Saturday, August 04, 2007

Confirmation: GOP Won the Vote

Congressional Quarterly seems to have the definitive article on the furor in the House the other night. They lead with the news of a 'ceasefire,' but later confirm that the vote ought to have been a Republican win.

The piece leads with the creation of a bipartisan select committee to investigate the contested vote, and then retraces what happened:

The panel would be directed to make an interim report to the House by Sept. 30 and to deliver a final report by Sept. 15, 2008. The resolution also instructs officers of the House to preserve documents and recordings related to the vote in question. The panel, made up of three appointees of the Speaker and three of the minority leader, would have the power to subpoena documents and testimony.

Earlier, Hoyer took the floor to apologize for the way the entire series of votes was handled, as did Michael R.McNulty, D-N.Y., who had been presiding over the House when the furor erupted.

“The minority was understandably angry,” Hoyer said. Speaking quietly, he sought to lower the temperature a bit.

Republicans accused Democrats of using the kind of heavy-handed tactics that Democrats had assailed when the GOP ran the House. The late-night exchange featured a heated exchange between former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Hoyer.

And on a video replay of the night’s action, Hoyer can be heard saying, “We control this House, not the parliamentarians!”
Roll Call has a piece from yesterday afternoon, which shows that the compromise on a select committee followed some brinkmanship between Speaker Pelosi and the Republican minority:
Democratic House leaders dismissed Republican assertions Friday that the majority altered the outcome of a vote on the chamber’s floor, and rejected demands to return a disputed spending bill to committee, characterizing the request as “frivolous.”

“There was no mistake made last night,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a Friday press conference.

The Californian described the incident Thursday — in which Rep. Mike McNulty (D-N.Y.) allegedly announced a vote count before some Members had completed changing their ballots, leading Republicans and Democrats to differ on whether the measure had passed — as a “misunderstanding” and an “inconvenience.”

“It did not change the outcome of the vote,” she said.
CQ though, says pretty clearly that it did change the outcome:
The floor confusion arose when, with the tally tied at 214-214, two politically vulnerable Democrats, Nick Lampson of Texas and Harry E. Mitchell of Arizona, went to the well of the chamber to switch their votes to “no.” The buddy system would prevent Democrats who voted “no” from being targeted as the deciding vote in future campaign ads. Moments later, three Cuban-American Republicans from south Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart, moved to change their votes to “aye.”

The five vote switches were called out by the House reading clerk. The two Democratic changes put the tally at 212-216. Ros-Lehtinen’s switch made it 213-215. Lincoln Diaz-Balart evened it at 214-214, but a tie vote fails. As the reading clerk called out Mario Diaz-Balart’s new vote, the Speaker Pro Tempore, Rep. Michael R. McNulty, D-N.Y., banged the gavel, apparently unaware that the second Diaz-Balart’s vote had yet to be counted.

McNulty had his eyes on the electronic scoreboard, which still read 214-214. But almost as soon as the gavel came down, the scoreboard registered Mario Diaz-Balart’s vote, pushing the tally to 215-213. The scoreboard showed those numbers and the word “FINAL.”
It was after this according to CQ, that Democrats switched votes to secure a 'win:'
Within a minute or so, a flurry of post-gavel vote switches by Reps. Zack Space of Ohio, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Jerry McNerney of California — resulted in an official outcome of 212-216. Boehner was observed switching his vote — a common way to preserve the right to seek reconsideration, and an aide confirmed that the tally board at that point should have read 211-217.

“Shame! Shame!” Republicans chanted across the aisle. Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., thumped the seat of a chair in rhythm with the chant. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, R-Ohio, repeatedly covered his mouth with his hand, pretended to cough and bellowed a barnyard epithet.

McNulty, whom Democrats often tap to preside over contentious debates, could be heard on television insisting “I called it 214-214.”
This will be uncomfortable for Democratic House leaders. CQ is a non-partisan publication with no ax to grind. If their account is accurate, then the GOP's misdirection tactics secured them a win that got taken away after the gavel came down.

We'll see how it gets portrayed in the broader media.

Update: Check out my thoughts on how to proceed over here.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Another Indian Company Creating Jobs in America

How many jobs do Indian companies have to create in the US before Lou Dobbs has to stop talking about outsourcing?

It would be easy to imagine Reno, Ohio, as the type of place that would be hit hardest by outsourcing - a small American town losing out to the invisible hand shifting jobs to places like Bangalore and Guangzhou. Instead, outsourcing is bringing the jobs to Reno. Across the street from an Army Reserve center and next to a farm, a customer-service call center hums, its 250 workers answering phones for online travel agency Expedia. The center's owner? Indian conglomerate Tata Group.

The phenomenon has a name: "insourcing," the term experts are starting to use when foreign multinationals open offices on U.S. soil and hire Americans, at a higher price, to do the very jobs they once lured overseas. In this case the center in Reno is targeted toward companies willing to pay a premium - its workers there cost up to 40 percent more than their counterparts in India - to give their U.S. customers a more culturally fluent, less frustrating 1-800 experience. (No more hearing someone read from a script ten time zones away.)

Add this story to the ones here and here.

According to the Organization for International Investment, US subsidiaries of foreign companies are responsible for more than 5 million jobs in the US. That's a relatively small percentage of the 150 million or so jobs in the US overall, but if you're one of the 5 million, you probably don't think so.

Three or four anecdotes suffice to create a panic about jobs leaving the US; will these accounts cause a sudden worry about skyrocketing wages as companies compete for scarce employees? If so, don't worry -- the American economy is awfully nimble; it takes more than a few million jobs insourced or outsourced to dent our prosperity.

Star Trek by the Numbers

Come on -- take one look, and you know you have to click this link:

We Just Disagree...

Somebody's gotta be wrong.

The Hotline reports that in their regular poll of anonymous Republican and Democratic insiders, Democrats think there is zero chance that the GOP will retake the House, while Republicans are more optimistic:

Close to 90 percent of the Dem Insiders said that there's a low probability of a GOP takeover of either chamber. “What is less than zero?” one Dem replied, when asked the likelihood that GOP will take over the House. “They have no stars and back bench. The talent is with the Dems,” replied another. If anything, Dems were even more optimistic about keeping Senate control. “The seats up are ours. The question is how big a Democratic majority?” said one Dem Insider. Another said that GOPers were “playing defense in too many states.”

GOPers, for their part, were notably optimistic at this early stage of the '08 campaign. Half said that the chance of a GOP takeover of the House was between four and six on a 0-to-10 scale. The remainder divided about evenly between a low and high chance of a House takeover. “Anti-incumbent mood vexes the new majority!” according to a typical GOP reply. Another said that “Democrats had a great opportunity but have largely squandered it.”

It's an interesting demonstration of just how true it is that 'where you stand depends on where you sit.' Both sides are answering anonymously and -- presumably -- candidly. So what explains the broad disparity between how both sides see the race?

Actually, I run into few optimistic Republicans nowadays -- even though our presidential candidates run even with Hillary Clinton in the polls. As Republicans themselves are quick to point out, her nomination would guarantee a motivated Republican base. And if she is the nominee, she is certainly beatable.

It's encouraging to see that some Republicans recognize that 15 months before the election, before all of the candidates are yet officially in the race, we still have a chance to win.

And as you can tell from the title, this blog post is in musical tribute to Dave Mason.

Better Living Through Bathroom Etiquette

Check out Mary Katharine Ham:

I like the part where the cat goes down.

House Republicans Head Home Armed to the Teeth

Read it at the Standard.

Democrats Breaking House Rules?

The Politico reports that House Democrats apparently manipulated a vote and changed the final tally to deny Republicans a win on a motion to recommit the agriculture spending bill to committee, to bar assistance to illegal immigrants:

Details remain fuzzy, but numerous Republicans argued afterward that they had secured a 215-213 win on their motion to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving any federal funds apportioned in the agricultural spending bill for employment or rental assistance. Democrats, however, argued the measure was deadlocked at 214-214 and failed, members and aides on both sides of the aisle said afterward.

One GOP aide saw McNulty gavel the vote to a close after receiving a signal from his leaders – but before reading the official tally. And votes continued to shift even after he closed the roll call - a strange development in itself.

Whatever the final tally, acrimony quickly exploded between lawmakers on either side of the aisle as Democratic leaders tried to plot a solution, while parliamentarians on either side argued over protocol...

When Democrats finally moved to consider the spending bill as the last vote of the night, furious Republicans left the chamber en masse to protest the maneuver. The House eventually recessed at 11:18 p.m. But Republicans quickly discovered that there was no longer any record of the controversial vote and immediately charged Democrats with erasing the bad result.
According to the House website, Democrats won the vote on the motion to recommit by a margin of 216-212. Obviously, that's different from the 215-213 outcome Republicans claim, and the 214-214 tie that Democratic aides asserted. Whatever the accurate count, as many as 4 votes shifted after voting had closed.

Deputy Whip Eric Cantor writes about the incident -- and is pretty outraged:
The Democrat chair closed the roll call when Republicans had won – as the electronic voting tally indicated enough votes to return the bill to committee. Shouting erupted on the floor, as the Democrats attempted to change the outcome of the vote after the gavel had come down – the vote was closed.

Republicans attempted to adjourn, but we were ruled out of order. Confusion set in as members waited at least five minutes for the chair’s decision.
Democrats have been frustrated all year at the success of Republicans in winning motions to recommit. They had threatened to change House rules to prevent it; if the Republican account is accurate, they have simply decided to ignore the rules instead.

And if Cantor is right that it was 'at least 5 minutes' before the final tally was announced, then manipulation is definitely suggested. After all, it never takes more than a few seconds to tally just 3 or 4 vote shifts.

is what current Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said when Republicans held a vote open to manipulate the result:
In 22 years of service in this body, I have never seen such an undemocratic subversion of the will of the House. The American people, I believe, would be shocked if they knew such undemocratic tactics were used. Republicans were defeated according to the rules, and they then changed the rules to claim 'victory.'
In response, Democrats promised to stick by vote timetables and allow measures to succeed or fail according to the will of the majority. Their opening-day rules package
Prohibits the Speaker from holding votes open for longer than the scheduled time for the sole purpose of changing the outcome of the vote.
I suspect we'll see some 'instant replays' that may shed more light on this. It would be a rather dramatic deviation from principle if House Democrats did what they are accused of.

See also Powerline.

Update: Eric Cantor provides a portion of the ruckus in this clip from C-SPAN. The chairman states that he 'prematurely' closed the tally while votes were still being entered:

If votes were still being cast, it's customary for the chair to keep the vote open to allow Members to complete their voting -- including if they've decided to change a vote. Did that rationale serve as a cover to allow other Members to change votes as well, and turn a loss into a win? Quite possibly.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Sean Penn: Obama's First Secretary of State

Barack Obama wants to meet with Hugo Chavez within the first year of his administration; perhaps Sean Penn intends to lay the groundwork?

Chavez said Penn traveled to Venezuela this week wanting to learn more about the situation in the country and walked around some of Caracas' poor barrios on his own.

"Welcome to Venezuela, Mr. Penn. What drives him is consciousness, the search for new paths," Chavez said Wednesday in a televised speech. "He's one of the greatest opponents of the Iraq invasion."

Maybe it's not about politics for Sean Penn; maybe he's in Caracas for the same reason Danny Glover was: he wanted the money. Could Sean be looking to finance 'I Am Sam II?'

Liberal Dems Upset over Respite from Partisan Iraq Attacks

Read it at the Standard.

Music Recommendations

A little while ago, I posted this video of the band Low Strung playing Baba O'Riley -- which is probably the greatest song in the history of rock. One listen and you'll realize that whatever may have been in Pete Townshend's head when composing it, it was made for cello:

My brother liked this so much he bought a Low Strung CD. He highly recommends it. So if you like this, and wish that you could hear cello versions of Hotel California, Don't Stop Believing, or Where the Streets Have No Name, head over to CDBaby to order it.

Things Get Tougher for Ted Stevens

Roll Call ($) reports that an employee of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens did his personal bookkeeping on the federal dime:

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has used a Senate employee as his personal bookkeeper but does not appear to have paid her for those services out of his own funds, even as the aide collected more than a quarter-million dollars in federal pay, according to Senate records and the aide’s financial disclosure forms...

According to an Associated Press report, [Barbara] Flanders — who did not respond to repeated requests for comment — is cooperating with federal law enforcement officials conducting a wide-ranging corruption probe of Stevens and other Alaska lawmakers and business leaders, including Stevens’ son, Ben, and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).

The AP report said Flanders has testified before a grand jury regarding her work as Stevens’ personal bookkeeper, as part of the federal probe into his relationship with executives from the oil services firm VECO Corp.

It's unclear from the Roll Call account how it can be determined that her work was personal work for Stevens; the AP article (below) clearly implies that it's in her testimony. That said, it's not cut-and-dried that a law has been broken. It's not unusual for paid staff to do a small amount of personal work for Members (such as making a dinner reservation -- as the article points out). Further, if she was performing official duties commensurate with her salary, personal work during office hours might be overlooked.

Essentially, this must pass the 'smell test.' And those caveats notwithstanding, this doesn't smell very good.

This appears to be the AP story referenced:

Barbara Flanders, who serves as a financial clerk for Stevens on the Commerce Committee, testified in the last several weeks and provided documents regarding the senator's bills, according to an attorney in the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because grand jury matters are secret by law...

Flanders is a longtime aide who helps ensure that Stevens' bills are paid, the attorney said. She was questioned about the improvement project and how the bills were paid.

Reached by telephone yesterday, Flanders would not discuss her testimony or describe her duties involving Stevens' personal accounts.

"I work for the Commerce Committee," she said. "I don't have any comment on any other issues."

It doesn't look very good for Stevens.

Update: If you're reading about Ted Stevens then you must be interested in earmarks. Go check out Glenn's thoughts on where earmark reform stands now.

Why OJ Simpson Shouldn't Do Call-In Shows

Just what he deserves: - Watch more free videos

I love that by the start of the second question, OJ is fidgeting like he was under cross examination. You can practically see the flop sweat.

What possessed him to think this wouldn't happen?

Bush to Cancel 2008 Election; Can 90 Million Gun Owners Save Democracy?

I just wonder why Bush/Cheney/HitlerCo have not disbanded the Senate and given the regional governors direct control over their territories:

But we must also assume that if it appears to Team Bush/Cheney/Rove that the GOP will lose the 2008 election anyway (as it lost in Ohio 2006) we cannot ignore the possibility that they would simply cancel the election. Those who think this crew will quietly walk away from power are simply not paying attention.

The real question is not how or when they might do it. It’s how, realistically, we can stop them.
Read it for a laugh. Note too, that some on the Lunatic Left seem to appreciate the value of gun rights. (The 'article' observes that 90 million gun owners might be the only thing that stands between us and a Bush dictatorship.)

Dingell Boosts Carbon Tax; Takes Shot at Ted Kennedy

I've written here on the stance by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell in support of a carbon tax. Simply put, a carbon tax is probably the simplest way to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and gasoline, while improving automobile fuel economy, if those are your goals. Today Dingell pens a piece in the Washington Post in defense of his stance -- and he takes a swipe at both Ted Kennedy and all Republicans in doing so:

Each source of energy faces obstacles. For example, wind and nuclear power present "not in my back yard" challenges, as we're seeing with efforts to install a wind farm off Cape Cod, Mass., while ethanol plants are welcomed with generous subsidies in the Farm Belt. Some raise issues regarding land use. All are more expensive to produce than the energy we currently use...

A carbon tax or fee has been endorsed by President Bush's former chief economic adviser, Greg Mankiw; Nobel Prize-winning conservative economist Gary Becker; the chief executive of the largest U.S. auto-dealer chain, Mike Jackson; and several environmental organizations. From Alan Greenspan to Greenpeace, many recognize its utility.

There may be disagreements as to the proper level or the best use of revenue. The United Mine Workers support a fuel-based fee that would fund carbon sequestration. Others have suggested using the revenue to reduce Social Security taxes. Congress must hash out the details.

History shows that we respond to market forces. Between 1980 and 1981, the fuel economy of the vehicles Americans purchased increased 16 percent. That wasn't because of a technological breakthrough or a regulatory requirement. It was because the price of gas had risen to the point where consumers made fuel economy a priority. Market forces and mechanisms proved far more powerful than mandates.

I don't expect to overcome ideological Republican opposition to all forms of taxation, but if CEOs, economists, environmentalists and citizens speak out, we could effect real change. I don't pretend to speak for my party on this; I'm trying to speak to common sense and experience...

Speaker Pelosi will apparently kick the can down the road on this issue, leaving resolution of the carbon tax vs. fuel economy question to address in a conference committee.

Just to clarify, the link to the Globe piece on Kennedy's hypocritical opposition to a Cape Cod wind farm was not inserted by the Post; that was my doing. Nevertheless, the gratuitous insertion of the reference had to be intended as a shot at Kennedy. It's a clear sign that Dingell takes this pretty seriously, and is willing to break some furniture if that's what it takes to win this fight.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Richardson Responds to Obama

I commented on Obama's speech over at the Standard. I'm posting Richardson's reaction to it because it gave me a chuckle:

"I consistently have said that we need to focus on Al Qaeda and the Taliban, including in a major policy address I delivered last week on this very subject. I am glad that Senator Obama agrees with me, although I disagree with his plan to leave troops in Iraq indefinitely. We still would be militarily overextended.

"The problem here is that the Bush-Cheney Administration has acceded to General Musharraf's deal that has given Al Qaeda and the Taliban a safe haven in Pakistan. We need to reverse the Bush-Cheney policy of appeasement and make sure Musharraf knows his deal with the terrorists is completely unacceptable to the U.S.

"My international experience tells me that we should address this problem with tough diplomacy with General Musharraf first, leaving the military as a last resort. It is important to reach out to moderate Muslim states and allies to ensure we do not unnecessarily inflame the Muslim world."

Sure, it's funny to hear a Democrat accuse Bush and Cheney of pursuing a policy of appeasement toward terrorists. But that's not what makes me laugh. I like the subtle way Richardson worked in his dig on foreign policy experience. It was so subtle, maybe you need to go and read it again to pick it out. I like how he makes his 'international experience' sound like his Spider Sense, or the little angel and devil that pop up on your shoulder in old Road Runner & Coyote cartoons.

I suspect that Richardson might next turn to things like 'when I served as student body President,' and 'when I attended the Harvard early-decision weekend...' That would be a subtle way to get across that he's smart.

And after all, how can you vote against experience? I mean, trusting experience worked with Richard Nixon, right? Plus, Richardson wasn't part of just any foreign policy team; he was part of the Clinton foreign policy team! And when you think 'Albright, Berger, Richardson, Christopher, Woolsey,' you think 'crack anti-terror team,' right?

AQ's New Threat Against Bush & Musharraf

ABC News has the video over here. The report from the Blotter is here:

A new al Qaeda propaganda ad, headlined "Wait for the Big Surprise" and featuring a digitally altered photograph of President George Bush and Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf standing in front of a burning White House, was posted on the Internet today.

The brief clip from al Qaeda's "as Sahab" propaganda arm juxtaposes the doctored photo of Bush and Musharraf along with previously seen images of al Qaeda's top leadership -- Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahri and Adam Gadahn -- as well as a photo of an SUV in a motorcade.

There is no additional information provided in the ad, and it closes with the words, "Soon -- God willing," written across the screen and repeated several times.

Threats have been made and 'chatter' has risen numerous times since 9/11. Even as a stopped clock is right twice a day, so such warnings will eventually precede a successful attack. Nevertheless, this gets added to the pile of circumstantial warnings of a major planned attack.

I have to disagree with Ace though, on the effect of another terrorist attack in the US. I tend to think -- perhaps cynically -- that the 'rallying around' the President -- be it Bush or Cheney -- will be comparatively short-lived. This is particularly true given that we're bearing down on a presidential election. I fear that it would not be long before critics of the War on Terror would feel comfortable arguing that the successful attack was due to a failure to 'connect the dots,' and because our troops were tied down in Iraq, and that we had created too many new jihadists by our actions in the Middle East.

I hope we never learn which is closer to the truth.

Attaboy, Pomeroy

And take a note, John Edwards.

Read it at the Standard.

The Peril of Gun Rights

Sometimes burglars break into a house whose owner is armed. Chalk up another victory for right to carry.

What Caused this Metamorphosis

Don Young apologizes to members of the Republican Study Committee:

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) apologized to the Republican Study Committee (RSC) Wednesday for attacking the group and one of its members on the floor two weeks ago.

According to sources familiar with the events in the closed-door meeting, an emotional, remorseful Young told members he had come to them as a humbled human being.

“I come to you as a weakened man whose weaknesses are greater than my strengths at times,” he said.

Young listed traumatic events within his state, his hospitalization last week and the hospitalization of his wife as reasons that caused him to act inappropriately on the House floor.

It's good to see his heart is in the right place. If he'll become less a fan of earmarks, that will be even better.

Democrats Favor War -- Just Not in Iraq

Read it at the Standard.

What Did Mullen Say?

Remember I predicted yesterday that few news outlets would highlight the statement of Admiral Mullen that the United States cannot afford to lose the war in Iraq? Well, judge for yourself if I called it right. MSNBC titles the piece "MULLEN: DRAWDOWN IRAQ TROOPS"

"No amount of troops in no amount of time will make much of a difference," in Iraq, according to the nominee to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, without progress on the political front from the Iraqi government.Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing, Admiral Mike Mullen just said that the U.S. must plan for the eventual drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq and the turnover of security responsibility there to the Iraqis.

Looks like they found the nugget they were looking for and ran with it.

California to Deliver Presidency to GOP?

Soren covers the story of a ballot initiative that could switch 20 electoral votes from the Democratic candidate to the Republican. That could easily be enough to change an election outcome:

A Republican-backed ballot proposal could split left-leaning California between the Democratic and GOP nominees, tilting the 2008 presidential election in favor of the Republicans.

California awards its cache of 55 electoral votes to the statewide winner in presidential elections _ the largest single prize in the nation. But a prominent Republican lawyer wants to put a proposal on the ballot that would award the statewide winner only two electoral votes.

Soren points out that this has already been done in North Carolina -- to the advantage of Democrats. There are other states that could make the change as well. It could wind up significantly shifting the terrain for the next election.

What Changes on September 15? Maybe Nothing

In all the debate about the September 15 deadline for Crocker and Petraeus to report on the progress of the surge, little attention has been paid to one important point: George Bush is still 'the decider.'

Recall that September 15 is nothing more than the date of a progress report. Nothing in that report can force a change in policy. The only way to force a 'course change' is to convince President Bush to institute one. And that will only happen if a large number of Congressional Republicans tell him that they will stand with the Democrats to force a drawdown. According to Lindsey Graham, that's not going to happen:

"At the end of the day, all of this hand-wringing needs to be understood (in the context) of how Congress works: There will always be 33 of us, as long as there is not a complete meltdown, to support a military strategy that is aggressive and is not based on needs of the next election," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Congress has essentially hit pause on the war debate until next month, when Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, delivers a detailed summary of progress -- or lack thereof. Almost all the Republican members have said they will withhold judgment until they review the Petraeus report.

"Where everyone is at this juncture, it seems to me, is (waiting) to hear back in September about … where the generals believe we are in terms of conditions on the ground militarily, and at that point make determinations about what is necessary in our national security interest," said Ed Gillespie, a top Bush adviser.

In other words, Bush will not adjust the strategy if Petraeus says it is working. And there are growing indications Petraeus will report significant military progress tempered by continued political problems in Iraq, according to Republicans in close contact with Bush.

I'm not convinced that there will always be 33 Senators with the President as long as there's no meltdown. It's rare for politicians facing re-election to embrace a policy that they think might cost them their jobs.

However, given the hopeful signs of progress in Operation Phantom Thunder and the remarks of administration officials, along with the comments from Congressional leaders, it's beginning to seem more likely than not that September 15 will mark a milepost, but not a course change.

GAO Moving the Goalposts

It's not attracting much attention, but House Democrats are continuing to challenge the results of one House race last year -- the victory of Freshman Republican Vern Buchanan over Christine Jennings. The Government Accountability Office was asked to look into whether malfunctioning voting machines cost Jennings the election, and they were expected to report back before the August Congressional recess. The GAO recently requested more time to conduct a proper review:

Several team members met Friday behind closed doors with task force members for an update into the probe that was begun in May. Democrats on the task force had expressed interest in finishing the investigation by the time Congress leaves for its August break, but GAO officials had suggested they would need more time.

The GAO told the panel it expects to spend the August break analyzing the information it has gathered, said Salley Collins, a Republican spokeswoman.

Gonzalez said the GAO investigators have found two "areas of concern" in the existing studies of the machines - but have not yet said whether they think more tests are needed.

"We're hoping next week they'll be able to tell us whether further testing is required," Gonzalez said.

An investigation by 8 independent experts found no reason to suspect the voting machines, but Democratic leaders in Congress were not satisfied. Nine months after the election, they still hold out the possibility that they will displace the Republican and seat the Democrat. Thus the GAO will get the time it needs to complete its review.

I just find it an interesting contrast with the debate over Iraq.

In this case -- where an independent review has found no reason to doubt the result -- Congressional Democrats have no problem waiting as long as they need to hear the result they want. In Iraq however, where Congressional Democrats confirmed Petraeus to head up the mission and required him to report on progress in September, they can't wait a day to try to end the mission. And when Petraeus, Crocker or Odierno suggests it might take longer for a clear answer, Democrats scream about the administration 'moving the goalposts.'

What's the theme that explains the two results? Partisan advantage.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Joint Chiefs Nominee: We Can't Afford to Lose

This may not be a particularly insightful observation. However, to the extent that Operation Phantom Thunder ('the surge') is viewed as a success, political reconciliation becomes more and more important in Iraq.

That's because there are two things that must happen to judge Iraq a success:

  1. The nation must be more or less at peace; and,
  2. Iraq must have a stable government that can run the country -- in whatever form that takes.
Today Admiral Michael Mullen testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and talked about what's necessary for success in Iraq:

When Graham asked Mullen how he would define "winning in Iraq," the admiral said he worried about specific definitions. He said he hoped to see "a stable Iraq which can govern itself," reconcile the feuding factions within the country and not be a haven for terrorists.

Pressed to gauge the chances of an American victory, Mullen acknowledged that he was troubled about the Iraqis' failure to come together politically. "I would be concerned about whether we'd be winning or not," he conceded.

If Iraq cannot maintain a cohesive government, then all our work to maintain security may be for naught. So come September, if Phantom Thunder is seen as having miraculously transformed Iraq and put it on the path to peace, it's appropriate then to ask: can the Iraqis govern?

Now for the title of the post. While others will draw from Mullen's testimony the assertion that the ranks of the insurgents in Iraq seem almost limitless, I'll point to another critical point that many will choose to ignore -- Mullen's belief that we cannot afford to lose:

Cartwright said he thought victory was achievable. "It's going to be a challenge," he said.

A mid-September progress report from General David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, will offer a chance to determine whether the path "we're on is the right path or whether we want to make adjustments," he said.

The admiral said he saw the struggle in Iraq as one with global impact. Asked whether he believed that "this is a war really we can't afford to lose, when it's all said and done," as Graham put it, he replied, "Yes, sir."

You know you're in a challenging environment when you don't know if you can win, but you do know that you can't afford to lose.

Update: Also read the Post account. Twenty-nine paragraphs long, and no mention of the need to win.

Clyburn: Success in Iraq Screws up Our Surrender Plans

Read it at the Standard.

Real-Life Comic Book Origins

This is kind of funny: the 5 silliest origin tales in Marvel Comics, and what would have happened in real life. Here's a taste:

House Earmarking Money for... France?

Congressional Quarterly says it's not how it looks:

Thanks to new disclosure rules, the sponsor of the $213,386 project is identified as Mike Thompson, D-Calif., who also earmarked money for a California-based research program aimed at controlling the same insect.

Francophobes, however, need not fear that their hard-earned U.S. dollars are supporting a Socialist enterprise. The money is going to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s European Biological Control Laboratory, located in France.

The Bush administration proposed terminating the program in its 2005 budget request. That effort hasn’t quite succeeded, but the funding requested this year is far less than the $304,000 earmark for the program in 2005.

One question: are the employees French, or Americans?

Mollusks Caused Earth's Greatest Mass Extinction

I remember what they taught me in High School -- post hoc, ergo propter hoc:

The rise of mollusks across the globe was a harbinger of doom roughly 250 million years ago, ushering in the most devastating mass extinction in Earth's history, research now reveals.

This clammy conclusion suggests the disaster was long in coming, as opposed to the result of a more catastrophic extraterrestrial cause such as an asteroid impact, scientists added.

Oh wait -- that was a fallacy.

Hank Aaron 'Speaks' About Barry Bonds

Sometimes silence speaks volumes:

Aaron has declined all along to be drawn into a debate about Bonds' worthiness to surpass him as baseball's home run champion.

"I am making a comment by not making a comment," Aaron told The Associated Press on Monday. He did not elaborate.

This is the stance that led a columnist to brand Aaron a coward. Undoubtedly, Aaron would argue that he is taking the high road -- if he were to address it. I think he's earned the right to stay quiet if he so chooses.

Monday, July 30, 2007

I Attend Ohio University, Second Life Campus

Is this a good development, or is the virtual world going just a little too far. When Ohio University brags about Second Life space for 'virtual trade shows and conferences,' it seems are getting just a little too ambitious.

In general, I'm very skeptical about an online world that purports to resemble the 'college experience.' As I recall, a central feature of college life was dating, and getting to spend quality time with members of the opposite sex. Until the virtual world can afford some way for men and women to 'interact,' I can't take it seriously.

Plus, do we really need to be flying X-Wing fighters inside a virtual world? I mean, is there no copyright protection in Second Life, or did George Lucas license it to a University?

Thompson Raised $3M in June

That's the suggestion from the Politico:

Fred Thompson plans to announce Tuesday that his committee to test the waters for a Republican presidential campaign raised slightly more than $3 million in June, substantially less than some backers had hoped, according to Republican sources.

Thompson plans to make the disclosure in a filing with the Internal Revenue Service, as he continues to operate his prospective campaign as a political organization that does not require disclosure to the Federal Election Commission.

Three million doesn't sound terrible, but if you pro-rate the second quarter take for each of the Republican candidates for a per-month average, then Thompson finishes fourth -- behind Giuliani, Romney, and McCain. That seems fine for a non-candidate, but probably not impressive enough to keep the bloom on the Thompson 'campaign.'

Combined with the negative stories about campaign staff reshuffling, it probably indicates that this is a good time to formally announce.

Iraq Surge Watch

Investors Business Daily talks about the extraordinary changes in Iraq going unreported in the media, and draws a parallel between 1943 and 2006. In both cases they say, it seems like the US learned what would not work in a war, and switched to a strategy that set the course for victory:

It's now quite clear how the results of the surge will be dealt with by domestic opponents of the Iraq War: They're going to be ignored.

They're being ignored now. Virtually no media source or Democratic politician is willing to admit that the situation on the ground has changed dramatically over the past three months. Coalition efforts have undergone a remarkable reversal of fortune, a near-textbook example as to how an effective strategy can overcome what appear to be overwhelming drawbacks.

Anbar is close to being secured, thanks to the long-ridiculed strategy of recruiting local sheiks. A capsule history of war coverage could be put together from stories on this topic alone — beginning with sneers, moving on to "evidence" that it would never work, to the puzzled pieces of the past few months admitting that something was happening, and finally the recent stories expressing concern that the central government might be "offended" by the attention being paid former Sunni rebels. (Try to find another story in the legacy media worrying about the feelings of the Iraqi government.)

Read too, this piece in the New York Times -- from two scholars at the Brookings Institution -- which isn't exactly a neo-con stronghold:

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

As I noted here, the New York Times has been surprised recently to see improving numbers among the American people on Iraq. Perhaps people are starting to take note of the change.

Update: The Washington Times also reports on retired General John Keane's assertion to the House Armed Services Committee that they are unwilling to accept good news:

Gen. Keane, an adviser to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, told the House Armed Services Committee that the troop surge President Bush ordered six months ago and which reached its full strength last month has turned the tide against al Qaeda and insurgents.

"We are on the offensive and have the momentum," Gen. Keane said, citing improved security throughout Baghdad, reduced sectarian violence, lower U.S. casualties this month and al Qaeda losing ground in Sunni areas.

"Not all is rosy in Iraq to be sure, and I am not suggesting as such," he said. "The Shi'ite militia are attacking U.S. forces, but they are fragmented."

If Operation Phantom Thunder is successful in tamping down violence throughout Iraq -- which seems a possibility -- then how much political progress is necessary to make continued US involvement worthwhile?

Hand Out 2 Million Free Needles: What Could Go Wrong?

San Francisco gave out 2 million free needles last year, to ensure that drug users don't spread AIDS and other diseases. Now the City Parks Department has to collect several hundred needles per day in Golden Gate Park:

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who has picked up needles in the park and who co-authored the bill allowing them to be sold over the counter, said it's up to the city to keep the parks syringe-free -- either through more cleanups or tighter controls to make sure needles are returned.

"We need to come up with a better system,'' Mirkarimi said.

After we called City Hall and started asking questions, Newsom agreed.

"You're raising a legitimate question about the program, no doubt about it," Newsom said, adding that he's asked Health Director Mitch Katz to find a better way to collect the used syringes.

"Don't get me wrong, I still support the program," Newsom said. "But so for we've been all about distribution. We need to start looking at collection as well."

So confronted by a problem created by an excess of government, the answer is more government?

Why not just put a 10 cent deposit on them? That's the preferred solution for cans and bottles, right? Or are you concerned that drug users can't afford a 10 cent surcharge each time they take a hit?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Democrats Dis the DLC

The Democratic Leadership Council holds its convention and none of the candidates shows -- despite heavy lobbying. Perhaps more than anything else, this is the 'MoveOn Effect.' The Democratic contenders know that there simply is no significant DLC constituency in the primaries -- particularly in comparison to the MoveOn/DailyKos crowd.

Further, Joe Lieberman was the DLC's favorite candidate in 2004, and what do MoveOn and DailyKos think of him? If you're Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, the DLC mantle is only a burden -- at least right now. If you're Richardson, or Dodd, or Biden, you know that being the DLC guy will only set you back with people who volunteer and vote.

This is more worth watching for the 'Double A' prospects on the Democratic side:

Centrist Democratic governors like Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Brian Schweitzer of Montana will be attending. Still, for some the gathering feels like a concert without the lead acts.

These are elected Democrats in red states, who hope to be the next Harold Ford, or Jim Webb, or even Bill Clinton. Through shrewd politics and centrist policy, they might be seen as the next big moderate Democrat to attract attention on the national scene. Sure, they'll eventually run afoul of the MoveOn crowd, but it would only be after the DLC helped them rise to prominence. If you're Brian Schweitzer, you take that deal.

The Definition of Panic

Remember that old commercial 'never let them see you sweat?' Seems like the DNC never learned that lesson:

How seriously must you be taking the Thompson campaign if you're trying to knock him down a few pegs now? I don't think there's much reason for Thompson's pre-campaign to worry. Certainly a little staff shuffle is no big deal, and the lobbyist stories that have 'surfaced' seem to have done him more good than harm among primary voters; they've pitted him against the LATimes and other major media outlets. That's a benefit to a Republican candidate.

For the DNC to act as if he's in real trouble makes me think they're paying him too much attention. And to go after him with something this inane makes them look pretty silly.

If they're looking for someone who really needs help, they might want to send the life preserver to Capitol Hill.

NYT Confirms Improved Poll Numbers on Iraq

The New York Times did not believe its initial poll showing people's views on the Iraq war had shifted to show slightly greater support. A second poll has confirmed this:

When the second round of results came back, the numbers were nearly identical to the ones found in the poll about Mrs. Clinton. In the poll conducted last weekend with 889 adults, 42 percent of the respondents said the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, and 51 percent said the United States should have stayed out.

There was also a drop in the number of people who said the war was going badly. In the latest poll, 66 percent of Americans said things were going badly for the United States in its efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq. That is down from 76 percent who said the same thing in May.

Recall too, that 'adults' are significantly more big-D Democratic than are registered voters. And registered voters are more Democratic than likely (or actual voters). So if you move each of those numbers say, 6 points or so toward George Bush's direction, and you have a fair snapshot of where the likely 2008 voters currently are. They are probably just about evenly split on the initial decision to go to Iraq, and still in favor of getting out.

Update: I should have pointed out; this makes pretty clear that opposing the Iraq war lock, stock and barrel is a dicey political proposition. The actual voters will prefer a candidate who is at least comfortable with a muscular foreign policy. Consider the level of support for deposing Saddam now, with the war as unpopular as it is. Opposing the removal of Saddam could be difficult to defend in 2008 -- particularly if the war is any less unpopular than it is today.

International Trade Creates Jobs in America

Once is an anecdote, two is a trend:

One of India's largest IT services firms, Wipro Ltd., is in the advance stages of finalizing a plan to build a software center in Atlanta that is expected to accommodate up to 1,000 employees over the next three years. It's the first of four centers planned for the U.S.

Although Bangalore, India-based Wipro has 6,000 employees in North America -- part of a workforce of more than 72,300 -- they are spread among some 90 locations and provide sales and support.

Atlanta was selected because of its labor force and proximity to technical schools, said Sridhar Ramasubbu, Wipro's chief financial officer for the Americas and Europe. The center will be used for application development and maintenance, infrastructure support, and some research and development. The center is expected to be operating in about three months.

The rest of the article explains how WiPro is also ramping up its operations in China, and how it is becoming too large to offer the nimbleness that formerly gave it an advantage over companies like IBM. It's just another case of a large foreign MultiNational Company behaving more and more like its American counterparts. That includes wanting to have a significant presence in the US market -- meaning more jobs here.

The Perils of Anosmia

You may never know about your wife's corpse:

A man whose wife's decomposing body was found in a storage room of their home said he thought she had left him.

Eugene Pilouw, who said that diabetes has damaged the nerves in his nose, said he noticed his wife was missing on July 12. Three days later, his daughter found his wife's body in a storage room in the back area of the home.

Posted for the anosmic among our readership -- especially my brother-in-law.