Saturday, December 09, 2006

So Much for Pelosi's Clean Congress...

The voters have spoken. And apparently $90,000 of cash in the freezer is not enough to earn a Congressman defeat in re-election. Bill Jefferson has defeated Karen Carter in today's runoff.

Now Ms. Pelosi will have to decide how to deal with the Congressional Black Caucus, and what to do about a crook returned to office.

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Scam the Scammers

Tired of being offered 20% of a Nigerian fortune? Don't get angry; get even!

Well, maybe not quite - but at least get a laugh from these two sites (here and here) that have chosen to turn the table on the scammers.

I've not yet found anyone who can offer the same service for viagra ads...

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Is Sil Reyes Up to the Job?

Good catch by Ed Morrissey. And by 'good,' I don't mean like, reassuring or anything.

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China Adapting to World Power Status

Fresh on the heels of my reference yesterday to the confusion following Zoellick's request that China think of itself as a 'responsible stakeholder,' the New York Times reports today that China is getting used to the idea of being a world power:

“Like it or not, China’s rise is becoming a reality,” says Jia Qingguo, associate dean of the Beijing University School of International Studies. “Wherever Chinese leaders go these days, people pay attention. And they can’t just say, ‘I don’t want to get involved.’ ”

Itself a major recipient of foreign aid until recently, China this year promised to provide well over $10 billion in low-interest loans and debt relief to Asian, African and Latin American countries over the next two years. It invited 48 African countries to Beijing last month to a conference aimed at promoting closer cooperation and trade.

Beijing agreed to send 1,000 peacekeepers to Lebanon, its first such action in the Middle East. It has sought to become a more substantial player in a region where the United States traditionally holds far more sway.

At the United Nations Security Council, China cast aside its longstanding policy of opposing sanctions against other nations. It voted to impose penalties on North Korea, its neighbor and onetime ally, for testing nuclear weapons...

Yan Xuetong, a foreign affairs specialist at Qinghua University in Beijing, argued in a scholarly journal this summer that China had already surpassed Japan, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and India in measures of its economic, military and political power. That leaves it second only to the United States, he said.

While the military gap between China and the United States may remain for some time, he argued, China’s faster economic growth and increasing political strength may whittle down America’s overall advantage.

“China will enjoy the status of a semi-superpower between the United States and the other major powers,” Mr. Yan predicted in the article, which appeared in the China Journal of International Politics.

He added, “China’s fast growth in political and economic power will dramatically narrow its power gap with the United States.”

China is changing, and it has the potential to be a critical ally if its future development continues on a course of greater openness. China will do a lot to determine if that happens, but the US does play an important role. We must hold to US ideals, while remaining engaged, advocating change at a reasonable pace and practicing a consistent policy toward China.

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Democrats Rejecting Open Markets

Yet another sign that Democrats no longer accept the value of open markets for promoting economic growth. This is something I've talked about before, but I find it somewhat surprising that Robert Rubin would get such a dressing down in front of House Democrats.

This is a troubling sign going forward.

The opening of markets around the world since World War II has coincided with a tremendous growth in wealth both in the US and abroad. It's clear that support for free trade has weakened in both parties. But as support has fallen more among Democrats, it looks like they may to actually implement policies that go in a different direction. It will be a test for the President, showing whether he's willing to actually make the case for free trade.

By the way, it also puts the lie to Democratic claims that they oppose unilateralist foreign policy in favor of coordinating with our international partners. It turns out that they only support multilateralism when it suits their goals.

Hat Tip: Greg Mankiw.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Snapshot of Ethnic Relations in the U.K.

...shown between the lines of two BBC stories:

Conform to our society, says PM

The second story is not so much informative in its actual subject matter, but rather in the fact that it is currently the number one reader-forwarded article on the BBC website right now:

Condoms 'too big' for Indian men

China Buys the World

The Financial Times covers China's emergence as a leading creditor nation, racking up enough loans to Africa that it has the IMF concerned.

One has to accept this as a normal course of affairs for an export power that racks up significant levels of foreign reserves. China needs to do something with what it earns abroad, and it's investing where it sees a return. Importantly, China is investing in order to address future energy needs - a huge concern for a nation seeing its appetite increase dramatically.

And having burned their hands once trying to make major investments in the US, China's leaders have decided its better to invest elsewhere. For those who were alarmed at the prospect of China investing in Unocal, is this better for US interests? What's that old Sun Tzu maxim?

This is likely to be an area where China increasingly buts up against the rest of the developed world. Remember the confusion in China when Bob Zoellick said that China ought to behave like a stakeholder? Get used to the friction.

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Because There's Nothing Like Waiting Till the Last Minute

Congress prepares to slap together final approval for the Indian nuclear deal as they rush for the exits.

It's peculiar how such momentous legislation can be completely overshadowed in the press by the platidinous gruel of the ISG report which the press heralds as the modern equivalent of the deliberations of the NATO Wise Men.

Silicon Alley Bounceback

Steven Malenga has a cool article on the rebound of Silicon Alley.

It's my impression that not a lot of people are aware that there's a significant tech sector in Manhattan. This is a good primer.

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Is This Just British Understatement?

Or is the BBC working on framing a new interpretation of Christianity which can dispense with half the New Testament?

In an article on excavations of the tomb of St. Paul at San Paolo fuori le Mura, the BBC cautiously explains the significance of St. Paul:

"His letters to the early churches, found in the Bible's New Testament, are arguably some of the most influential on Christian thinking."

I wonder which thinkers the Beeb had in mind "arguably" overshadowing St. Paul? Is the Beeb seriously prepared to entertain the contrary argument that St. Paul's letters were insignificant? What animus would lead them to this patent absurdity?

Clinton, McCain, Giuliani Have Big Leads

CQ Politics summarizes the results of two recent polls of the Presidential candidates in both parties. In short, Clinton, Giuliani, and McCain are far ahead of the other contenders:

Clinton was supported by 33 percent of respondents in both surveys. Her closest competition comes from three people who, like her, have not officially declared their intentions: 2000 presidential nominee Al Gore, freshman Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards...

Among Republicans, the surveys showed former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain leading the pack.

Giuliani led in both surveys, though he was statistically tied with McCain in the Marist poll, which showed Giuliani at 24 percent compared to 23 percent for McCain. The Fox News poll gave Giuliani a larger lead over McCain, 30 percent to 23 percent.

The Marist poll also showed solid support for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was backed by 15 percent of respondents. Rice, who has consistently denied holding presidential aspirations, was not included in the Fox News poll.

As I read this poll, one thing occurred to me. In recent elections, the frequency of polling has become a problem for the trailing candidate. With major polls coming out every few days, news stories focus relentlessly on the horse race, and those stories overshadow every effort by the trailing candidate to cut into the opponent's lead. The polls tend to cement the status quo.

Are we at the point where that's now happening in the primaries? How frequent are major primary polls now, as compared to previous years? It seems to me we have more polls this early than ever before. Are those polls going to reinforce the leads that Clinton, Giuliani and McCain have, and make it harder for challengers to break through? It seems very likely to me that it will be harder than ever for 'second-tier' challengers to break through, because CNN, MSNBC, and Fox will repeat the question ad nauseam, 'can Obama catch Clinton?' - or whatever it may be.

More from CQ:

What was unclear from their poll, Miringoff told, was whether voters’ impression of Clinton was implacable.

“There’s just a huge number of people who would not consider voting for Hillary Clinton; it’s close to half the electorate,” he said. “And that means she’s either got to drive that number down or there’s not a lot of room for error in the campaign.”

This point is made over and over: that nearly half the voters will never vote for Hillary. I think too much is made of this. Not too long ago, I heard Charlie Cook address this issue. He pointed out that while they won't say so up front, nearly half the electorate will vote against every candidate. That's the nature of politics today. Between 43 and 45 percent of the electorate will never vote for McCain. The same is true for Obama, or Giuliani, or Rice, or Richardson, or whoever - because the two parties have such well-defined bases of support and the true independents have shrunken so greatly.

So to say that 48% of the electorate (or whatever the number) will never vote against Hillary is really only to say that the opposition to her is slightly more defined than it is for other Democrats. Either way, she can still make it to a majority; it's just slightly more challenging for her than others.

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Kerry's Still Tone Deaf

Sounds almost too funny to be true.

December 8, 2006 -- SEN. JOHN Kerry didn't have nice things to say about Sen. Hillary Clinton or his former running mate, John Edwards, on Tuesday night. But he didn't say anything bad about them either, according to witnesses.

Kerry, who desperately wants to run again for president, had a dozen big-bucks Democrats to his Georgetown townhouse for pot roast and butternut squash.

According to a source who knows one of the attendees, Kerry started off by asking guests if he should run or not: "When no one answered, he launched into a speech about why he was the best candidate."

But four guests interviewed by Page Six denied that source's claim that Kerry went negative on Clinton and Edwards. The dinner guests swear Kerry never even mentioned his potential rivals for the Democratic nomination in 2008.

New Orleans lawyer Calvin Fayard told us Kerry was preaching to the choir. "Most of the people in the room believe he is not only the best candidate for 2008, but was also the best candidate in 2004," Fayard said, adding, "The primary focus of the conversation wasn't his possible candidacy for president." The group discussed the recent midterm elections, the change in leadership on Capitol Hill, and the Middle East.

Rodney Margol, a lawyer from Jacksonville, Fla., characterized the evening as "a thank-you event" for "those of us who have been supportive friends over the years."

"I hope he will run," Margol said. "I think the country has a serious case of buyer's remorse in light of what has happened under George Bush." Kerry's finance director, Jackson Dunn, called it "a casual sit-down dinner, no speeches . . . There is no agenda."

Bob Crowe, the CEO of Wolfblock Public Strategies, reports, "There was no discussion of other candidates . . . It was about him and what he's doing. It was clear from the evening that he hasn't decided."

Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz, wasn't feeling good and didn't stay with the group very long. Hopefully, she'll recover in time to accompany Kerry on his next trip to Iraq. That's what wives do when their husbands are running for president.

It's more than obvious that Kerry's time has passed. Even his supporters should be able to acknowledge that his only chance is if Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Vilsack, Clark, Richardson, Biden, Dodd - and probably a few others - drop out.

One hopes that Kerry will preserve his dignity by opting not to get creamed in 2008.

Hat Tip: Jonah

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Signs of Life in House GOP

Lots were disappoined when the House Republicans returned John Boehner and Roy Blunt to leadership positions, taking it as a sign that they did not realize the importance of promoting an aggressive conservative posture and adhering to principle.

Well, today in selecting Paul Ryan (R-WI) as their leader on budget issues, they may have demonstrated that they get the message. Ryan brings a commitment to low taxes and spending restraint that will be most welcome.

From Roll Call ($):

House GOP Selects Ranking Members; Bachus Wins Financial Services
Thursday, Dec. 7; 1:02 pm

The House Republican Steering Committee decided several contested ranking member races today.

Rep. Spencer Bachus (Ala.) bested Rep. Richard Baker (La.) for the Financial Services ranking membership, while Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) won the top slot on the uBdget panel over Rep. Ander Crenshaw (Fla.).

Rep. John Mica (Fla.) will be the ranking member on Transportation and Infrastructure, beating out Rep. Tom Petri (Wis.). The current Transportation and Infrastructure chairman, Rep. Don Young (Alaska), was named ranking member of the Resources Committee, a panel he previously has chaired.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.) took the top GOP post on the International Relations Committee, defeating Reps. Ed Royce (Calif.), Chris Smith (N.J.) and Dan Burton (Ind.). Rep. Ralph Hall (Texas) will be ranking member of the Science Committee after beating out Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.), the current Judiciary chairman and former Science chairman. Rep. Steve Chabot (Ohio) will be the lead Republican on the Small Business Committee.

The choices are all expected to be ratified by the full GOP Conference later today.

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Morris on Congressional Ethics Reform

Dick Morris offers his take on what ought to be included in Congressional ethics reform:

  • Ban spousal and family employment by campaign committees and PACs;
  • Ban immediate family members of senators or congressmen from lobbying Congress;
  • Restore the line-item veto and impoundment;
  • Require lobbyists to disclose the specific bills that they are lobbying;
  • Ban all privately paid travel by members;
  • Require electronic filing of all travel disclosures; and,
  • Require both chambers to work a full week.

There's not much here I quibble with. I'm not sure what the ramifications are of requiring lobbyists to list the specific legislation they are lobbying. As one who has filled out such disclosure forms, I list every cat and dog I can think of, to ensure that I haven't failed to disclose anything. I'm not sure that this would improve the situation.

And as for requiring both chambers to 'work a full week,' I would charitably describe this as silly. Members should be in Washington a sufficient amount of time to do legislative work, while allowing them to travel to their districts and elsewhere for other work. The outgoing Congress probably ought to have done more oversight and spent more time in Washington. I can virtually guaranteed that the incoming Congress will devote too much time to that. A requirement of five days is a campaign slogan - nothing more.

And glaringly missing from the list is an outside ethics process. Elected officials will never convince voters that they are squeaky clean, but they would do a lot better if they didn't have to answer for an ethics system where the judges seem to have their hands in the cookie jar as well.

Republicans have knocked Chris Shays as being 'too liberal,' but if they want to compete in the Northeast, they ought to pay more attention to a guy who knows how to do it. One reason he survived this year is that he is a genuine reformer, who is known for his support for an open ethics process. His idea for an Office of Public Integrity is a political winner, and one that is likely to trump the Democrats' attempt to brand themselves as the 'party of clean government' when the new Congress opens (since they show no inclination to accept it).

It ought to be on the GOP agenda.

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Pearl Harbor Day

Michelle has a great compilation of memories and tributes.

The New York Times also has a pretty cool collection, including an audio slideshow covering some of the recovery and repair efforts on US warships after the attack. Make sure to check out some of the videos over at the History Channel as well.

I am loath to add commentary on a moment in history that has been plumbed so well by so many smarter than I, but I offer this little bit that caught my eye at least, and which others might have missed. On a different occasion, Cal Thomas quoted what he asserts to be the LA Times editorial of December 7, 1942. I don't know if the quote is accurate, but it is instructive for us today (with apologies for offensive terms of the time):

In future years when the last Jap has been driven from invaded territory and the last bit of Jap warmaking material has been destroyed or surrendered, Pearl Harbor Day may be otherwise commemorated and it may be it will be remembered less as a day when so many brave Americans were slain in an attack without warning than as a day when the nation was awakened to its peril and began to understand fully that the existence of a free people isolated in a slave world was impossible. It was then made clear to Americans that a static defense against aggressors could not possibly succeed and that it was necessary to meet them on a battleground, not of their, but of our choosing.

Thanks to all those who serve - those who risk their lives, and those who make the ultimate sacrifice for our safety.

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Frank Blocks Medal for Thatcher

Roll Call ($) notes that in the waning days of this Congress, the House Republican leadership attempted to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Lady Margaret Thatcher. However, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) objected to consideration of the legislation, thereby effectively blocking it:

Iron Lady, Dissed. What a kick in the pants, or the skirt, as the case may be, to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

A revised floor schedule for Wednesday was sent out advising, “H.R. 6136 — Margaret Thatcher Congressional Gold Medal Act HAS BEEN PULLED.”

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), noted that among her accomplishments, Thatcher’s “close friendship with the United States led to a potent foreign policy partnership that contributed to the end of Soviet communism.”

A GOP leadership source told HOH that the reason the bill was pulled was because Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) objected to it.

Frank explained to HOH in a telephone chat that he opposed giving Thatcher a gold medal because the bill “hadn’t gone through the regular rules” procedure and, frankly, it “was being used by Republicans for partisan purposes. She was a very conservative person.”

Frank also objected in 2004 to giving a gold medal to former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, whose People’s Party lost the 2004 elections in the aftermath of the March 11 terrorist bomb attacks in Madrid, Spain. Well, since Aznar lost, Frank argued: “Let’s give him a silver medal, since he finished second.”

“There is no silver medal of course,” Frank said Wednesday, recalling how his smart-aleck amendment was shot down. The point is, he said, “I don’t think the Congressional Gold Medal ought to be used to make political points.”

The legislation is sponsored by more than a majority of House members (239 - the great majority of whom are Republicans). Is Lady Thatcher deserving? Judge for yourself - the list of recipients is here.

I'm not sure what 'political points' are scored by honoring a towering international figure whose leadership helped end the Cold War, particularly after an election, when few are paying attention. Does Mr. Frank think that Congressman Kirk will use this as a springboard to the Presidency?

If this is the wrong time to award this medal, outside of 'regular rules,' can we count on Mr. Frank to push for prompt consideration in the next Congress? After all, he'll be the next chair of the committee of jurisdiction, and will be in a position to guarantee that the rules are followed.

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Apologies to Booker T & the MGs

Who'da thought it was the green onions?

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What is Sin

Great catch by the Anchoress. Does this definition fail to catch anything? And if the definition is right, then would the ultimate commandment be 'treat all people with the respect and reverence due to God's handiwork?'

Philo? Feel free to append any thoughts...

Update: Philo's response is in the comment section, but I trust he won't mind my moving it up here where it will garner more attention:

Immanuel Kant expressed the nearly identical Humanity Formulation of the Categorical Imperative: "The practical imperative, therefore, is the following: Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only."

This gets around the problematic fact unaddressed in the Anchoress' quote that people are in fact a subset of created things and are therefore broadly in fact "things" inevitably to be so treated.

From Kant's point of view, any violation of the Categorical Imperative could be deemed "sin," although he himself preferred the drier and more academic formulation in his writing.

But this leaves open the question of the actual nature of sin, though, in the sense most people use it, since few people have the foggiest notion of the process by which Kant comes to his various formulations of the Categorical Imperative.

The etymology of the word itself is vexingly unhelpful: it seems merely to derive from the verb "to be" used in a legalistic sense of "is [guilty]": "O.E. synn "moral wrongdoing, offense against God, misdeed," from P.Gmc. *sundjo (cf. O.S. sundia, O.Fris. sende, M.Du. sonde, Ger. Sünde "sin, transgression, trespass, offense"), probably ult. "true" (cf. Goth. sonjis, O.N. sannr "true"), from PIE *es-ont-, prp. of base *es- "to be"....The semantic development is via notion of "to be truly the one (who is guilty)," as in O.N. phrase verð sannr at "be found guilty of," and the use of the phrase "it is being" in Hittite confessional formula. The same process probably yielded the L. word sons (gen. sontis) "guilty, criminal" from prp. of sum, esse "to be, that which is." Some etymologists believe the Gmc. word was an early borrowing directly from the L. genitive."

This shows us how legal images have from the very earliest times been a primary metaphor for our ethical obligations. In a sense, though, this puts things backwards, since law enforcement and judicial processes represent the at-least-potential failure of ethics--the law protects those who would otherwise be harmed by the ethical oversights of others.

Stepping outside of the Roman and Germanic moral/legal models, other languages put the matter in less adversarial structure. The Torah routinely uses metaphors of hygiene--clean and unclean, pure and impure--which put aside, in many cases, questions of intention and motive. The question of intent remained, though, in a particular category of impurity--the "chayt" or "going astray" which St. Paul routinely rendered into Greek as "hamartia" which we would render in English as "missing the mark."

Intentional or unintentional, these terms all presume the existence of an ideal from which the individual diverges.

This notion of "The Way" from which we fallibly stray is of course the essence of Taoism, and C.S. Lewis dwelt upon that fact considerably in "The Abolition of Man" in which he observed how efforts to free man absolutely from conceptual liability to sin in some form or other, or to define sin out of existence inevitably obliterates the very discussability of humanity as a bounded concept and destroys any attempt to impose any responsibility on someone unwilling to accept it.

But the question remains, then, what is The Way? This is what all the mature belief systems attempt to describe, with varying degrees of success. Ultimately, none of them can offer a purely didactic description of the Way, since full communication of the Way could by definition only be shared by complete human experience, in a way analogous to the way a play cannot be fully comprehended by reading its script but only by actually participating in the live interaction between the audience, players, director, playwright and crew.

So any serious attempt to answer this question is going to require a commitment on the part of the questioner.

Hillel's full response to the request "teach me the law while I stand on one foot," was "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Law; the rest is the explanation; go and learn." We often quote the first part as the Golden Rule, but the second part "go and learn" is just as important.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's time for the folks at NORAD to help you and your kids keep track of Santa's travels on Christmas Eve. Check it out.

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Unethical Democrats Make CBC Angry

TPM Muckraker again catches Democratic grumbling over an ethically-challenged colleague. In this case, Alan Mollohan is under FBI investigation over the surprising tendency of recipients of his earmarks to:

  1. Be friends of his; and,
  2. Donate to him.

If Ms. Pelosi is going to be running the cleanest Congress in history (notwithstanding Murtha's Amscam involvement and pork-barrelling, and the earmark problems of incoming Intel Chair Sil Reyes), then shouldn't she be calling for an ethics investigation into Mr. Mollohan's behavior?

Well, that's not exactly what she's doing. Instead, she's appointing him to chair the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the FBI. According to Muckraker, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are angry because they seem to remember Bill Jefferson getting unceremoniously kicked to the curb for doing things that seemed pretty suspicious, while Mollohan seems to be getting rewared for it.

This had better be a 'productive Congress' because the whole 'cleanest Congress in history' thing is pretty much shot to hell.

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Protectionism Back in Vogue

I've commented before that traditonal Democratic constituencies are trying to France-ify the US economy. Given the myriad commitments the US has made to maintain open markets, it's hard to directly implement protectionist policies. Rather, they will need to be indirect measures: restrictions on design and safety standards, targeting currency valuation, and pursuing extraneous regulation that has the effect of frustrating efforts to open markets.

Daniel Drezner catches one area where Democrats are already using that last tactic:

The Bush administration withdrew a plan on Tuesday to give European airlines more freedom to invest in American airlines and to participate in management decisions, bowing to opposition expected to deepen in a Democratic-controlled Congress.

The decision deals a blow to greater cooperation between United States and European airlines. Europe had made the investor rule a condition for putting in place the so-called open skies treaty with the United States, which is needed to allow airlines based in Europe or the United States to fly with little or no restrictions to each other’s territories. Such flights are now often subject to government-to-government negotiations.

The open skies treaty, which has been agreed to by the United States and the European Union, is far more important on both sides of the Atlantic than the separate foreign ownership rule. Europe could easily allow the open skies treaty to take effect at any time, but it has made such an issue of tying the two together that it now faces embarrassment if it appears to give in...

The foreign ownership proposal had been strongly opposed by influential members of Congress, unions and several major airlines led by Continental. British Airways was also cool to the idea because it would have allowed the open skies rules to go into effect, giving other airlines greater access to Heathrow Airport, which it dominates.

Representative James Oberstar, a Democrat from Minnesota who is expected to become chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, commended Ms. Peters for her decision. Mr. Oberstar said Ms. Peters chose to do the right thing in the face of strong pressure from the administration and from the European Union.

You would think that given the incredibly positive experience of opening air travel to competition, this might be one area where Congressional Democrats would welcome greater competition. You'd be wrong.

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Brownback Starts His Roadwork

Sen. Brownback attempts to establish some street cred via a 10-state tour in support of his undeclared candidacy. He further strains the illusion of only "considering" his candidacy by launching his website, Brownback for President.

Happy St. Nicholas Day

Hope you remembered to put your shoes out last night.

New Congress Could Get Ugly Start

It looks like the squabble over the race on Florida's 13th Congressional District might be headed for Congressional action. Christine Jennings, who lost the race, lost the recount, and who many experts feel has no legitimate case, is set to petition the incoming Democratic House to refuse to accept the results of the election:

Democrat Christine Jennings was in Washington over the last two days renewing her call for a revote in her race against Rep.-elect Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), as government and independent reviews failed to support her case.

Jennings said she would do everything she could to see the legal challenge through. She set up shop at Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee headquarters and was to meet with lawmakers including Reps. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) and Rush Holt (D-N.J.). She was also asking for financial support and continuing to push her case to the news media...

The audit has yet to produce any evidence of machine errors, and a review by a local newspaper published Tuesday points to ballot design as the leading cause of the undervotes...

Jennings’s case was also undercut by a review of every Sarasota County ballot conducted by investigative reporters at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and published Tuesday. The review concluded that the format of the ballot probably contributed to the large undervote, and a number of election experts are now also saying ballot design was probably the leading factor.

The Herald-Tribune review found that three other counties experienced similar undervotes in the two-candidate attorney general race. The attorney general race was on the same page as the gubernatorial race in those counties, just like the two-candidate House race was in Sarasota County.

The gubernatorial race featured seven options and therefore dominated the screen in the four counties, which all used the same touch screens. The four cases all led to undervotes of more than 10 percent and account for four of the five highest undervotes in federal and statewide races in Florida, according to the Herald-Tribune...

Roll Call (subscription only) covers the issue, and looks more closely at the ramifications:

...Filing an official protest with the House Administration Committee will automatically make the Jennings/Buchanan case one of the first indicators of just how partisan the 110th Congress will be, and observers won’t even have to wait until the new year to begin to see the fissures.

Here’s why: The House of Representatives as a whole is responsible for seating its own membership. Buchanan supporters argue that since he holds a certificate from the Florida Elections Canvassing Commission showing that he won the race, he should be installed as the Representative of Florida’s 13th district on Jan. 4, when the 110th Congress convenes...

It is not unprecedented for neither candidate to be seated by the House until a contested election is resolved. Perhaps the most notable example in recent years is the infamous 1984 race between the late Democratic Rep. Frank McCloskey and Republican Richard McIntyre in Indiana’s 8th district — where it took until the following May to swear in a Member for that seat. McCloskey eventually was seated by a Democratic House...

The House Administration Committee will receive Jennings’ challenge at the tail end of the Republican-controlled 109th Congress and the outgoing majority could immediately begin the investigation or hold hearings on the case.

Traditionally when an election contest is filed, a panel of two majority and one minority committee members is put together to review the case, including reports gathered by both Democratic and Republican committee observers who are sent to districts whenever contests seem likely. That panel makes a recommendation to the full committee on how to proceed, and that recommendation is voted on and, if passed, sent to the floor of the House and treated like any other piece of legislation...

As I've noted before, refereeing a race like this can be very ugly. I'll be watching to see where this goes.

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WSJ: GOP Slashes Federal Spending

I note below that because of the Republican intransigience on spending issues, federal spending in 2007 may well turn out to be lower than it was in 2006. Tim Chapman and the Club For Growth have been all over this story.

But while it's a good thing if federal spending does end up being reduced, it seems to be cause for alarm in many quarters. And the WSJ joins Congressional Democrats in characterizing it as 'blowing up the tracks' during retreat:

The collapse of the appropriations process will be felt soon in the Justice and Commerce departments, food-safety agencies and veterans' health care. "It's not just a mess. It's a mountainous mess," complained Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, the next House Appropriations Committee chairman...

With Congress turning off the lights this week, there seems no chance of saving the appropriations process. Instead, most of the government will remain on a stopgap bill through Feb. 15, and in kicking this can down the road, the Republican leadership has no idea where it will stop rolling.

"It's a demonstration of the irresponsibility of Republicans that they would leave this country with this mess," said the next House speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.). "But we won, we will deal with it."

Democrats could simply extend the stopgap resolution again in February and set themselves up as a budget appeals court of sorts, to which the administration will have to come for relief. "I think we can work through it, but it is not our preference," said White House budget chief Rob Portman. But the administration admits it could yet pay a price if the spending issues become entangled with President Bush's spring supplemental-spending request for military operations in Iraq.

The stopgap resolution, which the House expects to take up today, allows no growth above 2006 spending, and as a rule, any spending cuts from 2006 levels voted by the House this past summer prevail. On balance, annual funding is about $6 billion less than the president's budget request -- without always reflecting his priorities.

So there's the disaster: $6 billion. That sounds like a lot of money, until you realize that the total projected expenditure of the federal government in fiscal year 2007 is $2.7 trillion. The staggering shortfall that the government must deal with is about 0.2% of federal spending - and that doesn't count the money that will be added in later if this 'doomsday scenario' comes to pass, in the form of 'emergency spending.'

Yes, this is a difficult appropriations process to manage, particularly in an environment where elected officials have come to expect annual increases of nearly 8 percent in spending. But a 0.2% reduction does not constitute a disaster or a crisis; it's only portrayed that way.

Update: Check out Jon Henke's sensible comments on this over at QandO.

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Congress to Test Idle Hands Theory

Steny Hoyer has announced that the incoming Congress is going to work in Washington five days a week. No doubt, this will prove politically popular. The average voter clearly doesn't like the notion that elected officials could 'work' as few as 103 days in a two-year period and apparently accomplish so little.

I believe however, that the number of days spent in Washington is more or less irrelevant to judging whether Congress is successful or not. Sure, you have to have a minimum number of days to complete the necessary work, but it doesn't necessarily require 5 days per week. And if your goals are wrong, then additional days in Washington will only yield an inferior result. The incoming Congress is likely to use the additional time on more hearings, more intrusive legislation, more browbeating of bureaucrats into greater regulation, and probably (in the end) more spending. Who wants any of that?

I think this is a rare case where Captain Ed has it completely wrong. The outgoing Congress did not fail to complete its work because it did not spend enough time in Washington. The reason that appropriations work was not completed is that the spending levels in the legislation were too low to win majorities. Federal spending will be lower because the Congressional leadership did not yield. Would additional days in Washington have 'solved' that, and would it have done so in a way that conservatives approve of?

Furthermore, Congress does do work outside of Washington. Members of Congress need to go back to their districts from time to time. And while it sounds disingenuous, they need to travel to other places as well - be it elsewhere in the US, or abroad. The Hoyer work schedule is not likely to interfere with those goals, but it's still worth noting.

The Hoyer announcement is good politics, but its effect on policy will be somewhere between irrelevant and negative.

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Battle of Teutoburg Forest

Just came across this fascinating piece in a back issue of Smithsonian, about the Roman defeat at Kalkriese Hill in 9 A.D. It prevented Rome from conquering what is now Germany and incorporating it into the Roman Empire.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Jimmy V Question

What's happening today that so many people are going to visit the Jimmy V story on my page?

I note that the YouTube clip I had up is no longer available. You can read the speech (or watch a portion of it) here. (Update: It's also available here.)

Here's an excerpt:

...To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special

...I talked about my family, my family's so important. People think I have courage. The courage in my family are my wife Pam, my three daughters, here, Nicole, Jamie, LeeAnn, my mom, who's right here too. And...that screen is flashing up there thirty seconds like I care about that screen right now, huh? I got tumors all over my body. I'm worried about some guy in the back going thirty seconds, huh? You got a lot, hey va fa napoli, buddy. You got a lot.

I just got one last thing, I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get you're emotions going. To be enthusiastic every day and [as] Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Nothing great could be accomplished without enthusiasm" -- to keep your dreams alive in spite of problems whatever you have. The ability to be able to work hard for your dreams to come true, to become a reality.

...I know, I gotta go, I gotta go, and I got one last thing and I said it before, and I'm gonna say it again: Cancer can take away all my physical ability. It cannot touch my mind; it cannot touch my heart; and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.

Update: Aha! My guess is that this is what prompts all the attention to Jimmy V.

Update II: I should have done a little more searching. This is the reason for all the attention to Valvano: the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. To find out how to support the V Foundation, go here.

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Bad Airline Experiences

Lots of folks on the net are pointing to this disturbing story about a woman lighting matches on a plane - for a reason that we can all sympathize with.

Less noticed is this tale of British Airways passengers who didn't get the great travel experience normally associated with first class seats, as well as a couple that is probably entitled to a refund of the cost of one of their tickets.

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Why Trade?

I've blogged more than usual lately on free trade, and Andrew Roth points to a good piece to explain why trade is a good thing.

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Rodham(D-NY, AR, IL) Leads Rorschach (D-IL)

Mickey questions whether a Senator who can't win more than 25% of the early primaries can really be considered the 'frontrunner.' Heh.

And election analyst Charlie Cook expresses his skepticism in a different way. This is his latest subscriber newsletter:

Democrats By The Numbers
By Charlie Cook
Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2006

While Democratic circles are buzzing with speculation that Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois might jump into the race for the party's 2008 presidential nomination, little notice is given to the fact that New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's stock has gone up the most in recent months.

In a Cook Political Report/RT Strategies national survey of registered voters last month, 34 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents supported Clinton and 20 percent said they backed Obama from a list including virtually every conceivable contender. Former Vice President Al Gore was at 11 percent, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards had 9 percent, and Sens. Joseph Biden of Delaware and John Kerry of Massachusetts each had 4 percent [by the way, who should be more upset about this tie - Kerry or Biden? - the Editor]. Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin (who has since said he will not run), Govs. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Tom Vilsack of Iowa and retired Gen. Wesley Clark each had 2 percent or less.

The poll of 728 registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents was conducted Nov. 9-12 and had a 3.6-point error margin.

Clinton's support this time was statistically unchanged from three previous surveys over the last year, when she was at 31 or 32 percent. But if you take Gore, who is not likely to run, out of the mix, Clinton goes from 34 percent to 39 percent, with Obama at 21 percent and no other candidate gaining more than 2 points. For Clinton, that is 8 points better than in the June Cook/RT survey among the same set of contenders, and it is 7 points higher than she was at this point last December.

If both Gore and Obama are out of the mix, Clinton's support level goes up to 51 percent, 20 points higher than she was in June and 19 points higher than last December.

Clinton's biggest challenge has long been the question of electability. While quite controversial among Republicans and independents, Clinton's favorable ratings among Democrats generally run between 66 and 80 percent. The concern within the party has been whether she could win a general election.

To test the saliency of the electability question, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents were asked this question in Cook/RT surveys in February, August and last month: "Thinking about Hillary Clinton, which of the following two statements comes closer to your opinion? If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, I am worried that she cannot win the election for president, or if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, she'll have as good a chance as any Democratic nominee to be elected president." The answers were rotated each time the question was asked.

In February, 47 percent said Clinton would have as good a chance as any Democrat, while 46 percent expressed concern that she couldn't win a general election. In August, the numbers were again pretty evenly split again, with 49 percent expressing concern that she couldn't win a general and 46 percent believing she'd have as good a chance as any.

In the November survey however, those who thought she'd have as good a chance as any climbed 14 points to 60 percent, and those worried that she couldn't win dropped 13 points to 36 percent. There was no significant difference between men and women or among those most likely to vote in a Democratic presidential primary. Among that group, 59 percent thought she would have as good a chance as any, while 37 percent worried that she couldn't win in November.

Obviously this is one just one poll, and that doesn't make a trend. Having said that, it could well be that before this midterm election, Democrats, having lost two consecutive presidential elections and lost House and Senate seats in two straight elections as well, were filled with self-doubt and probably not in much of a risk-taking mood. But having won majorities in the House, Senate and among governors last month, Democrats probably have a little more starch in their shorts, and that might play to her benefit.

At the same time, race might not be the obstacle for Obama that some would have thought. The full sample of 1,737 registered voters was asked: "As you may know, Barack Obama is a first-term, African-American senator from Illinois. If the Democratic Party nominated Barack Obama for president, regardless of how you personally might vote, how likely is it that among your friends, neighbors and relatives there might be some people who choose not to vote for Obama because he is African-American?"

Just 13 percent said it was either very likely or fairly likely that they knew someone who would not vote for Obama because of his race, 78 percent said it was only somewhat likely or not likely that they knew someone who would. Interestingly, 23 percent of African-Americans said they knew someone that wouldn't; only 11 percent of whites said that.

The full survey, which had an error margin of 2.4 points, showed Clinton gaining ground in a hypothetical general election race against Arizona Sen. John McCain, the likely front-runner for the GOP nomination. The poll showed McCain with 44 percent and Clinton with 42 percent. McCain led Clinton by 12 points in February, 9 points in April and 7 points in June.

In the most recent poll, McCain led Obama, 44 percent to 37 percent. This is the first time this pairing has been tested in the Cook/RT poll.

Some interesting stuff here.

First off, this poll would suggest that Obama might the Democrat with the best chance of denying Clinton the nomination. If you're a Democrat who doesn't like Hillary or feel she can't win, perhaps Obama is your candidate.

Also, polls like this will take some wind out of the McCain balloon. If his lead against Hillary has more or less evaporated, then he isn't really the sure-fire next President of the United States. If conservatives were resigned to backing him because he would be a guaranteed winner, then numbers like this might lead them to look at other candidates.

Update: By the way, Michael Barone's piece on the 2008 Presidential race provides a great picture of how the nomination of Giuliani or McCain could change the arithmetic.

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Race for the Moon

AP covers NASA's debut of its plan to establish a permanent manned presence on the moon. Astronauts will return to the moon on 2020 and a permanent presence will commence in 2024. The US program is sometimes referred to as 'Apollo on Steroids,' and a quick look at the artists' conceptions will show why.

While timetables slip and there is skepticism about whether this vision will actually take form, it's worthwhile to remember that we're not the only ones planning a moonbase.

Japan's JAXA for example, is planning a moonbase by 2030. (By the way, JAXA is on the web here in English, but it does not have a lot of info on the planned moon base).

And in a growing sign of what nations are the world's technology leaders in the near future, China and India are also planning to go.

One imagines that the nations which actually start to take concrete steps toward establishing a permanent manned presence will end up throwing in together. After all, the costs are too great for any one nation to foot the bill without looking for ways to do it cheaper.

And I would be remiss if I did not point out that apart from state-sponsored ventures, there are capitalists thinking about going to the moon as well.

And how long will it take before we realize that the moon is the perfect place to store nuclear waste? (As you listen to that youtube clip, am I the only one who thinks it sounds like 'Jesus Christ Superstar?')

Update: Victor Matus argues against going back to the moon for a different reason. Of course, Mr. Matus is a sucker for believing that humans have walked on the moon at all.

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Sen. Clinton hits IA phones

Hearing numinous footsteps behind her, HRC lets a little light onto her plans to make certain everyone knows she's in the race to win.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Chicago Anti-Christian Left Digs Itself in Deeper on Christkindlmarkt

The Chicago Tribune editorial tries to make sense of the mess.

The Mayor's office put the screws to the organisers of Chicago's traditional German-American Christmas bazaar--the Christkindlmarkt--to prevent advertisements for the new motion picture "The Nativity Story" from being prominently featured at the bazaar, located as it has been for years at the publicly owned Daley Plaza.

The ironies are incredible. First, the Mayor's office decided to intervene ostensibly to prevent attendees at the Christkindlmarkt--the name means "Christ Child Market"--from an offensive exposure to Christian belief, as though the very existence of the Christkindlmarkt itself were not a complete bathing in traditional German Christian observance.

Then, when challenged, the Mayor's office attempted to take refuge in a bash of capitalism by denouncing the advertisements for the film as "excessively commercial," again as though the Christkindlmarkt itself were some sort of free-will offering with nothing to do with money.

In this, the Mayor's office has merely recapitulated a common anti-Christian ploy: attacking Christmas through the proxy of attacking popular observances which are determined arbitrarily to fail the secular person's suddenly high standards of taste and decorum. The same people who defend peepshows in downtown Manhattan as triumphs of freedom of expression will then condemn the commercialisation of Christmas because large numbers of people want their children to be happy on Christmas morning, or want to see Hollywood and the Show Business juggernaut validate their families' commitment to a two-thousand year old story which has induced greater charitable activity and social reform than any other narrative in human history.

Philo-Junius indulges a great curiosity as to the opinions of the numinous Sen. Rorschach (D-IL) on this issue simultaneously with an equally great confidence that no media organisation will seek to obtain that opinion.

Festivus, Leftivus...

Make sure to check out Mary Katherine Ham's take on Leftivus, and Ann Althouse's observation of how quickly disgraced former stars go out of style.

Hat Tip: Glenn

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In Other News

The Houdini of C-Max is back in custody.

Brownback Officially Considers Throwing Hat in Ring

The senior Senator from Kansas reorganises his staff to cement his new role as standard-bearer of social conservatives in the U.S. Senate by campaigning for the Presidency.

It would be gratifying, after their recent AIDS-test-grip-and-grin, to see Brownback challenge Obama's incoherence on sexual morality--waxing pious about the need for "a moral and spiritual component to [AIDS] prevention" but not indicating any practical political support for any such components while going out of his way to endorse prophylactics and value-neutral prevention strategies in an explicitly Christian venue--in a televised debate, but such an eventuality is unlikely unless both were to wind up as their parties' respective undercard nominations--probably Obama's worst-case scenario, and Brownback's best-case scenario.

New NBA Ball: Thank Animal Rights Wackos

Check out the story over at Consumer Freedom. Apparently the co-owners of the Houston Rockets are behind the move.

Wonder how Shaq feels about it now.

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Pelosi Picks Reyes

Limited posting over the weekend due to a family trip. It would have been shorter, but I learned (the hard way) that the Garden State Parkway does not end in the same place as the New Jersey Turnpike.

So Nancy Pelosi has selected Sil Reyes (D-TX) to serve as next Chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

Mr. Reyes will be one Committee chairman who isn't all that impressed with the border fence. He has been a strong proponent of surveillance cameras to watch the border. The company that he supported for the job - and which hired his son and daughter - did a terrible job, it seems, and has led some to question Mr. Reyes's ethics.

This again makes you question Ms. Pelosi's skill at picking leaders. One wonders whether she'll eventually wish she had picked Harman.

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Daschle Does the Math

And realises that his less-than-rock-solid lock on South Dakota's 3 electoral votes does not constitute an effective springboard to the Presidency.

To me this seems to be a classic case of product rejection due to market saturation. When Vilsack announced last week, it swiftly became clear to all observers that the Democratic race certainly could not support two earnest yet anodyne white ethnics from states that most Americans cannot locate on a map. Whether the race can indeed support one such candidate remains yet to be seen.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Clinton Machine Rumbles to Action

Hillary Clinton's crew and Evan Bayh's people get organised to start laying track in Iowa, New Hampshire, and the national Democratic fund-raising circuit.

Meanwhile, a newly released poll shows that Sen. Rorschach runs closer to Sen. McCain in an hypothetical match-up than does Sen. Clinton.(Giuliani is only obliquely taken into account in the poll questions). Obama himself remains coy about when he'll officially get organised.