Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ethics Puts Conyers on Double Secret Probation

'I did nothing wrong, and I promise to stop,' is essentially the promise from incoming Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, who allegedly required his staff to do personal work and campaign work on the taxpayer dime.

The ethics inquiry began in December, 2003 when former staff members complained to the ethics panel, formerly named the House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct, that Conyers had required his official staffers to work on campaigns, babysit his children, and run personal errands. Conyers subsequently hired Stanley Brand, a well-respected defense lawyer with a long track record of defending public officials implicated in corruption cases.

In 2003, Reps. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) and Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) headed the ethics committee.

The Hill reported last March that two former Conyers’ aides alleged that he repeatedly violated House ethics rules by requiring aides to work on local and state campaigns, and babysit and chauffeur his children. Deanna Maher, a former deputy chief of staff in the Detroit office, and Sydney Rooks, a former legal counsel in his district office, shared numerous letters, memos, e-mails, handwritten notes and expense reports with The Hill...

Hastings and Berman said in their statement that Conyers provided information and documents to the panel. Committee staff also interviewed witnesses. They also said that Conyers agreed to take six steps to ensure that the matter remain closed. First, he agreed to prohibit his personal congressional staff, other than his chief of staff, from engaging in any voluntary campaign-related work in the 110th Congress unless that staff members takes a leave of absence and obtains prior approval from the wthics Committee.

He also must take several additional steps to make it abundantly clear to his government-paid aides that they need not work on campaigns to gain employment or stay employed in his office. In addition, he will have to maintain a detailed time-keeping system that he implemented during the course of the committee’s inquiry.

"Provided that the above requirements are complied with, this matter will remain closed, and the Committee will take no further action on it," Hastings and Berman said.

Conyers is of course, livid at the unethical behavior of the Bush administration, and has loudly advocated impeachment proceedings. The conditions laid out by the Ethics Committee and agreed to by Conyers sure make it sound like everyone knows that Conyers' staff was expected to do this illegal work, but no one wants to embarrass the new Chairman. From the Committee's statement and findings:

...In the course of providing information to the Committee, Representative Conyers acknowledged what he characterized as a "lack of clarity" [more likely an excess of clarity - the Editor] in his communications with staff members regarding their official duties and responsibilities, and accepted responsibility for his actions.

Representative Conyers also provided the Committee with documents indicating that he had begun taking steps to provide clearer guidance to staff regarding the requirement that campaign work and official work be separate. After reviewing the information gathered during the inquiry, and in light of Representative Conyers’ cooperation with the inquiry, we have concluded that this matter should be resolved through the issuance of this public statement and the agreement by Representative Conyers to take a number of additional, significant steps to ensure that his office complies with all rules and standards regarding campaign and personal work by congressional staff. Representative Conyers has agreed to the following conditions:

1. Prohibiting his personal congressional staff (other than his Chief of Staff) from performing any campaign-related work, including work done on a voluntary basis, during the 110th Congress, unless the staff member takes a paid position on his campaign while on leave without pay status and obtains prior written approval from the Committee.

2. Informing staff members in writing of the prohibition set forth above against the voluntary performance of campaign work.

3. Distributing a memorandum to each member of his personal congressional staff which clearly sets forth all House rules concerning (1) the performance of campaign and other non-official work by congressional staff members and (2) the prohibition against the performance of any campaign-related work being conducted in either his congressional or district offices. Additionally, this memorandum will explicitly state that the performance of campaign or other non-official work by staff members may not be required as a condition of their employment.

4. Directing that meetings of his personal congressional staff be held annually in which the House rules concerning staff participation in campaign activities are discussed and explained. In addition, a description of these rules will be made a part of the orientation for all new staff employees.

5. Continuing to maintain the detailed time-keeping system initiated by Rep. Conyers during the course of the Committee’s inquiry.

6. Requiring that all members of his congressionalstaff attend a briefing conducted by Committee counsel on the application of, and compliance with, applicable House rules concerning the performance of campaign and other non-official work by congressional staff members.

Provided that the above requirements are complied with, this matter will remain closed, and the Committee will take no further action on it.

Perhaps I had the wrong movie. Conyers' defense seems more like 'what we have here is a failure to communicate.' (And note - no word on the turkeys).

Another black eye for the most ethical Congress in American history - and before they meet for the first time. And yet another reason that Republicans should be pushing for an outside ethics process, so that Members are no longer judged by their colleagues, but by actual impartial outsiders. If elected officials could no longer count on protection rather than punishment, they might actually clean up their act.

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Will Johnson Expose Schiavo Hypocrisy

Mickey points to a piece by his Slate colleague Tim Noah on Tom DeLay, wondering whether DeLay (and by extension, other conservatives) will change their views about people in vegetative states and similar conditions, if Tim Johnson does not recover soon:

I heartily endorse DeLay's good wishes. But the political scenarist in me can't suppress curiosity about whether, in the awful event that Johnson should end up on life support, DeLay would once again support legislation blocking any attempts to remove the feeding tube. "It is more than just Terry Schiavo," he told Time magazine in March 2005. Is it, though? Even with a Senate majority hanging in the balance? DeLay probably isn't such a partisan monster that he'd reverse field entirely and declare publicly that the man has suffered enough. More likely, DeLay would hold his tongue, "out of respect for the family," and quietly tell himself that Paris is worth a mass.

The question may be both callous and premature, but it is otherwise valid. Noah wonders about the possibility of change on only one side of the political debate, but it's a fair question whether Democrats might suddenly decide that the 'quality of life' is not really the operative question.

Harry Reid faces a more immediate question, however. The Senate will convene next week, and there seems little reason to believe that Senator Johnson will be able to resume his work soon. While most significant questions require 60 votes to pass the Senate (the number needed to overcome a filibuster), lots of things are decided by simple majorities. The GOP has 49 Senate seats, and several Democratic Senators who either side with them frequently (Lieberman and the Nelsons, for example), and others who seem like they may (hello, Jim Webb), plus the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Cheney.

Is Harry Reid going to be able to carry his share of the load to make the Democrats' first days in power productive ones? The House has a very ambitious schedule in the early going; Ms. Pelosi will ram through a number of initiatives - minimum wage, appropriations, and more. Will Reid be able to put together a Senate majority on tough questions, or can Mitch McConnell muster a working majority on enough issues to stymie his good friend?

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Tribute to Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti (1937-2006)

HotAir reports that Saddam has reached room temperature.

The most appropriate celebration I could think of:

A better end than he deserved.

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Luntz: How Giuliani can Beat McCain

Pollster Frank Luntz - a former Giuliani adviser - pens a piece on how Giuliani can beat McCain for the Republican nomination. It's interesting and useful, but by itself it won't win Giuliani anything:

Differentiation is Job One of a successful presidential aspirant, and Rudy knows this. As a wordsmith, I have enjoyed watching him begin to draw distinctions between himself and McCain - claiming in a recent radio interview that "I'm more firmly committed to tax cutting than he is."

If he's going to outmaneuver McCain in the quest for the hearts and minds of a very demanding and often fickle Republican electorate, Giuliani will need to do much more of that - more than he might be inclined to consider. If I were advising his campaign (which I am not), here's what I might suggest.

Giuliani must begin by understanding that McCain has one advantage that no other Republican hopeful can match: a love affair with the American media. One reason why McCain has generated significant support outside the GOP is because of labels like "maverick" and "outsider" that those in the media use to express their approval, even as they harm him among the party faithful.

That is Giuliani's first, best opening: He's an outsider, and unafraid of The New York Times editorial page (an applause line in Iowa and New Hampshire). Though McCain may not sound like one or act like one, he's been a Beltway Republican, part of the Washington establishment for almost two decades. Giuliani can score considerable points by acknowledging McCain's willingness to buck the political system while subtly reminding Republicans of McCain's participation in that very system.

This leads to Giuliani's second great advantage: New York. While McCain is in Washington, a city of hearings and roll call votes, Giuliani is the embodiment of a city back on its feet. There was a time when being a New Yorker at a GOP convention was about as popular as being Dr. Kevorkian at an AARP convention. Times have changed, and so has the city...

That brings us to Giuliani's third big weapon: the triumvirate of results, success and solutions. My polling and focus groups make clear that Republican voters are not looking for the kind of "revolution" that swept their party into Congress in 1994. On the contrary, they are looking for what George W. Bush promised to be in 2000 - a "reformer with results."

There's lots more to add to the list of what Giuliani can do to beat McCain - call attention to the fact that Senators do not win the White House, and watch for opportunities to showcase McCain's temper. However, none of those will matter a hill of beans if conservatives see McCain as a cutter of taxes and spending who is committed to conservative social policies, while perceiving Giuliani as a social liberal. There is no way Giuliani can win if that's the dynamic.

If Giuliani can address that - something I believe he can do effectively - then Luntz's piece offers good suggestions on 'what comes next.'

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Tim Johnson Celebrates 60th Birthday

But remains in critical condition, CQ Reports.

As for his long-term prognosis, it is too early to say. CQ offers this, however:

Of the small percentage of patients with AVMs who have bleeding, about a quarter die within several days. Another quarter suffer minor loss of function. One-fourth have a more severe loss of strength, motor skills and speech, and one-fourth make a full recovery.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Remembering James Brown

In the wake of the passing of James Brown, I found out that there are apparently lots of people unfamiliar with Eddie Murphy's impersonation of James Brown. It is definitely worth a viewing.

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With All Due Congratulations to Ethiopia...

...on the success of the advance of their armed forces along with the Somali national government forces to the gates of Mogadishu, it's a pity that it took 12 years and Ethiopian resolve to begin to redress the consequences of American pusillanimity.

Outrages to national dignity have concrete, international consequences, and attempts to dismiss these real-world consequences of national failures of nerve as insignificant condemn not only the victims at hand to their fate, but also the incalculable but certain future victims who suffer the violence of emboldened thugs and bullies.

It is telling that, in all of the retrospectives on the life of Gerald Ford, the one image we have not seen on the networks ad infinitum from his tenure is the one which did the greatest damage, although Ford's personal responsibility for that image remains debatable.

Sins of omission are just as damning as sins of commission. After the fiascos of Desert One, the Beirut Barracks, Bakara Market, Khobar Towers, the USS Cole and the Kenyan and Tanzanian embassies, one would presume this lesson had been learned, but we see in such things as Biden's disgraceful a priori opposition to pacifying Baghdad that such lessons are held lightly when the opportunity for political gain is sensed.

John Edwards Preens

The silky-maned Edwards made his official campaign launch in New Orleans today. George Stephanopolous--no doubt pursuing his own agenda--actually pitched some hardballs at Edwards on his decision to politicise Hurricane Katrina as a key campaign theme.

Yesterday, Edwards donned some spiffy, almost-work clothes for a photo-op at a home in the ninth ward. It's not clear in front of how many other houses he's held similar shovels, but it is clear that his work clothes have seen little actual work.

This call to action would have been far more effective if it hadn't been so tightly linked with--one might even go so far as to say resulting from--Edwards' personal political calculations.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Electoral Map Gets Redder in 2012

Polidata crunches the numbers from the latest census estimates, and reports that Texas and Florida will gain as many as 6 House seats after the 2010 census, with new seats as well for Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Utah. New York and Ohio are likely to lose 2 seats each. While Ohio has been fertile ground for GOP Presidential candidates, we'll take that trade - particularly if Iowa, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are among the states losing seats, as well.

Are the Republicans a regional party or a national party? Are Democrats still in the ascendancy? Neither will matter as much if about 10 electoral votes just moved straight from the 'safe Democrat' column to the 'safe Republican' one.

Update: Welcome KausFiles readers!

Mickey wonders whether the new districts added will 'invariably' be Republican. I don't assert that they would be; I'm just saying that they will add electoral votes in states that consistently vote Republican (not necessarily House seats). Of course, a given Democratic candidate could certainly win Florida - or Arizona, or Nevada, for that matter. But for the next few elections at least, those appear to be pretty strong GOP states.

And as to what 'Republican' will mean in 2010, it could certainly be different from today - particularly if Giuliani is somehow the GOP nominee in 2008. But I suspect it will mean largely what it means today.

Update II: Guess I should have been clearer the first time! Michael Barone has linked me for the first time, but he too, thought I was talking about additional House seats! The good news however, is that Barone does think that the shift of 10 House seats from the North and East to the South and West will benefit the GOP - but perhaps not by as many as ten seats. Still, I'll take it.

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Those Selfish Americans

Nice catch over at Free Exchange on how American drugs help the world, and how European price controls are increasingly making them free riders on US advances.

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Back Online

I hope you had as great a Christmas holiday as I did. The Editor's daughter had a fantastic time with aunts and uncles, and especially cousins.

While we were away of course, both James Brown and Gerald Ford passed, making me wonder:

Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Few Christmastide Clarifications

Many people are under the sad misapprehension that Christmas is over; in fact we have yet 10 more days after today until Twelfth Night. If more people understood this, we could both provide hope for procrastinators still working to get out their Christmas cards and offer an opportunity for bargain hunters to take advantage of year-end clearances for their gift-giving.

Today is in fact both Boxing Day throughout the Anglosphere, and the related Feast of St. Stephen the Protomartyr. St. Stephen was one of the first seven deacons of the Christian Church, which is why his day is associated with almsgiving and the support of the less fortunate. This in turn explains why Good King Wenceslas makes such a point of inquiring after the peasant who wanders into his view in his eponymous carol.

Sunday, December 24, 2006