Monday, May 24, 2010

Voters on grassy knolls of Pennsylvania shoot down Specter

The best news out of last week's bevy of primary elections was that Democrats in Pennsylvania decided they weren't buying what turncoat Senator Arlen Specter was selling. Which was, essentially, his soul.

Specter, who at 80 probably really needs to get out of Senate and get a life anyway, was a Republican until last year.

Then he switched parties when it became abundantly clear that he couldn't beat the wingnut who was challenging him in the Republican primary. So he took Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama up on their kind offer to switch parties and become the Democrat's 60th vote in the Senate.

Let's be clear about this. There wasn't any change in Specter's philosophy. He didn't have a Road to Damascus experience. He just switched parties in an effort to save his own political skin. And Pennsylvania Democrats decided that they didn't have to abide by any back-room Washington deals that they hadn't been consulted about anyway and said "Thanks, but no thanks" and chose Rep. Joe Sestak to carry their banner against far-right GOP nominee Pat Toomey in November. After all, those Democrats had been voting against Specter their whole lives.

Polls show Sestak will have a tougher time beating Toomey than Specter would have. I guess Pennsylvania Democrats decided they'd rather lose with a real Democrat than win with an ersatz one. And make no mistake, Specter isn't a real Democrat. Despite what his Tea Party detractors would have you believe he isn't even a particularly liberal or moderate Republican. He mostly toed the party line during his long tenure in the Senate.

Aside from the fact that I'm still mad at him about the Single Bullet Theory -- and authoring that rationalization by which the Warren Commission fit the uncooperative evidence in the John F. Kennedy assassination with its predetermined conclusion presaged the intellectual dishonesty that would allow Specter to disavow a lifetime in politics and switch parties without a look back -- I hate to see treachery rewarded.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Reinventing commissions to reinvent reinventing government

Now that he's got the General Assembly out of town and he can get down to business, Gov. Bob McDonnell has turned his sights on "reinventing government."

He's appointed a commission to suggest ways to do that.

As usual for such commissions, it's filled with eminent names from state and local politics and government, as well as business interests and lobbyists. McDonnell's commission is huge, 31 members, so it might have trouble reaching consensus by July 16, when its report is due.

If what the governor is trying to do is cut down on red tape and unnecessary government spending, he could  have just read the last five or six reports issued by commissions on reinventing governments. After all, none of their recommendations have been acted on yet.

In fact, since the current commission is really just a way to get to the governor's goal of selling off the state's liquor stores, he'd really only need to read one report, the Wilder Commission report from Gov. Mark Warner's administration,

That report suggested selling the ABC stores, both to simplify government and to pump $400 to 500 million into the state budget. The primary objection to this proposal was, and remains, that in order to realize that one-time cash infusion, the state would be giving up a steady stream of revenue -- more than $200 million per year -- from ABC profits.

In a scenario where the state just got out of the liquor business, allowing it to be taken over by private industry, while the state liquidated its inventory and warehousing operations and terminated its retail employees, the state would also lose control over liquor sales.

And that worries some people, including legislators.

Because the future they see is one with liquor stores proliferating on every corner or victimizing disadvantaged neighborhoods or marring other neighborhoods with tacky advertising. And that's a prospect that many -- including many of the conservative, religious Republicans who are part of McDonnell's base -- oppose. That plan probably can't pass the General Assembly, even the Republican-controlled House.

So the pure "free-market" approach won't work. It doesn't generate enough money for the commonwealth and it will be very unpopular. That means the McDonnell administration needs to think outside the box and get beyond the GOP's free-market dogma. It needs to adopt a scheme of "quasi-privatization."

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Monday, May 10, 2010

The Multiple Choice Section

Fate hinges on the choices we make.

This week different choices in the news are on my mind.

  •  On the world stage, the European Union decided to put together a bail-out package for Greece, which is broke. The package takes the form of billions in cheap loans both from Greece's partners in the "euro zone" and from our own Federal Reserve. The goal is to stop the collapse of the Greek economy before it triggers similar collapses in Spain, Portugal and Italy. That could jeopardize the tentative recovery from the Great Recession and throw the world into a double-dip recession. That's a choice the rest of Europe didn't want to make, but apparently has to make, much like our bank bail-outs two years ago.

  • President Barack Obama chose Solicitor General Elena Kagan as his next nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, to take the seat of retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. Kagan is generally seen as the safe choice. She's already been confirmed by the Senate for the Solicitor General's job and even garnered a handful of Republican votes. She's liberal, but not so liberal that the Republicans will try to filibuster her nomination. She's never been a judge before, so she doesn't have a history of opinions for opponents to sort through looking for an issue. As dean of Harvard Law School she did try to ban military recruiting at the school in protest of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gays serving. That's likely to be the biggest objection raised against her, but it was raised during her previous confirmation hearings to little effect. In fact, if the Republican blogosphere is any indication, the fact that Kagan has never served as a judge is itself going to be the major argument against her. It's a poor argument. More than half of the nation's previous Supreme Court justices had not served on the bench before being nominated for the high court. We just haven't done it that way in awhile. The last nominees who had not previously been judges were Richmond lawyer Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist, who had also served as Solicitor General, both nominated in 1971 by Richard Nixon. If Kagan is confirmed, it would be the first time three women have served simultaneously on the court. It might also mark the first time that the court was without a Protestant. Kagan is Jewish. She would join two other Jewish members and six Catholics on the court.

  • Speaking of Jews and the Nixon Administration ......Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is taking some heat over his choice of Fred Malek to head his commission on restructuring government. That's because one of Malek's previous experiences in restructuring government was an effort to reduce the number of Jews in the federal government at the request of President Nixon. Malek was responsible for putting together a list of the Jews in the Labor Department, which Nixon was convinced was riddled with "disloyal" Jewish employees. Turns out there were 13. Malek resigned as deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee when the story was first reported in 1988. Let's see, since taking charge five months ago, Virginia Republicans have offended gay and lesbian people with Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's unsolicited opinion that state colleges couldn't protect them from employment discrimination, African Americans with McDonnell's proclamation of April as Confederate History Month and now Jewish Virginians. Who's next?
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Monday, May 3, 2010

Keeping abreast of Attorney General Cuccinelli

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli continues to amuse.

The a.g. couldn't do a better job of keeping his name in the press if he were trying. Maybe he is. After all, he has gubernatorial ambitions in 2013. And I guess being repeatedly mocked by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show does raise his name recognition.

His latest comedy tour de force involves a John Ashcroft impersonation.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ashcroft raised eyebrows when he draped togas over the bare breasted statuary at the Department of Justice.

Cuccinelli's foray into the realm of priggish prudery came at the expense of the seal of Virginia. The seal, which is repeated on the state flag, portrays the goddess of virtue standing triumphant over a deposed  tyrant. One breast is exposed.

But not on the lapel pin recreation of the seal that Cuccinelli recently passed out to staff members of the attorney general's office. Virtue finds herself covered in a breast plate in that rendition.

The a.g. joked that her less risque apparel was more appropriate.

Perhaps Cuccinelli wanted to make sure that impressionable children weren't corrupted by the depiction of that topless hussy, Virtue. I can put his mind at ease. I spent my adolescent and teen years in Virginia and, like most teenage boys had a  more active fantasy sex life than real sex life. But I gaurantee that the state seal was never a factor.

As an example of being prissy and silly, the above would suffice. But Cuccinelli didn't stop there. Because he didn't invent his new version of the seal. He copied it. Where did he copy it from? The battle flag of the 28th Virginia Infantry, Army of the Confederacy. That's right, the Confedracy.

Can't you just see Gov. Bob McDonnell doing a slow Moe burn and giving Cuccinelli the Three Stooges eyepoke on that one?

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