Friday, December 05, 2003

More fun with lists

This is fun. - 12/04/2003: "Twenty Most Annoying Conservatives of 2003"

But I just can't see putting a non-conservative like Arnold Schwarznegger on the list and leaving off Tom DeLay.

There they go again

As if we don't already have enough buildings, ships, airports and schools named after Ronald Reagan before the man has even passed away, now a group of Republicans are trying to get his image on the dime.

But that would also mean knocking off Franklin D. Roosevelt whose image was placed on the 10-cent piece in 1946 the year after his death in part because of his support for the March of Dimes campaign to fight polio. Roosevelt's image doesn't appear on any other currency so replacing him on the dime would mean dishonoring his legacy. But that of course is exactly what the radical Republicans are shooting for here. They see Reagan as the anti-Roosevelt who led the charge to tear apart the New Deal reforms that helped bring us out of the Great Depression. Choosing the dime as their latest goal for enshrining Reagan is meant as a direct slap at Democrats. I mean, they could have picked the Lincoln penny since Lincoln is also on the $5 bill, or the Washington quarter since Washington is also on the $1 bill. But this way they can knock down a Democratic icon at the same time.

Personally, I think it would be most appropriate to put Reagan's image on the $100,000 bill since the people who are most likely to have one of those bills were Reagan's biggest supporters and his biggest beneficiaries.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Lotto losers

Now that Texas has joined one of those multi-state lottery abominations, I have an exercize that I would like all avid Lotto fans to practice. (Not that any actually read this blog).

Find yourself a set of percentile dice - two 10-sided die of different colors - and pick a random number between 1 and 100. Now role the dice (00 = 100). Did you win? No? That's too bad. Now mark down that you just spent $1 and try again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. Did you win yet? OK, well keep trying. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. Is your arm getting tired yet? Remember the odds for this exercize are just 1 in 100. You can add a third 10-sided die and make it 1 in 1,000.

The odds for Lotto Texas are 1 in 47 million and for the new multi-state game it is 1 in 135 million. You would have to have a bucket to hold that many 10-sided dice. You would also need to have a strong arm and lots of money. Have fun!

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Democracy is a fragile web

Norm Ornstein had a column in the Washington Post last week that I just stumbled upon that gives a good perspective on the Republicans' disregard for the rules and decorum in the House.
Ornstein is a moderate conservative who works for the conservative American Enterprise Institute, so his sharp rebuke cannot be dismissed as mere partisanship. It is such a good column that I want to excerpt several sections:

"One of the most disgraceful moments in American sports came in the 1972 Olympics, when officials gave the Soviet Union's basketball team three chances to shoot the ball after the clock had apparently run out -- allowing it to defeat the U.S. team.

American politics now has its own version of that infamous game. Early last Sunday, starting at about 3 a.m., the House of Representatives began its roll call on the Medicare prescription drug plan -- the most significant vote of the year. The House votes by electronic device, with each vote normally taking 15 minutes. After the allotted time, the bill, supported by the president and the Republican leadership, was losing. The vote stayed open. Before long it became clear that an absolute majority of the House -- 218 of the 435 members -- had voted no, with only 216 in favor. But the vote stayed open until Republicans were able to bludgeon two of their members to switch sides. It took two hours and 51 minutes, the longest roll call in modern House history.

"This was not, technically speaking, against the rules. House Rule XX, clause 2 (a) says that there is a 15-minute minimum for most votes by electronic device. There is no formal maximum. A vote is not final until the vote numbers have been read by the speaker and the result declared. But since electronic voting began in January 1973, the norm has been long established and clear: Fifteen minutes is the voting time.

In the 22 years that Democrats ran the House after the electronic voting system was put in place, there was only one time when the vote period substantially exceeded the 15 minutes. At the end of the session in 1987, under Speaker Jim Wright of Texas, the vote on the omnibus budget reconciliation bill -- a key piece of legislation -- was one vote short of passage when one of the bill's supporters, Marty Russo of Illinois, took offense at something, changed his vote to no, and left to catch a plane to his home district in Chicago. He was unaware that his switch altered the ultimate outcome. Caught by surprise, Wright kept the vote tally open for an extra 15 to 20 minutes until one of his aides could find another member, fellow Texan Jim Chapman, and draw him out of the cloakroom to change his nay vote to aye and pass the bill. Republicans went ballistic, using the example for years as evidence of Democrats' autocratic style and insensitivity to rules and basic fairness.

In 1995, soon after the Republicans gained the majority, Speaker Newt Gingrich declared his intention to make sure that votes would consistently be held in the 15-minute time frame. The "regular practice of the House," he said would be "a policy of closing electronic votes as soon as possible after the guaranteed period of 15 minutes." The policy was reiterated by Speaker Dennis J. Hastert when he assumed the post.

But faced with a series of tough votes and close margins, Republicans have ignored their own standards and adopted a practice that has in fact become frequent during the Bush presidency, of stretching out the vote when they were losing until they could twist enough arms to prevail. On at least a dozen occasions, they have gone well over the 15 minutes, sometimes up to an hour.

The Medicare prescription drug vote -- three hours instead of 15 minutes, hours after a clear majority of the House had signaled its will -- was the ugliest and most outrageous breach of standards in the modern history of the House."

Ornstein sums up with the following statement:

"Democracy is a fragile web of laws, rules and norms. The norms are just as important to the legitimacy of the system as the rules. Blatant violations of them on a regular basis corrode the system. The ugliness of this one will linger. "

And linger it shall.

Biased labeling?

Former Express-News political reporter Sherry Sylvester, who is now working for a right-wing think tank out of Austin, wrote an Op-Ed column last week for the Houston Chronicle that touts a study by a Stanford University professor as demonstrating a liberal bias in the nation's newspapers.
The study does this by looking at the use of the labels "liberal" and "conservative" and counting how many times they were used to describe various politicians or groups. The study apparently does not take into account the fact that the term "liberal" has been continuously vilified since the 1980s while the term "conservative" is widely embraced by people in both political parties. The study concludes and Sylvester concurs that the newspapers have been biased because they have more readily used the term "conservative" to label conservative groups and Republican politicos than they have used the term "liberal" to describe liberal groups and Democratic politicos.

"Reviewing news stories over a 12-year period -- from 1990 to 2002 -- Brady and Ma found that The New York Times and The Washington Post were far more likely to label a U.S. senator "conservative" than "liberal."

But what if a politician objects to the term "liberal"? Are the newspapers supposed to force the label on them anyway? By whose standards? How does one define a liberal?
And is it wrong to use the term "conservative" when the person in question embraces the term and uses it constantly to refer to themself? This is what is really being revealed in the Stanford study. Not an ideological bias in favor of liberals, but a willingness to acquiesce to the wishes of the people the newspapers are interviewing, quoting and using as sources.

I'm sure if asked, Sylvester would readily produce a list of who should be called a conservative and who should be called a liberal, but I'm afraid that it isn't up to her. In the column, Sylvester vaugely defines a conservative as someone who is opposed to an income tax, opposes legal abortions, favors the death penalty and supports the war in Iraq. Of course, there are a lot of Democrats who hold most if not all of those positions to some degree.

And what if someone opposes legal abortion but also opposes the death penalty? How do we label them, Sherry? Is the Pope a liberal?

Sylvester and the conservative moneybags who fund her organization are so blinded by their zeal to expose left-wing bias in the media that they can't see how ridiculous their arguments come across some times. Case in point: Sylvester points to this example to show how Republicans are more frequently labeled as conservatives than Democrats are labeled as liberals:

"U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett was labeled as "liberal" in 61 news stories this year but most of those reports were from Washington not Texas....
By contrast, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, was identified as conservative in 2,816 state and national news reports."

Wow!! 61 to 2,816!! Well, there is some liberal bias for you! The fact that Tom DeLay was written about in more than 2,816 stories while Doggett and other Texas liberals were written about fewer than 100 times doesn't even seem to phase Sylvester at all.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Round up the usual suspects!

I'm trying to get caught up on a backlog of postings that I wanted to make after a long Thanksgiving break. One thing I want to talk about is an extention of my previous post on the alleged illegality of the Guantanomo detainees.
My friend Mark scolded me for drawing a comparison between the U.S. treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo and other countries such as China and Iran where such things are common place. I suppose I should take solace in the fact that our government doesn't just line everyone up against a wall and shoot them, but I guess when it comes to issues of justice like this I'm one of those "glass is half empty types" who demands that we strive for the full glass everytime.
Since my last post, there has been news reports from Time Magazine many of the detainees may have been kidnapped by Afghan warlords looking to collect the bounty the U.S. was offering for the caputure of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

So far, the processing of detainees, whether for trial or release, has been slow; the Supreme Court's intervention, however, may have delivered a jolt. A U.S. military official tells Time that at least 140 detainees—"the easiest 20%"—are scheduled for release. The processing of these men has sped up since the Supreme Court announced it would take the case, said the source, who believes the military is "waiting for a politically propitious time to release them." U.S. officials concluded that some detainees were there because they had been kidnapped by Afghan warlords and sold for the bounty the U.S. was offering for al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

The Time report goes on to note that the miltary is now just waiting for a "politically propitious time" to release these detainees.

"A U.S. military official tells Time that at least 140 detainees—"the easiest 20%"—are scheduled for release. The processing of these men has sped up since the Supreme Court announced it would take the case, said the source, who believes the military is "waiting for a politically propitious time to release them."

An AP story today would seem to confirm that report.

The obvious question now is why it took more than two years to figure this out?

Bribery and threats: GOP means to an end

The last time we heard from Robert Novak he was being used by the Bush folks to expose a U.S. covert agent as a way to punish a critic of the administration. But when he is not commiting blatant acts of treason, Novak can still be a pretty good shoe leather reporter.

In his most recent column, Novak sheds some light on the bribery and intimidation methods that Republican House leaders used to secure their whisker thin passage of the screw-up Medicare legislation.

"(U.S. Rep. Nick) Smith, self term-limited, is leaving Congress. His lawyer son Brad is one of five Republicans seeking to replace him from a GOP district in Michigan's southern tier. On the House floor, Nick Smith was told business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote. When he still declined, fellow Republican House members told him they would make sure Brad Smith never came to Congress. After Nick Smith voted no and the bill passed, Duke Cunningham of California and other Republicans taunted him that his son was dead meat."

Republicans not only abused House procedures far worse than the Democrats ever did by extending a 15-minute vote to a record-breaking three hours, but they resorted to outright bribery and threats to get their way on the Medicare legislation. I mean, why even bother with the charade of a democracy and a representative government if the Republicans are just going to run roughshod over everyone and everything to get what they want no matter?

I suppose this should not be a surprise coming from an administration that took power with 500,000 fewer votes than that other guy. The democratic process is just a game to them, something that can be manipulated to your advantage provided you have enough money. And money is one thing that the Bush folks have plenty of.

I'm starting to wonder with all the millions of dollars Bush Corp. is raising for the next election, how will they ever be able to spend all that money during the election cycle. They are going to have to come up with some pretty creative ways to spend money if they expect to go through that huge pile Bush has been raising in such a short time. Maybe they will offer $1,000 checks to undecided voters in key swing states. After all, offering cash for votes is just business as usual for today's Republicans.