31 August 2008

U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent Should Be Impeached, Removed From Office

U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent is a federal judge in Galveston, Texas, about an hour south of Houston.

Judge Kent was recently indicted for two counts of abusive sexual contact and one count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse. He will remain on the bench, hearing cases while the criminal case against him proceeds. Judge Kent had previously been reprimanded by the Fifth Circuit over the harassment allegations.
Following a Department of Justice investigation, a federal grand jury on Thursday indicted Kent on two counts of abusive sexual contact and one count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse. His attorney, Dick DeGuerin, has said Kent is innocent.

The indictment came after a Justice Department investigation of Kent that began in November.

The investigation was prompted after Kent's former case manager, Cathy McBroom, accused the judge of repeatedly harassing her over a four-year period. McBroom has said the harassment culminated in a March 2007 incident in Kent's Galveston court chambers, where the judge allegedly pulled up her blouse and bra and tried to escalate contact before being interrupted.

Judge Kent should receive the full presumption of innocence on these charges. Should he be convicted, he will no doubt finally face impeachment proceedings. These charges are alleged to have part of a pattern of harassment and bad behavior alleged by other judicial employees, allegations that included being drunk on the job.

But even before the recent indictments, Judge Kent has shown that he should not remain on the federal bench. Impeachment and removal proceedings should have been started long ago. A list of the news articles and call for impeachment and removal are found here.

From KRIS-TV in Corpus Cristi:
Investigators are also looking at gifts Kent might have received while on the bench.
Kent's disclosure forms for 2001-2006 show he reported receiving no gifts since 2002.
But in interviews with the Chronicle, former court employees and attorneys say that Kent continued to receive expensive lunches and drinks from other lawyer friends.
In 2001, an insurance company reimbursed Kent an unspecified amount for "round trip transportation only" to appear at a London conference.
The same year, Richard Melancon, an attorney friend who had dozens of cases in Kent's court, gave the judge a catered wedding reception valued at $1,000. A few months after the party, Kent's supervising federal judges abruptly reassigned Melancon's cases to another court.
Investigators are looking into who paid for a 2001 trip to London.

Judge Kent should have faced impeachment over the 2001 reassignment of 85 cases away from Judge Kent, because the cases were all being handled by Kent's best man at his wedding Richard Melancon, a frequent companion of the judge, and there were allegations that Kent was engaging in favoritism on his friend's behalf.

Newly questioned during the grand jury’s investigation is the sale of Kent’s Galveston home at 5209 Denver Drive. Kent sold the home in 2006 to Corpus Christi orthodontist Janet Vaughan, county records show. Vaughan is the mother of attorney Kurt Arnold, who had frequent cases in Kent’s court. Vaughan paid $339,500 for the house, which the Galveston County Appraisal District valued at $185,680 in 2006.

More allegations of Judge Kent favoring his friends, including his friend, attorney Tony Buzbee. Buzbee was a former law clerk of Judge Kent.

The hearing concluded at 12:05 p.m. Shortly thereafter, the two got in Buzbee’s Aston Martin sports car and went to lunch, according to a witness who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.

In the ruling, Kent ordered BP CEO Lord John Browne to submit to sworn questioning about the explosion. Twelve days later, BP settled all of the injury cases, a move that is conservatively estimated to have been worth millions to Buzbee personally.

In a 2002 decision, a Fifth Circuit panel removed Judge Kent from a case because he had demonstrated open bias against and "hostility" towards one of the parties. Although it is not terribly unusual for litigants to assert that a judge is biased against them, it is relatively rare for appellate courts to accept such claims and remove the judge from the case.

Some in the Galveston legal community have questioned Kent’s social relationships with some of the lawyers who frequently practiced in his court. “A handful of lawyers was perceived to have special favor with Kent,” Galveston attorney Mark Stevens wrote in a guest column last year. “Those lawyers were known as gatekeepers by some ‘unfavored’ lawyers who were often treated like dirt, or worse, by Kent.”

And to be treated like dirt by Judge Kent is to be treated very badly indeed. Judge Kent is a tyrant in the courtroom, and relishes issuing opinions offering abusive opinions of the lawyers in his court.

His most notorious abusive screed was examined by The Green Bag in an article entitled Bullying from the Bench. As reported in The Daily News of Galveston County:

The judge is widely known for written opinions that mock lawyers for inept pleadings. In one, Kent said the lawyers wrote them “in crayon.”

People might find the opinions amusing, but they really amount to an improper attack on the professional reputations of lawyers who are powerless to retaliate, wrote Steven Lubet in a 2001 article about Kent, “Bullying from the Bench.”

Lubet, a law professor at Northwestern University, cowrote “Judicial Conduct and Ethics” with Alfini. Because Kent’s mocking opinions broke no new legal ground, they never should have been issued in the first place, Lubet wrote. And in their mocking descriptions of attorneys, they violate an ethical rule requiring judges to behave in a way that protects public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary, Lubet wrote.

Law professor Steven Lubet compared Judge Kent to "a schoolyard bully who taunts lawyers, who are in no position to respond in kind". He did a computer search revealing numerous examples of Judge Kent referring to something as "asinine," "ludicrous," "ridiculous," and the like- in his time on post. According to Lubet, "In just 11 years, he used the word "asinine" 13 times; all US courts of appeal combined had used this word as a descriptor only 16 times since 1944."

Judge Kent should not remain on the bench. It is time for Congress to act.

Somalia: Bad to Worse, With Even Worse to Come

A connection between the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia and al-Qaeda has recently been confirmed.
"We are negotiating how we can unite into one," said Muktar Robow, a top military commander of Shabab, which the U.S. State Department designated a terrorist organization this year. "We will take our orders from Sheik Osama bin Laden because we are his students."

The influence of the Islamic Courts continues to grow.

Note that this same Muktar Robow and his terrorist group is also quoted in the article below as one of the prime instigators of violence against peace efforts in Somalia. More here.

Piracy continues off the coast of Somalia. Piracy has gotten completely out of control there, with over 100 mariners currently held captive.

Ethiopia is preparing to withdraw its troops. This is sure to leave an even more dangerous security vacuum in the region, to be exploited by the al-Qaeda allied Islamic Courts Union.

Business Daily Africa: Somalia’s downward spiral continues

Last week, the “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) of Somalia and the rump faction of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) led by Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad signed a peace deal after United Nations-brokered talks in the neighbouring statelet of Djibouti.

Unfortunately, the comity has been less than universal: beginning the day after the peace was announced, a constant barrage of mortars has rained down on Mogadishu’s Villa Somalia, sometime seat of the TFG’s largely-absentee “president,” Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmad, underscoring both the would-be regime’s utter lack of capacity and the consequent likelihood of continued, if not escalating, violence, peace accords and wishful thinking notwithstanding.

An al-Shabaab leader, Mukhtar Robow, a.k.a., Abu Mansur, a veteran fighter alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, confirmed to participants in a media conference call last week that the attacks were indeed to show Somalis that the peace deal was “futile” and that “the jihad will continue, there is no peace agreement, the martyrs will move ahead on the path of jihad bath even if Ethiopians pull out” until “Islamic law is the constitution of the Somalis.” Subsequently, the Los Angeles Times has reported that Robow both acknowledges al-Shabaab’s ties to al-Qaeda and its desire for a closer relationship.

Our Electric Future

From the American Magazine: Our Electric Future -- Energy independence is the wrong goal. Here is a plan Americans can stick to. Excerpts below. The entire article, by Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, is worth reading.

In fact, we may be at a critical juncture, the kind that can creep up, in a gradual and insidious way, on companies and industries, and even on societies. Invariably, the actions that are needed to change course at such times are painful. Leaders rarely appreciate the gravity of their situation, and even when they do, they are loath to take appropriate action.

Consequently, talking about “independence” in terms of one product in an otherwise seamless global economy is a contradiction. As national policy, we must protect the U.S. economy from interruptions in the supply of such a critical commodity—whether those interruptions are related to natural or political causes. I believe that the appropriate aim is to strengthen our ability to adjust to such changes—to strengthen our energy resilience.

Because electricity is the stickiest form of energy, and because it is multi-sourced, it will give us the greatest degree of energy resilience. Our nation will be best served if we dedicate ourselves to increasing the amount of our energy that we use in the form of electricity.

To start with, the U.S. government should lead the way by requiring that a growing percentage of new cars be built with dual-fuel capability. These dual-fuel cars would have both an electric engine and an auxiliary gasoline engine to augment it. The car would run on electricity, and after the batteries were depleted, it would switch to running on the gasoline engine. Such dual capabilities are often built into machines to help with technology transitions.

Shifting to electricity has the added advantage of helping to mitigate a major environmental threat. A shift from petroleum-based vehicles to electricity-based ones would move the locus for addressing carbon emissions from millions of individual vehicles to far fewer centralized electricity-generating plants. Controlling emissions thus becomes an industrial task, easier technologically. Estimates indicate a potential reduction of carbon emissions of around 50 percent through such a shift.

Oil-producing countries flex their muscles more and more openly. The elections in Ukraine led Russia to threaten to cut off natural gas supplies. The need to secure oil seems to have influenced China’s attitude toward the genocide in Darfur. In Venezuela, Hugo Ch├ívez is using oil to gain political influence in the hemisphere. “The politics of energy is warping diplomacy in certain parts of the world,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in recent Senate testimony.

30 August 2008

Our Surreal Future?

Emily Yoffe: Not that I wish him ill, but wouldn't the most surreal outcome of McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate be that McCain gets elected, shortly afterward he dies in office, and the president of the United States becomes a 44 year-old breast-feeding, moose-eating mother of five?

An Attempt to Find Middle Ground on Labor Law

From Slate, a proposal that attempts to find middle ground between Democratic pro-labor and Republican pro-management, A Labor Day gift to workers with bipartisan trimmings.

Democrats, with near unanimity, support a bill, sponsored by organized labor and called the Employee Free Choice Act, that would provide for unions to be recognized on the basis of authorization cards signed by employees rather than the secret-ballot elections now provided for by the NLRA. Republicans decry this initiative, arguing that the current elections are sacrosanct.

[T]here is a better approach that might occupy bipartisan common ground...

Secret ballots to resolve union representation rights are the way to go, and Obama should meet the Republicans halfway by saying so—and then add this all-important coda: Elections should continue only if the law ensures that voting is conducted expeditiously—for instance, within one or two weeks of the filing of a union's petition seeking recognition. Quick elections are the key to meaningful reform because delay is the principal way in which labor law stacks the deck against employees.

These reforms would skirt an unnecessary and divisive debate about the secret-ballot election and marshal the support of Congress' center.

The article mentions other possible reforms as well. I don't agree with all of them, but a thoughtful article on a subject that does not get enough coverage.

Gustav Category 4

Gustav is now a category 4 storm, and is expected to make landfall on the Louisiana coast by 2pm on Monday.

Hurricane Gustav may suspend this week's Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn

With Hurricane Gustav bearing down on the Gulf Coast, Republican officials -- including presumptive presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy -- are suggesting that this week's Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., may get scaled back or even suspended.

Story here.


On January 20, 2009, either a woman or a black man will enter the executive branch of the United States Government for the first time in our nation's history.

Take a moment and let that sink in.

As citizens of the United States, we are currently dealing with problems in our economy, problems with national security, environmental issues and corruption. After watching the news or reading the paper or paying your family's bills, it may be difficult to find something that is going well right now. But this is something to celebrate. We can argue about the economy, energy, the environment, security and anything else next week. And we will. But this is important. This is historic. As a nation, we should celebrate this moment.

VP Palin is a bold choice

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska is definitely a bold choice. She is bright, articulate and not afraid to fight the fight. She appears to be a foe of corruption. I heard her say that she was the one who told the U.S., "No thank you" regarding the bridge to nowhere. I like her already.

There are those who argue that her resume isn't any better in the experience category than Obama's. Maybe less impressive than his. She has only been governor 2 years and before that the mayor of a town with a population of 9,000. It will be interesting to see if the Democrats attack her experience. My guess is, they will use her lack of experience to discredit doubts about Obama's resume. It will be interesting to see how she does in the debates. I'm thinking she can hold her own.

More on the subject here.

If McCain and Palin are elected, Sarah Palin will be the first woman elected to the executive branch in this country's history. Will the feminists celebrate that? I highly doubt it.

29 August 2008

McCain - Palin: Contemplate the Lotus

McCain took both a lunge at upset Hillary supporters and the religious right wing of his party with the selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

McCain took what was probably his boldest choice in her selection, because Palin will certainly mollify, if not excite his former critics within the ranks of the Republicans. We've noticed that when we mentioned her name on THE WHIG, we would get a comment from a supporter.

I am just glad she was on my previous list of guesses. I found a post dated June 20th, wherein I opined that Palin should be McCain's pick. Also, the choice is sure to gladden the hearts of reporters who at last have someone new to investigate and write about.

McCain had better hope that Palin is the lotus of the Republican Party in Alaska.

What am I talking about? The lotus is a flower that grows in the muddy swamps yet does not get dirty. The Republicans in Alaska are a scuzzy bunch, involved in several scandals, as we have previously noted. Alaska Republicans include the recently indicted Senator Ted "The Internet is a Series of Tubes" Stevens, and Rep. Don "Bridge to Nowhere" Young.
UPDATE: This is promising, from the Anchorage Daily News:
In fact, Palin is almost totally alienated from the Republican Party establishment here. She tried and failed to get rid of ethically compromised party Chair Randy Ruedrich; they're not on speaking terms. In the August primary, Palin urged fellow Republicans to desert long-time Congressman Don Young in favor of her inexperienced and uninspiring lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell.

Venezuela and Hezbollah

LA Times: Hezbollah presence in Venezuela feared

Western anti-terrorism officials are increasingly concerned that Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite Muslim militia that Washington has labeled a terrorist group, is using Venezuela as a base for operations, report Chris Kraul and Sebastian Rotella.

Linked to deadly attacks on Jewish targets in Argentina in the early 1990s, Hezbollah may be taking advantage of Venezuela's ties with Iran, the militia's longtime sponsor, to move "people and things" into the Americas, as one Western government terrorism expert put it.

As part of his anti-American foreign policy, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has established warm diplomatic relations with Iran and has traveled there several times. The Bush administration, Israel and other governments worry that Venezuela is emerging as a base for anti-U.S. militant groups and spy services, including Hezbollah and its Iranian allies.

More here: Chavez's darkest side

Venezuela harbors Hizbullah terrorists like Hakim Mamad Ali Diab Fattah and explosives expert Abdul Ghani Suleiman Wanked. And in Lebanon, Hizbullah trains young Venezuelans, members of Chavez's PSUV party, who are recruited by, among others, Tarek el Ayssami, Venezuelan vice-minister of the interior, and Gahzi Nasr Al Din, a diplomat at Venezuela's embassy in Beirut.

Besides Venezuela's close ties with Hizbullah, there is also the warm relationship between Caracas and Teheran, capitals with little in common save an avidity for petrodollars and a shared hatred of America and Israel. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has made three official visits to Caracas in the last two years, has presented Chavez with Iran's highest honor for "supporting Teheran" in its nuclear standoff with the international community.

Media Bias and Obama

Investor's Business Daily: Media Blackout On A Far-Left Past

Press Bias: Democrats in Denver tried to introduce Barack Obama as a moderate, whitewashing his radical past, and the media are helping them by following the fictional script.

It's plain the media are protecting Obama from his radical past, insulating him from the kind of scrutiny voters need to make an informed choice in November. He got the same pass from the press running for the Senate. In fact, Obama in his latest autobiography said he couldn't believe his "good fortune."

"I was the beneficiary of unusually — and at times undeservedly — positive press coverage," he confessed in "The Audacity of Hope."

He skated into office then. Absent proper media vetting, he'll also skate into the Oval Office. But then that may be the plan.

28 August 2008

A great story

This song tells a great story. And even though its over thirty years old, it still gives pause when thinking about speed cameras and a national speed limit. No, its not Sammy Hagar, its Tom T. Hall.

McCain's VP pick

My guess is that McCain is going to tap Mitt Romney. I think he brings the most in terms of fund-raising and an important, battleground home state.

The choice bothers me some because a few months ago my nightmare scenario was a choice in November between Obama and Romney.

Time will tell.

Obama Convention Bounce

Here's a link to the latest polling. It shows that, as expected, Obama has received a boost from the Democratic Convention.

The big question, of course, is will McCain catch back up after next week?

At the link, scroll down to the chart, and your cursor will show the date and the poll numbers for each candidate.

McCain to Announce VP Pick Tomorrow

IHT: McCain to announce running mate on Friday

Senator John McCain has decided on his running mate, two Republican strategists in contact with McCain's campaign said Wednesday. He is expected to reveal his choice at a rally at a basketball arena in Dayton, Ohio, at 11 a.m. Friday.

McCain's decision is known only to his small inner circle of advisers, no more than three or four people, who have refused all public discussion on the matter.

Republicans close to the campaign said that the top contenders remained the same three men who have been the source of speculation for weeks: former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and, possibly, Senator Joseph Lieberman, independent of Connecticut.

I have previously submitted by guesses (scroll down to August 25th or click here), and I'm sticking with my guesses, so we'll find out Friday how I did.

UPDATE: Washington Post reports that announcement may come today.

Quote of the Day

Faith, as you say, there's small choice in rotten apples. -- Shakespeare, 1593, from the Taming of Shrew

Economic News: Deficit, Inflation, Growth, All Up

BBC: Record deficit for next president

The next US president is expected to face a record federal budget deficit of almost half a trillion dollars. The White House has lifted its deficit forecast for 2009 to $482bn (£242bn) up from $407bn. It is possible that the deficit for 2008 will also break the record of $413bn, which was set in 2004.

The deficit figure also is flattered by including the surpluses that are currently being accumulated by the social security trust fund, but that will soon turn into deficits in the next decade. And it takes no account of the potential costs of a full-scale Federal bail-out of the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who have been given a Federal guarantee in the housing bill that has just passed Congress.

Meanwhile, inflation is accelerating:
US inflation accelerated at its fastest pace in 17 years in June, official figures have shown, driven higher by surging energy prices
Consumer prices were 5% higher than a year ago and rose 1.1% on a monthly basis, the Labor Department said.
But growth in the economy picked up last quarter, which is good news:
The US economy grew at a revised 3.3% annually in the second quarter of 2008, the Commerce Department said, much higher than its first estimate of 1.9%.
The rebound was linked to strong US exports, helped by the weak dollar, while government tax rebates also boosted consumer spending.

The DNC and Clinton's Speech

Over at Florida Whig Party, postings on a Whig response to the Democratic National Convention.
As to Bill Clinton's speech last night; you have to admit, that he is a political master. I thought his speech was very effective, and he looked like he was having a ball giving it. It led blogger Ragged Thots to state:
In short, his appearance demonstrates why, a half-century later, Republicans must still think that the most significant legislation they ever got passed was the 22nd Amendment. Otherwise, that guy may well have been finishing his fourth term.
I liked this line:

"They (referring to the Republicans) took us from record surpluses to an exploding national debt."

I have little faith that an Obama Administration with a Democratic Congress would improve the deficit, but I'm glad Clinton at least drew attention to it in his speech.

Since placing the National Debt Clock on the site, I've watched it blow past $9.5 trillion to now over $9.6 trillion.

And to imagine that at the end of Clinton's term, Greenspan was worried the debt would be paid off, and started to worry about where to put the money. Now that would be a good problem to have.

Hurricane Gustav

The National Hurricane Center's 5-day projected track of Gustav, above. Yesterday, they showed it heading straight to New Orleans.

It's hard to believe Ray Nagin is still in charge there.

Nagin discusses possible evacuation plans, some discussion of the performance of Nagin and Bush is taking place at the link.
As someone who has been (and remains) harshly critical of Nagin’s handling of the preparations for Hurricane Katrina three years ago, I’m impressed with his response to the threat of Gustav thus far. He and his administration appear to be much more “on the ball” this time around. Asked what he learned from Katrina, he said, “I’ve learned that it takes some effort to evacuate an entire city,” which suggests an unbelievable degree of criminally negligent stupidity on his part before Katrina — but hey, better late than never!

27 August 2008

A Real Made Up Story From The Onion

No, the story below about Obama's Greek Temple was not from The Onion, but they do have this, which had me laughing out loud:

Portrayal Of Obama As Elitist Hailed As Step Forward For African Americans

Credo Quia Absurdum Est VI

I believe it because it is absurd.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's big speech on Thursday night will be delivered from an elaborate columned stage resembling a miniature Greek temple.
The stage, similar to structures used for rock concerts, has been set up at the 50-yard-line, the midpoint of Invesco Field, the stadium where the Denver Broncos' National Football League team plays.
Some 80,000 supporters will see Obama appear from between plywood columns painted off-white, reminiscent of Washington's Capitol building or even the White House, to accept the party's nomination for president.
He will stride out to a raised platform to a podium that can be raised from beneath the floor.
A McCain staffer asked, upon seeing a news report about Obama's temple, "Is this from the Onion?"

More here from Hot Air, including a photo of the stage itself.
Victor Davis Hanson asks: Isn’t there one sane person on his staff who can stop this divine madness?

His staffers have really drunk the kool-aid. Please tell me that he will not be wheeled in on a chariot.

Bill Clinton's Lingering Doubts About Obama

Speaking at a forum of ex-world leaders less than a mile from the site of the Democratic National Convention, Bill Clinton drew an analogy that had many wondering whether the former president had made peace with the idea of an Obama candidacy.

“Suppose for example you’re a voter and you have candidate X and you have candidate Y,” Clinton said. “Candidate X agrees with you on everything but you don’t think that person can deliver on anything. Candidate Y disagrees with you on half the issues but you believe that on the other half, the candidate will be able to deliver.”

“This is the kind of question that I predict — and this has nothing to do with what’s going on now — but I am just saying if you look at five, 10, 15 years from now, you may actually see this delivery issue become a serious issue in Democratic debates because it is so hard to figure out how to turn good intentions into real changes in the lives of the people we represent.”

Whether Clinton, intended the analogy to represent a futuristic look at presidential politics, its relevance to the current candidacies of Republican John McCain and Obama were unmistakable.

Story here.

You have to wonder if the Clintons genuinely want Obama to win. If Obama loses, Hillary would be the I-told-you-so, done deal in 2012.

Alaska is the new D.C. and New Orleans

When voters are stupid enough to re-elect corrupt officials, you get what you deserve.

Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska won the Republican primary in his home state on Tuesday, soundly defeating six Republican challengers less than a month after he was indicted by a federal grand jury for concealing more than $250,000 in gifts from an oil services company. The trial begins next month.

Story here.

D.C. re-elected Marion Barry. New Orleans re-elected Ray Nagin. Are either of those places better off now? Leaders must be held to a higher standard or things will never improve.

26 August 2008

Candidates Collect Campaign Cash From Out of District Donor Elite

From Miller-McCune: The Rise of the Political Donor Class

As of this writing, the 2008 congressional candidates have already raised close to $1 billion for their campaigns (about $700 million in the House and $300 million in the Senate). By November's election, that total could top $2 billion.

It's a lot of money, and given the geographical distribution of wealth in America, an oddity emerges: many candidates who represent places in the United States without much disposable income raise the millions necessary to run for office these days.

Increasingly, they’re not bothering to ask the folks whom they are actually paid to represent for campaign cash. Instead, they are flocking to a handful of super-wealthy ZIP codes in places like Hollywood; the Upper East Side of Manhattan; Greenwich, Conn.; and suburban Washington, D.C. - the "political ATM's" of the campaign trial.

Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, also notes that the donor class is a very small percentage of U.S. citizens. In 2004, for example, he says that less than 0.6 percent of voting-age Americans contributed more than $200 to a campaign. And 86 percent of those $200 or more campaign contributions came from households earning $100,000 per year or more.

These findings come as spending on campaigns has exploded. In 1996, for example, the average U.S. House campaign cost $673,739. But in 2004, the average winning U.S. House campaign was $1,034,224, and by 2006 it was up to $1,253,031. At the same time, the percent of money coming from out of district has increased from 54 percent in 1996 to 70 percent in 2004.

[D]onors are contributing mostly because they want to see a particular party in power. Ideologically extreme candidates also seem to do better with out-of-district donors, suggesting that, as the scholars note, “nonresident contributors donate for expressive purposes.”

But while the coasts and a few major metropolitan areas in between are awash in campaign fundraising events, there are large swaths of land in the middle of the country that are generating virtually no political money.

“We were quite astonished to see that there are major sections of the country that give almost nothing,” Gimpel said. “There are a great many congressional districts where there just isn’t much wealth.”

Hat Tip: Instapundit

Increasing Political Competition: Term Limits and Redistricting Reform

I have previously posted on ideas to make our political system more competitive, in the belief that greater competition will produce better results. Expanding the size of Congress and reforming campaign financing are two ideas. Term limits for members of Congress and redistricting reform are two more ideas.

Term Limits

Term limits were an idea that seems to have peaked in the 1990s. After the Supreme Court decision in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, in 1995, it became more difficult for citizens at the state level to impose term limits on their federal representatives. U.S. Term Limits still exists, their website is here.

CATO Institute: Real Term Limits: Now More Than Ever (written way back in 1995, the problem has only gotten worse) :
Shorter House limits would create more competitive elections. They would also reestablish a citizen legislature.

To effectively end politics as a lifetime sinecure, thereby making congressional service a leave of absence from a productive, private-sector career, requires that terms be short.

The nation's Founders strongly believed in rotation in office. They left term limits out of the Constitution because they did not foresee that politics would become a career for so many people. Short term limits would remedy that mistake. Nothing is more important today than reversing the pernicious rise of a professional political class.

Henry Clay, one of the greatest House Speakers and legislators in American history, today would still be waiting for a subcommittee chairmanship at the end of his six (nonconsecutive) terms, the point at which 98 percent of representatives ended their House careers in his time. In the late 1800s the most senior representative elected Speaker was serving his seventh term; six were elected while serving their third through sixth terms. Today the byword of the system is patience. Radical change is necessary, and it can be achieved only through shorter term limits.

More about efforts to repeal term limits here: Defining Democracy Down: Explaining the Campaign to Repeal Term Limits

The arguments in favor of term limits are sound. The Articles of Confederation imposed a limit of three years of service out of any six years, with Congress having annual terms at the time. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Mason, and Richard Henry Lee all expressed preferences for term limits.

Because of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, in order to allow the states to impose term limits, either Congress must specifically allow such impositions under federal law, or a constitutional amendment would be necessary. Instead of imposing an uniform federal term limit, the states should be allowed to impose term limits on their federal legislators should they chose to do so. Some states may impose term limits, but other states should be free to not do so, if that is their preference.

A good idea would be to limit office holders to two terms out of any three. Called consecutive term limits, this would create a break for waiting challengers to run for office, while creating a pool of former office holders, who are out because of term limits, thereby creating credible challengers waiting in the wings. Truly gifted representatives would have the opportunity to serve again, with gaps to allow for fresh choices. Coupled with an expanded Congress and campaign finance reform, the competition could become fierce, and the American people would benefit.

That is my preference, but a lifetime limit on three (or two) terms in the House and two in the Senate would be preferable to the status quo. These lifetime limits are much more restrictive that consecutive limits. Even so, lifetime limits would be a vast improvement over the current system and would be more than acceptable.

A good reference on term limits can be found here, Legislative Term Limits: An Overview. There you can find links to state law, recent court decisions, and recent legislation.

By the way, Obama opposes term limits; McCain opposes term limits. Ah, the two party system, what a choice.

Redistricting Reform

The fourth item on increasing political competition would be to reform the redistricting process. A good organization on this issue is Americans for Redistricting Reform.

It is accepted that the current process encourages political polarization:

Gerrymandering of congressional districts is an old skill that has been perfected with the advent of computers. Technology allows the drawing of increasing numbers of increasingly safe House seats after each decennial census. The problem has been exacerbated by moves in several states — most notoriously Texas — to engage in midcycle redistricting.

Safe districts tend to drive candidates to the extremes, since their biggest worries come from primary challengers, not the general election.Hence, polarization and gridlock, since compromise and moderation can be hazardous to lawmakers' political health. Incumbents of both parties protect themselves.

Even in turbulent 2006, only 14 percent of House seats were decided by fewer than 10 percentage points.

The remedy would be to put redistricting in independent hands; to require that districts be drawn without regard to partisan concerns; and to prohibit redrawing between censuses. A dozen states have some form of nonpartisan commission or other process to draw district lines; nearly half ban mid-cycle redistricting.

More here:
Gerrymandered districts are one of the most detrimental diseases afflicting modern politics.

Instead of giving voters a real choice in competitive districts, politicians of both parties draw lines to serve their partisan interests by packing districts and giving voters less reason to participate in the democratic process.

Packed districts also allow the extremes in both political parties to gain more control over the legislative process at all levels and disenfranchise middle-of the-road Americans whose main goal is effective government.
A fifth idea to increase political competition would be to reform the filing requirements for new political parties. But that post will have to await another day.

Proposed U.S. Public Service Academy A Bad Idea

There is a proposal to create a national, U.S. Public Service Academy. The proposal, found here, is to create a civilian equivalent of the military service academies, but instead of training officers, it would prepare and educate those who wish to enter a life of public service. The graduates would presumably go on the work in the government, improving lives and making government service more professional. In the proposal's own words, the USPSA would be "a flagship institution designed to build a “more perfect union” by developing leaders of character dedicated to service in the public sector." And supported entirely by taxpayers.

A list of endorsements are on their site. Hmmm-- the endorsements seem to be a bit one sided. They appear to be from those who already are on the public payroll, or are heavily invested in government business and political relationships. A lot of the organizational names end in the word "corps". There doesn't seem to be many groups that advocate for a more innovative society, or for free markets. And it's been endorsed by Mike Huckabee.

At first glance, the proposal to create a U.S. Public Service Academy may seem to be a good idea. Now imagine an army of government bureaucrats. Eager and motivated and relentless and filled with the idea that they know better. Of course they know better. Didn't they graduate from the U.S. Public Service Academy?

Imagine the predilections of this self-selected group. It's not going to be entrepreneurship. It's not going to be smaller government. It's not going to be be limited government. It's not going to be lower taxes, or less regulation, or for more powers to the states.

Imagine the networking opportunities available to the graduates. Why get experience outside of government before your career, when an fellow U.S. Public Service Academy graduate can open a few doors for you, and get you a slot at the Department of Energy? Or the State Department?

An elite within the bureaucracy, familiar with each other, sharing the same outlook, sharing the same references, and ready to promote their fellow suite-mates from their days in the dorm. Fellow U.S. Public Service Academy alumni, all sharing in the bounty of the federal budget, burrowing down deep in the bowels of the bureaucracy. All sharing one assumption: "How on earth did the government function without us?". How, indeed.

The French already have tried this idea, establishing the School of National Administration (or in French, the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, or ENA). So how has that worked out for them?

The daily Le Figaro said an education at the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA) was no longer a ticket to a plum management post in the private sector and its graduates must join the queue with other applicants. The upper echelons of the civil service are still populated by former ENA students, known as "enarques", but Le Figaro said today's company managers found them arrogant, ill-suited to business and too technocratic.

"Not only do they have inflated egos, they consider the private sector as something to fall back on," it quoted Jean-Francois Roquet of the human resources consultancy Francois Sanchez Consultants as saying.

The institution, which has produced top civil servants and captains of industry for more than half a century, has faced accusations in recent years that it is out of touch, creating an arrogant and self-serving class of senior officials.

More about the ENA here.

More criticism here: Good Intentions, Bad Idea
One critical weakness of the plan is its determination to establish a government-run facility to provide a service already available at dozens of universities. Remember the famous Yellow Pages test, which says that government shouldn't make something if multiple providers already are listed in the phone book? The proposal flunks that test.
The National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration has accredited more than 150 undergraduate and graduate programs in the field. Several of those schools would take exception to the claim in H.R. 1671 and S. 960 that America lacks "national institutions" to promote public service.
As scholars and teachers in public administration, we know that government agencies make a critical contribution to the public interest. But we also know there are certain tasks that bureaucracies don't perform particularly well. Running a liberal arts university is one of them.
More criticism here: A U.S. Public Service Academy is Unnecessary

I understand why the author wanted to model a public services academy after the military academies, but I wonder why America needs a similarly elite public service institution when there are so many fine public policy, education and law enforcement programs offered in hundreds of colleges and universities. This is less true for the military. Only the military can teach military science. That is why we have military academies as well as active duty instructors teaching in ROTC programs, as well as public and private military colleges; civilians cannot teach the art and science of war.

The enrollment target of 1,275 entering freshmen, rising to 5,100 undergraduates, is too ambitious, and the proposed institution is unnecessary.

If the legislation for the proposed academy were to pass with its current enrollment targets, and built in Washington DC, the institution would be critically under-funded.

It would also be an elite public school we don’t need.

THE WHIG opposes the U.S. Public Service Academy.

State Ballot Measures

From National Conference of State Legislatures: 2008 Ballot Measure Update

Ballots are starting to shape up around the country. To date, a total of 122 questions have qualified for statewide ballots.

So far, more conservative than liberal issues are represented on statewide ballots this year. Some of the most controversial issues include abortion (CA, CO and SD), anti-affirmative action (CO, and maybe also AZ and NE), immigration (AZ, MO and OR), and same-sex marriage (AZ, CA and FL, and maybe a ban on adoption by gay couples in AR).

Other issues on the ballot in multiple states include renewable energy (CA, and maybe CO), environmental protection and land/water conservation (AK, AR, FL, GA, MN, OH, and maybe AZ), criminal justice (multiple measures in both CA and OR), elections (CT, MD, NM, OR, and maybe MI), campaign finance reform (AK, CO, OR and SD), and legislatures (AR, CO, SD, and maybe MI).

Interesting that they did not mention the initiative in Massachusetts to eliminate the state income tax. Here's a link to the Ballot Measures Database, where you can look up the individual ballot initiatives by subject and state.

The History of Mudslinging

From Engines of our Ingenuity: Roman Political Invective

[T]oday’s candidates should thank their lucky stars they’re not running for office in ancient Rome. In the days when Rome was still a Republic, elections were held every year for the most important public offices. Honor and personal reputation were key factors in elections then as now. So dishonoring your opponent or wrecking his reputation were obvious moves to make.

The true art of invective is to show yourself morally superior, even as you say outrageous things about your enemy. A favorite technique for this was insinuation or innuendo. The old rhetorical trick of talking about something by saying you’re not going to talk about it is known as preterition (also apophasis or occultatio). Example, “Let us not talk about his drunkenness and profligate ways; what he does on his own time is, after all, his business.”

This was the skillful, hardball rhetoric of the last generation of Rome’s Republic. It was at its height right as Roman society was falling apart. With the coming of the emperors, political rhetoric lost its edge and purpose. Public discourse became mere flattery of the emperor.

So we should remember a degree of verbal abuse is a sign of political freedom. And this is a fine old tradition. Let it be at least skillful and witty, as befits free and dignified people.

An Area Where You Have A Real Choice. . .

Interesting article: Most Fun for $25,000

Car and Driver attempts to answer the question: With 25 grand in your pocket and fun a prime motivator, what do you go for: a modestly sporting new car or a flamboyantly exotic used one?

It’s a dilemma that will be argued noisily forever...

Obama's history on healthcare

Here is a short video on what Obama has done so far on the subject of healthcare.

Study finds cattle know magnetic north

Grazing cattle and sleeping deer tend to align their bodies along the North-South axis of the Earth's magnetic field, European researchers said on Monday, giving new meaning to the phrase animal magnetism.

Herdsmen and hunters have long known that cattle and sheep tend to face the same direction when grazing, but had believed they were simply positioning themselves according to prevailing winds or the sun's rays.

Sabine Begall of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany and colleagues had a different idea. The researchers studied 8,510 satellite images of cattle and deer herds derived from Google Earth from around the globe, including 308 pastures and plains.

Story here.

The moral of the story is, if you are lost and you don't have a compass, find a grazing cow or a sleeping deer. Is it safe to assume we have figured everything else out?

25 August 2008

My Guesses for McCain's Vice-Presidential Pick

Here are my guesses, in order, for McCain's VP pick:

  1. Mitt Romney
  2. Tim Pawlenty
  3. Sarah Palin
  4. Joe Lieberman
  5. Rep. Eric Cantor
  6. Rep. Rob Portman
I guess we will find out in due time, but there you go. I also think that there is a big gap between guesses three and four.

I probably should not make these predictions. Predicting the actions of a group are one thing. The actions of an individual, that's another. I'll admit that I did not think much of the proposals of Biden. Maybe I'll do better this time.

Waiting for Biden to Apologize for Remarks About Haditha Marines

From David Harsanyi's Blog: In June 2006, straight-talking Joe Biden went on Meet the Press and demanded accountability from the administration for the so-called Haditha massacre. Biden spoke about the incident as if the accused marines were guilty (before a trial) and called on the administration to proceed — and to be treated — as if there were a cover-up at the highest levels of government.

Well, it turned out Biden was wrong about Haditha. Eight of the Marines charged for the “massacre” and “coverup” have already been exonerated. (One case is still pending.)


Seventh Marine Has Charges Dropped in Haditha Action

Sixth Marine Acquitted for Haditha Action -- Now Waiting for Obama and Murtha to Apologize for Announcing that the Marines Were Guilty

Case Dropped Against Hadith Defendant

Corruption, Virtue, and the Whigs

Whenever I come across a story on Congressional corruption, I try to mention it and to link to it here. If I were to keep track of all of them, it would be at least a part-time job. Congressmen tend to become wealthier as they spend time in office, and they don't get paid that much money. That's why I've linked to several anti-corruption and transparency groups on the left hand side.

Lately, I was beginning to think that it was all futile. Few seem to care, the media only focuses on a few, and it just goes on and on. Any student of history knows that corruption has always been present. I recently read a book on Caesar, and the author related how Caesar made an early name for himself prosecuting corrupt Roman Senators, so government corruption is hardly new.

So I began to think, if government has never been honest, and has always been prone to corruption, then why do I expect it not to be? Why do I get upset when I read about it? How can we imagine what an honest government looks like, if we have never seen it?

I recently read C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, and in the opening chapters, he explains that everyone has within them the idea of fair play and how we should behave, and these are obvious to everyone. All human societies have these basic ideas: that you should do what you promised, that you shouldn't take what is not yours, that you should tell the truth, that you shouldn't be selfish, and so on. And that even though we all know these innate rules, we break them all the time, while still expecting others to live up to these ideas.

Now Lewis went on to posit that these moral rules serve as evidence of God, but that is not the point I am trying to make. Rather it is this: this idea helped me to accept that although we may never have seen an honest society, and we may never be able to create one, it doesn't mean that it does not remain our goal. The same moral drive within us that insists on believing in honesty and fair play applies to insisting on honest government.

Of course, there is another reason to continue the interest in honest government, and it is a practical one. Corruption results in a misapplication of scarce public resources. What we should rationally be spending money on becomes distorted and influenced by graft or the self-interest of a politician. Opportunities are wasted, which have a human cost. As government becomes involved in more and more decisions, and regulates more of an expanding economy, more opportunities develop for corruption. This is one of the strongest practical arguments for limited government, if for no other reason that to reduce opportunities for corruption.

Or as author Michael F. Holt puts it in The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party:

[C]orruption was doubly insidious. It induced officeholders to place their self-interest ahead of the public good and thus reduced their effectiveness as guardians of the people's liberty. At the same time, corruption of private citizens eroded their vigilance and their concern for public life by creating an obsession with materialistic self-advancement. The result would be inevitable. Since neither the people nor their representatives placed a priority on the protection of public liberty and equality any longer, power would encroach on liberty. Tyranny would prevail...

The corruption that comes from a bloated regulatory state is not limited to the politicians themselves. As parts of society become more dependent on the state, republican virtues fade, replaced by self-interest alone. In this, corporate donor tax breaks and lobbyist-influenced insider contracts are the primary offenders. Evidence of this systemic corruption is the collapse of fiscal discipline, the inability of our government to live within its means, and to run enormous deficits despite record tax collections.

The eventual result: a corrupted society no longer capable of self-government. The Roman Republic will always be an example of this. As wealth poured in from conquest, Roman society became corrupted, lost the will to self-government, its politics becoming increasingly violent. Efforts by the Gracchi brothers to reform the system failed, as too much money was at stake for the elites to allow the people to hold power, and a republic that stood for hundreds of years, far longer that ours, failed.

One sign of the developing rot is the way political partisans will excuse the corruption of politicians they ideologically support. In this way, corruption becomes a political game, allowing corruption to not only continue, but to flourish.

One of the reasons I am interested in the Whig movement is the belief that increased political competition will help cure what is wrong. Of course, any Whig elected to any office in the future will be exposed to the same temptations as the politicians from the Democratic or the Republican Party. We Whigs cannot hope to elect better, incorruptible men and women to office. They will still be just men and women.

But there is one thing we Whigs can do differently, and we must resolve to do it before we get started. When one of our own succumbs to corruption, we must not excuse it. We must resolve now, at the beginning, to confront it head on. Even if the other political parties do not. Especially if they do not. It will be hard to do when the time comes, but self-government is not about ease. Dictatorship is easy. If we do not resolve to confront corruption, wherever we find it, then there is no point, and we will deserve the choices with which we are presented by the Democrats and the Republicans.

Interview With Mike Lebowitz, National Modern Whig Party Chairman

Politics: Modern Whigs will make their move in 2009.

An interview with Mike Lebowitz, National Chairman of the Modern Whig Party. The entire interview is worth reading, click on the link above. Some excerpts:

Lebowitz: If anything, our ideology is really based on pure common sense and rational thinking. Our goal from the beginning was to avoid falling into the same traps of all the other third parties. Those organizations tend to end up believing their own propaganda as they sit and wait for the American voter to merely wake up and realize that this particular ideology is what they have always needed. In the end, all these groups become marginalized as they bring out candidate after candidate who we all know is going to lose. We are different by catering to those independent-minded voters who want a political party to call home. And the reality is that most people find themselves agreeing with certain Republican issues and also with certain Democratic issues. In the end, the system is polarized as one or two prime issues force these voters to pick an ideological side that likely is far to the left or right of their actual personal values.

Lebowitz: The “Whig” name is associated with American history and tradition. The old Whig Party was mainstream and middle-of-the-road during its time. It are those general aspects of rational thinking and common sense that we adopt in terms of the old Whig Party. But we do stress that we are the “Modern” Whig Party. We recognize that we live in a different time. In fact, the original Republican Party were the liberals and the Democracts were the conservatives, and obviously that changed. In our case, the Modern Whig platform generally relates to fiscal responsibility, strong national defense and bold social progression.

What I Believe

I agree:

that liberty and individual responsibility are the foundations of civilised society;
that the state is only the instrument of the citizens it serves;
that any action of the state must respect the principles of democratic accountability;
that constitutional liberty is based upon the principles of separation of powers;
that justice requires that in all criminal prosecution the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, and to a fair verdict free from any political influence;
that state control of the economy and private monopolies both threaten political liberty;
that rights and duties go together; and
that every citizen has a moral responsibility to others in society.

Civil society and constitutional democracy provide the most just and stable basis for political order.

We see civil society as constituted by free citizens, living within a framework of established law, with individual rights guaranteed, with the powers of government limited and subject to democratic accountability.

We believe that an economy based on free market rules leads to the most efficient distribution of wealth and resources, encourages innovation, and promotes flexibility.

I found this on the site for Liberal International, by which they mean classical liberalism, not the way the word is currently used. What Americans call liberal, the rest of the world calls Social Democratic. Liberals in America prefer the term Progressive, which I try to use on this site to avoid confusion with the concept of classical liberalism.

First, Do No Harm

How important is the VP pick? It's good not to blow it, but does it really help a candidate?

Think of the VP pick like a resume. It won't get you a job, but it can keep you from getting a job. What do employers use resumes for? Only to eliminate choices for the position. A good resume will only get you considered.

The same with the VP pick. I might not vote for someone based on the running mate, but it's not going to make me vote for someone either.

Obama could have picked a new, more exciting face. Instead, he blinked. Still, I doubt it will hurt him, so I guess in that respect, Biden was acceptable. Unless he sticks his foot in his mouth.

The focus is now on McCain's choice. He could make the opposite of Obama's choice, someone new to the national stage, and someone younger. Of course, it's hard not to be younger than McCain. But he will probably choose someone safe and noncontroversial, as McCain is running a very conventional campaign this time around, as opposed to his run in 2000.

Blacks Debate Civil Rights Risk in Obama’s Rise

Barack Obama has received overwhelming support from black voters, many of whom believe he will help bridge the nation’s racial divide. But even as they cheer him on, some black scholars, bloggers and others who closely follow the race worry that Mr. Obama’s historic achievements might make it harder to rally support for policies intended to combat racial discrimination, racial inequities and urban poverty.

They fear that growing numbers of white voters and policy makers will decide that eradicating racial discrimination and ensuring equal opportunity have largely been done. “I worry that there is a segment of the population that might be harder to reach, average citizens who will say: ‘Come on. We might have a black president, so we must be over it,’ ” said Mr. Harrison, 59, a sociologist at Howard University and a consultant for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies here.

“That is the danger, that we declare victory,” said Mr. Harrison, who fears that poor blacks will increasingly be blamed for their troubles. “Historic as this moment is, it does not signify a major victory in the ongoing, daily battle.”

It can be an awkward discussion for Obama supporters who argue that the success of the candidate — the man who might become America’s first black president — might make it somewhat more difficult to advance an ambitious public policy agenda that helps blacks. Some of Mr. Obama’s black supporters say that Mr. Obama himself, by rarely focusing on racial discrimination and urban poverty while campaigning, has often fueled the notion that the nation has transcended race.

“If Obama becomes the president, every remaining, powerfully felt black grievance and every still deeply etched injustice will be cast out of the realm of polite discourse,” wrote Lawrence Bobo, a black sociologist at Harvard University, who supports Mr. Obama and was outlining in the essay the concerns of some friends and colleagues. “White folks will just stop listening.”

“There’s an assumption now that we’ve made it,” said Bev Smith, a black talk radio host in Pittsburgh. “Our concern is that we’ll get lost in the shuffle.”

Story here.

Um... Nevermind.

Russia warns Moldova against "Georgian mistake"

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned ex-Soviet Moldova on Monday against repeating Georgia's mistake of trying to use force to seize back control of a breakaway region.

Russia sent peacekeepers to Moldova in the early 1990s to end a conflict between Chisinau and its breakaway Transdniestria region and is trying to mediate a deal between the two sides.

Transdniestria, one of a number of "frozen conflicts" on the territory of the former Soviet Union, mirrored the standoff between Georgia and its rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia until they erupted in war earlier this month.

Story here.

Its too bad these poor countries don't have anyone, including the US, EU and NATO, to count on to help defend against Russian aggression. The UN could issue sanctions but Russia has veto power in the UN. We have now demonstrated that Russia can bully whomever they want and we will do nothing about it. We will end up paying for this somewhere down the line.

24 August 2008

Quote of the day

He that lives upon hope will die fasting. -- Benjamin Franklin

Leave Obama alone!

YouTube viral video re-dub from Britney Spears fan.

Graphic language warning.

Video is here.

Obama camp snubs Hillary

John McCain's campaign said Sunday that rival Barack Obama snubbed Hillary Rodham Clinton as a running mate because of her criticism of the Democratic presidential candidate.

Story here.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Obama's choice Joe Biden, D-Del., offered "the full package." She said Biden "has challenged the status quo.

With 30 years in the senate, Biden is the status quo!

23 August 2008

Russians Still In Poti, Georgia's Main Port

Bloomberg: Protesters Chant `Russians Go Home' at Georgian Port

Protesters waved Georgian flags in front of about 15 Russians near the Rioni River as international observers arrived in Georgia a day after Russia announced completion of a troop pullback under terms of the French-brokered cease-fire over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

The pullback failed to satisfy President George W. Bush, who has called for a full withdrawal of all troops that entered Georgia after Aug. 6. Bush and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, spoke by telephone yesterday and urged Russia to ``continue and complete'' its withdrawal from Georgia, Sarkozy's office said.

Reuters: Russian forces still in Georgia

Small numbers of Russian troops dug in deep inside Georgia on Sunday and Western states demanded Moscow's forces leave a Black Sea port, two days after Moscow said it had wrapped up its withdrawal.

The United States and Europe fear the Russian presence will cement Georgia's ethnic partition, undermine the pro-Western government of President Mikheil Saakashvili and threaten vital energy pipelines criss-crossing the country's territory.

Particularly worrisome for Tbilisi and the West is a checkpoint set up at the port of Poti, which lies outside the security zone Russia says is covered by its peacekeeping mandate and is hundreds of km (miles) from South Ossetia.

Fed Cleans Up Banker's Messes With Your Tax Dollars

AP: Wall Street bailout aid questioned at Fed event

A possible bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, on the heels of similar action involving investment firm Bear Stearns, seems to send a loud signal to financial companies that the government will clean up their messes.

That's the feeling of some analysts and academics here Saturday, the final day of a high-profile economics conference. The Federal Reserve's handling of the worst financial crisis to hit the country in decades spurred much debate.

Critics like Buiter worry that the Fed's unprecedented actions — including financial backing for JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s takeover of Bear Stearns Cos. — are putting taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars of potential losses. They also say it encourages "moral hazard," that is, allowing financial companies to gamble more recklessly in the future.

We agree with the critics of the Federal Reserve:

Fiasco: Mortgage Bailout Punishes Responsible Taxpayers
Moral Hazard
Mortgage Bailout
Fed Has No Mandate to Engage in Wall Street Socialism
Proposal in Congress to Reform Financial System Likely to do More Harm Than Good
Mortgage Crisis

Big Politics Means Big Money

NY Times: Big Money Still Has Prominent Seat at Parties’ Conventions

The rewarding of big-money donors at the coming conventions strikes some discordant notes for Mr. Obama — and Senator John McCain, too — as each has sharply criticized the influence of money in politics. While Mr. Obama has attacked those who “have turned our government into a game only they can afford to play,” the corporate and other special-interest money will be as pervasive as ever at this year’s Democratic convention.

Corporations, trade unions and lobbying firms, along with well-heeled individuals, have already donated $112 million to the Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul host committees to help pay for the conventions. Unlike campaign contributions, which are capped in the thousand-dollar range, donations to the political conventions can be — and have been — written in seven-figure amounts.

Credentials are being distributed to top Obama fund-raisers every morning, with the level of access and the number of credentials available depending on how much they have raised. Special lounges will be available at the Pepsi Center for major donors. Some will get the prized podium passes that will allow them to mingle with politicians backstage. National finance committee members have also been assured of premium seats at Invesco Field for Mr. Obama’s speech.

On the Republican side, Mr. McCain, in an interview last Wednesday with Politico, the Web site and newspaper, continued his attack on lobbyists, calling them “birds of prey” who seek “their share of the spoils.“ He also vowed to enforce a ban on lobbying for members of his administration.

But major McCain and Republican National Committee donors, many of them lobbyists, are getting a special Platinum Package, which provides hotel rooms at the Grand Hotel or the Westin in Minneapolis, exclusive dinners and cocktail receptions, as well as a Tuesday night party featuring the comedian Dennis Miller.

Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, a watchdog group, wants to shame House members into not attending these events, even if they seem to be technically allowed under guidance from the House ethics committee.

Public Citizen has more info on the influence of big donors.
The presidential conventions are right around the corner, and corporate donors and lobbyists are taking full advantage of loopholes to schmooze with political bigwigs. A $112 million flood of special interest money, and the lavish parties and wining and dining it pays for at the conventions, runs counter to the spirit of ethics rules. Much of this money is given under the pretense of boosting the economies of the host cities; in fact, the benefits of this boosterism are minimal.
Not to worry -- the Whigs are not under the influence of big money!

Obama Fatigue?

As Democrats gather in Denver, many may be looking at the national polls and wondering how the presidential race has tightened so much given that voters are still concerned about the state of the nation and give low ratings to President Bush and the Republican Party. There are now at least four recent polls showing Barack Obama’s lead narrowing to three percentage points.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll last week found Barack Obama’s lead over his Republican rival withering. In late June, Mr. Obama held a comfortable eight-point margin over John McCain. A look at these latest trends suggests that while Mr. McCain has made some gains over the last two months, perceptions of Mr. Obama have stalled.

Most important, Mr. McCain has been more successful in rallying Republicans to his side than Mr. Obama has been in unifying the Democratic Party. Indeed, Mr. McCain is now garnering more support from Republicans and white evangelical Protestants than he had June, and steadily gained backing from white working-class voters over the last two months.

In contrast, Mr. Obama made little progress in increasing his support among core Democrats since June. In August, 83 percent of Democrats favored him compared with 87 percent of Republicans who back Mr. McCain. And the poll found that the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate was still getting only modest support (72 percent) from Hillary Clinton’s former supporters.

A second factor appears to be Obama fatigue. During the summer, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found much more extensive media coverage of Mr. Obama than Mr. McCain. This has proved a problem, not a blessing, for the Democratic candidate.

Story here.

Quote of the Day

I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man. -- Joe Biden, January 2007

Obama-Biden Round Up

A round-up of reactions to Biden can be found at PJM: It’s Biden! The Fun Begins. More here.

More in the same vein here, I didn't realize there were so many... Especially the quotes supporting the Iraqi War.

I like this comment: If a secret ballot were taken among pundits and political office holders asking, “Which politician is most likely to make a jaw dropping, news cycle-stopping gaffe?” Biden would like be the unanimous winner.

All that being said, it is good that Obama selected a moderate Democrat, a politician who seems willing to reach across the aisle, and who seems to be a nice, well-liked guy. Also, Biden has decades of political experience that Obama lacks, especially foreign policy experience. Biden had made a run for the presidency twice before, so he's had a thorough going-over. He doesn't seem to be involved in any financial scandals, except for his close ties to MBNA, a major credit-card issuing bank. That is not unexpected coming from Delaware, but it is not likely to sit to well with Obama's hard-left supporters. They're trying to rally the troops over at Daily Kos.

That's why Biden strikes me as an odd choice for Obama. What makes Biden a good choice in a more conventional analysis doesn't seem to mesh with the tone, theme, and story-line about Obama being a new agent of change.

Perhaps Obama calculates that his own persona and image are enough to reassure those who think he is the second coming.

Or maybe Obama is a more conventional politician that the public narrative crafted by his campaign and promoted by the legacy media would indicate, and all the hoopla of hope, change, "light worker", is a ploy to wind up desperately gullible progressives.

Biden is a conventional choice, chosen for understandable reasons, but it is sure to disappoint Obama's more ardent followers.

Obama Biden

Barack Obama has chosen Joe Biden to be his running mate. The choice of Biden doesn't further the "hope and change" or the "fresh ideas" themes Obama has been preaching for the past year. Which begs the question, "Why Biden?" Biden brings 40 years Senate experience, most of it heavy on foreign policy. This illustrates what the Obama campaign recognizes as Obama's weaknesses. The messiah of hope and change is playing defense right before his own convention. It seems as though the campaign is in a panic that with all the media hype over Obama they aren't 15 points ahead in the polls.

22 August 2008

Biden is Obama's VP Pick

As I retire for the night, it looks like Obama has picked Sen. Joe Biden (D-DEL) as his running mate. I guess Obama needs to make sure he carries Delaware's three electoral votes. Other than that, I really don't see what Biden brings to the ticket. Biden doesn't seem to fit in with the Hope and Change theme, though.

We'll see in the morning if the rumors tonight are accurate.

Chronicles of Obamessiah

Via Powerline . . . A Scene From the Life of Barak

Expanding Food Irradiation

NY Times: F.D.A. Allows Irradiation of Some Produce

The government will allow food producers to zap fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce with enough radiation to kill micro-organisms like E. coli and salmonella that for decades have caused widespread illness among consumers.

The government has long allowed food processors to irradiate beef, eggs, poultry, oysters and spices, but the market for irradiated foods is tiny because the government also requires that these foods be labeled as irradiated, labels that scare away most consumers.

Advocates of irradiation say the technology can help reduce the burden of illness and the number of outbreaks.

This is something that should have been expanded a long time ago. Irradiated foods are safer, and stay fresh much longer, as the bacteria that causes spoilage and rot are eliminated as well.

Everything you want to know about the irradiation of food can be found here. More here.

Conspiracy Theory Debunked

Popular Mechanics: World Trade Center 7 Report Puts 9/11 Conspiracy Theory to Rest

Conspiracy theorists have long pointed to the collapse of the 47-story structure as key evidence that the U.S. government orchestrated or abetted the 9/11 attacks.

Today's report confirms that a fire was, indeed, the cause.

Previously from Popular Mechanics: Debunking the 9/11 Myths: Special Report Popular Mechanics examines the evidence and consults the experts to refute the most persistent conspiracy theories of September 11.

Somebody tell Rosie O'Donnell.

Unfortunately, I doubt these calm, reasoned, logical, and informed reports will change the minds of "9/11 Truthers". That's why I am so thankful for freedom of speech, so that I can tell who is crazy.

9/11 Conspiracy Theories 'Ridiculous,' Al Qaeda Says