Monthly Archives: December 2008

Not so fast, Sen. Franken

It used to seem so simple: Gain a U.S. Senate seat by election or appointment, then take that seat. No more. “Al Franken is falsely declaring victory based on an artificial lead created on the back of the double counting of ballots,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Tuesday, reacting to Franken’s double-digit lead in the recount over incumbent Republican Norm Coleman. Cornyn added: “Minnesotans will not accept a recount in which some votes are counted twice, and I expect the Senate would have a problem seating a candidate who has not duly won an election.” Any bets on how long it will take to seat all three new senators from Minnesota, Illinois and New York?

Can Senate block Blagojevich’s pick?

Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate said they will not seat Roland Burris, who was appointed Tuesday by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill Barack Obama’s Senate seat. But it is unclear whether the Senate really can reject Burris, a former state attorney general who was the first African-American to win statewide office in Illinois. Blagojevich is still governor, and appointing a replacement is part of his powers.

Bush advisers turning on former boss

In a Bush postmortem in the February Vanity Fair, two former advisers suggest Hurricane Katrina finished off George W. Bush’s presidency. “The president broke his bond with the public. Once that bond was broken, he no longer had the capacity to talk to the American public. State of the Union addresses? It didn’t matter. Legislative initiatives? It didn’t matter,” said former Bush pollster and campaign strategist Matthew Dowd.

Dan Bartlett, former White House communications director and later counselor to the president, said: “Politically, it was the final nail in the coffin.”

Another former top aide, Lawrence Wilkerson, likened the new president, circa 2001, to Sarah Palin during the past campaign, suggesting Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had to cover for Bush’s ignorance of foreign policy. “It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin-like president — because, let’s face it, that’s what he was — was going to be protected by this national-security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire,” Wilkerson said.

Open thread 12/31

Beware of 50 Herbert Hoovers

Most economists say that deficit spending is needed during a severe recession and that if the government cuts spending too much, it can trigger a depression, which is what happened in 1932. But Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman raised an interesting question about whether state spending cuts may undermine the federal spending. “Even as Washington tries to rescue the economy, the nation will be reeling from the actions of 50 Herbert Hoovers – state governors who are slashing spending in a time of recession, often at the expense of their most vulnerable constituents and the nation’s economic future,” Krugman wrote. Because states have balanced-budget requirements, Krugman supports directing some of the stimulus spending toward the states through funding for food stamps and Medicaid, state- and local-level infrastructure projects and aid to education.

Does Bush’s reading reinforce his beliefs?

President Bush is an avid reader, according to Karl Rove, who says that Bush read 95 books in 2006, 51 books last year and, as of last week, had read 40 books in 2008. The quantity and quality of books are impressive and should help dispel the image of Bush as a dolt, but a number of commentators have noted that Bush seems mostly to read books that reinforce his beliefs. “They are not the reading of a widely read man, but instead the books of a man who seeks – and sees – vindication in every page,” columnist Richard Cohen wrote. “Bush has always been the captive of fixed ideas. His books just support that.”

Pro-con: Should Justice Department prosecute Bush officials for torture?

There are myriad reasons for urgently holding the Bush regime to account, ranging from preventing unchallenged executive action from setting legal precedent to providing a compelling rationale for the immediate cessation of bombing civilians in the escalating Afghan war. The long history of aggressive war, illegal occupation and torture, from the Philippines to Iraq, has given the American people a moral education that encourages us to countenance war crimes. If we allow those who initiated and justified the illegal conquest and occupation of Iraq and the use of torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo to go unsanctioned, we teach the world and ourselves what’s OK and legal. As countries like Chile, Turkey and Argentina can attest, restoration of democracy, civic morality and the rule of law is often a slow but necessary process, requiring far more than simply voting a new party into office. – Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith, the Nation

If it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that war crimes were committed, and from what I know I do not think they were, then the U.S. Attorney’s Offices obviously ought to prosecute those responsible. But the effort by the New York Times and others to criminalize politics by casually urging the criminal prosecution of Bush administration officials that the Times disagreed with is reprehensible. This question ought to be left up to career prosecutors, as was done when some wondered whether Bill Clinton should have been prosecuted for his handing out of last-minute pardons to donors to his presidential library. Come Jan. 20, Obama administration officials ought to be able to do their jobs without wondering whether the next administration will try to bring politically motivated prosecutions. – Steven Calabresi, Northwestern University law professor, for Politico.com

Open thread 12/30

Superintendent for now — or for good?

There was plenty to ponder in the “10 to watch in 2009″ feature in the Sunday Eagle. Karl Peterjohn’s crossover from anti-tax activist to Sedgwick County commissioner will make the weekly commission meetings must-see TV. And 2009 will be a defining year, during difficult times, for incoming City Manager Robert Layton, Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition president Vicki Pratt Gerbino and Intrust Bank Arena manager Chris Presson. One point jumped out of the stories, though: interim Wichita schools superintendent Martin Libhart’s suggestion that he might consider applying for the permanent job after all. “I really enjoy what I do in this role,” he told The Eagle. By all accounts, he is doing a fine job. But Libhart, an architect by training, lacks any education degree. And last April, the school board was unequivocal in saying that he wasn’t in the running to replace Winston Brooks permanently. Then-board president Connie Dietz said: “The board felt very strongly that this (interim) person not be a candidate.” Eight months later, have more minds than Libhart’s changed?

No time like present for gas-tax hike?

The cheaper gas gets, the more people are calling for an increase in the gas tax, to limit consumption, promote energy independence and fund the development of fuel-efficient vehicles and other energy alternatives. A New York Times editorial mentioned the possibilities of either a variable consumption tax (so the price would never go below $4 or $5 a gallon, say) or a variable tariff on imported oil, to signal to automakers and drivers “that the era of cheap gasoline is not going to last.” “Car Talk” co-host Ray Magliozzi recently called on “all nonwussy politicians” to stand with his proposal for a 50-cent gas-tax increase to fund infrastructure improvements and new energy technology. “The other thing that the gas-tax revenue could fund is high-speed train infrastructure between major cities,” he said. “And who would build all of the new high-tech, high-speed trains we’d need? GM and Ford! We’d help them start a mass-transit division, convert some of those factories from building inefficient gas hogs to building high-speed trains.” The timing certainly makes sense, with some saying that gas is headed below $1 a gallon. But finding “nonwussy politicians” will be a challenge.

SEC didn’t do its job

Another report indicating that the Securities and Exchange Commission under the Bush administration didn’t do its job: SEC investigations that led to Justice Department prosecutions for securities fraud dropped from 69 in 2000 to just 9 in 2007, a decline of 87 percent, according to data compiled by a Syracuse University research group. The SEC also played an instrumental role in the credit crisis. In 2004, it eased long-standing regulations that limited the debt of big investment banks. The SEC also decided to rely on the investment firms’ computer models to determine the riskiness of those investments, and it spent little effort supervising the banks.

Open thread 12/29

Monitor war spending

President-elect Barack Obama’s administration needs to do much better at monitoring war spending than the Bush administration did, according to a new study by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary, a defense think tank. The CSBA estimates that the price tag for the direct costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could grow as high as $1.7 trillion by 2018. It blames the ballooning costs on the Bush administration’s unprecedented decision to finance the wars through off-budget, emergency spending. “The process has reduced the ability of Congress to exercise effective oversight,” the report said. “It has also tended to obscure the long-term costs and budgetary consequences of ongoing military operations.”

Pro-con: Will history look kindly on President Bush?

What will be most remembered about Bush’s presidency is his leadership in the post-9/11 period. In a recent interview,  former Secretary of State George Shultz pointed to President Bush’s pre-emptive doctrine as his most important national-security achievement. It was based on a very important idea, Shultz said, namely that in the shadowy threat of global terrorism, we have to be able to uncover plots before they occur.
On the economic front, Bush has been dealt a bad hand. He came into office in 2001 with the economy in the midst of a restructuring slowdown when the technology bubble burst, followed by 9/11. We weathered that storm, and the economy grew again. But all expansions run into corrections, and the housing and credit bubbles burst, ending Bush’s presidency in a recession.
When Bush leaves office next month, it will be said that he governed us through some of the most difficult and turbulent periods in our history. And in the end, it will also be said that “he kept us safe” in the Age of Terror.
- Donald Lambro, Townhall.com

This is a presidency that has wobbled between overweening arrogance and paralytic incompetence. The latter has held sway these past few months as the economy has crumbled. We have more than enough evidence to say, definitively, that at a moment when there was a vast national need for reassurance, the president himself was a cipher.
In the end, though, it will not be the creative paralysis that defines Bush. It will be his intellectual laziness, at home and abroad. Bush never understood, or cared about, the delicate balance between freedom and regulation that was necessary to make markets work. He never understood, or cared about, the delicate balance between freedom and equity that was necessary to maintain the strong middle class required for both prosperity and democracy.
He never considered the complexities of the cultures he was invading. He never understood that faith, unaccompanied by rigorous skepticism, is a recipe for myopia and foolishness.
- Joe Klein, Time

Open thread 12/28

Top 10 issues of 2008

Here is our ranking of Top 10 issues of 2008 from today’s editorial:
1. Presidential election
2. Economy
3. Iraq
4. School bond
5. Coal plant
6. City manager search
7. City policies (TIFs, smoking ban, etc.)
8. Local elections
9. Child welfare (record number of child deaths, complaints about D.A. Office)
10. Casinos
We tried to base the rankings on political and policy issues that generated the most public passion, not just big news stories. Did we miss something, or get them in the wrong order?

Pardoning power better left unused

To his credit, President Bush has issued far fewer pardons thus far than many of his predecessors. But even so, the goof up this week in which Bush pardoned Isaac Robert Toussie (in photo) and then the next day revoked the pardon shows that this presidential power is better left unused — or at least used very rarely. Toussie is a Brooklyn real estate developer who was convicted of mail fraud and other crimes. His pardon, which circumvented the Justice Department’s vetting process, was revoked after the White House learned more about the extent and nature of Toussie’s prior criminal offiense and of political contributions made by Toussie’s father .

Open thread 12/27

Viagra and the war on terror

From a Washinton Post article:
The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.
Four blue pills. Viagra.
“Take one of these. You’ll love it,” the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.
The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes — followed by a request for more pills.

Top 10 media blunders of 2008

Now is the time when the media — including The Eagle — publish rankings of the top news stories or issues of the year. So it’s appropriate the media is the subject of its own ranking. Politico.com listed the top 10 media blunders of 2008, including:
The New York Times story about John McCain’s lobbying ties, which suggested that McCain had a romantic relationship with a lobbyist;
The ill-fated pairing of Chris Matthews and Keith Obermann as co-anchors of MSNBC’s election coverage;
A Fox News commentator referring the playful greeting between Barack Obama and his wife as a “terrorist fist bump”’;
The ABC News-sponsered Democratic debate in Philadelphia, which spent the first half of the debate on such trivial issues as Obama’s stance on flag pins;
The New Yorker’s “Politics of Fear” magazine cover depicting Obama dressed as a Muslim with an American flag burning in the fireplace.

Open thread 12/26

Pro-Con: Should Congress expand health insurance to cover all children?

Even before the impact of the current recession, the last government measurement in 2007 found that nearly 9 million American children are uninsured.
Last year the Democratic Congress passed, and President Bush vetoed, a major expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program that would have covered 3.8 million of these children by 2012 for about 1 percent of the cost of the recent government financial rescue plan. Since that time, the need has grown as 1.2 million additional Americans have lost their jobs.
It is critical that the federal government provide additional assistance to struggling families and states. We shouldn’t make any family have to choose between basic expenses and health care coverage for their kids.
- Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y.

The new Congress is poised to act on President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign promise to provide universal coverage for children. That would be a mistake. When a “free” government plan is offered, it’s nearly impossible to resist. Poorer children would be left behind as states focus on enrolling higher-income kids.
Expanding the program would “crowd out” the private insurance many higher-income kids already have. Putting many millions of children on a government program will quickly lead to restrictions on access to care. Lower- and moderate-income uninsured families, not just children, need help in purchasing policies, and that help could be provided through refundable tax credits.
- Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute

Merry Christmas

Warm wishes to all you bloggers on this Christmas Day. Special blessings on all those who gave their time and money to area charities during this period of economic uncertainty. And comfort to those who are dealing with sickness, loss or who are separated from loved ones this holiday, particularly those with family members serving in the military overseas.
May this day be merry and bright.

Open thread 12/25

Charging college students more to live, eat

If the state’s public universities must raise their food and housing costs at this time, at least Wichita State University will do it less than the rest. Among the hikes approved last week by the Kansas Board of Regents, WSU’s 3.4 percent increase looked better than the others: 6.5 percent at Pittburg State University, 5.1 percent at the University of Kansas, 4.9 percent at Emporia State and Fort Hays universities, and 4.7 percent at Kansas State University. KU’s food and housing costs will remain the highest in the system, more than $6,800 a year. Back to that “if,” though. Many Kansans surely will agree with regent Gary Sherrer of Overland Park, who said in voting against the increases: “I think we’re doing business as usual in very unusual times.”