The Lonely Centrist

A place for reasoned debate about the issues of the day.

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Friday, September 30, 2005

Thank God We're Not Like Talk Radio

A group called "Fired Up" has asked the Federal Election Commission for an advisory opinion, as to whether it is entitled to the press exemption for its activities on the internet.

The "reform" lobby has been pretty circumspect about the internet, claiming to want to regulate it, and to not want to regulate it, depending on the audience. (See this testimony in Congress from former FEC Chairman Brad Smith. See also this letter from John McCain, opposing an internet exemption - click on the link for the adobe file- and compare it to this report from Powerline, in which McCain calls for no regulation of the internet.). Finally, faced with an actual case, they have to start laying cards on the table. They've concluded that Fired Up should not get the exemption that the rest of the press gets from campaign finance laws because it has "purely partisan goals" and because "its self-avowed purpose is to elect Democrats."

Unlike, say, Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken.

The Comments and the request can be found here. Thanks to Skeptic's Eye for flagging the comments.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Is the Reform Lobby throwing in the Towel on Spending Limits?

Yesterday the Supreme Court announced that it would accept the case of
Vermont Republican State Committee v. Sorrell. The case involves a Vermont law that sets limits on how much a political candidate can spend.

Naturally, the reform lobby swung into action, issuing a spate of press releases. Over at Skeptic's Eye, the Skeptic mocks the horrible writing of the Democracy 21 press release, arguing that this sentence may be the worst written sentence ever:
Democracy 21 will join with others involved in the successful legal defense of the McCain-Feingold law to participate in these two cases in order to ensure that longstanding and well-established precedents to protect against the
corruption of democracy are not overturned or undermined by a Supreme Court currently in transition.

Well, it is poorly written, no doubt about that. My first thought, though, was more along the lines of, "what 'well-established precedents' are we talking about?" After all, in Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court very clearly ruled that expenditure limits are unconstitutional, and numerous lower court decisions have reaffirmed that (Sorrell itself being the exception that sticks out like Dick Cheney at a Cindy Sheehan rally.) So I thought that this was just typical misleading propaganda from the reform lobby.

But elsewhere in the Democracy 21 press release , our naive friends admit that Buckley held that spending limits were unconstitutional. And immediately after the horrible sentence above, our naive friends at Democracy 21 write:

These Supreme Court precedents include the constitutionality of contribution limits, the constitutionality of the ban on the use of corporate and labor union
funds in federal elections and the constitutionality of laws enacted to prevent circumvention of these limits and prohibitions, including the McCain-Feingold

So when Democracy 21 says it intends to support "well-established precedents," is it saying that it won't support spending limits in court? Is it limiting its advocacy to defending contribution limits (also at issue in the case)? If so, this is major news.

Alas, I fear the more likely reading is that Democracy 21 hopes the press will quote the stuff about "well-established precedent" and assume that Democracy 21 is referring to spending limits as well - or at least use the quote in the papers, where most readers will be deceived. Most members of the press won't check with a truly reliable source, and for those that do, Democracy 21 can point out that they did note that Buckley had struck down spending limits. I guess we'll see when Democracy 21 files its briefs.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Ongoing Fall of Moderate Republicanism

According to National Journal's Congress Daily (subscription required), the "moderate" Main Stream Individual Fund is supporting the candidacy of Assemblyman Marilyn Brewer in the special election to suceed Former Rep. (now SEC Chairman) Christopher Cox.

The Fund is doing this by running ads accusing Brewer's primary rival, State Senator John Campbell, of being soft on illegal immigration. So this is now "moderate" Republicanism - bashing immigrants?

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain (Maverick- Az) has endorsed Brewer in TV ads, even though those very ads violated the McCain-Feingold bill by not including proper "disclaimers, see here, and even though McCain has generally been supportive of immigration.

Indeed, the Main Stream Fund is one of those evil "527s" that Senator McCain has railed against for the past year. And here they are, spending soft money to try to elect the Senator's candidate. Will Senator McCain denounce the group? Daring prediction - no.

If this is the man, the group, and the candidate on which "moderate" Republicans are banking, the center is indeed in trouble. How are the moderate Democrats doing these days? Are there any?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Genuflect, Ye Members of the Bar

Today is the 250th birthday of the great Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Marshall.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Talk About Excitement

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Carter-Baker Report: As Successful as the Carter Presidency

The Centerman rises from his long hibernation to address the Carter-Baker report. Today let's just start with the problem of mission; later we'll get to substance.

The Carter-Baker Commission

What the heck is the Carter-Baker Commission? Well, in the most basic sense, it is nothing. It is not a government commission, it has no power, no formal or even informal status within American politics. So who cares what it has to say? Yawn.

The Commission is a group of private individuals, some of considerable prestige (at least around Washington, D.C.), organized by American University and funded by grants from the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation, the Knight Foundation (e.g. the usual suspects) and something called the Omidyar Network. The last was founder by the Omidyars, founders of Ebay. The gobbledygook (is that a word?) that is their mission can be found here.

The group - there is really no reason we should dignify it with the official sounding name "Commission" - is co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter, one of America's worst presidents and perhaps the worst ex-president ever, and James Baker, former Bush family strong-man. The Executive Director was Robert Pastor of American University, a Carter protege with some distinguished academic credentials.

The Commission developed the way these things usually do. Ostensibly intended to be bi-partisan, the staff was primarily liberal in orientation. A group of "academic advisors" were recruited, again tilting left, and including a mix of truly distinguished academics, such as James Thurber (the American University Political Science professor, not the dead author/humorist) and Paul Gronke, and political hacks, such as Leonard Shambon and Mark Glaze. These advisors appear to have been little consulted.

The group then went around the country and held a few hearings - well, two, to be precise - at which 21 handpicked witnesses testified. Some, such as Common Cause President and former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Chellie Pingree, have no serious qualifications to be discussing the issue. Others, such as Norm Ornstein, are the kind of unelected Washington insiders who always seem to worm their way into such events. They also met with some congressmen (5 to be exact, 4 Democrats and one Republican), leaders of Common Cause (now I'm feeling confident), and the National Association of State Election Directors, a worthy group of professional election administrators.

Then the staff drafted up a report, and that's what all the hullabaloo is about. See here for a roundup and links to media coverage:

As I said, we'll get to substance in another post, but the report, just on the surface, looks like thin gruel. It comes to us in a 104 page document, but that is misleading. There are actually 70 pages to the report, once you cut out the appendices of advisors, commissioner bios, and the like, of which about 16 pages worth is taken up with pictures. They make for a colorful report, but I doubt that pictures of the various "commissioners" listening seriously and gesturing passionately really add much to our understanding of the issues involved (there is at least one photo on each of the first 15 pages), nor do pictures of a finger about to cast a fake vote (we know it's fake because the ballot features Gore/Lieberman, Bush/Cheney, and George Washington/John Adams. At least the fake voter has the good sense to be selecting the Washington/Adams ticket. On the other hand, since Washington and Adams never actually appeared on a ballot - in those days, you really voted for "electors" to the electoral college, and certainly not for a ticket - the photo may actually increase lack of understanding about our voting history.)

Under a heading, "Learning from the World," we get a half page photo of the Mexican Federal Electoral Institute in action, and it's good to know we can learn from our southern neighbors how to hold a fair election.

Overall, the report puts a lot of effort into featuring pictures of the "commission" members, witnesses testifying before the group, and bios of "commissioners." (By the way, the scare quotes around "commission" and "commissioner" seem justified, since the dictionary defines a "commissioner" as one who has a commission from the government, which these folks do not.)

In short, it has the look and feel of a puff piece, one that doubts that the recipients will really read it, or at least not read any of the back-up data, but only skim the recommendations; and one aimed at the aggrandizement of the "Commission" members as much as a serious discussion of election administration. In other words, the message is something like this:

"Here is a big fat report from serious people, so it must be serious. But don't worry, you don't need to read it. Look at the high quality print and all the pretty color photos. See who all we 'Commissioners' are - we are very serious, important Washington insiders - so these recommendations must really carry weight."

But is there really any reason to take these recommendations seriously? We'll discuss the substance of the report soon enough. Tonight, time forces me onward.

Monday, September 12, 2005

John McCain: "Do As I Say, Not As I Do!"

According to the Club for Growth, via the Skeptics Eye, John McCain is appearing in an ad to endorse a candidate in a California special election, but the ad plainly violates the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Ronald Reagan the Greatest American Ever? I Don't Think So

Back in 2002, the BBC conducted a public vote to choose the "Greatest Briton." Winston Churchill, a very credible choice, ultimately won, with 28.1% of the vote (from among a field narrowed to ten in prior votes), and the 19th century engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel (a pick showing some real knowledge of history and appreciation for acheivers outside the realm of politics, military, and government) finished second, but it was close - the vacuous underacheiver, Princess Diana of Wales, finished third (13.9%). The Top 10 are listed here.

Anyway, such polls are mainly in fun, and shouldn't be taken too seriously, but it is alarming that anyone could think that Diana, Princess of Wales, was somehow greater than Churchill or say, Shakespeare, or Lord Nelson, or Alfred the Great, or several hundred million other Britons, etc.

Well, the Discovery Channel decided last fall to do its own little American version. They didn't promote or handle it nearly as well as the BBC, and so in fact seem to have gotten little mileage out of it. That's a bit sad, because such programs really could be used to educate the public. It could be a great water cooler show. Indeed, Discovery did so little promotion of it that it pretty much slipped by unnoticed, with the final results announced in late June, when television viewing is way down. Indeed, only just noticed it myself.

Discovery started with a list of 100 people that they chose to put up for vote. Several of the names on the list were atrocious selections - Tom Cruise, Lucille Ball, Dr. Phil, Carl Sagan, Brett Farve, and Martha Stewart are a few names that leap out, but at least half the list was unjustifiable under most any criteria. That meant, of course, that others were left off - Patton, Grant, Hemingway, etc.

The shallowness of most people's knowledge of history was shown by the selection of George W. Bush as number 6 and Bill Clinton as number 7, and the shallowness of their thinking by the inclusion of Elvis Presley (#8) and Oprah Winfrey (#9) in the top ten. But in the end the voters didn't do too badly. The Top 5 were:
5. Ben Franklin
4. George Washington
3. Martin Luther King
2. Abraham Lincoln; and
1. Ronald Reagan
That's a pretty good group, with the glaring problem being Ronald Reagan as #1. Reagan was, in my book, a great president, whose reputation will continue to grow with historians, but greater than Washington or Lincoln or Jefferson - no way. At least he's no Lady Diana.

The Top 25 are posted in order of votes here, and the 100 candidates offered up by the network are here. It's not a bad time waster, but could have been a much more entertaining, and educational, debate starter.

CFR Just Keeps Growing More Incoherent

Campaign Finance Reform just keeps growing more incoherent.

Last year, a group called Citizens United asked the Federal Election Commission for an Advisory Opinion. They wanted to publish and distribute a book, "The Many Faces of John Kerry, Why This Massachusetts Liberal Is Wrong for America," and produce and air on TV an anti-Michael Moore movie eventually titled "Celsius 41.11: The Truth Behind the Lies of Fahrenheit 9/11," and they wanted to know, among other things, if their activities would be protected under the "press exemption," to federal campaign finance law. This exemption exempts "any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication" from federal campaign finance law. (Without this exemption, pretty much every TV and radio station, newspaper or current events magazine or book publisher would be in constant violation of the law).

The FEC held in Advisory Opinion 2004-30 that Citizens United was not entitled to the exemption, because it was not a "press entity." In support of this conclusion the FEC noted that Citizens United had "only" produced two movie documentaries since its founding in 1988.

Well, Citizens United is now sending out invitations to the "World Premiere" of its latest feature length documentary movie, "Broken Promises: The United Nations at 60." So it has now produced two movies in under one year. My guess is that many independent filmmakers fall short of that pace. Indeed, it is two more movies than Michael Moore has produced in the 12 months, yet the FEC appears ready to give Moore the press exemption, because "these respondents are in the business of making, promoting, and distributing films." (p. 15). (What the Commission actually did, we might note, was dodge the issue by holding that Moore was entitled to a "commercial exemption." Unfortunately, the statute contains no such exemption. And what was Moore's "commerce?" Why, making movies, i.e. being press. In any case, the Commission's decision effectively gave Moore the press exemption while dodging the press exemption issue).

Does this make any sense? Does it smack of a press licensing scheme? Does producing two movies in a year put Citizens United in the business of making movies? If not, how many do they have to produce? If so, is it really true that you have to make some movies (illegally?) before you can claim the press exemption and make political movies legally? Increasingly, campaign finance reform is leading down a blind alley.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Disgrace

Howard Dean continues to disgrace the Democratic Party. Here's Howard on President Bush's visit to Louisiana:

President Bush's visit today is just another callous political move crafted
by Karl Rove. This is one failure we will not allow the GOP attack machine
to spin away with their usual barrage of photo ops, misinformation, smear
campaigns, and press conferences.

Howard remains the best friend the GOP has. Democrats should be crushing the Republicans in the polls, but it looks as though the GOP will retain its majorities in Congress next year. Dean's mean-spiritied, over-the-top rhetoric is a disgrace, and pushes centrist voters into the Republican camp.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Is Health Food Healthy? An Unscientific Observation

My wife made me stop by the Health Food store the other day to pick up flax seed oil and other strange substances. There in the store, I noticed the same thing I've always noticed - most the people in these places look pretty bad. Not my wife, of course, but she's always been healthy and beautiful. But on the whole, it seems to me you'd be hard pressed to randomly find a less healthy looking crowd than one sees at the Health Food store.

One man's unscientific observation.

  • The Skeptic
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Michael Barone
  • The New Republic
  • National Review
  • Democracy Project
  • Bob Bauer
  • Center for Competitive Politics
  • Ryan Sager
  • Going to the Matt
  • Professor Bainbridge
  • Volokh Conspiracy
  • Mystery Pollster
  • Amitai Etzioni
  • Alexander Chrenkoff
  • Middle East Media Research Institute
  • Right Democrat
  • Democrats for Life