Monday, January 31, 2005

Falling Back to Earth

Proving that popularity without results can only last for so long, Arrrrnold has begun his descent from icon to regular politician.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Edwards in 2008

EJ Dionne has the story of Edwards laying the groundwork for 2008. Sign me up. (Again).

Columnistgate Strikes Again

Add another columnist to the list of those taking money from the government. According to this story, Michael McManus received $10,000 from HHS for something. This isn't a whole lotta money in the grand scheme, but the government shouldn't be handing out money to columnists, and the columnists are under a duty to disclose these payments.

Just for a second imagine the furor the right would bring down if Sid Blumenthal had been receiving money from the Clinton Administration. One would hope that this would end now that Bush has told his people to stop it, but only time will tell.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Peggy Noonan

Bizarro Day

No other way to describe it when The Corner is debating what the plot twists in The West Wing will be.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Columnistgate (Doesn't sound quite right, does it?)

Both Josh Marshall and The Washington Monthly have some good insight on this. Personally, I love the Defining Deviancy Down observation. Classic.

For the record, it is causing a little unease over at The Corner as well, but Gallagher is such a bedrock of the conservative side they are looking for ways to distinguish her behavior. To use an analogy that Gallagher would understand, I guess she is only a little bit pregnant.

Another Shoe Drops on Conservative Columnists

On the heels of the Armstrong Williams scandal, and as Armstrong predicted, we have another conservative columnist who turns out to be on the government payroll. As the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz reports, Maggie Gallagher received at least $41,500 to write some pro-marriage reports and speeches for HHS (edit - and the Department of Justice).

Gallagher defends her actions in her column here, but she is missing the point. Her "oversight" in not in failing to disclosing her contract, the problem is that there is a contract at all.

As I previously said about Armstrong Williams, if you are a columnist or journalist and want to accept government money to promote something you believe in, great - join the government. If you believe in what the government is doing and want to provide your services free of charge, even better, as long as you disclose your service. But you can't take government money and not disclose, even if what you are doing doesn't "directly" affect you reporting. Once you have taken government money you have an inherent conflict of interest, which can only be cured through full disclosure.

One can only wonder how many other conservative writer might have benefited from the government's conservative reward program. (And isn't Fred Barnes angry that he gives all his copious praise for free?)

And by the way, isn't it interesting that there are all these conservative columnists who rail against the government don't seem to hesitate at all to take their, I mean our, money.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Blizzard Blogging (Final Post)

Well, it is all over but for the howling wind. We got about 10 inches, not the 2 feet they were predicting, but certainly enough to have fun in.

We now send you back to your regularly scheduled punditry.

Blizzard of Aught Five

7 inches.

Let's see what we have tomorrow.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Blizzard Blogging

The local forecaster said that the storm is "reforming" off the coast of New Jersey. I guess there might be some punch left in this weather system..

Blizzard Blogging (Is it Over?)

If so, then the Blizzard of Aught Five is the most overrated thing since Brian Bozworth.

But the night is still young. And the snow is still nice looking.

More reporting later, if necessary, steadfast reader.

Blizzard Blogging (8 o'clock update)

6 inches, 12 degrees, and that weird glow the sky gets when a big storm roles in. Still predicting 18-24 inches. We'll see, but I guess at about an inch an hour that would be right.

BTW- snow pictures will be coming later.

Blizzard Blogging (4 o'clock)

The wind is picking up, and we have about 4 inches or so on the ground. But don't think the heavy stuff's gonna come down for quite some time now. (For you movie fans.)

My favorite scene so far was the sportscar with the California plates driving by . . . with the driver on her cellphone. I'm sure that she got wherever she was going safely.

Blizzard Blogging (It begins)

The white stuff has begun descending from the heavens. Hopefully we will not be trapped in our home for too long.

Blizzard Blogging (Noon edition)

No snow - temperature up to 5 degrees. (It's a heat wave!)

Blizzard Blogging

The Blizzard of Aught Five is coming to the East Coast. The forecast is calling for between 12 and 20 inches. We'll see. (I'm from Missouri, so as they say: Show Me.)

Currently the temperature is 0 degrees. No snow yet.

Stay here steadfast reader for more Blizzard of Aught Five updates.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Inaugural Address

Didn't watch it. Didn't read it. Don't plan to do either anytime soon, but if a Bush sycophant like Peggy Noonan didn't like it, it probably wasn't very good.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Social Security Quote:

Who said it:

"For too long, too many people dependent on Social Security have been cruelly frightened by individuals seeking political gain through demagoguery and outright falsehood, and this must stop, the future of Social Security is much too important to be used as a political football."

Answer (in code): nagaer dlanor

Power Corrupts (Kentucky Version)

A very interesting power play is going on in Kentucky between Republicans and Democrats and the legislature and the judiciary.

On election day, Republican Dana Seum Stephenson defeated Democrat Virginia Woodward by 1,022 votes. However, Kentucky's constitution requires that Senators be residents of Kentucky for at least 6 years prior to their election. Woodward sued before election day alleging that Stephenson did not meet that qualification, and thus was ineligible to be elected. (Stephenson apparently lived in Indiana from 1997 to 2001 while she attended Indiana University Southeast. She voted, registered her car, paid taxes and bought a home in Indiana.)

The judge who heard the case ruled after the election that Stephenson was ineligible, and that the votes for her were disqualified, thus making Woodward the winner. However, the Kentucky Senate, controlled by Republicans, voted along party lines not to seat Woodward and instead to seat Stephenson. The Senate Republican claim that only they have the power to decide who sits in the Senate, regardless of the Constitutional requirements. Senate President David Williams even said that "If 20 people in this body voted that someone was 30 years old, no court in the land could overturn that," despite Kentucky's Constitutional requirement that all Senators be at least 30 years old.

Such arrogance has already cost the party one member, who, after the Senate Republicans rejected his call for a special election, had threatening to resign, but instead has become an independent. (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Stephenson's father is Dan Seum a powerful state Senator - so we have corruption and nepotism in this story.)

Woodward has continued her court challenge, and the Judge has now barred Stephenson from performing any duties of a senator, including participating in committee meetings, hearings and votes, until the dispute over the seat is resolved.

I am sure that this is an issue that will ultimately be heard by Kentucky's highest court, but it is a fascinating power struggle and raises some very interesting questions. If the Kentucky Senate is able to ignore the Constitutional requirement about its membership, can't it ignore everything in the state Constitution? Isn't that a slippery slope that ends up in chaos? One can only imagine that Tom DeLay is keeping a very close eye, and probably taking notes.

I will, of course, keep you updated steadfast reader.

Social Security

The American Mind has concerns about using the phrase "politics of fear" in describing the President's attempt to "reform" social Security. Primarily because he thinks that this is a Democratic phrase.

But "politics of fear" is pretty accurate. The "politics of fear" has been the most effective Bush strategy for trying to get his side of issues to be accepted by the American public. For example, most Americans feared that Saddam was about to use WMDs after listening to Bush and his administration. Ooops. (Well, wrong on the facts, but successful on the politics.)

Now Bush and the administration want us to think that there is a Social Security crisis. But the facts say otherwise. Luckily we all know that facts rarely play a role in politics. The simple fact is that this crisis (or "fear") is being manufactured to further a longtime Republican goal -- the elimination of social security.

In the end the whole debate is whether Social Security should be about creating a social insurance safety net for the elderly, (which may redistribute some money from rich to poor), or is it about creating a system that may allow greater individual opportunity, and reward, but with a certain amount of risk, (which will result in no redistribution, but will result in some people losing money and ending up with significantly less to grow old on, if they choose poorly.)

Let’s at least frame the debate properly, and not pretend that there is some sort of immediate Social Security crisis. But since the debate is not being broached honestly, “politics of fear” is a rather apt description.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Talk About Bad Ideas

According to this story in The Washington Post, a missionary group by the name of WorldHelp, has taken the opportunity while ostensibly providing relief to victims of the tsunami in Asia, to "relocate" 300, presumably Muslim, children to a "Christian" environment.

The details are a little fuzzy, and I have an inkling that this may be little more than pushing a story as a way for this group to raise extra money, but if true, it would represent Christian evangelicalism at its very worst. (Unsurprisingly there appears to be a Jerry Falwell link.)

I am sure that there will be more details on this story in the days to come. My hope is that it does not lead to an already insecure Indonesian government simply banning foreign relief. Intelligent, careful relief agencies understand that in order to provide the necessary relief you have to respect local customs, but apparently the idiots at WorldHelp have decided that fundraising and their own personal glorification is more important than helping the hundreds of thousands who so desperately need it. Pathetic.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Federal Sentencing Guidelines Thrown Out.

This is a big deal. The Washington Post has coverage.

Does the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Read This Blog?

Probably not, but their editorial on the Washington re-vote sound familiar.

Still, we have our doubts about the wisdom of a court challenge and a revote, especially if no fraud can be proven.

Consider, first, the problem of moral hazard. There are dozens of extremely close elections in the U.S. at every level of government, elections in which -- like this one -- the "real" outcome can never be known. What should determine which of these merits a revote? The judgment of a court? An opinion poll? Either of these is a recipe not for more perfect democracy, but for the destruction of democracy.

(You can read the whole editorial here. And my familiar sounding post here and here.)

I can assure you that both parties hope that this does not become a regular occurrence.

Remember When You Were Worried About Saddam's WMDs?

Well, you can be reassured, the Administration has officially called off the search.

Apparently, none were found. Who knew?

Washington Re-vote

Two stories, from the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, run down the events surrounding the legislature's certification of Christine Gregorie as the next Governor of Washington state.

The next battle will be through the courts. Although the GOP may have factual grounds and a legal basis, for seeking a re-vote, I continue to find it hard to believe that the courts will order a new election. As I have said before, absent a finding of systemic fraud, allowing a re-vote will insure that every close election will not only end up in court, but that a re-vote will occur, at least in Washington state. You can't conduct a democracy that way. It is an invitation to chaos.

(And as an aside, if Rossi had won by 120 votes and there were the same problems with the system, would Rossi supporters and the people over at Soundpolitics, be any more accepting of a re-vote than Gregorie supporters are now. The arguments about the incompetence of Kings County, late military ballots, dead voters and felons voting, would apply to either side if they were the losers.)

(And as a further aside, is it revote or re-vote?)

This Sums it Up Nicely

From today's Wall Street Journal:

It is an ideological debate about whether Social Security remains a social insurance safety net, which redistributes a modest amount of income from rich to poor, or moves toward greater individual opportunity, risk and reward.

For the record, I am firmly in the safety net camp. Which would make me conservative on the matter of social security (although conservatives would probably prefer to get rid of the system altogether).

Monday, January 10, 2005

Some Armstrong Williams Bashing

Over at The Corner (The National Review's blog site), here , here and here.

Although I think some of there concerns are real, I also detect more than a hint of self-preservation in their protests.

Just the Tip of the Iceberg?

According to David Corn, Armstrong Williams may not be alone in accepting $$$$ to toe the Administration's line. The key point from Corn:

And then Williams violated a PR rule: he got off-point. "This happens all the time," he told me. "There are others." Really? I said. Other conservative commentators accept money from the Bush administration? I asked Williams for names. "I'm not going to defend myself that way," he said. The issue right now, he explained, was his own mistake. Well, I said, what if I call you up in a few weeks, after this blows over, and then ask you? No, he said.

Does Williams really know something about other rightwing pundits? Or was he only trying to minimize his own screw-up with a momentary embrace of a trumped-up everybody-does-it defense? I could not tell. But if the IG at the Department of Education or any other official questions Williams, I suggest he or she ask what Williams meant by this comment. And if Williams is really sorry for this act of "bad judgment" and for besmirching the profession of rightwing punditry, shouldn't he do what he can to guarantee that those who watch pundits on the cable news networks and read political columnists receive conservative views that are independent and untainted by payoffs from the Bush administration or other political outfits?

Armstrong, please, help us all protect the independence of the conservative commentariat. If you are not alone, tell us who else has yielded to bad judgment.

Converting Souls One by One

to the cause of neutral redistricting. This convert's confession here.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Want a 1995 Flashback?

Then click here.

Amazingly, he would be better than most of the other alternatives.

Something sure to be heard again in 2008

From an AP/CBS story:

Just before his helicopter lifted off, Frist and aides took snapshots of each other near a pile of tsunami debris.

"Get some devastation in the back," Frist told a photographer.

I am sure that Gerorge Allen and Mitt Romney's people have that one filed away.

More on the Washington State Revote

Dino Rossi has now come out in favor of contesting the election in court, hoping for a revote. No big surprise there. However, the people over at seem to be emphasizing that the grounds for this should be errors and mistakes, but not systemic fraud.

As I explained before, unless they can show systemic fraud, I cannot believe that any court will order a revote. Mistakes and errors happen, always have and always will. We should, of course, seek to minimize them, but in a race this close, you will always be able to find enough errors and mistakes to question the results. For example, in 2000, it would have been fairly easy to find 600 mistakes or errors in Florida. With mistakes and errors as the basis for seeking a revote, Rossi is doomed to failure.

Armstrong Williams Update

Williams has also apologized for accepting the taxpayer money, although I think he should also return the money. It also appears that the organization that distributes his column, Tribune Media Services, has fired him. (Story here.) This is a completely appropriate action for something that Williams himself realizes that he should have known better than to do.

Given these developments, the outrage now needs to be directed squarely at the Administration. Who thought that this was appropriate? Where is the acknowledgment from anyone in the Administration that this was not an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars? Heck the Dept. of Education continues to defend this.

The only White House comment that I could find so far:

Q Or any other day, right? (Laughter.)USA Today says the Education Department paid a TV commentator, Armstrong Williams, about a quarter million dollars to promote No Child Left. And in a related matter, the GAO found yesterday the drug policy office broke federal law by using taxpayer money for covert, "propaganda," with made for TV story packages. Are these practices that you condone?

MR. McCLELLAN: On the first one, that was a decision by the Department of Education, and a contracting matter. So you ought to direct those questions to the Department of Education. I know the headline said that the White House -- basically implied that it was the White House, and it wasn't. If you read the story -- if you read the story, it pointed that out.

Q It's your administration, Scott. It's the President's administration.

Typical, and not sufficient. Just try to imagine the outrage if the Clinton White House had done this.

At least one Republican, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has signed on to the Democrats request for an investigation. This story will have some legs at least until there is an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, and probably someone's job.

UPDATE - Josh Marshall has the details on some other Administration taxpayer paid propaganda here.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Here is a column that Armstrong Williams wrote in favor of No Child Left Behind. I hope you enjoy it, after all, you paid for it.

I Try Not To Get Too Outraged

I have been trying not to let the White House and the GOP-run government get me too crazy this year. They want to take down Social Security through subterfuge, fine; want to role back all of their own ethic rules for the House leadership, sure; find justifications for outrageous behavior, even against alleged terrorist, okay. As unwise as I think all of the ideas are, they are at least being done above board. At some point the American public will have a chance to judge those positions (or, in the view of some, already have.)

However, this USA Today story about Armstrong Williams drives me nuts! In brief, the Department of Education paid this conservative commentator almost a quarter of a million dollars to promote the No Child Left Behind law. That's $240,000 of taxpayer dollars paid out for propaganda posing as punditry. And they did this without public disclosure by either Armstrong of the Dept. of Education. If not for the USA Today's Freedom of Information Act inquiry, this little tidbit of information would have gone hidden away forever.

If Armstrong Williams (who I don't particularly agree with, but have never thought bad of) wants to promote No child Left Behind as part of his punditry, he is certainly entitled. If he believes so strongly in it that he would like to join the government to promote it, even better. But it is unacceptable for him to accept money from the government to provide his "opinions".

Not only does it stink to high heaven, but it raises some interesting questions -- what other conservative commentators may be the recipient of government generosity? Does the Department of Defense have a similar slush fund to deal with potential criticism of the Iraq war? And is the money awarded prophylactically, or is it a reward for those who toe the line?

I hope that this is merely a stupid decision on the part of the DOE and Williams. (And, by the way, he should return the money, and the person at DOE who made the decision should be fired.) But it may help to explain why so many conservative commentators have been so willing to turn their back on their "principles" as long as it is the Bush Administration doing the violating.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Peggy Noonan's Solution for Democrats

- Be Republicans.

(Oh yeah, and let the President do whatever he wants, especially on Social Security.)

Thanks Peggy, I am sure that every Democrat will take your advice to heart.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Washington Governors Race Revote?

This race in no way affects me, but I find it fascinating. For those who may not have been following because it doesn't affect them either, let me quickly summarize. The race between Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Christine Gregoire was very close, and after all the votes were initially counted Rossi led by 42 votes.

Now, the law in Washington state allows for a recount, which is conducted in the same way the original counting was done, and then for a manual hand recount, if the party requesting the manual recount is willing to pay for it. (If the results are overturned, they get their money back.) After the first recount Rossi's led grew to 200 something votes. Naturally, there is strong pressure for Gregoire to concede from the GOP, but she requests a manual recounts and is able to raise the million or so dollars it will cost in about three days. During the manual recount, Kings County (Seattle, essentially) discovers 700 or so ballots that were not counted in the first count or the first recount. Since Kings County is a Democratic stronghold, the GOP cries foul and goes to court to stop the newly discovered votes from being recounted. After winning an initial ruling, the Washington state Supreme Court orders those additional ballots to be counted.

Even without the new ballots, Gregoire ends up ahead in the balloting by 10 votes after the manually recount. With the tally from the newly discovered votes, she is ahead by 120 votes. Since the law doesn't allow for any additional recounts, the Washington Secretary of State, Sam Reed (a Republican), certifies the result, making Gregoire the Governor-elect.

Unsurprisingly, this does not sit very well with Rossi and his supporters, who feel as though they have been robbed of their upset. (Washington has had a Democratic governor for the last 20 years.) Initially they attacked the manual recount as less reliable than the machine recount, but abandon that line of attack after realizing that it is probably not a smart to argue that machines are better than humans. Some supporters have attacked Kings County as being corrupt and "finding" enough Gregoire votes to make sure that she would win, but the evidence of such a massive and systematic fraud has not been forthcoming, and to make such charges without any evidence is counterproductive. So now the strategy is to argue that the whole electoral system is so error filled and broken that there is no way that a true winner can ever be determined. No matter the argument, their solution is clear -- a revote.

It appears that either a court or the legislature could order a revote, although I have not researched the Washington election law that in-depth. The legislature is controlled by Democrats, so it is impossible to believe that they will direct a revote, so the final recourse is the courts.

However, my analysis is that for the court to direct a revote, there will have to be a finding of more than voter registration problems and ballot counting errors. Rossi supporters have put a great deal of energy into finding errors in voter registration and in the ballot counting, on the assumption that if they can show 120 or so "errors" a court will have grounds to order a revote on the grounds that the system is broken. Such a court decision, however, would create electoral chaos, and would lead to every close election being challenged in court, and potentially being ordered to be redone. (But what margin of victory would be enough? 1,000 votes; 5,000; 20,000 -- it is a Pandora's Box that no court will want to open.) A finding of systematic fraud, on the other hand, would probably led a court to order a revote, but a revote isn't going to happen, unless that fraud can be proven.

So the situation is thus - Gregoire is going to be Governor, barring the discovery of systematic fraud. Rossi and his supporters can push for a revote, but they do so at their own peril. Right now my feeling, from all the way across the country, is that popular opinion is slightly more in favor of Rossi. (No small reason why he would like a revote.) But the longer the push for a revote goes on, again without finding systemic fraud, the more public opinion will turn against him. If he abandons his revote push, saying something like we will never know who won this vote, but we need some closure (ala Al Gore in 2000), he may come out looking even better, and be in a strong position to run for Senate in '06 or Governor in '08. (However, ask Al Gore how the strategy of being the noble loser worked out for him.) It is a tough position for Rossi to be in - no matter what path he takes, he won't come out ahead.

Two blogs worth reading on the topic are Sound Politics (Rossi supporters) and (Gregorie supporters). I will keep you, steadfast reader, updated on any interesting developments.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Some Fascinating Stuff Going On

For being the slow time of the year, there certainly was a whole lotta interesting storylines over the holidays -- the horror of the tsunami in Asia; the Washington Governor's race still unsettled; the Yankees signing Randy Johnson and the Sox losing Pedro; the DNC chairman race; Bush's plan to "reform" Social Security; to name a few.

Don't worry my loyal 1 2/3 readers, I will have plenty of comments in the days and weeks to come on these and any other stories of interest.

Happy New Year!