Tuesday, July 31, 2007

California Lawmaker Files Ballot Initiative for Propotional Electoral Vote Allocation

Hendrik Herzberg, writing at The New Yorker, calls attention to a ballot intiaitve that has been filed in California that would change the electoral vote allocation from the current "winner-take-all" format to a proportional allocation similar to Maine and Nebraska. Hertzberg is none-too-happy about it, calling it Votescam:
Two weeks ago, one of the most important Republican lawyers in Sacramento quietly filed a ballot initiative that would end the practice of granting all fifty-five of California’s electoral votes to the statewide winner. Instead, it would award two of them to the statewide winner and the rest, one by one, to the winner in each congressional district. Nineteen of the fifty-three districts are represented by Republicans, but Bush carried twenty-two districts in 2004. The bottom line is that the initiative, if passed, would spot the Republican ticket something in the neighborhood of twenty electoral votes—votes that it wouldn’t get under the rules prevailing in every other sizable state in the Union.
California is an electoral vote rich big state that traditionally goes Democratic in a statewide election. But if the state's 55 votes were allocated based upon which candidate won in each congressional district, Hertzberg's thinking goes, then essentially the state of California would not be as monolithically Democratic as it would seem in presidential elections.

North Carolina is on the verge of making a similar move and if California goes the same way, I imagine a number of states will quickly fall in line. Given that most Americans are not happy with the Electoral College format anyway, the move might garner significant public support.

Hertzberg notes that a nationwide move to a proportional allocation alter the political calculus on election day:
Instead of ten battleground states and forty spectator states, we’d have thirty-five battleground districts and four hundred spectator districts. The red-blue map would be more mottled, and in some states more people might get to see campaign commercials, because media markets usually take in more than one district. But congressional districts are as gerrymandered as human ingenuity and computer power can make them. The electoral-vote result in ninety per cent of the country would still be a foregone conclusion, no matter how close the race.
A couple of problems though, we haven't had ten battleground states in several elections. In 2004, the real battlegrounds were Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Wisconsin and West Virginia were sort of on the list and you might be able to make a case for New Mexico, Colorado and maybe one other. So at best we have six or seven truly competitive states.

But we routinely have more than 35Congressional districts in play due in an election year, so the electoral diversity gets a little better. CNN identified 52 key races in 2006 and the districts were spread out all over the country. Only four of these races were won with more than 55 percent of the vote and those in districts tainted by scandal for one party or the other. While many of these districts broke Democratic in 2006, it is not a forgone conclusion that they would do so for the Presidential election in 2008.

One thing is starting to override the move to change the way Presidential elections are run in the nation. Voters in vote rich states like California and New York have become fundraising stops for candidates and not places where candidates really campaign. Moves to make the state more competitive should be welcome. The move to competition in these states will change the way in which campaigns operate. Republican candidates won't simply write off New York and California. Democrats will no longer write off Texas and the southeast since there will be seats to be collected in those states, seats that could become important in the final electoral vote count.

Competition in politics is good and the bigger the playing field, the more Americans will benefit from the efforts of the candidates.

Three Senators Introduce Presidential Primary Plan

Three Senators, One Republican, one Democrat and one Independent, have introduced a common sense sense reform for the Presidential primary scheme:
Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) announced Tuesday they are proposing legislation that would institute a new primary structure that divides the country into four regions, with each region’s states voting in a different month.

The Regional Presidential Primary and Caucus Act, which would take effect in the 2012 elections, is a result of this year’s rush by states to the front of the line, with big states like California, New York and New Jersey moving to Feb. 5 and Florida jumping to Jan. 29.
the plan would divide the nation into four regions, East, South, Midwest and West, likely centered on a large state and then each region would vote in successive months, beginning in March and running through June.
The senators pushing for the new plan said it was developed in response to the crowded front end of the 2008 primary season. According to them, next year, 33 states have scheduled their primaries or caucuses before March 1. In 2004, there were only 19, and in 2000, there were 11.

On Feb. 5, 2008, 18 or more states will hold their caucuses or primaries, leading many to believe the partyies' nominees will be known long before the summer campaign season begins.

“Under this schedule, the primary contests in both major parties could be over by March 1st — nearly 6 months before the nominating conventions,” the document reads.

Aside from garnering more Senate support, the bill also raises a number of other questions.
Most primaries are set by state law, seen most recently in Florida, where the state legislature ignored the bylaws of the Republican and Democratic national committees and made its primary Jan. 29 by law.
I am not concerned about that issue. According to the Constituion, the Congress can override state rules regarding the time, place and manner of elections for federal offices. If Congress says, "We are going to have a regional primary plan for Presidential primaries" the states have little say in the matter.

I have long thought this plan to be a solid idea and I hope it will carry the day.

Dem Leader: Positive Report from Petreaus Would Be "A Real Big Problem For Us"

What kind of political world do we live in when success in the war on terror would be "a real big problem for us"
according to House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC)
Clyburn noted that Petraeus carries significant weight among the 47 members of the Blue Dog caucus in the House, a group of moderate to conservative Democrats. Without their support, he said, Democratic leaders would find it virtually impossible to pass legislation setting a timetable for withdrawal.

"I think there would be enough support in that group to want to stay the course and if the Republicans were to stay united as they have been, then it would be a problem for us," Clyburn said. "We, by and large, would be wise to wait on the report."

Many Democrats have anticipated that, at best, Petraeus and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker would present a mixed analysis of the success of the current troop surge strategy, given continued violence in Baghdad. But of late there have been signs that the commander of U.S. forces might be preparing something more generally positive. Clyburn said that would be "a real big problem for us."

Clyburn's comments came as House and Senate Democrats try to figure out their next steps in the legislative battle. Clyburn said he could foresee a circumstance in which House Democrats approve a measure without a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces, which has been the consistent goal of the party throughout the months-long debate. But he said he could just as easily see Democrats continue to include a timetable.

Clyburn also address the reasons behind declining approval ratings for Congress, which spiked earlier in the year when Democrats took over the House and Senate. The most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed just 37 percent approving of the performance of Congress.

"Remember right after the election it went very high on approval,?" he said. "Then all of a sudden people saw that we were not yielding the kind of result that they wanted to yield."

He said most Americans still do not know some of the domestic legislation that has been approved. Fewer understand that, despite Democratic majorities in both houses, that it takes 60 votes to pass anything legislation in the Senate.

Clyburn noted that while overall approval ratings of Congress are low, people still rate Democrats higher than Republicans. "People feel good about the Democratic Party, they just don't feel real good about the Congress itself."
I don't know about that last assertion, Democrats may feel good about the Democratic party, Republicans and a fair number of independents don't. I follow Congress pretty closely and I don't know much domestic legislation that has been done. Sounds like a fair number of excuses from the Democrats.

But Clyburn is right, the Blue Dog Democrats have the Democrats in general hostage to their conservative viewpoints on the war on terror. Even a moderately positive report from Petreaus will be enough to ensure that any legislation on Iraq will not come with a timetable, yet. It really is not surprising that the Blue Dogs feel this way. The Democrats have long struggled, as have the Republicans, with split between the far extremes of their party and the more centrist moderates. Recent signs have been encouraging in Iraq and I don't think the Blue Dogs will be in any mood to deny progress.

With still a month to go before Petreaus' report, there is time for much more to go well in country or for the Democrats hopes of a disaster to come true.

More Good News In Iraq--U.S. Death Toll Lowest in 8 Months

During July 73 U.S. servicemen lost their lives, each a tragedy in it own right. But the death toll is the lowest it has been in 8 months and while the AP story was posted about four hours ago, it does not appear on any of the top U.S. dailies headlines.

Hmmm!! When death tolls are setting new "records" it is accorded top billing, when it hits lows nary a peep.

Rich Schools Should Use Endowments More

Lynne Munson writing in Inside Higher Ed, thinks that Congress should force colleges to spend a minimum amount of their endowment on a yearly basis, a requirement that applies to other charitable trusts, but not to college endowments:
Colleges and universities are sitting on a fortune in tax-free funds, and sharing almost none of it. Higher education endowment assets alone total over $340 billion. Sixty-two institutions boast endowments over $1 billion. Harvard and Yale top the list with endowments so massive, $28 billion and $18 billion respectively, that they exceed the general operating funds for the states in which they reside. It’s not just elite private institutions that do this; four public universities have endowments that rank among the nation’s top 10. The University of Texas’ $13 billion endowment is the fourth largest nationwide, vastly overshadowing most of the Ivy League.

These endowments tower over their peers throughout the nonprofit world. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is America’s wealthiest museum. But the Met’s $2 billion endowment is bested by no less than 26 academic institutions, including the University of Minnesota, Washington University in St. Louis, and Emory. Indeed, the total worth of the top 25 college and university endowments is $11 billion greater than the combined assets of their equivalently ranked private foundations — including Gates, Ford and Rockefeller.

Higher education endowments also are growing much faster than private foundations. The value of college and university endowments skyrocketed 17.7 percent last year, while private foundation assets increased 7.8 percent. Just 3.3 percent of the increase in academic endowments is attributable to new gifts. Most of the gain is a result of stingy, outdated endowment payout policies that retain and perpetually re-invest massive sums. This widespread practice results in a hoarding of tax-free funds.

A recent survey of 765 colleges and universities found they are spending 4.2 percent of their endowments’ value each year. Meanwhile, private foundations — which are legally required to spend at least 5 percent of their value annually — average 7 percent spending.

Higher education endowments differ from private foundations in one particularly important respect. Private foundations exist to give their money to others, while college and university endowments support just one charity — their school. But isn’t being your own sole beneficiary reason to spend more, not less? Particularly when a substantial area of spending — financial aid grants to current students — targets precisely the people you expect will be your future donors?
This last item is of particular note to me. I graduated from the University of Maryland as did my wife. Within two years of graduating, the Alumni development office (read fundraising arm) of the school was calling us for money. Before I even graduated from law school, the school was aksing for money.

I fully intend to give back in both time and money to my alma maters, and in fact already have. But that audacity of these schools, whose endowments are hefty to say the least, but nowhere near the levels of Harvard and Yale, to ask for money when they themselves are so stingy with money is almost laughable.

Munson suggests treating college endowments in the same manner as private charities and insist upon publicly disclosed and enforced payments from the endowment for tuition.
And 5 percent should be considered just a starting point. College and university endowments exist to support current operations. But if that only requires a mere 4 percent draw, clearly there is ample room to use additional endowment funds for purposes that serve the public directly. For example, why not take some of the burden off students, families and taxpayers by providing more financial aid to needy students? After all, why should taxpayers be subsidizing an ever-burgeoning number of student loans while schools can afford to provide more scholarships?

For too long the government response to skyrocketing tuition has been to increase the size and number of student loans. Now the plan is to make loan repayment easier and increase grant aid again. But making it possible for students and parents to go more deeply into debt only encourages endowment hoarding and runaway tuition. It is time for legislators to come up with a smarter strategy for addressing college affordability — one that will pressure colleges and universities to better serve students, families, and taxpayers. And getting schools to stop hoarding billions in tax-free funds would be a good first step.

The high cost of education has consequences. When asked to name an expense that is beyond their reach, people cite “paying for college” more than buying a home, retirement, or anything else. The intimidating effect of high tuition is the largest “access” problem in American higher education. If colleges and universities truly want to open their doors to all, they will begin by sharing their riches.
If the typical endowments spends 4 percent on operational costs of the school, an additional 1 percent spent on tuition assistance, even divided amoung need based and merit based scholarships will go a long way to reducing college costs. Just to give you an idea, the endowment at Harvard is $28 billion, one percent spending on tuition and fees would amount to $280 million dollars in college aid.

Munson is not suggesting a tuition free schooling for everyone, but if the schools can help by spending their endowments a little there will be two effects. One, the schools are less likely to keep increasing tuition which would then cause them to spend more from the endowment. Two, financial support for college means that fewer loans are needed and with less debt coming out of college, that pesky phone call two years after you graduate becomes much easier to bear and respond to.

Maryland Charter Schools Entitled To Equal Funding

In a big legal victory for Maryland Charter schools, the Maryland Court of Appeals (the state's highest court, issued a ruling yesterday in the Baltimore chater schools case Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners v. City Neighbors Charter School. The essence of the ruling means that the Balitmore City School Board and indeed all the states county school boards must make payments to charter schools in a manner commensurate with the expenditures that are make on similar students in tradtiional public schools. The ruling could cost the Baltimore schools millions of dollars according to report by Sara Neufeld in the Baltimore Sun.

In an opinion by Judge Alan Wilner (who was sitting on the court by special appointment), the Court ruled that the funding choices made by the City board of education were inappropriate and wrong. The case starts in 2004 and 2005, two charter schools, City Neighbors and Patterson Park, sought a charter from the Balitmore City Schools and the school board essentially sat on their request, deliberatly choosing not to make a decision. Under teh Maryland Charter School law, local boards had to make a decision one way or the other withing 120 days. Applicants could choose to appeal to the State Board of Education (SBE) in the event of an adverse decision. Interpreting the lack of a decision as an adverse decision, the schools appealed. After the SBE told the local boards to make a decision in 30 days, the school board issued a conditional approval. One of the conditions was for teh school board and the charters to negotiate an agreement regarding funding. But, as Judge Wilner noted in his opinion in a forceful dig as legislative ineptitude, the law regarding funding was hopelessly vague.

Under Maryalnd education law, people and groups can apply to the SBE for a declaratory judgement on the meaning and interpretation of the state law, regualtions and policy relating to education. As such the charters applied to the SBE for a ruling on what "commensurate funding" meant. The SBE tentatively ruled that commensurate funding means the average per pupil expenditures for like students minus a 2% deduction for functions that can only really be performed by the county's central administrative office. The Baltimore City school board objected and began the appeals process. While the appeals were pending, the school board and the charters came to an temporary agreement that provided funding in cash for some aspect and the provision of services with the total "funding" being significantly less that similar per pupil funding. Eventually, the SBE handed down its declaratory ruling on the funing matter, largely leaving its temporary ruling intact and advised future charter applicants to follow, where possible, the SBE declaratory ruling.

The Baltimore school board filed judicial appeals, arguing among other things, that the SBE had not issued a declaratory ruling, but a regulation that had not followed proper regultory procedures, that the funding mechanism issued by the SBE was not supported by law and sought to have the SBE over turned. Lower courts found for the City school board and then later for the SBE and chaters before Court of Appeals took the case.

As noted before, the Court ruled against the school board. The SBE not only had the power and duty to issue declaratory rulings, but that such declaratory rulings are exempt from the normal regulatory process by specific exclusion in the Maryland Administrative Procedures Act. The substance of the ruling on commensurate funding found the SBE formula acceptable in large part due to the deference owed to the SBE's judgment and the legislative history of the Charter School Act. The Court did say that "funding" could include services, but that the charter school and not the school board makes the determination as to whether to accept payment in cash or payment in kind.

What is the effect of the ruling, beyond the immediate funding issue. First and foremost, the ruling clearly established the preeminence of teh State Board of Education in the educational policy arena. The Court, on a number of occaisions spoke of the deference the courts should afford to the SBE's rulings and rulemakings. Absent an illegal or plainly erroneous ruling by the SBE, the courts are to defer to the SBE's judgment.

While the SBE can be at best described as "charter neutral," the ruling makes it clear that for future charter applicants, at the very least they will get a relatively impartial hearing at the SBE. When contrasted with the often hostile greetings in the local school boards, the atmosphere is a welcome change.

On a more subtle level, the Court's ruling also gives warning to the local school boards--"get on board with the charter movement" or else. The tone of Judge Wilner's opinion implies that the Court is not particularly happy with the obstructionist nature of the local school boards, particuarly in Baltimore and Prince George's County, where the educational needs of students are most dire. While those two counties have the highest number of charters, the charters achieved such a status in the face of opposition if not outright hostility at the school board level.

Second, the funding issue holds a great deal of promise for future charters. The immediate effect of the ruling levels the negotiating playing field for the charters. Charters will no longer be forced to accept services as payment, although they can opt for that path. The longer term effect is that, at least to a certain extent, Maryland charter schools will be operating on something more than a mere shoestring budget.

While the ruling yesterday is clearly a victory for charter schools, the battle is far from over. Maryland chaters can continue to expect a legislative environment in the General Assembly hostile to charters.
The court's decision has already spurred political opposition and calls for legislative action to undo it.

"It was a bad decision financially," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's Democrat who has twice unsuccessfully introduced legislation to curb spending on charters. "I think it's going to result in children at charter schools receiving more than children at traditional public schools."

In Baltimore, charter advocates are awaiting the response of Andres Alonso, the new chief executive officer of the city schools. Through a spokeswoman, Alonso declined to comment on the ruling yesterday, saying he is studying it.
The biggest problem that charters face is attempting to instruct Assembly members that charter students do NOT get more money than traditional public schools students, in fact they receive less, at least 2 percent less. But the teacher's unions, whose opposition to charters is not only long standing but vocal (despite a legislative bone thrown the makes employees of chater schools eligible to be in collective bargaining units). The unions, who have the fortunate position to have a legislature that is more than 2/3 Democrats, have a largely receptive audience to the myth of funding.

Sen. Pinsky, quoted above, and his allies, however, have few legislative outlets short of keeping the cap on charter schools low or legislatively crafting a funding mechanism that shortchanges the charters. But there is a constitutional bar sitting in the way of the latter path--equal protection. By definition, charters are public schools and the state cannot fund them in too disproportionate manner without risking having their actions trashed in court.

But the political ramifications of drastically limiting the number of charters is also dangerous. Charters are performing well in Baltimore and in nearby Washington, DC. The state's most successful public school systems are in counties that many in Maryland simply cannot afford to live in, the People's Republic of Montgomery County and Howard County. Thus, there will be increasing pressure to either fix the schools in poor performing districts, like Baltimore City, or allow more charters to open. Thus, the General Assembly is caught between a rock and a hard place with a great big hammer of a massive $1.5 billion budget deficit falling on their heads this year.

Charters won an important victory, but it is simply one battle in a long war.

A New Addiction: Scandal Addiction

Rich Lowry says that Democrats are addicted to scandal, but that the addiction really is bi-partisan and long running.
When not trying to force a pullout from Iraq, their main effort has been chasing Bush-administration scandals that loom large only in their fevered imaginations. Democrats consider this “change,” but it is really a toxic repeat of the Republican investigative onslaught against Bill Clinton in the 1990s and of the Democratic one against Ronald Reagan in the 1980s — in other words, business as usual when Congress confronts a hated presidential adversary.

The Democrats’ latest tactic is to give an implicit choice to Bush officials: They can either come to Capitol Hill to testify so Democrats can try to build a perjury case against them, or they can refuse, in which case Democrats will cite them for criminal contempt of Congress. Either path leads inexorably to Democratic calls for a special counsel. Democrats love the prospect of another couple of Patrick Fitzgeralds, drumming Bush officials out of public life with onerous legal bills for their trouble.
Oversight of the government is an important function of Congress and one that should be taken seriously. The GOP didn't do it very well when they ran things under President Bush, arguably the GOP Congress didn't do it at all. But the Democrats have run screaming in the opposite direction and have become so wrapped up in trying to find the "gotcha" moment that they have all but ignored the rest of their business.

While the House's legislative hopper is scheduled to get a motion to impeach Attorney General Alberto Gonzales today, there is not much for the Democratic Congress to point to in terms of legisaltive successes. Congress may be on the verge of passing a lobbying reform bill, of which parts are likely to get tossed out by the Courts for violating First Amendment freedoms. Their "Ethics" reform bill should be a joke in the Simpsons movie, and this Congress thinks that American problems are too esoteric to be considered by Congress that it must talk about other nation's problems.

In the meantime, prominent liberal commentators are discussing positive signs in Iraq, much to the Democrats dismay, our immigration laws are in desparate need of enforcement, we have a growing crisis in entitlements and a whole host of other problems the government should be addressing. But right now all we get for our taxpayer money is more investigations of political questions, more subpoenas that can and should be ignored and empty threats of contempt of Congress charges.

At this point, I don't want more "scandals," I want my tax dollars back--at least I know I can put them to good use.

Sen. Ted Stevens' Alaska Home searched by Feds

This story about a search on the Alaska home of Sen. Ted Stevens will sure stoke the fires among the government reform groups for passage of a lobbying reform and ethics bills currently under consideration in the Senate.

But, as Cleta Mitchell pointed out yesterday at Human Events, we don't need new "ethics bills" because Stevens, Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, and even William Jefferson have been investigated and in some cases charged and sent to prison through enforcement of existing law. We need to ensure that enforcement of current laws is continued.

Wonkette: Still In Poor Taste

This is in very poor taste:
Chief Justice John Roberts has died in his summer home in Maine. No, not really, but we know yo uhave your fingers crossed.
Wonkette used to be funny and snarky, now irrelevance has set in.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Democrats Don't Have Enough American Problems to Cry About

Apparently the Democratically controlled House of Representatives doesn't have enough to do. Apparently bemoaning all the bad things in our own history and present, we need to take on other nation's sordid past as well. Look it is one thing for our nation to apologize (for what ever lame reason) for the sins of our past, but it is a whole other thing to ask another nation to apologize for its own sins.

The Most Ethical Congress Ever--Yeah Right

Mark Tapscott, among others, are drawing attention to an "ethics" reform bill crafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In a nutshell, the most ethical Congress ever is nothing more than a poor man's bait and switch.

From Tapscott: Put another way - it's all a charade. Here's an initial list of changes found thus far in the text (and I expect much more to come later today):
  • The Senate-passed bill required committee and conference reports to list all earmarks, and required the chairman of the committee of jurisdiction to prepare and distribute the list of earmarks. However, the new bill allows the Majority Leader, not the Senate parliamentarian, to unilaterally decide whether or not a bill or conference report complies with the earmark disclosure requirements.
  • The Senate-passed bill prohibited the consideration of any bills, joint resolutions, etc. prior to the disclosure of earmarks. The new bill only prohibits a vote on a motion to proceed to these bills. Thus, under the language in the new bill, the Senate could merely proceed to a bill by consent in the middle of the night without being required to disclose all earmarks.
  • The Senate-passed bill prohibited the consideration of a conference report if it did not disclose all earmarks. The new bill only prohibits a vote on the adoption of the conference report if it does not list earmarks as required.
  • The Senate-passed bill prohibited the inclusion of an earmark based on a Member's vote on a matter. The new bill eliminates that prohibition.
  • The Senate-passed bill prohibited Members from promoting earmarks that benefited them, their family, their staff, or their staff's family. The new bill only prohibits earmarks that would "only" affect those parties. Under this new language, you would be able to earmark a new mansion for me as long as that mansion also increased the property value of my neighbors.
Tapscott even has a chart prepared by Sen. Tom Coburns office with a quick side-by-side of the original ethics reform bill and the Reid/Pelosi bill.

Per his usual skill, N.Z. Bear has a link to the text of the Reid/Pelosi bill.

The Supreme Court's Balance as a Poltiical Issue

Ann Althouse highlights an ABC poll that find that three in 10 Americans believe the Supreme Court is too conservative.
Three in 10 Americans say the Supreme Court is "too conservative," up sharply from two years ago and now substantially more than call it "too liberal." Just under half say the court is about balanced ideologically in its decisions.

Thirty-one-percent call the court too conservative, compared with 19 percent in July 2005 -- a period in which Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito have joined the court, replacing William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor.

Considerably fewer, 18 percent, call the court too liberal. Forty-seven percent say it's balanced, down from 55 percent in 2005.

Naturally there are sharp ideological differences in these views. Fifty-one percent of liberals see the court as "too conservative," compared with 36 percent of moderates and 10 percent of conservatives. Indeed a third of conservatives call it too liberal.
Althouse has some advice for Democrats seeking to make a political issue of the Court's philosophical leanings:
Actually, I think it's surprising, after all the press coverage of the Roberts and Alito nominations, that many more Americans haven't absorbed the view that the Supreme Court is too conservative. It suggests that the issue of Supreme Court appointments isn't going to work very well for the Democratic presidential candidates, who must be hoping to alarm people about the Court. By 55-43%, Americans approved of the Court's decision upholding the federal ban on "partial birth" abortion. And abortion is -- by far -- the main issue Democrats use to fire up voters.

But how are you supposed to vote if you think the Court is currently well-balanced? It depends on who we predict will leave the Court in the next 4 years. The Democrats ought to stress that it is far more likely that 2 or 3 liberal Justices will be going and that we need a Democratic President to preserve the balance. That is, you don't need to convince people that the Court has become too conservative and needs to be changed, only that the current balance is good. Don't demonize Alito and Roberts. Just appeal to our love of stability.
Such a political appeal is probably going to be far more productive for Democrats than a "the Court's too Conservative" line of attack. When almost half of America think the Court is well balanced, it would seem that with Justices Stevens and Ginsburg the most likely retirements in the next four years, then appealing for a Democrat in the White House to preseve the balance is the best idea.

For me, as far as the Court is concerned, the bigger problem is the "swing block" is much too small--only one Justice. On too many questions of Constitutional rights and sharply divided political turned legal questions, Justice Kennedy is the most important person in America and that is simply too much power and responsibliity ensconced in one person. I would feel less concerned if I could understand Kennedy's guiding principles that he uses to arrive at decisions, but they appear to be unfathomable which gives a sort of credence to the opinion that important Supreme Court decisions could turn on how Justice Anthony Kennedy is feeling that day.

Roger Taney Statue in Frederick, MD

Frederick Maryland boasts two major hisotrical figures as native sons, one for fabulous reasons and one for notorious reasons. The most famous Fredericktonian is Francis Scott Key, whose Star Spangled Banner is sung everday with pride and joy. There is much in Frederick bearing his name, from the minor league baseball team, the Frederick Keys, to a shopping mall (Francis Scott Key Mall), Frederick holds Key near and dear to it heart.

But like everything in life, there is a balance. Also hailing from Frederick is Roger B. Taney (pronounced "TAWN-ee"), a Frederick lawyer, state Senator, Chief Justice of the United States and the much maligned author of the Dred Scot decision.

Despite Frederick's growth (it is the third largest city in Maryland, behind Baltimore and Rockville), Frederick is, in many ways, something of a small town. The square where City Hall sits is home to both Francis Scott Key's former law offices and a bust of Roger Taney. There is now an effort underway to have the bust of Taney removed from the City Square. As the city has grown, so too has its minority population and a more liberal bent to its politics, particularly in Frederick City and in the lower parts of the county.

The move made by the local NAACP and a couple of Frederick lawyers,
looking to capitalize on the General Assembly's passage this year of a resolution expressing "profound regret" for Maryland's role in slavery. Taney's decision, meanwhile, was lambasted here last month by Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who said it "threw the country on its ear."

In the 1857 majority opinion, Taney ruled that Dred Scott, a Missouri slave who had traveled with his master into free territory and wanted his freedom made permanent, should remain enslaved. The language Taney used in describing black Americans forever tarred his legal legacy - despite his nearly 30 years as chief justice. He wrote that the Founding Fathers regarded blacks as "beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

While respectful of the ire that Taney's writing still sparks in many today, not everyone thinks a potentially divisive debate about Taney's 150-year-old decision - and more broadly about race - would be good for Frederick.

"It's a huge battle - I'd rather spend our time and energy dealing with issues that are going to help people right now," said Mayor William J. Holtzinger, a Republican who was elected in 2005. "Moving or not moving that bust isn't going to do a thing to help people."


Frederick Alderman Donna Kuzemchak, a Democrat, said she has read Lollar's appeal and backs him 100 percent. If the bust is an abomination to some, she said, it must go. She said, however, that the question of its fate could raise tensions in the city. She forecast a heated public debate.

"Good ole boys want to leave things where they are," Kuzemchak said. "To them, life is fine. But suggesting that moving this is whitewashing history is bunk. Things have changed everywhere, and you should change with them."
But the removal of the bust is indeed whitewashing history. Things have changed and people recognize the Dred Scot decision for what it is, a stain on American history. But those stains must be acknowledged before we can move on with the present.

When movements like his occur, it makes my blood boil worse than anything. Such efforts signal to me that we can't face our past, learn the lessons and apply them to today. These folks looking to remove the statute will, in the long run, result not in remembering the sins of the past but not knowing of them. It is far better for me to have to explain about a person dipicted in a statue, the good and the bad, than have no opportunity to expalin the racist undercurrents of our past.

Roger B. Taney was a racist, there is little doubt about it, but so too were many men of that age. Yet, we still have a massive public monuments to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and other greats of American history. All of these men were flawed in substantial ways, yet we continue to exalt them. Taney, until the Dred Scot decision, was a rather unremarkable politician and lawyer. Had American circumstances been different he might be celebrated in Frederick and in Maryland as just a footnote in the Supreme Court's history. But the past cannot be changed and we cannot ignore it. Perhaps in some fundamental way, the Dred Scot decision forced the nation to examine its moral foundation. Yes, the examination led to a bitter and bloddy Civil War, but this nation would not have survived without the Civil War. It seems odd to say it, but the Dred Scot decision and the Civil War that resulted may have done more to help this nation to address its racisim than ignoring the problem ever would have.

We cannot change history, we cannot make it better or more palatable. So my question to Alderman Kuzemchak is this; What if something about Francis Scott Key comes to light that is dark and negative, will we expunge Frederick's history of Key? Taney is not hero and no saint, but he was a historical figure and we should not remove his bust from the public square just because we don't like his opinions.

Mark Steyn On the Oregon Bottom Smacking Case

Last week, I noted the story of two Oregon seventh graders at risk of being labeled sex offenders for alledgedly smacking their classmates on the bottom. Mark Steyn, with his usual acerbic wit, also takes on the case and concludes:
Mashburn and Cornelison do not believe they've committed a crime, so they would like to exercise their right to the presumption of innocence – a bedrock principle of the English legal tradition now in great peril from American prosecutorial excess. Instead of letting the state bully them into a grubby, shaming deal, the boys would like it to do what justice systems in civilized societies are required to do: prove the crime. It's a gamble: Those 10 charges each command a one-year sentence, plus lifelong sex-offender registration.

District Attorney Berry told reporter Susan Goldsmith of the Oregonian that his department "aggressively" pursues sex crimes. "These cases are devastating to children," he said. "They are life-altering cases."

No, sir. The only one devastating children's lives is you. If you "win," and these "criminals" are convicted, 20, 30 years from now – applying for a job, volunteering for a community program, heading north for a weekend in Vancouver and watching the Customs guard swipe the driver's license through the computer – there'll be a blip, something will come up on the screen, and for the umpteenth time two middle-age men will realize they bear a mark that can never be expunged. Because decades ago they patted their pals on the rear in a middle-school corridor.

A world that requires handcuffs and judges and district attorneys for what took place that Friday in February is not just a failed education system but an entire society that's losing any sense of proportion. Without which, civilized life becomes impossible. So we legalize more and more aspects of life and demand that district attorneys prosecute ever more aggressively what were once routine areas of social interaction.

A society that looses the state to criminalize schoolroom horseplay is guilty not only of punishing children as grown-ups but of the infantilization of the entire citizenry.
I can't imagine a dumber prosecution.

Entitlement Spending Could Top 75% of Budget by 2030

Robert Samuelson notes that there is not enough talk about entitlement reform, either out of the Presidential candidates nor out of the think tanks. This is a problem, of course, because in about 23 years or so, entitlements could eat up 75 percent of the federal budget according to the Congressional Budget Office:
The aging of America is not just a population change or, as a budget problem, an accounting exercise. It involves a profound transformation of the nature of government: commitments to the older population are slowly overwhelming other public goals; the national government is becoming mainly an income-transfer mechanism from younger workers to older retirees.

Consider the outlook. From 2005 to 2030, the 65-and-over population will nearly double to 71 million; its share of the population will rise to 20 percent from 12 percent. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—programs that serve older people—already exceed 40 percent of the $2.7 trillion federal budget. By 2030, their share could hit 75 percent of the present budget, projects the Congressional Budget Office. The result: a political impasse.

The 2030 projections are daunting. To keep federal spending stable as a share of the economy would mean eliminating all defense spending and most other domestic programs (for research, homeland security, the environment, etc.). To balance the budget with existing programs at their present economic shares would require, depending on assumptions, tax increases of 30 percent to 50 percent—or budget deficits could quadruple. A final possibility: cut retirement benefits by increasing eligibility ages, being less generous to wealthier retirees or trimming all payments.
It is no wonder that politicians are so quite, none of the current solutions offer any political cover and political cover is what politicians want more than anything else.

Samuelson posits an idea to get the think tanks to at least put pen to paper--a proposal that may not have legs.

Simply put, our political leaders are going to have to make some changes. The problem is that those changes will likely be late in coming because Congress has little ability to deal effectively with problems of the future, despite being paid to do so.

The problem that we as a nation face is that none of the above mentioned proposals are that appealing. So far, the dilemma has been posited as:
  1. Raise Taxes
  2. Cut Benefits (including raising eligibility rates, which is cutting benefits entirely to individuals ofa certain age)
  3. a combination of the two (which is far more likely right now)
But must we be wed to these concepts? Are there other alternatives?

If there are any alternatives, I have not heard of any. I would like to hear some.

Hoersting: NY Consideration of New Campaign Finance Rules Not Wise

The Center for Competitive Politics Stephen Hoersting has penned an op-ed for today's New York Post, in which he warns voters and legislators that the so-called "reform proposals" offered by Gov. Eliott Spitzer may not be a wise idea.
IT'S worth noting that the plot by top staffers of Gov. Spitzer to use the State Police for political espionage against state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was apparently intended to force Bruno into agreeing to Spitzer's proposals to rewrite the New York's campaign-finance laws. Ironically, the plot helps illustrate how Spitzer's "reforms" threaten political freedom.


With the Spitzer/State Police scandal still unfolding, how can any legislator support giving enhanced electoral oversight to the executive department? Even if the new enforcement agency doesn't fall directly under the governor's office, the power is ripe for abuse.

But even with outright abuse set aside, greater regulation of campaigns empowers political insiders: The more rules and the more complex filing requirements there are, the more you need cash, lawyers, accountants and other experts to engage in politics at all.

But the regulatory web doesn't just hurt political neophytes. The proposed, drastically reduced, contribution limits will cripple challenger campaigns. At the federal level, we have seen successful challenger campaigns drop by 50 percent since contribution limits first became law. Expect similar results in New York.
Hoersting, however, fails to point out that contribution limits already exist in New York and they are a complicated lot, with limits dependent up on the size of the candidates political party and office. But leaving that aside, NY's State Board of Elections is pretty quick in its enforcement actions, so it is unclear why, other than the blatantly political reasons, the state needs more enforcement.

Of course Spitzer will benefit from the change in rules, making challenges to his next election all the more difficult.

A National Funk or a National Snit

Michael Barone takes a look at a recent Pew Global Attitudes Project's latest survey, which despite the surging economy and relative security, most Americans believe that their children will not be better off than themselves. Barone notes that many Americans, despite personal prosperity believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and that some of that belief is partisan. But Barone is not so sure:
That's my reaction as well to the finding that by a two-to-one margin Americans say their children will be worse off than we are. There's a similar response in Canada, Britain and Brazil. The even more negative verdicts in Western Europe and Japan can be explained as a cool assessment of the combination of low birthrates and overgenerous welfare states.

But what basis do Americans have to suppose that, for the first time in history, a younger generation will be worse off than their parents? Perhaps it's just a feeling that things cannot possibly get any better. In any case, we seem to be in a pronounced national funk.
that Democrats feel that way about America is not surprising, nothing this Administration could do would make them happy. They are just, for lack of a better term, miserable under the Bush Administration and not happy with the Congress either.

But I am not like most Americans. I know for a fact, not a belief or a hope, but a fact that my daughter's life will be better than mine. The progress of history in America has been one that, despite a few setbacks here and there, has always been positive. Technology, medicine, the economy, education everything, has gotten better. For the first time in my family, my daughters have two parents who have significant formal education. I have made more money in salary (in inflation adjusted dollars) this year than my parents did together when I was my daughter's age. My daughters have better health care than I did (not that mine was bad). My daughters have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips through the Internet, access to knowledge I had to go to the library to find, and they have knowledge that didn't exist 20 years ago and will have access to knowledge in 20 years that doesn't exist now.

I have learned over the past several years that being pessimistic about life is easy because we struggle everyday. But there is always cause for hope. I have faced and continue to face tough times everyday, but everything has always worked out for the best. I am happier today than I was a year ago. Despite my personal troubles, I believe this is still the greatest country in history and nothing can surpass it. We will make a better world for our children. I know this in my head, in my heart and in my soul.

And I Thought McCain-Feingold Was Bad

At least McCain and Feingold didn't seek to limit satire.
New Zealand's Parliament has voted itself far-reaching powers to control satire and ridicule of MPs in Parliament, attracting a storm of media and academic criticism.

The new standing orders, voted in last month, concern the use of images of Parliamentary debates, and make it a contempt of Parliament for broadcasters or anyone else to use footage of the chamber for "satire, ridicule or denigration".

The rules apply any to broadcasts or rebroadcasts in any medium.

They also ban the use of such footage for "political advertising or election campaigning", except with the permission of all members shown.
I suppose there is no New Zealand version of The Daily Show.

Iraq Wins Soccer's Asia Cup Over Saudi Arabia

Over the weekend, Iraq won its first ever Asia Cup Soccer Tournament on a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabai in Indonesia. A summary of the game is here, and Omar at IRAQ THE MODEL has his thoughts on the game.
Today is definitely the happiest day for Iraqis in years. Tears of joy mixed with prayers for hope on the faces of millions of Iraqis…Words truly fail me and I can't describe the feeling so please pardon me if the post doesn't sound coherent; I hear the cheering and music outside although the bullets of celebration keep falling on the ground and roofs here and there. But no one seems to worry about that, the moment is so great that fear has no place in the hearts of the millions of fans, neither from bullets nor from crazy suicide bombers who tried to kill our joy last week.

Our players, tonight our heroes, learned that only with team work they had a chance to win.
May our politicians learn from the players and from the fans who are painting a glorious image of unity and national pride, and let the terrorists know that nothing can kill the spirit of the sons of the immortal Tigris and Euphrates.

The fear is gone, the curfew is ignored, tonight Iraq knows only joy...
And people wonder why I love the sport of soccer, particularly international soccer. Omar tells you why.

"A War We Just Might Win"

I had to double check the banner at the top of the page to make sure of where I was, the New York Times is carrying a story by Micheal E. 'Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack about the war in Iraq and how there is a disconnect between the events on the ground and the debate in Washington:
Viewed from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal. The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration’s critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.
When two outspoken critics of the war are making a different assessment after having actually spent time in Iraq, one wonders where the debate in Washington is getting is material.

O'hanlon and Pollack note that the Iraqi military and police forces are gaining significant ground in terms of competency.
In the past, few Iraqi units could do more than provide a few “jundis” (soldiers) to put a thin Iraqi face on largely American operations. Today, in only a few sectors did we find American commanders complaining that their Iraqi formations were useless — something that was the rule, not the exception, on a previous trip to Iraq in late 2005.

The additional American military formations brought in as part of the surge, General Petraeus’s determination to hold areas until they are truly secure before redeploying units, and the increasing competence of the Iraqis has had another critical effect: no more whack-a-mole, with insurgents popping back up after the Americans leave.
If these asessments are even close to accurate, the problem in Iraq is not military but their civilian leadership. A strong military is, of course, key to the success of the Iraqi security issues, but a strong civilian leadership is what will set Iraq now apart from Iraq of the past. Iraq had a strong military under Hussein, but simply having a strong and capable military force will not a democracy make. The civilian leadership is lacking in the central govenrment, but O'Hanlon and Pollack are seeing a move to decentralize administration and those local administrations are proving to be far more effective.

In short, it appears as though the Iraqis, at least some, are seeing the world through the eyes of Alexis De Tocqueville, that central rules are best administered on a local level. When the local governments, which tend to be far less sectarian and probably far less corrupt, are the ones charged with implementing the government rules, and responding to local security threats, you get a far more responsive, responsible and yes, democratic, goverment. The beauty of local politics is that a man sitting in the capital can make a decision and not have to face the consequences of his negative actions. But a local mayor has to look his townfolk in the eye everyday and if he can't lead his town to security, his people will look for someone else.

To be certain, Washington does have to answer some tough questions, but the progress the Iraqi's have shown is worth continuing the course of action we currently follow. Some Democrats won't be happy with the results no matter how rosy they might be, but if some Congressional Democrats can set aside partisanship for 20 minutes, they might see a path to victory.

Friday, July 27, 2007

White House Conference Call on Executive Privilege

Ed Morrisey has a wrap-up. Captain Ed found this analysis on executive privilege and the ability of Congress to compel compliance with any subpoenas. The relevant sections:
Most importantly, compelling compliance with a congressional subpoena in this context would be difficult. The civil contempt mechanism normally available to Congress, see 28 U.S.C. § 1365, specifically exempts subpoenas to the executive branch. The criminal contempt mechanism, see 2 U.S.C. § 192, which punishes as a misdemeanor a refusal to testify or produce documents to Congress, requires a referral to the Justice Department, which is not likely to pursue compliance in the likely event that the President asserts executive privilege in response to the request for certain documents or testimony. Thus, the only legal way to enforce this subpoena would be to hold a witness in contempt using its “inherent contempt authority,” but this would require a contempt trial on the floor of the Senate. ...

Executive privilege is used by the President and the executive branch to shield presidential communications, advice, and national security information from disclosure in judicial proceedings, congressional investigations and other arenas. While the proper scope of executive privilege is the subject of much debate, at a minimum, it covers presidential communications, and may also protect the decision-making, or deliberative process, of the executive branch in general.

Courts have recognized a “presumptive privilege” for presidential communications that is grounded in “a President’s generalized interest in confidentiality” and is viewed as important to preserving the candor of presidential advisors and protecting the freedom of the president and his advisors to “explore alternatives in the process of shaping policies and making decisions and to do so in a way many would be unwilling to express except privately.”
U. S. v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 708, 711 (1974); In re Sealed Case, 121 F.3d 729, 743 (D.C. Cir. 1997). This privilege is “inextricably rooted in the separation of powers under the Constitution” and “flow[s] from the nature of enumerated powers” of the President. Id., 418 U.S. at 705; 121 F.3d at 743.(emphasis added)
This memo was written on Sept, 23, 1999 and its author is:

Senator Patrick "Idiot" Leahy. Not only is the man an idiot--he is a hypocrit.

Generational Collisions Are NOT New at Workplaces

No matter what the New York Times thinks, clashes between generations at workplaces are not new. Some of the issues are new as are some of the interesing dilemmas:
Managers tell stories of summer associates who come to meetings with midriffs exposed, baring a belly ring; of interns who walk through the halls engaged with iPods; of new hires who explain they need Fridays off because their boyfriends get Fridays off and they have a share in a beach house. Then there is the tale of the summer hire who sent a text message to a senior partner asking “Are bras required as part of the dress code?”
Hat Tip: Ann Althouse, who responds to the last question:
A word of advice: If you're even thinking of asking the question -- that is, if you're not already noticing braless women in your workplace -- don't ask the question -- just figure out how to go braless without it showing. Camisoles with lycra content, jackets, layers -- there are many tricks. Don't forget nippies!

If none of the various tricks work to keep people from noticing that you are braless, you shouldn't go braless even in a workplace where you can tell women are going braless.
Translation, if you are big chested or have a walking gait that tends to produce a great deal of bounce-don't go braless.

Apparently common sense is something missing in the younger generation.

The Clinton Cleavage Fundraising Letter

To be honest, who cares if Hillary Clinton wears a shirt that shows a little cleavage or not. She's a woman, she has breasts and she wouldn't be the first woman, nor will she be the last woman, to show cleavage. Granted it may or may not be appropriate on the Senate floor, but it is not the first time a little of her breats were showing. The Washington Post's Robin Givhan, took notice and commented on it last week. Well, Hillary Clinton didn't like the commentary and has now sent out a fundraising letter that calls Givhan's commentary "grossly inappropriate."

So the press commenting on Sen. Clinton's cleavage is "grossly inappropriate" but using cleavage or rather press reports on one's cleavage is not inappropriate.

Clinton's letter further's my support for Ann Althouse's position on Hillary Clinton's rack:
Marcus is clear that cleavage distracts viewers into sexual thinking and that a politician giving a serious speech should not reveal it. On that firm foundation, she builds the argument that Clinton bumbled. It was mistake. A miscalculation from a woman who is continually called calculating? A very wealthy woman who must have people helping her dress? I think women -- unless they are inept or don't care what people think -- know how much of their breasts are showing! The suggestion that Hillary Clinton of all people did not know is beyond absurd.

So let's go back to Marcus's firm foundation -- that cleavage distracts viewers into sexual thinking and that a politician giving a serious speech should not reveal it -- and build something else. Hillary Clinton deliberately crossed a well-understood line, because she'd calculated that it was in her interest to do so. As Marcus notes, Clinton had just received criticism from Elizabeth Edwards for being insufficiently womanly. Hillary wanted to prod us -- subtly, with a small and deniable amount of cleavage -- to think of her as more feminine.

So both Marcus and Givhan find fault. One sees mistake, and the other sees tentativeness. I see a deliberate, controlled gesture that was exactly what she wanted to do, what she thought would be advantageous. Why must a fashion expression -- or a political expression -- be forthright?
Given the history of Hillary Clinton, I don't anything should be surprising about this, from the initial choice of clothing, to the mock disappointment in the discussion to the fundraising letter.

I can just imagine the discussion in Hillary Land: "Elizabeth Edwards just basically said you are not a woman. Maybe you should show a little skin, a little cleavage. The press can be tipped off or someone will comment on it and we can then feign indignation and raise a few bucks doing it. You can look like a woman and raise money. Its perfect."

I doubt that I am that far off!!

Arkansas Man Shoots Robber

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't post on this kind of a story, but the man who did the shooting was 93! and the comment of the would-be robber.
"An elderly man beaten unconscious by an assailant wielding a soda can awoke and shot the man during an attempted robbery, police said.
Willie Lee Hill, 93, told police he saw the robber while in his bedroom Wednesday night. Hill confronted the man and was struck at least 50 times, police said. He was knocked unconscious.

Covered in blood, Hill regained consciousness a short time later and pulled a .38-caliber handgun on his attacker. The suspect, Douglas B. Williams Jr., saw the gun and charged the man, who fired a bullet that struck Williams in the throat, police said.

'I got what I deserved,' Williams, 24, told police when they arrived, officers said. Investigators reported finding, among other items, a Craftsman drill bit set, three pocket knives and two hearing aids inside his pockets. "

Lemonade Stand Entrepeneur Robbed

From Green Bay, an 11-year-old lemonade stand vendor was robbed of $20 by two teenagers.

Although only $20 was stolen, the community has turned out in support of the young boy.

They should through the book at the two teenage chuckleheads.

WSJ on the Wiretapping Debacle

Although I am not that old, history demonstrates taht for the most part of American history, politics stopped at teh water's edge, that political battles over forieng policy and in particular national security were not the subject of partisan pickering. Sure, there would be disagreements over approach, but generally, those battles would be civil. But the political battle surrounding intellligence and wiretapping in teh war on terror has received a massive setback because of the partisan bickering over wire tapping. The Wall Street Journal has the case:
President Bush approved this terrorist surveillance not long after 9/11, allowing intelligence officials to track terrorist calls overseas, as well as overseas communications with al Qaeda sympathizers operating in the U.S. The New York Times exposed the program in late 2005, and Democrats and antiwar activists immediately denounced it as an "illegal" attempt to spy on Americans, à la J. Edgar Hoover.

Democratic leaders were briefed on the program from the first and never once tried to shut it down. But once it was exposed, these same Democrats accused Mr. Bush of breaking the law by not getting warrants from the special court created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978. Mr. Bush has rightly defended the program's legality, but as a gesture of compromise in January he agreed to seek warrants under the FISA process.

This has turned out to be an enormous mistake that has unilaterally disarmed one of our best intelligence weapons in the war on terror. To understand why, keep in mind that we live in a world of fiber optics and packet-switching. A wiretap today doesn't mean the FBI must install a bug on Abdul Terrorist's phone in Peshawar. Information now follows the path of least resistance, wherever that may lead. And because the U.S. has among the world's most efficient networks, hundreds of millions of foreign calls are routed through the U.S.
That's right: If an al Qaeda operative in Quetta calls a fellow jihadi in Peshawar, that call may well travel through a U.S. network. This ought to be a big U.S. advantage in our "asymmetrical" conflict with terrorists. But it also means that, for the purposes of FISA, a foreign call that is routed through U.S. networks becomes a domestic call. So thanks to the obligation to abide by an outdated FISA statute, U.S. intelligence is now struggling even to tap the communications of foreign-based terrorists. If this makes you furious, it gets worse.

Our understanding is that some FISA judges have been open to expediting warrants, as well as granting retroactive approval. But there are 11 judges in the FISA rotation, and some of them have been demanding that intelligence officials get permission in advance for wiretaps. This means missed opportunities and less effective intelligence. And it shows once again why the decisions of unaccountable judges shouldn't be allowed to supplant those of an elected Commander in Chief.
At the time, I thought, you know, getting court approval would be a good thing. But in retrospect, I am coming to think that the "compromise" that Bush Administration handed the Democrats in appeasement has become more of an intelligence barrier rather than a civil liberty boon.

Also in restrospect, I should have expected the Democrats to make a political issue out of the matter rather than respecting the President's authority in national security matters. Why I thought so is my blunder and given the current nature of the Democrats absolute loathing of the President, I should have known better. But once again, Idiot Leahy is doing his damnedest to live up to my label.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy is holding any wiretap legislation hostage to his demand for Administration documents related to the program. This is part of the Democrats' political exercise to claim that Mr. Bush has somehow broken the law by allowing the wiretaps. Backed by grandstanding Republican Arlen Specter, in short, Mr. Leahy is more interested in fighting over how the program began than in allowing it to continue today.
As I have said a couple of times this week, executive privilege is greatest when dealing with foriegn affairs and national security. Idiot Leahy has no hope of getting those documents, so it is yet another political battle he can't win. But unlike the subpoenas in the U.S. Attorney matter, the political posturing is not only wasting taxpayer money, it is putting U.S. national security at risk--for nothing more than political points among a liberal base.

I don't expect Democrats to roll over and let the President do what he wants, nor should they. But giving the President a little leeway is not without precedent or need.

Can a Big Change In Congress Be on the Horizon?

For a long time, and in a number of posts, I have noted that Americans are quite funny about their views of Congress and their personal Representative. Usually, most people dislike Congress as a collection of individuals and as a unit. They don't dislike the idea of Congress, only those people who hold office. At the same time, though most Americans "love" their own Representative. The result is that Congress has dismal (14%) approval ratings, but pollsters rarely ask people about the opinion of their personal Represenative. Given that most incumbents are re-elected when running, it is not unreasonable to assume that at the very least, most Americans don't hold a negative opinion of their Representative. But in the latest Battleground 2008 poll published by George Washington Univeristy, there is an indication that Americans may be getting dissatisfied enough to see some real personnel changes in Congress in 2008. The Washington Times' Elizabeth Miller writes:
Cynicism about American politics has risen sharply in recent months, according to a new poll that finds growing numbers of voters feel the country is heading in the wrong direction and that fewer think politicians can fix the problems.

More than two-thirds of likely voters (71 percent) say their member of Congress puts party politics ahead of them, according to the latest George Washington University Battleground 2008 Poll released yesterday.
Of course, the question that generated this finding probably did not ask what people's opinion of their representative was, but this ressult is the closest I have seen to asking just that question.

Polling on individual Senators or Represenatives is difficult in a national poll, but clearly there is an undercurrent of distruct that is beginning to permeate the electorate. Of course, translating that distrust into support for challenger candidates is a far more difficult task. While challengers have always had a tough road to hoe when running against incumbents, right now incumbents have a major obstacle before them, how to make sure their individual constituency doesn't lump them in with the whole of Congress.
"Cynicism may be the hot new political trend the politicians are going to have to fight against," said Brian Nienaber, vice president of the Tarrance Group, a Republican research team. "People hold such a cynical view of how things are run in Washington that they're going to have to try doubly hard."
While a healthy cynicism about government is probably healthy for our nation, I think that size of the cynical viewpoint is something to behold and for Congress to be wary of.

In the end, Congress has enough time to bail themselves out, but if the Do-Nothing Democrats continue on their path, self-destruction would seem to be the order of the day. Republicans, on the other hand, need to start presenting themselves as having learned their lesson and heard the message from 2006. But the pace of change in Washington is not likely to engender any sort of faith among voters. Promises by both parties have been routinely ignored once the election results are tabulated and I think that most of America not only remembers this, but is prepared to punish Representatives for it.

America's love/hate relationship with their Representative/Congress has diverged to far to be maintained. When over two thirds of Americans think that Congress is too partisan--somthing has to give--either partisanship or membership.

Campaign Finance as Wealth Redistribution

Stephen Dubner, one of the Author of Freakanomics discusses why the media covers campaigns and particularly horse race aspects of campaigning like campaign finance and polls. I will get to Dubner's main point in a second, but one commenter to the post noted:
It’s cheap to cover. It’s the equivalent of local news covering the police blotter. It’s always easy to find talking heads for on-air video. The campaigns pay for a lot of the travel, etc.

It’s cheap. Whereas, it’s expensive to do investigative reporting on the shenanigans of guvment.
Another commenter offered a modified version:
Cheap and easy = lazy. It’s lazy coverage.
Cmapaign finance reporting is cheap and easy. Any intern with internet access and a word processor can look at cash-on-hand totals or the amount of receipts and disbursements and then put together a story. Likewise, writing up poll results is cheap and easy.

But Dubner noted that media coverage also results in media buys. After payroll, campaigns spend more money on advertsing than anything else. When the media covers campaigns, they get some ratings/circulation numbers, which drives their ad costs, which are then paid by the campaigns. The symbiotic relationship should not surprise anyone.

But Dubner's closing neatly corralled the hypocrisy of the media calling for campaign finance reform:
Although we argued in Freakonomics that the importance of campaign spending is greatly overvalued in electoral outcomes, there is no doubt that campaign spending has a huge impact on the finances of an awful lot of people — media companies, political consultants, web designers, hotels, audio-visual technicians, caterers, direct mailers, paraphernalia manufacturers, and on and on.

The bottom line is that political campaigns are really good for the bottom line, especially the bottom line of media outlets. They are also great news for fans of wealth redistribution: campaigns take money from wealthy contributors and spread it around to everyone else.

So while you can expect to see a lot of articles and TV pieces in the next 16 months that bemoan how much money the candidates raise and spend, you should know that they don’t really mean it.
While major media outlets don't make as much money on political advertising as say a local newspaper, the plethora of adversiting formats means that campaigns are spending even more money in terms of real dollars than ever before, that is leaving aside the inflationary aspects of advertising.

While the bulk of advertising dollars may go to television and radio, many newspapers and those with national online presences will see an increase in advertising revenue on political ads. Not only is political reporting on polls and campaign finance cheap and easy, selling political ads is similarly cheap and easy. While national goods and services producers come to media outlets for commercial time, there may need to be signficant wooing and dealing to close a contract. Candidates on the other hand, while legally entitled lower per unit costs, come to the media outlet with not only a want to advertise, but a need to advertise. Thus, selling political ad time is an easy sell for the media outlet.

In this respect, campaign finance is not only an easy topic to cover, it is an easy money maker. The redistributive nature of campaign finance means that media outlets get a lot more money for a lot less effort than other types of advertising. Thus, editorial boards might decry the powerful presence of money in politics, they certainly don't want their share going anywhere. That is teh reason why broadcasters balk at providing free air time to candidates.

An Idea for Dealing with John Doe Defendants

Pillage Idiot posts a discussion on the issue of the type of immunity being sought for John Doe's who report suspicious behavior. Here is the legislative language that was ultimately agreed to by Congress:
Any person who, in good faith and based on objectively reasonable suspicion, makes or causes to be made, a voluntary report of covered activity to an authorized official shall be immune from civil liability under federal, state and local law for such report.
There are more than a couple of issues in that statement, namely, "objectively reasonably suspicion" but Attila writes in response to this discussion:
One thing I find troubling is that in REAL qualified immunity for federal and state officials, it's an immunity from SUIT, not a defense to liability. The language here says "immune from liability" -- which sounds like a defense to liability. The significance of this is that in qualified immunity, the courts decide as early as possible whether the immunity applies, so they can spare the defendant the cost and burden of litigation. Here, at least the way it appears, the defendant may have to go well into the litigation, possibly to trial, before the "immunity from liability" can be determined.

I could be wrong in my reading of this, but let's just say, this will have to be litigated for years before the meaning is clear enough for it to be helpful to John Does.
Attila is probably pretty accurate in his assessment. The plain language reads "immune from civil liability," which sounds more like a defense that would have to be raised by the John Doe defendant rather than a blanket immunity from being sued. But this language does make sense when read in light of the "objectively reasonable suspicion" aspect. If a during a trial, a finding of fact concludes that there was no objectively reasonable suspicion, then the John Doe defendant is liable for civil damages. The only way to get to this finding of fact is to have John Doe as a defendant. You can't have a finding of fact, upon which damages will be assessed without having a defendant present.

Thus, the immunity from liability is much more understandable than a complete immunity from suit.

Now, to handle this matter, Attila makes the following suggestion:
It's time to put together an organization that will have a relationship with seasoned litigators willing to work pro bono on behalf of John Does. This organization would be like FIRE, the Center for Individual Rights, and others that I can come up with if I try.

Having an organization like this will mean that John Does can come forward without fear of having to bankrupt themselves in defending a suit brought by the likes of CAIR just to get to the point where they're entitled to immunity under what's likely to become the law. A ready supply of defense counsel will also force CAIR to watch its step in bringing these actions. The United States has a tremendous interest in encouraging citizens to come forward with information about potential terrorist acts, and it's extremely important to offset the disincentives created by the legislative compromise on immunity.
I am game, but not a seasoned lititgator. Still, assuming I get such experience and Attila and others can get this kind of group off the ground, you can certainly count me in.

North Carolina Edging Closer to Proprotional Allocation of Presidential Electors

Two small states, Maine and Nebraska currently allocate their presidential electoral votes differently than other states, namely one electoral vote goes to the candidate who wins the popular vote in each congressional district (Nebraska has three districts and Maine two) with the statewide winner getting an additional two votes representing that state's Senators. Now the proportional allocatin usually doesn't matter in these states since Nebraska generally voted Republican and Maine Democratic. No large state has a proportional system, but North Carolina has moved one step closer to being the first. With 15 electoral votes (13 House members and 2 Senators) North Carolina would be the biggest state (and one with sufficient numbers and diversity to influence the outcome of an election) to institute proportional electoral votes. The idea would be the same, the presidential candidates would get one vote for every Congressional district they win and the statewide winner would get two additional votes.

This sort of plan, which appeals to Democrats in North Carolina more than Republicans (who have generally benefited from the largely GOP voting trends in the state, would prolbably make calls for abolishing the Electoral College irrelevant. If adopted nationwide, the electoral vote is more likely to more accurately reflect the popular. I say more accurately because there are a few glitches. Nationwide, Democrats are not likely to warm up to this idea too much. Many of their big state victories are predicated upon overwhelming population numbers in large cities. For example, New York is not nearly as monolitically Democratic as its numbers would seem, but with so much population centered on New York City and Long Island, overwhelmingly democratic districts, statewide winners rack up huge margins in the City area to offset the narrow losses they garner in upstate, which tends to be more conservative. Thus Democrats look like they win huge in a statewide, winner take all system and get 31 electroal votes in New York, when if under a proportional allocation of electoral votes they Democrats might win only 20-22 votes. The situation is even more relevant in states like California (with populations in Los Angeles and San Francisco that are overwhelmingly Democratic easily surpassing teh Republican edge in other districts), Illinois (with its liberal base in the Chicago area and a much more conservative tenor in downstate areas, and Michigan.

Of course, the GOP has their weak spots as well, Texas and Florida come to mind quickly. Even in a Congress led by Democrats, there are districts out there with conservative Democratic congressmen that are likely to vote for a GOP presidetial candidate.

This is an interesting development and if the North Carolina Legislature can get the bill passed, there may be a raft of other, middling states that do the same. I don't expect it in larger states, though.

No Money to Enforce McCain-Feingold

Is Congress starting to get it about freedom of speech? Yesteday, the House passed in a voice vote, an amendment authored by Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) to prohibit the Justice Department from spending any money to enforce provisions of the McCain-Feingold bill, namely the provision regarding ads leading up to the election. A recorded vote was called for and the amendment passed 215-205.

The Amendment was offered to the Commerce, Justice and related agencies appropriations bill. The vote tally is here and I will post the text of the amendment as soon as I find it.

A History Lesson for Senator "Idiot" Leahy

Kimberley Strassel offers a history lesson for Senator Idiot of Vermont.
A president removes a U.S. attorney, and Congress demands to see privileged files related to the firing. The president refuses, noting that "these suspensions are my executive acts," and "based upon considerations addressed to me alone." The Senate has a meltdown, arguing it has oversight authority over the removal of administration officials and threatens to censure the attorney general.

If this sounds familiar, it shouldn't, since it's the story of a long-forgotten battle that President Grover Cleveland fought with Congress in 1885. One reason it is long-forgotten is because nothing happened. The Senate was steamed that Cleveland wouldn't cough up the docs, but it also recognized there were limits on its power. It never did hold any officials in contempt, never did take any judicial action. Instead, it confirmed Cleveland's new choice for the U.S. attorney position.
Strassel continues with the obvious, that the Senator Idiot and his doltish compatriot Rep. John Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, are motivated more by politics than by the law. Both these men, alledgedly, went to law school. Even if they had not, they have spent enough time in Congress to know the limits of their power and the limits of executive privilege.

What is more troubling though is the damage these men are doing to both the institution of Congress and the Executive Branch. They have laid the foundation for decades of partisan warfare, bickering that will accomplish nothing, regardless of which party controls Congress or the White House. The expense of these investigations, and the ink that has been spilled and time wasted focused on a delusional political battle could be far better spent addressing other matters in the Judiciary Committee purview, like immigration, patent and trademark reforms, software and music piracy by other nations, border security, and revamping the judicial proceedures to speed up the processes of going to court. These are all legitimate subjects for legislation--which is the business of Congress, not partisan point scoring and needless investigations.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Unacceptable Turnover Rate?

Mike Antonucci brings you a comparison of employee turnover rates:
Imagine a place where the pay was so bad, the working conditions so horrible, and management support so lacking that the employee turnover rate was 41 percent over a five-year period.

Inner-city public school? Not this time.

No, it's the National Education Association itself. An examination of the union's list of employees (staff only, not elected officers) from its annual U.S. Department of Labor disclosure reports reveals that of the 706 people who received wages from NEA in 2001, only 419 were still working for the organization in 2006.
oops, that is higher than the national average of teacher turnover.


Aha, you'll say. These folks didn't necessarily hate their jobs. They might have found better opportunities elsewhere, including those in other states and other unions. They might have had family obligations. They might have retired or died. They might have become stay-at-home moms or dads. They might have sought a less hierarchical system of rewards and advancement. To which I would say...


Robert A. Heinlein--Anothe Tribute

This one from Taylor Dinerman:
Robert A. Heinlein, who died in 1988, lived a life inspired by two great loves. One was America and its promise of freedom. As one of his characters put it: "Your country has a system free enough to let heroes work at their trade. It should last a long time--unless its looseness is destroyed from the inside." And he loved and admired women--not just his wife, Virginia, who provided the model for the many strong-minded and highly competent females who populate his stories, but all of womankind. "Some people disparage the female form divine, sex is too good for them; they should have been oysters."

In another hundred years, it will be interesting to see if the nuclear-powered spaceships and other technological marvels he predicted are with us. But nothing in his legacy will be more important than the spirit of liberty he championed and his belief that "this hairless embryo with the aching oversized brain case and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes will endure. Will endure and spread out to the stars and beyond, carrying with him his honesty and his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage and his noble essential decency."
As I get older, I wish I would have met Heinlein, he sounds like a guy who you could have a beer on the beach, talk politics with and watch beautiful women walk by.

Congressional Witness Believes "Slave Labor" Used to Build Baghdad Embassy

If there were not video to back this up, I would have sworn this story and assertion that Fillipino slave labor has been used building the U.S. Embassy in Baghada, I would have sworn it had appeard in the Onion.

The witnesses name is Rory J. Mayberry and his written testimony is here. The short testimony is offered support allegations that forced labor has been used to build the embassy by some of its contractors, including First Kuwaiti, a company that is responsible for large portions of the contract.

The piece appears at Think Progress and carries with it a fair number of comments that this guy should be hailed as a patriot. I wonder where his evidence is.

Stacking the Court--Really Packing the Court

During the great Depression, upset that the Supreme Court was striking down so many aspects of his New Deal legislative package, the President Franklin Delano Roosevelt posited a scheme which came to be called the court-packing scheme. Roosevelt suggested that for every justice over the age of 70 that didn't retire, that he be allowed to appoint another younger justice, in order to help the Court with its workload. At the time, in 1937, six of the Court's nine justices were over teh age of 70 and they formed the largely conservative block that was blocking FDR's legislative agenda. The plan was so audaciously political and blatant that only 20 Senators voted for the plan. In the Court's next term, a timely reversal of opinion, the so-called "Switch in Time that saved Nine" upheld some New Deal legisltaion and the court packing scheme fortuneately became an interesting historical story for law geeks and history buffs. Until now, that is. Marshall University (WV) history professor Jean Edward Smith posits a scheme not unlike FDR's court packing scheme.

Smith writes that there is nothing magical about the number of justices on the Court, in fact that number is set by legislation as nothing in the Constitution indicates how large the Court should be. Like a number of left-leaning academics, Smith is not happy with the Court's most recent term and suggests that Chief Justice Roberts and the "five-man majority" don't cut back on the conservative rhetoric and don't stop "thumbing its nose at popular values" then a Democratic President and Democratic Congress can simply add another justice or two to the Court's roster.

Such a move would be so blatantly political as to make FDR's claim almost defensible. So the left's answer to the rightward turn (and let's be honest, the Court's term had a discernable shift to the right) is to pack the Court with lefty judges because they don't like the political overtones of the Court's opinion. At least FDR came up with a weak, but plausible, reason even if it was agism.

Ann Althouse picks apart Smith's argument, noting the blatantly political overtones of the idea, but noting that Smith fails to provide any evidence of which values the Court has snubbed.
Okay, now Smith seems to be taking a position, though there's no substance in his piece that backs this up, but even if it were backed up, it would be an idiotic point. He starts out fretting about a Court that enters the political sphere, and he ends up worrying about the Court failing to pick up the values of the political majority. So which is it?

Of course, I know: You want the Court to transcend politics but to transcend it in the direction that squares with your politics. I laugh at that.
And it is a good laugh.

If a Democratic President and Congress went this route, you can all but rest assured that that Congress would be voted out of office in the next election, there would be mass unemployment among Hill staffers. It would not surprise me to see 200 hundred new faces in Congress in 2011, so many new faces that they would need name tags so the House Doorkeeper would know who is a member and who is not. The Democratic President would be able to kiss a second term good bye and would probably have poll numbers that would make President Bush look like a prom king.

Leahy is an Idiot

While I don't agree with the politics of many Democrats, I have tended to be respectful of them as individual. I have tried to criticize their politics and actions while trying not to impugne their character. But I have simply come to the conclusion that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy is simply an idiot. The latest example of idiocy is the issuing of a subpeona to Karl Rove to give testimony related to the U.S. Attorney firings.

While Leahy is free to disagree with the President's actions and with the President's handling of the dimissal of the U.S. Attorney's, the reasoning for this subponea just strikes me a ludicrous:
“The evidence shows that senior White House political operatives were focused on the political impact of federal prosecutions and whether federal prosecutors were doing enough to bring partisan voter fraud and corruption cases,” Leahy said. “It is obvious that the reasons given for the firings of these prosecutors were contrived as part of a cover-up and that the stonewalling by the White House is part and parcel of that same effort.”
Color me shocked, the White House chief political advisor was concerned about the political impact of prosecutions. I would hope so--that is his job!!!! you idiot.

As I mentioned previously President Bush could have fired those attorney because he didn't like what they wore to the White House Christmas party. They serve at his pleasure and as the senior elected official tasked with enforcing the laws, the President makes the decisions about who works for him.

But the idiocy is compounded exponentially by Leahy's complete ignorance of the concept of executive privilege. So far, in my review of court cases on executive privilege, the only mitigating factor that could breach the privilege is testimony related to a criminal investigation. So far, there has been no evidence of criminal activity in the firing of the U.S. Attorneys. (and criminally inept handling of the whole matter does not count). So, what has Congress done, issued subpoenas for three of the President's closest advisors, the White House Chief of Staff, a former White House Counsel and his senior Political Advisor. If no one else in the White House is covered by executive privilege, certainly these three people would be. Current White House Counsel Fred Fielding must be laughing so hard he is crying with the complete ineptitude that Congress is showing on this score.

The worst part about it is that Leahy seems to think that by calling Rove to testify (which the White House won't allow), he can somehow convince that American people that this is an important issue. Outside of Washington, DC, most people don't care one whit. Even with a modest amount of civic education, Americans can understand that the U.S. Attorneys are in the executive branch and subject to removal by the President. Americans simply have more important issues on their mind, the war in Iraq, immigration, energy costs, housing costs, health care, education. I am fairly certain that if polled, most Americans would rank the U.S. Attorney firings so far down on the list of concerns that it would hardly be worth asking the question.

The Democratic pursuit of this issue highlights the failure of this Congress to do anything for the American public that Democrats claim gave them a mandate to change things. So far they have changed nothing but the tenor of partisanship in Washington.

So for the first time, I think, I must actually impugne the character of an elected official.

Senator Pat Leahy, you are an idiot and not worthy of holding the title or position of U.S. Senator. You should do the American people and the people of Vermont a favor--resign--now, before you embarass yourself or your state any further.