I am leaving soon for my holiday vacation, but first wanted to give you some updates on several stories I've been blogging about lately.
Washington gubernatorial race: After King County certified its vote count, which gave Gregoire the victory even without the extra ballots the state Supreme Court allowed in, the Rossi camp have not stopped their fight. Problem is, Republicans who actually work for a living -- the Secretary of State and officials from the counties across the state who have already certitified their counts -- see this as a hopeless exercise and would prefer the matter dropped. Why can't they stay on message! Now Rossi is calling on Gregoire to join him in asking for a statewide revote, the Seattle Times reports. This at a cost of $4 million and more weeks of uncertainty, and from someone who repeatedly said Washingtonians want to put the race behind them. Won't happen, and the sensible Republicans are starting to worry that the nutty ones running the show for Rossi will hurt the whole party.
GOP campaign message: Over the last several weeks ago I have written (here and here) about the sophisticated use of demographic and political data by Republicans which gave them an advantage not just in mobilizing their base, including infrequent voters, but also making inroads with Democrats as well. Today's Washington Post has a very good story on the subject, with two clear conclusions standing out which I discussed before. First, though the two parties spent approximately the same amount of money, the Republicans got more bang for their buck by targeting more precisely their message to their propsective voters. Second, and related, the greater reliance on 527s by Dems coupled with a ban on coordinating with the candidates meant that Dem spending tended to work at cross purposes, did not respond as quickly, and duplicated effort in other cases.
Ethics for Dummies: Apparently it's not enough that Hastert may replace an independent and honorable ethics committee chair with a friend of unindicted co-conspirator Tom DeLay, as I wrote yesterday. Now House Republicans want to rewrite the rules again in order to make it harder to bring ethics charges at all. Under the rules, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct is the only explicitly bipartisan panel, with three Democrats and three Republicans. Under the current rules, in order to issue a report -- say, to reprimand a legislator for unethical behavior -- it took a majority (i.e., bipartisan) vote, but to have the case investigated at all took only three votes. Makes sense, right? See if something's there, and if there is then have both parties agree to it. Except that's not good enough for the Republican leadership who are concerned that even with Lamar Smith as chair the ethics committee will dig into more of their dirty little secrets. The New York Times reports that they want to rewrite the rules to say that in the event of a tie vote the complaint will be dismissed without inquiry. This would make it easier for the GOP to flick charges away as partisan bellyaching since without an investigation by the committee at all there would be no formal of presentation of evidence for or against. Oh, and they also want to legalize corporate campaign contributions, which have been illegal for eight decades (though only enforced over the last three decades). The Washington Post editorializes on the subject here.
Now the work in the areas hit by the tsunami turns to staving off disease, getting necessary supplies to the living, and over the long term making these areas livable again. In the case of the Maldives, it might mean that an entire nation is no longer livable and the survivors must pick up and leave. What makes this even more difficult is that in two of the areas hit, Aceh in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, there was already a great deal of distrust of their governments due to ongoing strife. An earthquake or a flood is never easy to recover from, and this disaster combines the worst elements of both together with an extra layer of political trouble.
So, please do what you can to help. As my friend at the Samuel Taylor Coleridge Foundation reminds us, there are several charities doing good work who could use our support, including:
American Red Cross International Response Fund P.O. Box 37243 Washington, D.C. 20013 800-HELP NOW www.redcross.org
In the latest tabulation of spammers by nation, the U.S. leads by a wide margin with 42% of all email spam originating in this country. South Korea, which has among the highest rates of broadband access in the world, is in second at 13%, followed by China at 8%, Canada at 6% and Brazil at 3%. More from the CIO Today story:
Canada, on the other hand, has taken more concrete steps and has shown results in stemming the flow of spam. Just one of many things we can learn from our neighbors to the north.
Interesting that Japan and the EU countries don't make the list, not to mention that nice gentleman from Nigeria who keeps emailing me about his recent financial dilemma. And then there's the Dutch fellow who's been contacting me lately. Or at least I think he's Dutch; anyway, his English could use some work: "revollutionaary and new peenjs enlaargment devjce."
This is a good time to recommend Thunderbird to you, the email client companion to Firefox. It's free and developed from the open source Mozilla project. I've been using beta versions for months now and love it, and the official 1.0 release just came out. RSS support, spell checker, many extensions available ... but the reason I bring it up is that it has a built-in adaptable spam filter which has worked quite well for me (the Nigerian and peenjs enlaargment spams I dug out from the "junk" folder where they're sent automatically).
They hate us for our freedom. And our ample supplies of Vioxx.
The Washington Post reports that Hastert is considering replacing the current chair of the House ethics committee, Joel Hefley, who has shown a modicum of independence by not sweeping under the rug charges levied against Majority Leader DeLay. As the Post points out, Hefley has had the temerity to say he will treat charges against the Hammer "like I would handle anything else."
Hastert is considering replacing Hefley with a pliable ally of the leadership, Lamar Smith of DeLay's home state of Texas. Says the Post:
The effort by DeLay and his allies to preserve his leadership post,
even if he faces criminal charges, is one of the most sensitive issues
facing Republicans as the new Congress begins. If Hefley is replaced by
Smith, it is another signal by House leaders that they will stand by
DeLay. "It certainly seems they're circling the wagons," said a GOP
staff member who declined to be identified.
But Lamar Smith isn't just any friend -- he's a friend who has donated $10,000 to DeLay's legal defense fund, as Public Citizen has documented. Better yet, as the Austin Statesman-American puts it, Smith "got the ball rolling" by writing the first check of 2004 to the fund (via corrente). Oh, and yes, I know what you're thinking: He did vote for the DeLay rule in the Republican Conference to permit an indicted leader to keep his post. (Hefley voted against and has not donated money to date to the defense fund; however, they both received $20 from DeLay's PAC.)
Off the Kuff shows at least one instance when Smith clearly carried water -- er, rum -- for the Hammer on a matter of dubious ethics regarding a favor for Bacardi. This, you will recall, was after DeLay caught some heat for pushing the same legislative language into a defense appropriations bill not long after receiving a $40,000 donation from the company. Smith's bill aimed to do the same thing and provided some political cover for DeLay. That's just the kind of team player Hastert wants to install as chair of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as the ethics panel is formally known.
The right's continuing obsession with everything Clinton is fascinating. The latest way it has reared its icky head is in the administration's reaction to the tsunami disaster. As Josh Marshall reports, the Bushies are defining their response according to what Clinton would not do.
That is a poor and unstatesmanlike way to make policy, not to mention...
Dude! He's been out of office for four years! Get over it already!
Now get that relief in gear and forget trying to be the unClinton for a moment.
The New York Times reports on Washington's revolving door, including Billy Tauzin's move to PhRMA for $2 million per annum which I discussed a few weeks ago, and now the mass exodus from the cabinet back into the private sector. The article links it to continuing debates over the proper level of compensation for top government officials, including whether it lags too far behind comparable private-sector jobs. For figures on current and past compensation for top officials, visit this page at TheCapitol.Net which also includes links to relevant CRS reports.
Here are the 2004 salaries for a few significant federal positions:
Vice President: $203,000
Cabinet Secretaries: $175,700
Speaker of the House: $203,000
Majority and Minority Leaders of House and Senate, Senate President pro tempore: $175,700
Other Members of Congress: $158,100
Chief Justice: $203,000
Associate Justices: $194,300
Appeals Court Judges: $167,600
District Court Judges: $158,100
Though the article links congressional and executive pay, I think they are different creatures. I have less trouble accepting the current salary for Members of Congress as well as future increases than for cabinet members for one simple reason: Almost all Members of Congress must maintain two residences, often very far from one another. This means, in most cases, renting (or sharing) an apartment at the fairly expensive rates in DC in addition to a home in the district/state where their families live. Moreover, though they get an official travel allowance, that does not cover partners and children. Yes, that salary is well above the median household income (a little over $43,000 in 2003), but few people have these demands, either.
In the case of executive appointments, I have less sympathy since they never have to face the dual household dilemma. In fact, given the negligible restrictions on post-service employment, it is easy for former cabinet members to cash in just like Tauzin did, and like Ridge will now according to the Times. For that reason, I do not buy the argument put forward by some that cabinet salaries must keep pace with executive compensation in the private sector in order to attract top candidates. Because the expected income for a cabinet member almost certainly would be higher after service than before, it is quite easy for them to make up the difference and then some.
The question is, of course, whether we want them to. As the Tauzin case showed us, there are few restrictions to bar the revolving door (with some differences between former Members of Congress and executive appointees). It is difficult if not impossible to demonstrate that a job was promised in order to curry favor with an official, and such cases are rarely pursued beyond a complaint filed by organizations like Public Citizen and Common Cause. At best the revolving door is tawdry and unseemly, and at worst it corrupts and distorts public policy.
It is a losing battle merely to try to tighten those restrictions, however. The 1989 Ethics in Government Act illustrates. At the time the question involved honoraria given to Members of Congress by interest groups, often in the hundreds and thousands of dollars. For those who were not independently wealthy, this was an important source of income, capped at the time at 30% of annual salary for representatives and 40% for senators. More importantly, they were not going to give it up without some kind of trade. So, to bar honoraria in order to shut off one source of interest group influence, Congress increased their salaries to nearly match the lost honoraria.
With a friendly House and Senate right now, including members who are thinking about their own post-congressional jobs, Congress is extremely unlikely to tighten revolving door restrictions on its own. Because it would be viewed as a limit on expected income, salaries would have to increase as well. Similarly, it is a mistake to worry excessively about cabinet salaries without at the same time tightening these regulations. Otherwise it is money for nothing. Since their cabinet service can already be viewed as a long-term net gain, they ought to give up some of that future gain in order to get their higher cabinet salaries in the short term.
Major Cathy Kaus, a 28-year veteran, was released yesterday after serving a six-month sentence in a Navy brig. Kaus, a commander for the Ohio Army Reserve in Iraq, was court-martialed for "scrounging" equipment and parts from abandoned army vehicles in Kuwait in order for the soldiers under her command to do their job in Iraq, a fuel truck convoy of the type under frequent attack from insurgents.
You would think this were the perfect case for the president to pardon, especially after that dust-up between Rumsfeld and the troops not long ago over this very topic -- a statement of good faith that the commander only meant the best for her soldiers and the military acknowledging there is room to improve in providing our soldiers with the equipment they need to do the job.
Then again, pardoning is just not something this president does, as Talk Left tells us. In fact, it would entail two things this president doesn't do: Pardon and apologize for past mistakes.
Six soldiers altogether were court-martialed, and Sens. DeWine (R) and Durbin (D) have asked for clemency for them. At least one part of their request went unheeded by the military and the administration. From DeWine's letter of December 14:
I am also very concerned about Major Kaus’ current scheduled release
date from prison. I understand she is to be released either on
Christmas Day or after. I urge you, and the Department of Defense, to
reconsider the timing of her release, and encourage a scheduled release
prior to Christmas Day. Such a change would make a meaningful
difference to Major Kaus and her family.
Apparently you celebrate the holidays you have, not the holidays you'd like to have.
As you have probably heard by now, a huge earthquake off the coast of Sumatra triggered a tsunami which hit Indonedia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India, among other places. At this writing, 22,000 people are estimated to have died and more than a million driven from their homes, in many cases with whole towns and villages washed away.
Ah yes, the old "problem" of liberals in academia. This is a topic I will comment on in more detail at some point, but for now go read the Samuel Taylor Coleridge Foundation's post about being a liberal student at a very conservative college. Here is an excerpt:
I'll always especially remember the final exam in a Creation Science
class (yes: we actually had one, and it was required for graduation),
when the main essay question required us to write why we agreed with
the conclusions in a creation science text we'd read*, and my answer
was instead a refutation of them...I left the test sure I'd be failed,
but I got an A+ from two very biased professors, who graded me on my
argument, not on my content.
This is a lesson the David Horowitzes of the world never take the time to learn. While no doubt there are some faculty who do grade on ideology -- on the right and left -- in my experience college and university faculty are far more concerned about half-assed reasoning, poor use of evidence, uncritical parroting of sources and obstinate failure to consider alternate points of view. These are sins across the ideological spectrum -- right, left and center.
When a conservative student, egged on by gadflies like Horowitz, blames the liberalism of a professor for giving him or her a D for a poorly written paper, it's just another case of smearing the messenger in order to ignore the message. They ought to spend more time studying and writing and less time complaining, let alone filing lawsuits because they're asked to read a book.