You are currently viewing archive for July 2007
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Does it matter that public approval of Congress is at historic lows?

The dreadful numbers for Congress, even lower than the President's dreadful numbers, is an increasingly ubiquitous talking point in the conservative media. Does this mean that Americans are disgruntled with Democratic leadership in Congress? Should Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi read this polling data with alarm? Should we take heart from these polls?

Not really. Congressional approval ratings don't mean much.

Elections 101: Traditionally, the American people hate Congress but love their Congressman. While only 14 percent of voters voice approval for Congress, we can rest assured that no incumbent will go down to dramatic defeat in the next congressional election. Most of the incumbents will win easy victory, and the handful that will lose in November 2008 will run very close races. That is, you can bet the house that there will not be any incumbents polling within 30 points of that 14 percent mark on Election Day.

Most Americans cannot even identify their Congressman. Here is how it goes: "we hate Congress, but our guy is okay." Who is your guy? "Let me think...."

The President personifies American government. When voters get mad at government, the President is in trouble. I have not seen any polling data with this question, but my hunch is that a shockingly low percentage of Americans understand that Congress is currently in the hands of an opposition party.

Americans are frustrated and angry right now. They dislike the President, and they dislike his government. That brand of thinking is neither fair nor rational, but, I suspect with a high degree of certainty, that it is prevalent.

My point: don't hang your hat on low numbers for Congress. Dissatisfaction with Congress is closely linked with dissatisfaction with government, which is embodied by George Bush.

UPDATE: One more thing. Having said all that, I am convinced that if the shoe were on the other foot, and a Republican Congress had these kinds of public opinion numbers, they would be front-page news for the mainstream media.
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
Newsmax has the story.

Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore will no longer seek the Republican presidential nomination.

God bless America. Anyone can try to get the nomination. So, who do you think will be the next to drop out?
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
What ants and bees can teach us about the benefits of a free society.

The July issue of the National Geographic contains a great article entitled "The Genius of Swarms." It presents scientific findings on the behavior of swarming animals such as the movement of shoals of fish, herds of caribou, and flocks of birds. None of these groups has a leader coordinating the response to a predator, yet the groups respond with movements that confuse the attacker, giving a better chance of escape. It seems that each individual, while unaware of the "big picture," moves in response to those around it according to certain simple ingrained rules.

Even more amazing is the swarm behavior of social insects such as ants and bees. Without leaders giving commands, the hive or hill functions efficiently through the choices of each member. While an individual ant or bee is not smart, the group behaves in an intelligent way.

One key to an ant colony, for example, is that no one's in charge. No generals command ant warriors. No managers boss ant workers. The queen plays no role except to lay eggs. Even with half a million ants, a colony functions just fine with no management at all--at least none that we would recognize. It relies instead upon countless interactions between individual ants, each of which is following simple rules of thumb. Scientists describe such a system as self-organizing.

Scientists are creating mathmatical/computer models of swarm behavior and finding fruitful applications. For example, a large company in Texas uses a computer model based on ant behavior to schedule delivery routes for its trucks--the money savings has been significant. Southwest Airlines is testing a similar model to manage plane traffic at the Phoenix airport.

Even more interesting, for the point of this blog, are the applications for human society. For example, bees choose a new hive during swarming based on the choice of a critical number of scouts: a bottom-up not a top-down decision making structure. One bee researcher has applied bee decision making methods to human choices.

The bees' rules for decision-making--seek a diversity of options, encourage free competition among ideas, and use an effective mechanism to narrow choices--so impressed [the researcher] that he now uses them at Cornell as chairman of his department.

So perhaps those who wish to create a command-economy and a society led by elites in a top-down manner, are the ones fighting nature. Free societies and free economies may be naturally more intelligent than elite managed ones.
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has released its findings on positions taken by the presidential candidates relating to LGBT issues. Here is the information in chart form (Adobe needed). Here is the press release (Adobe not needed).

No real surprises in the information. In general, the Democrat aspirants are much more committed to LGBT issues than are the Republican, though only two of the Dems explicitly support same-sex marriage--Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich. On the Republican side Rudy is in a weak first-place with his support for Civil Unions and opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Once more the modern Democrats show themselves to be the party committed to social change, and modern Republicans to be more committed to tradition.

Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I am extremely reluctant to comment on the current Gore family crisis. I am a father of two sons, and my heart goes out to Al and Tipper. There But for the Grace of God go I. With all sincerity, I wish the Gores the best. Politics aside, I ask God to bless the Gore family with health, security and happiness in abundance.

However, by his own design, Al Gore is a crucial figure in our national political culture. He has inserted himself in to the very fabric of our national conversation. Why is the arrest of Al Gore III in play? The incident speaks to the cloud of hypocrisy and artificiality (and perhaps rotten luck) that perpetually swirls around the Gore campaigns.

Some brief comments:

The best laid schemes of Mice and Men, gang aft agley. Someone in the Gore camp was media savvy enough to arrange for Al Gore III to drive a hybrid Toyota Prius. However, running your environmentally friendly Prius at 100 miles-per-hour on the freeways of Southern California during the wee hours of the morning while smoking marijuana negates a multitude of forethought and pre-planning on the part of your dad's PR staff.

Reaping what he sowed? We may never know who made the decision, on the eve of Election Day 2000, to release the news that twenty-four years earlier, on a July 4th weekend in 1976, the Kennebunkport Police Department arrested a thirty-year-old George Bush for operating his vehicle under the influence of alcohol. However, the irony (or perhaps the karma) of Al Gore's current embarrassment on the eve of his big moment seems thick.

Previous Bosque Boys musings on the "Strange Career of Al Gore" here.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Some quick thoughts in re the commutation:

1. There are real downsides to this action:

--Too Much Mercy? As the Washington Post, an undeniably moderate voice throughout this entire imbroglio, opined this morning,
"commut[ing] the entire prison sentence sends the wrong message about the seriousness of that offense." Perhaps the President was right that the sentence was excessive, the probation office recommended significantly less time, but as the Post points out, the President "moved from excessive to zero" (editorial in full here).

--Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right. One can reasonably argue that this commutation makes Libby's punishment more commensurate with other high profile cases, namely President Clinton and former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. But every schoolboy knows the chant: "two wrongs don't make right." Either you are for the rule of law--or you are not. This kind of nuanced thinking on law and order, crime and punishment hurts Republicans--not so much with the electorate--but with our own self image. This process does painful internal damage to conservatives.

--The Lingering Question. And for as long as anybody cares to think or write about this story, we will face this question: was the commutation offered to silence a potentially destructive witness for the prosecution? Was this quid pro quo? Was this part of cover-up that went all the way to the Oval Office?

2. An Observation: This President will never win with the media. Two weeks ago, I took issue with the banal speculation that President Bush would not pardon "Scooter" Libby because of the intense political fallout, which would emanate from such a move.

My point then: how can anyone say this President fears a firestorm?

You may review that post here.

Today the common storyline asserts that President Bush granted clemency because he feared that his remaining supporters might desert him, if he let Libby go to jail.

As I said two weeks ago, riding to the aid of Libby is good politics--it will temporarily buck up his flagging base a bit--but, again, who can say with a straight face that this President operates with that brand of political acumen or calculation?

But my point is: "damned if you do, damned if you don't." It is either Bush doesn't have the grit to save his loyal subordinate for fear of political backlash or Bush intercedes on behalf of his loyal minion to stave off political backlash. Pick your poison.

3. We were promised the "Paris Hilton talking points"--and we have them. Everybody from Dick Durbin to Chris Mathews wants to compare Scooter Libby to Paris Hilton. It is a ridiculous analogy. Conservatives prefer Clinton and Berger as points of reference, but that brings us back to "two wrongs..." (see above).

4. Ramifications overblown. George Stephanopoulos on GMA this morning predicted a potential backlash for the President and Republican candidates for president. He noted that already Democratic candidates are making hay of this Executive Order, which polls indicate the American people disapprove of in large numbers.

I disagree wholeheartedly for two reasons:

--I am not convinced that this is a story that will penetrate the consciousness of the American people. No matter how many times Democratic politicians and pundits bring up Paris Hilton, the sad truth is that only a fraction of the population who followed the Hilton story can even identify Scooter Libby.

--More importantly, I will bet the house right now on the certainty that Mrs. Clinton will not run a presidential campaign that centers around presidential pardons and perjured testimony before a grand jury.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Quoting the President (excerpted):

"Critics of the [Plame] investigation have argued that a special counsel should not have been appointed, nor should the investigation have been pursued after the Justice Department learned who leaked Ms. Plame's name to columnist Robert Novak.

"Furthermore, the critics point out that neither Mr. Libby nor anyone else has been charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or the Espionage Act, which were the original subjects of the investigation.

"Finally, critics say the punishment does not fit the crime: Mr. Libby was a first-time offender with years of exceptional public service and was handed a harsh sentence based in part on allegations never presented to the jury."

On the other hand...

"[A] jury of citizens weighed all the evidence and listened to all the testimony and found Mr. Libby guilty of perjury and obstructing justice.

"[Critical observers] argue, correctly, that our entire system of justice relies on people telling the truth. And if a person does not tell the truth, particularly if he serves in government and holds the public trust, he must be held accountable. They say that had Mr. Libby only told the truth, he would have never been indicted in the first place."

A Solomonic Compromise.

"Mr. Libby was sentenced to thirty months of prison, two years of probation, and a $250,000 fine. In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation.

"I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.

"My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby [which has inflicted great damage to his reputation and his family].

"He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.

"The Constitution gives the President the power of clemency to be used when he deems it to be warranted. It is my judgment that a commutation of the prison term in Mr. Libby's case is an appropriate exercise of this power."

Statement by the President in full here.

My Analysis: Not an easy call, but the President has it right this time.