Friday, September 30, 2005

Friday Satire

- Mark Fiore's got another good animation this week.

- The Onion details a brief foray into government "wiki" experimentation.

- The Garlic offers the "Top Ten Things Heard in the Senate Before the John Roberts Vote."

Hang Down Your Head, Bill Bennett

Former education secretary and drug czar William "Moral Compass" Bennett long ago joined my list of "formerly relevant Republicans who should now be ignored as complete crackpots" (he's in good company there with Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan and a few others). But some comments this week do prompt a brief mention.

On his syndicated radio talk show Wednesday, Bennett was responding to a caller who asked if the legalization of abortion was partly to blame for eventual Social Security crisis (because there are less workers paying into the system, apparently). Bennett said "maybe," according to the Washington Post, and then mentioned a book which argues that abortions have contributed to lower crime rates in recent decades. "Bennett said he did not agree with that thesis," the Post notes. But he went on to say (and this is the part that's getting him into trouble):

"But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose - you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down."

Since I don't want to leave the impression that was the end of Bennett's comments I'll add his next sentence, which was:

"That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, you know, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky."

His argument now is that he was making a counter-analogy to the caller's line about Social Security, and that the first section I quoted is being taken out of context. I want to be perfectly clear: there is no context in which that kind of statement is appropriate. Even if Bennett does not believe that such a despicable and disgusting policy should be carried out, he clearly does believe that it would be an effective policy, or else he wouldn't have said it at all.

Bennett's comments are indefensible. Sure, he has every right to say them - that's what we've got a First Amendment for in this country. But now that the words, vile as they are, have left his mouth, we all have every right in return to stand up and say hey, that kind of bigoted and hurtful rhetoric isn't productive.

If you want to talk about reducing crime, how about making investments in schools and college educations? How about investing in our youth, not aborting them or abandoning them into an underfunded school system? How about putting more cops on the streets? How about making sure all Americans, no matter what color they are, have something to look forward to, something to hope and dream for? Those things will reduce crime. Sure they're tough issues, not easily solved. But c'mon, let's talk about them. Bennett's stupid and insensitive remarks just keep the dialogue in the gutter where it does nobody any good and just makes angry people even more angry. There's got to be a better way.

Barack Obama last summer at the DNC called what I feel "the audacity of hope." "In the end," he went on, "that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation; the belief in things not seen; the belief that there are better days ahead. I believe we can give our middle class relief and provide working families with a road to opportunity. I believe we can provide jobs to the jobless, homes to the homeless, and reclaim young people in cities across America from violence and despair. I believe that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the right choices, and meet the challenges that face us."

Given the choice, I'll take Obama's hope over Bill Bennett's hatred any day of the week.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Judy Miller Freed - Will Testify

As her newspaper, the New York Times, reports tonight, jailed reporter Judith Miller was released from jail this evening after agreeing to testify in the Valerie Plame Wilson leak case. Miller received "what she described as a waiver offered 'voluntarily and personally' by a source who said she was no longer bound by any pledge of confidentiality she had made to him." That source, says the Times, was Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooty Libby (who apparently thought he had released Miller from her confidentiality pledge months ago but she wanted something more specific).

Miller had been in jail since July 6. She plans to testify before the grand jury tomorrow in Washington. The prosecutor in the case, Patrick Fitzgerald, "has said that obtaining Ms. Miller's testimony was one of the last remaining objectives of his inquiry, and the deal with Ms. Miller suggests that the prosecutor may soon bring the long-running investigation to an end. It is unknown whether prosecutors will charge anyone in the Bush administration with wrongdoing," as the Times notes.

Now that this investigation is apparently winding toward a conclusion (finally), we should soon know whether any indictments will be forthcoming. It could be a very unpleasant fall for the Bush Administration ... or the entire thing could fizzle out in a week or so. Only time will tell.

Unfortunate News from the House

This evening, the House failed to pass the important Miller-Boehlert substitute to Rep. Pombo's Endangered Species Act Evisceration bill, and the underlying bill later passed. I'll add more analyses of those votes once the full roll calls are available, but for now will just say that this is a very sad moment for all those of us who believe in strong protection of endangered species.

Thankfully we have some hope in the Senate, where no companion bill has yet been introduced. Senator Chafee is the chair of the subcommittee with oversight on this matter, and I hope that he will stand up for a much different bill in that chamber in the coming months. I'm very sorry to see the House votes come out this way, but I'm cautiously hopeful that we'll get a different result in the Senate and that the ESA will be productively reformed instead of gutted.

[Update: Of course I'd only just posted when the full data came online, so now I can give a bit more info here. On the substitute bill the vote was 206-216, with 11 members not voting. Twenty-nine Republicans voted with 176 Democrats in support of the amendment; 18 Dems joined 198 Republicans in voting against it. Most of the Democratic no votes came from the far West, Upper Midwest, and Southeast, while the Republican aye voters hailed mainly from the Lower Midwest and Northeast. On the overall bill, the tally was 229-193; on this there were 34 GOP no votes and 36 Democrat ayes.

This is the type of alliance we typically see on environmental legislation in the House, with regional differences playing out in important and meaningful ways. As these votes indicate, there is significant support for reform to the Endangered Species Act - the sides need to work together and agree on an approach, not force through bills like this with little debate and deliberation. Here's hoping that the Senate takes that route. -- 6:02 p.m.]

Roberts Confirmed

John G. Roberts has been confirmed as the Chief Justice of the United States by a Senate vote of 78-22. Twenty-two Democrats and Independent Jim Jeffords joined all 55 Republicans in supporting the nomination. This is a valuable lesson: a mainstream conservative can be approved with upwards of three-quarters of the Senate's votes and a minimum of histrionics.

Here's hoping that the next confirmation process goes similarly. See what consultation, comity and a decent nominee can get you?

More on the ESA-Destruction Bill

The House is working right now on a rule for Rep. Pombo's bill that would effectively gut the Endangered Species Act. That's the bad news. The good news is, opponents of the Pombo bill have introduced an amendment to remove some of the pernicious provisions and improve the underlying law tremendously. The bipartisan amendment, sponsored by Democrats George Miller, John Dingell, Norm Dicks, and Ellen Tauscher, with Republicans Sherwood Boehlert (my congressman, making me proud!), Wayne Gilchrest, Jim Saxton, and Mark Kirk, would provide some incentives to developers while maintaining current enforcement provisions.

The vote on this amendment (if it's even allowed to come to the floor) may be very close. Once again, if you feel strongly about this, please do call your representative and urge them to support the Miller-Boehlert amendment to the Pombo bill.

Kicking the Hammer to the Curb

I said way back in April that it was time for the House GOP to find themselves a new majority leader. Tom DeLay is an albatross around the neck of every Republican candidate in the country, and people are coming to see him as just another example of GOP greed, corruption, and power-madness (those, that is, who didn't see him that way already). The Republicans in the House have done in just over a decade what it took the Democrats forty years to do - become infinitely more interested in keeping their grasp on power than on doing what they promise to do when they ask people to vote for them.

DeLay is a powerful symbol of the cancer within today's Republican party, the rottenness that has taken control of a once Grand Old Party and turned it into little more (and there are, of course, exceptions) than a collection of sycophants and automatons, robotically attending fundraisers and voting the party line.

This Republican's not going to defend Tom DeLay. I'm not going to say he's been a "great majority leader" or a "good ally" or anything else. He's a liability to our party, and he ought to resign permanently as Majority Leader. If he does not, if he returns to his post under any circumstances, our entire caucus will be painted with the same slimy brush of ethical stink - and frankly I don't want that to be my GOP.

House Republicans have a choice here - they can turn their backs on the greed, corruption, and power madness of the last decade and offer a renewed vision for America, or they can continue to grasp madly at the last straws of their faded "ideals" and just await the rout that will someday come (possibly sooner rather than later).

I know not what course others may take, but as for me, I'll stand for change.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Don't Dismantle the ESA

Law professor Holly Doremus has an op/ed piece in Thursday's Christian Science Monitor that is well worth a read. She argues (as I have) that the Pombo bill now hurtling its way through Congress is the wrong approach to reform of the Endangered Species Act, on several different (and each important) grounds. I highly recommend Doremus' column - and if you feel as she does, don't forget to call your rep and urge them to oppose the Pombo bill.

DeLay Indicted

Tom DeLay, who had been serving as House Majority Leader, is now officially under indictment by a Texas grand jury on one count of criminal conspiracy, the AP reports. DeLay's office has lashed out at the prosecutor responsible for the charge, and the Congressman has said he will temporarily step down as Majority Leader as required by House GOP ethics rules. Speaker Dennis Hastert reportedly will ask Rep. David Dreier to assume DeLay's duties, as Fox reports "There is some talk that the Republican leadership in the House has been preparing for this eventuality."

This is going to make things very very interesting for the next few weeks.

[Update: House Majority Whip Roy Blunt will take over DeLay's duties at Majority Leader, Bloomberg reports. He was elected by a vote of the 231-member GOP caucus this evening. Deputy Whip Eric Cantor and David Dreier will take on additional responsibilities. -- 6:33 p.m.]

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Up and Coming

As the Supreme Court begins its new term on Monday (and with a new chief justice too, barring any unforeseen events between now and Thursday afternoon), it will take up an important case in the realm of campaign finance, the NYTimes reports on Wednesday. Linda Greenhouse's discussion of the case is excellent - basically it revolves around the constitutionality of spending limits placed on political candidates by the states. Lower courts have divided on the issue, and a resolution from the Supreme Court is definitely necessary. It will certainly be very interesting to see the eventual result of this case (probably sometime around next June).

Personally, I'm hopeful (although it's quite unlikely) that the Court might revisit its 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling and decide to distinguish money from speech. The two hardly seem equivalent.

I'm a bit bogged down with class-work at the moment so posts may be sparse for the next few days, but I'll try to check in when I can.

September Straw Poll

Patrick Ruffini's got another '08 GOP straw poll up and running here. Please click through and cast your vote - he's tracking by blog again, so let's have a good showing.

Short Takes

I'm sorry I can't do anything more substantive this morning, but here are a few things I noticed in reading the papers:

- E.J. Dionne's op/ed in the WaPo is a good look at how liberals in the Democratic party are "far more dependent than conservatively inclined Republicans on alliances with the political center," and the tough political row the Dems have to hoe at the moment.

- John Bunzel, a former member of the US Commission on Civil Rights and a political scientist at Stanford, has a piece in the LATimes urging voters to support Gov. Schwarzenegger's redistricting reform plan. He writes that the "blatant gerrymandering by partisan politicians tends to disenfranchise independent voters who might choose to cross party lines to support a candidate. But it also increases ... the power of the extremes of both parties and the 'ever-growing and ever more toxic partisan and ideological polarization of American politics.'" Agreed.

- The fat-fight in Congress seems to have fizzled ... and not surprisingly, guess which side won. Deficits, deficits, deficits.

- The rumors over the second Court vacancy have returned, and there is a chance that the nomination could come any time now, possibly today or more likely tomorrow. The Senate is planning to hold a final vote on Judge Roberts' nomination at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, so perhaps the nomination will come soon after that. Priscilla Owen is the newest pick of Erick at RedState, but he adds that Gonzales is still a possibility. There will be time enough for evaluation once we get the name for real, so I'll hold off on that for the moment.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Look! Flying Pigs!

There must be a short-circuit somewhere in the political world. Just a week or so ago we heard President Bush utter three little words we never expected to hear (no, not "Bring 'em on," I mean "I take responsibility"). And then today there was another of those moments that makes me look up warily, watchful for falling pig-manure as a chorus of oinks echoes across the sky.

Yes, indeed, this president finally - finally - called for conservation of gas and other petroleum products in the wake of Hurricane Rita. Admittedly, reading the transcript makes it sound as if he likes the idea about as much as Poppy likes broccoli, but still, he said it:

"... Two other points I want to make is, one, we can all pitch in by using - by being better conservers of energy. I mean, people just need to recognize that the storms have caused disruption and that if they're able to maybe not drive when they - on a trip that's not essential, that would helpful. The federal government can help, and I've directed the federal agencies nationwide - and here's some ways we can help. We can curtail nonessential travel. If it makes sense for the citizen out there to curtail nonessential travel, it darn sure makes sense for federal employees. We can encourage employees to carpool or use mass transit. And we can shift peak electricity use to off-peak hours. There's ways for the federal government to lead when it comes to conservation. ..."

Good suggestions all. Let's raise fuel efficiency and obey the speed limits too.

McCain Keeps up Pressure on Detainee Abuses

I didn't get a chance to watch "This Week" yesterday and catch Senator McCain's appearance there, but Richard Serrano has a write-up in today's LATimes detailing McCain's response to the ongoing question of how the US should deal with detainee abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay.

McCain said yesterday that when the Defense Department authorization bill comes before the Senate again in the near future, he and other senators (Warner, Graham Collins) will continue to push for the amendment they introduced back in June, that would require the military to abide by the provisions of the Geneva Conventions and would highlight anti-torture language in the Army Field Manual.

Of the abuses committed in the past, McCain said "We've got to have it stopped. It is hurting America's image abroad." He urged an investigation into past abuses and into new allegations that have recently emerged. McCain said those accusations "have to be investigated. We've got to make it clear to the world that America doesn't do it. It's not about prisoners. It's about us."

He's right. It's about us. Every one of us. What went on at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and elsewhere must be investigated fully and fairly - and those responsible must be held to account. And we must make perfectly sure that nothing like that ever, ever happens again. McCain's amendment is a good one, and I hope that it is adopted by a wide bipartisan majority.

Treading Cautiously

A presidential push for increased military control over responses to natural disasters probably shouldn't come as a surprise after the multi-level Katrina snafus. However, if Congress is to seriously consider such a step, they should seriously consider it. That means having hearings, drafting any such legislation with extreme narrowness, and allowing time for debate and deliberation ... not throwing together some shoddy bill so full of loopholes you can drive the 10th Mountain Division through and shoving it through the House and Senate with cursory debate and no time for consideration.

I'm wary - in fact I'm very wary - of any federal assumption of powers traditionally left to state and local officials. While I think good legislation could be drafted granting the military authority under certain well-defined circumstances, I worry about a Congress too willing to slap any fix on the problem and offering up our republic's well-established and basic principles of federalism on a silver platter in order to say they "fixed something."

I would reserve judgment on any specific proposal until I've read it - and I hope that all senators and representatives would do the same (and much much more). As Franklin said, "They that can give up their liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Of course we all want to allow as effective and efficient a government response as possible to catastrophic events - but we still must be watchful, and guard our liberties just as fiercely as we would guard our most prized material possessions.

If By "Blind" You Mean ...

The next time you hear a politician answers a question about a potential conflict of interest between a vote and stock they own by saying "Oh my assets are in a blind trust, I don't even know what I own," you should point and laugh at the t.v. set. As the NYTimes reports today, "blind" in this sense means that while "communication between the trustee and the beneficiary" is limited, whenever an asset is sold or added the beneficiary gets notified and the information is disclosed publicly.

That doesn't sound very "blind" to me. Senator Frist's got himself into a spot of hot water these days (again - I'm beginning to think he might just like the attention), and whether deserved or not, it's definitely going to be another distraction for the Majority Leader when he's got more than enough on his plate already.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Pot-Banging in Virginia

As the Virginia gubernatorial election draws nearer, with Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Jerry Kilgore still stuck in a virtual dead heat, independent Russ Potts is still chuggin' along at the back of the pack - he's talking sense, but it just doesn't seem to be catching much wind down in the Old Dominion. The campaign has, released its first television ad, a playful spot which will certainly at least get Potts' name out there for all who view it.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has this to say about the ad: "Still in single digits in the published polls, Potts has to boost his name recognition. And that's what this clever ad is all about. Sure, it's noisy - much like Potts himself, but the commercial is designed to stand apart from the cookie-cutter stuff that passes for political advertising. The Potts spot is memorable. That's what it's supposed to be."

Check it out. You may laugh (I did) - but you'll remember the name.

Putting Pressure on the Court Choice

If you need a reminder of just how tough this next Supreme Court nominee-pick is for the White House, there's a great pair of articles in the papers this morning that will serve well. In the NYT, David Kirkpatrick discusses the possibility of Republican opposition to Bush's next pick (from either far-right abortion opponents on the one hand, or some of the Gang of 14 centrists on the other). They've got quotes from Senators Chafee and Snowe suggesting (albeit implicitly) they'd be very unlikely to vote for someone who would overturn Roe, and mirror-quotes from Senators Coburn and Brownback saying the nominee must be "solid" on conservative issues (i.e. will vote to overturn Roe, even if they don't come right out and say that).

And then in the Post, there's a Michael Fletcher/Dan Balz piece on the other calculations that have to be playing into the whole thing - they've got the quotes calling for a female justice, or a Hispanic justice, and then the folks saying who cares who it is as long as he/she is a "reliable conservative." There's quite an explicit threat from the head of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC): "If the Republican Party wants to continue attracting voters to them, they're also going to have to deliver on the most crucial and important position in this country, which is the next vacancy." In other words, give us a Court seat, or we walk.

It would be easy to ask the president to put aside all the political calculations and just pick a qualified person. It would be nearly impossible to expect that could ever be the case. President Bush has a very important, very meaningful choice to make, and the ultimate decision may shake the American political world (at least for a few days) to its very core. Can he thread the needle again, pull another Roberts out of a hat? We'll soon see.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Sunday Show Guests

It's Rita-affected-officials day on the talk shows tomorrow. Here are the lineups:

Meet the Press (NBC): Their website says they'll have "federal, state, and local officials" talking about the Rita aftermath, and NYT columnists David Brooks, Maureen Dowd, and Tom Friedman will guest. It's a rare day to see Dowd on t.v., so if you like her, don't miss it.

This Week (ABC): Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) will talk Rita, and then John McCain (R-AZ) will talk everything else (plus Rita too, presumably). Donna Brazile, David Gergen, and George Will will roundtable with Steph.

Fox News Sunday: Texas senator John Cornyn and Louisiana's David Vitter are the main guests, the usual group (Liasson, Williams, Kristol) will yap, and then Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player will talk golf.

Late Edition (CNN): Rita-state Senators Mary Landrieu, David Vitter, and John Cornyn will be on, along with Senators Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman from the Government Reform Committee. Gov. Bill Richardson of NM also appears, as does Mary Evans, the head of the Red Cross.

Once again, CBS' Face the Nation doesn't have its schedule out yet.

Short Takes

A few stories, a few comments.

- On the Senate blocking the nomination of Julie Myers to be assistant secretary of homeland security for immigration and customs enforcement: GOOD. This is too important a position to be handed over to an unqualified patronage nominee. Ms. Myers has minimal experience in immigration or customs issues, and I'm glad Sen. Susan Collins, the chair of the Senate's Government Affairs Committee, is going to keep this nomination on hold until qualification concerns are answered. The president should withdraw Ms. Myers' name.

- On Bill Frist looking more and more like Martha Stewart every day: SO DUMB. As I've said many times, I think Bill Frist has the political acumen of a rotten potato, and this latest kerfluffle is further evidence of that. Whether or not he had inside information when he sold off stock in a company his family founded (a month before a significant price drop) will probably end up being irrelevant - the investigation will sink any remaining shred of his presidential ambitions, which were already infinitesimal. The question now is more like will be be able to finish off the next two year and a half as majority leader?

- On the WaPo analysis today suggesting that the Bush presidency is back on its heels: YES, BUT ... Will any real lessons be learned from the mistakes? Iraq didn't do it. Social Security didn't do it - will the White House learn from Katrina? Too soon to tell.

- On Hurricane Rita: GO AWAY! Thanks.

Bully for the WaPo

Once again today the Washington Post editorial page shows its centrist stripes, with a strong piece supporting Senators Leahy, Feingold and Kohl, the three Democrats who voted in favor of Judge Roberts' confirmation in the Senate Judiciary Committee. This support shouldn't be necessary, the editorial begins, because "[s]upporting overwhelmingly qualified members of the opposite party for the Supreme Court used to be the norm, not an act of courage. Yet, set against the general opposition from Democrats to the nomination, and truly intense pressure from interest groups, the votes cast by [Leahy, Feingold and Kohl] took guts."

The piece notes that aside from Justice Thomas' contentious confirmation (which was contentious with good reason, I will add), all of the seven current sitting justices combined received a mere 21 negative votes on the Senate floor - so the large-scale Democratic opposition to Roberts based on perceived political/judicial philosophy alone "represents a disturbing departure from longtime Senate practice." It adds "In refusing to support an indisputably qualified conservative, Democrats send a message that there is a strongly partisan component of the task of judging - something those who believe in independent, apolitical courts must reject."

It would be different, I'll admit, if the nominee was an ideological warrior in the spirit of Judge Bork. Then opposition would surely be warranted, and I'd be joining that opposition. No one has seriously suggested that Judge Roberts is in that vein. His nomination does not warrant large-scale opposition.

The Post continues this morning by sharply smacking down a comment by PFAW's arch-liberal leader Ralph Neas, who declared that Senator Leahy would be "complicit" in any rulings by a Chief Justice Roberts that Neas doesn't agree with. Says the Post "He is dead wrong. The decisions Judge Roberts will write are his own responsibility, not Mr. Leahy's; life tenure for federal judges, in fact, exists precisely so that judges will be insulated from politicians and so that politicians are not responsible for judging." Quite so.

Liberal interest groups, the editorial concludes, are driving normally-reasonable Democratic senators (I'll name names: Clinton, Bayh, Reid, Feinstein, among others) "off a cliff. The Judiciary Committee Democrats who refused to jump deserve credit for showing backbone."

Now, we can argue all day about motives, and reasons for voting one way or the other - political, personal, whatnot. But the Post is right. John Roberts' confirmation does not warrant this large-scale liberal opposition. The next nominee might. Democratic senators, even the liberals, should keep their powder dry.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Orrin Hatch, Tourist

I thought I had linked to this Washington Post story earlier, but I guess I forgot ... and I just can't pass it up. It's Dana Milbank's take on the Roberts hearings in the Judiciary Committee yesterday - and it's pretty enjoyable. Who knew senators took pictures of themselves? Aren't there staff for that?

The Daily Show and Capitol Hill

Michael Stickings over at TMV posted yesterday on an article in The Hill (here) outlining a few congressional responses to reporters' questions about "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" (which as regular readers know is pretty much the only show I never miss). I knew these guys were out of touch, but I have to say I was pretty surprised that some of them claimed not to know about the show at all.

Of course many politicos of both parties are well in tune with Stewart, and his show has become a regular stop on the circuit for some, particularly those on book tours or 'permanent campaigns.' Biden and McCain are practically regulars there now, and always seem to enjoy themselves.

The best quote from the Hill piece though (as Wonkette also noted) is from (and about) South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, who said "'I love the Jon Stewart show,' adding that he’d like to appear but has never been asked."

Jon, call Lindsey - he'd make an excellent guest. And of course, keep up the good work.

Rita's Wrath

Reports indicate that Hurricane Rita's rains have overflowed one of the patched levees in New Orleans this morning. Barry Guidry of the Georgia National Guard told the AP "Our worst fears came true. The levee will breach if we keep on the path we are on right now, which will fill the area that was flooded earlier."

Ugh. Good luck to all those in Rita's path - looks like it's going to be an awfully unpleasant ride.

Friday Satire

A Mark Fiore cartoon about does it for this week, I think!

This piece from The Onion would be funnier except that I could actually see it happening ...

Not a Bad Idea

Another hurricane is barrelling through the Gulf of Mexico and doing who knows how much additional damage to oil and natural gas infrastructure there that's already been battered terrifically this season. The potential exists for more sharp increases in gasoline prices, which had finally begun creeping back down in the aftermath of Katrina. What is to be done?

The CSM has an editorial today which caps a three-part series there exploring what the future of energy in America could look like (other portions of the series are linked there). The piece makes the point that the president, while taking some steps to combat high oil prices (releasing fuel from the strategic petroleum reserve, etc.) "has shown weak leadership on a more lasting step: Using the White House pulpit to urge Americans to turn down their thermostats this winter, save gasoline by buying high-gas-mileage vehicles and, most of all, to drive smarter."

An energy analyst,
John Dowd of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co, told a Senate panel looking into high gas prices this week that "if, as a country, we were to obey speed limits for the next two months, we would probably conserve more fuel than will be lost by the refinery outages. Reducing speeds from 70 mph to 60 mph, for example, improves fuel efficiency by 15 percent. If Americans want to know what they can do to limit gasoline price inflation, the answer is simple: slow down."

No legislation required. No draconian "price freezes." Just slowing down by ten miles per hour. Doesn't seem like a bad idea to me. Of course, we still must increase fuel efficiency standards and provide more incentives for hybrid and other vehicles of the future (while making the driving of a ginormous Hummer a socially unacceptable option). But hey, every little bit of pressure lifted off the gas pedal helps.

Will the president use the bully pulpit and make this suggestion? I won't be holding my breath. But a good start would be to
recommend this website, a joint Department of Energy/EPA page on driving more efficiently, which notes "gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. As a rule of thumb, you can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.21 per gallon for gas."

Less pressure on the pedal means less pain at the pump.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Senator Hillary Clinton announced that she'll oppose Roberts' confirmation to the Court.

Feingold yes, Clinton no? I wouldn't have made that bet in a hundred years.

Roberts "Fight" Now a "Skirmish"

The Christian Science Monitor has a must-read piece on the positioning of Democratic senators, liberal interest groups, and even conservative interest groups in the run-up to the next Supreme Court nomination. As we do move into that next phase of things, it's going to be very interesting to see what happens. I have to say, I'm even more worried this time than I was before the president nominated Judge Roberts. This has political firestorm written all over it, and all the bucket brigades in the world might not be enough to suppress it. President Bush could surprise us all again and opt for another decent jurist - here's hoping. Otherwise, batten down the hatches and secure the rigging.

Worried? Good!

Bloomberg's got a report out this morning that "leading Republicans" are starting to worry that they may get sucked into the federal probe into the sleazy dealings of indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

If they're nervous, they should be.

Roberts Committee Debate/Vote

The Judiciary Committee is meeting now (you can get a live feed of the hearings on C-SPAN3) for final discussion and a vote on the Roberts confirmation. Senator Feinstein just announced that she will vote no. I'll update as events warrant.

[Update: A few other vote announcements, none unexpected. Ayes: Specter, Hatch, Leahy, Kyl, Grassley. Noes: Kennedy, Feinstein, Biden. They're still talkin'. -- 11:09 a.m.]

[Update: Some more: Session and DeWine will vote yes, and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin just became the second Committee Democrat to say he'll support Roberts. -- 11:31 a.m.]

[Update: Pretty big surprise here, Russ Feingold (D-WI) will vote to approve Roberts' confirmation. Wow, and impressive. -- 11:37 a.m.]

[Update: We're getting closer. Graham and Cornyn will vote yes, Schumer will vote no. The tally thus far is 11-4, with three senators left to speak (Coburn, Brownback, Durbin). -- 12:17 p.m.]

[Update: Durbin says no. Assuming Brownback and Coburn vote yes (a presumably fair assumption) the tally for confirmation will be 13-5 on the Committee, with three of eight Democrats voting yes. -- 12:39 p.m.]

[Update: The vote going as expected, 13-5. I learn from CNN that is the exact same tally that sent the confirmation of William Rehnquist as Chief Justice to the Senate floor back in 1986. -- 12:51 p.m.]

The Next Choice

The Washington Post reports this morning that President Bush could name his choice for the second Supreme Court vacancy as early as the middle of next week, rejecting a call from Senator Arlen Specter to hold off on a nomination until next summer in order to minimize what he sees as potential fireworks over the next nominee.

The Times basically concurs on the timing point, writing in its piece on the same topic that Bush could make the pick "as early as the court's opening days in October." Elisabeth Bumiller writes there that Bush is "focused on Hispanics, African-Americans and women to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor."

Of course, that's what they all said last time too ... the president surprised us then, and he could well surprise us now. I do expect this nominee to be either a woman, an African-American or a Hispanic - what I'm more worried about is whether the nominee will be like Judge Roberts, or someone of an entirely different ideological ilk. Can lightning strike twice?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Awaiting Rita

CNN reports tonight that Hurricane Rita has now become the third most intense hurricane on record. If you are in her path, please don't put yourself in danger. There is horrifying potential here for another disaster of great proportions, and if we've learned one thing from Katrina, it's that it's better to be safe than sorry. I just hope folks down there are better prepared for this one ...

Coalition for Darfur Weekly Post

The Coalition for Darfur has posted its weekly update on the situation in that region. Bottom line: it's still not pretty, and the world is still ignoring it.

Leahy Will Support Roberts

Sorry I'm a little slow on the uptake today, I had to run some errands this morning - but some good news out of D.C., where Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that he will vote to confirm Judge Roberts to the Court. Senator Linc Chafee of Rhode Island, a centrist Republican also said Wednesday he'll support Roberts.

On the other side, Senators Kennedy and Kerry will oppose confirmation.

Watching the Fat-Fight

While I worry about the ultimate result of the intra-party sparring now occurring within the GOP over how to pay the Katrina bills (because I'm afraid they'll push for some silly nonsense plan that cuts valuable social programs while still pushing up the deficit with more tax cuts), I think it's well past time that the party actually engaged in this debate.

As the Post and Times both report this morning, Republicans in Congress have begun, for really the first time, to question the White House on fiscal issues (and vice versa). There are those who want to use the Gulf Coast reconstruction as a shield to make sharp cuts in domestic programs across the board. There are a few suggesting that it may be time to consider raising taxes. And as the Post notes, "many in the middle want to freeze Bush tax cuts that have yet to take effect" as well as fish out any spending cuts that can be made without cutting vital services and important programs.

I welcome this debate. I think it's healthy for the party to have, and I'm glad that legislators might actually start looking at the numbers and realizing that the current trend (spend but don't tax) is unhealthy for the long-term fiscal stability of the country. Congress should consider all the proposals being offered with due seriousness, including (even particularly including) those which call for halting the implementation of further tax cuts (no that is not raising taxes) and excising the pork from the existing budget.

Those who want to examine the budgetary impact of the Katrina costs, though, remain a small fraction of the Senate and House GOP caucuses, as Senator Judd Gregg told the Times. There are plenty, apparently including the leadership of both houses, who are content to just push ahead with more spending, more tax cuts, and more deficit growth as far as the eye can see. These Happy Mariners don't mind watching the ship of state sail off into the sunset of Fiscal Oblivion, but for those us of out here who do have concerns reaching past the end of our noses (or November 2006, as the case may be), that's no longer an option.

Let's have the debate. Let's ask the questions, and let's demand the answers. It's not too mush to ask for.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Reid Will Oppose Roberts

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced this afternoon that he will vote to oppose the confirmation of John Roberts to be Chief Justice. Based on Reid's voting record, this is sort of surprising - but based on the flack he would get from liberal interest groups and activists if he had supported the nomination, it's really not too much of a shock.

Meanwhile, two other Democrats (Montana's Max Baucus and Nebraska's Ben Nelson) indicated that they will vote to confirm Roberts. Baucus said today "After reviewing Judge John Roberts' credentials and meeting with him privately, I have found that he meets my criteria for judges. And that is: only the brightest, most objective minds shall serve on the bench."

Interest groups on the left are working hard to push up the number of "no" votes on Roberts, apparently as some sort of "message" to the president that he will have a harder time submitting a more ideological nominee for the second vacancy he has to fill. On this point, I agree wholeheartedly with my compatriot The Bull Moose:

"Probably, the majority of the Democratic Senators will oppose Roberts. That is tactically unfortunate because their opposition will have less resonance if the President truly nominates an extremist for the O'Connor vacancy - the donkey crying wolf syndrome. Is the Democratic Party merely the sum of its interest groups? It is not unlikely that a large number of Democrats prefer controversial issues such as gay marriage and the pledge of allegiance to be resolved in the legislative process rather than be circumvented by judicial fiat.

Sometimes, an opposition has to dare to say 'yea.'"

I'm sorry that Senator Reid made the decision he did. I think that it sends exactly the opposite message than he intends it to, and I hope other Democratic senators follow the Baucus-Nelson route. Of course I also hope the president doesn't nominate an ideological extremist for the second seat - but I don't believe making the Roberts vote "as close as possible" is the way to avoid that possibility.

More on the North Korea Deal

I missed this earlier and shouldn't have, but now that I've read it I wanted to pass along David Sanger's NYT analysis piece on the preliminary agreement with North Korea regarding that nation's nuclear programs. Combined with another Sanger article (this one jointly with Joseph Kahn), which discusses exactly what is contained (and is not contained) in the agreement, you get a pretty decent idea of where things stand in the negotiations and some of the very sticky things that still have to be hammered out.

As I said yesterday, the proof will obviously be in the pudding on this, but I'm certainly more hopeful now that something psitive might result than I was a few days ago. For more on the North Korea agreement, I'd also recommend Steve Clemons' post from yesterday on the topic.

Higher and Deeper

The sludge from the morass that is the investigation into uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff just keeps piling up - on Monday, a White House procurement official was arrested and charged with making false statements and obstructing the federal criminal probe into Abramoff's sleazy business dealings, the Washington Post reports.

My guess is that investigators are trying to get the procurement guy (David Safavian) to give up the goods on Abramoff ... and they're playing hardball. Good for them. Let's get to the bottom of this muck-pit.

Gutting the Endangered Species Act

As the NYT reports this morning, House Resources Committee chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA), who never met an environmental law he could stomach, has introduced amendments to the Endangered Species Act that will make federal protection of endangered species more difficult to achieve. The bill has been set on a "fast track" in the House, and may come before the full chamber as early as next week.

Key provisions of the Pombo bill, from the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Stripping the requirement that the Fish and Wildlife Service designate 'critical habitat' for endangered species, which sets strict limits on development by land owners. Instead, the agency would design recovery plans that identify certain land as important to a species' recovery and offer incentives for land owners to cooperate.

Requiring the government to pay land owners if they are blocked from using their land because of the presence of an endangered species.

Directing the secretary of the Interior to write new rules for determining the 'best science' in listing endangered or threatened species, which critics say could make it more difficult to list new species."

While cooperation between landowners and the government is a great goal, throwing money at the problem isn't the solution. Neither is redefining "best science." Steps must be taken to increase understanding and education among landowners about species protection, we shouldn't just be paying them off.

Pombo's bill should be defeated - his known opposition to the ESA (an earlier version of the bill wrote the Act out of existence in 2015) makes it clear exactly what his intentions are: not the protection of endangered species and the strong enforcement of its provisions, but precisely the opposite.

I'd urge you all to drop a line to your congressman's office today and request that they oppose the Pombo bill, which endangers the very existence of the Endangered Species Act.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Sweet Justice

These two corporate sleazeballs deserve a whole lot longer than a max 25 years in jail, but hey, it's better than nothing. You can bet the shower curtains in the slammer didn't cost $6,000 (no, the cynic would answer, they save those for the Pentagon).

A Few Good Posts

Some links from around the blogosphere this morning:

- Political Wire is launching a readership-increase campaign - I thought I'd pass this along, since PW is one of the very best and most reliable sources for political news of all kinds; if you don't read it regularly, I highly recommend it. Also of course, if you'd like to take any of those suggestions and apply them to Charging RINO, you are more than welcome to do so.

- The Bull Moose urges the confirmation of Judge Roberts for the Court's center chair.

- Truth Laid Bear and Instapundit have joined forces to form "Porkbusters," a blogosphere-wide effort to publicize the pork and urge Congress to act quickly and excise it from the federal budget. Good for them.

- The RINO Sightings for the TTLB "Raging RINOs" group is being hosted this week at evolution, so be sure and stop by there for a look.

Carter-Baker Panel Proposes Voting Reforms

A bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, headed by former president Jimmy Carter and former SecState James Baker III will present its report to President Bush this morning - the report recommends "a widespread overhaul of election practices to make it easier for Americans to vote and to guarantee that their votes are counted," according to the LA Times. The NY Times and WaPo also have coverage of this today. The full text of the report is available on the Commission's website, with a summary of their recommendations here (PDF).

Among the Commission's 87 suggestions are these:

- Remove election oversight responsibilities from partisan state Secretaries of State. The Commission writes "we cannot build confidence in elections if secretaries of State responsible for certifying votes are simultaneously chairing political campaigns."

- In precincts where electronic voting machines are used, a paper printout should be available to the voter showing their choices.

- The political parties should hold four regional presidential primaries (after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries, which would remain sacrosanct), with the order of the regions rotating each election cycle.

- Creation of a "universal voting registration system," with state governments taking responsibility for maintaining voter rolls.

- A standard photo identification system requirement, instead of the sometimes-unclear patchwork that currently exists.

Don't seem like bad ideas at all. I hope Congress, the president, and the political parties will consider them seriously.

Waking Up to Good News

There is something about turning on the computer and having the first headline you see be a positive news story. It's probably just because it happens so rarely, but when it does, boy is it exciting. Today's one of those days. I don't want go too far overboard since who knows if the agreement reached this morning will hold ... but North Korea's decision to give up its nuclear programs and rejoin the Non-Proliferation Treaty is tremendous news.

I hope that the talks continue and that the tentative agreement can be implemented without any serious hitches. Much remains to be decided, and the proof will be in the pudding - but the talks have now yielded significant results, and that's good news indeed.

More coverage on this: BBC, New York Times. The Times also has the text of the statement issued by the six nations (US, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Russia).

Sunday, September 18, 2005

WaPo, NYT Split Over Roberts

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times run editorials today on the question of whether John Roberts should be confirmed to be Chief Justice of the United States. You all know where I stand on this question already, so it won't be a surprise which of the two editorials I agree with generally.

The Post piece, "Confirm John Roberts," says the nominee "overwhelmingly well-qualified, possesses an unusually keen legal mind and practices a collegiality of the type an effective chief justice must have. He shows every sign of commitment to restraint and impartiality. Nominees of comparable quality have, after rigorous hearings, been confirmed nearly unanimously. We hope Judge Roberts will similarly be approved by a large bipartisan vote."

The key portion of the Post editorial is a paragraph recognizing that Roberts may end up taking positions with which the paper disagrees. They list several areas of concern (which I share) and then note "[t]hese are all risks, but they are risks the public incurred in reelecting President Bush." While I don't buy the "president should get his man" argument (witness my strenuous opposition to the Bolton nomination), I think the Post is right in making this statement. The American people knew last November that a Court vacancy (or more than one) was likely ... and more voted for President Bush, wittingly or unwittingly giving him the authority to make those appointments.

As the Post continues in the editorial, Judge Roberts seems to fill the bill for the "just right" type of nominee: "professional qualifications of the high-est caliber, a modest conception of the judicial function, a strong belief in the stability of precedent, adherence to judicial philosophy, even where the results are not politically comfortable, and an appreciation that fidelity to the text of the Constitution need not mean cramped interpretations of language that was written for a changing society."

Democratic senators are getting heavy pressure from liberal interest groups and the far-left activist base to oppose Judge Roberts. Like the Post, I think this would send a very unfortunate message, and would probably mean a much more ideological nominee for the second seat as well as continued sparring over the judiciary far into the future (raising the dreaded specter of the nuclear option once more). I agree with the Post's concluding lines: "Mr. Bush deserves credit for making a nomination that, on the merits, warrants support from across the political spectrum. Having done their duty by asking Judge Roberts tough questions, Democrats should not respond by withholding that support."

Meanwhile, over at the New York Times, the editorial board writes in "Too Much of Mystery" that Roberts remains "an enigma" after the hearings, and that he "withheld" information from the Senate covering his stances on a whole laundry list of issues. Personally, I'm glad Roberts didn't lay out some kind of "judicial platform" during his confirmation hearings; if he had, I'd probably be opposing his confirmation.

As the Post writes, a Chief Justice Roberts may make decisions that I disagree with; heck he may even turn out to disappoint me very much by morphing into a Scalia/Thomas justice on the bench. But I saw no deception in his testimony (and I watched much of it). I believe that Judge Roberts will, like Justice O'Connor has and Justices Souter, Breyer and Kennedy often do, consider the real-world effects of the decisions he makes - on the judiciary, the other branches, and the American people. I believe he will be a pragmatic arbiter of the law, not an ideologue reaching for any straw with which to build a case for his predetermined position.

The Times suggests that senators should oppose the Roberts nomination because he didn't prove himself as having "qualities to be an excellent chief justice." I'm not sure what they mean by that, but obviously they weren't watching the same hearings I watched. John Roberts did indeed prove himself before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he does deserve a strong, bipartisan vote in his favor. The harder call will of course be the next justice - and on that, we still just have to "wait and see."

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Sunday Show Guests

Sorry to be so late this week. Here are tomorrow's show lineups:

Meet the Press (NBC): Former president Bill Clinton will be on to discuss Katrina relief efforts, his upcoming global summit, and more. Vice Admiral Thad Allen, the new on-the-ground coordinator for FEMA on the Gulf Coast, will also appear. Then Russert will roundtable with Gwen Ifill of PBS, Eugene Robinson from the Washington Post, CNN's Judy Woodruff, and National Review's Byron York.

Fox News Sunday: Russian president Vladimir Putin will be the headliner. Allen will be on here too, as will Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Panel will be the usual: host Chris Wallace, Brit Hume, Mara Liasson, Bill Kristol and Juan Williams.

This Week (ABC): Clinton makes his second appearance of the day. Louisiana senator David Vitter (R) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) will also guest. Pence is a strong fiscal conservative, so expect questions about "where the money's coming from."

Face the Nation (CBS): Allen for the trifecta, Senators Arlen Specter and Pat Leahy (two highest-ranking on the Judiciary Committee) and Senator Barack Obama - second week in a row, must be he enjoyed last weekend! CBS News' Lara Logan joins in the questioning.

Late Edition (CNN): Seattle mayor Greg Nickels (a proponent of local action to combat climate change); MA Gov Mitt Romney, Miami mayor Manuel Diaz, former national security officials Richard Falkenrath, John McLaughlin, and Clark Kent Ervin.

Happy Constitution Day!

Two hundred eighteen years ago today, on September 17, 1787, a small group of Americans emerged from almost four months of closeted deliberations to present to the world a document the likes of which had never been seen before: the United States Constitution. That document, with its amendments, is honored today in an official "day of reflection."

Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), a stalwart proponent of constitutional education for Americans, pushed the recent expansion of Constitution Day, going so far as to include a provision in last year's omnibus appropriations bill that mandates the observance of the day in all federally-funded schools, universities and government offices (mandates of course being a pretty symbolic word in this case, since there are no plans to enforce that requirement - most institutions are willingly participating in the event. I would also note parenthetically that Byrd's use of a legislative rider in an appropriations bill is something I disapprove of on budgetary grounds).

Said Byrd back in July, "Our personal liberties, our legal system, and our entire form of government, all depend on our knowledge of, and adherence to, the text of the Constitution of the United States. It seems obvious that a great Republic cannot sustain itself unless its citizens participate in their own government. But how can they participate meaningfully if they don't know the fundamental principles on which their government is founded?" He's right.

An editorial in the Brattleboro Reformer (VT) today notes that Americans' ignorance of constitutional principles "is palpable in American life. Recent polls show about one-quarter of Americans can't name a single right guaranteed by the First Amendment and about one-third of Americans don't know the number of branches in the federal government.

And that ignorance allows the federal government to erode our rights with laws such as the
grossly misnamed Patriot Act. If people don't know about the right to freedom of speech, or the right to be from unreasonable search and seizure, or the right to a speedy trial where one can confront their accusers, it's that much easier to take those rights away.

Civics classes have all but disappeared in American schools, as emphasis is now placed on standardized tests and teaching to those tests. But if we are to maintain a healthy democracy, more Americans need to know what's in the Constitution and why voting and serving on juries is more important than waving flags and putting ribbon magnets on the backs of SUVs. More Americans need to know that the passion for ideas and the free exchange of ideas is an important part of citizenship. More Americans need to know that the spirit of liberty, as Judge Learned Hand said in 1944, is 'the spirit of that America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all.'"

I took some time this morning and re-read the text of our Constitution, something I don't do as often as I should. It really is an amazing document, and its staying power says that better than any words ever could. I don't know what impact one "Constitution Day" a year will have on America's schoolchildren, but I do know that one is better than none.

The two best quotes for Constitution Day, with which I'll end this ramble, come from Benjamin Franklin. The first is recorded in James Madison's Notes on the Federal Convention for Monday, September 17, 1787: "... Whilst the last members were signing [the Constitution], Doct'r Franklin looking toward the Presidents chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have said he, often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicisitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun."

The second story occurred just a few minutes later, and while it may be apocryphal it's a good one nonetheless. When the Framers emerged from Independence Hall with the finished (and newly-signed) document, a woman shouted to Benjamin Franklin "Well Doctor, what have we got? A republic, or a monarchy?" Franklin, crippled by gout but still going strong, replied without skipping a beat "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."

We've kept it. And if those of us who cherish and respect its principles have our way, that sun can never fail to rise.

Friday, September 16, 2005


I suppose there could be an innocent explanation for this ... but honestly I can't think of one.

Roberts Revealed

Adam Liptak's analysis of the Roberts hearings in today's Times is an excellent look at what kind of judicial philosophy Roberts will bring to the center chair at the Supreme Court. Said disappointed Federalist Society president Steven Calabresi, "He is not in the mold of Scalia and Thomas. They have more of a theory of how to decide cases, and they look to text and original meaning. Roberts will look at text and original meaning, but he will also look to precedent and the consequences of his decisions."

That sounds just about right to me.

Somehow, the president managed to buck the trend, found himself a good, decent, intelligent, fair, and judicious candidate - and then nominated him to the Court. Judge Roberts acquitted himself magnificently before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he deserves a wide, bipartisan vote of support.

Now They Worry?

The New York Times' Carl Hulse reports Friday that "[t]he drive to pour tens of billions of federal dollars into rebuilding the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast is widening a fissure among Republicans over fiscal policy, with more of them expressing worry about unbridled spending."

Now they're "expressing worry"?

Honestly. A gigantic highway bill containing more than 6,000 pork-barrel projects is okay. A huge energy bill stuffed full of pork and tax cuts for big energy, well that's fine too. But funding to relieve the financial burdens of hundreds of thousands of evacuated Americans and rebuild a devastated region of the country - that's beyond the pale?


Clearly fiscal conservatives are correct to raise questions about how to pay the bills for Katrina's destructive wrath. It's stupid to suggest that more huge spending bills should be passed with no regard for the mounting deficits they create. Yes, the Administration and Congressional leadership ought to be looking for ways to offset the costs of Gulf Coast reconstruction. But will these sudden "fiscal conservatives" with a newfound "concern" about federal spending embrace some common-sense steps to offset Katrina-costs?

Here are a few possibilities:

- Cancel congressional "cost-of-living-increases" (read: pay raises) for the year.

- Repeal the highway and energy bills; pass them again without the pork-projects. And cut the pork from all of this year's appropriations bills now working their way through the system. That $223 million "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska can wait.

- Cut the massive subsidies doled out to "factory farms" whose owners have never milked a cow and probably couldn't tell a cornstalk from a lilypad.

- Don't repeal the millionaire inheritance tax (aka estate tax).

There, that's a start. I'm not talking about making drastic cuts to services and programs that benefit the American people, but let's remove some of the redundancies, the excess, and so forth. It can be done.

Fiscal conservatives are right to worry about wasteful spending, but rebuilding the Gulf Coast is hardly wasteful, and the wasteful spending trend is hardly new. Where have all these "worriers" been for the last four years of gluttony?

Friday Satire

Here's some of the political satire I noticed from around the web this week:

Andy Borowitz went with a Katrina aftermath theme, featuring an unwilling-to-be-removed FEMA Director, the unveiling of a national apathy alert system to monitor slow government reactions to disasters, and the newest target of Bush Administration finger-pointing (a hint: he used to be the leader of Iraq).

Borowitz' best this week though is on some newly-controversial comments from House Speaker Denny Hastert, who said he thought the US should "at least explore the possibility" of returning Louisiana to France:

"Explaining his remarks, the Speaker said that when the Emperor Napoleon I sold the United States the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 he did not offer full disclosure of the property’s vulnerability to storm damage and that this omission makes the sale null and void.

But at a press conference in Paris, French President Jacques Chirac gave Rep. Hastert’s proposal a chilly reception, saying that France had “a strict no-returns policy” and that he intended to adhere to it.

'To Monsieur Hastert, let me say this,' said a visibly angry President Chirac, pounding on the podium with his fist. 'You break it – how you say – you bought it.'"

Scrappleface leaks Ted Kennedy's questions for Judge Roberts, and has several other Katrina-related items.

The Swift Report earlier this week featured (now former) FEMA Director Mike Brown's daily work schedule.

The Garlic has Bush declaring war on hurricanes (and blaming al-Qaeda) and offers the "top ten cloves" why Bush took responsibility for federal missteps after Katrina.

The Onion's headline is disturbing, but humorous. Also in their "briefs" section this week, a hopeful Court justice awaits the arrival of the new chief.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Pataki Playing the Right Tune in Iowa

David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register, the Iowa caucus guru and prognosticator extraordinaire, writes today about New York governor George Pataki's current visit to the state ... and suggests that Pataki might have a better shot at caucus success (even if not victory) than I would have thought a few months ago. Yepsen quotes "party leaders" in Iowa as saying Pataki's "off to a good start" in the Hawkeye State, and while his views on social issues may spell trouble for him, his credentials as a Republican elected statewide in New York and perception as a strong leader in the post-9/11 period are working heavily in his favor.

Pataki addresses his less-than-conservative social views this way: "To me, it's very simple. I have a governing philosophy of having faith in people, believing that people can make the right decisions in their own lives. Because of that, I believe in limited government. When it comes to social issues, that same philosophy prevails. I think decisions should be made by individuals, by families in consultation with the other family members, with their ministers and faith leaders and not by a political people telling people what decisions to make in their life."

Could tighten up the language a little bit, but on the whole that's a pretty darn good summation of the basic centrist position. And good for Pataki for not white-washing his views. "For now," Yepsen writes, "Pataki is playing Iowa correctly. He is investing time here early. Starting early and spending lots of time here are two traits of caucus winners." He suggests that if other leading moderate candidates (read Giuliani) stay out of the race, or skip Iowa, Pataki could pull a maneuver similar to what George H.W. Bush did, winning the caucuses in the face of divided conservative opposition (John McCain, who would almost certainly draw some of Pataki's support away, may skip Iowa again as he did in 2000 - that is, if he enters the race at all).

Good for Pataki. As I've said before, I'm not sure his personality meets presidential muster, but if he becomes the moderate standard-bearer in the '08 GOP contest, I'll be delighted to support him. We could certainly do much worse for our nominee.

The Santorum Slide

I've noted before the polls showing Senator Rick Santorum slipping more and more behind his Democratic rival in his year's Senate race, Democrat Bob Casey Jr. A new Strategic Vision poll - and this is a Republican-backed firm - has the race at 38% Santorum, 52% Casey. That is a very significant deficit for a challenger this far out, and does not bode well for Santorum.

The poll does, however, offer a glimmer of hope for centrism - Casey would be a much better spokesperson for the political center, and I continue to urge Pennsylvanians to consider his campaign.


From press accounts this morning (USA Today, Washington Post, New York Times), it sounds to me like tonight's presidential speech from New Orleans is going to be one of those much-hyped events which then leads to him saying a whole lot of nothing. The Times says Bush will speak "generally ... on [his] vision for the reconstruction of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, with the federal government playing a supportive role to what White House officials are calling a 'home-grown' plan that must be created by city and state authorities."

The only ambiguity remaining about tonight's speech seems to be over the question of whether the president will name some over-arching "reconstruction czar" to take control of the rebuilding effort. The Times says press secretary Scott McClellan "indicated" that this would not occur tonight, if at all; USA Today quotes "two Bush advisers with direct knowledge of the speech" as saying that the president is "considering" such a move and "checking whether that would be allowed under federal law."

I'm guessing this speech is going to be a snoozer, another one of those that the network execs later wonder why they preempted reruns.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Little Levity

Talk about an eagle-eyed photographer. Too funny.

Bye Bye MoDowd ... and Friedman and Kristof ...

The New York Times is apparently going to go through with its threat to charge for access to its op/ed columnists, as Joe Gandelman reports over at The Moderate Voice. Starting Monday, users will have to pay an annual $49.95 fee to read Tom Friedman, Frank Rich, David Brooks, Bob Herbert, Maureen Dowd and all the rest.

I'll join Joe and all the other bloggers who do not plan to subscribe to "TimesSelect." Of course I'd like to still be able to read and pass along the views of some of the Times columnists ... my offer from when the plan was first announced back in May still stands.

"The Swap"

Via Political Wire, I recommend this piece in Editor & Publisher, which outlines a decade-old "deal" between the New York Times and Washington Post to share each paper's front page layout with the other each night. Not surprising to know that they do this, but an interesting read.

Completely Insane

As others have noted, Tom DeLay told the Washington Times yesterday that "Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an 'ongoing victory,' and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget." Asked by the Times "if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, 'Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we've pared it down pretty good.'"

WHAT?! Can we say pork-filled transportation bill? How about the energy bill? DeLay's version of victory against pork seems even less accurate (and this is saying alot) than the president's version of victory in Iraq.

Said Rep. Jeff Flake, also a Republican, "This is hardly a well-oiled machine. There's a lot of fat to trim. ... I wonder if we've been serving in the same Congress."

This is why people think Republicans are crazy. Because Tom DeLay clearly is, as are way too many others among those who are "leading" the party. Wonkette calls DeLay's statement "delusional." John Cole says "Breathtaking."

The Carpetbagger writes: "There's no indication that he was kidding. Tom DeLay - who has seen federal spending, federal deficits, and the size of the federal government flourish under Republican control - now believes the massive federal budget is just about perfect. No more waste, no more abuse, no more fat to trim.

A few far-right stragglers may still argue that the government should cut spending to help bring the budget back towards balance, but DeLay effectively explained yesterday that this simply can't be done. The Majority Leader has declared 'victory.'

Someone let me know when the memorial services for conservatism will be held; I'd like to send flowers

Even the National Review folks are getting into the act ... as much as I disagree with them sometimes, at least they recognize the fact that most of today's leading Republicans have become about as fiscally conservative as Paris Hilton on a shopping spree. Says Andrew Stuttaford:

"Tom Delay (reported in the Washington Times): House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an 'ongoing victory,' and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.

George Orwell (
Animal Farm): No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Glenn Reynolds at InstaPundit calls DeLay's comment "surely the dumbest statement of the week, which is no small accomplishment given that the Roberts hearings are underway." He adds "Give it to me, Tom. I'll find some things to cut. Starting with your salary, which you don't seem to be earning ..."

That'd be a good beginning.

When Russert Attacks

Yesterday the GOP and Dem candidates in this fall's Virginia gubernatorial election squared off in the race's first televised debate (independent Russ Potts was excluded at the insistence of the Republican, Jerry Kilgore). NBC's Tim Russert was the debate moderator, and he put Kilgore in a tough spot during a lengthy go-round over abortion rights. The Washington Post has a video clip up of the exchange, which is a must-see.

Morning Reads

A few of the things I found interesting reading this morning:

- Dahlia Lithwick's second dispatch from the Roberts hearings yesterday, which she begins by noting of Roberts "Here's a man long accustomed to answering really hard questions from extremely smart people, suddenly faced with the almost-harder task of answering obvious questions from less-smart people. He finds himself standing in a batting cage with the pitching machine set way too slow." Her final paragraph is classic:

"It is an immutable rule of nature that every sadist needs a masochist, every leader needs a follower, and every addict needs an enabler. So, too, every egomaniac needs someone humble, and that's why, in the end, these hearings are so perfectly matched. Roberts wants to say little and literally fade to black. The senators want to give speeches and seize the limelight. It's a match made in heaven. It's just the watching it that's hell."

- Tom Friedman's column in the Times, juxtaposing the response to Katrina with what the crisis management might have looked like in Singapore, and offering some views of the way the American government's response was viewed outside our borders. He quotes a columnist in Singapore's The Straits Times, who wrote "If America becomes so unglued when bad things happen in its own backyard, how can it fulfill its role as leader of the world?"

- Senator Joe Biden has an op/ed essay in the Washington Post, offering yet another possible blueprint for a course-change in Iraq that might actually make some sense. He sums his plan up this way: "Successfully involving moderate Sunnis, sharing the burden with the key international players, getting support from the region, setting concrete goals with timelines and insisting on regular accountability from the administration would bring our troops home sooner and safer. It's also the best way to leave Iraq with our most fundamental security interests intact," but offers further thoughts on each of those areas in the larger piece. I can't find anything in there that seems disagreeable.

And some earlier blog-posts I've been meaning to link to:

- Alan Stewart Carl, a kindred centrist and founder of The Yellow Line ideablog (which unfortunately I have been all too lax in my participation with lately) is packing it in. I'm sad to see him go - he's one of those rare voices of reason out here in blog-land, and I'll miss his wise counsel and probing insights. I hope he rejoins us again in the future.

- Charles Amico over at We The People is calling for a national gas boycott on September 22-23. He says he won't be driving for those two days, and urges others to do the same. Certainly a worthy goal, and I'd urge anyone who can to participate. I don't drive as it is, but I'll be boycotting in spirit.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Meanwhile, Back in the Senate

While Katrina and John Roberts absorb the nation's (or at least the media's) attention, it's easy to miss the fact that other things are continuing to happen in the political realm. Today in the Senate, a call that would have forced the EPA to strengthen Bush Administration-backed rules governing mercury emissions from power plants failed in a close vote.

Proponents of the resolution to push for the tougher rule "argued that it would require all plants to upgrade with the best available pollution-control technologies and would achieve a greater reduction of emissions, up to 90 percent, in fewer years, creating substantial health benefits for people most vulnerable to mercury poisoning, including pregnant women and children." The current plan is backed by industry groups and the power plants.

The New York Times says today's vote to keep the current rule was "largely along party lines." The roll call reveals that the unsuccessful 47-51 tally was in fact a pretty interesting mix. Six Democrats (Baucus, Byrd, Conrad, Dorgan, Nelson of NE, and Pryor) joined 45 Republicans in opposing the proposed change. That's mentioned in the Times article. What goes unmentioned are the nine Republicans who bucked the Administration and supported the tougher standards. They are Alexander, Chafee, Coleman, Collins, Gregg, McCain, Smith, Snowe, and Sununu, and I'll give them some credit if nobody else does. Senators Hatch and Rockefeller didn't vote.

It's true, this measure didn't get much attention because even if it'd passed the Senate it didn't stand a chance in the House (and the Administration was threatening to veto it). So one could make the cynical argument that those Republicans felt "safe" voting this way knowing it "wouldn't matter." And maybe that's true for some of them. But I'm still glad they took the stand.

A Little Surprised

Even with all the Hurricane Katrina aftermath - which is a huge story, don't get me wrong - it seems to me the Roberts hearings are getting short shrift. The cable news stations covered them for some of the day today, and the papers are following along of course. But even in the blogosphere (let alone among the public at large), I've been somewhat surprised at the muted level of discussion about the confirmation process and the hearings. On the NBC news tonight, it was several minutes before the questions and answer session today was even mentioned, and even then it got much less time than I would have expected.

I guess that speaks to the "non-controversial" way that the Roberts nomination ended up. Maybe, like the interest groups, the media and the bloggers are saving their time and energy for the next nominee. That could, I suppose, be a smart move in the long run, particularly if Bush opts for a more polarizing figure next time around. But at the same time, this is the chief justiceship we're talking about here ... seems like the media in particular would be paying a bit more attention. I suppose they smell more "story" around the Katrina aftermath, particularly now that they've gotten the president to take responsibility for something (bad) for the first time in four and a half years.

Meanwhile, for those of us who do happen to be slightly obsessed with the Roberts hearings, the full transcript from the question sessions on Tuesday are here, and there are also video excerpts here and here. The whole thing begins again tomorrow morning.

Two Things

1. In case you missed it, we heard three words pass the lips of President Bush that I think it's fair to say many of us expected never to hear: "I take responsibility." In a press availability with Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, Bush said of the Katrina response, "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government and to the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility." Going further, Bush added "Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack? That’s a very important question and it’s in the national interest that we find out what went on so we can better respond."

It's a horrifying shame that it took the aftermath of Katrina (and way too many days) to prompt the president into making a statement like this. But I hope now that it's out there, we'll be able to act on it and make sure that we are prepared in the future. As I've written, I think that requires an independent investigation.

President Bush is going to make a prime-time speech on Thursday night at 9 p.m. from New Orleans. More news there, or not? We'll see.

2. I've been catching up a bit on the Roberts hearings, which you can watch live on C-SPAN3's Internet feed. The New York Times is providing a running transcript here. So far, I'd say, so good (I'm not all the way through the morning's transcript but I haven't seen anything yet that I find particularly troubling - if there's anything there I'm missing, let me know).

Dispatches from the Hearings

I enjoy a good bit of snarkiness and/or irreverence now and then; if you do too, I'd recommend Dahlia Lithwick's "Confirmation Report," an ongoing series of notes from the Roberts confirmation hearings. After yesterday's hearing, she notes that the senators pretty much spent the whole day talking about themselves, and she offers up an "index of what worries the 18 senators of the Judiciary Committee most about Roberts, the judiciary, and the constitutional process." Here's a sampling from that:

- Senators acknowledging that Roberts is really, really smart: 18
- Republican senators exhorting Roberts not to answer any questions more complicated than Roberts' choice of hair-care products: 6
- Senators referring to God and/or angels: 5 (Three of them Democrats)
- Senators offering grim estimates of John Roberts' extraordinary life expectancy: 4 (ranging from 25 to 40 years)
- Senators fretting about the constitutionality of microscopic tags that can be implanted in a person's body to track his every movement: 1 (Joe Biden, D-Del.)

It's not Linda Greenhouse (whose analysis I recommended last night and is here), but it's amusing in its own way.

Hmm, Someone Qualified ...

With the timely resignation of disgraced FEMA head Mike "Brownie" Brown, R. David Paulison was announced as the interim head of the agency. I don't envy him the job. But unlike Brown, Paulison has significant disaster relief experience, including the management of hurricane recovery efforts. While he's now fallen into one of the toughest jobs in the bureaucracy, I think it's safe to say he's at least much better prepared to handle the job than his predecessor was.