turns. For example, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) and ex-Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) are "easy turns" for bookers on cable shows. "An easy turn is someone who will leave his son’s sixth birthday party to make it to the studio in time to get barked at for eight minutes on cable. We love easy turns. They help us when we’re desperate," says Carlson.

Burr vs. Bowles 

PoliPundit notes that Rep. Richard Burr has an early 43-37 lead over likely Democratic nominee Erskine Bowles in the race to replace Senator John Edwards (D-NC).

Tax cuts and the deficit 

Stephen Moore, the President of the Club for Growth, a conservative think tank and PAC, correctly points out that the Bush tax cuts are hardly the main culprit when it comes to the federal deficit.

But the binge in debt spending is not a result of President Bush's tax cuts. At most, only about 25% of the deficits are a result of the tax cuts. Moreover, if the Bush tax cuts generate a stronger stock market, higher business profits and more jobs, the faster levels of economic growth will be a major factor in helping generate more tax revenues to bring the deficit down.

So far so good on this score: Since the president's capital gains and dividend tax cuts were enacted in May, the resulting stock market rally has increased Americans' wealth by more than $1 trillion, according to the American Shareholders Association.

Of course, that is not to say that Bush is not partly responsible for the deficit.

The root of the huge deficits has been an inability of Congress and the White House to control their spending appetite. In the past three years, the federal budget has grown more than one-half trillion dollars. Some of this is attributable to justifiable expenses to fight the war on terrorism. But non-terrorism-related federal expenditures are now growing at a faster pace than at any time since Lyndon Johnson was president.

Increased spending is the cause of deficits, not tax cuts. Of course, Bush is a "compassionate" conservative so he can’t actually cut spending or entire government programs.

Reason #345 to oppose Medicare Rx drugs 

Another reason why the Medicare Rx drug bill being considered in conference committee is a bad bill. Not only will an expansion of Medicare lacking any significant reforms greatly threaten the federal budget, but it will, as some have warned before (ahem!), encourage companies and states who already give their retirees adequate Rx drug coverage to drop their coverage.

Trade breakdown 

There seem to be divergent views on the breakdown of talks at Cancun. The Washington Post thinks there is plenty of blame to go around—all nations that would not compromise are to blame while the anti-trade “activists” celebrate the fact that poor nations will continue to be poor. The New York Times feels that the wealthy nations are the real culprits and the poorer nations the victims. According to the Times, the U.S. is the main culprit because it didn’t take a stronger hand in persuading the Europeans and Japan to reduce their subsidies. Too strong when it comes to foreign affairs, not strong enough when it comes to trade…can't please the Times. The Washington Times also feels that this was a failure of the U.S. to dominate the trade talks and convince the Europeans, who were intent on scuttling any trade deal, to reduce any of their subsidies. The Post and Wash Times feel that bi- and multi-lateral trade agreements are the best course of action at this point.

How should we respond... 

While I don’t know any more about the author, Theodore Rockwell, of this op/ed than what is stated in the Post but he certainly makes me feel better about the effects of a dirty bomb. Basically, if I were to survive the initial blast, I would be okay.

I was recently invited to observe and offer advice during a revealing drill, spearheaded by the National Academy of Engineering, that tested how well information might be communicated to the public if a "dirty bomb" exploded in Washington. As I watched the interaction of real-life government officials and media decision-makers, I was struck by a glaring discrepancy: The rules for radiological emergencies are wholly inappropriate for such an event. They can change a relatively harmless incident into a life-threatening emergency. These rules apply not only to dirty bombs but also to any casualties involving nuclear power plants or their fuel.

A few minutes into the simulated exercise, a leader of the drill pleaded for some action, warning that radiation was killing people and hospitals were being overwhelmed. This bothered me, because it is well documented by all our official agencies that the radioactivity in dirty bombs is unlikely to seriously hurt anyone. People not injured by the conventional explosion itself could walk away and be out of danger. If concerned about possible contamination, they could remove their clothes and take a shower.

Read the whole thing. It appears that some people have no clue about the proper response to a dirty bomb or any other "radiological incident."

Zakaria on Iraq 

As I have said before, I try to stay away from foreign affairs because there are already so many other bloggers commenting on them and I don’t have the time to give my thoughts on all that is going on. That being said, when I think a commentator has something worthy to say, I like to post it. Fareed Zakaria fits that bill in his op/ed in today’s Washington Post I can’t excerpt it all so you can read it here.

While the question of whether or not going into Iraq was the right thing to do is an important issue and I am sure will be debated during the 2004 campaign and beyond, I think everyone acknowledges that the U.S. cannot pull out and is there for several years. Zakaria realizes this and begins to address solutions. He says that the U.N. is being unrealistic and the U.S. should be prepared for at least several years of occupation.

It is strange that U.N. officials argue that we must quickly move, in Kofi Annan's phrase, from "the logic of occupation" to that of Iraqi sovereignty. The United Nations has blessed and assisted in the occupation of Bosnia, where it took seven years to transfer power to the locals. It boasts of "the logic of occupation" in Kosovo, which has gone smoothly for the past four years, with no prospect of ending anytime soon. It administered tiny East Timor for two years before handing over power. Does Kofi Annan really think that what took seven years in Bosnia can take one year in Iraq, with six times as many people?…

Iraq may not be a failed state, but it is a highly dysfunctional one. It has been through three decades of totalitarian rule, three wars, 13 years of economic sanctions and massive internal repression. Its ministries are organized along Stalinist lines. Its people have been cowed into submission for decades. It will take some time to reform the Iraqi state and heal Iraq's political culture. An immediate transfer of power would retard and perhaps even reverse this process of reform. New political leaders would seek to use the Iraqi state to consolidate their power, not limit its reach. That is what happened in Bosnia. Once elected, ethnic thugs didn't want to build the rule of law; they wanted to use the law to stay in office…

Popular sovereignty is a great thing, but a constitutional process is greater still. The French know this. The French Revolution emphasized popular sovereignty with little regard to limitations on state power. The American founding, by contrast, was obsessed with constitution-making. Both countries got to genuine democracy. But in France it took two centuries, five republics, two empires and one dictatorship to get there. Surely we want to do it better in Iraq.

It's coming!!! Everyone run for cover! 

Tired...this...morning...I stayed up way too late last night watching the Giants, unfortunately, lose to the Cowboys in overtime. The Giants came back from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to go up by three with 11 seconds left, but, like usual, they found a way to lose by kicking the kick-off out of bounds giving the Cowboys the ball at their own 40. The Cowboys then completely a 26 yd pass which put them in field goal range to tie it. The Giants proceeded to lose in overtime. ugh...

The D.C. area is, once again, over reacting to a possible storm...just as Hurricane Isabel starts to lose steam. This kind of thing usually didn't happen in New Jersey growing up, but it seems whenever there is the thought of storm down here people race to stores to stock up on water, bread, flashlights, etc, as if it's going to be the end of the world. It doesn't help that the storm is all the media can talk about. I swear, five inches of snow or high winds are like the apocalypse. Of course, people in Buffalo and Syracuse probably think people from Jersey are wimps too.

Monday, September 15, 2003

D.C. jokes 

The Washington Post held a contest to see who could come up with the best D.C.-only pick-up lines. Here are the top-four finishers:

Third Runner-Up: Excuse me, ma'am, but the gentleman at that table has sent you a FYH 2005 energy and water appropriations bill rider for a $52.3 million solid-waste treatment plant upgrade in your home congressional district, with his compliments. (Mark Briscoe, Arlington)

Second Runner-Up: I'm guessing you work for Fannie Mae, because your fanny may be the best I've ever seen. (Chris Doyle, Forsyth, Mo.)

First Runner-Up: Babe, why are you wasting your time with an assistant to a deputy secretary, when you could be with ME, a deputy assistant undersecretary? (Dan Steinberg, Falls Church)

And the winner is: Your beauty renders me as powerless as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. (Cindy Burnham, Alexandria)

Here are some others that I thought were relatively good…don’t use them without a lot of practice!

Dick Cheney gave me a key to his secret undisclosed location, and it has a waterbed. (Stephen Dudzik, Olney)

If I told you your body reminded me of IRS form 10W-817a, would you withhold it against me? (Art Grinath, Takoma Park)

Did Matt Drudge drop you off here? Because you're a bombshell. (Ian Morrissey, Walkersville)

Boy, that dress you are wearing is the most effective Request for Proposals I have ever reviewed. (Brendan Beary, Great Mills)

Haha…
(Thanks to The Corner for the heads up!)

Are Conservatives conservative? 

Andrew Sullivan links to and comments on an interesting piece in the Financial Times. The basic premise is that leftists like Gore Vidal and Norman Mailor are not really liberals or progressives, but actually conservative. Sullivan comments:

…the biggest force for conservatism in world affairs right now is the Western left. You only have to listen to what pass for their arguments about the remarakable experiment now being attempted in Iraq to witness the sheer Tory pessimism of them all. Their "anti-Orientalist" stance has robbed them of any means to criticize Arab or Islamist societies, or to support reform of them, even if it means temporary armed intervention. Their support for "peace" is really an argument for complete Western disengagement from societies and cultures where tyranny, genocide, terror and theocracy abide. How is it that one can scour the pages of, say, the Nation and not find a single essay marveling at the new freedoms in Iraq - of the press, of free speech, of religious diversity? Even when they do see the good side of, say, greater freedom for women in Afghanistan, their loathing of the Bush administration dampens much of their liberal conviction.

Sullivan and Ian Buruma, the author if the FT column, make some good points. However, they really shouldn’t stop at foreign affairs. If one looks at the political left and right in the U.S. and their policy positions one wonders which side really stands for liberalism and which side is being conservative (small l and small c).

Take almost any domestic issue in which Americans feel there is need for change (education, Medicare, Social Security, health care, etc) and it is Conservatives who are proposing the radical new ideas, not Liberals. Liberals would rather stick with the same ideas from four (or more) decades ago. For example, education: Most people believe public schools are failing the people. Liberals demand more money while Conservatives push for tougher standards, school choice, and teacher accountability. While I don’t necessarily equate "new" with "better" (I don’t think Bush’s federal mandates for education are a good thing) it is clear that Conservatives are proposing more radical and progressive ideas. The same goes for Medicare and Social Security. Liberals merely demand more money for these programs, which are on the verge of collapse, while Conservatives want reforms coupled with modernization and greater choice for American consumers.

One issue on which I think the public agrees there is a problem and those on the left have a more liberal solution is the Drug War. Liberals generally think we should, at the least, decriminalize marijuana while Conservatives generally do not subscribe. I realize there is not a clear left vs. right split (the preeminent Conservative publication, National Review advocates this solution as do the vast majority of libertarians while, at the same time, President Clinton continued current policy). Again, I don't necessarily think that "new" = "better," but when it comes to the failing War on Drugs, the only new ideas are coming from the left/libertarian alliance.

In summary, I think it is important to distinguish between Liberals and liberal ideas and Conservatives and conservative ideas. I welcome any reader thoughts on my comments!

Edwards on Comedy Central 

Taegan Goddard notes that John Edwards will announce his candidacy on "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. While I understand why candidates announce their candidacies on popular television shows--they probably get more coverage than if they had a press conference--announcing on Comedy Central just doesn't seem like the best move. What's next--Dennis Kucinich announces his candidacy on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer?"

NEA supports vouchers? 

Joanne Jacobs notes that Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, says that he supports vouchers, as long as they are available to all students. What I don’t understand though, is how vouchers for some students would destroy public education, but vouchers available to all students would be a good thing…hmmmm…

S.S. reform 

Robert Novak discusses Rep. Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) plan to reform Social Security and ponders whether it will get support from moderate Democrat Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN), which, Novak says, would be a major breakthrough in Social Security reform politics.

DeMint's plan is set apart from the others in two ways. First, it is progressive. It would permit the lowest-paid Americans a higher percentage of investments. Persons making under $15,629 a year could invest 8 percentage points of the present 12.4 percent payroll taxes. Workers with less than $34,731 income could put in 7.1 percent. The progressive sliding scale would drop to 3 percent for people with income over $87,000.

This dramatic opening of investment opportunity for all Americans to compensate for the country's demographic changes is no free lunch. According to the Social Security Administration's actuaries, transition costs of DeMint's plan would be $8.2 trillion over the next 75 years. But the same source estimates the 75-year cost in higher taxes at $26.1 trillion if nothing is done. That's how DeMint claims his plan will save taxpayers $17.9 trillion.

Another D.C. voucher supporter 

William Raspberry comes out in support of school vouchers for D.C., in his unique way we are all used to.

The Boss in D.C. 

I was hoping the The Washington Post would have a more informative article about the Bruce Springsteen concert that took place at FedEx field on Saturday night, which, unfortunately, I did not get to attend.

For all of its soaring moments, though, it is not music meant as an escape. The show was the 110th of the tour for "The Rising," a monumental CD created in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. For the first time on the tour, Springsteen played "Paradise," a chilling glimpse into the psyches of both a suicide bomber and the spouse of a Pentagon victim. He also didn't shy from political issues. "People come to my shows with many different kinds of political beliefs," he said. "I like that, we welcome all." With a short laugh he added, "Well, maybe with the exception of Dick Cheney. I'm not sure about him."

"Paradise" is one of my favorite songs off the "The Rising" and I’m surprised this is the first time he’s played it. According to the article, the Boss also played "Born to Run," "Promised Land," "Badlands," "Ramrod," "Born in the USA," "Rosalita," and "Dancing in the Dark."

Friday, September 12, 2003

Glickman out 

The Wichita Eagle is reporting that former Clinton Cabinet Member and House Rep. Dan Glickman will not challenge Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) for his Senate seat. That should make the GOP rest easier.

FMA 

Eugene Volokh discusses the Federal Marriage Amendment.

for everyone who loves bi-partisanship... 

On Wednesday, the House voted, 392-30, to allow Americans to request one free copy of their credit report annually. The three credit bureaus would be forced to provide this information upon request. In addition, the legislation would:

-Allow consumers to block information from being given to a credit bureau and from being reported by a credit bureau if such information results from identity theft.

-Give consumers the right to see their credit scores.

-Give all consumers the right to a free copy of their credit report annually.

-Provide consumers with one-call-for-all protection by requiring credit bureaus to share consumer calls on identity theft, including requested fraud alert blocking.

-Prohibit merchants from printing more than the last five digits of a payment card on an electronic receipt.

-Require lenders to notify consumers before submitting negative credit information.

While the media continue to paint a picture of constant confrontation and partisan fighting, this is really how a majority of bills are passed.

Ashcroft's critics 

Mort Kondracke rightly goes after John Aschroft’s hyperventilating critics. Unfortunately, Roll Call is for subscribers only, but RealClear Politics is nice enough to pirate the article for us here. Here’s an excerpt:

...to listen to Ashcroft's critics, one would think he was a greater threat to American well-being than bin Laden or the terrorist leader's top planner, Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

The loudest of the critics is the Democrats' frontrunning candidate, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who has outrageously said that Ashcroft is the worst attorney general in American history, worse than Richard Nixon's AG, John Mitchell. "And he was a criminal," Dean noted.

Dean also declared that "John Ashcroft is not a patriot. John Ashcroft is a descendant of Joe McCarthy."

In the so-called Democratic presidential debates, does anyone besides Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) ever call Dean on the things he says? After all, Mitchell organized a burglary at Democratic National Committee headquarters and helped cover it up. McCarthy used anti-Communism to ruin lives and terrorize the entire U.S. political system.

Ashcroft doesn't begin to compare with either scoundrel. And, whatever limited infringements on civil liberties he has presided over, they don't begin to compare with those America has experienced in prior wars - Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus or Franklin Roosevelt's internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans for four years.

Instead of rebutting Dean's overstatements, his rivals are competing with him to ride a wave of Ashcroft-phobia raging semi-hysterically on the American left - and also, to some extent, on the right.

At the Congressional Black Caucus debate Tuesday night in Baltimore, Ashcroft's next-most vociferous critic, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), said that "the last thing we need to do is turn our rights, our freedom and our liberties over to John Ashcroft."

Edwards also repeated the canard, spread by the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Library Association, that Ashcroft has FBI agents "going to our libraries and keeping records of the books we're checking out."

Under the U.S.A. Patriot Act, which Edwards voted for along with 97 other Senators, the government is entitled to search business records - and, yes, library records - in pursuit of potential terrorists. It takes a court order to do so, however, as it does in regular criminal cases. It's a fact that the 9/11 terrorists used computers at public libraries to communicate with one another. Does Edwards seriously think that the FBI is snooping into the check-out records of average citizens, when it fears an al Qaeda attack?

I would also remind readers (and Democrats running for President) that not only did every Senator who is running (Edwards, Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman,) vote for the USA PATRIOT Act, they all also voted against all three limiting amendments sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold. Those candidates who accuse Aschroft of all sorts of hideous things had a chance to stand up to his proposal and chose not to, which means they are one of three things: 1) incompetent legislators who did not know for what they were voting; 2) spineless; or 3) political opportunists pandering to the left. Hmmmm…I wonder which one it is.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Some nice news 

As the day winds down I direct your attention to some uplifting letters written by soldiers collected by Romulus at Judicious Asininity. We should never forget those who are fighting and dying so that we can sit here and blog in freedom, and so much more.

Memorial 

I just returned from the Capitol Hill memorial ceremony on the west from of the Capitol. Congressional staff joined Capitol Hill police, maintenance staff, Representatives, Senators and other Capitol Hill employees in remembering those who died two years ago. The day here is very similar to 9/11—70s (but warm enough to cause a Congressional page to pass out and collapse), sunny, not a cloud in the sky. The ceremony was nice…not too solemn or sappy but upbeat and serious. I was reminded by Tom Daschle that the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania was mostly heading for Capitol Hill and that I, my coworkers, and friends here on the Hill should be very thankful for what those people on that plane did. I often forget this and I am sure that many of us here do. We should never forget.

I didn't know Muslims were such environmentalists... 

Two years after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks U.S. Muslims were polled to determine their political leanings. John McCaslin reports:

Only 2 percent said they would vote for President Bush. One in 10 Muslim respondents say they support the president's Iraq policy.

Asked which 2004 presidential candidate would get their vote, American Muslims (a large majority of whom vote in presidential elections) from 41 states favor former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (26 percent), followed by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio (11 percent), Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts (7 percent) and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois (6 percent).

When asked to name the political party that best represents the interests of the American Muslim community, far more respondents named the Democratic Party (27 percent) and Green Party (25 percent) than the Republican Party (3 percent).

As for the television news outlet that most fairly provides coverage of Islam and Muslims, taxpayer-supported PBS topped the list. The Fox News Channel exhibits the most biased coverage, according to those polled.

While some might look at this and say the Republicans are doing something wrong, one can also look at it and see how out of the mainstream American Muslims are. When 25 percent say they identify with the Green Party and 11 percent support Kucinich for President, it is hard to take their political views seriously.

Two years later... 

Here are several perspectives on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Victor David Hanson writes:

9/11 has also made Americans rethink so many of our once-cherished and increasingly entrenched assumptions about man and society. Do poverty and oppression prompt wars, or do killers often act out of irrational motives, predicated on their own warped sense of honor, fear, and perceived grievance? And thus is war a perennial challenge to the human condition rather than to be doomed for good with just enough money and understanding? Can a person, an entire sect--perhaps even a nation--hate you for what you are and represent, rather than what you do? Do sovereign states still have the right and the ability to act unilaterally to protect their interests, or are assaults in our postmodern age either criminal matters to be adjudicated in courts or disputes properly to be aired in the General Assembly?

Have we come to the end of history, where the global spread of consumer capitalism and greater liberality almost ensures a diminution in nationality or sectarian chauvinism--or, in fact, prompt an even greater retaliation from the world's recalcitrant? Is an Islamic fundamentalist more likely to appreciate an American for concretely saving Muslims in Kosovo, Kuwait, Somalia, and Afghanistan or hate him as the abstract representation of everything from liberated and autonomous women, religious tolerance, and the freedom of the individual?

America was aroused after 9/11 in the manner that a comatose patient suddenly jerks up to find that an entire world in his slumber has become unrecognizable . It really has. Think of it: Were Saudi Arabia and Pakistan friends--or rather regimes staffed by a corrupt elite who clung to power by bribe money and pardons to killers, deflecting their citizens' frustrations at their own failed kleptocracies onto us? What in the world has become of the UN, of our childhood memories of Halloween UNESCO buckets and UNICEF Christmas cards--when Iran, Iraq, and Libya arbitrate questions of legality and human rights and a Security Council serves as a surrogate for a nonexistent French fleet and phantom Gallic divisions?

Richard Cohen, once a supporter of the Iraq War, wanders off the reservation:

But Bush is a different kind of president because he is a different kind of man. No one, for instance, questioned Clinton's intelligence or his knowledge. Bush, though, was widely viewed as slight, particularly unschooled in foreign affairs, where, above all, he was incurious, unquestioning and -- as we have learned -- unprepared. Always, though, he was certain.

That certainty was certainly misplaced. Bush's foreign policy is a shambles -- a war against the wrong enemy (Iraq and not worldwide terrorism), for the wrong reasons (where are those weapons of mass destruction?), a debacle in postwar Iraq (who are those terrorists?), a Middle Eastern road map to nowhere (wasn't Iraq going to make it all so easy?) and a string of statements about nearly everything (the cost of rebuilding Iraq, for instance) that have proved either untrue or just plain dumb. To make matters worse, truth-tellers have been punished while liars and fog merchants have remained in office.

And Andrew Sullivan:

And the key resolve I felt that day was not to let this act of war become in our minds an isolated occurrence, separate and apart from all the regimes that foster Islamo-fascism and seek to harm the West. In fighting back, we had to stop the defensiveness and ad hoc approach of the late twentieth century (both in the Clinton and early Bush administrations) and go on the offensive, tackle this nightmare at its roots, get our hands dirty, risk failure and aim for real success. That's the difference between police work and war. That's why the astonishingly humane wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are just the beginning of a long attempt to bring the Middle East out of the dark ages. Some are now arguing that there is a dimmer light at the end of this tunnel. They're wrong. We have accomplished a huge amount, both in weakening al Qaeda, destroying Saddam and bringing flickers of democracy and pluralism into a region long victimized by tyranny and theocracy. These are real achievements. They are the platform for the next phase: in building a free society in Iraq, toppling yet more tyranny in Iran, removing the Saudi dictatorship, and bringing some kind of settlement to Israel. We cannot disengage now. And standing still is to move backwards. Wars are dynamic; and we are in a war. Still. Two years later. With work to be done.

One final thought from Lawrence Kaplan:

Exactly how little everything has changed for most Americans may be gleaned from a mountain of poll data taken since the attacks.

Long gone are surveys from 2001 in which majorities cite terrorism as the key issue of the day. The latest polls show that, by a two-to-one margin, voters identify the economy as a more important problem for the federal government to address, while the weight they lend to issues like prescription drugs and health care has returned to pre-September 2001 levels as well. Surveys also show that the public's willingness to tolerate inconveniences such as airport security screenings and random I.D. checks has declined consistently since 2001, as has its willingness to compromise on questions of civil liberty.

Nor has America's return to normalcy been confined to the realm of public policy. It can be measured in slumping rates of church attendance, diminished faith in public institutions, and numerous barometers of civic disengagement. A series of Gallup polls even charts how, as September 11 slipped into memory, so too did people's inclination to pray or to display an American flagâ€|

Does this mean that all Americans have reverted to pre-September 11 type?

Not exactly. Fear of terrorism cuts across all demographic sub-groups. Yet a willingness to do something about it, to adjust our priorities, does not. The latest Pew survey, which asked respondents whether the president should focus on the war on terror or on the economy, reveals a puzzling trend.

Evangelical Christians, whites, residents of rural areas, southerners, and self-described conservatives evince more concern about the response to September 11 than do secular Americans, African Americans, residents of cities, non-southerners, or self-described liberals. In fact, the very city dwellers most at risk tend to attach the least importance to the war on terror. If these results seem more suited to a gun-control survey, consider another way of reading the same data. A Newsweek poll in November 2002 found that respondents who cited terrorism as the nation's foremost priority voted Republican by a margin of three-to-one. In a similar vein, the Pew survey finds that Republicans split evenly on the question of the war on terror versus the economy, while only 18% of Democrats profess more concern with terrorism.

It hardly comes as a surprise, but the emergence of a partisan gap on a matter that supposedly transcends politics has come awfully quickly. All the more so, because one of the most popular analogies generated by the September 11 industry likened the new unity of purpose to that which prevailed after Pearl Harbor.

If you really wish to know what someone thinks about the war on terror, however, that person's opinions about Monica Lewinsky and the Florida recount offer a more reliable guide. Were the cause something other than self-preservation, these cleavages might not mean so much. But when a global war becomes the exclusive property of one political party--and is treated, increasingly, as a touch-me-not by the other party--the whole enterprise risks forfeiting its legitimacy.

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