Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Vote Democratic for a Rational Energy Policy

From day one, BushCo has had it almost exactly wrong when it comes to energy policy. Not surprisingly, the two former oil execs who head our government have crafted policy that benefits fossil fuel companies without much thought for those of us who pay at the pump or in our utility bills.
New York Times has the latest installment in the long sad story of how BushCo has been letting oil and gas companies off the hook when it comes to royalties for energy extracted from publicly owned lands and offshore fields:
The Interior Department has dropped claims that the Chevron Corporation systematically underpaid the government for natural gas produced in the Gulf of Mexico, a decision that could allow energy companies to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties.
The agency had ordered Chevron to pay $6 million in additional royalties but could have sought tens of millions more had it prevailed. The decision also sets a precedent that could make it easier for oil and gas companies to lower the value of what they pump each year from federal property and thus their payments to the government.
Interior officials said on Friday that they had no choice but to drop their order to Chevron because a department appeals board had ruled against auditors in a separate case.
Remarkably, a group of citizens has to sue to protect the financial interests of the federal government:
“The government is giving up without a fight,” said Richard T. Dorman, a lawyer representing private citizens suing Chevron over its federal royalty payments. “If this decision is left standing, it would result in the loss of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars in royalties owed by other companies.”
I've written before about the various ways our government has to let oil and gas companies extract public energy reserves without paying. The excuses offered for this ongoing boondoggle go to the heart of BushCo's wrong-headed policy of making it easy for energy companies to make money in the hope that consumers will somehow see the benefit.
In another post, I compared the dumb money (subsidies to fossil fuel companies) with the smart money (investing in new energy sources). When it comes to energy policy, BushCo and the Republicans in Congress have sided consistently with the dumb money. Last year's energy monstrosity (which Mike Castle supported) included more than $1 billion to subsidize an energy consortium located in Tom DeLay's hometown.
For those who need a quick refresher in remedial energy economics, there are several basic reasons why BushCo's policy of shoveling tax dollars out the door to fossil fuel companies doesn't work.
First, the planet holds a finite amount of petroleum and natural gas, and subsidizing their extraction won't increase the supply.
Second, the fossil fuel business is already making pretty good money, and hardly need tax dollars as an incentive to do what they are in the business of doing.
Third, as any business school student will tell you, a sound business strategy doesn't invest in a declining business line (dumb money), but uses revenue from the old business line to invest in new opportunities (smart money). That is why most business leaders (like GE's Jeff Imelt) are actually more forward-looking that Bush and Cheney when it comes to energy policy.
If history is any guide, we can expect Republicans to continue their policy of shoveling taxpayer dollars down the fossil fuel rathole. There is one way to ensure that our government invests in our energy future instead of subsidizing our energy past, and that is to elect Democrats to Congress next week.
Photo: ens-newswire.com

Monday, October 30, 2006

Vote Democratic to Restore Rationality to our Government

More and more Americans find themselves appalled by the Republican's attempted overthrow of reason by faith. Today's New York Times reports from the front lines of the rational backlash against the theocrats in Washington:
And this year, one issue incenses them above all others: restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.
It is a matter of concern across the country, even across parties. But for many engineers and their ilk, restriction of stem cell research is what gay marriage is to conservative Christians, a phenomenon so counter to their basic values that they cannot vote for any candidate who supports it. After all, for Bellevue’s professionals, science is not only a means of creating wealth but also an idealistic pursuit, the most promising way they know of improving the human condition.
“For hundreds of years, science has had its own jurisprudence over the truth. It’s called peer review, and it works pretty well,” said Mr. Mattison, whose father had Alzheimer’s and his uncle Parkinson’s disease. “I’m outraged that a mere politician would interpret science for me.”
Today's Washington Post reports that the Interior Department has repeatedly rejected the advice of its own scientists on protecting plant and animal species:
A senior Bush political appointee at the Interior Department has rejected staff scientists' recommendations to protect imperiled animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act at least six times in the past three years, documents show.
In addition, staff complaints that their scientific findings were frequently overruled or disparaged at the behest of landowners or industry have led the agency's inspector general to look into the role of Julie MacDonald, who has been deputy assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks since 2004, in decisions on protecting endangered species.
The documents show that MacDonald has repeatedly refused to go along with staff reports concluding that species such as the white-tailed prairie dog and the Gunnison sage grouse are at risk of extinction. Career officials and scientists urged the department to identify the species as either threatened or endangered.
Despite the religious right's talk about the faith of our founding fathers, the framers of our system of government were also profoundly rational in their thinking. The Declaration of Independence opens with an empirical statement:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another...
As Gary Wills describes it in his book, Inventing America, the word "necessary" is meant empirically. The argument for independence is not faith-based, but evidence-based:
To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
Wills points out that in referring to truths as "self-evident," Thomas Jefferson borrowed a concept found not in scripture, but in the works of the enlightenment philosophers Thomas Locke and Thomas Reid.
Wills demonstrates his customary thoroughness in detailing the attempted overthrow of reason in the federal government in the New York Review of Books:
Bush promised his evangelical followers faith-based social services, which he called "compassionate conservatism." He went beyond that to give them a faith-based war, faith-based law enforcement, faith-based education, faith-based medicine, and faith-based science. He could deliver on his promises because he stocked the agencies handling all these problems, in large degree, with born-again Christians of his own variety.
What is different about Bush is not his faith, but his intent to subject reason to faith:
During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush said that "the jury is still out" on the merits of Darwinism. That is true only if the jury is not made up of reputable scientists. Bush meant to place religious figures on the jury, to decide a scientific question.
Wills cites one example of faith shoving science to the side:
Since President Bush advocates the teaching of intelligent design, it is not surprising that in his administration, the National Park Service would authorize the sale of a book at the Grand Canyon claiming that the canyon was formed by Noah's Flood.
Earlier this year, I highlighted this stirring defense of science presented by Wes Clark:
We were pragmatists by nature...Ben Franklin was our first, one of our first notable scientists, taming lightning in a bottle brought down from the sky, understanding for the first time, proving that lightning was this magical thing called electricity.
Throughout our national history, we have seen a creative tension between faith and science. For instance, devotion to God's creation can be informed by sound science, as happened when more than 100 evangelical leaders met earlier this year to discuss global warming.
But what Wills calls "faith-based science" threatens to upset this essential balance, and undermine the rational underpinnings of our society. An open society cannot thrive if we allow politicians to interpret science on our behalf.

There is one way to restore the rightful place of rational inquiry in our society and our national government, and that is to vote Democratic.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Former House Majority Leader on his Party's Failures

I've been too busy today doing politics to spend much time writing about politics. So instead, I'll let former Republican House majority leader Dick Armey describe how his party has lost its bearings in today's Washington Post:
Now spending is out of control. Rather than rolling back government, we have a new $1.2 trillion Medicare prescription drug benefit, and non-defense discretionary spending is growing twice as fast as it had in the Clinton administration. Meanwhile, Social Security is collapsing while rogue nations are going nuclear and the Middle East is more combustible than ever. Yet Republican lawmakers have taken up such issues as flag burning, Terri Schiavo and same-sex marriage.
They're fooling only themselves.
A big reason the GOP will lose seats in Congress next week is that they have failed at governing. Despite the rantings of the most doctrinaire conservatives who imagine that managing the federal government as somehow beneath them, most voters want those they elect to high office to actually govern the country.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Irrationality and the Republican Congress

Those who believe that the election is about accountability will be glad to know that at least one GOP congressman is willing to allocate responsibility for the ballooning national debt. As the Times Union reports, Rep. John Sweeney (NY-20) has fingered the culprit behind the budget deficits of the last five years, and his identity might surprise you:
"The deficit is actually a result of a recession that began in his [Clinton's] administration," he contended. "We are exponentially paying down the deficit in an accelerated time frame."
For those keeping score, Rep. Sweeney managed to pack two whoppers into just 25 words. The first assertion is easily refuted; the proximate causes of the deficit are the the tax cuts and the spending increases put in place by Bush and the GOP-controlled Congress.
As for the second assertion, one hardly knows where to start. It isn't possible to pay down the deficit, which is an annual phenomenon. Each year the government either posts a deficit or a surplus; an assertion that the deficit is being paid down, exponentially or otherwise, in any time frame you choose, is nonsensical. It is possible to pay down the national debt, but that requires budget surpluses, as happened in the late 1990s.
I know this drives Republicans crazy, but as Ronald Reagan once said, facts are stubborn things. Under President Clinton, the federal government posted four consecutive budget surpluses and reduced the national debt. Under President Bush, the federal government has posted nothing but deficits, adding to the national debt.
As Josh Marshall points out, Rep. Sweeney's lack of critical thought is matched only by his disdain for consistency:
Rep. John Sweeney (R), 6/8/06: "Zarqawi represents the insidious forces that we are fighting in the War on Terror. This is a critical example of why we must stay the course and finish this mission."
Rep. John Sweeney (R), 10/18/06 : "I think that the strategy of 'staying the course' is not a strategy at all. It doesn't work. There are going to have to be adjustments in any war if that is the case."
Why take the trouble to describe John Sweeney's shortcomings in the area of critical thinking? Because it's this kind of thinking that has gotten us into the current mess. If you think, Dick Cheney notwithstanding, that deficits do matter, then the only way to restore rational thinking to national policy is to return Congress to Democratic control.
There is among some a lingering hope that the presence of a few moderates like Mike Castle in the Republican caucus will somehow serve to counterbalance the irrationality of those in charge, but this hope has not been vindicated by events.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Global Warming Arguments to Convince the Skeptics

For those who want to better answer those lingering arguments on global warming, Gristmill offers this index to a series of blog posts on the subject:
Below is a complete listing of the articles in "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic," a series by Coby Beck containing responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming. There are four separate taxonomies; arguments are divided by:
  • Stages of Denial,
  • Scientific Topics,
  • Types of Argument, and
  • Levels of Sophistication.
As former global warming skeptic Michael Shermer wrote, "Data trump politics."
This series has all the data you'll need to convince, or at least annoy, the most recalcitrant skeptic.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Federal Deficit Obfuscation Act

Voodoo economics, meet voodoo accounting.
Dick Cheney may think that "deficits don't matter," but Bush and the Republicans in Congress seem to be a little sensitive on this point. As CFO reports, an obscure provision in the so-called Deficit Reduction Act could more precisely be described as deficit obfuscation:
At the end of last month, the federal government played its own version of "pretend you're not home when bill collectors call." For nine days, from September 22 to 30, the government put a hold on Medicare payments to health-care providers. The payments resumed this month, with no interest or penalties added. Why? Because October is the start of the 2007 fiscal year.
Finance executives will recognize the blackout as a game of "shift the expenses." The payment holiday is a simple accounting gimmick to lower the federal deficit, or to at least appear to lower it. The hold shifted $5.2 billion in expenses into the 2007 fiscal year.
Who's behind the charade? Congress. It legislated the hold as part of the Deficit Reduction Act, signed into law in February by President Bush.
A little explanation may be in order. If a corporation (or state or local government) neglects to pay its bills at the end of the fiscal year, it can't claim to have improved its financial position. That's because they all report their results using accrual accounting, which means that if a corporation incurs an expense in September, it can't just ignore the bill and make it go away. The corporation has to report that expense whether or not it actually pay the bill before the end of the month.
I would hesitate to compare this to Enron or WorldCom, because their accounting trickery took some imagination. All this little gimmick required is the hope that no one would notice.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Scott Adams Finds his Voice

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame lost his voice 18 months ago to a malady called Spasmodic Dysphonia. Yesterday, he announced on his blog that he had regained his voice, using rhyming speech to reconnect the neural wiring between his brain and his vocal cords:
The day before yesterday, while helping on a homework assignment, I noticed I could speak perfectly in rhyme. Rhyme was a context I hadn’t considered. A poem isn’t singing and it isn’t regular talking. But for some reason the context is just different enough from normal speech that my brain handled it fine.
Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.
Jack jumped over the candlestick.
I repeated it dozens of times, partly because I could. It was effortless, even though it was similar to regular speech. I enjoyed repeating it, hearing the sound of my own voice working almost flawlessly. I longed for that sound, and the memory of normal speech. Perhaps the rhyme took me back to my own childhood too. Or maybe it’s just plain catchy. I enjoyed repeating it more than I should have. Then something happened.
My brain remapped.
My speech returned.
Not 100%, but close, like a car starting up on a cold winter night. And so I talked that night. A lot. And all the next day. A few times I felt my voice slipping away, so I repeated the nursery rhyme and tuned it back in. By the following night my voice was almost completely normal.
When I say my brain remapped, that’s the best description I have. During the worst of my voice problems, I would know in advance that I couldn’t get a word out. It was if I could feel the lack of connection between my brain and my vocal cords. But suddenly, yesterday, I felt the connection again. It wasn’t just being able to speak, it was KNOWING how. The knowing returned.
It's a fascinating and moving story from a guy who thrives on expressing the cycnicism of the cubical masses.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Vote Democratic to End Voodoo Economics

In today's policy overview, we look at the question of whether we should be worried about recent federal budget deficits. Dick Cheney doesn't think so, and was quoted as saying so on page 297 of Ron Susskind's The Price of Loyalty:
"Reagan proved deficits don't matter."
Given recent history, I can understand why Republicans would wish that it were so. The record budget surpluses created under Bill Clinton have yielded to record budget deficits under George W. Bush. This chart, taken from figures from the Office of Management and Budget, lays out the ugly truth:
When prompted, Republicans offer three responses to this uncomfortable truth:
1. Circumstances beyond the federal government's control made the surplus look good under Clinton, and required that Bush return to deficit spending.
Look carefully at the slopes of the curves in the years 2001 to 2004: Revenues declined sharply, while expenditures climbed just as sharply. The federal deficits under George W. Bush didn't just happen; they were created by the policy decisions he put forward and the Republican-led Congress eagerly adopted.
2. That old chestnut: deficits pay for themselves.
Actually, they don't. But don't take my word on this, pay attention to this study released last winter by the Congressional Budget Office:
Under various assumptions, the supply-side economic effects of the tax cut are estimated to offset between 1 percent and 22 percent of that revenue loss over the first five years.
For those unschooled in economic analysis, that means that the tax cuts in question would result in a revenue drop of 78 to 99 percent.
3. Deficits don't matter.
Words almost fail me. Fortunately they haven't failed Robert Rubin,
whom I quoted on the subject last year:
Virtually all mainstream economists agree that, over time, sustained deficits crowd out private investment, increase interest rates, and reduce productivity and economic growth. But, far more dangerously, if markets here and abroad begin to fear long-term fiscal disarray and our related trade imbalances, those markets could then demand sharply higher interest rates for providing long-term debt capital and could put abrupt and sharp downward pressure on the dollar.
Ronald Reagan once said, "Facts are stubborn things." The facts of recent history speak volumes, and lead us to the inescapable conclusion: The party of fiscal responsibility -- the only party to have produced sustained budget surpluses in our lifetime -- is the Democratic Party.
Unless you somehow believe, despite the evidence, that deficits don't matter, you cannot avoid the fiscal failure of our federal government.
And for those accept the truth that deficits do matter, there is only one course of action that would restore responsibility to our national government; and that is to vote for the Democratic Party -- the only party that has shown itself capable of balancing our federal budget.
This is the second part in a series on the issues in this election. And for those anxious for me to get to the point and endorse particular candidates, please be patient. Next week, I will present my endorsements, building on this week's policy review.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Mike and Christine

Politics in late October tends to degenerate into a grind of bad campaign advertising, bad rhetoric and bad food. Then, as if to remind us all that politics should at least sometimes be fun, Mike of Down With Absolutes writes that he has been asked to speak at Christine O'Donnell's announcement:
She has asked me to “make a statement” at tomorrow’s event. I think I will. I don’t know what I’ll say, but I’m sure it will be quite complementary of my favorite social conservative. I hope she doesn’t mind, but I will not be putting on a monkey suit.
Is your head spinning? His seems to be, though he has kept enough of his wits to remember to not actually endorse her:
Note: I will NOT be endorsing her (like I won’t be endorsing anyone…especially in this awful race). I will just be speaking on the effects of her write-in candidacy and how I support her right to run as a write-in candidate. Who knows? I may piss myself from fear and decide not to speak at all…
For the most part, I have little interest in fringe candidates, but this is too good to be true. Who knew that politics could be so -- spontaneous? You go, Mike.

Vote Democratic to Right the Ship of State

With the election only 15 days away, I offer the first of several posts making the case for voting Democratic, starting with a review of our sadly weakened position in the world.
The most fundamental issue in this campaign is George W. Bush's disasterous misdaventure in Iraq. It has been 1,271 days since Bush pranced triumphantly in his flightsuit underneath a banner that read, "Mission Accomplished." Today, our troops find themselves caught in bloody sectarian conflict that can hardly be described as a foreign policy accomplishment, and has little to do with our reasons for going into Iraq in the first place. The three principle reasons we were given for going into Iraq have turned out to be at best, delusional, and at worst lies:
1. Iraq was aiding and abetting al Qaeda. That turned out not to be the case.
2. Iraq's WMDs posed a threat to our security. That turned out not to be the case.
3. By toppling Saddam Hussein, we would unleash forces of freedom and democracy that would transform the region. That turned out not to be the case.
Unfortunately, the Iraq debacle has affected out ability to act in our interest elsewhere. Our military is bogged down in a no-win conflict, from which it is not expected to be extricated for several years. Don't think our adversaries in the world haven't noticed that. Instead of strengthening our hand in the Middle East, our presence in Iraq serves to advertise our weakness in the region and around the world. It is hard to conclude that the world is safer from the military threats posed by Iran and North Korea since Bush identified them as part of the "Axis of Evil" in January 2002. Today in the Washington Post, Sebastian Mallaby provides a depressing overview of our diminished standing in the world:

It's not exactly morning in America.
In Iraq, things get ever uglier, and the old remedy of extra troops now seems tragically futile. The Bush team has recently tried putting thousands of additional soldiers into Baghdad, and the result after two months is that violence there has increased.
Iraq is often seen as a special Rumsfeldian screw-up. But in Afghanistan, the Bush team quickly handed off to a model pro-Western leader backed by a broad NATO coalition. And what are the results there? The government is wobbling, warlords run drugs and the pro-al-Qaeda Taliban have 4,000 to 5,000 active fighters in the country.
All but forgotten in this mess has been the embarrassing fact that Osama bin Laden, he who attacked us 1,838 days ago, remains at large, popping up in the occasional home movie and the inevitable Republican advertising meant to scare us into returning them to power. Is fear of and anger towards bin Laden enough to keep Bush and his apologists in power? Will you feel safer if we give these screw-ups another two years of cluenessness when it comes to Public Enemy Number 1? Fixing this mess begins with restoring accountability and honest debate to the conduct of foreign policy. Bush and the ideologues he entrusted with our national security used every trick at their disposal to quash any serious debate on Iraq, and the subsequent results haven't diminished their eagerness to brand dissent as unpatriotic, using epithets like "Defeatocrats" and "cut-and-run" to scare voters into keeping them in power.
I don't know how to mend the mess we're in, but others who are experienced in foreign policy have given the matter considerable thought. I have highlighted two such voices on foreign policy, Joe Biden and retired general Wes Clark.
Biden and Leslie Gelb have authored an alternative plan for Iraq:
The Biden-Gelb plan would:
1. Keep Iraq together by giving its major groups breathing room in their own regions. A central government would be left in charge of common interests like defending the borders and distributing oil revenues.
2. Secure the support of the Sunnis -- who have no oil -- by guaranteeing them a proportionate share of oil revenue.
3. Increase, not end, reconstruction assistance but insist that the oil-rich Arab Gulf states fund it and tie it to the creation of a massive jobs program and to the protection of minority rights.
4. Hold an international conference to enlist the support of Iraq's neighbors and create a Contact Group to enforce regional commitments.
5. Begin the phased redeployment of U.S. forces this year and withdraw most of them by the end of 2007, with a small follow-on force to keep the neighbors honest and to strike any concentration of terrorists.
Would it work? I can't judge. But I do think it's a meaningful contribution to a discussion on how to repair the mess we're in. One can only wish we could have had such a debate about going in as we are about getting out. As for Afghanistan, General Clark recently offered this gloomy assessment in Newsweek's international edition:
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, U.S. forces achieved a rapid, high-tech victory over Afghanistan's terrorist-supporting Taliban government. Five years later, the Taliban is back. But this is a different fight. Not only Afghanistan but NATO itself is at risk.
It cannot be said that Democrats don't have any alternatives to Bush's failing policies. Rather it appears, as in this Washington Post story, that it is the Bush administration that lacks imagination on what to do next:
President Bush met with his top advisers and military commanders on Iraq yesterday in a White House session that, senior officials said, weighed options for forging a way forward amid the surging violence but did not contemplate any major shifts in strategy.
The meeting, which the White House called the third in a series Bush has held with this group to consult on the war, did not consider any significant policy changes, a senior official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss private meetings. And in his Saturday radio address, Bush offered no indications on any major shift, even as he acknowledged the increasing violence in Iraq.
As for those who criticize Democrats, including Delaware's senators for their support of Bush's authority to use force in Iraq, I have this reply: There are many Americans who lined up, some reluctantly, behind our commander-in-chief. Many now regret their votes and speak of correcting course. Even Tom Carper, one of the more conservative Democrats in the Senate, has called for a change of course, as in this statement, dated June 21, 2006, in support of an amendment to a defense appropirations measure:
“The president’s policy of ‘stay the course’ isn’t working for our troops and it’s not working for the Iraqis. Insurgent violence is on the upswing, and our efforts to help rebuild Iraq and increase oil production are at a standstill. It’s time for a new direction in Iraq.”
Whether or not you think Carper has been sharp enough in his criticism of Bush, you cannot excape the conclusion that, if Democrats regain control of the House and perhaps the Senate, then Congress will challenge the policies that led us into this debacle. Others, mostly Republicans, still refuse to publicly admit any error of judgement, and go so far as to attack as unpatriotic those who dare to disagree.
The actions and rhetoric of the Democrats and Republicans leave little question as to how to vote: If you wish to maintain this decline in our country's national security, vote to keep the current Republican leadership in power. If you want to change the disasterous course set by George Bush and the Republicans in Congress, vote Democratic.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Logic Fails

It took a couple of readings before this piece by Jamison Foser at Media Matters really sunk in:
If you believe what you hear from prominent conservatives and political reporters, the following things are true:
1) Anytime terrorism is in the news, it plays to the political and electoral benefit of the Republicans.
2) Terrorists who are trying to destroy America are trying to help elect Democrats because they think Democrats are weak. The terrorists are doing so by increasing violence in Iraq and otherwise drawing attention to their existence, as the Osama bin Laden videotape released shortly before the 2004 election.
Those two things are obviously incompatible. The latter is based on the premise that increased news of terrorism benefits Democrats; the former is an explicit statement of the opposite.
I don't expect such a deconstruction of the Republican's faulty logic to do much to convince voters. But I do think that the message of fear is losing its impact. People just aren't buying it anymore, not because of any careful logical analysis, but because of the immensity of the gap between Bush's rhetoric and the reality.
Osama bin Laden attacked us 5 years, 1 month and 11 days ago. Since then, he's only been sighted in occasional home movies and in GOP attack ads. You don't think people haven't noticed he's still at large?
We've been bogged down in Iraq since early 2003. We have failed to find any WMDs, failed to identify any connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and failed to transform the Middle East into a garden of democracy and freedom. Instead, we're caught in a bloody sectarian civil war that has nothing to do with our reasons for going in. You don't think people haven't noticed that our government no clue as to how to extract ourselves from this mess?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Jan Ting on Competition between Illegal Aliens and Global Automakers

It's natural for a candidate like Jan Ting, who is running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican, to use the events of the day to underscore his campaign message. But does Jan Ting really think that illegal immigration has anything to do with the fate of the Chrysler plant? The News Journal reports that he somehow does:
He [Ting] also said that the possible shutdown of the plant “plugs into illegal immigration,” one of his top campaign themes.
“Chrysler, in the global economy, is in competition with illegal aliens,” Ting said.
Is he serious?
Illegal immigrants are generally thought to occupy the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. Automobile factories require hundreds of millions of dollars in capital investment.
The kindest explanation for such a preposterous statement is that Ting is suffering from late campaign season burn-out.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Curt Weldon and the Shadowy World of Opposition Research

Curt Weldon has cast a wide net when it comes to identifying the conspirators who are out to get him. As the Delaware County Times reports, at least part of Weldon's complaint that his opponent was out to get him came from a credible sounding source:
Weldon told reporters Wednesday that an ex-FBI agent heard that Democrat Joseph Sestak’s campaign had inside information about the Justice Department investigation -- and when it would be leaked to the press.
"I’m telling you a retired FBI agent, whom I have named, came to me and said that a (Sestak) campaign worker told him three weeks ago that this was going to happen," he said.
While Weldon identified his source as Gregory Auld, he failed to mention that Auld has been on the campaign’s payroll since May.
And where did the former G-man uncovered this startling intelligence? Has he been meeting shadowy informants in parking garages? No, he unmasked the conspiracy to get Curt Weldon by hanging out at the gym:
[Auld] said he had heard it from another man who frequently wore a Sestak shirt said three weeks ago that "something big was going to come down on Weldon" last weekend.
The intrepid gumshoe promptly followed up by calling this mystery informant -- three weeks later:
Auld, of Drexel Hill, said he spoke to the Sestak supporter Tuesday, but "he never said they knew" about the investigation before it hit the newspapers.
Auld acknowledged his firm had a six-month contract with the Weldon campaign that runs through Election Day. He said pursuing the lead at the gym "probably was part of my responsibility" as a paid opposition researcher.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Osama bin Laden Spotted!

Contrary to my previous post, Osama bin Laden has been spotted. Josh Marshall sighted him in this Web ad from the Republican National Committee:The point of the ad is to portray Democrats as soft on terror. That's right, if we elect Democrats, who knows what bin Laden might get away with.
some folks just knew he'd turn up in October.

Still at Large

The trial of Saddam Hussein started one year ago today. This other guy is still at large.
It has been 5 years, 1 month and 8 days since Osama bin Laden attacked the U.S., and our government has no clue as to where he might be.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Rick Santorum Confuses the Middle East with Middle Earth

Frodo lives, and he's advising Rick Santorum on national security.
When U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-Gondor) turns to his bookshelf to deepen his understanding of foreign policy,
he reaches for the fantasy section, according to the Herald-Standard in Uniontown:
"As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else," Santorum said, describing the tool the evil Lord Sauron used in search of the magical ring that would consolidate his power over Middle-earth.
"It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S.," he continued. "You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States."
Bob Casey's campaign had the right response:
"You have to really question the judgment of a U.S. Senator who compares the war in Iraq to a fantasy book," said Casey spokesman Larry Smar.
Santorum's taste for fantasy isn't confined to his bedtime reading:
Santorum insisted the U.S. needed to take out Saddam Hussein because he "by all accounts had weapons of mass destruction..."

Momentum and Field Position

Political momentum is hard to define, though I know it when I see it. Instead let me offer a couple of football metaphors: field position and takeaways.
In terms of field position, most of the seats considered in play by knowledgeable observers are held by Republicans. Only one Democratic Senate seat is in play, that of Bob Menendez in New Jersey. In contrast, Democrats are likely to pick up Republican seats in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Montana.
You thought Ohio was more of a toss-up? So did I. But the
New York Times reports that Sherrod Brown is now clearly ahead of incumbent Mike DeWine:
The Democratic candidates for governor and Senate hold commanding double-digit leads over their Republican opponents in the poll, and respondents said they intended to vote for the Democratic candidate for the House in their district by 50 percent to 32 percent.
As for CQPolitics.com, this is another race that it has changed to Leans Democratic:
In DeWine’s case, a one-two punch of independent polls showed his Democratic challenger, seven-term Rep. Sherrod Brown, leading by significant margins — 7 percentage points in one survey and 12 in the other.
This is a breakthrough for Brown, who is running on a liberal-leaning but populist economic platform and his strong opposition to President Bush’s policies on the war in Iraq. Though Brown has led in most polls since the summer, his leads previously tended to be within the statistical margin of error.
And speaking of moving the ball deep into the opponent's territory, in Montana Jon Tester is favored to win against the hapless, and scandal tainted, Conrad Burns. Tester, who was once considered a long shot, exemplifies the progress Democrats have made as a national party.
Consider: Tester is leading in Montana even though he opposes the Patriot Act, and isn't afraid to say so, as in this TV ad posted over at DailyKos, that asks of Burns, "Why do you think we're the enemy? Where's Osama bin Laden? And when did you get so out of touch with Montana?"
Turning to the House, Larry Sabato's
Crystal Ball rates 16 races in the Toss-Up category; not one is held by a Democrat. He also has 11 GOP seats in his Leans Democratic category. Sabato's analysis, released October 12, reveals the extent to which Democrats are playing on the Republican end of the field:
In fact, to reflect just how precipitously many GOP-held seats have drifted from safe harbor, we have had to jettison not only the "Dirty Thirty" but now the "Ferocious Forty" as well. In their place, meet the "Ferocious FIFTY" theaters of battle, 42 of which are currently held by Republicans.
Look for his next analysis to shift even more sharply in the Democrat's favor.
I suggest a second metaphor, takeways, to describe those Republican seats that are simply being fumbled away. As Sabato wrote back on October 5, "
this year, the GOP has been giving away seats in Congress as if they were extra pairs of upper-deck Washington Nationals tickets." Tom DeLay's district in Texas, Mark Foley's Florida district, Tom Reynolds' New York district -- none of which were thought to be in play at the beginning of the year -- are likely to change hands due to scandals.
With Democrats pulling ahead in the close races, and favored to win seats they have no business even contesting in a normal year, there is little question that we see a big shift coming in Congress.

Curt Weldon and the Prevailing Political Winds

It was just yesterday that I noted that CQPolitics.com had downgraded Weldon's chances to Leans Democratic from No Clear Favorite. Well the pixels were barely dry on that post, when I read that Weldon has been downgraded again:
Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Curt Weldon — already facing a difficult re-election contest in the state’s politically competitive, if not slightly Democratic, 7th District — must now grapple with the political fallout from a federal investigation into whether he improperly steered federal contracts to a lobbying business that his daughter co-owns.
Though Weldon has strongly denied the allegations, which he attributes to political motivations, the flurry of negative publicity has prompted CQPolitics.com is changing its rating on the Pennsylvania 7 race to Leans Democratic from No Clear Favorite.
A week ago, Weldon was seen as being in a tight race with challenger Joe Sestak. Today, he's seen as sharply behind with little chance of catching up. How did that happen?
Stories involving cozy ties between lobbyist and GOP lawmakers have been circulating all year. The Mark Foley scandal has been less about his conduct (he promptly quit when the story broke), than it has about the GOP leadership's failure to act in response to his unsavory behavior.
Curt Weldon's story calls his supposed expertise, and the supposed GOP political advantage, in foreign policy sharply into question. It doesn't help that he has some rather esoteric views of foreign affairs, such as his conviction that degraded chemical munitions from before the first Gulf War represents confirmation of Iraqi WMDs. Given that he's being challenged by a retired admiral, Weldon no longer enjoys the advantage of seeming stronger on national security.
Investigations into questionable lobbying makes for good headlines. Toss in a Russian energy tycoon and a Serbian businessman with ties to Slobodan Milosevic, and you've got a story that writes itself, as in this Washington Post piece:
Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade were surprised three years ago to be invited to a luncheon in honor of visiting Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), hosted by Bogoljub Karic, a wealthy Serbian businessman who had been barred from visiting or trading with the United States because of his close ties to former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.
Weldon "was visiting solely because of Karic," whom he was trying to get off the U.S. blacklist, a former senior embassy official familiar with the visit concluded. "It seemed odd" at the time, because Karic had no obvious tie to Weldon's district outside Philadelphia, and Weldon should have known the embassy was shunning contacts with him, the official said.
What the embassy apparently did not know is that the Karic family that year signed a contract with Weldon's daughter, Karen, and a business partner that called for monthly payments of $20,000 for "management, government and public relations," according to a copy of the March 2003 contract. In all, the family paid Karen Weldon's firm $133,858 that year for efforts she undertook to set up a foundation for it.
So what does Weldon's sudden fall tell us about the national political winds? Usually stories about corruption require time to sink in, but with tales of Republican corruption saturating the media, voters seem disinclined to give GOP candidates the benefit of the doubt.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Curt Weldon and the "Culture of Corruption"

The unfolding story about the FBI investigation involving Congressman Curt Weldon's daughter illustrates the dynamics of corruption as a campaign issue in the upcoming election.
While Democrats haven't been able to paint the entire GOP with the "culture of corruption" brush, in specific cases the tables have turned sharply in Montana, where Conrad Burns is expected to lose to Jon Tester, in the Texas district of Tom DeLay, in the Florida district where Mark Foley remains on the ballot and in the New York district of Tom Reynolds, whose poll numbers dropped precipitously when his complicity in keeping Foley's behavior was brought to light.
And now it's Curt Weldon's turn. CQPolitics.com has downgraded Weldon's chances of surviving the election:
CQPolitics.com is changing its rating on the Pennsylvania 7 race to Leans Democratic from No Clear Favorite.
That change from the tossup category means CQPolitics.com now views Weldon as at least a slight underdog to Democratic challenger Joe Sestak, a retired Navy vice admiral who was already running a vigorous campaign to deny Weldon an 11th House term in a district just outside Philadelphia.
A poll from Constituent Dynamics conducted a week ago demonstrates how the ground had already shifted against Weldon; it shows his challenger, Joe Sestak, leading 52% to 44%. Given the news of the last few days, it will be hard for Weldon to keep his seat in a district that voted 53% for Kerry in 2004.
The generalized stink of corruption hasn't affected all GOP candidates equally, but when a specific congressman gets tagged, the effect can be sudden and sharp. I expect upcoming polls to show further erosion in Weldon's support.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The News Journal and the Bloggers

Today's News Journal editorials included this item about how anonymous bloggers could find themselves on the receiving end of libel suits, citing a Florida case:
The free-for-all environment of Internet postings is evolving legally. It's likely to be only a matter of time before bloggers are no longer shielded by anonymity and are accountable for writings that unjustly damage their targets' reputations.
The (unsigned) editorial left me wondering how many of the editorial board members actually read Delaware's bloggers, the best of whom do not hide behind anonymity.
I know that the news side of the operation (the two sides are seperate and ever shall be) reads the blogs. I have been told that the paper's political reporters have been given a short list of blogs to read so as to not be caught flat-footed. I don't have the list, but you can probably pick them out from among the links on the right. And no, they're not anonymous.
Dana of Delaware Watch isn't. Neither is Jason of Delawareliberal, Hube of Colossus of Rhodey, Dave of First State Politics, Mike of Down With Absolutes, Paul of Gazizza nor Nancy of The Delaware Way. I read these and quite a few other other Delaware blogs regularly.
And when I feel a headache coming on from all that public discourse (or shall I say discord), I head on over to Mike's Musings, where yesterday he asked the burning question, Did You Know That There is a Norwegian Alternative Rock Band Named "Delaware?"
No, but somehow I feel better with that knowledge. I wonder, how long it will take Spark to notice?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Slate, TommyWonk, the Grameen Bank and the Nobel Peace Prize

I was wondering whether anyone had taken notice of Nobel Peace Prize award to Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank. After all, microfinance is a obscure topic even among the wonkiest of bloggers. How obscure? When Michael Weiss at Slate marked this year's Peace Prize, he had to reach down to this humble blog to find someone who had noticed the award and its significance:
Delaware consultant Tom Noyes at Tommywonk writes approvingly of Yunus' award: "Capitalism without capital means nothing to the poor. The Grameen Bank has created more capitalists than any other institution on earth."
For a blogger of modest ambitions like me, any attention at all is welcome -- especially when it comes for taking notice of an institution that has changed as many lives as has the Grameen Bank.
By the way, it's worth checking out the other, even wonkier blogs cited: Genevieve's Tales of Pillage, Plunder and other Fun Stuff and The Discomfort Zone focus on global development issues. Miriam at Pearls of Iraq identifies her occupation as Peacebuilder. I'm honored to be mentioned in their company.
Thanks Slate.

Curt Weldon's Foreign Relations

The Philadelphia Inquirer has picked up on the story of a federal investigation into the lobbying activities of Congressman Curt Weldon's daughter:
The investigation, based in Washington, has progressed beyond the preliminary stages, people familiar with the case told The Inquirer on Friday. McClatchy Newspapers broke the story.
FBI spokeswoman Deborah Weierman in Washington declined comment. Weldon's lawyer in Washington, William B. Canfield III, could not be reached at work, at home or by e-mail last night.
Charles Sexton, a political ally of the congressman and a business partner of his daughter, said the timing of the leaks is "awful strange." "No one has contacted me," he said. "People can look at us all day long. There is no wrongdoing." Sexton and Karen Weldon, 32, formed a public relations firm, Solutions North America, in 2002, and won $1 million in contracts from two Russian energy firms and a Serbian family with ties to Slobodan Milosevic.
That business dealing was first reported in 2004 by the Los Angeles Times. Sources said the FBI and Justice Department investigation was based on the Times story.
The Inquirer reported in 2004 that Weldon had lobbied federal officials on behalf of one of those firms, Itera, a huge and controversial Russian natural gas company. Weldon also complained to Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, about Itera's treatment by the federal U.S. Trade and Development Agency.
Itera paid $500,000 to Karen Weldon and Sexton's firm. The contract was signed in Sept. 30, 2002, six days after the congressman helped arrange a dinner at the Library of Congress to honor Itera and Igor Makarov, the firm's chief executive officer.
The story touches on two themes that could resonate with voters: First, it raises the question of cozy relationships with lobbyists. While Democrats haven't been able to tar the entire GOP as being in bed with lobbyists, ethical questions are hurting Republican incumbents who have been seen as closer to K Street than Main Street.
Second, it raises questions about Curt Weldon's judgement when it comes to national security. Close relations with pals of Slobodan Milosevic and Russian energy tycoons doesn't play well back home, especially when your views on foreign affairs are being questioned as, shall we say, esoteric.
Earlier this year, Weldon seized on the existence of degraded chemical weapons, thought to be buried since before the first Gulf War, as proof of the claims that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs. He was so convinced of the strategic importance of these moldering munitions, that he wanted to lead the excavation himself, as Tom Ferrick wrote in the Inquirer:
It's a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie - or an Indiana Jones parody:
A caravan of jeeps and heavy equipment crawls across the Iraqi desert, headed for a secret location on the banks of the Euphrates River.
Their mission: to dig 25 feet down into the riverbed and unearth concrete bunkers filled with chemical weapons produced by Saddam Hussein's regime and hidden before the outbreak of the Iraq war in 2003.
And who's that, dressed in a safari jacket and a pith helmet, supervising the dig?
None other than our own U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon (R., Pa.), leading a secret mission to unearth the Holy Grail of the war: the weapons of mass destruction that have eluded every other U.S. search team since our troops invaded three years ago.
Weldon has been running neck and neck with his challenger Joe Sestak. We'll see if this story changes things.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Conservative Environmentalist in Sussex County

A. Judson Bennett is a longtime conservative Republican from Lewes. His feature, Jud’s Rant, is a regular fixture at First State Politics. Yesterday in a special posting, Bennett writes of how he came to call himself an environmentalist:
Although, I am for the most part a conservative Republican and capitalist, I have become through a metamorphosis of sorts, a dedicated environmentalist and managed growth proponent. My research on the issues, my involvement in politics, and my natural history as a Sussex Countian have indeed convinced me that I am now on the right path.
Because of my past relationships and employment with a developer, being a former member of the Positive Growth Alliance (PGA), having substantial involvement with other related concerns, and indeed an earlier ambivalence in finding my way, my opponents from the PGA will tell you I am a fraud and insincere.
Sussex County's inland bays are deteriorating from the effects of what is call nutrient loading. Nitrogen and phosphorous from farming and lawn fertilizers running off into the bays is wreaking havoc on the sensitive ecosystem of southern Delaware, a problem exacerbated by rapid development.
Bennett describes how the State Senate intervened to keep DNREC from promulgating regulations requiring a 100 foot riparian buffer of unpaved, undeveloped land to filter out these nutrients before they reach the bays. The Senate voted to reduce the buffers to 50 feet. Bennett slams the Senate's action, citing research conducted by the Center for the Inland Bays that confirms the rationale for establishing a 100 foot buffer:
To be specific, a 3 week test was conducted at Hopkins Prong which runs into Herring Creek and at Dirickson Creek which runs into the Little Assawoman Bay. The results were very similar to that which has been proven in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed time and time again where they require 300 foot buffers! At Hopkins Prong, it was found that a 50 foot buffer would only filter annually 7.90 pounds of nitrogen and only a measly 0.6 pounds of phosphorous. However, the same study showed without a doubt that a 100 foot buffer would filter out annually 769 pounds of nitrogen and 47.5 pounds of phosphorous! Quite a difference huh???
At Dirickson Creek in the south where the land is more flat the results were even more startling: It was determined by the same test that a 50 foot buffer would annually only filter out 114.5 pounds of nitrogen and only 8.2 pounds of phosphorous. It was determined that a 100 foot buffer would remarkably filter out annually 5030 pounds of nitrogen and 310.4 pounds of phosphorus. This was all spelled out in the October 10th edition of the Cape Gazette newspaper on the front page. Is that enough scientific evidence for you folks we elected to represent us in Dover???
The entire piece is worth reading. And if you go to the research page of the Center for the Inland Bays, you can read about the study Bennett refers to.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank Win the Nobel Peace Prize

Thirty years ago, Muhammad Yunus, an economist from Bangladesh, established the Grameen Bank to provide microloans to help the poor go into business for themselves. The bank now has more than 6 million borrowers, 97 percent of whom are women.
Today Yunus and the bank he founded were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Here is the official citation:
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2006, divided into two equal parts, to Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank for their efforts to create economic and social development from below. Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Microcredit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights.
Muhammad Yunus has shown himself to be a leader who has managed to translate visions into practical action for the benefit of millions of people, not only in Bangladesh, but also in many other countries. Loans to poor people without any financial security had appeared to be an impossible idea. From modest beginnings three decades ago, Yunus has, first and foremost through Grameen Bank, developed microcredit into an ever more important instrument in the struggle against poverty. Grameen Bank has been a source of ideas and models for the many institutions in the field of micro-credit that have sprung up around the world.
Every single individual on earth has both the potential and the right to live a decent life. Across cultures and civilizations, Yunus and Grameen Bank have shown that even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development.
Microcredit has proved to be an important liberating force in societies where women in particular have to struggle against repressive social and economic conditions. Economic growth and political democracy can not achieve their full potential unless the female half of humanity participates on an equal footing with the male.
Yunus's long-term vision is to eliminate poverty in the world. That vision cannot be realized by means of microcredit alone. But Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank have shown that, in the continuing efforts to achieve it, micro-credit must play a major part.
Capitalism without capital means nothing to the poor. The Grameen Bank has created more capitalists than any other institution on earth.
Photo: Reuters/Rafiqur Rahman

Thursday, October 12, 2006

650 Economists Agree

George Bernard Shaw has been quoted as saying, "If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion." But yesterday Reuters reported that hundreds of economists agree that it's time to raise the minimum wage:
"We believe a modest increase in the minimum wage would improve the well-being of low-wage workers and would not have the adverse effects that critics have claimed," the group including renowned academics for top U.S. universities said in a statement disseminated by the Economic Policy Institute."
650 economists signed on to the statement, which is available here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"Success" and "Failure"

Josh Marshall sums it up nicely:
"Failure" = 1994-2002 -- Era of Clinton 'Agreed Framework': No plutonium production. All existing plutonium under international inspection. No bomb.
"Success" = 2002-2006 -- Bush Policy Era: Active plutonium production. No international inspections of plutonium stocks. Nuclear warhead detonated.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

On North Korea, Tough Talk and Failed Policies

Blame Clinton.
Three months ago,
Tony Snow said that the Clinton policy towards North Korea failed:
MR. SNOW: Well, this is not the Clinton administration policy. I understand what the Clinton administration wanted to do. They wanted to talk reason to the government of Pyongyang, and they engaged in bilateral conversations. And Bill Richardson went with flowers and chocolates, and he went with light-water nuclear reactors, and he went with promises of heavy oil, and a basketball signed by Michael Jordan, and many other inducements for the "Dear Leader" to try to agree not to develop nuclear weapons, and it failed. But there was, at least, a good-faith effort on the part of some very smart people to use that as an approach.
We've learned from that mistake. One reason not to go bilateral with the North Koreans is what we're seeing right now, which is that you need to have concerted pressure, especially from those who have very close and ongoing ties with the government of North Korea so that you can get results. So this is not a continuation of the Clinton program.
So Bush and his clueless blowhards declared that Clinton failed and that they "learned from that mistake."
What is this, foreign policy by talk radio sound bites? Is that the best our president's spokesman can offer on the failure to prevent the unthinkable from happening? Sarcastic comments about flowers and chocolates? Portray the Clinton team as a bunch of sissies? Is this how public diplomacy is conducted? Rush must love this stuff.
How can the spokesman for our commander-in-chief can say with a straight face that the Clinton policy failed? North Korea didn't test a bomb on Clinton's watch. The bomb exploded yesterday -- not six years ago.
The New York Times reports that UN Ambassador John Bolton continued the Bush program of diplomacy by snide comment:
Asked about former Secretary of State James A. Baker III’s recent comment that “it’s not appeasement to talk to your enemies,” Mr. Bolton said, “If they want to talk to us, all they have to do is buy a plane ticket to Beijing.”

The tough talk may go over great on talk radio and Fox News, but somehow I don't feel more secure.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Failure to Keep North Korea from Building an Atomic Bomb

Six years into Bush's tenure as commander-in-chief, North Korea has exploded a nuclear bomb. Not deterred by their failure to keep this Communist dictatorship from building the bomb, the Washington Post reports that administrative hardliners think this scary development presents an opportunity to really get tough:
Yet a number of senior U.S. officials have said privately that they would welcome a North Korean test, regarding it as a clarifying event that would forever end the debate within the Bush administration about whether to solve the problem through diplomacy or through tough actions designed to destabilize North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's grip on power.
What boggles the mind is that we had North Korea more or less under control when Bush took office in 2001:
When Bush became president in 2000, Pyongyang's reactor was frozen under a 1994 agreement with the United States. Clinton administration officials thought they were so close to a deal limiting North Korean missiles that in the days before he left office, Bill Clinton seriously considered making the first visit to Pyongyang by a U.S. president.
But conservatives had long been deeply skeptical of the deal freezing North Korea's program -- known as the Agreed Framework -- in part because it called for building two light-water nuclear reactors (largely funded by the Japanese and South Koreans). When then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell publicly said in early 2001 that he favored continuing Clinton's approach, Bush rebuked him.
Steve Clemons at The Washington Note asks the question of the hour:
How can America and its allies so badly fail to secure their political and security objectives -- which used to be, in part, to prevent North Korea from acquiring nukes and conducting tests?
Clemons returns to the story of how in 2003 John Bolton, then undersecretary of state, delivered a needlessly provocative speech on North Korea that he failed to clear with with his colleagues and superiors in the State Department:
[Aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell] Wilkerson reports that the July 31 Seoul speech that caused so much uproar and threatened the fragile beginning of the Six Party Talks with North Korea was NOT cleared by Armitage and Powell.
The speech was not cleared by Ambassador Hubbard, and it was not cleared by chief North Korea negotiations envoy, Ambassador Charles "Jack" Pritchard. The speech was not signed off by other of the INR staff involved, and it was not signed off at the Deputy Assistant Secretary Level (TWN has confirmed).
This is the kind of freelancing behavior, destructive to the conduct of diplomacy, that gets rewarded in the Bush/Cheney administration. Never mind the results -- talk tough and you gain the reputation as a hard-headed realist. But are the neocons chastened by this collosal failure? Sadly, no.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

GOP Prospects Darken as the Foley Scandal Continues to Dominate the News

In today's brief review of the news, one story stands out: Republican prospects for maintaining control of Congress are looking bleaker every day. CQPolitics reports that the momentum continues to shift in favor of the Democrats:
All year, CQPolitics.com’s ratings of House and Senate races have been a virtual one-way street: Almost all rating changes show improved chances for the Democrats to capture seats — a reflection of the year’s toxic political environment for the Republicans who control both chambers of Congress and the White House.
And the traffic on that one-way street is getting heavier by the day. Last week, CQPolitics.com changed it ratings on one Senate race and 10 House races. In every case, the ratings indicate strengthening Democratic prospects.
An extreme example is the seat held by Thomas Reynolds, who finds himself caught up the Mark Foley scandal. Reynolds, who chairs the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, was not expecting a serious challenge. Now, according to the Buffalo News, he trails his challenger, Jack Davis, by 15 percentage points:
It showed that 325 respondents were following the Foley story, with 57 percent disapproving the way Reynolds handled the situation after he found out last spring Foley had sent an e-mail that made a former page uncomfortable. And then 10 days ago, it was revealed that Foley had sent sexually explicit instant messages to other former pages.
Only 25 percent of the poll respondents said they approved of how Reynolds handled the situation.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Good for a Laugh

Heard from Roxanne Roberts on NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!:
How do you separate the men from the boys?
The midterm elections.

Friday, October 06, 2006

One Month to Go

With one month to go to the election, there is little doubt that Democrats are on their way to winning back the House. The National Journal just updated its top 30 (as in most hotly contested) House races; 29 are for seats held by Republicans.
We see a simliar pattern in Senate races. I count four races in which the Democratic challenger has a solid lead: Montana, Ohio, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. Democratic takeaways are also possible in Missouri and Tennessee. In Virginia, Jim Webb has reduced George Allen's lead.
Senator Bob Menendez is the only Democrat who could lose his seat. He and Tom Kean, Jr. have been locked in a tight race; polls are split on who leads with neither ahead by more than the margin of error.
To sum up, Democrats might lose one or two seats in Congress, while Republicans have 30 or more House seats and as many as eight Senate seats at risk.
The political climate is getting rougher for Republicans. A week ago, I described how September was a bad month for the GOP. Things have gone from bad to wretched for them in the first week of October.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Jason, Mike Castle and DailyKos

Jason's post about Mike Castle got bumped to the DailyKos home page by kos himself. Not to worry, Jason was on his best behavior -- to the point of saying that fellow blogger Dave from First State Politics "is a decent guy (for an R)."
Dave's response: "A link to me from Kos? I need to take a shower." Jason also gave props to Mike at Down With Absolutes for his role in staying on top of the story.
The point of Jason's post is irrefutable: While Mike Castle enjoys a considerable reservoir of goodwill among Delawareans, he does have an obligation to present himself to the voters between now and the election.