March 1, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Democrats weigh nuclear option
In the wake of the "bipartisan summit" on health care that President Obama convened at the Blair House last Thursday, it appears that the Democrats are determined to use any means necessary to get their way on that critical legislative package. The White House claims they have enough votes to pass their version of health-care "reform," insisting on a prompt "up-or-down vote," apparently fearing that any further delays will allow opponents to mobilize public opposition. That means, most likely, the expedited process known as "reconciliation," which would enable the bill to be passed with a simple majority vote. This obscure, mysterious term has become the central bone of contention in Washington over the past few days. If the measure goes through without any Republican support, it would be an almost unprecedented raw power play on a vital issue to all Americans, with clear constitutional aspects. On NBC's "Meet the Press," Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) warned that if they did that, they would "lose their majority in Congress in November." See the Washington Post.
On the eve of that summit, Sen. Mitch McConnell sharply criticized the "legislative arrogance" and Democratic subterfuges:
In light of all these behind the scenes efforts to get around the will of the people, it's hard to imagine what the purpose of Thursday's summit is. If the White House wants real bipartisanship, then it needs to drop the proposal it posted Monday, which is no different in its essentials than anything we've seen before -- and start over. And they need to take this last-ditch reconciliation effort off the table once and for all.
I was pleased to see Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) take a strong, visible stand on this issue. He has been in the background of national politics ever since his failed run for the presidency in 1996. (Remember his trademark plaid shirt?) The leftists at thinkprogress.org point out that Alexander himself has personally voted for reconciliation at least four times, suggesting he's a hypocrite, but those were all on budget-related issues, not fundamental reforms.
How did we get to this point? Immediately after Republican Scott Brown won the special election in Massachusetts in January, taking away the Democrats' supermajority, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) switched his earlier position and said he might go along with using budget reconciliation to the health care bill. See thehill.com. That was a clear sign that the Democrats were seriously considering defying public opinion on this issue. For the "Party of the People," it's public opinion be damned!
Republicans have expressed outrage, but as Jeanne Cummings explains at politico.com, Republicans have used reconciliation more often than the Democrats since it was first used in 1980. It basically allows a Senate vote on accepting minor modifications to overcome objections from the House of Representatives, with limited debate and a short-cut schedule. The theory is that the full Senate has already passed the original measure, so that it should not require a 60-vote supermajority to pass a slightly different version over again, especially when it comes to taxing or spending measures that are required to keep the government running. The key difference between this situation and the historical cases is that the previous bills were budget related, in keeping with the original purpose by which the reconciliation procedure was adopted. Cumings also reminds us of one stipulation, that a "reconciliation bill cannot increase the deficit beyond the budgetary window." In other words, any measures passed that way have to be budget neutral over the long term.
The use and abuse of majority power is one of the touchiest subjects in the field of politics. It was nearly five years ago, in April 2005, that the Republican majority in the Senate considered using the "nuclear option" over the issue of judicial confirmations. (The Democrats kept blocking judges nominated by President Bush.) For the record, I reluctantly went along with that idea, against my better judgment. I was well aware that "What comes around goes around," and if it had passed, the Republicans would have been exposed to a vindictive, unrestrained Democratic majority after the 2006 election. In the end, thankfully, a compromise by moderate senators in both parties prevented that from coming about.
Birthers won't quit
No surprisingly, Republican J.D. Hayworth is challenging Sen. John McCain on the grounds that McCain is not conservative enough, notwithstanding the fact that Hayworth acceded to President Bush's Medicare Part D entitlement -- unlike McCain! Hayworth has raised the issue of President Obama's place of birth, an issue which should have died many months ago. I commented on Bruce Bartlett's Facebook page:
The pseudoconservatives who remain obsessed with Obama's birth status are a cult movement, impervious to reason. Expecting them to apply rational criteria like the consistency of voting records is just not realistic. You're either one of them, or you're on the enemy's side. Since they are motivated by conspiracy theories and thrive on defeat, it's just a matter of time before GOP leaders realize they are political poison. But by then it may be too late.
I may not agree with McCain all the time, but at least his head is screwed on right. He is infinitely more worthy than Hayworth to serve in the United States Senate.
March 2, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Gov. Perry defeats Hutchison
In Texas, yet another intra-party feud among Republicans fizzled out this evening, as Gov. Rick Perry turned back a challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. With a 20-point margin of victory and an absolute majority that obviates the need for a run-off among the top two candidates, Perry can claim a solid popular endorsement, something few would have expected six months ago. The result may reflect the anti-Washington mood across the nation more than anything else. On the Democratic side, Bill White, mayor of Houston, easily won the primary election and may give Perry a run for his money this fall. See politico.com.
It's a mystery to me why Sen. Hutchison thought she could topple the incumbent governor, or why she would want to give up her privileged Senate seat in exchange for the headaches of running a rambunctious mega-state. Evidently she thought she could position herself as more conservative, criticizing Perry for tax hikes and exploiting his reputation for using strong-arm tactics to hold on to power, but it didn't work. In a Washington Post analysis on Saturday, Dan Balz explained why her campaigned floundered, in spite of endorsements from Dick Cheney, former President George H.W. Bush, and all the major Texas newspapers. (Perry's main high-profile endorsement was from Sarah Palin!) In an era of sound bites, getting called "Kay Bailout" for her support of the bank / financial sector rescue really stung. The economic situation in Texas is not as severe as in most other states, and that muffled any resentment toward Perry, who cruised to victory.
Does this mean that moderate "RINOs" like Perry are making a comeback? Probably not. It would be nice to draw some meaning from this race as it applies to the Republican Party nationwide, but it appears that the decisive factors were local and personal in nature. Now the big question is, What is in Sen. Hutchison's future?
March 7, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Chileans pick up the pieces
The good news from Chile is that the death toll actually declined to about 800, and it may not even reach 1,000 when the final reckoning is made. In the province of Maule, the epicenter of the quake, authorities realized that 200 missing people should not be included among the confirmed dead. The country's resilient spirit and national pride have been symbolized by a photograph of a man holding up a muddy and tattered Chilean flag that he found in the rubble. The scenes of devastation remind one of New York City after September 11, 2001. President Michelle Bachelet, whose term expires this week, declared three days of national mourning beginning today. See CNN.com
The bad news is that major sectors of the Chilean economy, such as winemaking, have been devastated. Also, looting has broken out in some of the worst-hit areas, and over 10,000 Chilean soldiers were sent in to the coastal city of Concepcion to maintain order. The people of Chile see themselves as having risen above the chaos that is typical of Third World countries, but as the Washington Post reported:
... the pillaging was carried out largely by poorer Chileans, and it left some horrified onlookers wondering whether their country had really advanced as much as the economists and government officials had believed.
This, despite the fact that Chile has the lowest poverty rate in Latin America, at 14 percent. Some blame inequality, but Chile has a huge middle class and has less class conflict than most other countries in the region. Perhaps the underlying social resentments were instigated by the Socialist governments of the past two decades.
Mrs. Clinton visits Chile
By pure coincidence, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on her way to South America when the earthquake struck Chile last week. The first item on her agenda was attending the inauguration Uruguay's new president, Jose Mujica, and she later paid a brief visit to Santiago de Chile, where she met with outgoing President Bachelet and President-elect Piñera. Clinton brought a load of cellular telephones to help in the emergency response, and promised power generators, water treatment equipment, and similar items. See state.gov. It must have been quite a scene when the two popular, high-profile women leaders got together for a talk at such a heart-wrenching moment.
Social media & Chile
In a sign of the times, I was kindly invited to join a Facebook group focused on sharing photographs and experiences of the earthquake survivors. It provided me with a window into the awful situation in Chile that you just can't get through mainstream media. I guess my skepticism about the relative benefits of the new "social media" has been taken down yet another notch.
March 10, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Yankee Stadium is tumblin' down
"When the walls ... comes tumblin' down..." The ominous refrain in that John Mellencamp song is probably being sung in The Bronx this month, as the demolition of Yankee Stadium (the original one, more or less) reaches the climactic phase. For weeks it has seemed that the process was dragging on forever, but the winter weather was the main reason for that. Over the past week or so, workers have been drilling seams into the upper deck, in preparation for pulling it down one section at a time. The first and second decks were demolished from December through early February, and the wall in back of the bleachers, with the imitation decorative frieze, was taken down last week, exposing the crumbling innards for all the world to see. I know it was inevitable, and I've been preparing myself for this for quite some time now, but it still leaves an indescribable feeling of melancholy.
Anyway, Mike Zurawski drew my attention to a youtube.com video of one section being pulled down, by Bobby Jackson. That video is also displayed at demolitionofyankeestadium.com, which has plenty of grim late-breaking photos. I was hoping that they would pull down the entire upper deck at once, which would have been spectacular and would have at least gotten over the pain quickly. For people like me, watching the drawn-out process is a form of torture. Some people think the reason for doing it section by section is to preserve Gate 2 for historical posterity, and I certainly hope that's the case.
Strasburg shines in debut
In his first start as a pitcher for the Washington Nationals, Stephen Strasburg lived up to the sky-high expectations people have of him. Going against the Detroit Tigers in the Nats' spring training home in Space Coast Stadium, he only went two innings, but he gave up just two hits and no runs, while getting two strikeouts. He is reaching 98 mph with some consistency, and we can only hope that he doesn't wear out his young arm trying to prove himself. See the Washington Post. Long-suffering Nationals fans are giddy with excitement over what the future holds for the team with Strasburg on the mound. All indications are that he will start the season in the minors, and probably get called up to Washington by mid-summer.
R.I.P. Willie Davis
Former L.A. Dodger center fielder Willie Davis, renowned for his speed and base-stealing abilities, passed away at the age of 69. He played when the Dodgers won the World Series in 1963 (against the Yankees) and 1965 (against the Twins). See Yahoo sports; hat tip to Bruce Orser.
March 13, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Deluge of Democratic scandals
As the East Coast gets drenched with a monster rainstorm to close out the hellish Winter of 2009-2010, the Democratic Party is getting clobbered with a deluge of scandals -- moral, ethical, financial, you name it! Nancy Pelosi declared that the Democrats would "drain the swamp" of corruption in Congress after they took control in the 2006 election, and those words are coming back to haunt her. Soon, everyone will have forgotten all about Sen. Ted Stevens, Rep. Tom DeLay, and Jack Abramoff. This comes at a most inconvenient time, as President Obama is leading the political equivalent of Pickett's Charge on Capitol Hill, forcing the health care issue without a semblance of public consensus, or even majority support.
Just when the American people need reassurance that the government is collecting taxes in a fair and equitable manner, so that shared public policy goals may be realized in an atmosphere of mutual trust, the man with the greatest responsibility for that task has been exposed as a crook. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) had to give up his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee while an ethics probe is carried out to find out the connection between the many favors he received from various corporate interests and the tax laws that he helped bring about.
By amazing coincidence, another Harlem politician, Gov. David Paterson is facing another wave of accusations about political corruption. His key assistants have resigned, and it will be a minor miracle if he manages to finish out his term, which is actually the term of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, another sleazebag. Among other things, Paterson has accepted, and possibly actively sought, free tickets to New York Yankees baseball games, with a strong appearance of a quid pro quo. One expert/consultant calls those two scandals "catastrophic for the black community in America and particularly in Harlem." See the Washington Post.
And for bizarro comic relief, Rep. Eric Massa resigned his seat in Congress after admitting to flagrantly improper behavior. It nothing more than mildy bawdy "tickle fights," in his words, but to some of his former staffers and Navy shipmates, it was sexual harrassment. What was even weirder about this case was the question of how and why it came to light. Did Democratic leaders leak the story so as to get rid of a Democratic opponent of Obamacare, thereby making it just a bit easier to pass a modified health package the second time around? Briefly, Massa became a "hero" to conservatives, according to politico.com. Rush Limbaugh loudly protested the manner in which he was "outed," and Glenn Beck made a fool of himself by having Massa on his FOX News TV show for a full hour, violating his own cardinal rule of not wasting his viewers' time. Massa is clearly a flake of little long-term consequence. See the Washington Post
"Born Again Americans"
I make no bones about my devotion to civility in political discourse and seeking bipartisan cooperation on behalf of the public interest, whenever it is feasible. Many people falsely equate such an attitude as compromising conservative principles, which is too bad. But when it comes to bogus appeals from leftists in sheep's clothing, I am nobody's fool. Someone recently sent me a link to an inspirational music video at bornagainamerican.org, and something about it struck me as a little odd. So I took a closer look, and sure enough, it's an offshoot of Norman Lear's "People for the American Way," which takes the separation of church and state to an extreme. After doing some Googling, I came across a very apt critique of the "Born Again Americans" at dakotavoice.com, a blog based in Rapid City, South Dakota.
March 14, 2010 [LINK / comment]
A little late-winter birding
Nearly all of the snow has melted, the crocuses and daffodils are starting to sprout, and the male birds are singing zestfully in preparation for mating season. But it's not spring just yet, and that means we still have a few more chances to catch glimpses of certain unusual migrant species before they head back north to Canada.
Most notably, a Rough-legged hawk has been seen by many local birders in the vicinity of Stuarts Draft for the past several weeks. I had only seen that species once before, and not very clearly, so I was very eager to see this one. From early February until early March, I must have made half a dozen or more visits to the area where the hawk was seen hunting for prey, all in vain. Then on March 4, on the way back home from teaching, I took a brief detour off of Interstate 64, and finally got lucky. Another local birder, Peter Nebel, was parked along the road, and he pointed out where the hawk was perched in a tree. Soon thereafter, it took off and made a dazzling flight display, swooping low around the fields. The black-banded white tail and the distinctively marked long wings left no doubt as to its identity. I was very relieved to have gotten a good view at last.
This past Wednesday afternoon, I was driving along Bell's Lane, where I saw a lone Snow goose mixed in with a flock of Canada geese in one of the fields. I wasn't sure just how unusual that was, but YuLee Larner later informed me that it was only the seventh spring sighting of that species in Augusta County! (For bird record-keeping purposes, Spring includes the months of March, April, and May.)
Yesterday afternoon (Saturday), I went out to see what birds may have been stranded by the heavy rains. Sure enough, at one of the ponds along Bell's Lane were five Hooded mergansers, one of the most beautiful of the ducks. In the big pond further back, there were two Great blue herons plus a few Canada geese. At another pond in the Bell's Lane area in late February, I saw a pair of American coots, Ruddy ducks, and some American wigeons, a rather unusual duck species.
Finally, I should mention that while driving a van along Route 60 in Buckingham County last Thursday, March 11, ferrying a group of students to visit the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond, I noticed a beautiful male Wood duck in a small pond along the highway. That was pretty amazing, and provided a good opportunity for conversation about something other than politics!
March 15, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Nats winless in spring training
In spite of fine outings by pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Garrett Mock, the Washington Nationals just can't seem to win. After losing to the Atlanta Braves today, the Nats are now 0-11 in the "Grapefruit League" standings. Good grief! Well, so much for the resurgent momentum they achieved at the end of the 2009 regular season (Oct. 4), when they won their last seven games. Perhaps the Nationals are just "sandbagging it," creating a false impression among other teams that they are no better than last year. At least I hope that's what they're doing...
The Nats are trimming their roster as the regular season approaches. The latest big name to be let go is veteran left-hand pitcher Ron Villone, who was reliable in 2009 but has not done well this spring. A younger pitcher of some promise, Collin Balester, was sent to the Syracuse Triple-A affiliate. Recently acquired Chien-Ming Wang has thrown a few practice pitches as well. If he gets healthy soon, the 2010 season could show a huge improvement over the past two years. As of now, good old Livan Hernandez is in line to become the fifth starter in the Nats' rotation. See MLB.com.
Two members of the Nationals have been excused from practice duty over the past week because their wives were giving birth: Josh Willingham and Cristian Guzman are the proud fathers. Neither of those players is guaranteed a spot on the 2010 starting lineup, however, so they'd better get back to Viera, Florida pronto. There's a real chance that young Ian Desmond could start the season at shortstop, taking Guzman's place. Desmond was one of the clutch-performing stars at the end of the 2009 season.
Diagram-wise, I've been attending to a few loose odds and ends over the past few days, while taking a respite from wracking my brain trying to solve various ballpark configuration riddles. A fellow member of SABR, Thomas Tomsick, requested some information for a research project he is doing, and drew my attention to the fact that, at least through the late 1960s, there was no warning track in front of the inner outfield fence at Cleveland Stadium. (He should know, since he was a bullpen catcher for the Indians in the mid-1960s, and spent a lot of time out there.) Instead, the original pointed oval warning track / running track was left in place, going around the entire field, abutting the grass slope in front of the bleachers. So I fixed that in the 1954 version of that diagram.
Other minor fixes in the works include Sun Life (Dolphin) Stadium, K.C. Municipal Stadium and Comiskey Park.
About half of the upper deck at Yankee Stadium has now been torn down, and hopes of preserving Gate 2 as a token for posterity are fading fast.
March 16, 2010 [LINK / comment]
General Assembly adjourns
The 2010 session of the Virginia General Assembly wrapped up its business and adjourned on Sunday, one day after the scheduled terminal date. Given the drastic nature of the cuts they made, it's remarkable that the Republican-led House of Delegates and the Democratic-led State Senate were able to reach a compromise without too much delay, as has been the case in years past. Anticipated state revenues are $4 billion less than what is needed to maintain current programs, and because Gov. McDonnell had taken a strong stand against any tax hikes during his campaign, the 2011 budget has been pared down to the same level as in 2006, about $70 billion. The budget reduces spending for public education by $250 million, which may force many localities to shut down even more schools than they have been recently. It's a truly awful situation for anyone who works in the education field. One of the more complicated provisions cuts Medicaid reimbursements by 7 percent unless the Federal government provides $370 million in support for the program. I'm not sure how that is supposed to work out. See the Richmond Times Dispatch.
In the Washington Post, columnist Robert McCartney picked the winners and losers from this year's legislative session. Among the "winners" is new Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli who garnered publicity by writing a letter to public universities with his legal opinion that there is no statutory basis for extending special rights to gays and lesbians. (Gov. McDonnell got dragged into that fight, trying to triangulate a very divisive issue, something he has been trying to avoid.) McCartney says that Virginia's image was a loser because of this controversy. Among other winners was Northern Virginia, whose schools could have lost $118 million in state funding if a changed formula had been adopted. This may signify growing political clout for the Washington suburbs, and rural schools in Virginia may suffer as a result. Another winning group was gun owners, as it will soon be legal for licensed people to carry firearms into restaurants. The cause of redistricting reform was another loser, however, thanks to hostility from certain Republicans in the House of Delegates.
I had mixed feelings about some of the fiscal issues. Given that the state government is constitutionally bound to balance its budget, there was very little leeway in the current tough economic climate. In a way, I wish that McDonnell had shown some willingness to bargain in exchange for modest tax hikes so as to avoid firing too many teachers, law enforcement officers, etc., but if he had begun his term in office by bending on that issue, the Democrats might have concluded that they could push him around. A rigid stance on the budget was probably necessary for political reasons, as well as economic reasons.
Richmond field trip
Just like last year, I took a group of students from my U.S. Government class last Thursday to observe the General Assembly in session. Delegates Ben Cline (24th District, Amherst/Rockbridge) and Scott Garrett (23rd District, Lynchburg) talked to the students, most of whom were awe-struck. Garrett is one of the six newly elected Republican members, and I was impressed by his command of constitutional and economic issues. He pointed out that each additional day the state legislature is in session costs the taxpayers about $20,000. The students seemed to get a lot out of the trip, which made the otherwise-dry material I teach somewhat more lively and interesting. I didn't take my camera this year, but you can see photos from our field trip to Richmond last year on the Richmond 2009 photo gallery page.
Muslim gives invocation
Coincidentally, in the House of Delegates chamber, our group witnessed a historical event that generated some controversy. For the first time ever, a Muslim cleric was asked to say the invocation prayer at the start of Thursday's session. Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, director of community outreach for the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Northern Virginia, called for peace and mutual understanding, but a dozen or so delegates were not present during the invocation, an apparent (low-key) walkout in protest against Abdul-Malik's association with the mosque where two of the 9/11 hijackers had attended services. See the Richmond Times Dispatch and his own Web site: imamjohari.com.
March 19, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Nats release Dukes, Kensing
The Washington Nationals released right fielder Elijah Dukes and right-hand pitcher Logan Kensing, quite a shock to the team, but it's probably for the best. He hadn't been hitting well in spring training (going 3-20), and no other teams were interested in trading for him. Justin Maxwell and Willie Harris are readily available outfielders who can hit, joining Nyjer Morgan and Josh Willingham, who are expected to be regulars. See MLB.com. Dukes and Lastings Milledge were acquired from the Mets in December 2007, and were expected to become slugging stars once they had been given coaching support and discipline, but it just didn't work out that way.
There are some signs of improvement on the field, but the Nationals are still getting their revamped team in sync with each other. Jason Marquis got roughed up on Wednesday, giving up seven runs in the first two innings, as the Nats fell to the Astros, 11-2.
At Space Coast Stadium today, Stephen Strasburg gave up two runs in the first inning (the first runs he has given up this year), but settled down and was credited with a win after pitching four innings. The Nationals beat the Cardinals (split squad) 13-5, and are now 3-12 for the spring training season. There's nowhere to go but up!
Wrigley Field extreme makeover
In Chicago, workers are busy putting a new exterior on Wrigley Field, which is currently surrounded by scaffolding with less than three weeks before Opening Day. Evidently, the ramps and concourses in the grandstand will be exposed to the fresh air, with wire fencing to enclose them. See baseball-fever.com. On a more disturbing note, the new Cubs owners are negotiating with Toyota to put up a prominent billboard in back of the left field bleachers. See ESPN; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. Toyota??? As if the Cubs didn't have enough bad-luck jinxes already...
K.C. Municipal Stadium
I made some minor corrections to the (Kansas City) Municipal Stadium diagrams, but you'd need a sharp eye to tell the difference. It mainly has to do with the profile, indicating the gradually sloping catwalk ramp to the upper deck. There were evidently no supporting or connecting structural members along those catwalks, and fans walking along them must have gotten vertigo on the way up! Note that the upper deck in the diagram profile is not a simple triangle, as in most diagrams, but reflects the absence of horizontal structural beams and the open-air configuration of that deck. Here is an enlarged profile:
March 20, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Procedural ploy to pass Obamacare
Just when you thought the Democrats in Congress had run out of tricks up their sleeves, they come up with a new and fiendishly clever procedural subterfuge. At the beginning of this month, there was a flap over the "reconciliation" process (a.k.a. the "nuclear option"), under which the Senate could pass a bill with a simple majority vote, precluding any chance of a filibuster. In other words, that historic special election victory in January by Scott Brown of Massachusetts was rendered much less significant than most of us thought. Reconciliation was bad enough, but it presupposed that the House would approve the "reconciled" bill, which became less likely as public opposition to their health care scheme continued to mount. (When the House passed their version of the bill last November, it was a very close vote: 220-215.)
So, the headline in Tuesday's Washington Post must have raised a few eyebrows: "House may try to pass Senate health-care bill without voting on it." (Emphasis added.) Speaker Nancy Pelosi disclosed that she was considering use of a "self-executing rule," also known as "deem and pass," rationalizing that it has been used in the past. The short-cut was never supposed to be used to pass large-scale controversial pieces of legislation, however.
All of a sudden, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who chairs the House Rules Committee, which sets the schedule and terms of debate for the full House, is at the center of attention. As noted at politico.com, the "Slaughter solution" to pass health care reform without the House and Senate voting on an identical bill could easily be challenged constitutional grounds. It's an obvious attempt to shirk legislative responsibility for voting for a controversial measure, minimizing the risk of losing reelection bids due to retributive voters this fall. Or as the Wall Street Journal editorialists put it,
Democrats would thus send the Senate bill to President Obama for his signature even as they claimed to oppose the same Senate bill. They would be declaring themselves to be for and against the Senate bill in the same vote. Even John Kerry never went that far with his Iraq war machinations.
Such objections may be a bit exaggerated, at least according to some experts. (I have read a few specialized books on Congress, but it's not my specialty.) As GWU Professor Sarah Binder explains in The New Republic (hat tip to Bruce Bartlett), "If the rule is written in such a way that enactment of the rule itself deems the Senate bill passed, the Senate bill would--at that point--be ready for presidential signature." She doesn't think that is very likely, however. This is what bothers me: "(In theory, the rule could deem the Senate bill passed only after the Senate votes for the reconciliation package. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has ruled out that option, citing the parliamentary complications it would create.)" Conveniently, she notes, there are nine Democrats and only four Republicans on the all-important Rules Committee.
The idea that the House could modify the Senate health care bill and then send it to the White House without Senate consideration is utterly mind-boggling to me. That would be a flagrant violation of Article I, Section 7 of the U.S. Constitution, on top of the violation of the 10th amendment represented by the health insurance mandate.* According to the textbook used in my U.S. Government class (Steffen W. Schmidt, Mack C. Shelley, and Barbara A. Bardes, American Government and Politics Today, 2008-2009 Brief Edition),
After the bill has been passed in each chamber, if it contains different provisions, a conference committee is formed to write a compromise bill, which must be approved by both chambers before it is sent to the president to sign or veto.
Or maybe not! As Graham Nash sang in "Chicago" (1968), "Rules and regulations, who needs them?" How appropriate for the Chicago radical currently residing in the White House! To better understand the shenanigans that are going on in Congress right now, take a look at the WaPo graphic that attempts to trace the options leading up to the final vote on the House floor.
House Minority Leader John Boehner is doing his best, but as he said on Friday, the Republicans at this juncture cannot stop Obamacare. Only the American people can do so, by calling their congressional representatives. Exactly! Boehner showed bad judgment by bragging that Democrats will lose control of Congress this fall, unwittingly giving the moderate Democrats more reason to stay loyal to Obama. I was encouraged that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) warned House members who switch to "yes" that any special deals and any government positions they are promised will be blocked in the Senate.
* All of the lame excuses for bending the rules remind my of a dispiriting phrase I used to hear when I was a lowly Federal bureaucrat:
Hey, it's close enough for government work!
Obama's pep rallies
The President has been out on the campaign trail, making stump speeches to rally support for his health care bill. He keeps insisting that he doesn't care about the politics of it, saying it's the "right thing to do," while claiming it will cut the budget deficit. (Nancy Pelosi made that same point yesterday, right after she boasted that there would be a firm cap on how much people have to pay but no limit on their benefits! How illogical can she possibly be??) As Robert Samuelson writes in Newsweek, the notion that the bill would control health care costs is a "mirage," and it violates his campaign promise to "tell you what you need to hear." Even as the President scolds the Republican opposition for misleading the public, Samuelson says, Obama has failed in his vital responsibility of educating the American people. He goes on to explain how health insurance works in practice, urging that the whole fee-for-service system be junked. He basically confirms my fundamental contention that the real problem is that this country has too much health insurance already! True "reform" would address that issue by eliminating tax breaks that hide the full cost of health care from employees, many of whom don't even know their employers are paying the lion's share of the bill.
Whatever the merits of the bill, however, it is clear that the big issue has become Obama himself. The bombastic speeches that intermingle utopian hope with threats of Apocalypse are exactly what one would expect from a tyrant in the making. Setting aside concerns over due process is an old trick of leaders who get elected and then cement their (or their party's) control over the country by declaring a state of emergency. The exquisitely narcissistic Chief Executive has basically told Democrats on Capitol Hill that either they vote yes, or else they and the administration are going down in flames together. It's a high-risk strategy and just might work, if the fence-sitting Democrats don't get assurance from Republicans that will get rewarded for a no vote. In other words, the GOP needs to put partisan politics aside in order to win Democratic allies and save the Republic.
Obama also made a gesture of "outreach" by consenting to an interview at Fox News, during which he kept brushing off questions about the procedural sleight-of-hand by which Congress is passing his bill. Sadly, I'm afraid Obama is right that the American people don't care about procedural details -- bor-ing! Ironically, the kids he has been thrilling with his speeches are the ones with the most to lose from Obamacare, while the elder folks who are dead-set against the proposed national scheme probably have the most to gain from it.
History of reconciliation
For a quick graphical summary of reconciliation votes in the U.S. Senate back to 1990, see sunlightfoundation.com. It shows that there is a mixed record, with some votes being sharply divided along partisan lines, and others with many crossovers. The Republicans did indeed use this procedure several times when they had a majority in the Senate during the first six years of the Bush administration, which from the perspective of today is very regrettable. There is some justification, however, which is that all of these votes were for budget-related bills, which is what reconciliation was intended for. The Democrats' claim that their health care bill qualifies for this because it will reduce the deficit is absurd (see Samuelson above), especially given that they promote it, above all, on moral grounds.
NRCC: "Code Red"
I added a countdown clock courtesy of the National Republican Congressional Committee to the main blog page and the Politics blog page. It is set to reach zero at Sunday noon, when the House is scheduled to vote. They will only hold that vote, however, if Nancy Pelosi and Jim Clyburn (House Majority Whip) actually get the last few Democrats on board. They wouldn't risk the embarrassment of defeat if they aren't sure of getting a majority, unless, perhaps, it's all a big diversionary tactic. Perhaps the Democrats' leaders have decided to "punt" on this issue and use GOP "obstruction" as a campaign issue for this fall and in 2012. They can tell their leftist core supporters, "at least we tried," without really doing so. They may calculate that they can withstand the tide of right-wing opposition to their agenda in preparation for retaking the momentum in 2012, but that's a far-fetched scenario.
In any case, Washington will be full of anti-Obamacare protesters this weekend, and I may head up there myself. The fate of republican self-governance may hang in the balance...
Dennis the Menace
The momentum started to shift the Democrats' way on Thursday when Dennis "the Menace" Kucinich (D-OH) announced he was going to support the House bill after all, even though it doesn't go far enough for him. As Dana Milbank wrote in the Washington Post, Kucinich's "capitulation was the clearest sign that the left, after 15 months of antagonizing Obama because of his compromises, is now ready to cooperate." Translation: They are now convinced that the bill being considered is indeed merely a first step toward a public option, which in turn will lead inevitably to a fully nationalized health care system. What a perverse irony it would be if that flake from Cleveland (he once saw a UFO; see foxnews.com) ended up making all the difference in this debate?
Just yesterday, one of the undecided Democrats, freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (Virginia Fifth District) announced his conditional support for the health care package. He is "prepared to vote yes on health care reform as soon as 51 Senators commit to seeing this reconciliation bill through to completion." He knows he may lose in this fall's election, however, so he also made sure to recruit local hospitals to join him. See his Web site. OK, Fifth Distict residents, it's time to call those hospital administrators and complain about their unwarranted involvement in politics:
Ironically, Perriello was caught on camera admitting that members of Congress will go on stealing the people's money unless someone is alert enough to stop them. See the video at youtube.com, graciously provided by the folks at the Republican National Committee.
More doom and gloom
To put all of this into broader, context, two offbeat economic pundits, Marc Faber and Mike "Mish" Shedlock, argue that "Washington lawmakers are a delusional bunch of boneheads." Fiscal irresponsibility has gotten so bad that the entire American economy may well collapse in the next year or two. Watch the video at Yahoo Finance, and prepare to weep and/or buy gold; hat tip to Dan.
March 21, 2010 [LINK / comment]
House passes Senate's Obamacare*
For much of the day, rumors indicated that the Democrats had a majority of the votes locked up, suggesting that there would be a late rush of fence-sitters following the leaders, but the final result was still very close: 219 yeas and 212 nays. Four and a half months after the House of Representatives passed its own version of Obamacare (Nov. 7, 2009), the people's assembly swallowed its collective pride and passed the Senate bill (which was passed on Christmas Eve), as a prelude to passing a second "reconciliation" resolution, by a vote of 220-211.
The main element of drama today centered around Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, whose amendment forbidding any Federal funds for abortion paved the way for the previous vote to pass the bill. He had declared in no uncertain terms that the Senate bill was unacceptable because insurance would cover abortion, so the question was, what could be done to address his objections? As the clock ticked through mid-afternoon, the details emerged: President Obama said he would sign an executive order to create enforcement mechanisms to make sure that no abortions were performed with taxpayer money. It may be a meaningless gesture, since Congress or succeeding presidents could easily undo such an order, but it provided Stupak with the political cover he needed.
In the final speeches of the debate this evening, House Minority Leader John Boehner showed uncharacteristic passion and emotion, a pleasant surprise. He scolded the Democrats for defying the will of the American people, and for disregarding the financial consequences of creating a vast new entitlement at a time when the Federal government is already dangerously indebted to foreign creditors. The CBO estimates indicate otherwise, you say? They only respond to specific questions based on specific assumptions, which in this case seem to be extremely unrealistic. Garbage in, garbage out. Boehner may have infringed upon House rules of decorum by his loud outbursts of "like hell," but I'm glad he said it. Many millions of Americans, including me, are outraged at having this bill rammed through with not even a pretense of consensus, and we're not going to take this lying down.
Speaking of which, this matter will almost certainly be challenged in the court system. As I was driving into Washington yesterday I heard Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli talking about the constitutional issues on the local C-SPAN radio station. (I chatted with him about that very same subject last October.) Cuccinelli is among a large group of state attorneys general who have pledge to file a lawsuit blocking implementation of the health care bill (soon to become an Act) on various grounds. It's all a question of which provisions they believe should be challenged. Also, Virginia recently became the first state to pass a law which nullifies the individual insurance mandate for residents of Virginia. That law provides ample basis for a full-fledged campaign of civil disobedience against the unconstitutional health care legislation. It's an echo of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1797, and brings up the highly contentious issue of state nullification of Federal laws for the first time since before the Civil War. Yikes.
* President Obama is expected to sign the Senate bill into law in the next couple days, but the Senate will now have to approve the "reconciliation" resolution -- unless they decide to monkey around with the rules once again, that is. Under reconciliation rules, a majority vote suffices for passage, and no filibuster or non-germane amendments are allowed. Since the Democrats had 60 votes last time and lost one seat in the Massachusetts special election in January, it is all but certain they will have several votes more than are needed. They could, of course, add amendments of their own, forcing the House to approve those modification, etc., etc. (Avoiding such a legislative game of "ping pong" is exactly why the mechanism of the conference committee was adopted in the first place.) Once the iron out all the wrinkles, Obama will sign that separate reconciliation resolution into law.
Let's not forget that the Senate will be invoking the dreaded "nuclear option," dispensing with the Senate's cherished custom of requiring a three-fifths supermajority to pass major legislation. (All of a sudden, Sen. Scott Brown -- the GOP #41 -- is invisible.) There will be hell to pay on the Senate floor, unless the Democrats make some major concession on some other policy matter. Thus, we can look forward to months of stalling on presidential appointments as the Senate Republicans make their displeasure known.
Since there are currently four vacancies in the House (which is supposed to have 435 members), the minimum required for passage was 216, so the Democrats could have still won the historic vote even if three more of their members had broken ranks. I inadvertently annoyed someone on Facebook by pointing out that the three House seats in Virginia which the Democrats picked up in the 2008 election might end up making the difference. As it turned out, that was not the case, so there is no reason for Virginian Republicans to wring their hands over that.
Capitol Hill lobbying
I drove up to Washington yesterday to make my plaintive voice heard, holding up a protest sign, and to be present as history was unfolding. I approached the Capitol building from the southeast side, but was stymied by Capitol police in my efforts to get to the west side where the Tea Party protesters were gathered. Roadblocks on Independence Avenue and First Street N.E. forced me to circle back around, and I only saw a few like-minded folks doing their part. I happened to catch sight of one prominent politician who drove his car right past me: Michigan Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat. I took a few photos while stopped at red lights, including this panoramic one:
The Rayburn House Office Building, just southwest of the Capitol Building in Washington. On the right side is the Longworth H.O.B. Click on this image to see the full-size photo.
March 22, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Nationals Park drive-by shooting
Photo shooting, that is. I happened to be in Our Nation's Capital over the weekend (!), and of course made time to stop by Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals. On the way there, I stopped at a park on the south bank of the Anacostia River, from whence the photo below was taken. It's striking how the steps and entry "gap" on the first base side align perfectly with the boat house, which will some day be the site of a water taxi service. There's plenty of unused land along the the Anacostia River, and it's a shame that the D.C. government can't help fund a new soccer stadium in that area, as the MLS D.C. United franchise has requested. At Nationals Park itself, I noticed a couple details that had I hadn't paid heed to before, so it was a good opportunity for a quick diagram fixup. For the time being, I have left the previous version of my suggested alternative intact, so that you may see exactly what has changed.
Nationals Park across the Anacostia River in Washington. Click to see the full-size photo.
Chase Field pix
But that's not all! Marco Trejo recently sent me a batch of excellent photos from Chase Field, so I have added three of them to that page. That means that the pages for all major league stadiums in recent use now have photographs on them, so I'm much obliged to Marco for helping me to complete that coverage. I also received some photos from a fan in Minneapolis who took a tour of soon-to-open Target Field; stay tuned!
In The Bronx, demolition at Old Yankee Stadium is progressing at a rapid clip, and not much is left of the upper deck, and you can see some photos at: flickr.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
In Miami, construction on the future Marlins stadium is progressing at a rapid clip, and you can see some photos at: baseball-fever.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser.
March 23, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Health care Armageddon fallout
After such a bruising, intensive, drawn-out battle over one of the biggest public policy issues in American history, it was inevitable that nerves are raw, and many people on the losing side are angry and resentful. I am no exception. Temperamentally and emotionally, I am sick (!) to my stomach with rancid partisan bickering, having been caught up in the fray. I would like nothing more than to step back from partisan politics and build bridges of understanding as the first step toward establishing a broader consensus on health care policy, compromising in some areas while upholding the core principles of liberty and individual responsibility.
Whether the political atmosphere cools down in the weeks and months to come, thus permitting a moment of calm breathing space for our weary nation, will depend to a large degree on President Obama himself. Accordingly, we should all pay close attention to exactly what he says when he tours the country to try to convince the skeptical American public that the new law is in their best interests. It was not a good sign that when the President signed the first portion of the bill a few minutes ago, not a single Republican was present at the White House ceremony. (His remarks are posted at whitehouse.gov.) Presuming the Senate passes the House's reconciliation package, that portion will be signed next week.
Some Republicans are already talking about repealing the bill, but that is a complete waste of time. From a political standpoint, it's a done deal, period. Our side lost. Even if the GOP takes back both houses of Congress in this fall's elections, there is no way that they could override a presidential veto. In terms of a legislative remedy, we will have to wait three more years, and by that time, people will have grown accustomed to the new system, even though its full provisions will not have kicked in by then. It was not for nothing that the cover of Newsweek magazine's February 16, 2009 issue proclaimed, perhaps just a bit prematurely, "We are all socialists now."
For want of any realistic legislative remedies, therefore, the only way to correct the mistake before it is too late is through the judicial branch of government. During an interview with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News last night, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said he would file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health care bill in the Fourth Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, located just across the street from his office in Richmond. Among other things, he cited the violation of the Tenth Amendment to the constitution, which reserves to the states powers not expressly delegated to the Federal government. For more on that issue, see my Feb. 27 blog post. Thanks to Ryan Setliff for calling attention to the logo from the Tenth Amendment Center.
Some experts dispute the validity of that approach, including Prof. Timothy Jost of Washington and Lee University, who was on C-SPAN on Monday morning. He seemed like a reasonable, even-handed legal authority, but almost as soon as he started talking I knew something was wrong. Basically, he argues that past Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution are etched in stone, so there is no legal foundation whatsoever for the effort by states to block implementation of the health care legislation. If that seems like an extreme position, it merely reflects his long-standing role as a leading advocate for the Democrats' push for health care nationalization. (NOTE: Contrary to what it says on the C-SPAN Web site, the Commerce Clause is not part of the Tenth Amendment; it is actually part of Article I, Section 8.) Here are some key passages from Prof. Jost's appearance on C-SPAN, which include some very troubling statements:
And so one thing the legislation does is that it says that if you can afford health insurance, you should buy it. I refer to this as the 'slackers' provision, because what it says is everybody is responsible for insuring themselves, just like if you drive a car you're responsible for getting car insurance.
Under the Supremacy Clause, a state cannot tell the Federal government what to do. Federal law is the supreme law of the land as long as Congress is acting within its Constitutionally granted powers, and it is here.
So basically, the law now is, that if there is any kind of economic activity involved, Congress has the power to regulate it. And of course, Congress does.
What the Supreme Court has often said is that where economic activity is involved, economic or social activity, Congress need merely show that its laws have a rational relationship to a legitimate governmental interest for them to be constitutional.
Now let me point something out, because a lot of people don't know what's in this law [sic] other than what they have heard on Fox News...
At that point, I turned off the TV in disgust at his flagrant bias and dangerously statist (if not totalitarian) philosophy. From watching the Web video, however, I learned that he went on to claim that the health care bill (which he prematurely called a law, before it had been signed!) "is based on basic Republican principles." He also asserted that states themselves have no legal right to challenge the constitutionality of Federal laws, only individuals who are adversely affected do. And since the individual insurance mandate does not go into effect until 2014, he says, there can be no legal challenge until then. (Is that why they postponed implementation of the mandate, to make in immune from legal challenge? How clever!) If that is how the Supreme Court sees things, then we really are "screwed, blued (!), and tatooed."
It will soon become apparent that there are a few more loose ends that need to be tied up. First and foremost, how will the administration retain the services of physicians even as Medicare and Medicaid funding is slashed? That's what the controversial "doctor fix" is all about. Millions of people will be dismayed to learn that the CBO estimates that enacting H.R. 3961, by itself, would cost about $208 billion over the 2010-2019 period, adding substantially to the budget deficit. As noted by AllahPundit, the CBO response to Rep. Paul Ryan is very clear and unequivocal:
You asked about the total budgetary impact of enacting the reconciliation proposal (the amendment to H.R. 4872), the Senate-passed health bill (H.R. 3590), and the Medicare Physicians Payment Reform Act of 2009 (H.R. 3961). CBO estimates that enacting all three pieces of legislation would add $59 billion to budget deficits over the 2010-2019 period.
Original document: cbo.gov. NOTE: Republicans were circulating what was alleged to be an internal Democratic memo instructing its members not to talk about the doctor fix, but Democratic leaders challenged the authenticity of the memo, so politico.com removed it, pending confirmation. (Link via Mud Pit.)
Facebook friend Andrew Murphy, one of the few people I know who is familiar with Richard Hofstadter's writings on pseudoconservatism, pointed out that the actual provisions of the health care bill aren't really that radical. I responded:
That's correct, in terms of substance, all the bill does is take a totally dysfunctional system and expand its scope to include nearly everyone. Democrats know this, which is why I think it's only an intermediate step toward a public option, and eventually a nationalized single-payer system.
So, just let me just make clear, the Health Insurance Reform Act of 2010 does not signify the imminent arrival of national socialized medicine. It is, rather, a watered-down compromise that no one seriously believes can be sustained for very long, thus setting the stage for an inevitable progression (!) toward socialized medicine. It will happen so gradual that hardly anyone will notice, like the frog in the pot of water that slowly comes to a boil.
Will Democrats suffer political retribution in November? In today's Washington Post, Dan Balz summarized the electoral prospects for members of Congress from both parties in the wake of the health care vote. It's not just Democrats at risk, it's also Republicans whose "no" votes will anger a certain portion of their constituents. As a supplement to that article, there is a great map of the U.S. showing the various situations House members find themselves, in the finest tradition of Edward Tufte. (He's the author of the classic work, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.)
Virginia Rep. Thomas Perriello is among the incumbents in "marginal and conservative-minded districts" whose jobs are most at risk, according to politico.com. Perriello issued a statement last week to the effect that he would vote "yes" on condition that the Senate would accept House provisos. But since the Senate will not vote until after the House votes, it was a meaningless gesture. I think Perriello figures he probably can't win reelection, no matter what he did, so he went ahead and became a willing sacrifice on the altar of Obamacare.
Even though many Republicans are all fired up about defeating pro-Obamacare Democrats in this fall's elections, David Frum thinks they have already lost the decisive battle. He makes a point I raised January 9, that the transformational effect on the American political landscape make it worth it for the Democrats, even if they lose control of Congress. From youtube.com:
What happens today is a bigger defeat for Republicans than any gains in the midterms can offset. ... Going for the political win we achieved a permanent policy change.
In the New York Times, Paul Krugman (the very epitome of a smug liberal elite ) wrote that the Republicans failed because of their crude fear-mongering tactics. I would agree that some of the opposition to Obamacare was unduly harsh, and they should have distanced themselves from the Tea Party protesters (or possible leftist infiltrators) who shouted racist epithets at African-American legislators. Krugman lauded Obama's upbeat quote from Abraham Lincoln: "We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true." (From my perspective, it appears that the opposite is the case, but what do I know?) Krugman denounced the "callous cynicism" of Republican opponents, somehow ignoring the vast body of serious, intellectual research which calls into question the workability and fiscal sustainability of centrally-managed national health care. He's just being very selective about the use of evidence, and in that sense is no different than many of Obama's more vociferous critics. He is right, I'm afraid, about one thing: "proposals to guarantee health insurance are often controversial before they go into effect -- Ronald Reagan famously argued that Medicare would mean the end of American freedom -- but always popular once enacted." That quality of irreversibility is precisely why the government should refrain from enacting such entitlements in the first place!
On a more humorous note, Rush Limbaugh said he would move to Costa Rica if Obamacare was passed (good choice! ), so now some Democrats are raising money for him to buy a plane ticket there. See politico.com.
One of my Facebook friends reacted to the passage of Obamacare by writing something about conservatives needing to take over the Republican Party, to which I replied:
Republicans in the House and Senate were unanimous in rejecting Obamacare. The problem is not that Republican office holders aren't conservative enough, it is that self-proclaimed "conservatives" have been so busy attacking other Republicans that the party has been left in a shambles, paving the way for socialist / Democrats to seize national power.
Result: That person removed the original statement. I hope that means the point I was making was properly absorbed. It pains me just how widespread such misleading ideas are in the Republican Party today, which is why the GOP has been plagued by a virtual civil war.
That is what I meant by the following post I made on Facebook a short time ago:
During the White House signing ceremony, President Obama forgot to pay respects to the one person who, more than anyone else, is ultimately responsible for the enactment of national health care legislation: George W. Bush.
March 24, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Target Field update
The Target Field page has been updated with a slightly revised diagram and two photos taken by an anonymous donor (I won't tell!) during a recent public "open house" tour of the Twins' sparkling new home. Of great use in doing the detailed touchups were other photos posted at baseball-fever.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. As somewhat of a surprise, there are distance markers in the corners on either side of center field: it says 411 feet to the far end of the bullpens, and 403 feet on the left side of the scoreboard on the high right-center field wall. Those distances are not consistent with the supposed 404 feet distance to dead center field, however, and it may be that it's more like 408 feet to center. In addition, there is a 365 ft marker in right center, rather than a 367 marker as previously indicated. So, even though I'm confident that the diagram as it stands is very accurate, a few more touchups may be required as the facts become more clear.
Many more photos from that tour, as well as some lyrical commentary, can be found at ballparkmagic.com.
The first official game at Target Field will be April 12, when the Twins host the Red Sox on a Monday afternoon.
Twins, Mauer make deal
Just in time for the regular season, the Twins and All-Star catcher Joe Mauer reached an agreement to extend his contract by eight years, with total compensation of $184 million. The deal includes a no-trade clause. Mauer is about to turn 27, and this contract means he will stay with the Twins through the 2018 season. He is a pretty amazing player, and it seems like he is on the road to Cooperstown: "Mauer is coming off a season in which he batted .365 with 28 home runs and 96 RBIs despite missing all of April due to a back injury." See MLB.com. They are already calling Target Field "the house that Mauer built."
Mike also reminded me that only one section of the upper deck remains at Old Yankee Stadium, and it is scheduled to be pulled down tomorrow (Thursday) morning. See baseball-fever.com.
March 24, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Spring break (not!) at JMU
For me, this week is spring break, so I am trying to catch up on various chores. Today I drove up to James Madison University to borrow a particular library book on the U.S. Constitution, and since it was a bright and sunny day, I brought my camera. Once on campus, I encountered heavy traffic from vehicles and student pedestrians. I later found out that JMU had its spring break two full weeks ago! To mark the visit, I have created a new photo gallery for Spring 2010. As you can see, JMU has one of the loveliest, most photogenic campuses in all of Virginia. I will soon add a few more snow scenery photos to the January-February 2010 gallery.
Wilson Hall, the central administrative building at JMU. The moon is visible left of the tower. Roll mouse over to see students relaxing in the warm sun -- at last!
March 24, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Health care fallout gets ugly
In Virginia yesterday, some idiots responded to a call to put heat on Rep. Tom Perriello for voting in favor of the Democrats' health care bill. They showed up at what they thought was the congressman's home, but it turned out to be Perriello's brother. One of them severed the gas line leading into the house, which could have caused an explosion. The FBI is investigating this incident, which occurred in the midst of a surge of hate mail and hate telephone calls aimed at members of the House of Representatives following their controversial vote on Sunday. As reported by the Charlottesville Daily Progress:
Two members of the conservative Tea Party groups in Lynchburg and Danville posted the address on the Internet on Monday so opponents could 'drop by' and 'express their thanks' for Perriello's vote in favor of health care reform.
Now, we shouldn't leap to conclusions, because you never know when acts of political violence or vandalism are perpetrated by the opposition or by people who are acting as provocateurs. (A similar question arose during the Tea Party protests in Washington over the weekend.) If I had to guess, however, I would say they were probably right-wing extremists. You wonder if those hooligans are intelligent enough to realize that Perriello will certainly get a boost in the polls because of that. If you ask me, whoever is guilty should spend a long time in jail.
Is Obama is a Socialist?
Many Democrats resent that President Obama is often labeled a "Socialist," but one of their most prominent leaders said exactly that earlier this week. Rev. Al Sharpton, admittedly not the most reliable source, blurted out on Fox News that the American people gave a clear mandate for socialism when they elected Barack Obama as president. Well, isn't that special? See realclearpolitics.com.
March 25, 2009 [LINK / comment]
AEI fires (?)* David Frum
In apparent response to a Wall Street Journal editorial that criticized David Frum as "the media's go-to basher of fellow Republicans," the American Enterprise Institute basically told him his services as resident scholar were no longer needed. ("You're fired!") On his Web site frumforum.com, Frum refutes the claim that he has been "peddling bad revisionist history." It all has to do with the dispute among Republicans over whether they could have reached a compromise over the health care bill. Frum ruffled some conservative feathers one year ago, when he wrote an op-ed piece attacking Rush Limbaugh for his harsh, polarizing style of rhetoric, which Frum said undermined the Republican Party's image in the eyes of independent voters. This past January, he criticized a new book by RNC Chairman Michael Steele as "a formula for narrowing the party into the fundraising arm of the tea party movement." I didn't always agree with Frum, but he is an honest, forthright voice of intelligent conservatives who are currently under siege from the populist wing of the party. He deserved better treatment than that.
This incident has sparked a frenzy of commentary by the political observers with whom I keep in touch via Facebook. Nearly all of them are appalled at the continuing degeneration of the conservative movement into a narrow, dogmatic social clique. Without fresh, critical voices, conservatism will never regain its former energy, and will never regain broad appeal in this country, which it had until about five years ago.
One thing that worries me is whether WSJ editor Paul Gigot is under pressure from on top to toe the "party line." He was always a clear-headed, incisive analyst when he paired with liberal Mark Shields on the PBS / Jim Lehrer news program. I hope he has not sold out.
* Technically, Frum was not fired, but was offered the opportunity to remain as a scholar without pay. Perhaps budgetary considerations played a part in this decision, and some speculate that a major AEI donor (or donors) demanded that Frum be canned. Hopefully, the situation will be cleared up in the days to come.
Tate gets GOP endorsements
My friend and fellow Republican Carl Tate announced he is running for Staunton City Council earlier this month, and has just received an endorsement from all three local members of the Virginia House of Delegates: Steve Landes, Ben Cline, and Dickie Bell. See the News Leader. Carl worked for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington for a few years, and is currently midway through his studies at the University of Richmond Law School. He grew up in Staunton, and knows the community very well. He has served as Secretary of the Staunton Republican Committee for the past year (a post which I held for a few months in 2007), and remains actively engaged in healing the rifts which continue to plague the party. In short, he is a highly intelligent, dedicated, capable young leader, and would make a fine city councilman. Three incumbent members are running for reelection this year: Lacy King, Bruce Elder, and Carolyn Dull. (Elder ran as a Democrat against Delegate Chris Saxman in 2005.) In addition, James Harrington is running (unopposed) to fill the remaining two years of the term for which Dickie Bell was originally elected two years ago.
For the record, I think the people of Staunton would be better represented if the City Council were elected by separate wards, as is done in Waynesboro and most other small cities.
Steve Kijak called attention to a press release from the American Petroleum Institute regarding a bill that was introduced today by Rep. Bob Goodlatte and seven other congressmen from Virginia, including three of the six Democrats. The measure would accelerate the planned oil and natural gas lease sale offshore Virginia, which was originally scheduled for 2011, but has been postponed. The API says that new technologies more than double the estimated reserves of crude oil and natural gas, which would greatly enhance America's energy independence.
March 26, 2010 [LINK / comment]
(Milwaukee) County Stadium update
I have made several significant revisions to the diagrams of Milwaukee County Stadium, former home of the Braves as well as the Brewers -- and home away from home of the White Sox, briefly. The bleachers are about eight feet deeper than previously estimated, and the profile is rendered with greater detail than before. Plus, there are a number of other minor corrections.
One thing I learned from Baseball Fever is that the expansion of the stadium took place over the course of three years. I had previously inferred from the seating capacity figures given in Philip Lowry's Green Cathedrals that the expansion was done all at once, in 1973. Not so! In 1974, the upper deck was extended to the right field corner, in 1975 the lower deck was extended to the left field corner, and in 1976 the upper deck was extended to the left field corner. Thus, the capacity could not have reached the final level of 53,192 until 1976.
TRIVIA QUESTION: What unique historical characteristic does Milwaukee County Stadium have in common with Fenway Park, Braves Field, Shibe Park, the Polo Grounds, and Sportsman's Park? (Hint: October.) Be specific! The first person to correctly answer by using the comment feature gets his (or her) name displayed on that page as a sponsor for the next year. But first you have to register.
Yankee Stadium: doomed
As expected, the final section of the upper deck of Old Yankee Stadium came crashing down yesterday, at 3:24 P.M. according to someone at Baseball Fever. See demolitionofyankeestadium.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. Evidently, Gate Two is slated for destruction as well, despite the earnest protests of Yankee fans and historical preservationists. The New York City Parks and Recreation Department must be run by a bunch of idiots. It is a dark moment in sports history.
March 26, 2010 [LINK / comment]
More "nuclear option" fallout
Students of American government learn that the U.S. Senate plays a unique role in forcing careful, lengthy deliberation on controversial issues, and has a firm rule requiring a 60-vote supermajority in order to pass major legislation, so as to protect minority rights and preserve domestic tranquility. As we all know, however, the Democrats decided to use the "nuclear option" to force through Obamacare, invoking the "reconciliation" provision to dispense with the supermajority requirement in order to get final approval. The whole purpose of that provision is to facilitate votes on the budget, either ensuring that government operations continue, or reducing the deficit. The fact that there are very sharp disagreements on the fiscal impact of the health care legislation is itself a clear sign that the reconciliation process was badly abused by the Democrats. (The Senate approved the reconciliation bill yesterday, and then the House did likewise, thus completing the last piece of legislative work on that issue this year.) The minority party is understandably furious, especially since it passed up an opportunity to invoke the nuclear option five years ago, and the legal challenges being prepared in Richmond and many other state capitals would seem to be the prelude to a constitutional crisis that we have not seen in well over a century.
That is the delicate topic that Newt Gingrich's former aide Tony Blankley addresses in "Kansas-Nebraska Act 1854, Redux" at jewishworldreview.com. He makes a comparison between a domestic stalemate that could not be resolved back in the mid-19th Century, and the situation we are in today:
But now, just as the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 broke through the slave state limitation to the South, the Democratic Party's 2010 health care law has broken socialism's boundary of being so limited. Now, the chains of socialism are to be clamped on to the able-bodied middle class -- not merely the already presumed helpless poor and old who have paid their insurance premiums.
It's a scary analogy, and the dire potentialities that one can imagine should make us all reflect very soberly on the dangerous road our country is currently headed on. As more evidence of the extreme passions unleashed by the passage of Obamacare, political thuggery has become bipartisan, as Rep. Eric Cantor's office window was hit by a flying object. Meanwhile, the Albemarle County Republican headquarters was vandalized yesterday. See newsplex.com. We can expect more of this sort of thing in the weeks and months to come. Lest anyone forget, moreover, after then-Rep. Virgil Goode made some stridently anti-Muslim remarks in December 2006, vandals used a stencil to paint the word "BIGOT" on the window of his office in downtown Charlottesville. Read The Hook.
Good for the goose...
Even as Republicans are loudly denouncing the enactment of Obamacare on constitutional grounds, many observers are pointing out that several GOP leaders used to support the individual mandate. See Bruce Maiman at examiner.com. On Facebook, Bruce Bartlett keeps bringing up former Gov. Mitt Romney's approval of a health insurance mandate in Massachusetts, which looks extraordinarily hypocritical on its face. Perhaps Mitt will be able to explain his way out of that one. I referred to that Massachusetts episode as "Socialist folly" in April 2006: "Such an unfunded mandate marks a devastating blow to individual liberty, one more step in the Long March toward Socialism." Was I ahead of the curve on that one, or what?
Social Security in the red
Just as the U.S. government takes a leap into the utopian (?) dark, the Social Security system is starting to pay out more in benefits than it is bringing in. Under the Clinton and Bush II administrations, the surplus in the Social Security system provided a fiscal cushion that enabled Congress to postpone tough decisions. Moreover, a recent report from the Social Security Administration casts a pall over the financial integrity of Medicare:
For the third consecutive year, a "Medicare funding warning" is being triggered, signaling that non-dedicated sources of revenues -- primarily general revenues -- will soon account for more than 45 percent of Medicare's outlays.
Translation: Our goose is almost cooked.
March 28, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Target Field gets "baptized"
The first-ever baseball game was played at Target Field yesterday, as 36,056 fans watched the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers host the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. The home team lost, however, 9-1. See Minnesota Daily. Some superb detailed photos of that game are posted at baseball-fever.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. The Twins' first game at Target Field will be on April 2, in an exhibition contest against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Target Field has generated a whirlwind of excitement among baseball fans, including James Matthes, who committed to sponsoring the Target Field page. Not only that, he submitted three awesome panoramic photos that he took during the recent open house there. In the photo below, note that the gap between the trapezoidal upper deck in right-center field and the parking garage aligns perfectly with the position from which the photo was taken, suggesting that the upper deck on that side extends a bit further out than I had estimated. Many thanks, James, for the sponsorship and for the excellent photos.
Target Field panorama from the far end of the right field upper deck.
By the way, you too can sponsor one of the stadium pages, for just $10 annually, or else just donate a smaller amount. If you've got a blog or other Web site, it would be a great way to publicize it, and if not, you would just feel better inside, contributing to a worthy cause.
Other ballpark news
At ESPN, Rob Neyer wrote that the relocation of the Athletics is being held up by Bud Selig's prolonged effort to line up unanimous approval by MLB owners for such a move. The main problem is that the most eligible destination, San Jose, is in the territory of the San Francisco Giants, who would presumably demand a big compensation if they were to concede those rights. Neyer writes that it would be a 29-1 vote except that "some of the other clubs are afraid of setting a precedent, and also ... the Giants (presumably) have some favors they can call in." Selig met with Athletics officials last Sunday, but no announcements were made. Link via fieldofschemes.com, at which Neil deMause compares this excruciatingly long wait to the process of relocating and finally selling the former Montreal Expos franchise, when they moved to Washington in 2005. Orioles owner Peter Angelos stonewalled year after year, and successfully wrung a big chunk of the television broadcast rights from the Nationals franchise in exchange for his consent.
Also at fieldofschemes.com, deMause criticizes the commissioner of Major League Soccer, Don Garber, for threatening Washington, D.C. to get a new stadium built for the D.C. United franchise. You'd think that stadium shakedown routine would get old after a while, but I guess it still works. Frankly, I don't see why RFK Stadium can't be retrofitted somehow to provide a better experience for soccer fans. [Hat tip to Mike Zurawski for both these items.]
Here is a fascinating historical controversy about which I was not aware: Some people think that Hank Greenberg was prevented from breaking Babe Ruth's single-season home run because of anti-semitic prejudices by other ball players. In 1938 he fell two short of The Babe's record with 58, evidently because he would often get pitched around in situations where he might have swung hard for the fences. "Greenberg received many more walks as he chased Ruth in 1938 than he did in the rest of his career." See the New York Times, via Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy.
March 28, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Castro endorses Obamacare (?)
At least that's what is suggested on a number of blogs, the Weekly Standard, and even some newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times. The [retired] Cuban dictator declared that passage of health care reform was "a miracle," which might lead one to infer that he has become an admirer of President Obama. What Castro actually wrote in the official Cuban newspaper Granma (in Spanish), however, was at best "damning by faint praise." Indeed, the editorial by Fidel opens with some very harsh words for the U.S. president:
Barack Obama is a fanatical believer in the capitalist imperialist system imposed by United States on the world. His speeches end with 'God bless the United States.'
Castro went on to describe John McCain as the "candidate of the extreme right" (???) and said that Obama should have refused the Nobel Peace Prize as a matter of ethical principle. In a back-handed way, he congratulated the United States for finally achieving a goal that Cuba reached a half century ago -- universal health care services for all citizens. But he cautioned that the next step must be tackled urgently: reforming immigration laws to grant legalized status to all who currently lack documents. He concluded by rambling on about what motivations the United States really has for exploring space, and speculating what recent scientific advances may imply for the survival of humanity.
In sum, all Castro meant to do was to gloat that the United States is following in Cuba's footsteps on a very selective and piecemeal basis. At least on the surface, the Cuban government remains as hostile as ever to the "Yankee imperialists."
March 28, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Roundup of Obamacare opinion
Having strayed farther and farther from the blogospheric orbit in recent months, an inevitable consequence of using Facebook, I suppose, I haven't been keeping up with the opinions of some of the cyber-pundits whom I most respect. Military blogger Donald Sensing doesn't often wade into political arguments, but his reaction to the passage of Obamacare is unequivocal: "We are now subjects, not citizens"
Reliably right-wing Patrick Ruffini dared to suggest that Obamacare passed because "Republicans did not present a compelling alternative story of what was wrong with the health care system, or how they would fix it." I have made that argument many times in the past, which irritates other Republicans, I have found. Well, what do expect from the party of the Bush administration, which enacted the Medicare Part D entitlement? Ruffini writes, "On health care, I have no idea what our basic guiding principle is. Seriously, I don't." Me neither.
Doug Mataconis pokes fun at the President for having to "sell" the legislative package to the American people after it's already been passed. (Is that how democracy is supposed to work?) He points to the deep divide in public opinion, which probably won't change any time soon, since the taxes have already gone into effect while the "benefits" don't kick in until 2014. It's going to be a very bumpy ride, folks...
In the old print media, meanwhile, New York Times columnist David Brooks "why I'm no longer spiritually attached to the Democratic Party." The bill is a universal security cushion that undermines the incentive to create wealth. (Translation: It would make us more like the stagnant economies of Europe.) Brooks points to demographic trends (an aging population) and warns of an impending crisis: "The task ahead is to save this country from stagnation and fiscal ruin." Unfortunately, he says, the Democrats are simply not prepared to address this problem, and neither are the Republicans. Indeed.
The constitutional issue
I don't pretend to be an expert in constitutional law, but I'm familiar with the landmark cases pertaining to Federal-state relations that were decided by the Supreme Court. Based on what I have read, I am convinced that the individual mandate far exceeds the authority granted to Congress under the Constitution, and I agree with the state attorneys general (including Ken Cuccinelli of Virginia) who are filing a lawsuit to have the new law overturned. Until I have read more on the matter, however, I will keep an open mind.
That being said, I am constantly taken aback by the scathingly dismissive tone expressed by many people over this issue, including TV pundits as well as policy wonks. On CNN this afternoon, business correspondent Ali Velshi almost giggled as he raised the issue, which to him is evidently not an issue at all. Many of these "experts" mistakenly focus on the merits of the health care law itself, when the focus should be on the constraints on government power imposed by the Constitution. For many people, unfortunately, that is a hard concept to fathom.
At salon.com (hat tip to Andrew Murphy), Paul J. O'Rourke cites a historical precedent for Obamacare. In 1798, he writes, President John Adams signed into law a congressionally-passed mandate under which privately employed sailors were required to purchase healthcare insurance. The sarcastic tone of the writer makes me think it's a satirical piece (is it P.J. O'Rourke??), but I guess we'll have to look into this. If the historical account is true, the obvious rejoinder is that it applied to a very select group of persons whose work had a direct connection to the national well-being, like air traffic controllers or firemen. I don't think that's much of a precedent for mandatory, universal health insurance.
In contrast to most other legal experts, Judge Andrew Napolitano believes the Supreme Court will strike down the Democrats' health care law. He bases this on the notion that the federal government would be "commandeering" the state legislatures, i.e., forcing them to revamp their regulations to conform to national standards. Past Supreme Courts have ruled against such actions. He went on to warn that the U.S. risks becoming "a fascist country," which he defines as "private ownership, but government control." See newsmax.com; hat tip to Doug Mataconis.
As one of the members of the Volokh Conspiracy, constitutional scholar Randy Barnett took the opportunity to promote his proposed "Federalism Restoration Amendment":
Federalism Restoration Amendment
The legislative power of Congress shall not be construed to include mandating, regulating, prohibiting or taxing the private health insurance of any person; nor shall the power of Congress to make all laws which are necessary and proper to regulate commerce among the several states be construed to include the power to mandate, regulate, prohibit or tax any activity that is confined within a single state and subject to the police power thereof, regardless of the activity's economic effects outside the state, whether it employs instrumentalities therefrom, or whether its regulation or prohibition is part of a comprehensive federal regulatory scheme.
I am currently reading Prof. Barnett's book, Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty (Princeton, 2004), which I borrowed from James Madison University's Carrier Library. (How appropriate -- James Madison is regarded as the "Father of the Constitution"!) Prof. Barnett had an op-ed column in last Sunday's Outlook section, and held an online discussion with Washington Post readers on Monday.
But how could such an amendment possibly be passed by the necessary two-thirds vote in Congress, where the Democrats still hold a strong majority? Easy, by holding constitutional conventions in all fifty states, as author (and Facebook friend) Kevin Gutzman urges. Some say that would be a recipe for chaos, and I admit there are risks, but the status quo is hopeless, as the country grinds inexorably toward statism and ungovernability.
March 29, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Rebuilding a Republican majority
This evening, Republicans in Staunton will be holding their biennial mass meeting, open to any resident who pledges to support party candidates and principles, and tomorrow evening the Augusta County Republicans will be doing the same. Two years ago, I ran for chairman of the Staunton GOP, and lost decisively to the incumbent. In spite of high tensions before and during that mass meeting, everything went fairly smoothly. In part as a reflection of the preceding turmoil on the committee, however, that event was coordinated and chaired by outsiders, and it was understood that there were strict limits on what could be said.
In contrast, the Augusta County GOP mass meeting two weeks later was a disaster, or as I later called it, a "Meeting of Mass Destruction." Fortunately, the leaders of both local units -- Anne Taetzsch (now Fitzgerald) in Staunton, and Bill Shirley in Augusta County -- have since wised up to the machinations of the "grassroots" faction behind the scenes, and they have each striven to begin the process of rebuilding the party. For that, they both deserve praise and recognition.
For the record, however, I would like to point out that at the last mass meeting, there was simply no way I could explain my reasons for running in the confines of a three-minute speech. There were many rumors and confusion about what had transpired in the local party since early 2007, and I wish I could have cleared up all of that. But all I could do (without creating the kind of commotion that later transpired in Augusta County, where the real contest was) was highlight my emphasis on party unity and appealing to independent voters as the only way to win elections, while my opponent emphasized energizing the party's conservative "base." I consider the election of Bob McDonnell as governor last year as sufficient vindication for my approach. 'Nuff said.
With the recent passage of the Democrats' health care bill and a looming constitutional crisis as a backdrop, this is clearly a moment of truth for the party that professes to uphold individual liberty and personal morality. Will we stand unified against the common threat of left-wing hegemony, or will we go back to tearing each other apart? It's a good opportunity to draw some lessons of the recent past, taking account of the opportunities that were missed under the presidential administration of George W. Bush, and take a look at the alternative future paths that we face.
What future direction?
One year ago, I cited a controversial article by David Frum in Newsweek, which focused on how loud pundits such as Rush Limbaugh were undermining the Republican Party's potential appeal. (See "Frum flap update," below.) In the same article, Frum also laid out the essential elements of a more forward-thinking conservative reform agenda, of which the following excerpts are particularly relevant:
We need to put free-market health-care reform, not tax cuts, at the core of our economic message.
We need to modulate our social conservatism (not jettison -- modulate).
We need an environmental message. ... as a party of property owners we should be taking those values more seriously.
Above all, we need to take governing seriously again.
There are strong parallels between what Frum urges and the agenda I proposed for President Bush's second term in November 2004, hoping -- in vain -- that Bush would take advantage of his fleeting "Window of opportunity for reform":
- Radically simplifying the U.S. tax code, perhaps replacing the corporate income tax with a luxury consumption tax.
- Exempting virtually all personal savings from income tax, as part of new approach to Social Security, health insurance and loans for higher education.
- Slashing U.S. contributions to the World Bank and IMF, which do more harm than good these days.
- Getting serious about immigration, with more efficient processing of visa applicants, and huge fines on companies that employ undocumented workers.
- Raising taxes on energy across the board, to discourage profligate waste and pollution. (I know, I'm dreaming about that.)
Tragically, about the only major policy initiative in the second Bush administration was privatizing Social Security. It was poorly conceived, poorly justified, and poorly handled on Capitol Hill. Result: premature failure, squandered "political capital," and the loss of political momentum. Soon came Terry Schiavo, Hurricane Katrina, Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, and a needlessly bloody mess in Iraq. In retrospect, all modesty aside, my words of warning in January 2005 look pretty darned accurate:
If the GOP mobilizes its vast human resources in an effective manner and makes clear the connection between problems and proposed solutions, they can accomplish something truly historic during Bush's second term. However, if they sound the battle cry without having a clear strategy -- such as the Republicans in the Virginia legislature who were outmaneuvered by Governor Warner last year -- it will be like Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. Obviously, playing it safe and just tinkering with minor reforms is a very tempting option, but the underlying structural problems in our economy will get worse and worse unless something serious is done, and the Republicans would get blamed. So it's a question of either taking a calculated risk of losing in 2006 in order to achieve a monumental change in public policy on par with FDR's New Deal, or else clinging to power for the next two or three elections while frittering away the support of the conservative activists, thus setting the stage for a renewed march toward socialism under the Democrats.
Frum flap update
Speaking of David Frum, Bruce Bartlett issued an apology and clarification for stating that AEI had "muzzled" its scholars. (See Thursday's post.) As pointed out by Mark Schmitt at the American Prospect (hat tip to Bruce), however, Frum was no mild-mannered compromiser but one who aggressively and passionately engaged in debate with his leftist adversaries -- including Schmitt himself! Schmitt warns that conservatives will suffer dearly for allowing themselves to become "intellectually bankrupt."
Updated update: An even better take on Frum was written by Christopher Buckley at thedailybeast.com (hat tip to Bruce, again). He invokes his father, William F. Buckley, the esteemed (and reviled) intellectual conservative without peer:
The point ... was that WFB was tolerant of different views. It wasn't a case of Godfatherly "I keep my friends close, my enemies closer." It was a case of intellectual security and self-confidence. He wasn't worried that hanging out with the enemy was going to corrupt his principles.
Dirty politics --> bad policy
Little by little, stalwart Republicans across the Old Dominion and perhaps around the U.S.A. are coming to realize what an awful mistake they made by letting the populist "grassroots" faction take over the party under the false pretense of "true conservative principles." In actuality, what has happened is that irregular, unethical, and coercive means have been used to divert the Grand Old Party from its historical commitment to fiscal prudence and, thereby, on the road to electoral catastrophe. The prime example of this deviation is Richard Viguerie, who champions the populist faction and keeps threatening to defect from the party. As I wrote on April 5, "Any party that relies upon such unreliable people as the foundation of its electoral hopes is doomed."
It is becoming clearer all the time, moreover, that there is a strong connection between the dirty "Mayberry Machiavellian" politics (Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Tom DeLay) and bad public policy. The recent tell-all book by Allen Raymond, How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative goes a long way toward explaining why the GOP just isn't as "grand" as it used to be. It's a cautionary tale of someone who was too innocent to know any better than to commit various dirty campaign tricks, but not innocent enough to avoid prosecution and conviction. The problem is that the standard of party loyalty means that no one wants to point out the crookedness.
Tea Party racist
I strive to keep an open mind about the Tea Party folks, knowing that they're a mixed bag, but I wish they would make more of an effort to clean up their act by shunning the nuts and rogues in their midst. A Tea Party activist named Dale Robertson, who runs TeaParty.org, has denied accusations that one of his members shouted racist slurs on Capitol Hill last weekend, but someone discovered a photo from last year in which he was holding a sign that read "Congress = Slaveowner, Taxpayer = Niggar." See washingtonindependent.com; hat tip to Doug Mataconis. I have no idea what to make of this, but I think it should be on the record.
UPDATE: Davis elected
Because the incumbent candidate, Anne Taetzsch Fitzgerald, withdrew from the race because of a family emergency, there was only one candidate who had filed a notice of intent by the specified deadline (March 15), and so Alex Davis was elected by acclamation to be Chairman of the Staunton Republican Committee. Former Augusta County GOP Chairman Kurt Michael chaired the mass meeting, assisted by Joy Jackson as secretary. The credentials committee announced that 49 participants had been certified. The nominations committee announced that they had compiled a list of duly certified delegates to the Republican Sixth District convention (including me, presumably), and of members of the Staunton Republican Committee (not me). With no other business, the meeting adjourned after only ten minutes. One of the two candidates for the Republican Sixth District chair then spoke: Trixie Averill. She expressed pleasure in seeing all the new faces, which she said is essential for growing the party.* She then talked about how even though the Republican candidate in our (Sixth) district, Bob Goodlatte, probably won't face serious opposition this fall, there are sure to be tight races in the Fifth and Ninth Districts, where Democratic incumbents Tom Perriello and Richard Boucher will be fighting for their political lives after voting for Obamacare. There are several Republicans vying for the nomination in both those districts, but Averill said that the party will come together for the fall race. I hope so.
Ms. Averill circulated a campaign statement in which she stated she had been endorsed by Gov. Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Sixth District Chairman Fred Anderson, Sen. Emmett Hanger, Del. Steve Landes, Del. Ben Cline, and former Del. Chris Saxman, among other elected officials and activists.
* On a personal note, it was an odd feeling to attend a Staunton Republican meeting at which I only recognized a few faces. Over the past four years, there has been a virtually complete wiping clean of the slate, as old members have been replaced. Why? You'd have to have first-hand experience to understand. I would be very surprised if any of the committee members as it presently stands served on the committee as of four years ago. The grassroots in action!
March 31, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Desmond to be Nats' shortstop
The Washington Nationals have named Ian Desmond as their starting shortstop for the 2010 regular season. In the process, they demoted veteran Cristian Guzman to utility infielder. Desmond played in 21 games for the Nationals after being called up last September, batting .280 with 4 home runs and 12 RBIs; his combined major-minor average was .321, which is not bad at all. See MLB.com. The promotion of Desmond is a bold move with potential risks, but as Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote, there is a big upside to the wager. He studied Desmond's minor league records, and concluded that his defensive performance will probably improve with experience.
Desmond proved to be such a reliable batter last September that it raised questions about whether the regular shortstop Guzman should be traded. Earning $8 million this year, however, it seems he is not very tradable, however. Like Rafael Furcal, now with the Dodgers and formerly with the Braves, Desmond has the potential to add a lot to his team, even if he does commit more errors in the short term than the average shortstop. We'll see soon enough.
Yankee Stadium: bleak
They are rapidly tearing down the exterior structure of Yankee Stadium, and not much will be left by Opening Day next week. Gate 2 could be gone already, despite the pleas to keep it intact as a historical landmark. So, I vented my anger at demolitionofyankeestadium.com:
If Detroit is any indication, I'd bet those city officials take a perverse delight in making Yankee fans and historical preservationists miserable. It's one of the common traits of petty government bureaucrats who hate their jobs and make up for it by cruelly flaunting their power whenever they get a chance.
Andrew Clem on 29th March 2010 @ 11:42pm
Fenway Park gets fixup
Fenway Park has undergone another phase of improvements, with repaired concrete and new seats (with cupholders!) in the portion of the grandstand near the left field corner that was built in 1933-1934. There are also new restrooms and new concession areas, as well as some aesthetic touch-ups. See ballparkdigest.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
Thanks for your support
Thanks go out to Jack Courtney for sponsoring the U.S. Cellular Field page, home of the Chicago White Sox. If you'd like your name (and Web link, if any) associated with your favorite ballpark and team, all you've got to do is point and click below:
March 31, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Augusta County GOP reunites (for now)
To the immense relief of everyone who was present last night, the Augusta County Republican mass meeting went very smoothly. Unlike the disputed mass meeting two years ago, this event yielded a consensus about who should lead the party for the next two years: Bill Shirley, who has served in that capacity since June 2008.* Shortly after 7:00 P.M. he called the meeting to order, and made a strong pitch for earnest civic activism: "Never doubt your impact!" His choice to serve as temporary chairman, Al Katz, was quickly approved, and Mr. Katz then presided over the meeting.
Augusta County Republicans get seated, and Bill Shirley confers with Steve Kijak in front as the meeting begins; visitors sat in the rear. (Click on this image to see the full-size photo.)
During the interlude when the Credentials, Rules, and Nominating Committees were doing their work in a separate room, the two candidates for the post of Sixth District Republican Chairman spoke to the audience. Trixie Averill made the same main point that she did at the Staunton mass meeting the night before, stressing the need to defeat the Democratic incumbents in the Fifth District (Tom Perriello) and Ninth District (Richard Boucher). Ms. Averill pointed to her 30 years of service to the Republican Party, beginning with Ronald Reagan's winning campaign in 1980. In response to a question from Ed Long, she denied knowing anything about an offer to pay for the registration fee for the Sixth District Convention (I paid $20) that was allegedly made in a campaign e-mail circulated on her behalf.
Then Danny Goad spoke. A resident of Boutetourt County, he said he has worked for the Republicans for 18 years, but recently has had doors slammed in his face when he told people he was a Republican. He thinks it's because the party has strayed from its core principles, especially the United States Constitution: "We the People"! He said the Tea Party movement represents the cause of freedom in America, and it's too bad it didn't originate from within the GOP. Jason Bibeau asked him about Ronald Reagan's "11th Commandment," and Goad said there should be no bad-mouthing of Republican candidates by party members during a campaign, but otherwise there is no reason for activists to remain silent about the issues.
Then the three committee chairpersons returned to the room made their respective reports. Steve Kijak reported that 115 people had registered to participate in the mass meeting, 103 people filed to become members of the Augusta County Republican Committee, and 77 people registered to become delegates to the Sixth District Convention. Just to make sure, he read the list of names. Gloria Stump then reported the rules which were then approved, and Craig Shrewsbury reported that Bill Shirley was the only candidate to have filed by the required deadline. Temporary Chairman Al Katz therefore declared Mr. Shirley elected as chairman of the Augusta County Republican Committee by acclamation. No one in the room voiced any objections.
Augusta County GOP Chairman Bill Shirley: "Never doubt your impact!"
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Shirley expressed pride in Augusta County and appreciation for the responsibility with which he has been entrusted. "I realize that I'm the chairman of the most conservative county in the most conservative state in the most conservative nation in the world." He reminded the members of the mission statement that was adopted when he first became unit chairman in the summer of 2008: "To elect principled conservatives to public office through grassroots efforts." He then elaborated on his personal motivations for assuming the burden of party leadership at a time of deep discord and confusion:
"My purpose is to help bring truth to light in the political arena. Nothing else. I have no other agenda."
To me, those were very encouraging words indeed. (I recorded most of his speech on my video camera, and expect to post it to YouTube in the near future.) Finally, Mr. Shirley paid recognition to the local Republican elected officials were present at the mass meeting:
- Commissioner of Revenue Jean Shrewsbury
- Supervisor Jeremy Shifflett
- Supervisor Larry Howdyshell
- Sheriff Randy Fisher
- Treasurer Richard Homes
- Delegate Steve Landes
- Delegate Ben Cline
- Delegate Dickie Bell
Each of the three delegates spoke very briefly just before conclusion. Other attendees of note included Scott and Mary Sayre, Alex Davis (the new Staunton Republican Chairman), Kelly Keech, Phil Lynch ("Yankee Phil" -- !), as well as Lynn and Bill Mitchell ("SWAC Girl" and "SWAC Husband"). Unlike two years before, neither Rep. Bob Goodlatte nor Sixth District GOP Chairman Fred Anderson attended either the Staunton or Augusta County mass meetings. Perhaps the most notable absences, however, were the two main protagonists from the 2008 mass meeting: State Senator Emmett Hanger and former Augusta County GOP Chairman Kurt Michael. (See below.)
At the conclusion of the meeting, Mr. Shirley endorsed Danny Goad over Trixie Averill for the post of Sixth District Chairman. He criticized recent actions by the Republican Party of Virginia, such as interfering in the Bath County GOP mass meeting. "We stand for self-determination." (Well, that certainly echoes the strong sentiment of many former members of the Staunton Republican Committee, whose warnings to higher-ups in the party in 2007 were totally ignored.) Then the meeting properly adjourned after a motion from the floor was made, seconded, and approved by voice vote, in strict accordance with Robert's Rules of Order. (!)
Those who made the preparations for the mass meeting and assisted in coordinating it deserve great credit for the success:
- Steve Kijak, Credentials Committee
- Gloria Stump, Rules Committee
- Craig Shrewsbury, Nominating Committee
- Al Katz, Temporary Chairman
- Ruth Talmadge, Temporary Secretary
- Andy Jones (Bath County), Parliamentarian
- Zanette Hahn
- Bob Talmadge
- Emily Griffin
- Jimmy Brenneman
Reporter Bob Stuart of the (Waynesboro) News Virginian was there, and I commented on his story:
Kurt Michael's absence from the Augusta County mass meeting last night was a stark contrast to his very active role in chairing the Staunton mass meeting the night before. It just strikes me as very odd. I'm afraid he has missed another golden opportunity to help heal the rifts in the party.
Surprisingly, however, I didn't see any reporters from the (Staunton) News Leader. Well, perhaps this is a case of "no news is good news."
* In the June 2008 blog post cited in the top paragraph, I wrote, in part:
The true test of leadership is the ability to act independently of any particular faction and foster a sense of broad common purpose so as to make the organization bigger and stronger.
I'll admit that I had some doubts at the time, but there is no question in my mind that Mr. Shirley has lived up to that standard 1,000 percent.
The 17th Amendment
As the controversy over the "reconciliation" process and the gradual loss of the Senate's special deliberative role continue in the aftermath of the passage of Obamacare, Shaun Kenney drew attention to the growing call to repeal the 17th Amendment, which was ratified in 1913. (It provided for popular election of U.S. senators, who had previously been chosen by the state legislatures.) Here is my suggestion, posted on Facebook:
This is an intriguing idea with some merit, but as a book by Lewis Gould explains, having state legislators pick U.S. senators was prone to much corruption. So here's an alternative suggestion to restore balance between the popular will and proper federal-state relations: give the state legislatures the power to CERTIFY two eligible Senate candidates (each member votes for ONE potential candidate), in effect nominating one from each party, from which the people would then make the final choice. The state legislatures would get some of their power back, the Senate would become more expressly an instrument of the states, but the potential for corruption would be minimized, because the people would (presumably) reject any crooked cronies.