Thursday, March 29, 2007

Yet another blogging break

I'm going away for a few days while I take my Civil War class to visit Gettysburg and Petersburg. We're really excited - I think this group of kids will get a lot of fun out of the trip and I've been looking forward to this trip. But it means that I will be taking another blogging hiatus. Sorry, but this should be my last trip for a while.

The pork in the Iraq supplemental bill

Dana Milbank looks at all the goodies stuffed into the emergency Iraq supplemental bill.
Midway through the Senate debate yesterday over the "emergency" spending bill for Iraq, Barbara Boxer rose to speak in favor -- of strawberries.

"There's a song called 'Strawberry Fields Forever,' " the California Democrat declared on the Senate floor, as an aide displayed a poster of an icy berry patch. "This is a strawberry field," Boxer continued, seeking funds for frostbitten fruit farmers. "It looks like an ice rink. The strawberries are somewhere in there; they are destroyed. I also want to show you oranges. . . . Here you can see the icicles near the avocados."

The relationship between crops and troops was lost on Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who backed an amendment that would remove spending for sugar beets and other agricultural pursuits. "I don't see how the asparagus-spinach problem helps us win in Iraq," he argued at a news conference. "This is a bill designed to help people that are getting shot at."

Oh? Immediately after this righteous plea in the Senate television studio, Graham went downstairs to the Senate floor and voted in support of an amendment to the Iraq bill directing an additional $5 billion to rural schools and counties -- right here in the U.S. of A.

It's common for lawmakers to complain that a spending bill is "loaded up like a Christmas tree" with pet projects. But the Iraq Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act going through the Senate this week is unusual in that it is loaded up with Christmas trees.

Specifically, it includes $40 million for a Tree Assistance Program that provides help for Christmas trees and ornamental shrubs. Also in the Senate's version of the Iraq bill: $24 million for sugar beets, $3 million for Hawaiian sugar cane, $13 million for the Ewe Lamb Replacement and Retention Program, $100 million in compensation for dairy losses, $165.9 million for fisheries disaster relief, and money for numerous other "emergencies."
For shame. But they don't care. They see this as an opportunity to get some pork for their pet causes without having to go through the regular budget procedure. Worrying about the troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan seems secondary. But worrying about their own security was clearly on their minds.
But the senators could not dwell on matters of war -- Vietnam or Iraq -- for long. They had to take up an amendment from Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who demanded to know why $100 million in security for the Democratic and Republican nominating conventions was included in the "emergency" Iraq legislation. "This isn't sudden," Coburn argued. "It's not unpredictable, and it wasn't unanticipated. There have been nominating conventions since 1832 in this country."

Coburn lost the vote. For the Senate, even an American political convention qualifies as an Iraq emergency.
Not only does this bill send the message to our enemies in Iraq that all they have to do is wait us out until the congressional deadline and then they can move in to wreak their terror on Iraq. But concerns about what would happen in Iraq or the rest of the Middle East after this pullout was secondary to posturing before the public and squeezing out more taxpayer money for their pet projects.

Giving D.C. votes in the House

George Will has an excellent column about why the District of Columbia should not be given a vote in the House of Representatives as the Democrats are planning to do.
Many clauses in the Constitution leave room for conflicting interpretations. What constitutes "commerce . . . among the several states," "establishment of religion," "cruel and unusual punishments"? Regarding the composition of the House of Representatives, however, the Constitution is unambiguous. Article I, Section 2 says the House shall be composed of members chosen "by the people of the several states."

Until the nation's flag has 51 stars -- at which point the District will have two senators -- the city should not have a full member of the House. (Today, the D.C. "delegate" votes in committees and on floor amendments -- as long as the vote does not change the outcome -- but not on final passage of legislation.) But those -- mostly Democrats -- who favor full House membership for the District cite Congress's constitutional power "to exercise exclusive legislation" over "the seat of the government." They say Congress can exercise its "exclusive legislation" power to nullify Article I, Section 2's requirement that House members be chosen by the people "of the several states."

But that is preposterous: If Congress's "exclusive legislation" power concerning the District can trump one constitutional provision, it can trump any provision: Congress could establish a religion, stifle free speech or authorize unreasonable searches and seizures in Washington. And if Congress's power over the District allows it to award full House representation, why could it not also award two Senate seats? Today's Congress is pressing House representation for the District partly because of that predictable next step: The District would be a reliable source of two Democratic senators.
As Will also points out, the 23rd Amendment has clear language giving the District Electoral votes "Equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a state." (emphasis added)

There are ways to get votes in Congress for the residents of the House if the Democrats are so eager to do so. The land could be given back to Maryland, but I doubt that Maryland really wants to take on all the problems that the District brings with it. Or they could try to pass an amendment, but that is not likely to ever pass. What they can't do is simply pass a law and ignore the language of the Constitution. When the Supreme Court struck down the line-item veto, they made it clear that Congress needs to go through the amendment process if they are going to change the meaning of the Constitution. They can't do so just by legislative fiat.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

New efforts to pass the ERA

Activists and some Congressmen are reviving an effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA failed to get the 3/4 state votes for ratification back in 1982, but now there are those who believe that the time is ripe to try again. They're not sure whether the votes for ratification from the 1970s are still viable now or whether the Amendment would have to be voted all over again. However, they're introducing the Amendment again in Congress just to be sure.

In light of how courts have interpreted all sorts of aspects of the Constitution in ways that the original authors would never have dreamed of, it's hard to predict how the ERA would be interpreted by future judges should it become the 28th Amendment. Critics allege that the ERA would mandate that women have to register for the draft and serve in combat. They also say that there are other provisions in law to protect women such as the Fourteenth Amendment and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But that is not enough for some feminists who want to win today the battle that they lost 25 years ago.

Is th government responsible for advances made in the United States?

Senator Obama has accused Bush of following social Darwinist policies.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama accused the Bush administration on Tuesday of pursuing a policy of "social Darwinism" that leaves every man and woman struggling.

"It's a strategy that we've seen this administration pursue over the last six years, that basically says government has no role to play in making sure that America is prosperous for all people and not just some," Obama said to applause during an appearance before the Communications Workers of America.

The Illinois senator said the attempt to "divvy up the government into individual tax breaks" may be tempting, but government research and investment is what has made advances possible in the United States.
Note that line - "government research and investment is what has made advances possible in the United States." Right there you have the difference between conservatives and liberals. Liberals believe that advances are made possible by the government and conservatives look to private individuals for those investments and advances. However, in Obama's world, looking to the private sector is just social Darwinism.

Is James Webb a good friend to have in a foxhole?

Senator Webb called a press conference yesterday to explain why he carries a gun now that his aide has been arrested for trying to bring a loaded gun, that the aide claims belongs to the Senator, into the Capitol. Webb was happy to talk about himself and his need to protect himself, but seemed less inclined to defend his aide who spent the night in jail.
Webb, an expert marksman, was happy to discuss why he carries a concealed weapon. "Since 9/11, for people who are in government, I think in general there has been an agreement that it's more -- a more dangerous time," he said. "If you look at people in the executive branch . . . there is not that kind of protection available to people in the legislative branch. We are required to defend ourselves, and I choose to do so."

Webb even hinted that he ignores the District law requiring handguns to be registered. Asked if he considered himself above D.C. law, he said: "I'm not going to comment in any level in terms of how I provide for my own security," he said.

The senator was less forthcoming in his defense of Thompson. "He is going to be arraigned today," Webb said. "I do not in any way want to prejudice his case and the situation that he's involved in."

Prejudice the case? But wasn't it Webb's gun that his aide was carrying for him?

Webb wouldn't even acknowledge it was his gun. "I have never carried a gun in the Capitol complex, and I did not give the weapon to Phillip Thompson," he stipulated.

Webb had kind words for his aide -- "a longtime friend" and "a fine individual" -- but he seemed to be trying to cut Thompson loose as he spoke of the incident. "I find that what has happened with Phillip Thompson is enormously unfortunate," Webb reported. "I was in New Orleans from last Friday until yesterday evening. I was not in town. I learned about this when I was in New Orleans."

Upon reflection, Webb must have decided that he had been stinting in his defense of Thompson. An hour later, his office sent out an amended statement. "I can say with great confidence that this was an inadvertent mistake on his part," the statement said. It was a little late for Lockup No. 1.
Instead of talking all about the dangers that Webb faces as a Senator, couldn't he have issued a ringing defense of his aide and perhaps talked about how this was just an inadvertent mixup? It just seemed that Webb's main desire was to trumpet his support for the 2nd Amendment, which is fine and popular in Virginia, but not his support for his aide who spent his birthday in jail.

Voting protection for "Jane and John Does"

Authorities are always urging the public to keep our eyes and ears open and report anything suspicious. However, the case in Minnesota of the "flying imans" who were stopped on US Airways after passengers reported their suspicious behavior has raised the possibility that those who tell authorities that they think something fishy is going on may end up being sued. So some Congressmen are trying to insert a bill protecting such "Jane and John Does" from such suits. But there were some Democrats who fear that this would lead to more racial profiling. And Heaven knows, the fear of racial profiling should trump any concern about terrorism.
After a heated debate and calls for order, the motion to recommit the Democrats' Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007 back to committee with instructions to add the protective language passed on a vote of 304-121.
All 121 of the "no" votes were cast by Democrats, while 199 Republicans and 105 Democrats voted in favor.
Republicans said the lawsuit filed by six Muslim imams against US Airways and "John Does," passengers who reported suspicious behavior, could have a "chilling effect" on passengers who may fear being sued for acting vigilant.
Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, offered the motion saying all Americans -- airline passengers included -- must be protected from lawsuits if they report suspicious behavior that may foreshadow a terrorist attack.
"All of our lives changed after September 11, and one of the most important things we have done is ask local citizens to do what they can to avoid another terrorist attack, if you see something, say something," said Mr. King.
"We have to stand by our people and report suspicious activity," he said. "I cannot imagine anyone would be opposed to this."
Mr. King called it a "disgrace" that the suit seeks to identify "people who acted out of good faith and reported what they thought was suspicious activity."
Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, opposed the motion over loud objections from colleagues on the House floor, forcing several calls to order from the chair.
"Absolutely they should have the ability to seek redress in a court of law," said Mr. Thompson, who suggested that protecting passengers from a lawsuit would encourage racial profiling.
Fortunately, the majority in the House saw the good sense in protecting the public from such suits and the measure passed. But the fact that 121 Democrats would have opposed this measure tells us that we have a long way to go before everyone is on board in fighting terror. Do they really prefer a situation when passengers on an airplane think twice about reporting suspicious behavior because they might then be sued?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sad news

Tony Snow's cancer has returned and spread to his liver. I'm sure we wish him the best luck in fighting this cancer again.

Harry Reid - the Billboard King

If you had any doubt about whether the Iraq funding bill has to do with true issues of supporting the troops, note this item which Harry Reid has slipped into the Senate version of the bill.
In a (quite) large sign that protecting U.S. troops isn't the only thing on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's mind these days, the Nevada Democrat inserted an item into the Senate's Iraq war funding bill -- safeguarding billboards.

Senate debate began yesterday on the bill, which provides $122 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; sets a goal of March 31, 2008, for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq; and -- if Reid has his way -- allows thousands of billboards destroyed by bad weather to be rebuilt.

For the senator, who has referred to himself as the King of Billboards, "it's a constituent issue, but it's a value that he believes in," said Reid spokesman Jon Summers.
Since the 1960s, it has been federal policy that billboards that are deemed "nonconforming" - packed close together in scenic areas - that get knocked down due to bad weather shouldn't be replaced. All those people who prize scenic views from our holidays support this. But Harry Reid feels differently. The 40 billboard companies centered in Nevada perhaps influence his thinking. So he got a provision slipped into the troops funding bill to help out his billboard pals by allowing them to rebuild billboards that get knocked down by bad storms.

So it's Harry Reid vs. the environmentalists. We all know what the outcry would be if a Republican Senate leader had decided that this issue was so crucial that it had to go into an emergency supplemental funding bill for our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, don't we?

McCain-Feingold: five years on

Today is the five-year anniversary of McCain-Feingold, better known as the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Act. Ryan Sager looks at how none of the promises that its advocates gave us about what this bill would do have come true.
Some McCain-Feingold supporters promised that the bill would reduce the amount of money being raised and spent in elections. "This bill forces all of us," Senator Cantwell of Washington said during the debate, "to play by the same rules and raise and spend money in lower amounts." As the Sun's Josh Gerstein reports today, that certainly hasn't been the result. Candidates for both parties' nominations will surely be shattering first-quarter fundraising records next month.

Then there was the claim that McCain-Feingold could restore trust in government. On this score, Mr. Thompson declared that "we are making headway to do something that will reduce the cynicism in this country and that will help this body, that will help us individually." While, plenty of congressmen have helped themselves individually over the past five years (see: indictments and convictions and plea agreements, above), there is still enough cynicism around for Senator Obama of Illinois to make defeating it the main rationale for his presidential campaign.

Last but not least — and here we get to the real nub of campaign-finance regulation — McCain-Feingold supporters promised that the bill would curb the scourge of "negative" and "dirty" advertising. "It is about slowing political advertising," Ms. Cantwell said during the debate. "Making sure the flow of negative ads by outside interest groups does not continue to permeate the airwaves."

Of course, curbing and "slowing" speech critical of politicians by "outside interest groups" (a.k.a. "citizens") is in no way a permissible goal under the First Amendment. But, ultimately, the politicians may have failed in this most nefarious goal. And it's not just the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who showed the way around it.
All they've done is limit advertising by PACs. But, of course we have not seen any dimunition of negative political advertising. With 527s using loopholes in the law to collect billions in unregulated money, all that has happened is that there is now less transparency in campaigns and more money from groups outside the control of political parties. And, as I wrote last week, sites like YouTube are going to further erode party control of politics and the reach of McCain-Feingold. (Link via Mark Tapscott)

Gaming the SATs with truthiness

When College Board announced that they were adding a writing component to the SATs, critics alleged that there was no way to legitimately grade the writing of that many essays each year and that the test would devolve down into writing formulaic essays. Well, now an MIT professor has written a paper outlining what students need to do to game the test and present the illusion of good writing.
Les Perelman, the professor, is among the many writing experts who fear that the new essay portion of the SAT and the push to use standardized testing for writing are harming American students. Perelman has had various skirmishes with the College Board on the issue, with each side offering analyses of the test. Perelman helped a student (over the age of 18 and with informed consent, he is quick to add) take the SAT in October, intentionally paying no attention to whether any historical facts he cited were correct, following certain formulas (including examples from the arts and history, but not worrying whether they make sense), and including key words that the SAT scoring teams are thought to favor ("plethora” and “myriad” are both considered tops — and this essay featured both).
Here is an example from the paper to demonstrate how the student can get the facts wrong but still impress enough to get them a good grade.
A major reason why cooperation is a preference to competition is because competition induces civil struggle at a time of crisis while cooperation reduces tension. In the 1930’s, American businesses were locked in a fierce economic competition with Russian merchants for fear that their communist philosophies would dominate American markets. As a result, American competition drove the country into an economic depression and the only way to pull them out of it was through civil cooperation. American president Franklin Delenor Roosevelt advocated for civil unity despite the communist threat of success by quoting ‘the only thing we need to fear is itself,’ which desdained competition as an alternative to cooperation for success. In the end, the American economy pulled out of the depression and succeeded communism.
This essay scored a 5 out of 6 on the SATs. I suspect that the graders either don't know enough history to grade on whether or not the student gets the history correct. So College Board has explicitly told the graders not to concern themselves with whether or not the historical evidence that the student uses is accurate or not. As Perelman argues, this emphasis on formulaic writing is hurting students.
The essay is harming students, Perelman said, because it rewards formulaic writing that views the world as black and white, isn’t based on any facts, and values a few fancy vocabulary words over sincerity. He also said that while most college instructors work to “deprogram” students from the infamous “five paragraph essay” they learned in high school, the SAT test reinforces that approach. Perelman and others noted that the problem isn’t limited to the time students spend actually taking the SAT, but that many students devote months or years of study with coaching services to learning how to write the way the College Board wants — and with students fearful that a poor score will hurt their chances of college admission, they focus on that kind of writing.

He drew particular attention to the way the College Board has openly stated that students are not penalized for not getting their history correct. “This is a total disregard for the facts,” he said.
Great. Just what this country needs - students being encouraged to present the illusion of using facts and evidence to support their arguments but not having to worry about whether that evidence is either accurate or applicable to what they're supposedly arguing. "To seem rather than to be" to twist the North Carolina motto is more important than actually constructing a logical and supported argument. Then sprinkle in a few good vocabulary items and you've achieved the illusion of good writing. Not only are such standards harming students' writing skills, but also their thinking skills.

A blow for Quebec separatists

It doesn't seem that Quebec is going anywhere anytime soon. Voters just rejected the nationalist party, the Parti Quebecois.
Quebec's opposition nationalists have suffered a heavy defeat in elections in the French-speaking province, putting paid to plans for an independence vote.

But the ruling Liberal Party also fared badly, losing its majority amid a surge by the right-of-centre Action Democratic party (ADQ).

The ADQ advocates more autonomy for Quebec, but within a federal Canada.

Correspondents say it appears Quebec will have a minority government for the first time in more than 100 years.

The nationalists, the Parti Quebecois (PQ), which had promised to hold a referendum on independence if elected, was trailing in third place.

The last referendum on the issue, in 1995, rejected separation by about one percentage point.

Preferring scoring political points rather than taking responsibility

Thomas Sowell exactly nails what is so politically cynical about the congressional Democrats approach to Iraq. They don't want to enact a policy that will give them responsibility for the results in Iraq - they just want to be on record as opposing Bush.
They have taken over Congress by a very clever and very disciplined strategy of constantly criticizing the Republicans, without taking the risk of presenting an alternative for whose results they can be held responsible.

There is no sign that they want to change that politically winning strategy now. Their non-binding resolutions against the war are a perfect expression of that strategy.

These resolutions put them on record as being against the war without taking the responsibility for ending it.

Unfortunately for the Congressional Democrats, their left-wing supporters have taken the anti-war rhetoric of Pelosi, Murtha, et al., at face value and consider it a betrayal that they talk the talk but will not walk the walk.

It has been painfully clear that Speaker Pelosi was serious only about scoring political points. Her big grin when she won a narrow vote for a non-binding resolution was grotesque against the background of a life-and-death issue.

You don't grin over a political ploy that you have pulled when men's lives are at stake.
Pelosi was willing to pull out all the stops to get their version of the supplemental bill for Iraq passed. They loaded it up with sweetners to pull in more votes. And Pelosi twisted the arms of those opposed to the Democratic bill even going to the length of threatening senior Members with being taken off crucial committees. And for what? She knows that the bill will be vetoed and they'll have to go back to the drawing board to write a new bill. But at least she'll have the political record to trumpet during the 2008 campaign. And that is what it is all about. Whether those are passionate about withdrawing from Iraq now are going to be satisfied with the appearance of a political stand against the war rather than actual action is another question.

Something to think about

Now that Iran has committed an act of war against Britain and Britain has to decide how to react, the Wall Street Journal gives us something to ponder about this newest crisis.
Most important, the world should keep in mind that Iran has undertaken this latest military aggression while it is still a conventional military power. That means that Britain and the U.S. can still respond today with the confidence that they maintain military superiority. That confidence will vanish the minute Iran achieves its goal of becoming a nuclear power. Who knows what the revolutionaries in Tehran will then be capable of.

How many BBC staffers does it take to change a light bulb?

The regulations about changing a light bulb if you work at the BBC are just hilarious.
BBC staff have been stopped from replacing lightbulbs because of concerns for their health and safety.

Instead, the corporation is paying up to £10 for each replacement bulb to be fitted.

The situation came to light when Louise Wordsworth, a learning project manager with the BBC, complained.

"I called up to ask for a new lightbulb for my desk lamp and was told that this would cost £10," she wrote in a letter to Ariel, the corporation's magazine.

"On telling them I'd buy and replace the bulb myself (bought for the bargain price of £1 for two bulbs) I was told that it was against health and safety regulations. So guess how many BBC colleagues it finally took to change a lightbulb (risking life and limb to do so)?"

....three years ago it was calculated how many people it takes to change a BBC lightbulb.

The member of staff left in the dark would need to find a clerk to get a reference number so that the repair could be paid for, then report the fault to a helpline. An electrician would ask the store manager for the part and install the bulb, making a total of five people.
Beautiful!

Voters asking for more substance from Barack Obama

Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press covers a Democratic candidates forum and notes that people came away impressed with Obama's rhetoric but looking for more details on how he plans to accomplish the goals that he says he has. The title of the article says it all:
"Is Obama All Style and Little Substance?"
The heated up schedule of the campaign is requiring candidates to outline positions at an early stage.
Obama was pressed by a union member in the audience who said she went to his Web site to learn more about his health care vision, but didn't find much beyond his commitment to reduce HIV/AIDS and lead poisoning.

"Keep in mind that our campaign now is I think a little over eight weeks old," Obama said. He promised that a detailed plan would show up in the next couple of months, after he has a chance to talk to more people involved in the system to get their input.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the discussion will begin April 3, when Obama plans to talk to New Hampshire hospital workers and other community members at a meeting co-sponsored by the Portsmouth Herald.

"This is bigger than the Washington insiders - he wants to take this out across the country," Burton said.

If Obama were running in a different time, he might get more of a break for lacking specifics. Primary votes were already being cast in the 1984 Democratic primary when Walter Mondale famously ridiculed opponent Gary Hart by asking, "Where's the beef?" Four years ago, no candidate for president had a health care plan this early in the game.

"This race is on overdrive," said Democratic communications adviser Stephanie Cutter. "You can't use previous benchmarks for this."
Is it really enough these days to put yourself out there as qualified to be president but then say that you're waiting to come up with policy proposals after you go talk to some hospital workers. Obama seems to fall back on his platitudes instead of substance and to actually try to convince people that his lack of specifics is a sign of strength.
He has downplayed the importance of the specifics at this stage, saying that it's not a lack of details that are the problem.

"Every four years somebody trots out a white paper, they post it on the Web," Obama said Saturday. "But the question we have to challenge ourselves is do we have the political will and the sense of urgency to actually get it done."
Passing a new health care policy is not going to be easy and all Obama has to bring to the table is his assertion that he has the will to get it done. Whatever "it" turns out to be.

Monday, March 26, 2007

This is a hoot!

Check out this list of what would have happened if Rome had had the Internet. It is quite cute. And now that HBO's Rome is over, I have to get my Rome fix any way I can.
The destruction of Pompeii in 79AD is the most viewed video at YouTube. The first comment is..."OMG so cool! Volcanos ROCK!"

Attila the Hun has his own MySpace page. Nobody ever rejects his "invite a friend" emails.

The soothsayer's "Ides of March" email fails to get Caesar's proper attention as it's inadvertently filtered into his junk folder.

But at least Caesar's "Et tu Brute?" comment is available as a free ringtone download.

The domain gladiator.rome sells for the record sum of 1,000,000 denarii.

The owner of hadriansucks.rome is compelled to hand over both the domain name and selected body parts by an independent domain tribunal chaired by...Emperor Hadrian.

"Naked Cleopatra" is the top search term on Google.
Head on over and read the rest. Perhaps you have your own additions to make.

Freeing a terrorist from the past

Germany has decided to release a former leader of the notorious Baeder-Meinhof gang from jail.
Brigitte Mohnhaupt, once a leader of the Baader-Meinhof gang and regarded as the most dangerous and evil woman in Germany, was released today after 25 years in prison for her involvement in some of the radical left-wing group’s most notorious murders. ....Mohnhaupt's case, and that of Christian Klar, another gang member whose bid for clemency President Horst Koehler is considering separately, have set off a debate about whether it is time to show mercy to those who showed none to their victims.
Gee, that is a adebate I could settle quite quickly. But not the Germans. Their courts don't seem to even look for any sign of remorse for a prisoner to receive parole.
The two cases have brought back to Germany painful memories of the late 1970s when the Baader-Meinhof gang, first known as the Red Army Faction, left a trail of dead bodies in its struggle against what it considered capitalist exploitation of workers. Mohnhaupt was arrested in 1982 and convicted of involvement in nine murders, including those of the West German chief federal prosecutor, Siegfried Buback, the head of the Dresdner Bank, Juergen Ponto, and Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the head of the country’s industry federation. She was given five life sentences for murder.

Mohnhaupt shot Ponto three times when he resisted a kidnapping attempt in 1977, according to her conviction. In other cases, she was involved in planning killings and attacks, including a 1981 rocket-propelled grenade attack on the car of an American, General Frederick Kroesen, then the commander of United States forces in Europe. Both the general and his wife were injured.

The Stuttgart court decided last month that Mohnhaupt no longer posed a threat. In its decision, the court noted that she was not willing to repudiate completely her violent past. But it added that Mohnhaupt, at a closed parole hearing, said the time for “armed struggle" was over and acknowledged inflicting suffering on the victims’ families.
Gee, all she had to do was say that she no longer favors armed struggle and that she realizes that the families of her victims have suffered. It doesn't seem a very high bar to get over for a parolee, does it?

UPDATE: Ed Morrissey notes that the Germans let her out of prison early so that she wouldn't be bothered by reporters. Yup. Can't have terrorist murderers facing the inconvenience of hearing journalists' questions, can we?

Enjoying anger

George Will has been reading Peter Wood's book, A Bee in the Mouth, comments on how people today seem to embrace their own sense of grievance and disgust for those with whom they disagree.
Wood notes that there is a "vagueness and elasticity of the grievances" that supposedly justify today's almost exuberant anger. And anger is more pervasive than merely political grievances would explain. Today's anger is a coping device for everyday life. It also is the defining attribute of an increasingly common personality type: the person who "unless he is angry, feels he is nothing at all."

That type, infatuated with anger, uses it to express identity. Anger as an expression of selfhood is its own vindication. Wood argues, however, that as anger becomes a gas polluting the social atmosphere, it becomes not a sign of personal uniqueness but of a herd impulse.

Once upon a time, Americans admired models of self-control, people such as George Washington and Jackie Robinson, who mastered their anger rather than relishing being mastered by it. America's fictional heroes could be angry, but theirs was a reluctant anger -- Alan Ladd as the gunfighter in "Shane," Gary Cooper as the marshal in "High Noon." Today, however, proclaimed anger -- the more vituperative the better -- is regarded as a sign of good character and emotional vitality.

Perhaps this should not be surprising, now that Americans are inclined to elect presidents who advertise their emotions -- "I feel your pain." As the late Mary McGrory wrote, Bill Clinton "is a child of his age; he believes more in the thrust-out lower lip than the stiff upper one."

The politics of disdain -- e.g., Howard Dean's judgment that Republicans are "brain dead" and "a lot of them never made an honest living in their lives" -- derails politics by defining opponents as beyond the reach of reason. The anger directed at Bush today, like that directed at Clinton during his presidency, luxuriates in its own vehemence.

Elizabeth Edwards

My deepest sympathies go out to Elizabeth Edwards and her husband and family. Having seen someone in our family go through a terrible and losing fight against breast cancer, I can only hope that she will have the last laugh against this terrible disease.

MIchael Barone on Al Gore

When someone as reasonsable as Michael Barone takes on Al Gore and chops him up, it may be a sign that Al Gore is past his due date.
Gore and his followers seem to assume that the ideal climate was the one they got used to when they were growing up. When temperatures dropped in the 1970s, there were warnings of an impending ice age. When they rose in the 1990s, there were predictions of disastrous global warming. This is just another example of the solipsism of the baby boom generation, the pampered and much-praised age cohort that believes the world revolves around them and that all past history has become irrelevant.

We're told in effect that the climate of the late 1950s and early 1960s was, of all those that have ever existed, the best of all possible climates. Not by science. But as a matter of faith.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Sorry, no blogging this weekend

I'm taking four kids on our quiz bowl team up to Washington to compete in a national competition. And we'll squeeze some sight-seeing in on the trip. So, I'll be having fun and back to blogging on Monday. I hope you all have a very pleasant weekend.

UPDATE: My team came in 4th in the country among some tough competition. The top five teams were separated each by only one point.

By the way, on the way driving up to Washington, we stopped and toured the new National Museum of the Marines Corps. I high ly recommend it. It was very well done and certainly kept the interest of my students. They enjoyed the exhibits and came out with a newfound respect for the Marines. The interactive exhibits were not geared just to elementary school kids but were ones that seniors in high school could also find interesting. If you're driving up 95 and passing by Quantico, you should stop by the museum.

We also went to the Spy Museum in Washington. That was my first visit. It was extremely crowded and even after having bought tickets online, we still had to wait about 45 minutes to get in. Then we had to compete with lots of small kids and their parents to read the exhibits. It was fun, but be prepared for crowds.

Now I just have to catch up on what, besides the Final Four being set, happened this weekend while I was traveling around.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Turnabout is fair play

Showing that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Someone has posted a remake of the remake of the 1984 Clinton ad poking fun at Obama and his appearance on Monday Night Football.

I don't think it will have the same impact as the Hillary ad though it may galvanize Chicago Bears supporters to oppose Hillary.

Who likes Hillary?

Steve Chapman notes that Hillary Clinton has the knack of uniting both liberals and conservatives in dislike of her. That is why the 1984 WebTube ad worked so well. Hillary's face up on the screen as Big Brother indoctrinating the masses seemed, well, apt. And there are those on the left and those on the right who felt a flash of recognition when they viewed the ad because it fits their views of Hillary Clinton.
Though the ad included a plug for Barack Obama (who denies any involvement), it would draw equal ovations if it were shown at a meeting of MoveOn.org or The Heritage Foundation. Which raises the question: If the right regards her as a dangerous leftist and the left regards her as an unprincipled accomplice in the Iraq disaster, who really likes her?

It's not as though she warms the hearts of moderates everywhere. Her husband was a master of triangulating between the two poles. But Hillary's efforts to place herself in the sensible center suggest naked opportunism, not hardheaded practicality.

The candidate we all know is the one portrayed by Amy Poehler in the "Saturday Night Live" skit who, when asked about her original position on Iraq, replied with a condescending smile, "I think most Democrats know me. They understand that my support for the war was always insincere."

Any candidate can suffer reputational damage during the course of a bitterly fought election. But Hillary rouses an exceptional amount of dislike even before we've been reminded of her flaws.

In a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, only 19 percent of those surveyed had an unfavorable opinion of Barack Obama. Even the abrasive Rudolph Giuliani had only a 22 percent unfavorable score. But 40 percent had an unfavorable opinion of her.

A December poll found 47 percent of Americans would not even consider voting for Hillary. Karlyn Bowman, a polling expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and author of a forthcoming report on attitudes about Hillary, says she can't remember a major party presidential candidate whose negative rating was so high at the start of a campaign.
So who does like her? I know that there are some out there who still think she's just so very smart and capable and like her for being the female candidate. There are others who just long for the good ol' days of Bill Clinton. But the yearning out there for Obama or Al Gore is a strong indication that there are many out there who love the image of the blonde runner hurling that hammer at Hillary's giant screen image.

What's going on with the Iranian defector?

A few weeks ago, the news trickled out that a high-level Iranian defense official, Ali Reza Asgari, with a background in coordinating between Iran and Hezbollah had defected in Turkey. There have been all sorts of rumors of where he defected to and if he's cooperating with the United States and perhaps Israel. Michael Young has a round up of all the speculation and what this could all mean.
It may be too soon to judge how big an information coup Asgari's escape will turn into, but it's already a massive political one. The moral of the story is that if the U.S. wants to deal with Iran successfully, it has to do so as much in the darker recesses of state interaction than from the top of aircraft carriers. The Iranians have always been remarkable builders of institutions. If you're going to erode their self-confidence, those institutions have to appear vulnerable. Whatever Asgari divulges, the real impact of his disappearance is that Iran can be penetrated.
(link via Michael Barone)

Using the government to limit your competitors

George Will writes about a trend in some states for interior designers to get the government to outlaw people from advertising themselves as interior designers unless they are licensed to do so.
In New Mexico, anyone can work as an interior designer. But it is a crime, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in prison, to list yourself on the Internet or in the Yellow Pages as, or to otherwise call yourself, an "interior designer" without being certified as such. Those who favor this censoring of truthful commercial speech are a private group that controls, using an exam administered by a private national organization, access to that title.

This is done in the name of "professionalization," but it really amounts to cartelization. Persons in the business limit access by others -- competitors -- to full participation in the business.

Being able to control the number of one's competitors, and to dispense the pleasure of status, is nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you have a legislature willing to enact "titling laws." They regulate -- meaning restrict -- the use of job descriptions. Such laws often are precursors of occupational licensing, which usually means a mandatory credentialing process to control entry into a profession with a particular title.

In Nevada, such regulation has arrived. So in Las Vegas, where almost nothing is illegal, it is illegal -- unless you are licensed, or employed by someone licensed -- to move, in the role of an interior designer, any piece of furniture, such as an armoire, that is more than 69 inches tall. A Nevada bureaucrat says that "placement of furniture" is an aspect of "space planning" and therefore is regulated -- restricted to a "registered interior designer."
Why the government should be involved in passing laws as to who is or isn't an interior designer is beyond me. The private organization, if they want, can issue their certificates and let those who are so certified use that in their advertising and it can be up to customers if they care that the person they're hiring to decorate their living room has such a certificate. But the government doesn't need to be in the business of deciding who is a qualified interior designer. As Will writes, there are some public interest needs where the government's licensing can be justified. Arranging furniture isn't one of them. They just want to restrict entry into their profession so that they don't have as much competition.
But government licenses professions to protect the public and ensure quality. It licenses engineers and doctors because if their testable skills are deficient, bridges collapse and patients die. The skills of interior designers are neither similarly measurable nor comparably disastrous when deficient. Perhaps designers could show potential clients a portfolio of their work, and government could trust the potential clients to judge. Just a thought.

How earmarks get done

The New York Times is running a periodic series of articles about the life of a freshman Representative in the House. Yesterday they followed Democratic Representative Kirsten Gillibrand of New York as she tries to decide which earmark projects she should submit to the Appropriations Committee. She had to sort through all sorts of worthy-sounding ideas for her district and pick out the ones she thinks will be best for her district.
On one recent morning, Ms. Gillibrand sat in her office with a purple marker staring at a board with the names of every county in District 20, no doubt mindful of her stated goal of sprinkling money evenly among all the counties.

“Which do you think is more important?” she asked her staff, when she got to choosing between a $1 million request to renovate a recreation center for teenagers and a $1.2 million request to build a community center for the elderly in Hudson. (In the end, the youth center climbed to the top of the list, before the senior center, with Ms. Gillibrand reasoning that Hudson was looking for a way to keep teenagers out of trouble.)

The last few weeks have been telling. As Ms. Gillibrand and her staff sat inside her office debating projects, a parade of supplicants — many representing politically potent constituent groups and institutions — appeared at her door in the Cannon House Office Building, mindful that the deadline for lawmakers to submit earmark proposals to House leaders was fast approaching.

The visitors included farmers, representatives of a bus drivers’ union in Albany, the president of Siena College in Loudonville, the president of the State University of New York College at Delhi, the director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, the president of Glens Falls Hospital, and on and on.
Even though she campaigned against earmarks, she has now seen the light after she's been in Congress for a little more than a couple of months she sees the need for the funding requests and hopes that transparency will be the solution.
At the heart of Ms. Gillibrand’s deliberations over earmarks is a paradox. She rode into Congress, against great odds, partly on a wave of voter revulsion with Washington ethics. Democrats did their best to stoke that revulsion, campaigning against “special-interest earmarks,” which they said Republicans would secretly insert into spending bills at the behest of allies and contributors.

Ms. Gillibrand, a lawyer, argued that the secrecy of the earmarking process had contributed to the scandals that engulfed the Hill. Now she asserts that earmarks, when dispensed fairly and openly, are an important way of addressing local needs. And under new rules imposed by a new Democratic majority, she is required to attach her name to the pet projects she sponsors and to certify that she has no financial interest in the projects.

Clearly, her willingness to allow a reporter to observe at least some of her earmark deliberations seemed intended to show that the process has become more open. And she says she wants to wring the politics out of the earmarking process by requiring every project to pass a “greatest-need, greatest-good” test.
She had about 200 requests come into her office and her staff narrowed it down to a list of 70 and she'll make her requests to the Appropriations Committee and hopes that they will approve 10 of her requests. Just imagine if every Congressman gets 10 projects approved. I'm sure all of these are worthwhile in someone's eyes. But why should they be the responsibility of the federal government? I keep thinking about the Antifederalists who were against the signing of the Constitution because they thought that it would lend too much power to the central government. I think they would judge that all their fears have now come to pass.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mystery solved

Well it didn't take long, but it's been revealed that the creator of the 1984 Hillary YouTube video was a guy working for the firm that designed Obama's website. He's since resigned and said that he made the video in his own free time without any connection to the campaign.

Perhaps the Hillary people will try to spin this as an Obama dirty trick that takes a shine off the Obama halo, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that neither he nor his campaign knew that this guy made the ad.

Perhaps those in the media who tried to cast this ad as a Republican dirty trick to hurt Clinton and tarnish Hillary in a clever bank slot will apologize.

Will YouTube put the final nail in the McCain-Feingold coffin?

In the past two national elections, it became clear that the growth of 527s was making a joke of the desire of supporters of campaign finance reform to get money out of politics. While old-time PACs and interest groups faced all sorts of restrictions on how and when they could contribute to political campaigns, independent groups funded by billionaires could keep on running whatever ads they chose.

It could be that the power of the internet may provide another workaround for campaign finance reform. The political class is buzzing about the ad placed on YouTube that uses Hillary Clinton as the Big Brother voice in a remake of the famed 1984 Apple ad and then fades to a message of support for Barack Obama. It's now been viewed by close to a million and a half people. No one really knows who made the ad but it certainly has gotten a lot of attention and free replays on network and cable news shows. As Jonathan Garthwaite points out, there is nothing in McCain-Feingold that can stop someone sitting down at his own computer and putting together ads criticizing a candidate and posting it on the internet.
Not much could be done about the anonymous fliers, but McCain/Feingold and its restrictions on free speech and issue advocacy groups, like the Christian Coalition and the Sierra Club, have tried to stop independent expenditures from having their desired effect too close to the election. Congress in essence tried to create an incumbency-protection law.

That protection is quickly coming to an end. In the past, money was an insurmountable barrier on the average American to having an influence on elections but with the advent of the Internet, YouTube and viral Internet campaigns, any individual with access to a computer, creativity and limited technical skills can create a devastating message. Only the creativity and effectiveness of the message can limit its ability to spread like a wildfire.
When campaign finance reform was being debated, critics said that it was futile to try to keep money out of politics and that it would find a way to influence campaigns. Now, massive infusions of money are not even necessary for someone unconnected to campaigns to have an impact.

Lousiana politics

Governor Kathleen Blanco has bowed to the inevitable and has bowed out of running for reelection. Her less than stellar performance during Katrina washed away any chance she had of defeating Bobby Jindal. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that Jindal will not have an easy path to the governor's mansion. Former Senator John Breaux is reportedly seriously considering giving up his lobbying career to run for governor. He's been living in Maryland since he retired from the Senate and working has a lobbyist. The state Republican Party has tried to make a big deal about how he hasn't been living in Louisiana recently, but I think that that has to be a weak reed on which to depend for defeating Breaux. If he gets into the race, I think he's got to be a prohibitive favorite. It's a shame since I think that Bobby Jindal is one of the most promising young Republican politicians out there.

Whipping the Whips

Nancy Pelosi is leaning hard on her own members to vote for the Democratic Bill for the Supplemental on Iraq. But she's still facing resistance from members who oppose the bill from both the Out of Iraq Caucus and from some of the Blue Dogs. So, The Hill reports that she's threatening them with taking away their choice committee seats. And some of the recipients of her arm-twisting are influential and senior Democrats. And they're not happy.
She has been hardest on members of the Appropriations Committee and her fellow Californians who oppose the measure. The Speaker pointedly reminded Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a leading opponent of the bill, that she had appointed her to the Appropriations Committee, three Democratic lawmakers said.

The message was simple, the lawmakers said: Pelosi could also remove Lee from the panel.

During a meeting last week with appropriators, Pelosi reminded them that serving on the panel was a privilege, admonishing lawmakers from safe districts who feel they have the luxury to vote how they want without consequences — as opposed to Democrats elected in swing districts who do not, a Democratic appropriator said.

“The meeting with appropriators was a frank and open discussion where the Speaker addressed the magnitude of the vote in committee and the need to hold the Bush administration and Iraqis accountable and bring our troops home,” Pelosi’s spokesman, Nadeam Elshami, said. “It shouldn’t be interpreted in any other manner.”
The Out of Iraq Caucus is not happy. One of their leaders is Maxine Waters, who is herself a Democratic deputy whip.
Pelosi also has met with members of the Progressive Caucus several times in the past two weeks. A lawmaker said the tension between Pelosi and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a chief deputy whip and a founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus, was noticeable. The two Californians sat at opposite ends of a long table in Pelosi’s office as Waters, her arms crossed, listened to Pelosi make her case for the bill.

Liberal Democrats also feel that House leaders have tried to isolate them as a power in the caucus. Some have complained that Democratic leaders accommodated the wishes of conservative Democrats in the legislation, but neglected liberals.

In particular, House leaders removed a provision requiring President Bush to seek congressional approval if he attacked Iran. Blue Dog Democrats wanted the provision stripped from the bill.
As the Washington Post reports, Waters is not the only deputy whip opposing the Speaker's will.
One of the Democrats' chief designated vote counters, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), is actively working against the Iraq war spending bill. The leadership's senior chief deputy whip, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), spoke passionately against it on the House floor. And one of the whip organization's regional representatives, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), is implacably opposed.
Besdies twisting arms, the Democrats are adding lots of funding sweeteners to entice some balky Representatives to change their votes.
To get them off the fence and on the bill, Democrats have a key weapon at their disposal: cold, hard cash. The bill contains billions for agriculture and drought relief, children's health care and Gulf Coast hurricane recovery.

For Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), there is $25 million for spinach growers hurt by last year's E. coli scare. For three conservative Democrats in Georgia, there is $75 million for peanut storage. For lawmakers from the bone-dry West, there is $500 million for wildfire suppression. An additional $120 million is earmarked for shrimp and Atlantic menhaden fishermen.

So far, at least in public pronouncements, the $21 billion in funding beyond President Bush's request has earned Democrats nothing but scorn.

For more than a year, Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R) has tried unsuccessfully to secure federal funds to prevent salt water from intruding on rice fields in his lowland Louisiana district. So it came as a surprise last week when Boustany found $15 million in the House's huge war spending bill for his rice farmers. He hadn't even asked that the bill include it.
Maybe these are all worthy projects, but the reason they are in a supplemental bill to fund fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is pure politics. When the Republicans did the same thing to pass their bills, Democrats were full of contempt. But that's the way politics works in Congress and whoever is in the majority will end up doing the same thing to get votes passed.

Although it's still doubtful whether they will get to 218 to pass their bill, I would be surprised if they didn't succeed. When the House leadership goes all out on a bill, they can usually pass it. However, since Bush has promised to veto the bill, it is rather moot. They'll never get to the 2/3 vote they would need to override the veto. So, Pelosi is twisting a lot of arms for no real legislative purpose, just for the symbolism of passing the bill she wants and to get that on the record. And I don't imagine that people like Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, and John Lewis will appreciate hearing such threats on what, to them, is a vote of conscience.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Suggestion for an investigative reporter

Since I have a full-time job and only get to blog in odd moments of my day, I don't have the time to do a full investigation of stories that I'd like to know about. But if there is some investigative reporter out there or blogger who cares to do the research - here's an idea.

I've now seen two references from conservatives that Bill Clinton fired 30 federal prosecutors during his eight years in the presidency. A lot of the criticism of the firing of the eight prosecutors by the Bush Justice Department has tried to differentiate between the 93 prosecutors that Clinton fired when he came into office by saying that that was a regular custom for new presidents while there is something suspicious about a president firing prosecutors who he doesn't think are following the administration's agenda.

Over the weekend on the Journal Editorial Report, John Fund referred to Clinton's firing not only all the Republican prosecutors when he came in, but also 30 more of his own appointees.
It's bizarre though, because the previous administration, the Clinton administration, not only fired 93 Republican-appointed U.S. attorneys on one day--they called it the "March massacre" back in 1993--and some of that was suspected in order to cover up for political cronies who were under investigation. During the Clinton administration they also fired, removed or replaced 30 Democratic appointees to U.S. attorney slots, very similar to this, which is only eight.
And today, Clarice Feldman writes in The American Thinker about this same fact and mentions criticism of Jimmy Carter for his firing of one federal prosecutor who was investigating a Democratic House Representative.

I'd be interested in knowing if it's true that Clinton fired 30 of his own Democratic prosecutors. If so, I suggest that some journalist research who those 30 fired prosecutors were and why they were let go. Could it have been that Clinton exercisted his executive perogative to fire prosecutors who he didn't feel were either doing a good job or were not pursuing cases according to the Clinton agenda. If it's an outrage for the Bush administration to fire their own Republican prosecutors, then let's see if Clinton did the same thing.

Personally, I think this is more of a question of competence. As Charles Krauthammer and Morton Kondracke said last Friday on Special Report, this is more a problem of competence than anything else. Krauthammer thinks that Gonzales has got to go because he has just been too dang incompetent.
KRAUTHAMMER: Gonzales is a dead man walking. He's finished. And the reason is, not the finality, but complete incompetence. He should have said so what at the beginning and said the president has a right to hire and to fire and if White House people were involved, of course the White House -- if the president is the one at whom these people are serving at his pleasure, these people are serving, his staff are the ones who ought to inquire how are they doing, should I retain them or fire them?

It's a perfectly legitimate thing. He had a three-foot putt. He muffed it. He sent up staff members to the House to gave the testimony that was not accurate. They had the whole process wrong and in doing that, he completely -- he created a scandal out of what was essentially nothing. And if you're attorney general and you're serving a president, you've to go after that.

KONDRACKE: Well, there's another piece of incompetence, too. That is he claimed he didn't know what his own chief of staff was doing. You know, his chief of staff was doing this shuttle e-mailing between himself and the White House and apparently was in charge of this thing, and Gonzales said he didn't know what he was doing. Now, that's evidence of bad management at a minimum.
We'll see if the President's personal support will be enough for Gonzales to weather this storm. Perhaps the RNC might want to also research if other presidents, particulary Bill Clinton, also fired prosecutors that they had themselves appointed.

Are the Democrats betraying their base?

Jonah Goldberg notes that conservatives as well as the mainstream media love to write about conservatives who lost their way and betrayed the conservative base who voted them into office. But, in several issues, the Democrats are on the cusp of disappointing the base that elected them in November.
The most important issue in the November elections, as every single political observer with a pulse will tell you, was the war in Iraq. The weasel words and euphemisms — "strategic redeployment," "course change," whatever — couldn't conceal the simple fact that the Democrats were elected in large part to end the war. That was certainly how the party's liberal base saw it, then and now.

But look at how the Democrats are behaving. They've completely failed to stop the surge, and their latest efforts to derail the war are so convoluted — timetables on top of timetables — that even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), a cosponsor of legislation to withdraw troops by September 2008, can't explain them.

CNN's John Roberts played a clip on "Late Edition" from a news briefing in which Obey muddled nearly every detail of the Democrats' plan. Roberts then asked Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), "How do you pass or enforce something you can't even explain?" It's a good question.

But the answer may not matter because House Democrats have decided to lard the supplemental appropriations bill with billions in pork to sell their troop-withdrawal gimmicks. "Included in the legislation," reported the Washington Post, "is a lot of money to help win support. The price tag exceeds the president's war request by $24 billion." That number includes giveaways for spinach farmers and money for peanut storage. Back when Democrats were in the minority, they would have denounced this as piggy-backing pork on the troops.

When Obey was confronted in the halls of Congress by a group of antiwar activists, they demanded to know why it was taking so long to end the war. He responded by calling them "idiot liberals." Conservatives may believe that Obey is demonstrating that he's not out of touch with the base, but somehow I doubt liberals see it that way.
He also suggests that Harry Reid could get the Senate to start voting on ratifying the Kyoto Treaty since Bill Clinton signed it, but just never forwarded it to the Senate for a vote.
Forget the war for a minute. What's the second most important issue for liberals today? Global warming, of course. For example, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) claims that he's not running for president in '08 so he can dedicate himself to the issues of Iraq and climate change. John Edwards says global warming will make world war look like heaven. Major donors in Hollywood who hate the prospect of sweating in greenhouse gases as they walk to the gangway of their private jets think that global warming is the defining issue of our age.

So now's the time to solve global warming, right? For years, we've been subjected to charges that President Bush "refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol." Well, guess what? Bush couldn't sign Kyoto. It was already signed by the previous president — that Clinton guy — who immediately shoved it in his desk drawer. (Bush didn't sign the Treaty of Versailles either, by the way.)

If Kyoto's such a priority, why hasn't Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) fought to take it up? There's a strong legal case that, once signed, a treaty is automatically in the Senate's court. Senators can take it up anytime they want. But you don't hear Reid fighting to take up Kyoto even though it's our best hope to combat the Most Dangerous Threat Facing Mankind.

Of course, Kyoto would never pass even a Democrat-controlled Senate because it would wreak havoc on the economy. And other Democratic betrayals in the making face similar problems. Democrats could never repeal the Defense of Marriage Act or the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But that's the ironic part. Republicans went soft because doing what the base wanted was too damn hard. It seems the same fate awaits the Democrats.
Of course, they may satisfy one of the most important demands of their base and that's to attack the Bush administration and investigate every possible act of the Executive Branch that they can.

Bong Hits 4 Jesus and the Supreme Court

Some writers such as Dana Milbank and Dahlia Lithwick are having a lot of fun trying to insert as many pot-related metaphors into their descriptions of the hearing yesterday on the case of Morse v. Frederick, concerning a high school that let out to watch the Olympic torch pass by their school. One boy, Joseph Frederick brought out a 14-foot banner with the memorable slogan "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" as the torch went by just in time to get his banner on TV. The principal suspended him for 10 days. He is suing her for money saying that she infringed his free speech rights.

The justices seem to be troubled by the idea that they would give administrators unlimited authority to bar speech that they feel would be contrary to the school's educational mission. As Lyle Denniston points out, there does seem perhaps to be a consensus that schools should be allowed to bar speech that advocates illegal activity. Administrators should have at least that discretion in trying to maintain order in school. There also seems to be little likelihood that the Court will allow the student to get money out of the principal for what she did in performance of her educational duties, especially since it doesn't seem obvious from previous Court rulings where the bright lines are for what speech an administrator can and cannot bar.Marty Lederman doesn't think, however, that there is much support for a broad grant of deference to administrators to ban any speech that they think interferes with their mission. Justice Alito was troubled that a school's educational mission could be defined so broadly that they could bar any speech that they wished.

I'm all for giving deference to administrators. I don't want courts having to decide what was an acceptable and not acceptable. Allowing principals to bar speech advocating breaking the law seems quite reasonable. What troubles me is that the kid was punished for something that he held up outside of school. Even if it is across the street, I don't think that a principal should be able to suspend a student for what he does off school property even if he was just across the street. If he'd unfurled his banner in school, he could have gotten in trouble if his banner had interfered with a particular class focusing on the day's lesson or if he'd blocked traffic in the hall. If he'd held up his banner across the town from the school, the principal wouldn't have been able to suspend him. Are we now going to draw a zone of authority around a school, extending beyond the physical land of the school, where principals can bar expressions of free speech?

Congratulations to KIPP

The Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation, along with other donors, have just given a whole boatload of money to the very estimable Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) to open charters schools.
The charter school movement, begun 16 years ago as an alternative to struggling public schools, will today make its strongest claim on mainstream American education when a national group announces the most successful fundraising campaign in the movement's history -- $65 million to create 42 schools in Houston.

The money, which comes from some of the nation's foremost donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, would make the Knowledge Is Power Program the largest charter school organization in the country. KIPP, which runs three schools in Washington, has produced some of the highest test scores among publicly funded schools in the District and has made significant gains in the math and reading achievement of low-income students in most of its 52 schools across the country.

The announcement, several school improvement experts said, raises the charter school movement to a new level of influence, financial strength and public notice. The number of independently run, taxpayer-supported schools has grown rapidly, to nearly 4,000, since the movement began in 1991. But that counts for only about 5 percent of public schools, and most have been small and overlooked. With the KIPP announcement, experts said, donors will be looking for more ways to expand the most successful models and build large systems, as KIPP plans to do in Houston.
KIPP Schools are charter schools that cater mostly to low income black and Hispanic students. They ask a lot of their teachers and their students, but they also achieve impressive results.
KIPP began 13 years ago in Houston as a fifth-grade experimental class taught by Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, then in their 20s. At first, they failed to raise any corporate money for their formula of nine-hour school days; Saturday classes; required summer school; creative teaching; frequent games, songs and field trips; and focus on test results.

....KIPP principals have the power to hire and fire staff and choose curriculum and disciplinary methods in consultation with teachers as long as students show significant achievement gains. They train at Stanford University and through internships, a process Hurwitz said convinced philanthropists that the new schools would also succeed.

....About 85 percent of KIPP students are low-income, and almost all are black or Hispanic. KIPP middle schools take many who are two years behind in fifth grade and bring them up to grade level by the eighth.
KIPP is providing a model that other schools, similarly dedicated could follow. But charter schools still have their critics because it is alleged that they are creaming the best students from the regular public schools.
But some critics say such impressive statistics stem in part from techniques that shape who attends the schools. Some who cannot adjust to high standards and long days return to regular public schools, these critics say, leaving KIPP with the best.

"KIPP's design is not the solution to the challenges of educating high-need students overall," said Caroline Grannan, a San Francisco public school advocate who focuses on charters. "It would be heartening to see the funders find a way to provide that kind of support for a greater cross section of high-need students."
Hey, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. But we don't live in a fairy tale world. We live in one where we've been attempting to improve schools for low-income minority schools for decades.

And, as the Houston Chronicle points out, this huge expansion in Houston can serve as an experiment to see if the competition from KIPP will work a difference on the Houston Public School District.
Advocates will watch to see how HISD — a shrinking district whose enrollment sunk below 200,000 this year — responds to the pressure, he said.

HISD already has made several efforts to appeal to parents — creating specialized magnet programs, a popular gifted program and opening its own charter schools.

"If we learn from (KIPP's expansion), then it will be great for the district," said HISD trustee Harvin Moore, a former KIPP board member. "If we continue to treat them as if it's us against them and make excuses for why they do better than some public schools, then we won't learn from them."
Generations of students have entered school and left, failed by our schools. Now a system has come along that helps some of those students and critics gripe that they aren't helping everyone. They would prefer to struggle along with one failed program after another while more generations of students are failed by their schools. These schools are taking their public money, adding in private donations and providing an excellent education for some kids. Yes, those kids are lucky to get there and we wish that all students could go to such schools. But until that happens, should we deny these students at the KIPP Academies their opportunities because we want to hold them hostage in the regular public schools in the hopes that their presence will help other students.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Cool military innovations

Dean Barnett has been talking with Michael Yon who is over reporting on Iraq. Dean brings us this story about a cool innovation that the American military has come up with to deal with mortar attacks.
Turns out the army was testing a new anti-mortar system. It’s sort of a giant machine gun that can shoot mortar rounds out of the sky. It tracks the incoming mortars with radar and then shoots them down. Given the size of the rounds, Michael was wondering what would happen if they missed their targets. They were big enough that they could rip a city apart if they missed the target and fell to the ground. Turns out, the rounds explode after a certain time in the air and can’t hit the ground. Smart.

We’re always hearing how clever and adaptive the enemy is. But no one is as adaptive and intelligent as the American fighting man.
Exactly.

And the vote fraud continues

ACORN is a leftist organization that seeks to register new voters but they always seem to be connected to some sort of questionable registrations. And the trend continues out in Seattle.
King County prosecutors are investigating apparent voter-registration fraud in the 2006 general election.

Dan Satterberg, chief deputy to King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, confirmed late Thursday that attorneys from his office will meet later this week to brief their federal counterparts regarding evidence that hundreds of voter-registration cards submitted in King County were forged.

Satterberg said "there are significant irregularities" among a batch of more than 1,800 voter-registration cards submitted to the county by canvassers for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a national group that represents the interests of low- and moderate-income citizens.

County prosecutors, aided by King County sheriff's investigators, have been looking into the allegations of forgery since election officials noticed that hundreds of the cards submitted by ACORN canvassers appeared to be in the same handwriting.

ACORN has come under scrutiny in several other states for alleged voter-registration irregularities. Four ACORN canvassers were indicted by a federal grand jury in Ohio late last year. On March 6, ACORN submitted a letter to Maleng's office identifying three workers as suspects after an internal investigation indicated the trio "collected a substantial number of applications from two homeless shelters in Seattle.
This story joins a long list of ACORN-related voter fraud. Four ACORN workers were indicted for voter fraud last year in Missouri.
So, less than a week before the midterm elections, four workers from Acorn, the liberal activist group that has registered millions of voters, have been indicted by a federal grand jury for submitting false voter registration forms to the Kansas City, Missouri, election board. But hey, who needs voter ID laws?

We wish this were an aberration, but allegations of fraud have tainted Acorn voter drives across the country. Acorn workers have been convicted in Wisconsin and Colorado, and investigations are still under way in Ohio, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.
And who is behind ACORN? You might have guessed it - unions and the Democratic Party.
Operating in at least 38 states (as well as Canada and Mexico), Acorn pushes a highly partisan agenda, and its organizers are best understood as shock troops for the AFL-CIO and even the Democratic Party. As part of the Fannie Mae reform bill, House Democrats pushed an "affordable housing trust fund" designed to use Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac profits to subsidize Acorn, among other groups. A version of this trust fund actually passed the Republican House and will surely be on the agenda again next year.

Acorn and its affiliates have pulled some real stunts in recent years. In Ohio in 2004, a worker for one affiliate was given crack cocaine in exchange for fraudulent registrations that included underage voters, dead voters and pillars of the community named Mary Poppins, Dick Tracy and Jive Turkey. During a Congressional hearing in Ohio in the aftermath of the 2004 election, officials from several counties in the state explained Acorn's practice of dumping thousands of registration forms in their lap on the submission deadline, even though the forms had been collected months earlier.
What a coincidence - everywhere they go, they seem to be involved in some sort of efforts to corrupt elections.

Catching up with Al Gore

John Fund reviews some of the recent stories that have come out questioning Al Gore's personal environmental record and his tendency to exaggerate climate effects in order to get more of a reaction. The latest entry in the Gore hypocrisy record comes from his home newspaper, The Tennessean, concerning the money he's been getting from zinc mining done on his property.
Al Gore Jr. received more than $500,000 in royalties from the owners of zinc mines who held mineral leases on his farm near Carthage, Tenn. Now the mines have a new owner and are scheduled to reopen later this year.

Before the mines closed in 2003, they emitted thousands of pounds of toxic substances and several times, the water discharged from the mines into nearby rivers had levels of toxins above what was legal.

State environmental officials say the mine has had a good environmental record and there is no evidence of unusual health problems in the area.

But the mine's reopening again raises concerns about threats to the environment.
Now that the newspaper has published a little story about the pollution from these mines, Al Gore has ventured to do something about it.
The Gore mines were no small operations. In 2002, the year before they shut down, they ranked 22nd among all metal-mining operations in the U.S., with total toxic releases of 4.1 million pounds. A new mine operator, Strategic Resource Acquisition, is planning to reopen the mines later this year. The Tennessean reports that just last week, Mr. Gore wrote SRA asking it to work with a national environmental group as it makes its plans. He noted that under the previous operator, the mines had, according to the environmental website Scorecard, "pollution releases from the mine in 2002 [that] placed it among the 'dirtiest/worst facilities' in the U.S." Mr. Gore requested that SRA "engage with us in a process to ensure that the mine becomes a global example of environmental best practices." The Tennessean dryly notes that Mr. Gore wrote the letter the week after the paper posed a series of questions to him about his involvement with the zinc mines.
Last week theNew York Times looked at how climate scientists wish that Al Gore would stop his exaggerations about the effects of climate change.

Business Week cast a skeptical eye on the idea of buying carbon offsets to ease your conscience for your own carbon footprint.
The organizers of the Academy Awards declare all their celebrity presenters to be "carbon-neutral." Vail Resorts Inc. (MTN ) in Colorado boasts that its chairlifts and lodges are "100% powered by wind." Seattle's municipal utility claims that its net contribution to global warming is zero.

A growing number of organizations, corporations, cities, and individuals are seeking to protect the climate—or at least claim bragging rights for protecting the climate. Rather than take the arduous step of significantly cutting their own emissions of carbon dioxide, many in the ranks of the environmentally concerned are paying to have someone else curtail air pollution or develop "renewable" energy sources (see BusinessWeek.com, 2/1/07, "Ethanol: Too Much Hype—and Corn "). Carbon offsets, as the most common variety of these deals is known, have become one of the most widely promoted products marketed to checkbook environmentalists.

Done carefully, offsets can have a positive effect and raise ecological awareness. But a close look at several transactions—including those involving the Oscar presenters, Vail Resorts, and the Seattle power company—reveals that some deals amount to little more than feel-good hype. When traced to their source, these dubious offsets often encourage climate protection that would have happened regardless of the buying and selling of paper certificates. One danger of largely symbolic deals is that they may divert attention and resources from more expensive and effective measures.
And, of course, Al Gore defended himself from criticism of the huge amount of energy his house in Tennessee consumes by saying that he was purchasing carbon offsets. However, it turns out that his company actually pays for his offsets so Gore doesn't have to shell out any of his own money to offset his huge energy consumption.
The offset purchases are actually made for him by Generation Investment Management, a London-based investment firm that Mr. Gore co-founded, and which provides carbon offsets as a fringe benefit to all 23 of its employees, ensuring that they require no real sacrifice on the part of Mr. Gore or his family. Indeed, their impact is also highly limited. The Carbon Neutral Co.--one of the two vendors that sell offsets to Mr. Gore's company, says that offset purchases "will be unable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions . . . in the short term."
For Gore, veracity has never been as important as achieving the dramatic impact that would scare people into taking the sorts of actions he advises. It's his own version of "fake but accurate."
Columnist Steven Milloy recalls talking with Mr. Gore in 2006 about the 1997 Kyoto Protocol he helped negotiate as vice president. "Did we think Kyoto would [reduce global warming] when we signed it? . . . Hell no!" said Mr. Gore, according to Mr. Milloy. The former vice president then explained that the real purpose of Kyoto was to demonstrate that international support could be mustered for action on environmental issues. Mr. Gore clearly believes that the world hasn't acted with enough vigor in the decade since Kyoto, which may explain his growing use of the global-warming hype that concerns many mainstream scientists.
Mr. Gore has called the campaign to combat global warming a "moral imperative." But Mr. Gore faces another imperative: to square his sales pitches with the facts and his personal lifestyle to more align with what he advocates that others practice. "Are you ready to change the way you live?" asks Mr. Gore's film. It's time people ask Mr. Gore "Are you ready to change the way you live, as well as the way you lecture the rest of us?"

Alternative history

If you're fond of contrafactual histories, you might enjoy this entry by Harry Turtledove and Bryce Zabel wondering what would have happened to John F. Kennedy's presidency if he hadn't been assassinated. Turtledove is a prolific author of contrafactual novels, starting with Guns of the South, based on the idea of what would have happened if the Confederate army had had AK47s and won the Civil War. If you enjoy the concept, you can read a collection of stories. I always think that these sorts of musings are lots of fun.

Campaigns of the future

I'm always fascinated to see how technology is changing election campaigns. The Internet has added a whole new dimension to how candidates campaign and communicate with supporters. And the newest wrinkle in how elections are having to adapt to YouTube and MySpace. The Washington Post had an article about how campaigns are struggling to find the best ways to use web videos.
One after another, presidential campaigns are adding videos to their Web sites as well as to video-sharing sites such as YouTube, MySpace and Veoh. The reviews, however, are mixed. Production values are uneven -- a few videos look grainy; many are professionally produced; most seem downright misplaced. And so far, judging by the number of views on YouTube -- and the overall buzz on the blogosphere -- it's the candidate videos that the campaigns didn't make that get attention.

Not one of the videos made by John Edwards's campaign, for example, matches the popularity of the one showing the former senator combing his hair before an interview to the tune of "I Feel Pretty." That video has been viewed more than 135,000 times since it was posted on YouTube in November. Edwards's most popular official video, of his announcement in December that he's running for president, has been viewed about 116,000 times.
George Allen certainly saw how the videos that his campaign didn't make are the ones that get candidates in trouble. And now individuals can make their own ads for or against candidates and post them up on the web. For example, check out this remake of the famous Apple 1984 ad to zing Hillary Clinton and pump for Barack Obama. It's now been viewed by over a third of a million viewers. At a fraction of the cost of a TV ad, a well-made ad can reach comparable numbers.

Of course, dreary repeats of candidate speeches won't gain those sorts of numbers. Candidates will have to be much more entertaining if they want to gain interest for their own entries into the web-viewing world.

A former student of mine, James Kotecki, who is now at Georgetown has made it his tasks to watch all of the candidates' YouTube videos and post his own web critique of them.
Several times a week, Kotecki, a self-described "political geek" turned YouTube celebrity, advises presidential candidates on their campaign videos -- from his dorm room at Georgetown University. Equipped with a three-year-old laptop, a $60 Web camera and a $30 microphone -- and a small, dusty desk lamp as a light source -- the 21-year-old dishes out free, unsolicited suggestions (and the occasional compliment) to the candidates.

For Giuliani: "All of your videos so far are just recordings of your speeches. And two of them are marathons, clocking in at 45 minutes and 58 minutes."

For Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio): "The ivy background, I'm-outside-but-I'm-really-inside thing, doesn't strike me as overly presidential. I'd also encourage you to make your videos a bit more intimate by bringing the camera closer in to you."

For McCain: "Maybe it's time to post a funny video."

Kotecki has one recurring message to the candidates and their expensive media advisers: "The Web isn't TV." As in, Web viewers don't expect to be spoken to, they expect to be spoken with. It's a passive experience vs. an interactive one.
James's biggest thrill has been when Dennis Kucinich posted a web video response to James' suggestions. I don't know if that says more about Kucinich's response to criticism or that Kucinich would chalk it up as a victory to add even one more person to what must be a very short list of supporters.

Kudos to James for his innovative way of approaching the election campaign and for the notice that he's receiving. He was the student that, in high school, teachers felt was most likely to achieve high elected office, but we're also glad that he hasn't lost his sense of humor up there at Georgetown.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Is charm enough to elect Obama?

Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic is musing on how he really wants to vote for the first black candidate for the presidency, but he is put off by Obama's charm. Being suave and charming is just not enough for him.
So I started paying attention, and reading the books, and watching the tapes. I wanted to be very glad. But skepticism is sedulously arriving. For a start, I hold Obama's suavity against him. Since I am myself not unsuave, I know how much it accomplishes with how little. Charm is not a political virtue.

Eloquence is another matter: Obama's deployment of the language is downright musical in this rhetorically impoverished age. But his lyricism is too smooth, too swift, too immune to anxiety or surprise. He is not only thoughtful, he is pre-thoughtful.

This is not an era of easy questions, but Obama makes them all look easy. Or, worse, he finds their complexity toasty - an occasion for the display of his talent for suasion. In this respect he reminds me not so much of Bill Clinton, whose facility was at least riddled with the particulars of policy, but of Mario Cuomo. Maybe Obama is the new Cuomo, but without the infirm will.

Obama dislikes polarization. I like it. I think it is one of the marks of an engaged citizenry. Obviously it can also become a kind of democratic decadence; but often polarization is simply your name for my refusal to assent to your opinion.

As an antidote to polarization, he seems to be proposing what used to be called, when Bill Clinton did it so well, triangulation: He is running another end-of-ideology campaign. The problem is that he has not yet justified his end-of-ideology ideology with any real wonkery.

Obama is perfectly correct to deplore the effects of doctrinal purity on government, but then he must illustrate his own understanding with the details of some significant neither-right-nor-left plans and programs. Otherwise it is just uplift.

He is also reviving another old Clinton homily, the one against "cynicism." Hillary Clinton used to preach this one often in her politics-of-meaning days. In the Clintons' view, their critics were not only wrong, they were also bad.

"Cynicism" is not an argument, it is an aspersion. Its subject is not ideas but motives. Yet it is entirely possible to have the right ideas and the wrong motives, and the wrong ideas and the right motives. The conservative antipathy to government, which is one of Obama's illustrations of contemporary cynicism, is not at all cynical, even if it is false and dangerous.
And Wieseltier is beginning to be repelled by the emphasis on Obama's genealogy and autobiography as if that alone made him a reasonable contender for the presidency.
And then there is Obama's decision to run on his life - or, on his journey. Obama's books are both autobiographies. Two autobiographies! Whatever his vision of America, and I have no doubt about its fundamental decency, he has been mainly recommending himself.

More specifically, Obama has been promoting the multiplicity of his origins as a qualification for leadership. This strikes me as little more than identity politics, but with a cunning refinement: Instead of being representative of one thing, he is representative of all things. He is typical of everybody, the most racinated American of all.

In America, you can be heroic for being typical. But I do not see how your grandfather can make you a hero.

And there is something unsavory about the new rage for genealogy: Insofar as it aims to supply a biological foundation for identity, it is race science for a pluralist society. I am less interested in Obama's roots than in his branches. The genealogy of a democrat is as irrelevant to a liberal order as the genealogy of an aristocrat. The formative influences are much less important than what they formed.
I agree that Obama seems like a perfectly charming and likable guy. He delivers a good speech. But I don't believe that the enemy of our time is cynicism. Actually, I think terrorists and crackpot dictators are more of an enemy than people being cynical. And Wieseltier is right, "cynicism" is just the term politicians use to cast aspersions on those with whom they disagree.

As Politico blogger, Ben Smith, noticed Barack Obama easily recast his regular stump speech on political cynicism to one talking about terrorism.
Does this sound familiar?
"The biggest enemy I think we have in this whole process (and why I'm so glad to see a lot of young people here, young in spirit if not young in age) -- the reason I think it's so important, is because one of the enemies we have to fight -- it's not just terrorists, it's not just Hezbollah, it's not just Hamas -- it's also cynicism," Barack Obama told a reception after the AIPAC policy conference last night.
He seems to have plugged "terrorists" into his usual stump speech. As he told the DNC Winter Meeting:
"And in this mission, our rivals won't be one another, and I would assert it won't even be the other party. It's going to be cynicism that we're fighting against."
But um, terrorists? The chatter after his speech was that, well, actually, the Israeli enemy is mostly Hamas and Hezbollah. Cynicism is kind of a distant second or third.
Ugh. In a time when terrorists are willing to do anything possible to kill civilians and thus attain their political and religious goals, I don't want someone elected president who thinks that this is all some battle about cynicism. That's a bumper sticker, not a policy. And it's not even a very thoughtful bumper sticker.