Saturday, June 23, 2007

Remember the Americas Cup?

I didn't think it was possible for the defense of the Americas Cup to begin without me having heard even a mention of it. Remember when Dennis Conner was a celebrity?

How old am I?

Sarkozy Embraces Socialism; EU Constitution is Back

Reading this article in the Financial Times, you'd be forgiven for not having the vaguest clue what they're talking about. It seems almost designed to obfuscate the talks on replacing the defunct EU Constitution:

Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, claimed to have dealt a blow to the "dogma" of competition after European Union leaders struck a deal on a new "reform treaty" in marathon talks that ended in the early hours of Saturday.

Mr Sarkozy said the new treaty opened the door for the creation of "European champions", after he secured the deletion of the words "undistorted competition" from the EU's objectives.

"The word "protection" is no longer taboo," he said. "Competition as an ideology, as a dogma, what has it done for Europe?"

Yeah -- what has competition done for Europe -- or anyone? Oh sure, some argue that competition leads to technological advances, breakthroughs in science, medicine, food cultivation, political ideology, and anything else you can think of, but how important are those? For example, remember all those years when the US and NATO competed against the USSR and Warsaw Pact? What did Europe get out of that?

Not much, apparently, because competition has been kicked overboard in the effort to bring Europe together:

The Brussels summit agreed the outline of a treaty to replace the Union's failed constitution, rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands in referendums in 2005. Although stripped of its grand title and symbols of statehood like a flag and anthem, the new treaty contains many of the constitution's main ideas for making the enlarged EU more efficient and coherent on the world stage.

They include a full-time EU president, foreign minister and diplomatic service, a streamlined European Commission and more qualified majority voting. Angela Merkel, German chancellor and host of the summit, hopes the treaty will come into force by 2009...

But competition lawyers say the move will have legal effect, weakening the EU's ability to fight protectionism. Mr Sarkozy endorsed that view, saying it "might give a different jurisprudence to the Commission". He said a competition policy could emerge "that will favour the emergence of European champions".

Mr Sarkozy's previous incarnation as finance minister suggests he may have in mind state intervention to create Franco-French industrial mergers.

It wasn't all that long ago that conservatives and market advocates in the US were delighted with Sarkozy's election. How much things have changed in a few weeks. Now it seems that he wants to suppress competition in Europe, which is terrible news.

Fortunately for EU consumers at least, competition from the US, China, and other nations is much tougher to stifle. Thus the 'European Champions' ought to take a beating at the hands of more dynamic foreign firms. That won't help European workers of course, but the continued insistence of European governments on ignoring markets makes clear that that's not their goal, anyway.

Read McQ as well, who points out that the interested governments seem to have learned their lesson, and appear unwilling to submit this 'treaty' to popular votes. No use having the people ruin what their elites have decided is best for them. After all, we already know what they think.

Fred Thompson's Getting Closer...

He's in!

Err... OK - you already knew he was in. But now he's IN.

Unless he isn't quite yet -- but he will be and now he has to be -- unless he's willing to break a lease.

Oh -- and he's visiting South Carolina and New Hampshire.

What was it about those states again? I remember they had something in common...

Oh yeah -- presidential primaries.

Media Accuracy Watch

I've been picking on CNN lately. And why not?

Novak: Dems Helping Out Union Buddies

No surprise, really:


While increasing President Bush's overall request for the Labor-HHS appropriations bill by 8 percent, the House Democratic version cuts by 19.6 percent the Labor Department request for funds to enforce disclosure by labor unions of how they use membership dues.

Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao has tried, against opposition from organized labor, to enforce at long last union disclosures imposed by the 1959 Landrum-Griffin Labor Reform Act. The funding reductions in the House bill would force Chao to cut enforcement personnel and effectively undercut her efforts.

The Democratic bill was put together by Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, who heads the Labor-HHS subcommittee as well as the full Appropriations Committee. It is one of eight money bills marked for a Bush veto. Rep. James Walsh of New York, the subcommittee's ranking Republican, indicates he will vote to override such a veto.

Read Novak for news on McCain's troubles, and for the suggestion that Giuliani won't take Iowa all that seriously.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Congress Out to Destroy the Airborne Laser

If you tell me that this world doesn't have room for an airborne laser ($), I'm not sure I want to go on living in it:

Rounding out the agency’s list of top three priorities is the Airborne Laser program. From the president’s $548.7 million request, the House cut $250 million and the Senate committee shaved $200 million.

Either cut “would spell the demise for the Airborne Laser program,” Altwegg said.

“We think this revolutionary capability should be given a chance to proceed to shoot down” in 2009, he added.

ABL is being designed to locate and track missiles in the boost phase of flight and then accurately point and fire the high-energy laser, destroying the missiles near their launch areas.

The broader article is on the action in Congress to slash the President's request for the Missile Defense Agency. The White House is really between a rock and a hard place on this, as Congress just doesn't like missile defense, and the Russians don't either:

MDA, part of the Defense Department, requested $310.4 million for fiscal 2008 to fund the proposed construction and deployment of an interceptor site in Europe. The House bill (H.R. 1585), chops $160 million in funding while the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the bill (S. 567), passed by the committee last month, cuts $85 million. It is unclear when the Senate bill will be introduced on the floor. The appropriations committees will not mark up their defense spending bills until after the July Fourth recess.

The United States is proposing to place 10 interceptors in Poland and the affiliated radar in the Czech Republic, but an agreement has not been reached...

Aside from the European interceptor site, Altwegg said MDA’s second priority is to get funding reinstated for the Multiple Kill Vehicle. That project allows for more than one “kill vehicle” to be launched from a single booster, with the ability to shoot down multiple objects.

“It is our linchpin that allows us to cope with ... decoys and other countermeasures that might present themselves,” Altwegg said.

The House cut $42 million from the president’s $271 million MKV request.

The Impartial Media

Is Bob Franken affiliated with any news outlet, or is he a free-lancer now that he no longer works for CNN? Reading his news commentary at The Hill -- particularly this piece about the debate over closing Guantanamo -- leaves you wondering how he was able to report the news in an impartial fashion:

No detainee has escaped, of course, but inevitably, teeny morsels of the truth did. In the name of fighting the War on Terror, U.S. interrogators were oftentimes engaging in treatment that could hardly be described as “humane.”

Guantanamo has been an international embarrassment. So much so that there is a debate within the administration over whether it should be shut down.

But that’s really complex. If these detainees are brought to the United States they would have habeas corpus rights.

For a government that refused to even extend them Geneva Convention protections, this would be like poison.

The administration argues that such niceties are distractions in the fight against global terrorism.

But even with all that the word of mistreatment oozed out and Guantanamo is an embarrassment. So too is the effort to conceal what was going on all this time.

So our national security leaders have painted themselves, and us, into a corner. Democracy can sure be inconvenient.

Speaking of their disdain for the public’s right to know what goes on in this fight to protect our way of life, a friend once remarked, “Never have so many fought so hard for freedoms they despise.”

It is a virtual certainty of course, that if Guantanamo closes, some prisoners that would have gone there will instead remain in prisons in their home countries - or in any 'secret prisons' that may remain in third countries. Do advocates really expect that the closure of Gitmo will improve the treatment received by terror suspects?

Check out more thoughts on Gitmo here.

Speaker Pelosi Supports (Canadian) Veterans

This is great.

Gore's Allies Keeping their Powder Dry

From the Hill:

Most members of Al Gore’s inner political circle have not yet signed up with any presidential campaign, triggering speculation that the 2000 Democratic nominee will jump into the race for the White House later this year. But Gore’s ex-aides and advisers say they do not think their former boss will enter the presidential fray.

Democratic political experts who played significant roles in Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, expressed strong skepticism that Gore would challenge Democratic frontrunners Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.).

If Gore does not get into the race, he could still play a significant role. What would Bloomberg (or Obama, or Edwards) give him for his endorsement?

Who Would Bloomberg Hurt?

McQ notes that Barone has tackled the question. And it could prove to be a very complex one. Go read the entire piece, but Barone concludes by quoting David Frum:

Bloomberg's numbers will dwindle (as Nader's did). He will then face a stark choice: accept that he's been made a monkey of—or up the ante. Nobody gets to be as rich as Bloomberg if he is not a fierce competitor. So—assuming he has followed the path thus far—he will double down. He will go negative, filling the airwaves with harsh attack ads.

Against whom will those ads be aimed? A lot will ride on that question. Attack ads are dangerous things, because they damage both the attacker and the attackee. Their main effect is not to change votes from D to R or R to D, but to depress turnout among potential supporters of the targeted candidate. Candidates refrain from excess negativity for fear of damaging their own image. But a Bloomberg in the polling basement will feel no such constraint.

The ads will be a free gift to the candidate Bloomberg dislikes less at the expense of the candidate he dislikes more.

And the candidate he dislikes more will almost certainly be the Republican.

That's certainly one plausible scenario, but I don't know that it's the likeliest. Bloomberg is no dummy. I think he could run a competitive race against two major party competitors in a harsh anti-Washington year. He'll present himself as a successful, non-partisan, no-nonsense businessman who knows what it takes to maintain economic growth, solve difficult problems, and work with Republicans and Democrats. With a billion dollars to spend, I'm not sure he reaches the point where 'his numbers dwindle.'

And if you presume that he's willing to unleash hundreds of millions of dollars of negative ads to destroy a rival, why wouldn't he do that early in the race? It's true that negative advertising typically hurts both the target and the candidate who 'goes negative.' But isn't it possible that Bloomberg sees an opening in the spring, decides he has the best chance of co-opting the support of the Democratic candidate, and then decides to spend his millions trashing that person?

Doing Nothing About Energy

The Wall Street Journal features a bipartisan criticism of Congress's approach to our energy needs:

Largely omitted from the debate has been the need to develop comprehensive and effective coal and nuclear transition policies. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts energy consumption to rise by 34% by 2030 and coal's share to rise from 49% to 57.5% over this same period. Likewise, nuclear power presents great promise on both the energy and environmental fronts, but is a hugely capital-intensive industry that must be further considered.

Opportunity still exists to forge a sound and stable domestic energy program that benefits consumers, industries and our economy. Yet, the agenda presented thus far from some corners must be viewed in tandem with the potential costs, including: higher prices for fuel, food, manufacturing and services; gasoline shortages; limited domestic capacity; increased reliance on foreign sources of energy; decreased capital investment and lower economic growth.

Congress must recognize and act upon the difference between hope and reality.

Democratic Infighting on Iraq Getting Ugly

Some analysts argue that Congressional Democrats have demonstrated political brilliance with their single-minded focus on ending the US military operation in Iraq. Democrats have relentlessly criticized the administration and Congressional Republicans, and have refused to actually use the power of the purse to end the conflict.

According to the House Appropriations Committee, Democrats had to go back on their promises on earmark reform because they were too busy working on Iraq. And the focus on Iraq has contributed to the inability of Congress to pass major legislation on other important issues. Privately, moderate Democrats and Freshmen grumble about their conference's failure to make progress on important issues.

But while the focus on Iraq may not be pretty, it's at least paying off to the tune of a 14 percent confidence rating, right? How can critics like me argue with such success?

I'd just point out that while Democrats bask in the public adulation, looks like their decision to start another ineffectual debate on Iraq has led to more nasty internecine warfare:

In an internecine skirmish over control of Democrats’ anti-war message, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) yesterday accused Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) of misrepresenting his plan for withdrawal from Iraq...

“Senator Levin knows full well that the plan I introduced … would end funding for the war in Iraq only after our brave troops have been safely redeployed out of Iraq,” Feingold said, labeling Levin’s portrayal of his plan as disingenuous...

Feingold did not let up late yesterday. On liberal-leaning pundit Ed Schultz’s radio show, he tagged Levin a flip-flopper for voting against a binding timeline for withdrawal from Iraq in summer 2006 before supporting it this year.

Meanwhile, a slew of liberal bloggers blasted Levin for suggesting that Congress should continue paying for the war until President Bush heeds calls to withdraw.

“Despite Levin’s flip-flop today in now supporting a redeployment timeline, his capitulation on the 2008 Defense Authorization bill only proves why he is not the man to force a change in Bush’s Iraq policy,” Steve Soto wrote on the Left Coaster blog.

Several singled out Levin’s decision to quote former President Lincoln in discussing the challenge lawmakers face on Iraq.

“There are no pretty words to describe what Levin has done here — he has disingenuously and cravenly used Abraham Lincoln to defend his actions,” Big Tent Democrat wrote on the popular liberal blog TalkLeft...

Harry Reid conceded a week ago that Democrats had unwisely raised the hopes of their core supporters that they could end the war, and suffered as a result. He might also have noted that the decision to drag out the debate has divided Democrats more than it has the Republicans.

Do the Democrats think that by debating this again, Republicans will suffer more from an association with the war? That's not very likely. It's pretty clear that they favor a reassessment of the surge and the mission in September; are they going to shift now?

The debate will however, give commentators the opportunity to point out that Democrats could have ended the conflict if they chose to do so. It will engender more anger from the base against Democrats like Levin. (Who knows -- maybe they can drive him out of the caucus like Lieberman.) And it will raise the hopes of the Left that this time the Democrats will accomplish something.

Earmark Disclosure's Unintended Consequences

Representative Patrick McHenry was among the leaders in fighting for disclosure of earmarks. Now that he's got what he wanted, he's defending one of his own:

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) was all over the House floor last week, bashing Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and other Democratic leaders for not doing enough to disclose member earmarks early in the appropriations process, as Democrats had promised when they took over the House in January. Republicans eventually got Democrats to back down and release the earmark requests -- read "pork" -- earlier than Obey had planned, so McHenry got what he wanted. And now McHenry will be forced to defend his $129,000 earmark, via the Small Business Administration, for Christmas trees.

Actually, the $129K is to go to the The Mitchell County Development Foundation, "a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating jobs and strengthening the educational system, as well as promoting tourism in Mitchell County."

The "Perfect Christmas Tree" part comes in because in 2003, author Gloria Houston donated the rights to her children's book, "The Perfect Christmas Tree" to the town of Spruce Pine, N.C. Spruce Pine and Mitchell Country have lost thousands of textile and manufacturing jobs over the last several years to foreign competition. Mitchell County used the money to fund some small business jobs for woodworkers and other craftsman.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Will Doha Collapse Lead to Porked-Up Farm Bill

International trade agreements are good for the US because they reduce the taxes that consumers and producers pay on goods shipped internationally -- whether they be imports or exports. They've also had the indirect benefit of preventing the US government from going 'whole hog' in giving agricultural interests the subsidies and protections to which they feel entitled.

Leaders in Congress and the Executive Branch have been able to tell farm interests, 'I'd love to help you out, but the WTO (or the EU, or Australia, or Mexico, or whoever) will file a trade grievance and slam us with penalties.' Further, while administration officials routinely claim not to do this, it at least gives them an opening to push for more pro-market ag policy, on the pretext that some key trade partner is forcing it.

The Doha Round of trade talks has been on life support since before it began (remember Seattle?) and today is no different. Agricultural talks have again gone south, and participants are pessimistic -- as they usually are -- about the chance of reaching an accord.

What is the practical effect in Washington? Well, it looks like the next Farm Bill can be more generous than it might have appeared just a day ago:

Thursday’s collapse of talks aimed at jump-starting international trade negotiations could reduce pressure on lawmakers in both chambers to keep world trade considerations uppermost in their minds as they write the 2007 farm bill...

The failure to return to negotiations comes as Congress is writing the 2007 farm bill, which will determine federal farm policy for the next five years. A key issue has a proposal from the Bush administration to cut funding for “countercyclical” payments to farms and instead provide farmers direct payments unrelated to production or sales.

Direct payments are thought to provide less of a “safety net” for farmers, but they are also considered less distorting to the market, and thus preferable under WTO standards. But the collapse of Doha negotiations means backers of direct payments will no longer be able to argue that they would better comply with WTO.

Another proposal known as Farm 21, sponsored by Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) in the House and former Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), would phase out all farm subsidies and replace them with conservation payments. It too could suffer from the failed talks. Proponents had argued that the plan’s trade compliance requirements would protect farmers from future trade disputes.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who said in a Thursday conference call that he expects his committee to begin marking up a Senate version of the bill after the July 4 recess, released a statement on the talks, saying, “I am very disappointed that discussion among trade ministers from these countries broke down, particularly since it now looks unlikely that an agreement will be reached any time soon.”

Harkin continued, “It is crucial that the U.S. proposal in domestic agricultural support be matched by similar improvements in offers from our trading partners in market access and export competition. We should have seen more willingness to match the U.S. offer, but we did not see it.”

Translation: if you're not going to give up your subsidies, why should we?

Posting Earmarks Online

I am as cynical as the next guy -- usually quite a lot more cynical, actually. But the competition between Republicans and Democrats does indeed make for a more responsive government over time.

Republicans had grown complacent and lost all taste for reform, so the voters kicked them out in favor of Democrats who promised to do better. Now that the Democrats have faltered, the GOP suddenly displays the zeal of the convert, on at least some issues.

To wit: the Republican Study Committee -- led by Congressman Jeb Hensarling -- is now publishing online all the earmarks they discover in moving appropriations measures. Here's the link for the earmark list associated with the Interior and Environment bill.

Do you have a suggestion for the next step in opening the House to greater transparency? Send it to them. I bet they're a receptive audience. And if not, try suggesting it to the Democrats. After all, there's no monopoly on reform.

Another Global Warming Skeptic

Vaclav Klaus -- the President of the Czech Republic -- argues in the Financial Times against a collective response to global warming:

As someone who lived under communism for most of his life, I feel obliged to say that I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism. This ideology wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central (now global) planning.

The environmentalists ask for immediate political action because they do not believe in the long-term positive impact of economic growth and ignore both the technological progress that future generations will undoubtedly enjoy, and the proven fact that the higher the wealth of society, the higher is the quality of the environment. They are Malthusian pessimists.

The odd thing is, global warming 'advocates' like John Travolta are probably doing more to harm their cause than people like Klaus.

Electing an Outsider in 2008

The confidence rating for Congress is about as low as it's ever been. Americans view Congress as out of touch, resistant to change, and unwilling to tackle important issues. There's no confidence that Iraq will end well, and little chance that:

  • Congress will take action on immigration, energy, entitlement reform, and ethics; AND,
  • The American people will view those challenges as 'solved' in a meaningful way.

Unless things change dramatically in 16 months, the American electorate will be awfully restive come election day. They are likely to want significant change in Washington.

Now consider the candidates. Who's best situated to take advantage of that?

Michael Bloomberg: Bloomberg fits the bill. While a lifelong liberal, he hasn't been a (registered) Democrat in a while. He governed a Democratic city as a nominal Republican. He is seen as having solved big problems and gotten Republicans and Democrats to work together. He'll run as an Independent. Credentials on 'independence' and 'change?' Best in the field.

Barack Obama: As an African-American, he clearly is somewhat different. Plus, his style and manner seem a 'breath of fresh air.' He'd be more credible than some in talking about 'changing the tone' in Washington. Still, his record on the issues is that of an old-line Kennedy liberal. The GOP nominee would have fun contrasting the rhetoric and the substance.

Rudy Giuliani: Not shockingly, his profile is similar to Bloomberg's. His record is that of a problem solver (crime, budget, welfare, and the economy in NYC) who can bring Republicans and Democrats together. His high-profile unwillingness to shift on abortion enhances his credibility. The only knock on his outsider status is that he actually has been a defender of the Bush administration.

Fred Thompson: Outsider credentials? He's an actor; he served just one full Senate term and then showed no desire to return to elective office; and he sounds like the no-nonsense, maverick outsider (a persona that's heavily reinforced in his acting roles). Weaknesses? He will be painted as a DC lawyer/lobbyist, and there's more than some truth to the characterization. Can he promise to get Republicans and Democrats to work together? Perhaps not -- but he will probably strive to be the fed-up outsider who promises to shake things up -- and he might be the strongest in the field in that respect.

John Edwards: He hasn't served in office for several years, and his 'two Americas' message has a strong and inherent outsider flavor. His criticisms of Democrats in DC help him as well. Undercutting the outsider image is that he's been running for President since 2003 or so.

John McCain: Has spent a lifetime in Washington, fighting the establishment. Outsider credentials? Mixed. Bipartisan credentials are excellent, due to McCain-Feingold and McCain-Kennedy. Those bipartisan credits also seem likely to prove fatal to his candidacy.

Mitt Romney: Pretty good outsider/change credentials. He is not of Washington; he solved problems in Massachusetts (health care), and he certainly worked with Democrats -- plus he's the closest thing to an 'Iraq critic' now in the GOP field. His achilles heel is the perception that he has dramatically changed position to get in line with GOP orthodoxy.

Hillary Clinton: Outsider credentials? She's a woman. That counts for something, but apart from that she's the closest thing to a Washington institution in this race. Can she promise to 'change the tone,' or 'get Republicans and Democrats to work together?' Not a chance in hell. Plus, after 20 straight years of Bushes and Clintons, she's the only one in the field that offers more of the same. If she wins the nomination and the electorate wants change, she could get trounced in the general election -- particularly if Bloomberg runs.

Am I missing anything? It seems to me that if voters want change in DC -- and they will -- then the candidates best positioned to take advantage are Bloomberg, Obama, Giuliani and Thompson. This doesn't mean of course, that these are the best candidates overall -- they all have plenty of other strengths and weaknesses. But in a general election, 'outsider/change' credentials are likely to be a big boost.

Nailing it on Bloomberg

John Mercurio of the Hotline argues that Democrats should be 'terrified' of a Bloomberg candidacy:

'He is a liberal Democrat. He will pull strongly... from Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in a general election -- if he is an independent candidate. And he will pull from the independents...'

And while we're on the topic, now looms another potential independent bid that should scare Democrats:

Ralph Nader says he is seriously considering running for president in 2008 because he foresees another Tweedledum-Tweedledee election that offers little real choice to voters.

If Bloomberg runs, an indie bid by Nader probably offers no greater threat to Democrats. That's because any likely Nader voter would be angry enough at Democrats to vote for Bloomberg.

Media Bias?

No way.

Travolta as Concerned as Ever about Global Warming

He arrived at the Paris Air Show in his personal 707, and had nice things to say about flying the Airbus 380:

Hollywood star John Travolta brought a splash of glamour to the Paris Air Show on Thursday as feverish buying of Airbus planes from Asian and Middle Eastern airlines continued.

Travolta, a qualified pilot and plane enthusiast, landed at the Paris Air Show in his personal Boeing 707 late on Wednesday and was to appear publicly at the exhibition site later on Thursday, organisers said.

The photo is from my colleagues at the Worldwide Standard.

Rob Port has written on Travolta before:

His serious aviation habit means he is hardly the best person to lecture others on the environment. But John Travolta went ahead and did it anyway.

The 53-year-old actor, a passionate pilot, encouraged his fans to “do their bit” to tackle global warming.

But although he readily admitted: “I fly jets”, he failed to mention he actually owns five, along with his own private runway.

Clocking up at least 30,000 flying miles in the past 12 months means he has produced an estimated 800 tons of carbon emissions – nearly 100 times the average Briton’s tally.

Travolta made his comments this week at the British premiere of his movie, Wild Hogs.

He spoke of the importance of helping the environment by using “alternative methods of fuel” – after driving down the red carpet on a Harley Davidson...

“It [global warming] is a very valid issue,” Travolta declared. “I’m wondering if we need to think about other planets and dome cities.

“Everyone can do their bit. But I don’t know if it’s not too late already. We have to think about alternative methods of fuel.

Yes, we all have to do our bit. Travolta is doing his bit by courageously jetting around the world on his own private plane, and telling us all to live more modest lifestyles.

Morris: Congress Unpopular Because Nothing Has Changed

That's the assessment of Dick Morris. In particular, he points to the great number of congressional wives and children who earn loads of cash lobbying:

Of the 100 senators, the sons, daughters, husbands or wives of 20 of them are registered as lobbyists, whose job often boils down to lobbying Mom or Dad. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is typical of the conflicts that can arise in such a situation. His son Scott Hatch lobbied for the makers of ephedra while his father sponsored legislation to exempt the diet supplement from federal regulation. Scott got paid $2 million in lobbying fees, while Dad got more than $137,000 from the diet supplement industry.

Is Pelosi Trying to Kill the Immigration Bill

This is probably an effort -- at least in part -- to encourage Republicans who want an immigration bill (including the president, obviously) to step up efforts to line up supporters in the House GOP. If however, Ms. Pelosi and Ms. Lofgren really do not intend to advance a bill until September, there's a good chance it will be too late to get anything done:

House Democratic leaders began a series of immigration “listening” sessions Wednesday, but they may not have a bill ready before September — a timetable some backers say could kill the effort...

Lofgren, D-Calif., has yet to unveil a draft bill, House leaders are holding “listening” sessions this week and next with rank-and-file lawmakers rather than committee markups, and Pelosi has set a high bar for House consideration, including evidence of up to 70 Republican votes.

All of that raises doubts both within and outside Pelosi’s caucus about the feasibility of a July timeline for House action...

“If it hasn’t passed both houses by the end of July, it is toast,” predicted Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who wrote an immigration bill with Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill.

Democrats insist that Pelosi wants to pass an immigration bill, but Republicans survey the same landscape and see plenty of reasons why the California Democrat might hope it gets buried.

“If Pelosi takes up the Senate bill and moves it further to the left, it will convert our biggest potential liability into a motivating force for our base,” said Florida Rep. Adam H. Putnam, the Republican Conference chairman.

Democratic divisions have, to this point, been obscured by Republican infighting. But when the House considers an immigration bill, the majority of House Democrats are likely to be at odds with swing-district colleagues, particularly freshmen whose 2006 electoral victories gave Democrats their first House majority in a dozen years...

Some Democrats say that after years of debating immigration, the listening sessions are unlikely to yield many new votes.

“We don’t need no stinkin’ listening sessions,” said one veteran lawmaker, paraphrasing from the film “Blazing Saddles.”

Democratic leaders remain reluctant to discuss their plans for an immigration bill.

“Let’s see what the Senate does and then we’ll decide what we’re going to do,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., said.

Read the whole piece; it's a very good summary of where the debate stands. I also can't help but laugh at the comment that 'the listening sessions are unlikely to yield many new votes.' Gee, ya think? It sure seemed to me that people were falling in love with this bill the more they hear about it.

The House Republicans have their mouths watering to get this debate underway, and they expect that the bill put forward by the Democratic leadership will be to the left of whatever passes the Senate. They feel there's no way they can lose politically. And with moderate Democrats from swing districts downright scared of the isue, you can see why.

Pay attention to what Rahm Emanuel says; he's probably the most politically astute of the House Democrats. In his move from chair of the DCCC to caucus chair, he essentially oversaw the gaining of the House majority, and has now been entrusted with keeping it. If he sounds dubious about going forward, it's because he knows it will be politically costly.

More Sopranos Parodies...

From the mascots for the Pittsburgh Pirates:

It seems that the number of mascots a team has is inversely proportional to the success of that team.

Everyone Needs a Hobby

A Michigan man is building Stonehenge in his backyard:

You can check out his website here.

Reactions to the Sopranos

A little late, but this is still pretty funny:

Is Global Cooling the Next Great Threat?

Is the science settled, or not? A Canadian scientist argues that a study of mud layers shows we need to prepare for a period of global cooling:

Solar scientists predict that, by 2020, the sun will be starting into its weakest Schwabe solar cycle of the past two centuries, likely leading to unusually cool conditions on Earth. Beginning to plan for adaptation to such a cool period, one which may continue well beyond one 11-year cycle, as did the Little Ice Age, should be a priority for governments. It is global cooling, not warming, that is the major climate threat to the world, especially Canada. As a country at the northern limit to agriculture in the world, it would take very little cooling to destroy much of our food crops, while a warming would only require that we adopt farming techniques practiced to the south of us.

Hat Tip: Glenn

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Nussle Not All that Popular on Capitol Hill

This is welcome news. I think we were all getting tired of the warm and chummy relations between Bush and the Democratic leadership in Congress. Nice to know we may get some confrontation for a change:

After dealing with the easygoing Portman, who was well-liked on both sides of the aisle, the sharper-edged Nussle evokes a more combative style.

Although he was firm on spending, Portman has also displayed a willingness to compromise, including on the Iraq war supplemental and on agreeing to more fiscal 2008 veterans' spending than Bush requested.

Democrats were preparing for a long fall fight over appropriations, but with Nussle, accommodation might be harder.

"Jim has a reputation at least of being much more intransigent than Rob was, much more stubborn," said Rep. James Moran, D-Va.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Nussle, who must be confirmed by the Senate, called him Tuesday and offered to meet with him. But when pressed for comment, Reid would say only, "I hope he's as easy as Portman to work with."

Don't bet on it. The good cop has left town and Cipowitz has arrived.

Trouble for Hillary

Looks like she's not winning any converts in the netroots:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) problems with the antiwar left were on display again Wednesday morning as her Iraq talking points were met with boos for a second straight year.

Speaking to the Take Back America conference, Clinton boasted of voting against the most recent Iraq supplemental funding bill, but antiwar groups, including the persistent members of Code Pink, booed even that.

Shouts of “Get us out” and “Stop the war” were audible throughout Clinton’s remarks, but the part of her speech devoted to the war sparked widespread boos that eventually yielded to an outbreak of cheers and support from Clinton’s supporters in the room.

If she secures the nomination -- as seems increasingly likely -- will their antipathy toward her be a factor?

A House Republican Immigration Proposal

This is likely to be the official alternative to whatever House Democrats advocate. Are you surprised that the thrust is enforcement first?

The legislation emphasizes beefed-up border security and detention of illegal immigrants, increased enforcement against employers who hire illegal workers and a revamped H-2A program for temporary agriculture workers. The legislation would require government agencies to coordinate their databases for verifying a person's identity, improve information-sharing practices, and validate identification documents. And it would require employers to participate in an "employment eligibility verification" program for their workers.

NRCC Chair Cole predicted yesterday that something would pass the Senate, and that House Democrats would move it 'to the left.' The House GOP is staking its ground, too.

Slow Progress in Democratic House

CQ notes that Democrats must soon waive the Budget Act in order to take their traditional July 4th break. The Act requires the House to have passed all the regular appropriations bills for the coming fiscal year, or return to Washington after just 3 days.

CQ says that the rule is waived frequently -- which is true -- but the last time it was not waived was just 2 years ago -- when the GOP ran a 'do-nothing' Congress. It's obviously not a big deal, just one more thing to remember when Democrats crow about how much better they are running the Congress than the GOP did:

Tucked into the 1974 Budget Act (PL 93-344) is a rule that prevents the House from taking more than three days off during the July Fourth recess unless all appropriations bills have been passed for the next fiscal year.

Normally, that would present a tricky problem. But as it often does with bothersome rules, the House typically waives the budget provision, leaving members free to enjoy a week or more off during the nation’s Independence Day celebrations.

That’s likely to be case this year. The July Fourth recess is only two weeks away, and the House has passed only two out of the 12 appropriations measures for fiscal 2008: Homeland Security (HR 2638) and Military Construction-VA (HR 2642).

It wasn’t so long ago, though, when the House got its appropriations work done before the July recess. That was in 2005, when the House passed all 11 of the 2006 spending measures in May and June.

George Backs Fred

George Allen's defeat in his re-election bid last year created an opening in the GOP presidential race. While everyone had expected Allen to be the 'Reagan conservative' in the race, he could no longer fill that role. Enter Fred Thompson.

Well, now the circle seems to be complete, as Allen is promoting Thompson's candidacy:

Allen introduced former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) when the probable presidential candidate keynoted the state party’s gala earlier this month.

“I think [a Thompson candidacy] is good,” Allen said. “I would encourage him to do so.”

Though Allen said he is not yet endorsing a Thompson bid, he did say that to grassroots Republicans “who care about the party,” Thompson’s popularity indicates “there has been a bit of a void for someone with a proven conservative record.”

Allen said that while current front-runner and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani still is “America’s Mayor” and acted admirably following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, his positions on gun control and abortion issues “concern some folks.”

One other thing they have in common: the same highly-skilled new media consultant.

Bloomberg's Indie Bid

NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg has changed his party registration from Republican to Independent:

Bloomberg plunged the country's political landscape further into chaos on Tuesday evening when he released a statement saying he was quitting the Republican Party.

"I have filed papers with the New York City Board of Elections to change my status as a voter and register as unaffiliated with any political party. Although my plans for the future haven�t changed, I believe this brings my affiliation into alignment with how I have led and will continue to lead our City," Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg, who joined the Republican Party in 2001 after spending his life as a registered Democrat, went on to discuss his progress in leading New York City.

I wrote about Bloomberg's politics here the other day. Suffice it to say that on the face of it -- and absent any further knowledge about how he would run -- you have to guess that he would tend to take more votes from the Democratic nominee than from the Republican. If he actually announces, and as he clarifies his views, we'll learn more.

I had the opportunity to join Rob at this session with NRCC Chair Tom Cole yesterday, and hope to write up my notes today. Throughout the session, Cole kept stressing that the 2008 environment will require candidates to be 'nimble,' since it will be unpredictable. He alluded multiple times to the possibility of a major independent bid. If Bloomberg does run and spend a lot of money, things will be unpredictable, indeed.

Hat Tip: Glenn

Update: The Politico covers the story as well. Ben Smith's piece makes pretty clear why Republicans will welcome him into the race:

He has allied himself with centrists such as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman and become a national spokesman on issues from gun control to the environment...

His political and personal views are more in line with moderate Democratic Party politics: His first major act as mayor was a large property tax increase, his most controversial was a citywide ban on smoking, and the signature accomplishment of his first term was an education reform that mixed centralized control with increased spending.

Vocally opposed to remarriage for himself, he favors the right to same-sex marriage and has confessed not only to smoking marijuana but to enjoying it.

Call me crazy, but who do you think he will appeal to more?

Update II: I have to disagree with CA Yankee on this -- at least if he means that this is good for Hillary. I'm not sure if he's being sarcastic or not, though.

Update II: Finding more info, including -- surprise! -- Bloomberg's 'official site' (not his campaign site, mind you!). The issues page addresses education, public health, job creation, fiscal responsibility, illegal guns, affordable housing, poverty reduction, environment and sustainability, and arts and culture.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Paris Air Show

I'm blogging exclusively at this site this week, since the Weekly Standard blog is focussed on the Paris Air Show. Go check it out; there's lots of good stuff.

Plus, my colleague Mike Goldfarb has a keen eye.

Fred Thompson Speaks to Policy Exchange

You will find the entire speech here at Townhall. Go read it. There's a good chance Thompson will be the GOP nominee; you might as well learn what he's saying to our most important ally. My favorite part is addressed to those in Europe who think the world needs a balance to America:

For many Americans, there is a concern that even among our friends, some people are instinctively uncomfortable with U.S. power. Some on the Continent speak of the need for Europe to balance U.S. influence. Americans worry that this sentiment could, over time, lead to an uncoupling of the alliance. And if constraining U.S. power is that important, would our European friends be comfortable with other powers serving as a counterweight to the United States?

Some who seek to check U.S. power believe that legitimacy may only be conferred by international consensus as represented by the UN Security Council. They ask, “If a country can invade another nation for its own good reasons, what is the logical stopping point?”

The American response is to ask how, then, does one justify non-Security-Council-sanctioned actions, such as Kosovo? What are nations allowed to do when the UN cannot muster the political will to act? How many countries must be involved in an action before legitimacy is conferred? Is it just European countries that count? And, how do we deal with problems in concert when many of us don’t agree on the extent or nature of the problem?

For our part, we in the United States must make a better case for our views and our actions. It is possible that things that are perfectly obvious to us may not be so obvious even to those who wish us well. We must be willing to listen and we must be willing to share our intelligence to the maximum extent appropriate.

We must be prepared to make our case not just privately, but to the people of Europe and the world in order to build political support for cooperation. The world is not stronger if America is weaker – or is perceived to be weaker. The same is true of Britain and truer still of our NATO alliance. And we must be capable of making that case.

In return, it is fair to expect that our allies will not put their trade and commercial interests above world security. It is also fair to ask that Europeans consider the consequences if they are wrong about the threat to the Western world.

Even with Britain, France and Germany now led by people who are more or less pro-America, there's no question that there's a substantial constituency in Europe for a check on American influence. Given the unlikelihood that a strong and united Europe can play that role, there's probably no such counterweight that available that Europe would probably find acceptable. So they're stuck with us.

The question is how to make that work better for all concerned. Thompson's formulation is not 'rocket science,' but it's good to lay it out nonetheless.

Update: By the way, Dick Morris argues that Thompson won't win the nomination because -- basically -- he doesn't look good on TV. I may be going out on a limb, but I bet he'll do just fine.

Update II: Here are a few videos from the Q&A (apparently) where he addresses Iran and Lady Thatcher. They're from the Britain and America blog (which is loading slowly)

Iran is particularly important, since there's a good chance that Iran will be a more salient election issue in 2008 than will Iraq.

Hat Tip: Glenn

Hillary's Campaign Song

She announces it on her website, in a video spoof of the Sopranos finale. Johnny Sack does a cameo that will forever stain his memory.

The video is also notable for the fact that it reunites Hillary Clinton with her husband, the former President. I don't recall having seen them together in some time and indeed, he seems not even to have kept up with her campaign.

I wonder if we'll see them together again before the Democratic convention?

Can Bush be Blackmailed into Bigger Spending?

Yesterday I highlighted the latest pieces from Bob Novak and Fred Barnes on the hope among Republicans in Washington that the President will help restore the party's fiscal conservative image by vetoing bloated spending bills. Roll Call says that Democrats will try to make it politically difficult:

A veto would give the majority a golden opportunity to blast Republicans for shortchanging local police, fire departments and even border security. And if Bush has a change of heart and signs the bill, Democrats say, they will be able to take credit for security upgrades that 150 Congressional Republicans voted against on the floor.

“We win if he signs it, I think they lose if he vetoes it,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “What they are simply doing is denying the Department of Homeland Security the funds necessary to protect America. We’ll certainly let their constituents know that they failed to provide the resources...”

Democrats expressed hope that Bush would reconsider the threat to veto the bill in light of his offer to add billions in emergency spending for border security as part of a deal to restart immigration legislation, but that seems highly unlikely.

House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) said Republicans believe they have credibility on security and can successfully wage a veto fight over the bill, which the administration feels is bloated with $2.1 billion in unnecessary spending.

“Republicans created the Department of Homeland Security, Republicans created the TSA, Republicans have had to listen to whining by the Democrats to everything we have done,” Putnam said. “There is no downside to vetoing a bill or sustaining a veto on a bill that prevents the border fence from being constructed and doubles the increase in spending beyond the president’s request.”

The party’s conservative wing has been itching for a fight.

“I would love for the president to veto this bill and take this fight to the American people,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “America needs to know the Republicans stand for accountability and fiscal responsibility.”

So on both defense spending and on immigration, the President faces threats -- implicit or explicit -- that he won't get the spending he backs increased funding in other areas. This is one area where it would be great to be able to take advantage of the 'bully pulpit,' and talk to the American people. But with the President's approval ratings where they are now, that doesn't seem to be an option.

Unless the President can rally the public to his point of view, he may be faced with a no-win situation: back higher spending across the board, or lose the spending he wants. He needs to start highlighting fiscal issues now, and start explaining why there's no need for the dramatic increases the Democrats want, and why it's unacceptable to underfund defense and border security. As long as the latter is NOT part of an effort to sell amnesty, he ought to have no problem securing the support of the conservative base for both of these efforts.

Navy Does Hey Ya

Those Navy guys sure must have it easy. No time for such antics in the Army:

Kidding, kidding...

The Battle of the Belts

Bill Roggio takes a look at the offensive underway in the belts of insurgent strongholds outside Baghdad:

After months of preparation, the Baghdad Security Operation is now fully underway. The operations in the Baghdad belts and greater Diyala come as U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to establish the Joint Security Stations and Combat Outposts inside Baghdad, and clear and hold the neighborhoods. At last count, forty percent of Baghdad is now considered secure. Major, mass casualty suicide attacks inside the capital have been few and far between the past several weeks, while mortar attacks, IED strikes and small scale bombings and shootings are still a major threat.

Securing the belts will allow the Iraqi and Coalition forces to continue to secure Baghdad, and reduce al Qaeda and the insurgency’s access to weapons caches, bases of operations and support from outside the city. The next step is a political solution: resolution on key issues such as reconciliation, corruption, oil laws and adjusting the constitution must follow. These are contentious issues within the Iraqi government. But the security environment must be established to provide the political space needed to address these issues.

Now let's hope for more improvement on the political side.

GOP Looking at Wealth of Candidates Against Carney

We've looked before at the vulnerable Democratic freshmen whose re-election races will help determine whether Nancy Pelosi remains Speaker of the House, or returns to her former job as Minority Leader. The Politico reports that the GOP looks likely to have two great candidates against one of the most heavily-targeted of the new Democrats -- Chris Carney:

From the outset of the 2008 cycle, Republicans have viewed U.S. Attorney Tom Marino as their favored candidate to run against freshman Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.). As a political outsider with law enforcement credentials, Marino seemed well-positioned to craft an independent image and emerge as the party's front-runner.

But within the past few weeks, a possible second candidate has impressed Republican officials and could create a battle for the nomination against one of the Democrats' more vulnerable freshmen.

Dan Meuser, the president of Pride Mobility Products, a wheelchair manufacturing company in Exeter, Pa., is leaning toward entering the race. He is no stranger to Washington, having spent time before Congress lobbying on behalf of his company and advocating for disability rights. And he is positioned to announce his candidacy before Marino, sometime within the next month.

I'll be attending a session at the NRCC today, organized by Rob Bluey. Hopefully I'll learn more about some of the races to watch for 2008.

Exclusive: Thompson Gets Thatcher's Backing

You have to hand it to Fred. He has a sense of theme, tone and theatrics that's matched by no one in the GOP field. Unable to seek Ronald Reagan's endorsement, he's going for the next-best thing -- the backing of Lady Margaret Thatcher:

Fred Thompson, the actor and former Tennessee senator who is expected to announce next month he is running for president, flew to London on Monday to meet Margaret Thatcher and deliver a foreign policy speech, his advisers tell The Politico.

Thompson's advisers aim to use the London events to bolster his foreign policy credentials and elevate him above the increasingly contentious fray of the GOP race.

On Wednesday, he will pose for photos with Thatcher, which his advisers hope will enhance his support among devotees of former President Ronald Reagan.

The Influence Peddler has learned -- and can report exclusively -- that Lady Thatcher will say extremely gracious things about Senator Thompson. Sources close to the Senator say...

OK, so we don't have any sources that tell us that. However, it's the only possible outcome here. Any lawyer worth his salt knows that you don't ask a question you don't already know the answer to. In the same way, Fred is not going to the UK to meet with Lady Thatcher without having some good sense in advance of what she will say about him. It's bound to be good. It's likely to fall short of an endorsement, since such a statement would be seen as meddling by a foreign power in US affairs.

Thompson's running a sharp campaign, and he's not even in the race yet.

Update: Dale Franks notes that Thompson now leads in the futures market. Does that make him the favorite?

Are We Running Out of Oil

The 'Oil Depletion Analysis Centre' -- which I know nothing about, but sounds like a group with an agenda -- says that as soon as 2011, world oil production will peak. From there, reserves will decline and prices will climb. This contention is disputed by BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy:

Colin Campbell, the head of the depletion centre, said: “It’s quite a simple theory and one that any beer drinker understands. The glass starts full and ends empty and the faster you drink it the quicker it’s gone.”

Dr Campbell, is a former chief geologist and vice-president at a string of oil majors including BP, Shell, Fina, Exxon and ChevronTexaco. He explains that the peak of regular oil - the cheap and easy to extract stuff - has already come and gone in 2005. Even when you factor in the more difficult to extract heavy oil, deep sea reserves, polar regions and liquid taken from gas, the peak will come as soon as 2011, he says.

I am not an alarmist, so when reading articles like this I can never help but notice 'weasel phrases' like 'as soon as 2011.' There are lots of years after 2011 -- some of them are quite far off. I won't worry too much until I see the phrase 'within the next x years.'

The bottom line:

What no one, not even BP, disagrees with is that demand is surging. The rapid growth of China and India matched with the developed world’s dependence on oil, mean that a lot more oil will have to come from somewhere. BP’s review shows that world demand for oil has grown faster in the past five years than in the second half of the 1990s. Today we consume an average of 85 million barrels daily. According to the most conservative estimates from the International Energy Agency that figure will rise to 113 million barrels by 2030.

Two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves lie in the Middle East and increasing demand will have to be met with massive increases in supply from this region.

'What no one disagrees on' is that demand is surging. Sounds like we don't agree on all that much.

Further, the article appears to completely ignore petroleum reserves contained in Canada's tar sands and in shale oil in the US. It's been estimated that those reserves become economic at a price of somewhere around $70/barrel. So if prices climb to $100/barrel or so, a substantial new stream comes online.

Color me interested and mildly concerned, but I won't panic for a while.

Warming up for July 4th

As Independence Day approaches, no doubt the thoughts of most readers turn to one subject: the Nathan's Famous July Fourth International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island. Today one contender earning attention is Juliet Lee, who ate 26 dogs and buns in 12 minutes at a qualifier in Virginia:

Juliet Lee, a 107-pound salon manager from Maryland, demolished the competition in the 5th Annual Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest by downing 26 franks and buns in 12 minutes.

The contest at the MacArthur Center was a qualifying event for Nathan's international competition, which ESPN will televise live from Coney Island, N.Y., on July 4.

Lee, 41, was the only woman in Saturday's field of 13. Her 26-dog meal was substantially more than the men flanking her and weighing in at 360 and 359 pounds could manage.

Now if you're a fan of competitive eating, this whets your appetite. But you know that impressive as this is, Ms. Lee won't even rate an asterisk in the competition with a total like this. That's because the record -- set by Takeru Kobayashi last year -- is 53.75 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. Kobayashi has won 6 straight titles, and the highlight of this year's event will be his rematch against Joey Chestnut, who ate 52 in last year's contest.

Are you underwhelmed? Afraid to invest your hopes in Chestnut after he couldn't live up to the hype last year? Don't be. Chestnut recently broke Kobayashi's record -- by eating a stunning 59.5 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. If he's in that kind of zone on July 4, it's hard to see how Kobayashi can match him.

Who doesn't love competition among world-class athletes?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Run, Mike, Run!

The New York Post catches NY Mayor Mike Bloomberg keeping the kind of travel schedule usually reserved for presidential candidates:

Mayor Bloomberg is on pace to break the travel record for any recent occupant of City Hall, a Post analysis has found.

Records show the mayor - who happens to be swinging through San Francisco and Los Angeles starting today - has visited 20 U.S. cities in the last 18 months...

Barnard College Professor Esther Fuchs, who served as a special adviser to the mayor in his first term, suggested Bloomberg has a different agenda: to thrust urban concerns into the forefront of the national debate.

Certainly, the mayor has spotlighted the ease of obtaining illegal weapons, by lining up mayors across America in his coalition to toughen gun laws.

Bloomberg recently addressed a crowd of more than 1,000 at Google, and touched on a number of national issues:

Bloomberg seemed to side with President Bush when he decried "an anti-immigration policy that is a disgrace" and called for a more open migration policy. And he dismissed the notion of deporting illegal immigrants as part of immigration reform.

"We need to recognize we're not going to deport 12 million people already here," he said. "Let's get serious, we don't have an army big enough to do that, it would be devastating to our economy, it would be the biggest mass deportation of people in the world."

The mayor said there had been too little discussion of health care and education on the campaign trail, and later blamed journalists for not asking hard enough questions of the candidates.

In one of his harshest comments, Bloomberg dismissed creationism—the theory that the universe was created by intelligent design—mistakenly calling it "creationalism." The remark made plain that Bloomberg has no interest in running in the Republican presidential primary, where outreach to Christian conservatives is critical.

A lifelong liberal Democrat, former Mayor of New York, who has a billion dollars, supports gun control and an amnesty for illegal immigrants, and who disdains Christian conservatives. I can't think of better news for the Republicans in 2008.

I'd offer to donate, but I know he doesn't need the money. What else can I do to support his candidacy?

Tightening the Rules on China Exports

The administration has adopted a final rule for export of items that may contribute to China's military buildup. According to the Financial Times, this represents a 'narrower expansion' of the licensing regime than was proposed in overly-broad early drafts:

The US has tightened restrictions on exports of technology to China in a move aimed at curtailing Beijing’s military modernisation.

The Bush administration has posted on its website its “China Policy Rule”, which would expand the number of military end-use items for which US companies would need licences to export to China. Some industry groups and trade lawyers argue the rule is counter-productive. They say new procedures are very cumbersome and add that the expanded restrictions will hurt US industry by prompting China to buy an increasing number of technologies from Europe.

Any expansion is likely to have the effect of encouraging firms to do business abroad if possible, to avoid a cumbersome regime that other nations do not use.

Update: I note that Business Week presents a better summary of how this will work, including the 'validated end user' concept, which basically involves firms and entities presumed to be 'safe' for export, unless otherwise demonstrated:

Items that will be subject to the new military end-use controls include aircraft and aircraft engines, avionics and inertial navigation systems, lasers, depleted uranium, underwater cameras and propulsion systems, certain composite materials and some telecommunications equipment that can be used for space communications and air defense systems.

A Commerce statement said that the list was developed with input from experts at the departments of Commerce, Defense and State and was designed to target militarily useful items that are not widely available on world markets. U.S. export controls are administered by Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security.

The new validated end-user program will facilitate sales of U.S.-made products to trusted customers in such areas as electronics, semiconductor equipment and chemicals.

This tighter regime for export to China is the sort of thing that might give many conservatives 'warm fuzzies' toward the Bush administration. How fitting that they seem completely unaware of it. Yet another area where the White House has fallen down on their relations with the base.

Bad News for Passport Applicants

The Washington Post reports on the significant backlog of passport applications:

The demand soared at the beginning of the year, as travelers sought to comply with a new rule requiring passports for all U.S. citizens flying within the Western Hemisphere.

And that demand has created a backlog of about 500,000 applications that have been pending for more than 12 weeks, spawning complaints by travelers who saw their trips in jeopardy. It also highlighted once again how post-Sept. 11 laws ripple from Capitol Hill across the country.

To ease the strain, the requirement was modified June 8, allowing those who have applied for, but not received, passports to reenter using other documents.

Harty's "not happy" with processing times, which are running from 10 to 12 weeks, instead of the usual six to eight. "The notion of customer service is a sacred part of what we do, and part of a long and very proud tradition," she said...

Travelers can go to and print out proof of their application. Entry rules to countries vary, however, and travelers may also look up those requirements on the Web site.

I think people are starting to become aware of the problem. That's good, because not having a passport has become a major impediment to travel abroad.

And Government Executive says that things aren't likely to get better in the near future. That's because next year you'll need a passport for land and sea travel to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda and the Caribbean:

The State Department may be overwhelmed trying to process the new applications that have rolled in due to regulations requiring passports for air travel to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda or the Caribbean, but the Homeland Security Department says that shouldn't tempt Congress to delay rules scheduled to go into effect starting next year that also would require passports for land and sea travel to these destinations. A growing move in Congress to delay the land and sea requirement "is just simply not acceptable to us," DHS spokesman Russ Knocke tells USA Today. Right now, he notes, border agents have to examine up to 8,000 different forms of identification that people can present when trying to get into the country.

More info here as well.

Outsourcing Not so Popular in India

This strikes me as something that's ultimately likely to encourage faster development in India, as opposed to leading to a reduction in western influence:

Not helping matters is the widely used policy among India's outsourcers that requires call center workers who have direct contact with U.S. customers to adopt names like Joe and Peggy. With these kinds of rules in place, it's hardly surprising that some of the more reactionary voices in India see in outsourcing the second coming of the Raj -- this time with an American twist.

The growth of outsourcing in India has been so meteoric that few have stopped to ponder its cultural implications, but now the dust is settling. There's certainly no real danger of a Taliban-style reaction shutting down the whole industry, but even modest reforms -- say, laws that would require Indian outsourcers to operate on an Indian holiday schedule and not an American one -- could be felt by businesses in the U.S.

Will the next wave of foreign direct investment in India be more tailored to the country itself?

Testing Michael Moore

Rob at Say Anything notes that Michael Moore says that he has no problem with people downloading and sharing movies on the internet:

“I don’t agree with the copyright laws and I don’t have a problem with people downloading the movie and sharing it with people,” said Moore when asked about pirating. “I make these books and shows because I want things to change, so the more people that get to see them the better, so I’m happy when that happens. I think information and art, ideas should be shared.”

With that as prelude, Rob has obtained a leaked copy of Moore's new movie 'Sicko,' and posted it on his site. If you want to watch it, head over there and be entertained.

Cognitive Dissonance Watch

Roll Call reports that Congressional Democrats are looking at tightening House rules. Seems they're tired of the Republicans tying up the House floor and forcing openness on earmarks, and winning votes on 'motions to recommit:'

While Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) similarly defended the House majority’s response to GOP protests Friday — “We’ve made a commitment to greater openness” — he suggested that Democrats could strike back more forcibly in future confrontations.

“This is not a dictatorship,” he said, but added: “If there becomes a sense that people are blatantly abusing the process, there will be corrections...”

While lawmakers are not placing blame on Hoyer, who oversees the House floor for Democrats, some rank-and-file Members have begun to call for revisions to the chamber’s rules process.

“I don’t think there’s anyone questioning his ability. ... That’s something we can’t control if they’re going to abuse open rules,” the Democrat added. “We may very well have to examine the open rule process. ... There’s a growing anger on our side.”

Meanwhile, other Democrats -- in the same article -- tell Roll Call that the Republican wins are a sign of a healthy and open debate, and something that the Democrats are proud of:

Democrats argue that the motions to recommit are inconsequential victories of little legislative substance and counter that they do not rule their Caucus with the same iron discipline that they so often criticized Republicans for using.

“To vote no just for the sake of voting no, that was the style of the past,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who asserted Democrats offer a “more open leadership style.” He later added: “Why vote against a motion to recommit that you agree with?”...

“Under the previous leadership, this place was locked up tight. ... I don’t think that’s healthy,” McGovern said.
It'll be interesting to see how they square this circle.

Barnes & Novak: Bush Looking Forward to Vetoes

Both Fred Barnes and Bob Novak write on the expectation that the President will veto multiple spending bills this year. But Barnes nails down the achilles heel of the strategy, and one that may lead the President to give up the party's push to reclaim its reputation for stinginess. Novak first:

...Bush plans to veto the Homeland Security appropriations bill nearing final passage, followed by vetoes of eight more money bills sent him by the Democratic-controlled Congress.

That constitutes a veto onslaught of historic proportions from a president who did not reject a single bill during his first term. Of the 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2008, only three will be signed by the president in the form shaped by the House. What's more, Bush correctly claimed he has the one-third plus one House votes needed to sustain these vetoes...

Barnes on the other hand, identifies the point where the rubber meets the road:

Bush and congressional Republicans learned a painful lesson from the 2006 election: Excessive spending made them politically vulnerable. Now they are unified in turning the tables on Democrats and attacking them as big spenders. The Democratic budget has "given us an ability to recast the differences between the parties again," said a House Republican leader.

Credit for Bush's emergence as a hardliner is shared by two White House officials, chief of staff Josh Bolten and budget chief Rob Portman, a former Republican House member. Bolten was Portman's predecessor in the budget post, one that usually leads to a strong preference for limits on spending and austere budgets.

Still, Republicans worry Bush may split with them when the showdown comes between the White House and the Democrats. The president may be offered full funding of his defense budget in exchange for the higher domestic spending favored by Democrats. That's an offer Bush probably can't refuse.

The administration better be thinking about another way to find the few billion more needed to fully fund defense, because if they chicken out on vetoes after having raised expectations, there will be a lot of disappointment in the blathersphere. If they really want to regain their brand on fiscal responsibility, adherence to some of these spending limits is necessary, but not sufficient.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day

Thanks for everything, dad. You're the greatest.

Hat Tip: Ace

The Value of the 'Blathersphere'

I've commented before that politicians ought to think of bloggers as more or less synonomous with 'primary voters.' I'm sure it's not a perfect guide, but I bet it's the best weather vane available. Ace talks about it here:

It's that blogs actually do, somewhat accurately, reflect public opinion. And better than polls, too, at least in this respect: While a poll might tell you that sixty-nine percent of the public is against this amnesty-without-security bill and only 20% in favor, that piece of information is, by itself, not terribly meaningful politically. Why? Because the public is against a lot of things, but doesn't really care about them. On many issues -- like bankruptcy reform -- you can probably afford to defy public preferences and give a sop to banks and creditors, because while the public may not support such "reform," neither is it politically animated about it. You can ignore public opinion because public opinion simply isn't very strong. No one's losing votes over the bankruptcy bill.

But sometimes citizens are so incensed about an issue they are actually animated to change their voting (and donating, volunteering, etc.) behavior based on a politician's position on that issue. It's not just numbers, it's intensity; and while some polls do indeed query about intensity, blogs and comments left by voting citizens are important gauge of such intensity.

Quite right.

Reid Threatens Weekend Session

I always wonder why Congressional leaders 'threaten' to do things that will be politically popular. Don't they realize that the first one to insist on an end to earmarks and the occasional weekend session will climb 5 or 10 points in the polls?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he might have to pull the energy bill off the floor next week to revive a comprehensive immigration overhaul, although he vowed to complete both before closing shop for the July Fourth recess.

“If this [energy] debate doesn’t speed up, we’ll have to move to end debate,” the Nevada Democrat said, warning Republicans not to stall progress on either bill. “If they do, Democrats are prepared to work through the weekends and the July 4 district work period to accomplish our goals.”

Whichever party is the smart one ought to insist on doing the top 5 things that are now being threatened.