Wednesday, November 14, 2007

In Praise of Congress

Wherein DWSUWF implements a self imposed Fairness Doctrine,
and gives the Democratic Congress equal time.

In praise of the 110th Congress
Most of the DWSUWF “divided government” posts since last year's mid-term election have focused on the need to elect a Republican president to maintain divided government into 2009 (examples here, here, here, and here). The reason is simple. Due to structural elements in the 2008 Senatorial contest, Republican resignations, and the continuing political unpopularity of the President, an expanded Democratic majority in the Senate is a foregone conclusion and a Democratic super-majority in the Senate (60 votes) is within reach. A Democratic majority in the House of Representative is also certain to continue and will probably increase. DWSUWF has focused on the presidential race specifically because electing a Republican president is the only path to re-electing a divided government state and continuing to enjoy the benefits of divided government into 2009. As a result of this single minded focus on the 2008 presidential election DWSUWF has short changed the other side of the divided government coin - our Democratic Congress. I will attempt to address that oversight now.

Both the President and Congress continue to take a beating in the approval polls. From a recent AP-Ipsos poll:

“Thirty-two percent approved of President Bush's performance in this month's Associated Press-Ipsos poll, about the same as last month's all-time low for him in the survey of 31 percent...: Twenty-five percent approved of the way Congress is handling its job, a slight increase from the 22 percent who approved last month, a record low in the four-year-old AP-Ipsos poll.”

Not coincidently, the President has been ratcheting up his rhetoric with a Congress-bashing offensive “surge”. Oddly enough, while both the Executive and Legislative approval ratings are pathetic, Congressional approval ratings have increased more than the Presidents during this Federal branch steel cage match. The President's Oct 30 White House remarks may explain why the administrations partisan political surge has been less than effective.
“President George W. Bush lashed out at Congress Tuesday, the third time he has done so in two weeks... Its failure to send a single annual appropriations bill to his desk, he said, amounted to "the worst record for a Congress in 20 years ... We're near the end of the year, and there really isn't much to show for it. The House of Representatives has wasted valuable time on a constant stream of investigations, and the Senate has wasted valuable time on an endless series of failed votes to pull our troops out of Iraq... This is not what congressional leaders promised when they took control of Congress earlier this year."

So - the President is complaining that spending increases have been contained due to congressional inaction, while congressional action has focused on a means to end the Iraq war and aggressive oversight of an administration guilty of criminal activity at the highest levels (Remember Scooter? Commuting an “excessive” sentence does not make Libby any less guilty or any less criminal. Criminal Obstruction of Justice was proven beyond a reasonable doubt in the office of the Vice President.) As a consequence of the “time wasting investigations” other potentially illegal activities and extra-constitutional overreach of surveillance authority have been exposed and admitted in the F.B.I, Justice Department, and N.S.A, some engaging major telecom corporations as co-conspirators.

Excuse me, Mr. President, but that is exactly what congressional leaders promised at the beginning of the year. Moreover, that is exactly what DWSUWF hoped for when we advocated voting for a Democratic Congress and a divided government one year ago. Call me contrary, but include me in that 25% that think this Congress is doing a good job, even a great job. Sure, much of the good stuff in Congress is happening in spite of themselves, and purely as an artifact of gridlock and divided government. What do I care? I love this Congress.

In praise of my congressional representative.
Pollsters and pundits note that even when there is great dissatisfaction in Congress as a whole, constituents perversely tend to approve the performance of their own representative. So it follows that if I am satisfied with Congress, I must love my representative. This is true. I live in California Congressional District 8 and am represented by Nancy Pelosi. She is the best. Sure, I was a little tough on Nancy at the beginning of the year with that unseemly power grab, and I find her blind support of the corrupt Jack Murtha rather annoying, but overall she has done one hell of a job. I am more than happy to turn over some blog space to Nancy Pelosi to explain for herself what Congress has accomplished in the last 11 months:
“One year ago, the American people entrusted their hopes and their dreams, their aspirations for themselves, for their families, and for the future in this New Direction Congress. We come here today with great confidence and pride in what we have achieved and what remains for us to be done. I am proud to stand before the majority House Democratic Caucus and salute them, from our chairmen to our newest members, for their great leadership on behalf of the American people... We have begun to restore accountability by making this the most honest, open, and accountable Congress in history. We are holding the Bush Administration accountable for its failed policies in Iraq. Because our first responsibility is to make America safer, we will never stop fighting for a New Direction in Iraq. A direction that strengthens our military, refocuses on the real war on terrorism, and brings greater stability to the region. Every day we will work hard to bring our troops home safely, honorably and soon. With faith in the future, the New Direction Congress will continue to make progress for America’s children. With faith in God, I know that we will succeed. Thank you."
I'm good with that. Did we get everything we expected from this Congress over the last 11 months? Far from it. Nancy understands that, and understands that Iraq is the single biggest source of American frustration with Congress and the reason for their low approval rating. How could it be otherwise when 70% of Americans understand that the Iraq adventure was/is a mistake?

Yes, Nancy understands it, even if Tom Foreman distorts her statement with misleading editing on CNN.

Two reasons why I know that Pelosi is doing a great job:

1) Republican reaction.
Republicans tried to hold on to their majority House in 2006 by invoking the specter of Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House as no less terrifying than a Balrog in the mines of Moria. But now, the best they can up with is stuff like this.

2) Democratic reaction.
In the meantime, on the other side of the aisle, the Democrats are so happy with Nancy Pelosi that they just can't say enough about her. Republicans must just love watching the Democrats eat their own. Cindy Sheehan is even mounting an independent bid for her congressional seat. No matter, Nancy Pelosi is wildly popular with her constituents, like me.
Anyone who can piss off the activists of both parties, hold her leadership role, show real results in Congress, while continuing to fight the good fight on Iraq is doing something right. Leadership is not a popularity contest. Nancy Pelosi is providing real leadership for the loyal opposition in a divided government that accurately reflects a divided country.

In (faint) praise of HR Bill 3996
On November 9th, the House of Representatives passed HR Bill 3996 - The Temporary Tax Relief Act of 2007 [PDF]. I was quite pleasantly surprised by this bill, particularly given how the Republicans invoked the image of Charlie Rangel chairing Ways and Means as a bogeyman to be feared almost as much as the great satan Pelosi herself before the midterms.

As a small "l" libertarian leaning Democrat Republican, I put more emphasis on practical political results vs. strict adherence to Libertarian Party dogma. This means that I will support a compromise bill that provides incremental libertarian improvement, even very small incremental improvements. Dale Franks "neolibertarian" description is a useful rule of thumb in this regard:

"When given a set of policy choices,

* The choice that maximizes personal liberty is the best choice.

* The policy choice that offers the least amount of necessary government intervention or regulation is the best choice.

* The policy choice that provides rational, market-based incentives is the best choice."

The bill is an attempt to undo the damage from a particularly onerous and badly implemented bit of past government action. Specifically the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), which (in concert with inflation) continues to drive more and more of the American middle class into carrying a higher tax burden than was intended HR 3996 is a reasonable effort to fix problems in the tax code that are hurting a lot of people in the middle class. It allows the majority of taxpayers, including all the middle class (upper, middle, lower) to get off of the automatic annual AMT tax increase escalator and does so in a revenue neutral manner. Republican critics attack the bill on the basis that it imposes a surtax on income above $200,000 in order to meet PAYGO requirements (no new deficit increasing bills), and will be a net tax increase if the Bush tax cuts are permitted to expire on schedule in total. This is an unlikely scenario, and in any case is a red herring argument when applied to this bill. Issues related to extending the Bush Tax cuts should and will be addressed when that legislation is considered, and not be imposed on this bill.

Rangel spokesman Matthew Beck defends the bill against its critics:
"That sort of reaction from many advisers "ignores that this bill would provide overwhelming tax relief to more than 91 million families," said Matthew Beck, spokesman for the Democratic membership of the House Ways and Means Committee. Under Mr. Rangel's proposal, that many families would receive substantial tax relief, Mr. Beck said, while some 1.7 million taxpayers would see an increase in their tax liability. The tax relief would extend to small-business owners, Mr. Beck added. Criticism "also ignores a significant reduction in the corporate-tax rate," which has been advocated by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Mr. Beck said. Corporate-tax rates would be lowered to 30.5%, from the current rate of 35%, but many companies would lose deductions they currently enjoy."
The apparent Republican case is that the AMT should be repealed, without any revenue offsets to maintain a tax neutral result. Given the wild out of control spending of the last six years of single party Republican control in Washington, an additional overall tax cut here, (as is seemingly being advocated by the Republicans attacking the bill) would just push more of the burden on to the next generation to pay for it. At some point the piper will be paid in either taxes or inflation, and the Republicans seem only to happy to have the cost of their war and new entitlement programs paid by our children and grandchildren.

Is the bill perfect? Far from it. My strong preference would be for a radical overhaul of the tax code, applying as flat a tax as politically feasible with as few exceptions as possible. That option is not in the cards. HR Bill 3996 is incrementally better than what we have now. Sometimes, incremental improvement is as good as a small "l" libertarian can hope for. Sure, it would be great to see all income taxes flattened and lowered, but Rangel is a Democrat after all. It is not like the Republicans even made an effort to get rid of the AMT during their 6 years of big spending, big deficit, big government single party control. In fact, the disingenuous Republican argument ignores the fact that the Republican controlled Congress was only too willing to let AMT creep raise additional revenue to partially fund their earmark and spending explosion in the first six years of the administration.

Getting rid of the AMT is an important incremental step in the right direction. Rangel's bill accomplishes this in a fiscally responsible manner, even if the top ten percent must pay a little more to finally put a stake through the heart of this undead bloodsucking tax code vampire.

Note to MB - See you in Ouagadougou.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

DWSUWF takes a holiday.

Today MW and Mrs. MW begin our second great travel adventure in Africa. Our first was more than a dozen years ago, and also marked my first effort creating a web page. The end result was a travel journal on the (then) new World Wide Web. That time it was Southern Africa, this time it is Western Africa - Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Mali.

Why West Africa? You got me. I asked Mrs. MW the same question about our trip to South Africa, and it was one of the great experiences of my life. I don't ask any more. Mrs. MW is a closet anthropologist/archaeologist, always wanted to explore this part of the world, so we are going. I am just along for the ride. I think it was Kurt Vonnegut that said "Unexpected travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." Cue the music.

I am informed by Verizon that my TREO 700 will not work anywhere we are going to be, including London - so it stays home. I am bringing an old laptop, will attempt to maintain a journal on the mobile blog as we go, but am not optimistic once we leave Dakar. I may even feel compelled to post on DWSUWF - infrastructure, time and technology permitting. For the most part, I expect it will be a political blogging holiday, which will make Mrs. MW happy.

In the meantime, my brother HDW has agreed to blog-sit DWSUWF while I am gone. Where I consider myself a libertarian leaning to the right, HDW is a libertarian leaning to the left. Actually he is more solidly left, but leaning libertarian. Well, he might really be a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, that just thinks he is libertarian. Whatever. While an enthusiastic supporter of the divided government thesis in the 2006 mid-terms, let's just say that he is considerably less enthusiastic about voting for a Republican President in 2008 to keep the government divided. He can explain himself. The point, is that if/when he posts anything here, I am likely as not to disagree with it, and may need to rebut it on my return. It'll make for a more politically diverse and interesting blog.

On a less political note, HDW has done the trailblazing for our trip to Mali. It was through his participation in a Northwestern University NUAMP's project, that we learned of the great historical libraries of Timbuktu, and the project to digitally document some of the thousands of ancient texts that still reside there. Hopefully we will meet some of the team he works with in our few days in Timbuktu at the end of our trip.

Back in December. Out.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

You are very welcome, Ron.
[Note to David Frum: Your problem is obvious.]

From my e-mail inbox Monday:
"Thank you very much for your donation of $100.00 to the Ron Paul 2008 Presidential Campaign. Your donation will allow us to expand and grow our campaign.We depend on donors like you to help us spread the message of freedom, peace and prosperity through Ron Paul’s candidacy. Thanks for being a part of the campaign!"
After returning from a weekend abalone dive adventure, the Ron Paul "money bomb", timed for Guy Fawkes day, got my attention. It was time to put my money where my mouth is, and contribute to the Paul campaign. I would have preferred to send it to Chuck Hagel, but since he is AWOL, Paul gets my primary contribution. Turns out I was a below average contributor.

From Tuesday's inbox:
"Amazing! I have to admit being floored by the $4.2 million dollars you raised yesterday for this campaign. And unlike the fatcat operations of the opposition, the average contribution from our 36,672 donors was $103. I say "you raised," because this historic event was created, organized, and run by volunteers. This is the spirit that has protected American freedom in our past; this is the spirit that is doing so again. Some of the mainstream media have sat up and taken notice. Others have pooh-poohed our record online fundraising. But the day is coming--far faster than they know--when they will not be able to ignore our freedom revolution."
The reaction in the blogosphere and MSM was amusing and interesting. I caught Ron Paul being interviewed on Tucker. Paul seemed genuinely bemused by the success of the effort. Tucker Carlson couldn't believe that Ron Paul had never met the individual who instigated the one day Guy Fawkes "Money bomb" effort. I'll link the video if/when I find it. The MSNBC video link appears to be broken, but here is the transcript:
"CARLSON: Now, this fundraising success took place on what in Great Britain is Guy Fawkes Day, which was the day foiling the plot to blow up the house of Parliament in the 17th century. Why that day. What is the significance for you?

PAUL: No significance to me. Other than fact that now I know that November 5th is an important day in fundraising. But I wasn‘t too much aware of that particular point in history, nor the movie that they recite and refer to.

And I have not met the individual who put this all together. All I know, it‘s been spontaneous, it wasn‘t driven by the campaign. We certainly didn‘t discourage it but we had nothing to say about it because the individuals were organizing on the Internet. I think it shows the power of an idea.

CARLSON: What do you mean. You never met the guy responsible for organizing more than $4 million in money for you?

PAUL: If I did, I don‘t remember it. Somebody said, we ought to get his telephone number now that it‘s over, you ought to probably call him. I plan to do that. But if I‘ve met him it was pretty casual, but I don‘t think I have to met him to tell you the truth. But this is part of the campaign. The fact that we have over 1,100 meet up groups is rather significant, they‘re coming from around the world.

So the message I think is very important and the people are responding to it. But to me it‘s just message which is something that I‘ve been talking about for years. It‘s a message of what has made America great, our Constitution, important of individual liberties and self reliance and self responsibilities. So it‘s not a strange message. A lot of Americans have forgotten about it now we‘ve revived the interest all of a sudden we found out that it‘s a very exciting message."

Justin Gardner at Donklephant has a great reaction roundup post as does Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice. Most fun is the sniping between Andrew Sullivan and David Frum.

"A $4.3 million haul in 24 hours. Good enough to rattle Frum. Frum tries to belittle the achievement by comparing it to Ralph Nader's $8 million fundraising in 2000. But over half that in mere hours? The Ron Paul phenomenon is real. The Christianists and neocons will decry it because it affects their power over the GOP. And because when a conservative stands for freedom again, it resonates and threatens them."
"Just noticed that Andrew Sullivan opines that I am "rattled" by Paul's haul. Personally, I think it is Andrew who has been "rattled" by being caught in yet another of his careless or reckless errors and inaccuracies. But for the record, he's [SIC - snicker - DF is accusing AS of being careless on the same line with a typo -mw] my view on the Paul candidacy... It would be interesting to know how many of today's Paul donors were Nader donors then... Of course I am saddened to discover that many thousands of Americans have rallied to a candidate campaigning on a Michael Moore view of the world... Ron Paul is Nader, not Perot."
I've just got to say, Frum’s post is one of the odder things I’ve read in a while. In a short post he manges to compare Ron Paul to Ralph Nader, Michael Moore, and Howard Dean, but draws a distinction between Paul and Ross Perot. Well, I guess I have to be happy with the last. I always thought Perot was a few bricks short of a full load. James Joyner at Outside the Beltway attempts to sort it all out.

The only way one can make any sense out of whatever the hell it is that Frum is attempting to say, is by assuming that Frum thinks that anyone who is against the Iraq war, regardless of their views on other issues like constitutional protections, fiscal responsibility, and individual freedom, is a Nader/Moore Liberal. If that is indeed what he is saying, then Frum is my designated poster boy for the new Intellectual Bankruptcy of the Right. “You are against the war? Well, that defines you as a liberal Democrat.”

David Frum is either confused or deluded about who is supporting Ron Paul. Let's try to help David. I am one of the very Ron Paul supporters that saddens Frum, and no - I never contributed to or voted for Ralph Nader. Don’t particularly agree with Michael Moore either. Or Howard Dean. Fact is, Paul is as close to a polar opposite of a Nader/Moore liberal as one can get. Just to try and ease David Frum's fragile emotional state regarding RP's supporters, - this particular Ron Paul supporter is committed to voting for the Republican nominee regardless of whatever piece of shit the GOP eventually nominates. How is that as an endorsement for your party and candidate, David? I'll even vote for your favorite Giuliani, although he does not make my top 10 stack ranking.

My rationale is familiar to readers of this blog. I vote for objectives like good governance and fiscal responsibility. Those objectives are documented to be accomplished by divided government, and divided government can only be maintained into 2009 by electing a Republican President. A shit Republican president with a Democratic majority in the House and a supermajority in the Senate, will govern better than a great Democratic President and a united Democratic Congress (see LBJ). So on February 5th, 2009 - I'll be voting in the California Republican primary for Ron Paul, and hoping for the best.

Let us dig a bit more into the mind of Frum. This from a Cato Unbound series six months before the midterms, initiated with a David Frum essay and concluding with his summary:

Future of the GOP: It’s Up to the Democrats

Ross’ question about the future of “fusionism”—the longstanding alliance between libertarians and social conservatives—is a very profound one. Let me suggest a couple of thoughts that may help us think it through together.
  1. While strict doctrinal libertarians have always been a vanishingly small minority in America (cocaine vending machines anyone?), the libertarian disposition or tendency is large and strong.
  2. So long as the Democrats (or anyway the Democrats’ northern leadership) remained effectively a social-democratic party, libertarian-leaning voters had no choice but to support the GOP."
Not really. As documented in a prescient Cato Institute Policy Analysis and post-midterm election observations, the libertarian swing vote did indeed have a choice. It chose to elect a Democratic Congress and a divided government. As Frum correctly points out, the libertarian "disposed" swing vote is small. However, it is large enough to swing national elections in our evenly divided polarized political electorate. The libertarian swing vote is now supporting Ron Paul. It is not big enough to get him the nomination. It is big enough to cost the Republicans the White House, if the Ron Paul Republicans do not stay in the Republican fold. Captain Ed gets it right:
"What does this tell us? The libertarian impulse may have stronger legs than anyone recognizes. It certainly seems more individually vibrant than the "values voters" segment of the Republican Party, which hasn't even produced a candidate in this election, let alone this kind of impromptu grassroots effort... Beyond Paul and his flaws, the Republicans had better start paying attention to these voters. Like it or not, they represent a passion that seems to have left the GOP in recent months, and even if they skew young and may not vote as promised this cycle, they will eventually. Rather than continue to write them off, Republicans have to find a way to address them..."
Let us correct David Frum's essay title -

"The Future of the GOP? It is up to the libertarians"

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.