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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.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Darwin fish... 

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy they’re discussing the Darwin fish vs. the Christian Fish. See here and here. They have yet to mention it, but I have actually seen a third one with a small Darwin fish about to be swallowed by a larger fish with the word “Truth” written in it. I thought it was a pretty clever way for the Creationists to play the Evolutionists’ game without getting their panties in a bundle, as sometimes happens. Has anyone else seen this one?

The insured...Part III 

Stephen Laniel comments on the chart I posted on those without health insurance. We both wonder why they totals don’t add up to 100 percent. Hmmmm…

SS reform 

Megan McArdle has a good summary of the problems facing the country should we not reform Social Security. This follows nicely with my post from yesterday on the subject of the deficit.

hehe... 

Gray Davis’ new political career. Ugh...

Hill News 

Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) needs parking lessons after her tae kwon do lesion.

A Hill staffer on the way in to work early Friday morning was jarred awake when he noticed a woman in an SUV smash the taillight of another car as she tried to parallel park along Sixth Street Northeast.

When the dust settled, “Katherine Harris walks out in a white tae kwon do outfit,” the amazed eyewitness told HOH.

A gracious Harris, the former Florida secretary of state, called HOH very late Friday night to plead her case. “It really freaked me out,” she said of the fender-bender (or light-smasher). “But I lived to tell.”

The Republican Congresswoman revealed that she likes to train at 6 a.m. with Jhoon Rhee, the well-known martial arts master who has tutored scores of current and former Members. “He’s very inspiring,” Harris said, adding that she’s in line for a “triple belt” this week. “It helps me keep a healthy balance.”

Military funerals 

The DOD has a ban on public ceremonies of arriving coffins contained dead U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq. It seems this policy was first implemented in November of 2000 but has just recently begun to be enforced. The article notes that some military bases, such as Dover AFB, have had this policy for many years now. I would hope the DOD does it out of respect for the families and not to hide the fact that people are dieing.

President Bush's opponents say he is trying to keep the spotlight off the fatalities in Iraq. "This administration manipulates information and takes great care to manage events, and sometimes that goes too far," said Joe Lockhart, who as White House press secretary joined President Bill Clinton at several ceremonies for returning remains. "For them to sit there and make a political decision because this hurts them politically -- I'm outraged."

Pentagon officials deny that. Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said the policy covering the entire military followed a victory over a civil liberties court challenge to the restrictions at Dover and relieves all bases of the difficult logistics of assembling family members and deciding which troops should get which types of ceremonies.

Rule of 14 

Jonathan Rauch says that only four candidates for president have the possibility of being elected President. “They are President Bush, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.” He calls it Rauch’s Rule. Here it is:

With only one exception since the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, no one has been elected president who took more than 14 years to climb from his first major elective office to election as either president or vice president.

George W. Bush took six years. Bill Clinton, 14. George H.W. Bush, 14 (to the vice presidency). Ronald Reagan, 14. Jimmy Carter, six. Richard Nixon, six (to vice president). John Kennedy, 14. Dwight Eisenhower, zero. Harry Truman, 10 (to vice president). Franklin Roosevelt, four. Herbert Hoover, zero. Calvin Coolidge, four. Warren Harding, six. Woodrow Wilson, two. William Howard Taft, zero. Theodore Roosevelt, two (to vice president). The one exception: Lyndon Johnson's 23 years from his first House victory to the vice presidency.

Swing districts 

The Hill has an article about vulnerable Congressional Democrats being concerned that Dean’s coattails might hurt them in their re-eletion bids while the Washington Post has an article about Republicans in swing districts being worried that Bush’s record on the economy and jobs might hurt them. Is this really a story? Candidates in swing districts worried that the national policies of their parties make them vulnerable? Isn’t this the definition of a swing district?

Monday, October 20, 2003

The federal deficit 

A while back I was reading Matthew Yglesias’ blog, which I’ve come to enjoy, and noticed his discussion with Steve Verdon about cutting government spending versus repealing Bush’s tax cuts. Viking Pundit responded to some of his points here. However, Matthew makes some good points about what will have to happen to eliminate the CBO projected $401 billion deficit this year.

I started to look for government programs to trim or cut completely. I figured that reducing U.S. funding to the United Nations to the level of the next largest contributor might save the U.S. a couple billion and completely eliminating worthless programs like Americacorp and other “volunteer” programs would save around $500 million. In addition, Chairman Jim Nussle (R-IA) of the House Budget Committee has identified $85 to $100 billion in waste, fraud and abuse. (While I am quite sure that this waste exists I have a hard time believing it will be completely eliminated. Waste, fraud, and abuse are inherent in any government program [it doesn’t help that employees guilty of waste fraud, and abuse are basically impossible to fire, but that’s another topic] and would be very hard to eliminate.) But these cuts are tiny compared to the $400 billion needed to balance the budget this year and projected budget deficits of $1.5 trillion over the next decade.

The real culprits are mandatory Social Security and Medicare spending. Long-term reform of these programs would go a long way to solving current budget problems. However, merely saying that budget problems could be solved by entitlement reform is not going to satisfy Matthew and others, like myself, who want a balanced budget because real reform of these programs is going to be hard to come by (which party’s fault is that again?). Of course, I could end the debate at this point by blaming the Democrats but that would be like the Democrats saying they would balance the budget by repealing the tax cuts, but then neglect to say how they would do this with the Republicans in control of Congress. So I’ll go on…

We conservatives constantly, and rightly, complain about increasing government spending. We might laugh at Democrats who say they are the party of fiscal responsibility, but let us, for the sake of argument, take their stated desires to balance the budget seriously.

President Bush has done little to curb domestic spending and deserves much of the blame for the $400 billion deficit in 2003. Even “budget hawks” in Congress never call for cutting spending -- just either holding the line or smaller increases. This is obviously not good enough if we intend to adequately fund homeland security, prosecute wars overseas, and cut taxes to stimulate the economy and keep government from growing (which, unfortunately, cutting taxes is not doing). In order to do all this, cuts in spending are going to have to be made.

I know Matthew wanted actual line-items, but why use line-items when all funding can be cut more equitably? After thinking about this I remembered that a budget was proposed this year that would have balanced the budget in four years. Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA), on behalf of the Republican Study Committee, proposed it. This budget would have accommodated Bush’s entire tax cut as well as allowed for additional tax cuts (Toomey suggests capitol gains and I offer AMT reform as an idea). No cuts are made in defense, homeland security, Social Security, or mandatory spending. The cuts are made in non-defense discretionary spending and would average 2.2 percent a year for the next five years, which are manageable. After 2008 increases in non-defense, discretionary spending would average around .8 percent. Again, this would balance the budget in 4 years, accommodate Bush’s tax cuts, and allow for some additional tax relief. Unfortunately, when presented to the House this budget only received 80 votes.

I know this has been long but I think it is important for conservatives to present alternatives rather than just saying that if Democrats were in power spending would be even worse and deficits even greater. And I’ll state it again for good measure, the real threat to long term fiscal solvency isn’t the War in Iraq, it’s not tax cuts, it’s not even discretionary spending…it is Social Security and Medicare. Without reform, these programs will put the U.S. about $40 trillion in the hole over the course of the next 75 years. (I posted on this subject many times before. Here's one of the more extensive posts). The absence of reform is the fault of Democrats, their interest group allies, and the fact that young people don’t care enough about their financial future to vote in large enough numbers to counteract the voting power of seniors.

The uninsured: correction 

Last week I linked to a chart characterizing the immigration status of those in the U.S. without health insurance. A reader notes that I incorrectly wrote that “half” of those uninsured were not citizens, while in reality the chart says it’s 43 percent. This was out of laziness on my part – I looked at the chart and then absentmindedly took the word “half” from the title. It was not my intention to mislead anyone. Or perhaps I saw that Rice Grad said that "most" of the uninsured aren't citizens and that led me to write that half of those uninsured aren't citizens. Either way, I should have taken more time to report this information.

I also took a second look at the chart and added up the categoriesgories of native, naturalized citizen and non-citizen and came up with 73.6 percent. I wonder under what citizecategorytagory the other 26.4 percent of the uninsured fall. I assume native means native born and not American Indian. Hmmm...

The reader also notes that it would be interesting to know how many non-citizens without health care are legal immigrants and how many are illegal aliens. Good point.

Baseball or Iraq? 

It seems that some lawmakers had other thoughts on their minds as the Iraqi Supplemental was being debated.

As the House weighed Bush’s $87 billion supplemental bill late into Thursday night, Members were torn between two riveting events: the critical debate over Iraq on the floor and the classic Red Sox-Yankees game being shown on the televisions in the Cloakroom.

“We were in the middle of a serious debate,” recounted Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

But then Aaron Boone of the Yankees stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

“All of a sudden there was a huge roar in the Cloakroom and everyone ran in there,” said Portman.

Boone had cracked a home run, propelling the Bronx Bombers into their 39th World Series. Fighting his way out of the Cloakroom was a particularly elated Yankees fan, Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), who taunted Red Sox fans with shouts of “1918!,” a reference to the last time the apparently cursed Boston franchise won a World Series.

Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), a long-suffering Sox fan, had a staffer phone in to HOH on Friday to reveal that the boss has found a way to help Chicago Cubs fans as well. “As part of his outreach services as ranking member of the House Administration Committee,” said the aide, “he is starting a therapy group for the Cubs fans and the Red Sox fans.”

Hill Housing 

Roll Call has an interesting article on the changing housing market on Capitol Hill. Housing prices are going up and the area has greatly improved over the last 10 years. (subscription required)

Slow news day... 

It’s a slow news day on the Hill so I thought I give my readers some of my thoughts from this weekend.

I returned yesterday from Homecoming at my alma mater. While most of my time there was not spent on serious matters, Saturday morning I went to a meeting at my Fraternity house. A couple days earlier I had been asked to join the alumni board and figured I should probably go to the alumni board meeting with the current undergraduate cabinet to get a feel for what was expected of me. One of the subjects of this meeting provided an almost perfect metaphor to explain why my politics fall right-of-center rather than to the left-of-center.

On this university’s campus, the administration has been, for years, trying to buy up and take over the management of all the fraternity houses. Eventually, it hopes to have such a controlling influence over them that they can be reduced to little more that regular dorms. My House and a few others are making a stand and saying, “no we don’t want to be controlled by the university, we want to retain our independence.” The reason for this is that when the university takes over the House the undergraduates are no longer responsible for keeping it clean, doing repairs, mowing the lawn, administering the kitchen, etc. They also don’t have to worry about making mortgage payments or collecting room and board from the brothers. In summary, the university entices the alumni boards and undergraduates into selling their house to the university in exchange for lifting much of the responsibility off their shoulders. It sounds like a good deal. However, as one of our alumni from the ‘50s pointed out, the main purpose of the Fraternity is the development of the members. The purpose is to build leaders with character who are able to take responsibility as young adults. One of the primary tools is the caretaking of a building worth, if not a million, hundreds of thousands of dollars and directing the duties I mentioned above. Sure, it might be easier to let the university take over these tasks, but will the undergrads really be better off for it? The Fraternity would be reduced to little more than an organization of people who like to party, drink and pick up girls together.

This is the same problem I have with the expansion of government and Liberal politics in general. Sure, it is easier to let the government be responsible for providing us with health care and retirement security instead of meeting these needs ourselves through planning and responsibility. Eventually we will come to believe that we are entitled to these things though no efforts of our own were made to acquire them. Is it not surprising that many Americans think that a job and health care are guaranteed by the Constitution? When government involvement in these areas turns out not to work as we expected, such as when health care premiums rise, the first place we turn for a solution (how about price controls?) is the government, when we, instead, should be looking to ourselves for solutions. Democrats are only too eager to promise greater government assistance and less personal responsibility in exchange for votes. The alternative, the Republicans, sometimes seem to give into this temptation, while sometime they standing up and say “no more!” They are then demonized for being uncaring and uncompassionate. This is how my political views, in a broad sense, have been shaped. I am hopeful that personal responsibility will triumph both at my Fraternity and on the national level. Our future generations will be better off for it.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Bill Thomas...again 

Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) was privately rebuked by House Speaker Denny Hastert (R-Il) “following an angry complaint from President Bush that the combative California Republican publicly humiliated one of his Cabinet members.” Bill Thomas irritate someone? Nah….

Bloggers' pics 

James at Outside the Beltway has linked to a few female bloggers’ pages who have pictures of themselves on their pages. Being a guy, I’ve often thought, “Hey, I wonder what women bloggers look like,” as if they would look different than your average woman. (Yes, men are pigs and have one-track minds.)

Part of me likes the idea of being able to know more about a certain blogger through a personal bio or picture but part of me also likes the idea of not judging a particular blogger at all except by what he or she writes on their blog. That’s part of the beauty of blogging. Everyone is judged solely on their content, or lack thereof.

Then, of course, there are those bloggers who decide to put pictures up that are…how shall I say it…less than flattering

D.C. metro area news 

Finally! I now know what has been going on here! If any of my readers commute on Columbia Pike you will know what I am talking about. Every night when I got home there are lines of people, sometimes standing in the pouring rain, at this chicken restaurant, Pollo Campero. Traffic is backed up because of it. I assumed they must have been giving away free food, but nooo! It’s just that good!

There's ordinary fried chicken, and then there's Pollo Campero fried chicken, a crispy culinary treat many Central American immigrants say is without equal. They've been bringing takeout boxes from the Guatemalan fast-food chain on flights back to the United States for years -- some 3 million pieces of chicken a year.

So when the restaurant chain, as much an icon in Central America as McDonald's is in the United States, opened its first outlet in the Washington area this month, customers came from as far away as Georgia and New York and began lining up at 2 a.m. for the 10 a.m. opening.

Customers outside the Falls Church restaurant now form lines at 8 a.m. that last through the day, as do the traffic tie-ups on Columbia Pike, much to the chagrin of neighbors [ed. yes, me]. The restaurant is racking up record sales and frying up 253 birds an hour, and it must start turning people away well before closing time.

"The Hispanic population is so big around here, we thought it was going to be a hit, and so it was," Barahona said. The Washington area is home to 186,000 natives of Central America and their children, according to census figures.

We're really not evil! 

Halliburton's CEO engages in some much-needed positive p.r. in today's Opinion Journal.

Halliburton [is] uniquely qualified to serve the armed services.

We have done this vital work for years, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations. In World War II we built warships. In Vietnam we constructed airfields and port facilities. In Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti and the Balkans we worked alongside the troops to help provide a sense of normalcy to those countries. In 1991, during the first Gulf War, our people helped extinguish over half of the oil fires in Kuwait.

The company was founded in 1919 and has primarily focused on business-to-business relationships. Many people have never heard of Halliburton, despite the company's world-wide reach and long service to the government. But now because of politics, that is changing. It began in July 2000 when the company's chairman, Mr. Cheney, became a vice presidential candidate.

At that time, Mr. Cheney totally removed himself from Halliburton's operations. In short, he has no financial interest in the future success of Halliburton. Despite these steps by Mr. Cheney and the great work of Halliburton's employees in Iraq, the company's contract with the government has become a political target.

It seems like it's gotten to the point, with Halliburton, that the Democrat presidential candidates no longer even allege any wrongdoing. All they have to do is mention the name and they get applause lines. It's like during the GOP debates before the 2000 election when it seemed like each candidate had to mention Reagan or Colin Powell every five minutes. Candidates know what excites their base.

Sullivan responds 

Andrew Sullivan responds to David Frum's column yesterday on gay unions. Here are Bill Bennett's thoughts in today's LA Times.

Is this the solution? 

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) has introduced legislation yesterday that “would withhold federal money from colleges that raised tuition much faster than inflation, a category that could include hundreds of universities.”

Concurrent receipt 

It looks like we actually might get a momentary cessation of military retirees calling our office to complain about the lack of concurrent receipt. Excellent! It seems Congress and the Bush Administration have reached an agreement on the issue and veterans leaders in our district are actually pleased and happy with the outcome. Imagine that, veterans actually satisfied. I was thinking it was going to be impossible… but then I read the quotes from the story quoted above and I realize that, no, they’re still not satisfied, and, of course, neither are the Democrats.

Senate votes for loan 

You could really sense the glee in this Washington Post article about the Senate voting to convert half of “President Bush's $20.3 billion Iraq rebuilding plan into a loan that would be forgiven if other donor nations write off the debt incurred by the ousted government of Saddam Hussein.” Here’s what one of the eight Republicans who voted for the loan proposal, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), had to say, "I don't want to give in to a great lie. You can't buy your way out of this problem. You can't take $10 billion of taxpayer money, [while] people are losing their jobs, to buy your way out of a great lie.” What is he talking about?

The Senate and House are poised to approve today nearly all of the president's $87 billion request for the military and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate's version of the spending measure mirrors Bush's, although it contains the $10 billion loan provision. The House's version hews closely to the administration's but shaves $1.7 billion from the reconstruction fund, stripping out such items as the Iraq Zip code implementation, garbage trucks and a one-month business course that has become politically unpalatable to many Republicans.

Four Democrats voted with the Republicans, against the loan proposal.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Um...I'm getting back to work right now! 

Keeping blogs at works is getting some people in trouble. Oops. (Thanks to Jeremy Kissil at Politics and Law for the tip.)

Hill reading... 

The Hill reports on the websites that some in Washington make sure to read very morning. I don’t know who’s out of the loop, me or the author. I don’t read any of them.

House soda machines 

Is Rep. John Mica (R-FL) being unfairly criticized? Roll Call reports:

Some under-caffeinated House staffers are angrily pointing the finger of blame at Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) for getting the soda machines in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building banished to Siberia or someplace equally inaccessible — a charge that has left the lawmaker with a bad taste in his mouth.

The machines, which had long been situated in the Cannon basement near the entrance to the Capitol, were a godsend for staffers and Members rushing back and forth to floor votes. But they now reside far off in another corridor, which has led to grumbling that Mica intervened to get them bounced.

But Mica spokesman Gary Burns told HOH that it’s “categorically untrue” that the boss had anything to do with the soda moves.

“He complained earlier in the year that the hallways were cluttered with furniture, trash and debris and that this poses a hazard,” Burns said. “[The moves] may be an indirect result of his request. But to say it’s a direct result is inaccurate.”

That has not satisfied aides still sore that Mica also took aim at their casual clothes in his original missive, proposing a dress code for staffers. “With all the issues facing Congress these days, Mr. Mica’s top priorities seem to be khaki-wearing staffers and soda machines,” cracked one House aide. “It makes you wonder.”

Thankfully, our soda machines in the Rayburn building are still intact.

Bowles over Burr 

Roll Call reports that Democrat Erskine Bowles has a double-digit lead over Rep. Richard Burr (R-NC) in a hypothetical Senate matchup.

The poll of 800 voters was conducted Sept. 16-24 by Market Research Insight for NCFREE, a nonprofit group that provides polling and political analysis for businesses in North Carolina.

Bowles led Burr 42 percent to 31 percent in a head-to-head matchup, while 28 percent were undecided. The survey had a 4 percent margin of error.

In a generic test of party preference, the survey also found that 41 percent of those surveyed would prefer a Democrat to win the Senate race, while 34 percent said they preferred a Republican.

Religion in schools 

Jack Balkin has some interesting comments on the Constitutionality of religion headgear at schools. I know, not exactly a hot topic, but I found it informative.

Sabine Herold 

Reason has an interesting article about a new French political phenom. Here’s an excerpt:

Sabine Herold, to put it mildly, is not your typical Frog. Herold, the 22-year-old leader of Liberté, J’ecris Ton Nom (Freedom, I Write Your Name), has in the last few months emerged as the massively popular and highly photogenic leader of -- zut! -- a burgeoning pro-market, pro-American counterculture in France. Earning comparisons to Joan of Arc, Brigitte Bardot (!), and Margaret Thatcher in the panting British press, she represents something French politics hasn’t seen in years: a public figure eager to take on the country’s endlessly striking unions.

It is startling to hear any Parisienne, let alone a college student, drop references to F. A. Hayek in casual conversation, describe Communists as "disgusting," or lead pro-war demonstrations in front of the American Embassy. Herold is fond of issuing heretical statements guaranteed to make any good fonctionnaire ’s skin crawl…

Still, no amount of contrarian spunk could have prepared Herold for the summer that has just passed. On June 15, in the midst of crippling transportation and education strikes against Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s plan to reform France’s ailing pension system, Herold led an anti-union rally that shocked her and the rest of the country by drawing 80,000 angry people. In a realm whose coin is the demonstration, this was reportedly the largest right-of-center protest since 1984, giving some optimists reason to declare it a turning point in public attitudes toward the Never-Ending Strike.

On MoveOn.org and other annoying groups 

Andrew Sullivan posts some comments on the MoveOn.org newsletter recently sent to their members. Here is an excerpt:

Something incredible is happening. Just a week ago, it appeared that President Bush would get $87 billion for the Iraq war and occupation in a landslide vote. But thanks to hundreds of thousands of emails, tens of thousands of calls, and constituent visits by thousands of Americans, more and more members of the House and Senate are declaring that they will vote No.

This is big news. It appears that members of Congress are standing up and demanding that the President face the facts and make real changes to his Iraq policy. Members of Congress need to know that if they take a leap of faith here and do the right thing, we'll be behind them. With the vote scheduled for tomorrow in the House and Friday in the Senate, it's critical that they hear from us TODAY.

Over the next 48 hours, we're working with Working Assets and True Majority to deliver a flood of phone calls and emails to Congress telling them to take a stand. Please take a moment to call your Representative and both your Senators right now.

First of all, I realize that the main reason MoveOn.org, and organizations like it, sends these things out is for fundraising purposes. Very little of what they relate is true but they have to convince their supporters that they are making a difference. Very few Members are considering voting “no” because of the actions of MoveOn.org. They either are voting “no” because they are running for President and have to appease the angry base or they truly believe that the Iraq funding is wrong. As a staffer on the Hill I can tell you that these types of call-in campaigns mean next to nothing to Members of Congress. Basically, while some Members certainly may share the sentiments of MoveOn.org, they did not arrive at this decision because a bunch of hysterical people called their staff assistants on the phone. This goes for basically any organization (from the NRA, to CWA, to NOW, to the AARP) that has their members “spam” Congress. It’s annoying and obnoxious.

We’ve gotten probably 40 calls over the past week from constituents who basically read from the MoveOn.org script repeating the same line that the previous caller read. We know these aren’t original thoughts or original inspirations to call their Members and they aren’t convincing anyone of anything.

Gay unions 

David Frum responds to Andrew Sullivan on the question of marriage and homosexuality.

Gov't waste 

Finally, Congress is .cracking down on government credit card abuse. John McCaslin reports:

While Americans have been tightening their belts, bureaucrats have been on a spending spree. And they are buying more than $200 hammers and $60 screws.

Alcohol, prostitution and gambling are three items federal employees have paid for with government credit cards, although Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, hope to curtail the abuse when they introduce the Credit Card Reform Act of 2003 today.

The legislation would call on every federal agency to develop strict penalties for abuse, require background credit checks on all persons issued a card, and require regular audits. During the Clinton presidency alone, when government was supposedly "reinvented," some 700,000 additional government credit cards were issued to federal workers. Thousands of these recipients were subsequently found to be abusing the cards to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Abuse was so rampant it caught the attention of the Savannah (Ga.) Morning News, which reported Uncle Sam's workers were buying up Ozzy Osbourne tickets, lingerie, tattoos — even paying for tuition to bartender school.

Patriot Act update 

Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) is looking to amend the USA PATRIOT Act before it comes up for renewal in 2005.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers and advocacy groups have formed a "Coalition of Conscience" to roll back sections of the Patriot Act they say encroach on civil liberties. "This is an amazing coalition. Very seldom do these groups and these senators come together," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, and Mr. Durbin — joined by representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and American Conservative Union, among others — yesterday introduced the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act.

The bill would limit the use of "sneak and peek" search warrants, which allow searches without notifying the target, to situations where a life is at stake, evidence may be destroyed or there is a flight risk.

Roving wiretaps, which allow surveillance of any phone a person is known to use, could only be employed when the suspect is present. Warrants for these wiretaps must also identify the target and location of the wiretap. Mr. Craig said they could not document any abuses of the Patriot Act since it was first enacted two years ago. "This has nothing to do with the current administration; it's about putting into effect the right law," he said.

Pretty supportive 

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 16 to 2 to confirm Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. The only two Senators voting against him were Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT), who as we know is running for President and has to show his supporters that he can stand up to President Bush in some way, and Hillary Clinton, who says she doesn’t have a problem with Leavitt, just the Bush Administration in general.

Means testing seniors 

Some in Congress are considering means testing Medicare, meaning high income and wealthy seniors would pay more for their services. I think there are two ways to look at this. At first I thought that this would be wrong to do because Medicare and Social Security are not welfare programs. We all pay into these programs and deserve the benefits whether or not we are monetarily successful in life or not. But I also believe that one of the main impediments to reforming Medicare and Social Security is that all seniors are considered basically equal and are united in their support for these programs. If certain seniors are given better benefits than others this solid block of support would begin to crack. This is one of the main reasons that people like Sen. Ted Kennedy and groups like the AARP strongly oppose means testing -- they believe that any division of seniors may portend the weakening of their coalition and therefore weaken their power to oppose desperately needed reform. Perhaps this is the first step towards breaking that block and reforming this programs.

Poor Cubs... 

I was very disappointed in the Cubs loss last night. And I’m not even a Cubs fan. They actually got me watching baseball but now there is not much more for which to root…*sniff*

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The uninsured 

(Just) Another Rice Grad has found some stats that show that half of the uninsured in the U.S. aren’t even citizens.

UPDATE: A reader notes that I incorrectly wrote that “half” of those uninsured were not citizens, while in reality the chart says it’s 43 percent. This was out of laziness on my part – I looked at the chart and then absentmindedly took the word “half” from the title. It was not my intention to mislead anyone.

I also took a second look at the chart and added up the three catagories of native, naturalized citizen and non-citizen and came up with 73.6 percent. I wonder under what citizenship catagory the other 26.4 percent of the uninsured fall. I assume native means native born and not American Indian. Hmmm...

The reader also notes that it would be interesting to know how many non-citizens without health care are legal immigrants and how many are illegal aliens. Good point.

Education Reform 

Thomas Sowell has a good column on school choice. He makes the point, again, that teachers’ unions and their allies in the Democrat party are the main impediment to reforming the U.S. education system. (Thanks to Betsy’s Page for the link.)

More Ed. Info…

Stuart Buck has the goods on what seems like a pretty biased CBS news report on the “dangers” of home schooling. This seems like another case of elites at a news network (who have probably never met a home schooling family), deciding to do a report on these “weird” people who don’t send their kids to bad public schools and choose to spend their money on something other than an expensive private school. People wonder why mainstream America still thinks the media is too liberal.

The other Mr. Burns... 

More trouble for Rep. Max Burns (R-GA). Last week a key staffer left his D.C. office because of a controversy over fundraising. This week Rep. Burns had to apologize for comments made by a supporter of his at a fundraiser.

Burns apologized to Jewish leaders three weeks after a supporter made anti-Semitic remarks at a fund-raiser for the Georgia Republican.

Burns' phone call to a Jewish community group Monday was in response to a Sept. 20 comment by businessman Jackie Sommers.

Sommers referred to Democrat Tony Center, who is Jewish, as "that Jew boy down in Savannah" at a rally for Burns in the freshman congressman's hometown of Sylvania.

Diversity 

Stanley Kurtz has an interesting column on Congressional attempts to ensure greater diversity of thought at Foreign Affairs/International Relations Departments at U.S. colleges and universities. Here’s an excerpt:

Our modern notion of free speech, and the related concept of academic freedom, derive John Stuart Mill's On Liberty . In that great work, Mill argued that free speech is premised on society's need to discover the truth. By banning a right opinion, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to exchange an error for truth. But by banning a mistaken opinion, said Mill, we lose something almost as precious — the clearer perception of truth that is produced by its collision with error. If no opponents are available to put your ideas to the test, said Mill, you should invent arguments against your own beliefs.

So in Mill's conception of liberty, society would be the poorer if the followers of either the late Edward Said or Bernard Lewis were banned from college campuses. To discover the truth about the Middle East, students need to be able to compare competing perspectives — those of Said and Lewis. And the best way to assess competing viewpoints on the Middle East is to expose students to a wide array of thoughtful advocates on all sides of the question. That is how the marketplace of ideas on campus is supposed to work.

Good news! 

Here’s some good news! Medicare Rx drug conferees say they won’t make their October 17th deadline to finish the bill. What a shame. I hope they don’t make their next one either.

In a related story…

Sally Pipes has a good column on health care reform.

Iraq funding 

Senate Republicans, along with seven Democrats, were able to defeat an amendment to make the $20.3 billion for Iraq’s reconstruction a loan. The vote was 57-39.

More Members back from Iraq 

John McCaslin reports on two more Congressmen, Rep. Jim Davis (D-FL) and Fred Upton (R-MI), who have returned from Iraq and say that things are a lot better than the media report. "To be sure there are pockets of violence, but we also saw so many pockets of hope and joy that all too often don't make the evening news,” they stated.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Guidelines for intelligent debate... 

John Hawkins at Right Wing News points to a good commentary on the misleading statistics contained in the “poverty rate.” He also comments on five points of concern he has with conservative websites and blogs. I tend to agree with him, especially the last one about “nicknames.” I think conservative bloggers should abide by these basic guidelines in order to advance intelligent debate. Leave the conspiracy theories and name calling to the other bloggers.

Incoherence 

Hoy Story points out the ridiculous show Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) put on this weekend on Fox News Sunday. (Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the tip.

Mail problems? 

A staffer from Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) office was fired for hiding constituent mail instead of responding to it.

Is the elitist label paying off? 

E.J. Dionne is worried about Democrats losing popularity among the middle class.

Here's the secret of the Democratic primaries: They are no longer dominated by millworkers and milkmen. Steadily, the Democratic Party is becoming the party of the educated upper middle class.

Just look at last week's recall vote in California: The strongest opposition to tossing Democratic Gov. Gray Davis from office came from voters with postgraduate degrees. (Davis also appeared to do reasonably well among voters who did not graduate from high school -- part of the Democratic base that pollster Andy Kohut calls "the partisan poor." But members of this group did not figure in large enough numbers in post-election surveys for analysis.) Where Davis got clobbered was in the middle range -- effectively the great middle class Democrats talk about so much.

House districts 

The Washington Post slams the Texas redistricting plan in an editorial entitled “The Soviet Republic of Texas.” While I think their specific criticisms of the Republicans in Texas are overblown – the Republicans are exerting their legislative prerogative over the courts – I think the Post’s overall criticism is just. Congressional districts are becoming too safe for incumbents and there are very few competitive House elections.

The current Texas House delegation includes 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans. This balance, no doubt, is a residue of a time when Democrats were more powerful in the state than they are today and reflects deliberate incumbent protection by past legislatures. It also, however, reflects the fact that some Democratic members have effectively represented their increasingly conservative districts and remained popular. The pernicious effect of partisan redistricting in general is the weakening of the center with the creation of "safe" seats for both parties -- which encourages the election of people considerably to the left or right of the state's political center of gravity. Do Texans really want a polarized delegation of 22 conservative Republicans and 10 liberal Democrats, as the current plan envisions? Do they really want a state with a white party and a minority party? Republican politicians are engineering it that way, whatever voters may want. For redistricting -- quite the inverse of elections -- is a process in which politicians get to choose their voters. It is a process that a healthy democracy would seek to reform.

I think a good solution to the problem is to legislate that, where possible, districts should not divide counties. This is currently employed in Iowa and has produced a state in which most of the elections last year were competitive and the districts are not contorted. Of course, this won’t happen because the politicians themselves are the ones who would have to change the current system and they are the ones who benefit from it. In addition, this plan would eliminate twisted minority-majority districts (found in North Carolina and Georgia) that have been upheld by courts.

In a related story
A legislative counsel for Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), Joby Fortson, is in some hot water for an email he sent out from his personal computer poking fun at Texas Democrats and gloating over the redistricting victory. Email has gotten more people in trouble in Capitol Hill...when will they learn.

Nkenge Harmon, a spokeswoman for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) says, "We've been saying all along Republicans aren't redistricting for any reason, but a power grab," (Fortson wrote in his email: “As much as we despise her, she cannot be drawn out ... the Queen lives!!!!" referring to Jackson Lee)

Of course it’s a power grab -- that is what electoral politics is all about. It might be cutthroat, but it is legal and having the legislature decide Congressional districts is better than the courts doing it. It is not about “minority voter disenfranchisement” as Greg Speed, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman, said in the article.

Back at work 

Sorry about the lack of content yesterday but I was not in the office due to Columbus Day. I can't say I am glad to be back at work. We had beautiful weather in D.C. this weekend!

Friday, October 10, 2003

Gun Lawsuits 

Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) wants to move ahead with his bill to exempt gun manufactures and sellers from frivolous lawsuits. He has the support of 10 Democrats, including Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), and thinks this is enough to break any filibuster. The House has already passed similar legislation.

Airport insecurity 

Do you feel safe at the airport yet? According to the Department of Homeland Security’s acting inspector general, “the written tests given potential baggage screeners at airports never asked applicants to show they could identify dangerous objects inside luggage. In addition, screeners hired by the government to check baggage for bombs were given most of the answers to the tests.”

During classroom training, screeners were given the questions in open-book quizzes and then the answers. The course ended with a closed-book examination of 25 questions. Nineteen of the questions on the final test were identical or virtually identical and three were similar to those on the quizzes, Ervin said.

One question asked "How do threats get aboard an aircraft?" The possible answers were (a) In carry-on bags; (b) In checked-in bags; (c) In another person's bag; and (d) All of the above. The correct answer is (d).

A second question asked why it is important to screen bags for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). A possible answer: "The ticking timer could worry other passengers." The right answer: "IEDs can cause loss of lives, property and aircraft."

They almost stumped me on that last one. Good thing we have federalized screeners though!

Iraq reconstruction 

The House Appropriations Committee passed the Iraq supplemental spending bill by a vote of 47-14. While at times the mark-up was contentious, there was also laughter and a few jokes being made. The Appropriations Committee holds mark-ups unlike other Committees. Instead of sitting on a dais, the majority of the Members sit at long table in front of the dais, much like your average town hall meeting. There is drinking and eating going on and a lot less parliamentary procedure. It is quite entertaining to watch.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Hehe 

Amusing stuff from the loony-left compiled by John Hawkins.

Drinking games 

June Thomas at Slate has come up with a Democrat debate drinking game . I have yet to watch one yet, but this might be a way I could actually get through one.

For example:

Take one drink if:
A candidate mentions an ordinary American by name
A candidate mentions Bill Clinton
A candidate mentions John Ashcroft
A candidate mentions John McCain
A candidate mentions Enron
A candidate mentions Halliburton
A candidate mentions a member of his or her family
A candidate gives out his or her campaign Web site URL

There are more. There are also rules for each individual candidate. Here are some examples:

Richard Gephardt
Take a drink if he:
Refers to a Bush policy as a "failure"
Points at himself
Says he "led the fight" for something
Says "dad" and "Teamster" in the same sentence
Mentions Howard Dean and Newt Gingrich in the same sentence

John Kerry
Take a drink if he:
Uses the word "sacrifice"
Mentions Vietnam
Uses the phrase "so to speak"

Dennis Kucinich
Take a drink if he:
Reads from his notes
Mentions "NAFTA" and "WTO" in the same sentence
Quotes poetry (even if it's the verse on the Statue of Liberty)

They’re all pretty funny. Read the whole thing. (Thanks to Betsy’s Page for the pointer.)

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