Wednesday, March 26, 2008

First-hand observations

I had an opportunity to listen to John McKay discuss his feelings and beliefs about the 2006 Attorney General scandal, the same issue Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolton were recently cited for contempt of Congress for failing to testify about, and which Congress is now taking the Administration to court over for it's refusal to press the contempt charges.

Given the amount of time which has passed, I'd prefer Congress should just send the the Sergeant-at-Arms to arrest Ms. Miers under the inherent contempt statute, but that's a different matter.

Back to McKay. What makes his thoughts on the subject particularly compelling to me, in addition to the fact he was one of the Attorney General's directly affected by the mess, is his background. His family among the prominent Republican families where he lives, and had had, prior to being named Attorney General, been actively involved within the Republican party. Whatever else he might be accused of, he can't be accused of party-based bias.

As McKay noted, though, upon being named Attorney General he tried to lay the pasty aside and follow the law rather than a party agenda ... an approach anathema to this administration.

He said when the events first occurred he didn't have much of a strong opinion, but as time has passed and more information has come out, he is now strongly of the opinion at least some of the firings were clearly politically motivated. In particular, he cited David Iglesias of New Mexico (who refused to pursue an alleged voter-fraud case), Carol Lam of Southern California (who was actively pursuing several high profile cases against Republicans in the area, and Todd Graves of Missouri (another failure to pursue voter fraud).

McKay noted he felt the Graves case was especially egregious, given his successor rushed to bring the voter fraud charges up shortly before the election that November. Five months after the election, in April 2007, the case was summarily thrown out of court, something McKay noted is extremely rare, and which points to the weakness of the claim.

McKay was asked about his own firing, and did feel his case was similar to that of Iglesias and Graves. In the 2004 elections Democrat Christine Gregoire defeated Republican Dino Rossi in the Washington Governor's race by a mere 129 votes after a recount which initially saw Rossi as winning (the two are scheduled for a rematch this fall). He talked about the pressure he received to bring voter-fraud charges to court over the race, but said on looking at the evidence there just wasn't anything there. He didn't feel, however, there was the level of evidence in his case that the matter was key to his firing as there is for the Iglesias and Graves removals.

All-in-all an interesting discussion. While he never came out and said as much, McKay's tone on several questions definitely implied disgust with the Bush administration and the whole sordid tale. The investigation has been stalled long enough, and if it takes marching Miers in under armed guard to get her to testify, well, it's time to do it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Carville symbolizes Clinton attitude

This past week former Democratic presidential candidate and current New Mexico governor Bill Richardson gave his endorsement to Barack Obama in the nomination battle. As has become apparent, this does not sit well with Clinton supporters.

Given Richardson server as both UN ambassador and Secretary of Energy under former President Clinton, some amount of strain can at his announcement is to be expected. Richardson described his discussion with Hillary when he let her know of his plans as cordial, but heated. One Clinton staffer noted that Richardson's announcement came too late to make a difference, presumably alluding to the fact that states with significant Hispanic voting populations such as Texas (Richardson is the nation's only Hispanic governor) had already had their primaries. Snide, yes, but of course the Clinton campaign has an interest in playing down the announcement.

The reaction of Clinton adviser James Carville is a different matter.

The New York Times reported Carville described the act as "An act of betrayal", and went on to say "Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic."

Just how much does Carville think Richardson was paid for his endorsement? On exactly what grounds does Carville consider Richardson to be a disciple of Hillary? When, exactly, is she scheduled for her cross-fitting? Inquiring minds want to know.

No, the reaction of of the Clinton campaign is the reaction of someone who feels they were "owed" something and didn't get it, sulking 10-year-olds denied a much-desired toy or a sleepover outing with a friend. The truth is Richardson owed neither campaign anything other than his sincere opinion ... and the fact the decision was clearly a difficult and painful one for him simply points out how heartfelt his choice is.

The reaction of the Clinton camp, and Carville in particular, points out why it's the right one.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Third-world Venture Capitalist

I first heard about maybe two years ago. It was my first exposure to the concept of micro-lending, and I found the concept intriguing ... for various reasons, however, it was never quite intriguing enough for me to join in.

Still, I would poke back every couple of months or so, and look at some of the options, and even created an account last summer ... but still didn't take that last step.

The last couple months, though, the wife and I have talked about it off-and-on, and tonight we finally took the plunge. We both connected to the site, did some research separately, and found some candidates we liked. In the end we contributed $100 in $25 amounts to two separate women in Nicaragua, and $50 to a group of three women in Peru. We also kicked in $10 to help Kiva pay it's bills.

Not a huge amount overall for us, but maybe enough, along with a number of other people around the country and the world, to help some families make a better life for themselves and their families. As an added bonus, it was a nice bonding experience for the evening as well, and something we plan to do on a monthly basis for the foreseeable future. Hopefully we have invested wisely and the loans will be repaid so we can roll them over into more loans.

I encourage anyone who might read this to take a look at Kiva site. The organization has an excellent reputation, and the site is pretty easy to get around. You, too, can become a venture capitalist, just like those guys on Sand Hill road.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

All quiet on the (South)Western front

A little over two years ago I was drawn into the blogging milieu by the race for Arizona's 8th district, an affair made interesting by the retirement of the incumbent. The Democratic side soon coalesced into a hotly-contested three-way primary in which the Giffords organization machine managed to overrun former former TV personality Patty Weiss and military hero Jeff Latas (who was the only one of the three to declare before Kolbe announced he was stepping down).

As hotly contested as the Democratic primary was, it never approached the bitterness of the Republican primary, which eventually saw border hardliner Randy Graf win the nomination despite opposition from Kolbe and the local GOP money men. That bitterness certainly helped ease the way to Giffords' victory in the fall.

All-in-all, though, with two hotly contested primaries, followed by an anticipated general election, the local blogs were continuously abuzz with posts and comments, some thoughtful and insightful, many ... not so much. Good times .... good times.

This time around it's very different. With an incumbent now in place there was never going to be a serious primary on the Democratic side, while the Republican's twisted whatever arms were necessary to clear the path for challenger Tim Bee. With neither primary contested, there is a notable lack of discussion about the race. It seems all parties seem content to keep their guns loaded until mid-summer arrives. While the 2006 race felt like a marathon, this year's is shaping up to be a sprint.

In some ways that may make the fireworks, when they arrive, that much larger and louder ... there will be a lot of pent-up energy to be released and a lot less time to release it in ... but it sure does make things quiet now.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An overdue fight

The US House of Representatives has finally decided to assert itself and push back on the ever-increasing reputed powers this administration has claimed it possesses. A couple days ago, the Judiciary committee filed a lawsuit in federal court to force former White House aides Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolton to testify before Congress on what they knew (or didn't know) concerning the Attorney General firing scandal.

The Bush administration has been blocking their testimony, claiming Executive privilege allowed him to do so, despite the fact neither is any longer a part of the administration, nor are the matters in question ones where such privilege has traditionally been considered to apply. The House originally asked for their testimony last summer, but it wasn't until last month they finally got around to pressing contempt charges - charges which U.S. Attorney Michael Mukasey promptly declared would not be pressed by his office, which would be responsible for prosecuting the case.

So Congress has taken the only option short of impeachment, and taken the case to court.

The response from the White House was predictable, with spokeswoman Dana Perino referring to it as "partisan theater" ... and maybe she's right, insofar as the matter Miers and Bolton have been asked to testify about is concerned. On the larger issue, however, she's not just wrong, she's so far off base she's not even wrong.

The real, important issue here is the ruthless expansion of spying and secrecy powers Bush, Cheney et. al. have promoted for seven years now, nearly unchallenged up to this point ... and there is nothing partisan about that agenda. Should a Democrat win election this year, or some time in the future, Republicans in the House will have (and should have) the same right to expect co-operation in it's investigative and oversight role that this Congress is finally trying to enforce.

It's worth noting that a little over a decade ago, Bill Clinton became the first President to assert Executive privilege and have that claim overturned in court, over l'affaire Lewinsky. Hopefully Bush will become the second.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Is it a sign?

Democrat Bill Foster won a run-off election last night to win the seat for the Illinois 14th district, long held by former Republican speaker of the house Denny Hastert, who retired mid-term last year so he could spend more time with his family and make a lot more money a lot faster by getting out of dodge before new laws requiring a longer delay before an ex-congressman can begin lobbying former compatriots kicked in at the turn of the year.

Republicans can't be cheered by the news.

The district is counted as Republican +5, meaning there is a fairly solid built-in edge for the party. After having been represented by Hastert for over two decades, and having Hastert's active support for Republican candidate Jim Oberweis, the race was initially considered to be a fairly safe hold. However, just within the past few days the race was shifted from leaning Republican to toss up, and Foster actually ended up winning by a fairly respectable 6% margin.

Or, in other words, he performed 11% better than expected.

The two are slated for a rematch in the fall ... but unless something drastic happens, there is not much reason to expect a different result. Just another sign the Republicans are finding themselves looking for a miracle this year, as it appears to be all that might save them.

Friday, March 7, 2008

I feel prescient

The New York Times has a piece this morning about discussions among Democrat movers and shakers about some kind of "do-over" for the Michigan and Florida primaries.

I'm feeling mildly prescient, since I mentioned this about three weeks ago. I even calculated the estimated costs correctly (well, close enough ... I said $30 million, the article says $28 million). I'm sure others had the idea before me ... but I'm still gonna take credit, gosh-darn-it. Nice to know leading Democrats are stealing my ideas.

Here's where we differ, however:

Ms. Granholm (the governor of Michigan - Sirocco), a Clinton supporter, said Thursday that there would be a noisy protest at the Democratic convention if the Michigan delegation was not seated. But she left open the possibility of a new Democratic primary, as long as the taxpayers or the state party do not have to foot the bill.


In Florida, Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat who supports Mrs. Clinton, and the state party chairwoman, Karen Thurman, who is neutral, said the national party or some other source should pay for any do-over.

So let's get this straight. The two state parties, knowingly and willfully, violated clearly defined rules in setting their original primary dates. They were told if they did so, their delegates would not be counted at the national convention.

It's not like any of this happened in secret. The rules were set, they broke them, and they are being held accountable. Yet the state organizations seem shocked - SHOCKED! - those rules were actually enforced.

I'm completely ok with the state taxpayers not paying more for a new set of elections. The state parties, not so much. The problem was created by those state parties. Their decisions are the reason their state delegates are not being counted. To try to avoid all responsibility and pass the bill along to the national committee or some other group is pathetic.

If the state parties want to be represented, they need to step up, admit they made a mistake, and help make up for the repercussions of their decisions - including foot all, or at least a big chunk of, the costs of a new set of primaries.

Monday, March 3, 2008

It's her decision

Much as I hope Obama sweeps the primaries tomorrow (unlikely) and Clinton opts to withdraw shortly after (even less likely), don't count me among those "encouraging" her to do so.

One of the things I have always found tacky in sports in when fans or, worse, sportswriters/broadcasters insist on opining athlete X needs to retire because he's getting old, skills are slipping, we want to remember him (or her) in their prime, etc. Ultimately only the player and the teams get to make the decision on that, and they should be left to make that decision on their own. After all, you don't hear them opining about how columnist so-and-so has been getting trite the last few years, and needs to retire his byline.

I feel much the same way about those calling for Hillary Clinton to step out of the race, which has been coming in increasing volume and pressure from Obama supporters. While there may be good reasons to favor it (let's stop fighting each other and start fighting McCain), it still strikes me as self-serving and slightly distasteful.

Clinton remains a viable candidate who, while an underdog, still can seriously hope to win election. Despite a hiccup in late-January, early February she has plenty of money for continued campaigning.

Moreover, this opportunity likely represents her one-and-only shot to gain the Presidency, clearly something she has been working hard to achieve and laying the groundwork for not just the last 15+ months, but the last 15 years. She turns 61 this year. Should Obama win the primary and the general, she's looking at 69 before she seriously runs again. Even if McCain were to win, she's looking at 65 - young by McCain's standards, but not anyone else's ... and that's assuming she gets through the primary four years from now after losing in this one.

No, it's her dream, and it's a dream she's had a long, long time. It's hard to lay down a dream, especially when there remains a reasonable chance of that dream still being attainable. Only she should decide when (or if) she's willing to let that dream go any sooner than she is forced to.