Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Ban Vending Machines, Solve Obesity? Hardly.

Connecticut just might ban vending machines selling soft drinks and snacks in public schools. This, proponents argue, will help stave off childhood obesity. Opponents say it’s just a feel-good measure that would do nothing but take funds away from schools.

Childhood and adolescent obesity are definitely problems. But removing vending machines? Isn’t that a bit like trying to bail out the Titanic with a pail? While I don’t think students have an innate right to buy junk food at school, neither do I think banning vending machines is going to do a thing to stop obesity.

We had vending machines throughout my school district as early as 1987. Since I graduated high school in 1993, the adolescent obesity rate as gone up nearly 50%. I think this is a problem being fueled by a lot more than just a few Cokes and Snickers bars being sold at school.

If the Connecticut government wants to do something to combat obesity among its youth, how about looking into dietary education, physical fitness courses and other means that would surely have a better chance of success. Removing vending machines, while not some huge violation of rights, is still an example of government at its worst—taking something away in lieu of addressing the problem for real.

Amnesty International Hates America

That’s what President Bush would have you believe. President Bush, during a Rose Garden news conference, called an Amnesty International human rights report “absurd” for criticizing the United States’ detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Bush continued to say that the allegations were made by “people who hate America.”

The President should apologize for his remarks.

Amnesty International envisions a world in which all individuals enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards. In the organization’s 2005 Human Rights Report on the United States, it points to evidence – including the detention of individuals without charges at Guantanamo Bay; allegations that the US administration had sanctioned interrogation techniques that violate the UN Convention against Torture; allegations of abuse by domestic US police; and the utilization of the death penalty by the states – to claim that the United States has a less than stellar human rights record during the past year. Amnesty International may be overstating its claim, especially in comparison to other nations in the world, but that does not mean that the allegations were made by “people who hate America.”

The President claimed during his press conference that “the United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world.” If he believes this statement, along with the principles of the freedom of speech, he should acknowledge that Amnesty International has a right to criticize the United States government even as disagrees with the organization’s evidence and conclusions.

Deep Throat Revealed?

One of the biggest political mysteries of the last half century might finally be solved.

A Few Predictions for the Second Half of '05

Well, the year is half over and summer is here. We’ve had all kinds of great politics, but very little great government this year. Will the second half of 2005 bring more of the same or something completely different? We have some predictions:

• The “Gang of 14” responsible for the filibuster compromise will develop a brilliant social security reform plan. The bill, however, will fail when all 14 dealmakers are so busy offering self-congratulatory interviews that they miss the vote.

• Tom DeLay is cleared of all charges of wrongdoing. Two days later, he’s caught selling political favors in exchange for good tee times. He enters a bribe-treatment program, apologizes on Leno and becomes a frontrunner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

• In an attempt to fire up the Democratic base, Howard Dean makes fun of Condoleezza Rice by appearing in black face and drag. When criticized, Dean says he sticks by his belief that Rice is in fact a black woman. A Dean/DeLay 2008 Presidential face-off is declared likely.

• Emboldened after rejecting the E.U. constitution, the French realize they’ve been governed by a bunch of elitist snobs for the last 60 years. Disgusted with themselves, the French vote to change the name of their country to Freedomlandia. However, reform efforts stall after the people elect Jerry Lewis as their next President. He turns out to be neither funny nor a good politician.

• Declared a lame duck by every paper in America, Bush decides to win back political power and announces an invasion of Qumar. When informed that Qumar is a fictional country invented by the West Wing TV show, Bush retreats to Crawford and is occasionally seen wandering his pastures at night.

• Effectively running the country, Dick Cheney fires Santa Claus and gives the Yuletide contract to Halliburton. Christmas comes in $3 trillion over-budget and six-months late. But the North Pole fuel pipeline works great.

• John McCain officially changes his name to Maverick John McCain. But asks to go by The Mav.

• Trying hard to prove she’s a Centrist. Hillary Clinton is observed mixing Coke with Pepsi. Later she acknowledges she has both Hatfield and McCoy blood. And, in her opinion, Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice should have both won.

• John Kerry announces his 2008 candidacy with the slogan “But Mommy promised I’d be President.”

• The Yellow Line is picked as Best Blog for Illiterates.

Southern Democrats and the Rise of Partisans

Writing for Real Clear Politics, Bruce Bartlett argues that the demise of Southern Democrats has led directly to the partisan nature of today's politics. For one of the first times in our nation's history, our two parties are nearly ideologically pure. Liberals are Democrats. Conservatives are Republicans. This makes compromise and even civil discourse incredibly difficult.

The problem is, where do those of us who aren't pure liberals or pure conservatives go? Outside of local politics, it's hard for a liberal Republican or a conservative Democrat to win because their views don't ignite the radical bases who donate most of the time and money. Not to mention that politics has become so nationalized that even a hawk of a Democrat is going to have to overcome his or her party's weak-on-defense liability. Conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans don't only run against their opponent, they run against their own party's image.

What's the answer? Michael Reynolds over at The Mighty Middle argues that we need to advance a moderate state of mind in both parties. But who can change the culture? Well, the voters, for one. And talented Centrist politicians who have the courage and conviction to put their views over their party's views.

It's a long road. But the ideological purity of our parties is not proving to be good for anyone but the interest groups and most extreme among us.

Star Wars Isn't an Iraq War Analogy, It's Just a Great Movie

I finally got around to seeing Star Wars Episode III. Some have said the movie is an analogy for the Iraq War but, I gotta say, I didn’t see it.

The plot of a duly elected but evil chancellor who uses fear-mongering and war to take imperial power is almost a direct retelling of Hitler’s rise to power. Or perhaps even of Oliver Cromwell’s. Come to think of it, you can relate Star Wars Episode III to plenty of moments in history. And that’s why this movie is so much better than the other two new episodes. In Revenge of the Sith, Lucas returns to the archetypes and universal themes that made the originals so wonderfully enthralling.

The Revenge of the Sith is primarily about one man’s descent into evil set against the backdrop of the rise of an evil empire. Anakin Skywalker’s fall is tragic, inevitable and painfully familiar. We’ve seen and cared about this story before. It’s Michael Corleone in the first Godfather. It’s Othello. It’s the archetype of “the fall” in the same way the original Star Wars was the archetype of “the fantastic adventure” (rag-tag band led by a wizened wizard storms a black knight’s castle to rescue a princess).

It’s no surprise that some would see the Iraq War in Episode III. But that misses the universal points of this excellent movie. Lucas shouldn’t even have bothered making Episodes I and II. Revenge of the Sith tells us all we need to know and it’s the only one of the new movies that actually rises near the level of the originals. Never underestimate the power of universal themes.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

The two of us here at The Yellow Line are spending today with our families. But we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that today is a day for remembrance and thanks. Whatever your personal opinion of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American service members who have died over there deserve to be remembered and honored.

Legacy.com has a moving tribute to the soldiers we've lost in the last few years.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Progressive and Strong. A Winning Combination for Democrats?

Can Democrats find success in a forcefully progressive agenda? Co-editor of The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner, thinks so. In his recent editorial, Kuttner constructs a strong argument for why a move to the left could be the key to Democrat’s return to power.

The key points, as I see them are:

• “There is a latent liberal majority, if liberals can once again learn to do politics.”

• “Most [Americans] actually want more from government -- to ensure health insurance that can never be taken away, to give ordinary people a fair shake in the workplace, and to keep large corporations from pillaging the environment. Most still value traditional Social Security. All this reflects the residual strength, enduring values, and recent gains of liberalism, even if the liberal label is in disfavor.”

• “Democratic candidates will shed their temporizing not when a linguistic expert gives them better packaging but when voters demonstrate that a muscular progressivism that addresses the plight of the common American is a winning politics.”

It would be imprudent to dismiss Kuttner’s argument in the same way it would be imprudent to dismiss the fact that, in this great nation of wealth, many Americans are still struggling. But is a more liberal governing philosophy the answer? That depends entirely on what “liberal” means.

Kutner is more interested in convincing his fellow liberals to be bold in their progressivism more than he is interested in defining what this progressivism entails. If all he wants is a return to Great Society paternalism, then I think he’s wrong. More handouts and more controlling government programs are old ideas that many now recognize to be failed public policy.

But if Kuttner is actually arguing for a brand new kind of progressivism, he may have a point. In a nation where the vast majority of us not only have food on the table but a television in the living room and a cell phone in our pocket, economic desperation is no longer widespread enough to build a political movement on the objective of alleviating it. But economic insecurity is all too common. A political ideology based off the ideal of ensuring robust opportunity for all could inspire a lot of Americans.

But I don’t think such an ideology is leftist. An Opportunity Society can be created using the ideals of individual responsibility first and foremost with government power used not to provide handouts but to help remove unfair barriers. A progressivism built not on the policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but on the first President Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt could teach us a lot about personal responsibility coupled with a government more concerned with the people’s interests than special interests.

But that form of progressive thought comes straight from the vital Center and not from the left. I seriously doubt this is Kuttner’s vision. But it is one the Democrat’s could embrace and, I think, ride to real success.

David Brooks Goes Commie?!?

Not exactly. O.k., not at all. But his editorial today is based around the works of Marx and is worth reading. It's about how our meritocratic system combined with our changing social mores have created a new kind of class stratification that keeps the educated families wealthy and the uneducated families poor.

Very interesting.

Amnesty International Ruins Their Credibility

Last week, Amnesty International labeled the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay as ”the gulag of our time.”. This is a crystal clear example of how leftist groups destroy their own credibility in their critique of the War on Terror. A statement like that makes you wonder if Amnesty International is more interested in expressing their rage and embarrassing Bush than they are in improving prisoner conditions.

Guantanamo is not a gulag. And any reasonable American knows that. So when Amnesty International makes this outrageous claim, everything else they have to say becomes questionable. Indeed, all the stories about the Amnesty International report focused on the “gulag” comment and ignored any specific complaint.

But our enemies believe these kinds of comments. When respected groups like Amnesty International compare our actions to the darkest deeds of Soviet Russia, those who wish to destroy us get one more bit of “proof” that their hate is justified. And their crimes against humanity are much, much, much worse than anything that has even been alleged to have happened at Guantanamo. You’d think Amnesty International would want to prevent our enemy’s atrocities as well.

So, the net effect of the gulag remark? Americans ignore it. Our enemies rally around it. I’m not saying Amnesty International shouldn’t criticize our handling of the War on Terror—they definitely should. All I’m saying is, when they do (when any leftist group does) they absolutely must resist the urge to use ridiculous hyperbole. It destroys their credibility and actually reduces their ability to end atrocities around the world.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton--Is this What we Want?

A new poll shows that a majority of Americans (53%) say they would likely vote for Hillary Clinton if she runs for President in 2008. Some of this support is probably due to there currently being no other credible Democrat nominee (Sorry Kerry. Sorry Edwards. Political parties bury their dead). Some of it is probably due to Clinton-era nostalgia.

But before everyone gets excited about President Clinton Version 2.0, let me point something out. If Hillary is elected and serves two terms, the Oval Office will have belonged to just two families for 28 years. A quarter century of Bush family and Clinton family rule.

Did I miss the point when we became a two-family monarchy?

Obviously, Clinton deserves or doesn’t deserve support based on her own merits. But, really, are people looking at Hillary objectively, or are they just looking at her last name?

Thanks to Moderate Voice for pointing out the poll.

White House Should Release Secret Bolton Documents

And here we all thought Democrat Harry Reid (NV) and Republican Bill Frist (TN) were the Senate’s leaders. But perhaps that title should really belong to John McCain (R-AZ). Fresh off brokering the bipartisan filibuster deal, McCain is now working on a deal to get John Bolton confirmed as UN ambassador as soon as possible.

A strong backer of Bolton, McCain has called on the White House to release secret documents which some Democrats claim may reveal improprieties committed by Bolton while he was at the State Department. Unfortunately, the White House seems disinterested.

Pointing out that those who want to see the documents are already going to vote against Bolton, the White House says it will not release the information. The administration is just being obstinate. It’s unlikely that the documents reveal anything any worse than what’s already known about Bolton’s past actions. But the administration doesn’t want to give the Democrats any new ammunition to protest the nomination and try to embarrass an administration that’s had very few political victories since the election.

Of course, by refusing to release the documents, the White House is creating the perception that they’re hiding something. Other Republican Senators should join with McCain and ask the White House to stop being so dismissive and release the documents. The Senate has spent enough time on this nomination. The White House should be helping matters, not hindering them.

Release the documents. Let’s have a vote.

UPDATE: Our fellow Centrist Charging RINO is calling on Bush to pull Bolton's nomination. It's not going to happen, but RINO makes a solid argument.

Friday, May 27, 2005

“Law & Order” angers DeLay

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is upset at a comment uttered during this week’s episode of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” According to CNN,
The controversy centers around Wednesday's episode in which a police officer investigating a murder of a federal judge suggested putting out an all points bulletin for "somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt."

TYL will concede that the reference to DeLay was unfair. While the show does include disclaimers that all stories and characters are fictional, the utilization of a marketing campaign claiming the show’s topic is “ripped from the headlines” gives viewers the impression that the episode is based on real facts. The inclusion of DeLay’s name – given his high profile as a member of the Congressional leadership and as an outspoken critic of “advocate judges” may have played well to the show’s audience but is also unfair to DeLay.

TYL is also on record calling for the House Ethics Committee to investigate Mr. DeLay following allegations that he went on overseas trips that were improperly paid for by lobbyists. TYL has also criticized DeLay over allegations that a political committee he founded violated Texas campaign laws (the treasurer of that committee was recently found guilty. Full story).

We Need a Fighting Center

Once again, John Avlon has an excellent column on Centrists. Avlon urges Centrists not to rest on the filibuster laurel but to start standing up and fighting for the vital Center. He says:

If increasing numbers of militant moderates and middle-of-the-road warriors stand up and speak out in arenas from town halls, talk radio, blogs, and television to the halls of Congress, they can ultimately win this fight. The bipartisan centrist coalition of 14 senators who stopped the so-called nuclear option and simultaneously secured confirmation for formerly blocked judicial nominees like Priscilla Owen need to hear applause from the broad public that appreciates their independent stand against the party leadership. They will get no such vote of approval from their more partisan colleagues…

There is reason for centrist candidates and centrist citizens to feel confidence about their long-term prospects. Seventy-nine percent of American adults favor moderate candidates, while more than four out of five say we need more elected officials who are willing to vote independently rather than strictly along party lines, according to a new Harris Interactive Poll. But while it makes sense that centrist elected officials should hold the balance of power in a country that is closely divided politically, the ideological elites who feel deeply divided have taken control of the parties.

Going forward, centrists cannot afford the luxury of incoherence and indecision: Weakness will only serve as a provocation to professional partisans and ideological absolutists on both sides. If strong centrists are to revive our national search for common ground, moderate voters will have to identify themselves actively as centrists and independents, while members of the growing House and Senate centrist coalitions will have to work together more closely across party lines with greater constancy and sense of purpose.

Another Reason not to Buy Fake Prada...

You just might be funding terrorism.

Has Frist Flip-Flopped on Stem-Cell Funding?

It appears that he has. Charging RINO has the report here.

A successful presidential run in 2008 is looking less and less likely for Dr. Frist.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Conflict Over Bolton is Really Conflict of Ideologies

On Thursday evening, the Senate was unable to secure enough votes to stop debate on John Bolton’s nomination as U.N. ambassador. Of course we all know what this means. There’s another filibuster on.

Actually, Democrats claim they aren’t filibustering, they just want the White House to release several secret documents that may or may not demonstrate improprieties by Bolton during his tenure at the State Department. (Charging RINO has been on this story better than anyone and his most recent comments can be read here and here.)

Bolton’s nomination has become quite the political tug-of-war, as both sides try to make an ideological statement via this rather average career diplomat (who, by all accounts, is not very diplomatic). What this comes down to is do we want a confrontational relationship with the U.N. or do we want a conciliatory relationship? All the other talk about improprieties and bullying are side issues that skirt the real ideological conflict this nomination represents.

Indeed, Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), has argued that it’s Bolton’s confrontational take on diplomacy, much more so than the man’s personality or past deeds, that make him a bad choice. Which is why unless these secret documents reveal a horribly improper behavior, they won’t matter. The Democrats and Voinovich won’t win this unless they convince enough Republicans that Bolton’s confrontational attitudes are wrong for the U.N.

But the problem is that President Bush chose Bolton explicitly because he shares and would represent Bush’s own confrontational views. To reject Bolton is to, in reality, reject the Bush administration’s strategy of dealing with the UN. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where six Republicans would so clearly reject Bush’s policy preference. Even though many Senators might agree that Bolton is not the perfect candidate, he does represent Bush’s worldview and would be a fair, if overly harsh, representative of current U.S. policy.

In the end, the Bolton nomination is a face-off between those wanting a conciliatory foreign policy and those wanting a confrontational foreign policy. Baring any stunning revelations about Bolton’s past and assuming the Democrats are serious about not filibustering, the Senate will almost certainly confirm Bush’s appointee and, in doing so, his policy. If they don’t, Bush might as well dredge a lake for himself in Crawford, because he’ll be a total lame duck.

Now Democrats are Just Being Petulant

Congressional Democrats have refused to participate in a congressionally mandated commission that will decide how to trim $10 billion out of Medicaid over the next 5 years. Democrat leaders claim the panel is partisan but are mainly protesting the idea that the recommendations are coming from a commission being appointed by Health and Human Services.

This is just petulant. Current Democratic strategy seems to be to do absolutely nothing and wait until their inevitable return to power. Well, the American people are going to be reluctant to return to power a party that just sits on its hands. Democrats may disagree strongly with the Medicaid cuts but don’t they want to have a voice as to what gets cut? How are they performing their role by refusing to perform any role? I really don’t know what they hope to achieve. I’m not sure they even have a plan outside of being intransigent on every issue.

UPDATE: Centerfield also discusses the Democrats do-nothing strategy here. It really does seem that Reid and Pelosi are just assuming they'll win back Congress

Kofi Annan calls for increased effort to save Darfur

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is urging African countries to play a greater role in efforts to promote peace and provide humanitarian aid to victims of the violence in the Sudanese region of Darfur.

TYL has long been calling for further action to stop the violence and provide assistance to the people of the region and we welcome Annan’s call to action.

The Four Most Pressing Questions in the Stem Cell Debate

As the Senate revs up to debate embryonic stem-cell research, four primary questions hang over the debate.

Is embryonic stem-cell research ethical?

Those who oppose stem-cell research argue that an embryo is a human life and, since the science requires that the viability of the embryo be destroyed, the process is destroying a human life. I understand that argument and am even sympathetic to it. And if the science required embryos to be created for the sole purpose of research, then I’d probably oppose it.

But that’s not the case. The embryos being used would otherwise be discarded from fertility clinics. So, in my mind, to oppose embryonic stem-cell research on ethical grounds, you must also oppose fertility clinics where embryos are destroyed regularly. And I cannot oppose clinics whose purpose is to give parents the blessing of a child. If we don’t oppose the clinics, then how do we oppose using their extra embryos to advance a science that could save lives?

Is embryonic stem-cell research really all that promising?

Maybe. The breakthrough needed to make embryonic stem-cell research possible happened in late 1998. It’s a little too soon to declare the science a success or a failure. Adult stem cells and umbilical cord stem cells have proven quite successful at treating a variety of diseases, including helping a paralyzed woman walk again.

But just because other stem-cells have thus-far been more effective, doesn’t mean that embryonic stem-cell research is unneeded. In fact, the success of other stem-cell research proves the viability of the science. Embryonic stem-cells have the potential of generating cells for any part of the body, including areas where extracting adult stem cells is almost impossible. From a purely scientific standpoint, it would be foolish to abandon embryonic stem-cell research at such an early phase.

Should the government fund science that is morally objectionable to some?

Yes, assuming that it is not morally objectionable to the majority. Removing government funding because one minority segment believes it to be objectionable is a horrible way to set public policy. Many American’s find the war in Iraq morally objectionable. Many find teaching sex ed objectionable. And birth control. And the death penalty. The list goes on and on. So, yes, we can provide funding for practices with which some Americans disagree We do it all the time and this instance is no different from any other.

Should government fund medical research at all?

Yes. I am a big proponent of free-market economics, but I am a rationalist not an ideologue and believe that a few specific industries require a government/private sector partnership in order to be most effective. Medical science is one of these. While private industry has a very important role to play, our medical advances should not be driven solely by the profit decisions of private companies. Nor should all discoveries be subject to corporate secrecy and private patent. Government funding helps ensure the most important advances are shared with the medical community at large.

Congress and the President apparently agree. The 2005 National Institute for Health (NIH) budget contains $28.8 billion in funds that will be distributed to 2,800 organizations for all manner of research. $137 million alone will be spent researching emerging technologies that may or may not be beneficial some day.

The $28.8 billion is a vital contribution to America’s medical research. It is inconceivable that even a fraction of that funding would be available through private donations were the government to stop providing funds. Private industry simply does not have the proper motivations or wealth of funding necessary to be solely responsible for advancing medical science.

Al-Zarqawi Wounded?

Iraqi officials have stated they have credible information that terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been wounded and might even be dead or near death.

If true, this would be great news. Al-Zarqawi is enemy #1, having supplanted Osama bin Laden as the greatest single threat to Americans. He is also the greatest threat to Iraq's stability, having planned and ordered numerous bloody attacks on Iraqi police, military and civilians. His evil knows no bounds.

Appropriately, the U.S. is advising caution. But we can hope. Al-Zarqawi's death would be a significant victory for the U.S. and the Iraqi people.

Politicians are Not Public Servants

Politicians have big egos. That’s the astounding conclusion of Peggy Noonan’s editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Actually, once she gets past bashing the filibuster compromisers for their immodesty, she makes a good point. Which is why I’ve posted on it. She ends up with:

I think everyone in politics now has been affected by the linguistic sleight-of-hand, which began with the Kennedys in the 1960s, in which politics is called "public service," and politicians are allowed and even urged to call themselves "public servants." Public servants are heroic and self-denying. Therefore politicians are heroic and self-denying. I think this thought has destabilized them.

People who charge into burning towers are heroic; nuns who work with the poorest of the poor are self-denying; people who volunteer their time to help our world and receive nothing in return but the knowledge they are doing good are in public service. Politicians are in politics. They are less self-denying than self-aggrandizing. They are given fame, respect, the best health care in the world; they pass laws governing your life and receive a million perks including a good salary, and someone else--faceless taxpayers, "the folks back home"--gets to pay for the whole thing. This isn't public service, it's more like public command. It's not terrible--democracies need people who commit politics; they have a place and a role to play--but it's not saintly, either.

Generally, we could all use a little more humility. Our leaders even more so.

FBI Report Cites Quran Abuse

Recently released FBI files document allegations of Quran abuse at the Guantanamo Bay prison. But I’m not sure this provides anything new. All the FBI documented were stories from prisoners who claimed guards desecrated the Quran. Prisoners have been claiming this for years. It’s no surprise that they’d tell the FBI the same story.

So how do we know if this is just a scurrilous rumor spread by prisoners or if there is some truth here? We don’t. For now, each of us must decide for ourselves whether we want to trust our government or the prisoners, some if not most of whom are members of the Taliban and/or al Qaeda.

Given the abuses at Abu Ghraib and in Afghanistan, I think we’re fooling ourselves if we think prison guards would never desecrate the Quran. But without any evidence outside of prisoner allegations, it would be ridiculous to just take our enemy’s word for it. Some on the left may not like it, but our government is by far the more trustworthy of the two sides.

I don’t know what really happened. All I do know is 1) we need a full, independent investigation into the very real prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib and in Afghanistan, and 2) we should make no excuse for those who reacted violently to the news that their holy book may have been desecrated. There is no excusing the murderous riots or those who led them.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

San Antonio Spurs, Boring No More

Let me take a moment's break from political blogging and write about another issue near and dear my heart...NBA basketball...

The San Antonio Spurs have long suffered the rap of being a “boring” team, a bunch of tough but colorless grinders that provided about as much spectacle as a regional spelling bee. As a longtime Spurs fan, this perception always irritated me. But I kept quiet because, well, it was pretty much true. “I love to watch great defensive basketball” was a common phrase around ole’ San Antone.

But no more. As Marc Stein rightly points out in his ESPN column, these Spurs got game. Against the high flying, fast-break Phoenix Suns, the Spurs have flown higher and moved faster. Have you seen Spurs point guard Tony Parker run the court? Like lightening going downhill.

And what can you say about guard Manu Ginobili? Spinning, jumping, cutting, smashing, the man looks like he’s gonna get himself killed every time he touches the ball. Yet, more often than any other player out there, he’ll turn what seems to be pure anarchy into a brilliant, acrobatic shot that leaves your jaw bumping the floor. And that’s not even mentioning superstar Tim Duncan and his mesmerizing skills in the low post.

The days of the boring Spurs are over. This is a group that’ll keep your eyes glued to the screen and your rear out of the chair. If the NBA is smart, they’ll stop thinking of these guys as backwater yawners and start marketing them like the all-out phenomenally exciting team that they are.

Overstatement? Sure. I profess no impartiality here. But f you’re still buying into the anti-Spurs hype, stop. Check these guys out. They’re a hell of a lot of fun.

A Call for Centrist Activist Groups

Thoughts of an American Centrist calls for the formation of Centrist special-interest groups. There is already The Centrist Coaltion and The Centrist Policy Think Tank, but what about issue-specific groups working towards Centrist ideas for education, abortion, election reform, etc.?

A great idea and one I hope many will consider.

McCain's Steroid Bill is Bad Public Policy

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has joined with 4 members of the House Government Reforms Committee to introduce a bill that would mandate strict steroid policies for the four major sports. Should the bill become law, professional athletes would be subject to a 2-year ban after a first positive test and a lifetime ban after the second.

Steroids are a serious problem for amateur and professional athletes. And I think the Congressional hearings were appropriate, given the huge impact sports have on our nation and particularly the influence athletes hold over our youth. But this bill is crossing the line.

There are already numerous laws forbidding and regulating steroid use. If the government wants to increase the penalties for illegally buying and selling steroids, that’s an acceptable solution. But it is a serious government overreach to mandate that professional sports, which are private industries, drug test and punish their employees for violations.

If the federal government can force private companies to drug test, how long before this type of law moves out of the realm of professional sports and into other industries? The Arizona Republic reports that McCain is simply using the bill as a scare tactic to force the major sports and particularly Major League Baseball into adopting much more stringent internal regulations. But I don’t think it is appropriate for the federal government to even threaten this kind of legislation.

This is clearly one of those cases where the government perceives a problem and believes it should provide the solution. It shouldn’t. Public outrage has already pushed Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig into proposing and receiving owner approval for much stricter steroid testing guidelines and punishments. Other pro sports would likely do the same should significant steroid abuse come to light.

The free market combined with existing steroid laws will handle this without the heavy hand of government intervening. It’s disappointing to see McCain support such bad legislation.

Dick Morris: Centrists are Taking Over

Writing for The Hill Dick Morris argues that the filibuster deal signals the that Senate power has been transferred from the wings to the center.

The deal to avert a change in Senate cloture rules is more than just a temporary outbreak of sanity in this highly charged partisan accelerator chamber. It amounts to a transfer of leadership from the polarized, party leaders to the narrow but critical center of the institution…

[T]here now exists, in effect, a third-party caucus in the Senate of moderates from both parties. They may offer a chance for us to be rid of the reflexive and revolting partisanship that has led to government shutdowns and presidential impeachments, each equally abhorrent to most voters.
We can only hope that this new middle of the Senate will take the agenda away from the extremes in each party and bring government back to the middle, where it belongs.

Yes, we can only hope. But it is prematurely optimistic to declare a transfer of power. The extremists in both parties are very loud and well financed. For the Center to take hold, we’ll need to see a lot more courage from the Centrists.

Nevertheless, it’s great to see so many recognizing the existence and importance of the vital Center.

President's Stem Cell Position Makes Little Sense

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed an embryonic stem-cell research bill that would provide federal funding for the controversial science. Passed with bipartisan support on a 238-194 vote, the issue nevertheless brought out some heightened and even extreme rhetoric.

According to AP, “Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said the embryonic research bill would force taxpayers to finance ‘the dismemberment of living, distinct human beings.’”

While President Bush weighed in with: "This bill would take us across a critical ethical line by creating new incentives for the ongoing destruction of emerging human life. Crossing this line would be a great mistake."

There is indeed a very real need to consider the ethical implications of this research. But, as we have argued, this bill creates standards that are ethical. Given that the only embryos that will be used for research would otherwise be discarded by fertility clinics, the rhetoric from Delay and the President seems rather over-the-top.

If these men believe fertility clinics are unethical, they should come out and say so. But if they support fertility clinics, then their statements on stem-cell research lacks any consistency of conviction. How are we advancing the culture of life by choosing to discard embryos rather than using them in research that could improve the lives of tens of thousands of people?

Privately funded research on new embryonic stem-cell lines is perfectly legal. Do Delay and the President believe such research should be illegal? How can they say it is unethical to federally fund it but ethical to let it continue privately?

If opponents want to argue that we shouldn’t be using government money to fund scientific research, that’s at least a consistent argument, if rather short-sighted. But the position taken by Delay, Bush and others is, frankly, nonsensical and appears to be an attempt to pander to the extreme-right Republican base while avoiding the political liability of pushing for an out-right ban on embryonic stem-cell research (not to mention fertility clinics).

The Senate should pass this bill as soon as possible and force the President to face the American public and explain exactly how a science is too unethical to fund with government money but ethical enough to permit to continue with private funding. It’s an untenable position.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Centrists Rising. Maybe.

Are Centrists taking a power role in Congress? Knight Ridder has this report. A must read, but here’s the conclusion:

The rise of an assertive centrist bloc in Congress could change the dynamic of power along Pennsylvania Avenue. In his first term, Bush largely relied on Republican leaders in Congress to enforce party discipline and got almost everything he wanted.

His stature as the war-on-terrorism president seemed to trump Congress' usual instinct to demand respect as an equal branch of government requiring give and take.

Now, despite having won a clear majority in November, Bush could be forced into the kind of bargaining with lawmakers that he ignored in his first term.

"Were a group like this to continue to cooperate this way, we might see the center really take hold," said John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron. "We're into new territory."

John Avlon: The Center is Stronger than the Wings

Writing for The New York Sun, noted Centrist John P. Avlon describes Rudy Giuliani’s recent graduation speeches at Loyola and Middlebury colleges. At both institutions, activists from the right and left threatened to protest the speeches. As it turned out, the protests by both sides were miniscule and the support for Giuliani was immense. Avlon concludes:

As the over-hyped activists at Loyola and Middlebury indicate, the extremes may be deeply divided, but the vast majority of us would like to work together and focus on shared solutions. A nationwide poll released four days ago by Harris Interactive quantified this principled impulse, showing that "85 percent of adults believe we need more elected politicians who will vote independently rather than on party lines." If leaders can hear beyond the screams of the extremes, maybe they will listen to this unmistakable message increasingly in the future.

As the Senators who signed the filibuster compromise demonstrated, you don’t have to be an extremist to be strong. The partisans are loud, they are forceful but they are wrong. The Yellow Line is unabashedly Centrist and we believe strongly in Centrist principles and ideals. But what we believe in even more strongly is that we should be able to disagree in this country, even radically disagree, and yet refrain from anger and hate. Our political opponents are still our countrymen. We have many common dreams and common causes. We should be able to work for commonsense and common ground too.

What About the Other Justices?

The filibuster deal only covers five of the nominees being blocked in the Senate. What's going on with the others? Red State has the details.

Free-Market Democrats

Tim Ferguson of the Wall Street Journal writes about the benefits of free markets:

[There was] miserable stagflation of the mid- and late 1970s, and an upheaval began, at least in America. Regulators began to trim back the red tape and to pull down the barriers that protected established firms from upstarts. Tax law was changed to inspire entrepreneurial risk, and new lenders emerged to seed it. Customers began to see price breaks, upgrades, longer retails hours, fresher fare and new products and services. Technology pushed the revolution along as well.

Today competition reigns in the U.S. in a way undreamed of 20 years ago--competition for markets, for labor, for capital, for time and, yes, for attention (just ask the newspaper industry). A lot of people have enriched themselves in the process, but no one feels safe from a new competitor sailing into view and sending shots across the bow, 24/7.

Ferguson then questions whether there are any Democrat free traders left.

There is still a wing [of the Democrats] that recognizes the gains to be had--for consumers big and small--from vigorous, relentless competition…

But the truly intense constituencies of the Democratic Party--the environmentalists and trial lawyers, the Hollywood and feminist leftists, the racial-spoils set and the unions--have allied themselves quite differently, eager to maintain status quo arrangements that serve their mutual interests...

Might there yet be a Nixon-to-China moment, when Howard Dean's Democrats rediscover the benefits of the market in defiance of their status quo caucus? It's not impossible. One derivative benefit of our competition-laced society is that countless forums now exist for getting messages out.

Good points. America’s economic success has been predicated on our ability to evolve with changing conditions. The economic protectionism and market stability (which became market stagnation) of the post-WW II era are over. If Democrats want to be the party of the economically insecure, then they need to look away from the terminal status quo and embrace free market economics.

Democrats certainly don’t have to conform to the Republican vision, but they do need to acknowledge and work within the reality that free markets have been and will continue to be very good for this country.

Centrist Power? Now That's an 'Extraordinary Circumstance'

The most important part of the filibuster deal is Part II, Section A which states:

Signatories will exercise their responsibilities under the Advice and Consent Clause of the United States Constitution in good faith. Nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.

Many commentators see this clause as a win for the Democrats because they could conceivably play the “extraordinary circumstances” card at their whim. But that ignores the fact that the Centrist Democrats are required to act in “good faith.” If the Centrist Republicans disagree with the Centrist Democrats, the agreement would apparently become void and the nuclear option would return—only this time, the Republicans could claim moral authority for using it because the Democrats would have “cheated.” So, upon further analysis, the “extraordinary circumstances” clause is actually well-balanced.

In fact, when you think about it, the clause effectively puts the power to accept or filibuster future judicial nominees into the hands of the Centrists. Together they will decide which justices are acceptable and which are not.

If these Senators hang together—and the fact that they made the deal indicates the likelihood that they will—we have what I think is a pretty good standard for judges. The Centrist Democrats will make sure qualified judges aren’t rejected simply because they offend the radical liberal base. And Centrist Republicans will make sure Bush can’t push through truly radical conservative justices.

This is not a reality that will sit well with partisans. But we welcome it. Judicial nominees are in the hands of the Centrists now. Let’s hope the Center can hold.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Rightwing Partisans Hate Filibuster Deal

The instant analysis of the filibuster deal is giving the win to the Democrats. The real winner, of course, are all Americans of good sense. But the conservative blogosphere is enraged, as exemplified on Michelle Malkin’s roundup of rightwing reaction..

Most partisan conservatives are upset that only three justices are guaranteed a vote and are convinced that the Democrat Centrist’s will abuse their promise not to filibuster future nominees except under “extraordinary circumstances.” Their anger is understandable. After all, when you adopt a winner-take-all approach, you lose if you don’t take all. And losers are often sore.

As for the lefties, they’re moderately pleased. While not happy with having up-or-down votes on three justices they fought hard against, they’re quite glad the judicial filibuster has been saved. They hope, of course, that Democrats will be able to use the threat of filibuster to push Bush into selecting a more “moderate” Supreme Court nominee when the inevitable vacancy opens.

However, we’ll have to see how the compromise plays out in the coming months before we know whether one party got a better deal than the other. If the Democrat Centrists are men and women of their word, all of Bush’s future nominees could likely get an up-or-down vote. In fact, the compromise permits the Republican Centrists to redeploy the nuclear option should they feel the Dems are not living up to their part of the deal.

The deal allows the each Democrat to decide for him or herself what entails an “extraordinary circumstance.” But, with the threat of the nuclear option at their disposal, it’s really the Republican Centrists that will decide what is and is not an extraordinary circumstance. As such, this deal is, in the lingo of the partisans and horse-race press, a short term win for the Democrats and a long-term win for the Republicans.

But we’ll see. Right now, the only real victors are the Centrists. Of course, once they suffer the retribution of the special interest groups, they may not feel much like winners. This will be particularly brutal for Republicans who signed this deal. Fortunately for them, the people, not the partisan interest groups, cast the ballets. And it’s the people who should feel like the biggest winners here.

Sanity Prevails, Centrist Senators Reach Filibuster Compromise

Talk about an 11th hour compromise. Fourteen U.S. Senators have announced that they have made a deal to preserve the filibuster while allowing up-or-down votes on three of the five filibustered judicial nominees.

This is a huge win for Centrists and for the rule of reason over partisanship. The Senators who reached the deal include Republicans John McCain (AR), John Warner (VA), Mike DeWine (OH), Susan Collins (ME), Olympia Snowe (ME), Lindsey Graham (SC), Lincoln Chafee (RI), and Democrats Ken Salazar (CO), Ben Nelson (NE), Mary Landrieu (LA), Joseph Lieberman (CT), Mark Pryor (AR), Robert Byrd (WV) and Daniel Inouye (HI).

The three justices that will receive up-or-down votes are Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor. While the two justices that are apparently off the table are Henry Saad and William Myers.

The seven Democratic Senators involved in the deal also promised they would only filibuster future nominees under extraordinary circumstances. What constitutes and extraordinary circumstance will be left up to the individual Senators.

This is pretty much the deal we’ve been hearing about for several weeks. As for the Senators signing on, the only newcomer is Inouye. As for what took so long to reach a compromise, we can only speculate. But nothing pushes an issue like a ticking clock.

These 14 Senators will almost certainly suffer the ire of their parties and particularly the anger of interest groups who’ve been pushing hard to avoid any type of compromise. While not all the Senators signing on can be considered Centrists (Byrd comes to mind), make no mistake that this is a victory for the Center.

We can only hope that we see Centrists from both parties joining forces more often to temper the kind of partisan irrationality that almost sent the Senate into a “nuclear winter.” Even if we don’t, at least we can say right here, today, sanity actually prevailed.

UPDATE: For updates as to what Senators are saying, see Charging RINO. Right now, a number of Senators not involved in the deal are praising the work of those who were. To me, that’s like starting a fire and then thanking the fire department as if you were an innocent bystander. But praise is due. We’ll just see how everyone feels tomorrow when the special interest groups decide how they’ll retaliate.

Supreme Court Upholds Closed Primaries

The US Supreme Court ruled today that states can restrict participation in a primary election to the party’s own members and to independent voters. For details on the issues involved in the ruling, click here.

According to Reuters,
24 of the 50 states have some form of primary election system that restricts voting to the political party's own members or to its own members and independents. Those states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Twenty-six states have some form of an open primary system. Of those, Alaska and Utah give the party the option of opening up its primary while the others allow voters, regardless of party affiliation, to pick the primary in which they vote.

TYL strongly opposes this ruling. An individual voter, even if s/he is registered with a party should be able to vote for the candidate which s/he feels best represents her/his interest, regardless of party affiliation.

Closed primaries, combined with gerrymandering, has resulted in a system that strongly favors incumbents and places a priority on appealing to one’s political base. Closed primaries stifle debate and prevent centrist voters from playing role equal to their political force in primary elections. Closed primaries have fueled the polarization of American politics and is a major contributor to the partisanship that is plaguing American politics.

Special Interests Sink Millions into Filibuster Fight

What exactly are the interests of special interest groups involved in the filibuster fight? It certainly isn't rationale action. As a USA Today story illustrates, special interests on the left and right are working overtime to sink any chance of compromise on the filibuster fight. This effort includes massive "grassroots" campaigns and millions spent on advertising.

Why? Because they see the appointment or rejection of judges as vital to their interests, even though there is no real way to know what cases will come before these judges or exactly how they'll rule on any specific case. In terms of making a wise investment, this a bit like going to the roulette table and putting your savings on red.

Wouldn’t these groups be better off spending their money fighting actual issues like social security reform or criminal justice laws or even zoning regulations in their home towns?

And yet the conservative group Progress for America has spent $2.5 million on fighting against the filibuster. While the liberal group People for the American Way has spent $5 million trying to preserve the filibuster. These groups certainly have every right to spend their donors’ money as they see fit. But if I were a member of these groups, I’d really have to question what, in the end, all this money and time and energy is going to net me.

Is $5 million worth it for the possibility that a future court ruling might be somewhat more favorable to your cause? Would a compromise that preserves the integrity of the Senate really be all that detrimental to these groups?

It’s truly amazing that this fight could elicit such partisan furor. What a clear commentary on the state of American politics today.

“Beef: It’s what’s for dinner”

The Supreme Court today upheld a 1985 federal law requiring beef producers to pay a $1-per-head fee to support a multimillion-dollar “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner” marketing program. There are similar federal and state campaigns for other products, including milk (“Got Milk?), pork (“The other white meat”), and cotton (no idea what this campaign is….must not be a very good campaign).

The court ruled that the beef campaign is a form of “government speech” immune to First Amendment challenge.

Under the Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985, the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board develops budgets and awards contracts to carry out a coordinated program designed to strengthen the position of beef in the marketplace.

This law smacks of a special interest perk (although it obviously combats the “free-rider problem” that would otherwise exist with this type of market enhancement campaign). Individual farmers should not be forced to buy into a marketing campaign by force of federal legislation. The Supreme Court needs to reconsider the individual rights of free speech and freedom of association in this case.

Parade of the Unfortunate Star Wars Costumes

Somethings are just too funny not to share.

For the record, while I may have had the youthful misfortune of tattooing the rebel symbol to my leg, I have never dressed up as a Star Wars character. Thank God, 'cause I'd hate to end up on this site: Parade of the Unfortunate Star Wars Costumes.

Thanks to Michelle Malkin for the tip.

Fillibuster showdown is near

The US Senate is continuing debate over judicial nominees and appears likely to head towards an all-night session that would culminate in a showdown tomorrow. C-SPAN 2 has indicated that a vote on cloture is expected around 5:30 PM EST.

A compromise does not appear likely, but centrist Senators are continuing to meet in hopes of reaching an agreement.

The Associated Press has this guide to how the vote on banning judicial filibusters could go down.

The Top 10 Issues That Are Vastly More Important Than The Filibuster

As the Senate moves into its second week of so-called debate over the future of the filibuster, it has become clear that the Senate has lost all perspective on what is important to this nation.

What else could possibly be more important than a parliamentary procedure that appears nowhere in the constitution and was most famously used to obstruct civil rights legislation? Well, we here at The Yellow Line have developed a top ten list of issues that should be of much greater interest to the Senate.

This is just a beginning and listed in no particular order. Feel free to offer your own suggestions as to what issues you’d rather see our illustrious Senators (whom we pay $162,000 a year) discuss.

• Reforming Social Security.

• Finding solutions to America’s healthcare problems.

• Tackling the budget deficit and slow economic growth.

• Devising a more balanced and intelligent means to allocate funds for Homeland Security.

• Developing new programs to promote Democracy around the world.

• Strengthening our border security

• Creating incentives for the development of alternative fuels and other solutions to solve gowing energy costs.

• Simplifying the tax code.

• Repealing or at least significantly improving REAL ID and tackling the problem of identity theft.

• Curtailing the excesses of lobbyists.

More on the Washington Gubernatorial Election

Earlier today, I called for GOP gubernatorial hopeful Dino Rossi to step aside and allow Democrat Christine Gregoire continue serving as Washington’s governor. Here’s why.

First, the last and most credible count gave Gregoire a victory by 129 votes. That election result was certified by the Washington legislature and Gregoire was installed as governor.

Second, according to the Associated Press, the State of Washington expects to spend about $200,000 of taxpayer money on private lawyers defending the Secretary of State’s office. In addition, every county auditor and prosecutor is spending thousands of dollars in staff time to respond to the Republican lawsuit challenging the victory of Gov. Gregoire. Political parties have spent more than $4 million on the lawsuit. In both cases, these resources should be spent on services to the public.

Third, a new election would be a waste of taxpayer money. It’s estimated by the governor’s office that a new election would cost more than $4 million in taxpayer money. Again, this money could go to more deserving causes.

And, finally, the people of Washington State do not want a new election. A March GOP poll that shows that a majority of Washingtonians do not want a new election (35% wanted a new election; 58% did not). This despite the fact that if a new election were held Rossi would be elected by a substantial margin (54% to 38% for Gregoire).

What Washington State, as well as the rest of the country, needs is election reform that ensures that all barriers to the vote are removed, that all votes are counted, and that the results are enforced.

Filibuster 'Debate' Continues

Charging RINO has all the updates from today's floor speeches and side issues. Tomorrow the nuclear option will be deployed. A compromise is looking less and less likely. Frankly, this is just embarassing for both parties.

Republicans go to court to overturn Gregoire’s victory in Washington

Washington Governor Christine Gregoire was sworn into office on January 12th after being declared the winner in Washington’s hotly contested gubernatorial election. Yet, Republicans continue to seek to reverse the election’s outcome. They go to court today.

In the latest development, Republicans are alleging that fraud played a role in Gregoire’s victory. The GOP is relying on depositions in which King County election workers said they submitted false absentee ballot reports, with the knowledge of their supervisors, before the election was certified. The allegation of fraud makes it easier for the court system to rule in favor of the Republicans and overturn the election.

Other issues still being contended are reports that felons voted illegally and human error in vote counting similar to allegations raised in the 2004 Ohio and 2000 Florida presidential votes.

This race was one of the closest in history and clearly shows just how divided the State of Washington is. In a similar situation in 2001, Vice President Al Gore decided that rather than continuing to contest a very close election he would step aside for the good of the country. It was indeed a noble gesture. Unfortunately Dino Rossi, the Republican candidate for governor in Washington, failed to learn from Mr. Gore’s example.

It’s time for healing and coming together. Rossi needs to step aside and look towards a rematch in 2008.

Bush Should Reconsider Funding Stem-Cell Research

Working its way through Congress is a new, bipartisan stem-cell bill which would provide federal funding to the National Institute of Health (NIH) to conduct research on new embryonic stem-cell lines. Unfortunately, President Bush has vowed to veto the bill.

The bill is very specific in its guidelines and would only permit research on embryos that would otherwise be discarded by fertility clinics. All embryos would have to be donated with the consent of the donor couple. Nevertheless, there truly are serious ethical questions involved. Despite what some on the left may want you to think, social conservatives aren’t anti-science or needlessly cruel in their position. An embryo is the first stage of life. And any experimentation on life should be undertaken carefully to ensure no ethical standards are violated.

This is why the new bill deserves support. By limiting research only to embryos that would otherwise be discarded, we are not creating life for the soul purpose of an experiment. In fact, fertility clinics create embryos for the soul purpose of advancing life and providing couples with the blessing of a child. Few would be willing to argue that fertility clinics are unethical. Thus, providing the unused embryos to the NIH should be acceptable. Morally, I think it is better to use those embryos to help develop cures that might improve the quality of life rather than just discarding them.

President Bush, while supportive of the research, feels this is not an area the federal government should be involved in funding. To me, that seems like one of those so-called compromise solutions that is no compromise at all. If President Bush believes it is ethical to work with new embryonic stem cell lines, then it should be ethical to fund such research. If Bush believes the research is unethical, then he should be moving to outlaw the practice all together.

Instead, President Bush’s policy creates an untenable middle ground. The difficult ethics of the science are the very reason why the federal government should get involved. By providing funding, the government can also provide significant guidance in the development of strong ethical standards and research guidelines. By refusing funding, Bush is only guaranteeing that a broad range of ethical standards will develop, some almost assuredly less well-considered than the new bill in Congress.

Permitting research but denying funding is not a compromise solution. The real compromise is to provide funding but require research to be carried out on the government’s (i.e. the people’s) terms. The new bill is strong legislation. The President should support it.

Wal-Mart Has Brought Many Problems on Itself

Wal-Mart may simply be too successful for its own good. How else to explain why, in the DC area, the retail Goliath is besieged by an army of Davids even as other large, non-union stores are opening everywhere.

There are no Wal-Marts inside the Beltway. And, if unions and community leaders have their way, there never will be. The primary concern is the grocery aspect of Wal-Mart Supercenters, whose prices would undercut the local supermarket chains. This, the grocery workers union feels, would devastate their industry.

So, through a bevy of zoning regulations and targeted laws, Washington, DC and its inner suburbs are trying to guarantee that any Wal-Mart Supercenter that opens would almost certainly be unprofitable. This raises a serious issue. Capitalism is supposed to work by pushing companies to compete with each other and continuously improve. But when one group uses political clout to stop a competitor, there’s something broken in the system.

One of the biggest problems is that Wal-Mart has done a very poor job of anticipating and responding to criticism. How many other national retailers have well-funded organizations actively working against its success? In fact, while Wal-Mart is getting shut-out of the DC market, non-union employers such as Home Depot, Best Buy and Target have all been welcomed with open arms.

Wal-Mart has built an incredibly successful business but capitalism is not just about price and availability. In a mature-capitalist economy like ours, companies must also concern themselves with community responsibility and public image. While Wal-Mart should not be condemned for their success, they can be criticized for their perceived indifference on the effect they have had on communities. We’ve all heard the stories of local downtowns killed off by a new Wal-Mart. Even though these stories oversimplify the problem and place far too much blame on Wal-Mart, being known as the killer of nostalgic Main Street America is not a great corporate image. And Wal-Mart has done far too little to refute this image.

Among many leaders in the DC area, Wal-Mart is perceived as a bane to the existing community rather than a boon to local consumers. Passing laws specifically designed to stop one company from succeeding while allowing similar companies to flourish is bad public policy. But I’m not shedding any tears for Wal-Mart. The company needs to do a much better job of proving that it cares about the communities it enters. The days of Wal-Mart muscling its way into new markets may be over. The company now has to figure out how to be welcomed.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Are Senate Centrists a Weak-Willed Bunch?

David Brooks thinks so. Brooks clearly supports the idea of a Centrist compromise on filibusters, but he is incensed that Centrists haven’t been able to agree on a deal.

While Brooks is needlessly harsh in his condemnation, he has a point. If saving the Senate from the nuclear option is so important to these middle-of-the-road Senators, why can’t they bite the bullet and make the deal? They have the power. They don’t need approval from the partisans in their party.

This is a moment that will either show that the middle can still wield real power or that the middle has lost nearly all power. Let’s go Centrists. Let’s get this done.

A Portrait of a Christian Right Activist

David Barton is a man you’ve probably never heard of…unless you’re involved in the Christian Right political movement. Believing that America’s founders intended us to be a Christian nation and advocating prayer in school and an end to so-called judicial activism, Barton’s views have gained significant popularity across the country.The Fort Worth Star Telegram profiles this fascinating and surprisingly influential man. If you’re looking for a window into what set of beliefs fuel the Christian Right movement, this is a must-read article.

Sunday Morning Hypocrisy

The Sunday Morning Talk blog points out that two of today's Sunday Morning talk shows did an excellent job of exposing the Democrat's hypocrisy on the filibuster issue. Many Democrats have a history of opposing the use of the filibuster. But now they've changed their tune. Why? Probably because, in politics, partisanship often trumps convictions.

Texas Should Give Juries Life Without Parole Option

Texas is well-known for its capital punishment system which routinely puts more criminals to death each year than any other state. What many do not know is that Texas juries do not have the option of sentencing criminals to life in prison without parole. That may soon change.

Currently, Texas juries have the option of sentencing criminals to death or sentencing them to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 40 years. This creates a false choice for Texas juries. As a native Texan, I can say that, were I on a jury where the death penalty was applicable, I would be very distraught to know my only options were to either execute the criminal or release the criminal after 40 years.

Currently, the life-without-parole bill has passed the state Senate but has run into difficulties in the House. Texas’ elected representative should welcome this change to the judicial code. Juries deserve an option that lets them decline to use the death penalty but will still keep violent offenders forever out of society.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Centrist Democrats Should Support CAFTA

One of the most important pieces of legislation working its way through the Congress is the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). America’s ability to manage our nation’s transition to the global economy depends on CAFTA’s passage. But the free-trade agreement is not a done deal.

Writing for RealClearPolitics.com, Froma Harrop explains why CAFTA is so important:

It really matters where the jobs that Americans lose go. That's what CAFTA is about. It's not about destroying textile jobs in the Carolinas. They're history, anyway -- if not this year, then in five years. CAFTA is about keeping work that would otherwise go to China in our hemisphere.

The Central American Free Trade Agreement would cut tariffs on commerce among the United States, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The Dominican Republic, which is in the Caribbean, also wants to join…

Americans would be better off if their imports came from Managua, rather than Guangdong [China]. After all, our Latin neighbors are more likely to buy the things we have to sell. That's why farmers producing beef, pork and corn are all for these treaties. So are U.S. companies that make machinery, especially for construction.

Then there are foreign-policy considerations. CAFTA partners would include very poor countries with fragile democracies. More trade with the United States could stabilize them -- and reduce the pressures on their people to come here illegally. And if the workers make more money, they'll be able to buy more American goods.

Free trade has rarely been a party-line vote. While usually more Republicans support these agreements than do Democrats, there is usually a solid block of Centrist Democrats eager to sign on. Not so this time.

For CAFTA to pass the House, at least 20 Democrats will have to sign on. Right now, there are maybe six that will definitely vote for it. Why so few? Because, apparently, Democrats are so intent on opposing every single piece of legislation the President supports that even free-trade Dems are willing to forgo their convictions in favor of their party’s obsession with obstruction.

That’s condemnable. Free-trade Democrats have always been on the right side of this important issue. They should show the courage of conviction and support CAFTA.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Documents Confirm Prisoner Torture in Afghanistan

The New York Times is reporting on serious abuses against prisoners in Afghanistan's Bagram prison, some so severe that they led to death. The paper’s information comes from internal military documents and the Pentagon acknowledges that seven soldiers have been brought up on charges with twenty others under investigation.
"What we have learned through the course of all these investigations is that there were people who clearly violated anyone's standard for humane treatment," said the Pentagon's chief spokesman, Larry Di Rita. "We're finding some cases that were not close calls."

Yet the Bagram file includes ample testimony that harsh treatment by some interrogators was routine and that guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity. Prisoners considered important or troublesome were also handcuffed and chained to the ceilings and doors of their cells, sometimes for long periods, an action Army prosecutors recently classified as criminal assault.

That’s just a small excerpt from The Times’ story. You’ll need to read the full piece to understand how serious and pervasive these abuses were.

This is a matter that the U.S. Congress must address. There will undoubtedly be those who will retort with "well, THEY behead their prisoners,” as if our only moral obligation is to be slightly less vicious than our enemy. The Muslim terrorists are capable of unfathomable evil. But that should in no way change who we are. And what we are is a strong people who have fundamental beliefs in goodness and justice. We do not sink to the level of torture. That is not who we are.

This report coupled with the Abu Ghraib incident is incredibly disturbing. I don't think there is a systematic pattern of prisoner torture, but there is definitely a pattern of poor training and horrendous supervision. The Pentagon may be doing its job to investigate and punish this behavior. But they are clearly not doing their job of preventing it in the first place. The Bagram incidents recorded in the report happened around the same time as Abu Ghraib. But the fact they happened at all proves Abu Ghraib was not the isolated event that the Pentagon claimed it to be.

Since these absues, has the Pentagon put in to place the kinds of forceful regulations and deep layers of supervision that are needed to ensure prisoner torture stops for good? A Congressional investigation is needed to find out as soon as possible.

The Moderate Voice has much more on this.

This Might Be a Bad Couple of Days to Need IT Help...

Seems that the Star Wars flu is going around. I can even confirm that my own brother, who is an IT consultant, came down with it yesterday.

AFL-CIO May Split, But Do Unions Have a Future?

The AFL-CIO may be headed for a breakup as tensions over declining union membership continue to mount. The unions considering the split include Service Employees, the Teamsters, the Food & Commercial Workers, the Laborers, and UNITE HERE. They make up 40% of the AFL-CIO and their departure would effectively create two separate labor union federations.

This might be a good thing for labor. For decades, private-sector union membership has declined steadily. While this might please the big-business-is-always-right crowd, we’d do well to remember that labor unions played a vital role in 20th century American life, particularly in the rise of the middle class and in the adoption of worker benefits from weekends off to paid healthcare to the 40-hour work week.

But whether or not labor plays an important role in the 21st century depends a lot on how the unions can adjust. For the most part, the unions were caught flat-footed by the globalization of the economy and have seen their influence decline as many in the workforce transition from what was once a stable manufacturing economy to what is now a much more fluid and much more volatile service economy.

To survive, unions will have to figure out how to operate effectively in a nation where life-long employment is practically extinct, where workers change employers and even careers with great frequency and where the culture at large often views unions negatively (as promoters of laziness at best and as practitioners of organized crime at worst).

The possible breakup of the AFL-CIO might be the first step in establishing a reinvigorated labor movement. Two federations with competing ideas will generate twice as many initiatives. The American labor movement has an uphill battle but, with the right reforms and with the right creativity, unions could still play an important role in our nation’s ability to transition into the global economy while maintaining our standard of living.

It's Not Our Imagination...

Partisanship in Congress is worse than it's been in at least 50 years.

Government is Not a Marketing Campaign

In today’s politics, it’s not uncommon to hear phrases like “message positioning” or “candidate packaging.” But the Bush Administration has fused government with marketing like never before. And this is not good for any of us.

All politicians use marketing techniques and the Clinton administration was no stranger to the concept. But the long list of Bush’s “marketing strategies” are unprecedented. During his administration, we have seen:

• Actively staged town hall meetings designed not to foster open debate but to create the perception of broad support. Where attendees have been kicked out simply because they showed up with a liberal bumper sticker on their car.

• Political commentators paid to write opinions favorable to administration policies.

Prepackaged “news stories” produced by government agencies and run by local television stations as if they were legitimate news features.

• The White House Chief of Staff explain that the President didn’t start pushing for war with Iraq sooner because, "from a marketing standpoint, you don't roll out a new product in August."

• Attendees to Vice President Dick Cheney’s speeches required to sign a loyalty pledge to ensure there would be no dissent in the audience.

The list goes on. And while a lot of these points have been used by the hateful “Bush-is-evil” crowd to prove some perceived malice, they miss the point. Bush isn’t evil in the least. He’s just a disturbingly good marketer.

But just because these acts might be routine in the private sector in no way means we should tolerate them from our government. Marketing uses techniques specifically designed to hide flaws and inflate advantages. While not sinking to the level of dishonesty, marketing doesn’t exactly seek to create open debate. In fact, marketing techniques are specifically designed to grease the wheels of persuasion, allowing a product to be sold less on its merits than on its image.

But democracy necessitates transparency. Democracy demands facts be analyzed, discussed and understood. When government and politicians use marketing techniques to “sell” their policies, they are undermining the democratic process. Public policy is not a product to be packaged and sold. While there is nothing wrong with trying to make it accessible to the general public, there is something wrong with using tricks to “sell” it.

Again, Bush is hardly alone in this, just its prime practitioner. And while there is no way or need to completely divorce politics and marketing, neither is there a need to tolerate the excesses. Already we have seen the American people generally reject Bush’s Social Security argument, despite its well-honed rollout. As we move into the 2006 and 2008 elections, we should continue to pay careful attention to how politicians present themselves and their ideas. Let’s reward those who favor open debate. And cast off those who prefer the vapid persuasions of marketing.

FULL DISCLOSURE: The author of this piece is a marketing professional and provides communications related advice and assistance to the Centrist Coalition.

Fingerprints required to use computer

The Naperville Public Library System will begin requiring patrons to prove their identities with a fingerprint before using library computers. Naperville will be the second public library system in the country to install fingerprint scanners.

Naperville officials promise to protect the confidentiality of the fingerprint records. However, under the Patriot Act, with its legalization of overly intrusive investigative techniques, federal authorities are able to access confidential library records.

TYL opposes REAL ID legislation because of very serious privacy concerns. And, TYL opposes the use of fingerprint technology within our public libraries because of those same privacy concerns.

Stem Cell Breakthrough

Researchers in South Korea are reporting that they have overcome a key hurdle in stem cell research solving a persistent problem with contamination that plagued stem cell lines and greatly reduced the number of eggs required to produce a cell line.

These breakthroughs allow the production of human embryo clones of sick patients and the harvest of individualized stem cells. This will allow for the development of tissue and organs containing a patients own genetic material, greatly reducing the risk of rejection and other complications in a transplant procedure.

TYL strongly supports stem cell research and urges Congress to support an effort to repeal President Bush’s 2001 ban on the use of federal dollars for research using new embryonic stem cell lines.

Can Democrats Find a New Form of Liberalism?

Changing economic conditions could open a door for a Democratic resurgence, says E. J. Dionne Jr. in his column today:
Eric Wanner, president of the Russell Sage Foundation, suggests that if the U.S. economy remains broadly open and trade broadly free, the result will be "more inequality because there are more winners and more losers."

The challenge, he argues, is to indemnify those who may find themselves on the losing end of the transaction. This points to a number of big policy ideas: wage insurance, to ease the transition from one job to another; broader earned-income tax credits, to push up the wages of the lower paid; pension portability and incentives to help lower- and middle-income Americans put away money. Above all, it means guaranteed health insurance in some form, an idea increasingly appealing to companies in a competitive world market that want to take health care costs out of the prices of their goods.

And in this climate, higher minimum wages and broader unionization are looking more attractive than ever.

This is similar to an idea we here at TYL have been advocating for awhile—call it The Opportunity Society. But right now, Democrats seem trapped in a contrarian mindset. No longer able to sell Great Society liberalism and deeply opposed to Big Government conservatism, the Democrats are left playing the role of speed bump, slowing down but not stopping the majority party’s policies. This is the exact situation 1960s Republicans found themselves in and, as they learned, its not a strategy that will win you a majority in Congress.

Americans like their politics transformational. We like to believe we’re moving forward, changing the nation and the world. Right now, for better or worse, the Republicans are the party of transformation. But that doesn’t mean the Democrats must sit back and be the loyal (or disloyal) opposition. Instead, the Democrats could shed their old attachments to Great Society liberalism and embrace a new liberalism focused on ensuring all Americans continue to have opportunities as we move toward the global economy.

In 1994, Republicans offered up The Contract With America. In 2006 Democrats might want to prepare their own transformative plan.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Low-Lights of Today's Filibuster Action

Stupid Things Said

Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) accused the president of an attempt to "rewrite the Constitution and reinvent reality" with his demand for a yes-or-no vote on all nominees.

Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) said: "What the Democrats are doing is the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 saying, 'I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me. How dare you bomb my city? It's mine.' This is no more the rule of the senate than it was the rule of the senate before not to filibuster."

First Stages of Nuclear Winter?

Democrats have threatened “to slow the Senate's business to a crawl if Republicans prevail, and they served up a preview during the day when they invoked a rule that prevented some committees from meeting.”

And Americans Say

Polls show “the public is not particularly happy with either side, although Republicans take more of the blame as the party in power. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll on Thursday found more public disapproval of lawmakers than at any time since Republicans ended Democratic control of Congress in 1994.”

The Yellow Line Says

Ahhh, our great political parties at work. Right now, if the filibuster deal isn’t made, it’s not going to be which party wins and which loses. It’s going to be which loses the least.

Draft of Filibuster Compromise Deal Released

CNN has obtained a draft of the filibuster compromise deal that’s in the works between Centrist Senators of both parties.

The key points:
A bid to end the Senate standoff over President Bush's judicial picks would let five nominees advance to a final vote while preserving the right of a minority of senators to block two others…

Under the compromise, nominees William Myers, a pick for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Henry Saad, for the 6th Circuit, would remain blocked…

The deal would preserve the use of the filibuster, through which a minority of 41 senators can keep debate open indefinitely -- but call for its use only in "extraordinary circumstances."

It also calls on Bush to consult with home-state senators and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee from both parties before sending up a nominee. The deal would preserve the use of the filibuster, through which a minority of 41 senators can keep debate open indefinitely -- but call for its use only in "extraordinary circumstances."

It also calls on Bush to consult with home-state senators and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee from both parties before sending up a nominee.

We might be close to a deal here. But it’s not over yet.

Texas Legislature Raises Their Own Pensions, Lowers Teachers'

You have to read it to believe it. Ahh, priorities.

Shades of Persecution Past? Germany Forces 50,000 Roma to Leave Country

Germany has decided to deport 50,000 Roma, better known as Gypsies back to Kosovo from which they had fled during the ethnic cleansing and wars of the 1990s.

The Roma will be returning to a region which routinely limits Roma travel and freedoms and where just last year, ethnic Albanians rioted against the Roma, forcing 4,000 from their homes and killing 19. This is not a safe region. But the United Nations has signed off on Germany’s plan, claiming that Kosovo is now stable. Additionally, neither the UN nor Germany will be providing the Roma any aide once they return. Many who are being forced to return have lost all contact with Kosovo and have no homes or employment to return to.

What is most disturbing is that while Germany is deporting the Roma refugees, ethnic Albanians who fled the same conflict have often been allowed to stay in Germany. This is why many human rights organizations are calling the German actions racist. In fact, Germany has a long history of severe prejudice against the Roma (as does much of Europe.) During World War II, the Nazis were determined to rid the world of Roma and an estimated 200,000 to 800,000 Roma were put to death in what is referred to as the Porajmos (in essence, the Roma Holocaust).

Is the current deportation another instance of persecution of the Roma? Given the fact that Albanian refugees have received much better treatment and given Germany’s violent history toward the Roma, it is hard to think this current action is based solely on reasoned policy as Germany insists. In fact, what if these were Jewish refugees? Wouldn’t we then seriously question German intentions? Wouldn’t we, in fact, be alarmed?

There are few news reports in English on the deportation. But what has been reported is deeply troublesome. The United States should take notice and either pressure Germany to reconsider or insist the UN provide real assistance to the deported Roma. The historic persecution of the Gypsies may not be as well-known as the persecution of the Jews. But that in no way absolves us of our responsibility to ensure the Roma are not being unjustly treated once again.

Thanks to A Little Left of Centrist for alerting us to this story.

Sausages, Beer, and Sport

According to the American Tailgaters Association (ATA), yes there is an association for tailgaters,
The widely accepted history of tailgating dates back to a Harvard vs. Yale contest in 1904. Spectators, “dressed to the nines,” packed picnics and gathered together in a grassy lot for food, fun and family before the game.

Today’s tailgating is a bit different from this early social gathering. It’s more about the food and drink - an opportunity to enjoy some of this nation’s finest heart-clogging foods and a few beers prior to entering the stadium where it costs approximately $218.00 for a beer and a brat.

This long storied tradition may be coming to an end in Milwaukee, unless the city counsel acts to override a 1980 city ordinance saying it’s unlawful for anyone to drink alcoholic beverages in public parking lots or public structures.

TYL urges the Milwaukee City Counsel to act immediately. After all, Brewers games are hard enough to watch after tailgating. Fans shouldn't have to attend the games sober.