Saturday, May 06, 2006

Novak on Immigration

Bob Novak once again writes about the political side of immigration reform. He says that Ken Mehlman has warned Republicans on Capitol Hill that if legisltive deadlock on the budget resolution and immigration are not broken, the GOP will take a bath in the midterms:

Mehlman's warning
By Robert Novak
May 6, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Republican National Chairman Kenneth Mehlman went to Capitol Hill last Tuesday to warn the party's House and Senate campaign staffers of dire consequences unless Republicans break the current legislative deadlock.

Mehlman stressed the necessity to pass a budget resolution and an immigration reform bill, dealing with two issues that seriously concern the Republican base.

Word circulated around Capitol Hill that Mehlman warned 45 seats could be lost in the House on Nov. 7. He told me that he did not mention that figure and, in fact, believes Republicans would retain control of the House if elections were held today. High-level party sources close to Mehlman estimate the GOP loss could be 25 seats under a worst-case scenario. A 15-seat gain would give the Democrats House control.

Am I missing something? Novak says that Mehlman views these issues as very important to the Republican base. Now Mehlman definitely IS much smarter than I am, so I know I am missing something.

Is there anyone in the Republican base who will be upset if the President does not get his way on immigration? Or does Mehlman believe that the only immigration bill that can get done is an enforcement-only bill, and that's the one he wants, and which the base will love?

And the budget resolution? OK, now I KNOW no one cares about the budget resolution. The budget resolution is nothing but a guideline to what the federal government is going to spend on the year. It's not even binding. No average voter cares about the budget resolution.

Now to the extent that 'the budget resolution' is shorthand for fiscal issues - earmark reform, tax cuts, spending levels, pork barrel projects, etc. - I see the importance of that, and I agree. People are definitely paying attention.

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Goss to Run for Senate?

Well, I think that the speculation is probably a little silly - I doubt that Porter Goss' departure is timed to allow him to run for the Senate. But it seems that lots of folks have the same thought.

So let's see. It seems that like so many others, it's either jail or the Senate for Goss. Well, we'll know for sure in less than a week.

Also, since both Goss and Bense seems reasonably close to the White House, don't expect them both to enter the race. If one declares, that means the other is out.

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Kennedy & McKinney - What Have We Learned?

Jonah speculates on whether the comparison of the Patrick Kennedy and Cynthia McKinney cases teaches us anything. He suggests some might think it shows that whites get better treatment than blacks. I'm sure that some will.

I think the more interesting question however, is whether Congressional Democrats draw some inference that the Capitol Police are against them. Of course, my perspective is narrow - I focus excessively on Capitol Hill. However, we now have two instances where the Capitol police could have looked the other way, and instead blew the whistle on misbehaving Congressmen. That is what happened in the Kennedy case, it seems to me - regardless of any initial impulse to shield him.

I haven't heard of any Republicans getting special protection from the Capitol Police, but I have no doubt that there must be some who have been involved in shenanigans that never made it to the papers. If Democrats look at Kennedy and McKinney, and conclude that the Capitol Police are targeting Democrats and protecting Republicans, we'll start to hear some gossip about Republican misbehavior soon. After all, Capitol Hill can be a very childish place.

How did the Daily News express that idea? Oh yeah.

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Kill the Captain and We All Move Up?

Well, that may not be 100% accurate, but I like obscure Star Trek quotes.

Powerline and Captains Quarters cover well the ouster of Porter Goss, and the likely promotion for General Hayden of the NSA. Count me among those who feels that Goss' departure is a loss, because he had made a good start of bringing some order to the CIA, but clearly had not yet finished. That's not to say that Hayden and Negroponte won't do as well, or better.

As for the suggestion that the Hayden confirmation hearings would be a great chance to to show that the NSA's warrantless surveillance is both clearly legal and a good idea, I am not quite as sanguine. The MSM has been so thoroughly dishonest on this one, I am not sure the message will penetrate to the undecided middle - who are really the ones who need to hear it.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Congressional Lobbying Reform

One of the more important provisions in the House lobbying reform bill is an amendment offered by Congressman Mike Castle, and adopted by the House. As the bill heads to conference with the Senate, I hope it is retained and makes it into law. That provision would make lobbyists liable for violating House gift rules. They would in effect be as responsible as staffers for policing the law.

Under current law, Members of Congress and their staffs are subject to penalties when they accept gifts in violation of the law: no single gift worth more than $50, and no gifts in excess of $100 in value from a particular person in a year. Additionally, these gifts are supposed to be disclosed by the recipient.

That said, I know there are situations where lobbyists discuss the idea of giving gifts that are prohibited under the gift rule - either because the gift itself is worth more than $50, or because the recipient would wind up exceeding the $100 limit from a specific person. It does not escape the attention of the lobbyist that the law does not place the burden on him/her, but puts it instead on the Congressional staffer. You wind up in a situation where the idea is at least discussed whether to offer the gift, and leave it up to the staffer whether to accept it.

Under the Castle amendment, the lobbyist who knowingly offers such a gift would be liable for a fine of up to $50,000. While criminals like Jack Abramoff probably could not be deterred by any penalty, this change will probably go a long way to eliminating any 'run-of-the-mill' lawbreaking that must surely go on.

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Kennedy to Seek Treatment

For an addiction to prescription drugs. Brett Favre, Patrick Kennedy, and Rush Limbaugh all got sympathetic treatment for that. Oh wait...

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Porter Goss Quits

The President just announced that he's accepted Goss' resignation.

Why now? He's from Florida, and he's wealthy. Is he running for Senate?

Or is this an opportunity for the White House to plug someone popular into the job, and help Republican approval ratings? Does anyone know where Rudy Giuliani is today?

Update: The official view on the left is that Porter Goss is quitting because he's about to get exposed for accepting the services of prostitutes, paid for by lobbyists. If true, it would definitely hurt his Senate chances. After all, the man's not a Kennedy.
Hat tip: National Review's Corner

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Influence Peddler Gets Results?

Nancy Pelosi has called for an ethics investigation of Representative Bill Jefferson. It looks like she was intimidated by this post the other day.

The story is from the AP:

Pelosi says ethics committee should investigate Jefferson
Posted 5/5/2006 11:38 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Rep. William Jefferson should be investigated by the House ethics committee, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said following the second guilty plea from a federal probe of alleged bribery involving the Louisiana congressman.

Pelosi, D-Calif., said at a news conference that she had not spoken directly to Jefferson about the investigation. "But he knows what is going on, and the ethics committee should investigate what is going on."

Of course, Ms. Pelosi always tries to leave 'em laughing:

At the same time, Pelosi sought Thursday to differentiate the Jefferson case from what Democrats have labeled the "culture of corruption" linking the Republican majority and special interests represented by disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. "The Republicans are all tied together," she said. "Mr. Jefferson is his own behavior, he is responsible for it."

So the Republicans are all tied together, but Bill Jefferson, um... 'is his own behavior...' Is English her first language?

Are Alan Mollohan, Charlie Schumer, Cynthia McKinney, Jim McDermott, Harry Reid, and John Conyers also 'their own behavior?'

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Kennedy Police Report

The Smoking Gun has it here. The address listed as Kennedy's home is the address for the US Capitol. "#407" refers to his office number.

The report states that Kennedy had been using alcohol.

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Big Week for Katherine Harris

Next Friday, May 12, is the Florida filing deadline for Bill Nelson's Senate seat (the primary is scheduled for September 5). Polls suggest that Harris' race against Nelson is hopeless, and with the approach of the filing deadline, there's a steady drumbeat of calls for another candidate to jump in. It also doesn't help that her former staffers have asserted that she had a real devotion to the interests of the lobbyist who bribed Duke Cunningham and who also donated to her. For her part, Harris says she's in the race to stay, and will spend a fortune to win.

The focus is clearly on State House Speaker Allan Bense, whom I had never heard of a few weeks ago. Congressman Mark Foley (subscription required) recently called for him to declare for the race:

SENATE RACES - Foley Touts Substitute For Harris In Senate Race
© National Journal Group, Inc.

Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., said Wednesday the chances are "very, very ... slim" he would enter the Republican primary for the right to chance to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, but enthusiastically noted that state House Speaker Allan Bense might enter the GOP primary against Harris."He is a multimillionaire who can self-fund. It shifts the race to competitive instantly," Foley said.Foley, who dropped out of the 2004 Senate race, said that Nelson's campaign warchest, which had $10.3 million on hand as of March 31, makes the race out of reach for most other Republicans.He said a Bense challenge to Harris, who won notoriety among Republicans for her role in the 2000 presidential race, would be "formidable."The end of the Florida legislative session is today, one week before the state's May 12 filing deadline. GOP Gov. Jeb Bush, who has ruled out a Senate bid, has urged Bense to consider the race.The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which last year expressed doubts about Harris' general election viability, has since acknowledged Harris as the race's dominant GOP candidate.An NRSC spokesman today declined to comment about a possible Bense candidacy.

It looks like the other shoe is about to drop. After all this talk, it looks like Bense will get in some time in the next week - probably sooner rather than later. Harris will have the opportunity to step aside. I really doubt that she will, as she fell on her sword for now-Senator Mel Martinez in 2004, when she had originally intended to run for the Senate. If she drops out now, why would she ever run again? Particularly since a Bense victory would likely mean that no Florida Senate seat would come open for at least a decade? The question will become whether - at some point down the road - Harris decides that she can't beat Bense, and stops active campaigning.

I feel badly for Katherine Harris. She did the right thing in the 2000 Presidential race, and her political career was probably forever hurt because of it. She went from unknown to instantly-recognized in the blink of an eye, and the nature of the defining event was such that she could probably never change the impression that voters had formed of her - for better or worse. She became such a vilified and polarizing figure that she can probably never be elected to higher office.

I hope that she steps aside gracefully, but it will be difficult to do.

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It's Not Like he Shot Somebody!

I have to ask, isn't it a big story when a Member of Congress is involved in a one-car accident that appears like it might involve alcohol? Why do we have to wait 20 hours before we even see a written statement? Plus, why do we only hear about it in a boutique publication like Roll Call, because a cop leaked, rather than from the Vice President himself... I mean, rather than Mister Kennedy himself?

Well, I'm sure David Gregory and the rest of the press corps will really GRILL Scott McClellan... darn it, I mean Patrick Kennedy... when he finally talks to them.

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Alternate Histories

According to the Washington Post, "C.S.A." is currently showing in theaters. According to Rotten, it is from 2004. Either way, it looks interesting. No mention of Harry Turtledove, as far as I can see.

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AP Makes me Look Like an Idiot

Updates because Fox News made me feel better about myself.

The Associated Press today writes about their latest poll showing dissatisfaction with the President and the Congress. Contrary to my assertion - that the stance of the Congressional GOP on immigration would help them with the conservative base, they say the increasing disapproval of the GOP is largely due to a falloff among conservatives.

Well, um, yeah...

What I meant to say was that it's going to enhance GOP standing among conservatives very soon.

And on a more serious note, if I'm trying to find a silver lining, I'll point out that this poll is of 'adults.' Only the most motivated 35% of this group is going to come out and vote on election day.

Update: Fox News' latest poll says that the approval ratings of both the President and Republicans in Congress have improved slightly.

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Kennedy Says Medicine; Police Say Alcohol

Well, lots more on Patrick Kennedy overnight. Michelle notes that this is the second car accident that Kennedy has been in lately. However, no indication at all in that accident report - either from the police or the other driver - that Kennedy appeared to be driving impaired.

Kennedy claims that he was taking medication prescribed by the Physician of the Capitol for gastroenteritis, including ambien and phenergan. Expect the Phyisican to be called upon for confirmation. He says the disorientation led him to think the House had a vote:

Kennedy Blames Accident on Medication
Thursday, May 4; 10:18 pm
By John McArdle,
Roll Call Staff

While Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) blamed his early-morning car accident on the interaction between two drugs he had been prescribed, Capitol Police have agreed to a labor union request that officers complete an investigation of the incident.
"Last Tuesday, the Attending Physician of the United States Congress treated me for Gastroenteritis,” a stomach illness. According to Kennedy, the attending physician prescribed Phenergan, an anti-nausea medication, which in addition to treating gastroenteritis, “I now know [it] can cause drowsiness and sedation.”

“Following the last series of votes Wednesday evening, I returned to my home on Capitol Hill and took the prescribed amount of Phenergan and Ambien, which was also prescribed by the Attending Physician some time ago and I occasionally take to fall asleep. Some time around 2:45am, I drove the few blocks to the Capitol Complex believing I needed to vote.

“Apparently, I was disoriented from the medication. At that time, I was involved in a one-car incident in which my car hit the security barrier at the corner of 1st and C St, SE. At no time before the incident did I consume any alcohol.”

Kennedy says he requested no special treatment, but the acting chairman of the US Capitol division of the Fraternal Order of Police wants further investigation:

[FOP Chair] Baird said he had been advised that after the officers departed, Capitol Police “House Division officials” gave Kennedy a ride home.

“Apparently, I was disoriented from the medication,” Kennedy said. Kennedy said that after the accident he was instructed to park his car and was driven home by Capitol Police.

“At no time did I ask for any special consideration, I simply complied with what the officers asked me to do.” In a statement from Kennedy’s spokeswoman earlier this evening, the Congressman said he would fully cooperate with the Capitol Police in whatever investigation they choose to undertake.

“If the events unfolded as they have been reported to me, and I believe they did, a complete and immediate investigation into them is required,” Baird wrote to McGaffin. Baird asked the acting chief why officers on the scene were prevented from completing the appropriate investigation “into violations of law they witnessed. This appears to be interference with their duties as U.S. Capitol Police Officers and may have prevented the collection of evidence of such violations."

“My members were attempting to carry out their duties with the professionalism and objectivity their oaths require. They should have been assisted in those duties by every level of supervision and command. Instead these circumstances call the integrity of our organization into question by creating the appearance of special favor for someone who is perceived to be privileged and powerful,” Baird wrote.

Meanwhile, Lou Cannon - President of the Washington chapter of the FOP, says that Kennedy had alcohol on his breath:

He [Kennedy] said he returned to his Capitol Hill home on Wednesday evening after a series of votes in Congress and took prescribed amounts of Phenergan and Ambien, another prescribed drug that he occasionally takes to fall asleep.

''Some time around 2:45 a.m., I drove the few blocks to the Capitol Complex believing I needed to vote," his second statement said. ''Apparently, I was disoriented from the medication."

But Lou Cannon, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union that represents the Capitol Police, said last night that officers ''noted an odor of alcohol and that [Kennedy] appeared to be intoxicated." Cannon was not on the scene, but received verbal reports from Capitol Police officers who had talked to the officers who were at the accident site.

Odd that Kennedy did not realize until now that the two drugs prescribed could cause 'drowsiness and sedation.' Rather irresponsible of the Capitol Physician not to warn him about that, isn't it?

Update: Took me a little while to notice this Boston Herald piece saying a waitress at the Hawk and Dove, a popular Capitol Hill dive, saw him drinking Wednesday night.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Zarqawi as Good With a Gun as I Am

Ace has the story and link to video. But while Zarqawi may be as good with a SAW as I am, my brother is much, much better.

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Breaking News: Is Patrick Kennedy Hiding Something?

As is being reported in a number of places, Congressman Patrick Kennedy was involved in an early-morning, one-care traffic accident. He apparently 'staggered' from the car, and told Capitol Police he was 'late for a vote,' even though House votes had ended 3 hours before:

Officers Claim Brass Interfered in Investigation of Rep. Kennedy Incident
Thursday, May 4; 4:16 pm
By John McArdle,
Roll Call Staff

Police labor union officials asked acting Chief Christopher McGaffin this afternoon to allow a Capitol Police officer to complete his investigation into an early-morning car crash involving Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.).
According to a letter sent by Officer Greg Baird, acting chairman of the USCP FOP, the wreck took place at approximately 2:45 a.m. Thursday when Kennedy’s car, operating with its running lights turned off, narrowly missed colliding with a Capitol Police cruiser and smashed into a security barricade at First and C streets Southeast.

A Capitol Police bulletin issued this afternoon stated that the department is investigating a "traffic violation that occurred in the early morning hours on May 4" at that location. A Capitol Police spokeswoman could not be reached for further comment.

“The driver exited the vehicle and he was observed to be staggering,” Baird’s letter states. Officers approached the driver, who “declared to them he was a Congressman and was late to a vote. The House had adjourned nearly three hours before this incident. It was Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy from Rhode Island.”

Baird wrote that Capitol Police Patrol Division units, who are trained in driving under the influence cases, were not allowed to perform basic field sobriety tests on the Congressman. Instead, two sergeants, who also responded to the accident, proceeded to confer with the Capitol Police watch commander on duty and then “ordered all of the Patrol Division Units to leave the scene and that they were taking over.”

Baird said he had been advised that after the officers departed, Capitol Police “House Division officials” gave Kennedy a ride home.

Kennedy’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

“If the events unfolded as they have been reported to me, and I believe they did, a complete and immediate investigation into them is required,” Baird wrote to McGaffin. Baird asked the acting chief why officers on the scene were prevented from completing the appropriate investigation “into violations of law they witnessed. This appears to be interference with their duties as U.S. Capitol Police Officers and may have prevented the collection of evidence of such violations."

Nancy Pelosi could not be reached for comment.

Updates on Kennedy's statement, and the reaction of the press at the top.

Meet the New Boss

While I am consistent defender of Congressional Republicans, I have to add my observation to Glenn's comment on term limits.

When the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives in 1994, there were plenty of reformers who had been itching to get the chance to revamp Congressional procedures, committee structures, and House rules. The thinking was that we had one golden opportunity to make the institution work better, and to put in place a system that made it easier to shrink the size and power of government.

I worked with one of the very bright staffers who had labored at this plan for years. He had finally arrived at the point where some of these changes could be made. Just a few months later, he told me that he had finally come around to supporting term limits. He explained that he had always said that the Constitution provided regular elections, and they were the only mechanism the voters needed to end Congressional careers. Now he said, he supported term limits, because he had seen that to a large degree, people's positions on the issues followed from their positions of power.


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Hypocrisy, Thy Name is Pelosi

The House of Representatives yesterday approved the Republican version of the lobbying reform bill. Democrats are screaming about it. This is what Nancy Pelosi had to say:

"The House has passed a sham bill that does nothing to reform the Republican culture of corruption. In true Orwellian fashion, the Republicans called their bill the 'Lobbying Accountability and Transparency Act,' but it holds no one accountable and provides little transparency to the activities of lobbyists or anyone else. No wonder newspapers across the country called it a 'ruse,' a 'joke,' and a 'con.' For the American people, it is truly a shame...

Republicans don't want to end the culture of corruption because they continue to benefit from it. It's time for a new direction."

Today, Roll Call (subscription required) reports on Democratic reaction to the news that Rep. Bill Jefferson is probably going to jail. It gives us some insight into Nancy Pelosi's commitment to changing the 'culture of corruption.'

Democrats Won’t Push Jefferson
May 4, 2006
By John Bresnahan,
Roll Call Staff

House Democrats will not publicly call on Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) to leave office, despite a guilty plea in federal court on Tuesday by Vernon Jackson, a Kentucky businessman who allegedly paid Jefferson and his family more than $450,000 in bribes.

Behind the scenes, Democratic insiders said that everyone from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on down would love to see Jefferson resign from Congress, although they won’t make an open declaration about Jefferson because of internal party politics.

Among other things, the Democratic leadership does not want to alienate the Congressional Black Caucus by calling for Jefferson’s ouster. Several CBC members — including Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) and Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) — have donated to a legal defense fund set up by Jefferson in 2005, and African-American politicians have been concerned for years that law enforcement unfairly targets minority lawmakers for official scrutiny...

Pelosi’s office would not comment directly on Jefferson’s political future, other than to say that each lawmaker has to take personal responsibility for his or her own actions.

“Every Member, Republican or Democrat, must obey the law and follow the rules,” said Jennifer Crider, Pelosi’s spokeswoman. “If they don’t, they will be held accountable.”

So Nancy Pelosi is firmly behind changing the culture of corruption in Washington, unless it creates difficulties in 'internal party politics.' You have to wonder whether she's working with the same political advisers who managed Kerry's campaign.

Update: Ms. Pelosi has done the right thing, and called for an investigation into the actions of Congressman Jefferson. Now we are hoping that she will demonstrate the same consistency with Representative Mollohan.

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Soccer Moms, Security Moms... Lou Dobbs Moms?

National Review's Rich Lowry makes a valid point about the May Day protests. He says they contribute to a sense that things are out of control, which hurts the President. That may be true as far as it goes.

At the same time, those marches call more attention to the issue of immigration generally, and I think that helps Congressional Republicans. For better or worse, there are lots of Republican voters out there who are very upset about illegal immigration. They're some of the same people that helped deliver House Republicans a 54-seat pickup in 1994. By standing firmly against an amnesty, I believe House Republicans are giving their conservative base a real reason to come out in support this fall. I'll need to watch the polling data to see if the conservative base is starting to improve its view of Republicans in Congress.

If this is correct, I think Bush's standing is likely to improve as well, as the base 'comes home' for Republicans generally.

I'm starting to wonder whether this may be the year of the Lou Dobbs voter. Dobbs is a demagogue who either underwent an epiphany when failed, or doesn't believe half of what he says. Nevertheless, he stands for some causes that look pretty popular right now: wariness of international trade, opposition to illegal immigration, and throwing the bums out of Washington. Now take a look at the latest CBS News Poll on voter priorities:

"What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?" Open-ended

War in Iraq 23%
Gas costs/Heating oil 13%
Economy/Jobs 12%
Immigration 8%
Terrorism (general) 3%

What is Congress debating this month? Lobbying reform, foreign investments like the Dubai Ports World deal, gas prices, immigration restrictions, China's unfair trade practices... sound like anyone we know? It seems that Lou Dobbs has his finger on the pulse this year.

As the party in power, Republicans are poorly-positioned to 'take advantage,' but Democrats have weaknesses on ethics, immigration, and the war on terror. It'll be interesting to watch.

Welcome Instapundit readers, and thanks, Glenn for the traffic. As long as you're here, please look around the site. Or, just take a look at Kristin Kreuk.

Welcome again, Instapundit readers. Feel free to check recent posts (at the top left), including an explanation of how Congress will enact a border-enforcement-only immigration bill before the midterms.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sexy Women Make Men Irrational

Wow! Bet this comes like a bolt from the blue, huh?

Researchers, Bram Van den Bergh and Siegfried Dewitte, at University of Leuven in Belgium, came to this conclusion while observing men playing a money-based ultimatum game that called for them to barter and negotiate how they would divvy-up 10 euros.

The scientists conducted the tests on subjects with varying levels of testosterone. Van den Bregh and Dewitte were interested in the doses of testosterone that the men were exposed to while developing in the womb. This - they say - is measurable by comparing the lengths of a man's index and ring fingers. Supposedly, men with high testosterone levels have relatively longer ring fingers.

The findings

When simply playing the game without outside influences, the men with the highest testosterone levels drove the hardest bargain, unwilling to settle for sub-par sums when negotiating.

However, the scientists noticed this pattern broke after the men looked at images of women in sexy lingerie.

Touching t-shirts, looking at pictures of elderly women, and photos of landscapes were used as control items. They had no influence on any of the men's decisions.

Once the men with high testosterone were exposed to the photos of the women, they were more willing to settle for a poorer deal. As a mater of fact, just touching a bra prior to playing the game seemed to squander the resolve of the testosterone-heavy men.

The images and objects did not significantly affect the men with lower levels of testosterone.

Testosterone levels and ring fingers, huh? I thought it was foot size. Well, at least it's scientific.

Ok now take another look at Kristin Kreuk. Don't you want to send me some money?

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'Culture of Corruption' Bites Congressional Democrats, Again

A Kentucky businessman today pled guilty to paying a $400,000 bribe to Congressman Bill Jefferson of Louisiana. Particularly sad, because Jefferson was one of the most reasonable Democrats to work with.

The filing deadline in Louisiana is quite late: August 11. The district is heavily Democratic, so there's not much chance of a Republican gain here. Since there are a number of Democratic candidates already in the race, it looks like Mr. Jefferson's career has probably come to an end.

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Looks Like a Fixer-Upper

For sale: 57 acres of empty land in Pacific Northwest. Comes with Titan I nuclear missile silo.

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Even in a World With Kelo

From the Washington Post.

I give you Bugs Bunny in "Homeless Hare" (ads may be slightly NSFW).

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Gang of 14 to Meet: Boyle the Real Test Case

According to Roll Call (subscription required), the Gang of 14 will meet soon to discuss how to handle upcoming judicial nominations.

‘Gang’ Set to Meet on Judges
May 3, 2006
By Erin P. Billings,
Roll Call Staff

With the stage set for a confrontation over two controversial judicial nominations, Senators in the “Gang of 14” are expected to meet in the coming days to chart a strategy regarding what role the bipartisan group will play in trying to avoid another ugly battle over filibusters. “We are going to meet,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said of the group of seven Democrats and seven Republicans, adding only that the session would occur “real soon.”

The 14 Senators came together last May in an agreement that averted a showdown over consideration of several pending judicial nominees. The group has been quiet in recent months but is back in focus after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) vowed last week to advance two controversial appellate court hopefuls — Brett Kavanaugh and Terrence Boyle — by Memorial Day.

Senators in the gang, on both sides of the aisle, acknowledged Tuesday that they have held informal talks about how to proceed, and sources familiar with those conversations said plans are under way to try to sit down as early as this week or sometime next week.

The article doesn't give us much of substance, except a suggestion that (notwithstanding Harry Reid's moronic comments), Democrats will fight harder against the Boyle nomination than that of Kavanaugh:

Sources indicated that Democrats are more likely to try to filibuster Boyle than Kavanaugh, since Boyle is viewed as more extreme politically and judicially questionable. Democrats are primarily concerned with Kavanaugh’s résumé and the fact his only Senate hearing occurred nearly two years ago, sources said. They argue Boyle, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, is unfit because a high number of his decisions have been reversed by other courts and also take issue with his rulings relating to civil rights and anti-discrimination cases.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday characterized Boyle’s nomination as “outrageous” and called Kavanaugh’s experience “non-existent.”

“The answer is, is there a possibility of filibuster? Of course,” Reid said.

Senate Democrats will once again be forced to ask themselves: is it worth it to continue to block judicial nominees, at the cost of potentially reducing the threshhold for confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice to a simple majority vote? With both parties playing 'base' politics in preparation for the midterm elections, there will be great pressure to filibuster, and vote on the 'nuclear option.'

ConfirmThem has this story as well.

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Superman Returns

Check out Ace's post on the new Superman Trailer. I think that the must-see list for the summer now includes Superman, X-Men, Nacho Libre, and District B13.

I'm totally serious about that by the way. It's basically 'Escape from New York,' done in Paris - where France has decided that crime in the (ahem) 'ghettos' has gotten so bad that they are completely walled off from the rest of the country. When someone in 'District B13' secures a nuclear weapon, one cop has to go in to stop it being used. Trailer is here, although it took me forever to load.

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More on Complexity of Earmark Reform

The House of Representatives is likely to deliver an important victory for reform this week. The Republican lobbying reform bill is likely to be approved, and while everyone agrees it could go further, it does contain some important measures.

As I've noted before (here and here), reforming the earmark process is pretty tricky. Even in the House, the entrenched powers are strong - but they are much stronger in the Senate. This makes it likely that the two chambers will consider earmarks under different sets of rules - which is odd, though definitely not unprecedented.

The Hill does a good job today of laying out the challenges that will face conferees on the reform legislation:

Earmark reform deal in the House raises eyebrows in Senate
By Elana Schor and Jonathan Allen

As the House approaches today’s still-uncertain vote on its leadership-backed lobbying overhaul bill, the earmark-reform deal struck late last week by appropriators, conservatives and leaders continues to face a questionable fate in conference.

One aide to a senior Senate appropriator said his boss would fight hard to preserve the upper chamber’s earmark-reform language, which calls for all appropriations, tax and authorization bills to contain “an explanation of the essential government purpose” of each earmark they contain — a requirement notably absent from the House version.

“I would think he’d be very strongly wedded to the Senate’s particular language because it was the product of a lot of negotiations on the Senate side — good-faith, bipartisan negotiations,” the aide said...

On the Senate side, however, Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) played a key role in crafting earmark-reform language that could satisfy appropriators, working with the bill’s floor manager, Senate Rules Committee Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.). Both senators are institutionally driven and could be loath to cede ground on congressional rules changes during conference on the lobbying bill.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) has abandoned fellow Appropriations members on recent earmark-related floor votes, siding with fellow conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) on efforts to strip projects from the emergency war supplemental. Brownback said he is in favor of whatever will break the logjam on earmark reform.

Still, he warned, “Sometimes these efforts to broaden it are really attempts to kill it.” Though it is early May, he said the Senate is already moving “on a molasses pace,” which could hurt the bill’s chances.

“I’m worried that we’re going to run out of time,” he said...

House appropriators protested a requirement that only their committee’s bills contain labeled lists of member earmarks and threatened to oppose the whole bill unless that provision is extended to tax and authorizing legislation.

Conferees on the lobbying bill will face a number of challenges in writing earmark-reform provisions that would change House and Senate rules. It is unclear whether the same language would be required to apply to both chambers or whether separate new points of order could be established in a conference report.

The dispute in the House over whether earmark reforms will cover only appropriations bills, or also bills produced by Transportation and Ways and Means, is central. While I would prefer that the rule be equally applied to bills from the transportation committee, you could argue that transportation bills already operate under this type of system, de facto. This is because you can pretty much always tell who requested a transportation project, because it is located in that Member's district.

David Dreier's Rules Committee website does a great job of laying out what the House will be voting on this week. Read through the amendment summaries, and call your Representative.

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Immigration Bill: Another Nail in the Coffin

Michelle is first with the news, as always. Senators and Representatives are in session this week, and they read the local DC papers. (Heck, many of them basically live here). What's the first thing they say when they look at the Washington Post? Front page, above the fold: Labor Site Backlash Felt at Polls In Herndon.

This is one area where I think Michelle is behind the curve - or perhaps she's merely vigilant. It looks more and more likely that 'comprehensive' immigration reform - code for a bill that includes an amnesty - is dead for this session. John Boehner and more recently Bill Frist, have both said that it is a bad idea.

Headlines like this are not lost on Members of Congress, who can see for themselves that voters are turning out to punish those who are 'soft' on illegal immigration. They know that those voters are predominantly Republican. While it remains possible that a 'comprehensive' bill gets done, I think at this point the likelihood is that no bill is done, with an outside shot at a bill that includes enforcement only.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Don't Get Your Hopes Up

Whenever I read that the US has captured some high-ranking Al Qaeda leader, I become optimistic that fresh off his capture, we will have a sudden round of victories in the War on Terror. Whatever else may happen, the news that the US may be holding Mustafa Setmarian Nasar should not prompt this type of optimism. I say this not because I am a pessimist, but only because he was apparently captured in Pakistan in November. Thus, whatever quick actions that may have followed from his capture have already occurred.

Oh well.

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Times, Post, others Downplay Entitlement Problems

This morning a number of news outlets and bloggers write about the Trustees' report on the problems of Medicare and Social Security financing. But by focusing on the date that these programs are projected to reach bankruptcy, they understate the problem. The New York Times notes that:

Medicare's hospital insurance trust fund, a widely watched gauge of the program's solvency, will run out of money in 2018, two years earlier than projected in last year's report, the trustees said.

And the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted in 2040, one year earlier than projected last year, the trustees said. At that point, in 2040, Social Security tax collections would be adequate to pay only 74 percent of scheduled benefits.

I think that this dramatically understates the problem, and I'll explain why. But Harry Reid disagrees with me. He says that the White House is exaggerating the problem:

The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said the reports showed that "despite White House scare tactics, Social Security remains sound for decades to come." Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, said the administration had worsened Medicare's problems by promoting managed-care plans, which he said often "cost more than traditional Medicare."

The Washington Post tells the story more or less the same way:

The annual report, issued yesterday by the trustees who monitor the fiscal health of the Medicare and Social Security programs, said the trust fund for the health insurance system for the elderly will run out of money in 2018 -- two years sooner than predicted a year ago and 12 years sooner than had been anticipated when President Bush first took office.

The problem, the report says, has accelerated largely because hospital costs last year were greater than expected.

The forecast also said that Social Security's financial condition has weakened, although its problems are not as great or urgent. It said the retirement system will have enough cash to pay the benefits it owes retirees, disabled workers and workers' survivors until 2040 -- one year less than expected in the 2005 forecast.

So the Post and the Times are agreed: Medicare and Social Security are projected to go bankrupt in 2018 and 2040, respectively. Under the financing system for these programs however, a surplus was (theoretically) built up to cover the cost of benefits down the road. To ensure that the government received a fair and safe return on those accrued funds, they were invested in federal bonds, which would be paid back to the trust funds with interest.

This sounded fine on paper, but in practice, it means that the federal government withdrew money from the trust funds to spend on other things - education, defense, roads, etc. Well, long before the trust funds are bankrupt, the day will come when those trust funds begin to draw down their theoretical surpluses. When that day comes, tax dollars will have to flow from things like education, defense, roads, etc., into the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, to pay for benefits. That's the day that we begin to 'feel the pinch' of entitlement insolvency.

The summary released on Monday is available here. On page 9 of the text (13 of the Adobe file), the trustees identify those dates - the years when benefits exceed revenues for Medicare and Social Security. By their current estimate, 2006 is the first year that Medicare benefits exceed revenues; 2017 is the date for Social Security.

In fact, page 11 of the report released yesterday notes that by the year 2017, the transfer from the general fund to the Medicare and Social Security trust funds will be $487 billion! The trustees themselves stress that the programs reach a critical juncture by this time:

Because neither the interest paid on the Treasury bonds held in the HI and OASDI Trust Funds, nor their redemption, provides any net new income to the Treasury, the full amount of the required Treasury payments to the trust funds must be financed by some combination of increased taxation, increased Federal borrowing from and debt held by the public, and a reduction in other government expenditures. Thus, these payments along with the 75 percent general fund revenue contributions to SMI will add greatly to pressures on Federal general fund revenues much sooner than is generally appreciated.

Now the projected insolvency dates for the entitlement programs shift every year. Sometimes they are moved forward, sometimes backward. And perhaps there will be no problem at all. Maybe in 2017 the voters will say 'you know what? $500 billion is a small price to pay in additional taxes or borrowing to pay for the social compact with seniors and Medicare beneficiaries.' In fact, maybe Harry Reid is overstating the problem, too! Maybe when the trust funds ARE completely bankrupt, people will still want to transfer TRILLIONS of dollars annually to pay for those benefits! After all, there is no magic significance to the insolvency date; it's simply the date when theoretically, the surpluses have been spent. There's no reason that transfers from the general fund to the trust funds have to stop at that time.

On the other hand, if Harry Reid questions whether people will maintain their commitment to pay for entitlement benefits with deficit spending and tax dollars, maybe he ought to get serious about trying to fix the long-term financing problem of these programs. With Medicare leaking like a sieve already, those problems are here TODAY. And they are only going to get worse.

Democrats have long accused Republicans of wanting to gut the entitlement programs, but the surest way to put them at risk is to ignore the problem until we reach crisis point. Now we are a few Presidential terms away from a crisis, but Congressional Democrats are spending a lot of capital trying to convince the public that the problems are exaggerated. Wouldn't this Presidential term - perhaps in the next Congress - be the time to make a deal to 'save' Social Security and Medicare? After all, Bush will not be seeking re-election in 2008, but whoever is elected President will probably have to deal with it. And Reid and the Congressional Democrats may well have to sign off on some reform package. It could turn out that that package will be a feather in the cap of Bush's Republican successor, or it could wind up being a millstone around the neck of his Democratic successor. Why not make the deal now? It is the right thing to do policy-wise, and it is probably the wise thing to do, politically.

Plus, if they keep whistling past the graveyard, the programs may end up being gutted. And the Democrats don't want that, do they?

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Porkbusters Will Require Eternal Vigilance

With the House of Representatives having handed Republicans a very narrow victory in their campaign to limit earmarks, I thought it might be instructive to look at the way that porkbusters are trying to fight pork barrel spending.

First off, the House of Representatives will consider a statutory change to put this reform into effect. The alternative would be to insert the reform in House rules. The statutory change is preferable, because it would require a new law to roll back the reform. If the change were simply in House rules, it would require nothing more than a one-time majority vote of the House to eliminate the reform and go back to the old way of business.

The most interesting thing to me is the mechanism used to limit earmarks. If you consider the question, there are several ways you could attempt to block Congressional earmarking. You could write a law that makes earmarks illegal. That would be awkward, because earmarks can be hard to define. How might you phrase it? Maybe something like 'no law shall have effect which specifies the expenditure of federal funds for a study, work of construction, capital expenditure, equipment purchase, outside contract... retroactively or prospectively made, by a state or local government entity, or by a commission or other independent governmental or non-governmental agency...' Well, it would be awkward, but I'm sure with enough effort, you could write a law that covers all possibilities without taking in other items unintentionally. If you take this approach, you have a few problems. You need the approval of the President and the Senate. And more seriously, you face the problem that anytime Congress appropriates dollars, it writes a new law which conflicts with the one we've just written. So a new appropriations bill with earmarks would presumably supercede our reform.

OK, so writing a new law is not the best way to do it. What else can you do? Well, you could write a Constitutional amendment. In such a case you'd still have the challenge of how you write it. As we discussed above, I bet you could do it - although it would be a long amendment. The next problem would be securing the two-thirds majority of both Houses of Congress, and the states. Well, forget the states really, because you probably would never get the two-thirds in Congress.

So what else can you do? Well, we could do what reformers are doing in the House bill. You can read it for yourself here, starting on page 23). It proposes a statutory change (better than a change of House rules), that only affects the process in the House (good, because the Senate is less likely to object). Further, it does not attempt to outlaw earmarks, or anything so ambitious. Rather, it requires that the Committee report which accompanies every appropriations bill contain a list of the earmarks included in both the bill and the report, with the name of the requesting Member of Congress specified. It enforces this rule by allowing any Member of the House to raise a point of order against consideration of the bill, on the grounds that this rule has not been followed. A 30-minute debate will follow, after which time the House has to vote on whether to consider the appropriations bill or not, notwithstanding the objection. In the case of a conference report (the compromise bill created by House and Senate negotiators, after both have passed different versions of an appropriations bill), the same procedure will apply if the conference report contains earmarks that were not previously identified in either the House or Senate Committee report for the bill.

There's another important item to observe in all this dry legislative back-and-forth. The House cannot vote to waive the point of order against consideration of a House appropriations bill, but it can vote to waive the point of order against a conference report. What does this mean? Well, it's standard operating procedure that prior to considering a bill, the House votes to waive all points of order against it. The reform pushed by porkbusters ensures that this point of order cannot be waived; the House will have to have the debate and vote if a Member rises to make a point of order. Unfortunately, the House can waive the point of order against a conference report.

This is a problem - although perhaps an unavoidable one. By a simple majority vote, the House can consider anonymous earmarks inserted by Senators, or by House Members in the House-Senate conference. This may well be a necessary concession, as it would be hard for reformers in the House to force a change in the Senate. After all, after Tom Coburn and John McCain, it's unclear how many porkbusters there are in the Senate.

If this imperfect reform makes it into law, it will discourage earmarks in the House by subjecting them to the sunlight of public scrutiny. And, it will shift the pressure for secret earmarks into the Senate, and the House-Senate conference committees. It may add to the power of appropriators, because they are the only ones in the conference committees. There will be Members of Congress who want secret earmarks for favored projects, who will ask members of the conference committees to insert them at that stage. Depending on how committed Congress is to the reform, there could wind up being no such projects added, or there could be hundreds of them. It will put lots of pressure on reformers in the House (and to a lesser degree, the Senate) to hold the line on conference reports that include pork barrel projects.

Now like a lot in life, this is both good and bad. First the good: it is narrow, specific, and achievable. It builds on procedures already used in the House. It goes a long way to achieving transparency. It doesn't allow (or shouldn't allow) Members of Congress to pretend the problem is 100% solved; rather, they must continue to press for adherence to a no-earmark policy. The bad: it won't end earmarking. It shifts power to the less-reformist Senate. It empowers appropriators in conference committees.

Make sure you contact your Representative and let him or her know you want to see Congress stick to real reform of the earmark process.

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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Marxists/Anarchists Pay Tribute to the Chicago Martyrs

It fascinates me that supporters of the 'immigrant cause' have selected Monday, May 1, to try to get America to stand up and notice them. It demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of American culture, a tribute to Marxism, and a tin ear as to how to appeal to a majority of Americans.

What is the significance of May 1? Why is that date International Workers' Day, as apart from any other day on the calendar? Because May 1 marks the day in 1886 when Chicago labor leaders organized a strike against the McCormick reaper plant. On May 3, two strikers were killed by police during a fight on the picket lines, and the next day anarchists organized a rally at Haymarket Square, where eight police officers were killed when a fused bomb exploded among them. Police opened fire and four protesters were killed. The Haymarket Riot was born.

Ultimately 8 leaders of Chicago's anarchist movement were arrested and convicted for the crime. All but one were of german ethnicity. They had all advocated violence to overthrow the current system. Four were hanged. These 8 anarchists became martyrs to leftists around the world, and May 1 became the day to celebrate their 'sacrifice.'

May 1 soon became 'May Day,' a time of celebration for anarchists and marxists,' and a symbol of the struggle of labor against capital. It is celebrated around the world, as the official commemmoration of the importance of labor.

I don't recall learning about the Haymarket Riot in school - though I imagine that in Chicago it's probably part of the standard history curriculum. The first I heard of it was in Mexico, where Mexican friends were stunned to learn that I knew nothing about it. They were able to recount details about the event, the 'martyrs,' and their significance in world history. I imagine that others who have lived outside the US have similar experiences, as International Workers' Day is celebrated in most other countries.

But if May Day was 'born' in the United States, why does the United States not commemorate it? You might as well ask why we don't 'celebrate' Pearl Harbor, or the Kent State riots. May Day is at best a sad and tragic day in US history. Further, the United States rejects the marxist/anarchist trappings that are now permanently associated with the day. Why does the United States celebrate Labor Day in September, and not on May 1? Because the United States and the US labor movement wanted to make clear their rejection of May Day's association with socialism, communism, and anarchism.

In considering the May Day protests about to get underway across the country - supposedly on behalf of immigrants - think about who else will be celebrating that day. A look at the Wikipedia page on the Haymarket riot prominently features links to a host of items on anarchism and socialism. A quick internet search turns up lots and lots of interesting sites.

Why is the Haymarket Riot ignored in the US, while it is celebrated around the globe? Because the event and the commemmoration stand for the victory of labor over capital and management - the victory of socialism (or anarchy, depending on your point of view). This is all antithetical to what the US stands for. So when the organizers and the marchers at today's protests tell you that they're just standing up for basic American values, ask them which ones.

Update: Check out Michelle's latest on May Day here.

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