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

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Light Christmas Blogging

Blogging will be pretty light for the next few days, for obvious reasons. I'll be spending a happy Christmas with loved ones, including my sister-in-law, who is due with her first child in a few weeks.

In anticipation of Christmas, a few timely old-school reminders that the most important things in life really are things that you cannot touch.

First, O Henry's classic "Gift of the Magi."

And next, a favorite of mine - Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus:

"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest man that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. No Santa Claus! Thank GOD! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

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Obama Already In; Conservatives for Giuliani

Novak is a must-read today, both for the topics mentioned above and for an account of a Howard Dean misstep that may handicap Hillary's Presidential run. Conspiracists will ask: was it an accident, or was it sabotage!?


Contrary to reports that Barack Obama is still trying to make up his mind whether to seek the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, sources close to the first-term senator say he is unequivocally committed to making the race.

The word has spread through political circles that Obama's wife, Michelle, is resisting the campaign out of fear for her husband's physical safety as an African-American candidate for president. But an Obama insider dismissed that as a problem. "We took care of that last summer," he told this column.

A footnote: Obama advisers were surprised how much the prospect of his campaign has shaken front-running Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. For the first time, she has asserted that she would have voted against going to war in Iraq if she knew then what she knows now...


California conservative Republican Bill Simon has begun building a network of support in the Golden State for the prospective presidential campaign of his old boss, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Simon, son of the late Secretary of the Treasury William Simon, was Republican nominee for governor of California in 2002. He was a prosecutor working for Giuliani, then U.S. attorney in New York City, in 1986-88.

Simon has been arranging get-acquainted meetings for Giuliani with prominent California conservatives to show them he is not all that liberal and really is a Republican.

Read the whole thing.

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Dems Wrong on Trade

Check out the NAM blog.

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Left-Right Agreement: Deficit No Big Deal

Greg Mankiw covers it.

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TSA Missing 3,719 Badges & Uniforms

Allah covers a story I find deeply troubling - particularly since I plan to be flying tomorrow.

If Congressional Democrats plan more aggressive oversight of the administration, I hope that stuff like this is near the top of the list.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

An Irreverent Christmas

If you like Scrubs, then check out this butchering of the Charlie Brown Christmas special. It's very funny.

(Taste and content warnings!).

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The Power of the Internet

Not many people pay attention the NHL (National Hockey League), or its All Star Game. However, it's garnering more attention this year because an internet campaign is about to land a virtual nobody in the starting lineup:

Much like Sylvester Stallone has done with Rocky, Rory Fitzpatrick campaigners have taken a charming story and launched it into the realm of the ridiculous -- and the NHL couldn't be happier.

The league is embracing the 'Vote for Rory' efforts which now seem poised to elect to the all-star game a bottom-roster Canucks defenceman who has as many points as the fans voting for him (zero).

"I hope that from a human standpoint, for once, we can all just have a moment of fun with something without sentencing ourselves to paralysis by analysis," said NHL spokesman Frank Brown. "I have a pretty strong feeling that everyone who has played this year at an all-star calibre will end up on the ice in Dallas.

Fitzpatrick is an unlikely champion, which is what makes this great. He has played for 5 teams in a 10 year career, and he's currently 12th on his team in playing time.

It started on a chat board, expanded to a website (, and now includes 'ads' for Fitzpatrick's bid on Youtube. Here are two very funny political style attack ads:

With Major League Baseball also allowing fan voting for the All Star Game (I don't know about the other major sports), look for copycat efforts.

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Picture of the Day

Someday I need to see the Northern Lights in person...

Weird Story of the Day

Murder suspect apparently survives being shot in forehead, and fights court order to have the slug removed.

Hat Tip: Volokh

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So Much for Earmark Reform...

And so the hope that the incoming Democratic majority would be 'better' than the Republican majority on earmark reform goes up in smoke. The New York Times reports that the House Democratic Leadership is helping the vulnerable incoming Freshman Democratic class with key committee assigments:

The 110th Congress has not even been sworn into office. But in a measure of the determination not to surrender the majority in two years, Representative Nancy Pelosi, the presumptive speaker, has instructed aides to begin acting immediately to help Democrats who won by small margins in districts where President Bush did well in 2004 or who coasted in because their opponents were mired by controversy. Those new members are methodically being given coveted spots on high-profile committees, in particular the Financial Services Committee, a magnet for campaign contributions, and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a platform from which to send money for projects back home.

Apart from generally putting the lie to Democratic promises to change the culture in Washington, it demonstrates that Democrats are perfectly happy to accept earmarks for political gain. And if vulnerable Freshmen are going to be the beneficiaries of earmarks, you can bet they won't be the only ones. Veteran Democrats will insist on equal treatment.

And for those not familiar with Congressional rules, transportation earmarks are generally not subject to the appropriations process. That is, while almost all Congressional authorizations for spending must subsequently be approved in an appropriations bill, most transportation spending is done in the form of direct obligation, meaning that it only needs to be in the transportation bill for the money to be spent. As a result, reform of earmarks in appropriations bills has no effect on transportation earmarks.

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Why Rudy Can Win

American Spectator notes a wealth of speculation recently that just maybe, Giuliani can win the Republican nomination with at least some support from social conservatives.

Derbyshire says that everyone hates Giuliani for something; I suppose there's some truth to that. Since I am a practicing Catholic, I will state for my part that while Derbyshire says that Catholics hate Giuliani because of his divorces, it's no deal-breaker with me. And of the Catholics I know, no one regards it is a serious obstacle. In fact, I know many Catholics - primarily from New York - who accept his personal failings, but marvel at the job he did as Mayor. His leadership counts for a lot.

Plus, no one really loves any of the leading contenders. And if your choices boil down to Rudy Giuliani, the volatile John McCain, and the uncertain Mitt Romney, Giuliani seems a pretty good option.

Read in particular Michael Barone, who's probably forgotten more about right-center voters than I will ever know. He finds that Giuliani scores very wellamong conservatives, specifically because of 9/11. Giuilani may wither, as opponents air commercials about his personal history and his views on social issues, but I bet it won't be that easy.

Further and importantly, if the first rule of politics today is to get all the negative stuff out in the open first - so it's 'neutralized' as an issue - then Giuliani is well-served by the attention he's getting in the blogoshpere. His views on abortion, gun control, and gay rights are all getting aired now, and the audience in the blogosphere probably approximates the core primary voters. Come January 2007, when the commercials are aired, many may respond by saying 'yes, we know all that.' If so, Giuliani may be the front-runner.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

More Details on Sandy Burglar

What could motivate someone to risk a security clearance, a reputation, and jail time? Mr. Berger must have thought there was something extremely damaging in the documents he sought to hide (or did hide) from the 9/11 Commission.

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In Fact, They Don't Know It's Christmas

Nearly fifteen years after the fiasco of the U.S. withdrawal in the aftermath of the Battle of Bakara Market, events in Somalia give us a low-budget model of what the world could expect from a similar no-fault withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Ethiopia and Eritrea (as well as other, Islamic, states) back opposing factions which have for the last 3 days been shelling each other around the town of Baidoa in the country's interior. Ethiopia's support of the putative national unity government has escalated over the past year to officially-denied division-level military engagement in support of their proxies, and the situation may now have passed the point of no return, as the Islamists declare a state of war.

The prospects of parallel developments in Iraq, should the Blame-America-First Left succeed in a near-term withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, cannot be ignored. Iran has already made its support of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army an open secret, and the prospect of direct Iranian military backing of his forces in the event of U.S. withdrawal can be regarded as a practical certainty. The recently expressed Saudi intent to prevent further erosion of Sunni influence in the country could be expected swiftly to assume military form as well.

The one certainty is that the key distinction between Somalia and Iraq is the poverty of Somalia compared to Iraq's oil wealth: the slow-haemorrhaging, low-level, lone-technical-machine-gunning-through-a-village carnage of Somalia's last decade is certainly a pale shadow of the swift and industrial-strength destruction two proxy armies backed by Saudi Arabia and Iran could wreak in Iraq.

In the Holiday Mood

I offer one of my Christmastime guilty pleasures:

It's worth a look just to see the '80's hair, and to see how much Sting looked like Francis from Malcolm in the Middle.

And obviously, Band Aid begat USA for Africa:

Watch it just to see if you can identify everyone in it.

And because I know the audience here includes masochists, a link to Allah's take on the Star Wars Christmas special.

But you know what, if it's Christmas, I always think about Groundhog Day:

Umm... I have no reason why.

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Defending Bush on Trade

I have commented in the past that the Bush administration doesn't seem all that dedicated to free trade. The Economist offers a strong and surprising defense of the President, and a gloomy look at the incoming Democrats.

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Ethnic Relations in UK - Redux

Drudge features an eye-catching headline:


This reminds us of how the western world is changing. But if you look at the data, it appears that it does not represent a dramatic change from the last few years.

While 'Mohammed' is more popular than 'George' or 'Joseph,' it is less popular than 21 other names, including 'Alfie' and 'Callum.' Further, it comes in at 22nd place - a fall of 2 spots from 2004 (although 'Muhammad' climbed from 54 to 44 in that time). So while the UK has clearly changed, it may not have changed so much in the last few years.

What's shocking is the paucity of the numbers - at least for us Americans. The most popular boy's name in the UK is 'Jack,' which is the given name for just 6,928 British children in 2006 (so far). Mohammed and Muhammad by contrast, combined for a total of 4,255 children.

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Goode Needs to Revise and Extend

Republican Congressman Virgil Goode (R-VA) needs to clear up his views on Muslims in America. It's reported that he sent the following letter to a constituent:

Thank you for your recent communication. When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.

The Ten Commandments and “In God We Trust” are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Koran. My response was clear, “As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office.”

Thank you again for your email and thoughts.

Predictably, CAIR has picked up on this faster than anyone. They can probably be counted on to go overboard.

Nevertheless, I don't think it ought to be the explicit policy of this country to prevent an increase in the Muslim population. I hope that Goode doesn't either, and states it.

Hat Tip: TPMMuckraker.

Update: In the comment section, Philo questions whether Mr. Goode might merely be a victim of sloppy staff work. I thought that might be the case, but this would seem to answer that question: Lawmaker won't apologize for 'Islamophobic' letter.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Neophytes Handed Congress to Democrats

Charlie Cook posts a note from an interesting political conference - one where representatives of the House Democratic and Republican Campaign Committees talked about why the election turned out the way it did. Apparently there was agreement that for this year at least, conventional wisdom was wrong; first-time candidates were an asset to the Democrats:

History tells us that the best congressional challengers have already won elective office. Experienced candidates are more likely than the uninitiated to understand the fundamentals of a strong campaign, especially organization, strategy, and fundraising. Experienced candidates tend to have a better grasp of the issues, and to know how to effectively articulate their message and stay on it. This doesn't mean that first-time candidates can't do these things and can't win, just that experienced candidates usually do them better.

In 2006, Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and his team moved heaven and earth to get experienced candidates to run. But many of the blue-chippers, the experienced would-be candidates, were not convinced that it would be a good Democratic year. As a result, Democrats ended up with many more first-time congressional candidates -- or people who had run before but had never won, or people who had never won a tough race -- than they would have liked. To be sure, some first-timers, such as Heath Shuler in North Carolina and Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania, turned out to be surprisingly good candidates.

At the conference, Jonathan Poe, the National Republican Congressional Committee's deputy political director, argued that the Democrats' large number of novices was precisely the problem for the GOP in many races. Unlike experienced candidates, the first-timers had scant voting records or other experiences that their opponents could use as fodder for negative ads. Republican incumbents and the NRCC thus had to resort to far less effective and convincing attacks. In many cases, the attacks simply didn't work. Either by design or by luck, the Democrats' presumed liability of lacking experienced candidates turned into an asset this year. Poe's counterpart on the panel, DCCC Executive Director Karin Johanson, wore a smile that couldn't be missed.

A good point, but I'm not sure how useful it is. The preference for an experienced candidate is likely to hold in all but big anti-incumbent elections. In rare cases like 2008, when voters are so heavily predisposed to support a challenger, it might be better to have no record to attack. But it's hard to predict during which elections those will be one year out - when much of the 'recruiting' is done.

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Labor Disrupts Democratic Convention Plan

The DNC had hoped to announce before January 1, the location for the 2008 Democratic Convention. The RNC has already announced Minneapolis-St. Paul for the location of the Republican Convention, and a convention in Denver would have the DNC also holding its get-together in a swing region that leans to the other party.

However, the DNC can't get a commitment from the local stagehands union to not call a strike that affects the convo:

Denver's bid to host the 2008 Democratic National Convention hit a serious snag Monday after a union leader refused to sign a no-strike pledge, with a decision due anytime.

City and union officials confirmed Monday that Jim Taylor, head of the local stagehands union, is refusing to sign a mandatory agreement with national Democrats pledging not to strike if the convention comes to Denver.

Debbie Willhite, executive director of the host committee, said not having full union support is "probably a deal breaker" for the DNC.

But Denver's director of theaters and arenas, Jack Finlaw, said he was "optimistic" that Taylor and the stagehands would sign on.

"There is still time," Finlaw said.

The alternative site is New York. And while I am a New Yorker and love the City, it's not likely to offer the Democrats any political gain. After all, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are all 'safe' Democratic states - so the (arguable) political benefit of holding the event in that region is small. I suppose the only way that region is winnable is if Rudy Giuliani is on the GOP ticket - in which case holding a convention in New York is unlikely to help much.

On the other hand, the Democrats are two-for-three in recent Presidential elections where they met in New York City. Bill Clinton was nominated at the 1992 convention in New York, and the Democrats nominated Jimmy Carter there in 1976 and 1980 - with mixed results.

Hat Tip: CQ Political Wire

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Ari Fleischer for Congress

Human Events reports that New York politicos are talking about the possibility of Ari Fleischer running for Congress in 2008:

Will Ari Run?

The Westchester-county-based 24th District could be a focus of national attention if one Republican in particular makes the race: Ari Fleischer, one-time press secretary to George W. Bush, left the White House in 2003 and returned to his home county to do communications consulting (at one point, he advised major league baseball teams on public relations matters), write his memoir of the Bush White House and take on speaking engagements and TV commentary.

Friends of Fleischer note that the Westchester native has done just about everything congressional—managed campaigns, worked as a press secretary in both houses of Congress and served as a field operative for the National Republican Congressional Committee—except run for Congress himself. Kelly’s defeat at the hands of Hall now opens up that opportunity for him.

Fleischer isn’t saying anything about any political plans, but fellow New Yorkers who know him well bet that he will make the House race in ’08. As Larry Casey, onetime top aide to former New York Republican Rep. George Wortley and a canny political operative, told me: “Ari is the natural and best candidate for Congress from Westchester and, if he chooses to run, the obvious Republican candidate.”

Would this be unprecendented? I can't think of any former White House Press Secretaries who went on to run for Congress.

Fleischer is comfortable in front of the cameras and his name and connections guarantee that he would have all the money he needed to run. At the same time, the district only has the slightest Republican edge ('+1 Republican,' according to Charlie Cook). If Bush is as unpopular in November 2008 as he is today, Fleischer could have a hard time shaking the association of him with an unpopular President.

Further, if Hillary or Giuliani lead the ticket (or both do), it could have a significant effect on coattails in New York State.

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Rights for Robots? Never!

Amusing piece over at Garfield Ridge about Brits looking into the future.

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Steel Rises at Freedom Tower

Too late for my tastes, but it's good to see progress at the site of the World Trade Center.

The uncertainty, delays and revisions that have plagued the rebuilding process means we are no longer sending the message I would have wanted: that there is nothing the terrorists can do that we will not undo quickly; that attacks will only strengthen our resolve and move us to work faster and with greater determination than before.

Now it's left to see if the project can be completed without more revisions, and if the offices of the new World Trade Center can be filled promptly by the businesses of New York and the world.

If you want to get a better look at what the Freedom Tower and the updated WTC site will look like, check out the site of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill - the firm that did the design. There are some cool videos at the first link to give you a better idea of what Manhattan will look like once the tower is complete.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Unintended Consequences of Organic Farming

A very interesting piece from the Economist. The main point is, if you think that organic farming is good for the earth or the environment, you better think again:

Yet even an apparently obvious claim—that organic food is better for the environment than the conventionally farmed kind—turns out to be controversial. There are many different definitions of the term “organic”, but it generally involves severe restrictions on the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers and a ban on genetically modified organisms. Peter Melchett of the Soil Association, Britain’s leading organic lobby group, says that environmental concerns, rather than health benefits, are now cited by British consumers as their main justification for buying organic food. (There is no clear evidence that conventional food is harmful or that organic food is nutritionally superior.)

But not everyone agrees that organic farming is better for the environment. Perhaps the most eminent critic of organic farming is Norman Borlaug, the father of the “green revolution”, winner of the Nobel peace prize and an outspoken advocate of the use of synthetic fertilisers to increase crop yields. He claims the idea that organic farming is better for the environment is “ridiculous” because organic farming produces lower yields and therefore requires more land under cultivation to produce the same amount of food. Thanks to synthetic fertilisers, Mr Borlaug points out, global cereal production tripled between 1950 and 2000, but the amount of land used increased by only 10%. Using traditional techniques such as crop rotation, compost and manure to supply the soil with nitrogen and other minerals would have required a tripling of the area under cultivation. The more intensively you farm, Mr Borlaug contends, the more room you have left for rainforest.

What of the claim that organic farming is more energy-efficient? Lord Melchett points out for example that the artificial fertiliser used in conventional farming is made using natural gas, which is “completely unsustainable”. But Anthony Trewavas, a biochemist at the University of Edinburgh, counters that organic farming actually requires more energy per tonne of food produced, because yields are lower and weeds are kept at bay by ploughing. And Mr Pollan notes that only one-fifth of the energy associated with food production across the whole food chain is consumed on the farm: the rest goes on transport and processing.

The most environmentally benign form of agriculture appears to be “no till” farming, which involves little or no ploughing and relies on cover crops and carefully applied herbicides to control weeds. This makes it hard to combine with organic methods (though some researchers are trying). Too rigid an insistence on organic farming’s somewhat arbitrary rules, then-copper, a heavy metal, can be used as an organic fungicide because it is traditional-can actually hinder the adoption of greener agricultural techniques. Alas, shoppers look in vain for “no till” labels on their food-at least so far.

Take that, you crunchy cons!

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Favorite Christmas Thoughts

A few bloggers seem to have offered up amusing observations about Christmas. I'm speaking specifically about Captain Ed and Mary Katharine Ham. I'll offer two unrelated ones of my own:

  1. Favorite Christmas gift exchange? The Christmas pants traded by two brothers in law; and,
  2. My unique family tradition: we knew Santa didn't care for milk and cookies on Christmas night. We left him a cold beer. I imagine my house must have been near the end of his route.
Merry Christmas.

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Hillary Supports More Troops in Iraq

So points out Mickey.

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On Organizing the Senate

With respect to Senator Tim Johnson, Tim Chapman explains why the debate over organizing the Senate is not about him - but about Joe Lieberman. This is a great catch, and it could become really important very soon.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Sen. Harkin (D-IA) Proud To Be CAGW's Porker of the Month

"I happen to be a supporter of earmarks, unabashedly. But I don’t call them earmarks. It is ‘Congressional directed spending.'"

Maybe it's because he's such a big advocate of bringing home the bacon that he is a particularly strong advocate for the illegal aliens working for Iowa's meat packers.

Democrats Still Like Earmarks & Favors

It looks like Harry Reid isn't totally on board with the new Democratic plan of opposing earmarks and dead-of-night favors for political supporters:

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who has pledged to stop ``dead-of-night legislating,'' did a little of his own in the final hours of this year's congressional session.

Reid slipped two home state projects into the last major bill Congress passed last week: a transfer of federal land in Nevada to state and private control that's almost two-thirds the size of Rhode Island; and a $4 million grant for a hospice. Neither had been approved by any congressional committee.

Reid said the land measure will help Las Vegas and other cities in his state grow and the hospice money rights a flawed Medicare ruling. One senator and some government watchdog groups criticized the actions, pointing to promises by Reid and the new Democratic majority in Congress to change a lawmaking process known for targeted funding and secretive deals.

``Doing anything last minute shoved into an irrelevant measure -- that's exactly what Harry Reid said he was going to stop,'' said Steve Ellis, vice president of programs at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based nonprofit that monitors government spending. ``It goes against the grain of transparency and openness.''

Not all of Reid's Nevada constituents are happy with the results. Approval of the land measure surprised a major purported beneficiary, the government of White Pine County.

Actually, I suppose this came under the old, Republican Senate leadership - so it probably doesn't count. Next year, when Harry Reid is Majority Leader, Harry Reid won't get away with shenanigans like this.

Hat Tip: TPMMuckraker

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Democrats Already Fixing Iraq

Back when the Republicans ran Congress, you never read that the economy in Iraq was booming. What a difference a few weeks can make!

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Taxes Still Progressive

Jon Henke covers it. It's something to remember as you prepare for the inevitable tax increases (or the discontinuation of tax cuts) that Democrats must propose to fulfill their spending and deficit promises.

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Blogging the Bible

David Plotz over at Slate.Com is engaged in an interesting project that at times is a good read - particularly for those like me, who do not know the Bible particularly well. He is blogging the Bible.

Today he offers a question that does not appear to be ironic, prompted by his reading of Kings 2:

Now is as good a time as any to ask the obvious question about all these idol-worshipping Israelites: If God is so powerful and good, why does king after king abandon him? Why are the Israelites so incredibly faithless? According to the Bible, the Lord is constantly proving Himself, intervening in human affairs, demonstrating his potency and the impotence of rival gods. So why do the Chosen People so readily abandon Him?

That's a good question, isn't it? Why do people so readily ignore the good things that God does in their lives? One might even regard it as a timeless question.

Lots of religious posts lately; it must be the Christmas season.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Episcopalians Reach Free Agency

Some Episcopalians have not cared for the direction their franchise was taking, and have opted to take free agency. Apparently they're now negotiating with teams that they think offer better chances for long-term success - and they're even considering getting together to start a new team to compete with the old one:

For about 30 years, the Episcopal Church has been one big unhappy family. Under one roof there were female bishops and male bishops who would not ordain women. There were parishes that celebrated gay weddings and parishes that denounced them; theologians sure that Jesus was the only route to salvation, and theologians who disagreed.

Now, after years of threats, the family is breaking up.

As many as eight conservative Episcopal churches in Virginia are expected to announce today that their parishioners have voted to cut their ties with the Episcopal Church. Two are large, historic congregations that minister to the Washington elite and occupy real estate worth a combined $27 million, which could result in a legal battle over who keeps the property.

In a twist, these wealthy American congregations are essentially putting themselves up for adoption by Anglican archbishops in poorer dioceses in Africa, Asia and Latin America who share conservative theological views about homosexuality and the interpretation of Scripture with the breakaway Americans.

“The Episcopalian ship is in trouble,” said the Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, one of the two large Virginia congregations, where George Washington served on the vestry. “So we’re climbing over the rails down to various little lifeboats. There’s a lifeboat from Bolivia, one from Rwanda, another from Nigeria. Their desire is to help us build a new ship in North America, and design it and get it sailing.”

I will need MikeD and Philo to tell me what it means. And I'll be looking to the Anchoress as well. Plus, MKH promises more news.

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TV Getting Better?

Umm... that's the optimistic assessment of the finding that as leisure time has increased over the last 40 years, people are watching lots more TV.

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Many Good Targets for House GOP in '08

Congressional Quarterly notes that there are now 68 Congressional Districts that 'split their votes' in the 2004 Presidential race and the 2006 House races. (That is, who backed Kerry for President but elected a Republican to the House, or who backed Bush and a Democrat). Of those 68 seats, 60 are districts that backed Bush but are now represented by a Democrat in the House. This includes 21 seats that flipped from Republican to Democrat this year, meaning the House Member is a Freshman.

This represents a huge opportunity for the House GOP in 2006. The GOP will only need to gain 16 seats or so to retake the House, and that list of 21 new Members in 'GOP seats' could wind up representing all the targets they need to regain the majority. Remember too, that several of those are basically accidental Representatives, with poor re-election prospects in 2008 - Members like Nick Lampson (DeLay seat), Nancy Boyda (Jim Ryun), Zack Space (Bob Ney), and Tim Mahoney (Mark Foley).

On the flip side, if Democrats run a strong Presidential race, the 8 seats that backed Kerry but are now represented by Republicans will be heavily targeted.

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Third World Getting Richer

Check out Barone.

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Two Christmas Movies

The Anchoress has a great post on Will Smith's Pursuit of Happyness, and how it relates to It's a Wonderful Life. Sounds like a good one to see.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bayh Won't Seek the Presidency

The Washington Post has the story.

And Philip Klein at the American Spectator gives an excellent thumbnail of what it means: Hillary and Obama are crowding out the competition, and candidates have concluded that you can't win by running to the right of Hillary.

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Hillary vs. Giuliani

It's starting early. And the current fight is over nuclear power. Giuliani is on the pro-side and Clinton the anti. I suspect that in 2008, the environment for nuclear power will be friendlier than at any time in decades. And pro-nuclear candidates may be more warmly received by the anti-global warming crowd.

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Keating for President

Former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating is reportedly considering a Presidential run. (Hat Tip: Glenn and Mortman) This isn't completely new; Novak wrote about it recently.

Keating is apparently motivated (at least partly) by the lack of a prominent 'Reagan-like conservative.'

So that makes Sam Brownback, Tommy Thompson, and Frank Keating (at least) exploring Presidential bids because of the lack of a viable 'Reagan-style' conservative.

This prompts two thoughts:

  1. How long before the Republican party stops trying to nominate Reagan; and,
  2. What are the chances that any of these candidates breaks into the top tier?

I love Ronald Reagan. Like many, I consider myself a 'Reagan Republican.' He still defines today's Republican party, and will probably continue to for many years. However, the Democrats spent decades trying to renominate FDR and it seems to me that it became a handicap for their candidates into the 1980s. In 2008, the GOP will have been looking for 'the next Reagan' for 20 years. When will we accept that the world looks dramatically different than it did in 1980, and even Ronald Reagan would not be Reagan if he ran today?

And with regard to the 'Reagan conservatives' in the 2008 field, I doubt that any has the name ID and the clout to contend at all. It seems the front-loading of the Presidential race continues, and it feels later in the race than it did at this time in 2002. It 'feels' late. And it seems unlikely that McCain, Giuliani, and Romney will all stumble - as would be necessary for one of these lesser-knowns to move up. I suspect that if any one of these candidates wants to take a step up, he will need to coalesce conservative backing behind him, as Novak reports McCain is doing.

Update: If you're looking for more on Tommy Thompson, who has created a Presidential exploratory committee, check here.

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Christmas Travel Tips

Here are a few sites to help you with your Christmas flights.

Seatguru helps identify the best and worst seats on a given plane. And check out the food possibilities here.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Night Videos

How about a cool song I heard this weekend:

Anticipating your question...

Am I the only fan of Fatboy Slim?

Or Billy Joel?

And maybe we'll go real Old School:

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Chappy Chanukah 5767!

"Baruch atah [adonai] eloheinu melech ha'olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik neir shel Chanukah."

"Blessed are You, our God, Lord of time and space, Who enriches our lives with holiness, commanding us to kindle the Chanukah lights."

Encouraging News on Tim Johnson

The Senator is reaching out to his wife, and is 'appropriately responsive' to word and touch.

Our prayers remain with him and his loved ones.

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War of the Worlds Redux

There's quite a kerfuffle in Belgium over a fake newscast regarding the country's split in two, and the flight of the royal family:

Suddenly and shockingly, Belgium came to an end. State television broke into regular programming late Wednesday with an urgent bulletin: The Dutch-speaking half of the country had declared independence and the king and queen had fled. Grainy pictures from the military airport showed dark silhouettes of a royal entourage boarding a plane.

Only after a half hour did the station flash the message: "This is fiction."

It was too late. Many Belgians had already fallen for the hoax.

Frantic viewers flooded the call center of the RTBF broadcaster that aired the stunt. Embassies called Belgian authorities to find out what was going on, while foreign journalists scrambled to get confirmation.

"Ambassadors who were worried asked what they had to tell their capitals," said Senate Chair Anne-Marie Lizin. "This fiction was seen as a reality and it created a catastrophic image of the country."

Obviously, this story cannot pass without a reference to the War of the Worlds scare of 1938.

On the brighter side, this is bound to make people more aware of Belgium. And how often is Belgium in the news?

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Dem Rules & the Pelosi Rebound

Tom Maguire covers the announcement of the creation of a House Select Committee on Intelligence. The Hill covers the new Democratic rules package (which I also posted on below), and clarifies that this select panel is intended to satisfy the promise to implement all the recommendations of the 9/11 commission.

The Hill also explains more about the House rules and I must say, they look pretty good:

The rules would ban lobbyists "or organizations that employ them from planning, organizing, requesting, arranging or participating in travel for members or staff," according to the document. The new rules do make an allowance for a one-day trip to attend a forum, participate in a panel or give a speech.

Members would also be prohibited from using official or campaign funds to pay for non-commercial, corporate jets. But the provision does not apply to charter plane services, the document adds.

In addition, Democrats would prohibit holding open votes for the purpose of "affecting the outcome." Republican leaders famously kept open a vote on including drug coverage for Medicare for two hours and 15 minutes until they finally convinced enough members to vote for the package.

Budget reforms stipulated in the new rules include mandatory disclosure of all earmarks and the requirement that members certify that spouses do not directly benefit from the added project. Budget Reconciliations will not be considered if they reduce the budget surplus or increase the deficit.

Also included in the planned rules package is implementation of pay-as-you-go budget rules, requiring that new tax cuts or entitlement spending be offset with corresponding spending cuts.

I've argued that in the event earmarks are not banned, Members of Congress should be required to disclose whom they know who would benefit from the earmark. But that notwithstanding, this is pretty good.

The New York Times reports that the Democrats also plan to 'integrate war spending into the federal budget.' This has major ramifications and will make things much tougher on the Democrats:

In interviews, the incoming Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees said they would demand a better accounting of the war’s cost and move toward integrating the spending into the regular federal budget, a signal of their intention to use the Congressional power of the purse more assertively to influence the White House’s management of the war.

The lawmakers, Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Representative John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, said the administration’s approach of paying for extended military operations and related activities through a series of emergency requests had inhibited Congressional scrutiny of the spending and obscured the true price of the war.

“They have been playing hide-the-ball,” Mr. Conrad said, “and that does not serve the Congress well nor the country well, and we are not going to continue that practice.”

Mr. Spratt, who along with Mr. Conrad is examining how the Democratic Congress should funnel the war spending requests through the House and Senate, said, “We need to have a better breakout of the costs — period.” He is planning hearings for early next year on the subject even as the White House readies a new request for $120 billion or more to pay for the war through Sept. 30, in addition to the more than $70 billion in emergency appropriations already spent this year.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, spending on the military outside of the regular budget process, primarily for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has totaled more than $400 billion. For the 12 months ended Sept. 30, spending on the Iraq war alone ran at an average rate of $8 billion a month, according to a study by the Congressional Research Service.

The adoption of 'Pay-Go' will make it much harder to lower taxes or raise spending - since anything that increases the deficit must be offset elsewhere. Returning to a system where war spending is counted as part of the regular budget process means that Congress must automatically come up with $100-$200 billion in offsets, before any other new spending is considered. Even assuming that Democrats allow some tax cuts to expire after 2010, they will still need to find more revenues to allow any expansion of spending on their priorities.

And I would also add that Ms. Pelosi has had a good week or two: Democrats are suspending new earmarks for FY07, considering an independent ethics process, and creating a new House Intelligence panel that will allow them to claim victory on implementing the 9/11 recommendations. Those are all positive developments, and she has to receive some of the credit.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

House Dem Ethics Package Looking Good

I have to give credit where it's due. I've criticized Nancy Pelosi for her missteps since the election, but if the House Democratic rule package ends up being as the New York Times describes, I will have to eat my words and offer congratulations:

Besides the bipartisan group, Democrats are expected to propose a ban on gifts and meals from lobbyists and organizations that employ them; a prohibition on lobbyists and their employers from planning, organizing, requesting, financing, arranging or participating in travel for members or staff; and a bar to the use of official or campaign money to pay for using corporate jets.

The emerging rules would also require the disclosure of earmarks, the special provisions in bills that lawmakers use to direct dollars to specific projects or favored causes. Lawmakers would also have to certify that any request for such spending is not in their personal financial interest.

I think some of these are little more than public relations measures, but there's no need to quibble. Some of these moves are good; others sound good. I think the House may be going too far in limiting privately-funded travel, but I doubt it will damage the polity.

The encouraging sign for me is that Ms. Pelosi is considering the establishment of an outside ethics body to handle complaints about Members of Congress. She has reportedly discussed this with Minority Leader Boehner. It is something that the House has resisted vociferously, but they've shown little reason to have confidence that they can police their own. I think it would be a very smart move.

From the Times:

House Democrats are seriously exploring the creation of an independent ethics arm to enforce new rules on travel, lobbying, gifts and other issues that Democrats intend to put in place on taking power next month...

An independent Congressional watchdog, if approved, would be a major break with tradition. Some lawmakers say House and Senate members have sole responsibility for policing themselves when it comes to internal rules.

Some lawmakers have said an independent entity could be unconstitutional...

Yes - some lawmakers have said it could be unconstitutional, and some would have stood with Dennis Hastert defending crimes hidden in Congressional offices. Neither position is particularly wise.

My only admonition based on what's discussed here is that the American people won't have much more trust in former Members of Congress than in current Members of Congress. Ms. Pelosi might need to consider a different approach - perhaps one involving former judges, for example.

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Dems on Earmarks: Less than Meets the Eye?

The Hill reports that Republicans and activists are minimizing the significance of the move by Democrats to eliminate earmarks for the remaining fiscal year 2007 bills.

I think any progress is worth noting, and the Democrats certainly could have continued to use earmarks. However, I noted a few weeks ago that the idea of using a continuing resolution to fund all remaining government programs through the end of 2007 would be very tempting for Democrats. A major motivation is that there is not enough money in the remaining bills to satisfy all spending requests; that's why the GOP did not finish them. Adopting continuing resolutions allows Democrats to save a few billion, and simultaneously denying any earmark requests - which are very rarely (perhaps never) included in continuing resolutions.

Anyway, the Hill explains why this may be less than meets the eye:

David Williams, vice president for policy at the Citizens Against Government Waste, praised the yearlong continuing resolution that was passed last week. However, he too was hesitant to lavish too much praise on the move by Democrats.

"I think this is a great move, a yearlong CR … I hope it shows people that we don’t need a Teapot Museum," he said, referring to some of the pet projects that lawmakers commonly slip into large spending bills for their districts.

He expressed concern that the yearlong CR could result in members of Congress doubling up on projects in the next fiscal year and noted that he was aware the move was not made in the interest of fiscal responsibility.

"They have an agenda that they want to get to immediately when Congress comes back into session," Williams said. "Whatever the cynical reasons … it’s a positive step as long as they don’t double up in 2008.

Steve Ellis, Taxpayers for Common Sense’s vice president for programs, was also skeptical.

"February is a long way away," he said. "We will see what happens at the end of the day."

Hopefully this is is a sign of things to come, rather than a set-up for disappointment.

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Rangel: Democrats Wash Hands of Iraq

I'm trying to think of a better way to characterize Rangel's remarks. How does one capture his apparent belief that they have no responsibility whatsoever to address Iraq in any way:

So now that the Democrats have won control of Congress, what should they do about the war in Iraq?

“I never understand that question,” answered Charlie Rangel, the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “You have a President that’s in deep shit. He got us into the war, and all the reasons he gave have been proven invalid, and the whole electorate was so pissed off that they got rid of anyone they could have, and then they ask, ‘What is the Democrats’ solution?’”

Am I being too harsh? I suppose a defender of Rangel would argue that since there's no solution to it, there's no reason to address it.

I imagine that the logical extension of this is that the Democrats should offer no criticism of the President regarding Iraq, nor attempt to interfere in any way with his prosecution of the remainder of the conflict.

Does Mr. Rangel not believe that the American people selected the Democrats to lead in Washington? If not, he better be prepared to surrender his Ways and Means Committee chairmanship.

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Why Was US Surveilling Princess Diana?

Of course; it's so clear now.

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Re: Tim Johnson & Senate Control

Our first reaction to news of Senator Tim Johnson being in critical condition is to hold him and his family in our prayers. We wish him a speedy recovery.

However, because people have asked, I provide a link to CQ's explanation of what happens in the Senate in different circumstances:

Johnson’s condition immediately raised questions about control of the Senate in the 110th Congress, which convenes Jan. 4. Democrats won a 51-49 edge in the November elections, but the Senate cannot function without the adoption of an organizing resolution.

That resolution is subject to filibuster, and if Republicans refused to adopt it on grounds that Johnson is incapacitated and incompetent to fulfill his duties, the chamber would be at a standstill. At the same time, only Johnson himself — or his family, acting under a power of attorney — could resign his seat, creating a vacancy that South Dakota’s Republican governor would fill. A Republican successor would create a 50-50 tie, giving the GOP operational control as a result of Vice President Dick Cheney’s tie-breaking vote.

If Johnson survives, the Democrats would still be in control by 50-49 until and unless he resigned...

Johnson does not need to be sworn in at the beginning of the 110th Congress because he is in the middle of his term.

Even if Johnson remains unable to attend to his regular Senate duties for a long period, he can still remain in office, according to Senate historian Richard Baker. There is no constitutional provision for the removal of incapacitated senators.

On the contrary, there is ample precedent for senators being absent for long periods due to health issues, including a former senator from South Dakota, who suffered a stroke in 1969. Republican Sen. Karl Earl Mundt (1948-1973) remained technically in office through the final years of his last term because he refused to resign.

In 1964, California Democrat Clair Engle (1959-1964), who had been absent from the Senate for months due to a brain tumor that had paralyzed him, was wheeled into the Senate on a gurney during the roll call vote on the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. Unable to speak, when his name was called, he lifted his arm and pointed to his eye, indicating an “aye” vote. He died in office.

More recently, in 1988, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., took a seven-month leave of absence to recover from brain surgery.

Baker said, given the history and tradition of the Senate, a senator remains a senator “as long as he’s alive and breathing.”

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Pelosi Takes Corruption Seriously

Nancy Pelosi has appointed the recently re-elected Bill Jefferson to the Small Business Committee. I love small business, but the Committee is somewhat less important than the Shower-Curtain Ring subcommittee of the Bathroom Accessories panel.

Jefferson clearly has no clout left - or Ms. Pelosi thinks that he won't be around long to complain.

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Peter Boyle (1935-2006)

Peter Boyle has passed.

Enjoy one of many funny scenes from Young Frankenstein.

And more:

Although young people will know him primarily as Frank from Everybody Loves Raymond, he's been doing great stuff for more than 30 years.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) Hospitalised for Apparent Stroke

Early reports were that he was conscious when taken away to hospital, but Rep. Herseth's demeanour at a hasty press availability suggests that there's cause for concern. Gov. Rounds (R) would appoint a successor, presumably tipping the balance in the Senate back to a Cheney-enabling 50-50 tie, should Sen. Johnson choose to retire or otherwise prove unable to serve, so everyone will be watching and many otherwise secular Democrats will be lighting candles tonight...


CNN now reports the successful conclusion of the surgery to arrest the haemorrhage, caused by a congenital arteriovenous malformation. The risk of death in cases of AVM haemorrhages is stated generally at about 10%, and the possibility of neurological damage from the haemorrhage or consequent clotting exists, but it would seem that the Senator has successfully passed the worst part of the crisis.

John Podhoretz Embraces the Rorschach Metaphor

Sen. Rorschach gets further analysis by the columnist from the NY Post.

Swift Raids Demonstrate Failure of Current Migrant Policy

The big news throughout the upper Midwest yesterday was the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on 6 Swift & Company meat processing plants.

In Marshalltown, IA, dozens of migrant workers were detained for documentation violations.

In Grand Island, NE, local law enforcement authorities were ordered not to cooperate in the interest of maintaining good relations with the immigrant community.

In Worthington, MN, as many as 400 people were detained.

In Greeley, CO, the Latino community began to attempt to organise a blockade of the facility, but were unable to block all gates to prevent the loaded buses from taking undocumented workers into custody.

In Cactus, TX, the long-winked at illegal population has so come to dominate the town that the raids had the effect of essentially shutting down the town.

This parallelled, only on a national level, the recent ICE raid of a Crider chicken processing plant back in September, and highlighted again the extent to which non-enforcement of immigration law has led to major demographic shifts affecting entire industries and communities.

Lussekattor for Everyone

by John Donne

'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown'd the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else ; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown ;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know ; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love ; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none ; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.

NOTE: In the years immediately prior to the correction of the English calendar to incorporate the Gregorian reforms, Dec. 13 was the date of winter solstice. St. Lucy, patron of the blind, was an appropriate patron for such a dark day, and her association with light is still observed in the Scandinavian celebrations of Lucy's day.