Saturday, July 30, 2005

Frist Flips Flops On Fetuses

According to Modern America, a socially conservative-yet staunchly Democratic-blog, the Republican leader of the senate, Bill Frist, is guilty of flip flopping on the issue of stem cell research. On Friday morning the Tennessee senator delivered a solemn speech in support of federal funding for the expansion of Embryonic Stem Cell Research, a practice that involves experiments on the stem cells of discarded embryos at fertility clinics.

Nevertheless, it seems to me, that educated citizens will be hard pressed to denounce Frist's endorsement as politically motivated, as the senator is a doctor, who has announced support for stem cell research in the past, before he was elected majority leader and before he was seriously considering the presidency (of course, assuming that every senator factors the possible run for presidency into their statements is not unreasonable).

Of course, it would seem too idealistic to think that a man with power, who could use some more, would simply substitute conscience for politics. Would his patient loving heart overrule his politically-savvy brain that tells him that disguising stem cell research as a "moral issue" is as easy as getting an endorsement from Rush Limbaugh?

The more Frists' intellectualism shows, the more his destiny becomes similar to another maverick, John McCain, who cannot get the support of the Republican base that is needed to win a presidential election. Will Republicans continue to call Frist their "party leader" or their "party traitor"?

Who Likes CAFTA?

Now that CAFTA has passed, we must begin to speculate on the actual effects of the legislation, rather than merely the political battle that took place before its passing.

We must look at the trade opportunties presented in the deal. These countries do not represent the magnificent consumer base that was tapped with NAFTA. On the opposite side, they do not offer the same kind of threatening competition to certain American businesses that Mexico and Canada did. In fact, what we realize, after examining CAFTA, is that the only people who had a real cause for concern were the members of the sugar industry. However, they should not feel threatened anymore because their potent lobby in congress has turned what was supposed to be a free trade bill into what many consider a boondoggle.

According to Mercola, the sugar industry is presently protected by import quotas that inflate the prices of American sugar almost $2 billion a year. In fact, in order to get the bill out of committee in the senate, the legislation had to include subsidies to ethanol producers who buy U.S sugar as feedstock. The lobby fought the efforts of Congress to raise the quotas by 1% on foreign sugar, and succeeded.

Interestingly enough, the Bush administration continued to pursue CAFTA despite the anti-trade provisions in the bill. And why not? To most of the public, the president has won a major battle and combatted protectionism. Most people do not know of the pork barrel projects doled out to senators such as Kit Bond (R-MO), who will receive a $1 billion dam on the Mississippi River. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) had provisions written in for textile mills in her state. This blog does not doubt that it was payday for many a "doubtful" congressman on the eve of the vote.

For intelligent analysis of the pork barrel deals, go to Infidel World.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Senate Rejects Lautenberg Amendment

The senate rejected an amendment offered by Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to the Defense Appropriations Bill on Tuesday.

According to Democrats, legislation was geared to close a loophole that allowed subsidiaries of American corporations to conduct business with governments that sponsor terrorism. Current law prohibits American based companies from dealing with governments such as Libya, Iran, and Syria, but the businesses can always open foreign based operations that are not held accountable for the favorable relations.

What the amendment would specifically outlaw, as described in the text, are foreign entities that are "controlled in fact" by Americans, meaning that Americans hold at least 50% of the capital structure, or are in control of the day-to-day activities of the business, from dealing with governments that sponsor terrorism, as decided by the state department.

The vote was 51-47, with a strong indication of partisan divide on the issue. The Democrats were united in favor, along with three curiously conservative Republicans in John Kyl (AZ), James Inhofe (OK), and John Ensign (NV).

Officials at the Lautenberg office in Newark were disappointed with the vote and further expressed suprise at the fact that Mel Martinez (R-FL) dissented after allegedly promising to vote in favor.

What was this legislation about? Why was the GOP so united in opposition and why were the three mavericks also three of the most conservative and partisan voices in Congress? Did the Democrats mean as well as the title ("To Stop the Financing of Terrorism") makes it sound.

A Different Democrat

Anyone catch the article in the New York Times yesterday about Paul Hackett, the Iraq War veteran running for Congress in Ohio's 2nd District? The 2nd District has had just one Democratic Congressman since 1950, and the most recent Democrat was moved to another district after redistricting as a result of the 1980 Census. But Hackett seems to be at least within striking distance of his Republican opponent, Jean Schmidt. Hackett returned from Iraq in March and enlisted again the day he got back - this time to run in the special election. He romped through the Democratic Primary and got the party endorsement in four of the seven counties in the district.

Hackett is intensely opposed to the war in Iraq, and has criticized President Bush for invading in the first place and not focusing intently on capturing Osama bin Laden. He has publically referred to President Bush as the greatest threat to America. So, you say, he's a typical liberal Democrat who happened to serve in Iraq. Not quite. Hackett supports loose gun restrictions and personally opposes abortion, though he says he wouldn't interfere with a woman's right to have one. He seems to be anything but a "party man," which would be refreshing in the partisan atmosphere in Washington.

The special election is on August 2nd and, while no official polls have been released, it is believed that the race is close with Schmidt in the lead. The Political Forecast reports on the race in two different places and says that Schmidt is ahead by just 5%.

Hackett's Iraq service throws a wrench into this whole thing, but if he wins, could he be blazing a path that the Democratic Party follows to victory in the future?

Forrester Incites Corruption

Doug Forrester, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, followed up on his frequent charges of Democratic corruption when his campaign issued a statement concerning Corzine's Chief of Operations, Susan Levin Bass, who is under federal investigation for illegal campaign contributions (more at NJpolitics).

The GOP is using the situation to emphasize that Bass would not be the only "ethically flexible" individual associated with Corzine in the past. Former senator Bob Toricelli, former governor Jim McGreevey, and a former developer and convicted felon, Charles Kushner, have all apparently been close confidants.

While the GOP's list of corrupt officials is not wrong, the charges against Corzine are easy to dismiss. Every prominent Democrat was associated with Governor McGreevey and Senator Bob Torricelli, as well as many Republicans. Believe me, if a Republican assemblyman had the chance to become friends with the powerful governor of the state, he would. It could only benefit him and his constituents...until of course the governor resigns in disgrace and future opponents point to the connections, such as the Republicans are doing now to Corzine.

On a different note, it's interesting to speculate on how the New Jersey GOP would react if the president's Chief of Staff has to resign, or, God Forbid, spend some time at Camp Fed.

For propaganda on this issue:

Republican

Democratic

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Sharpe James

I spoke to a Sharpe James supporter at work today, or rather, a woman who said she had at least voted for James over Booker in 2002. She described herself as a "true Newark girl" before revealing her vote, as she no doubt anticipated disgust on my part. However, I did not denounce her decision, and we had a rather lengthy conversation on the matter. Although I still consider James a dubious character, I understand better the position of those who favored him over the more idealistic option in Cory Booker.

This woman told me that during her ten years in Newark she had witnessed economic development that was largely due to James and that she wasn't sure that Booker would have been able to accomplish the same feats, as he has been a councilman for some time and has had what she refers to as a "thin record". She also thought that the claims of Booker's supporters that he had spent time in the ghettos as part of a successful effort to try and understand the problems in Newark, were bogus.

Nonetheless, Sharpe James, based on a lot of circumstancial evidence, is a crook. And frankly, in politics, one is not innocent until proven guilty. In politics, "guilty by association" is not an unreasonable verdict for a voter to reach. One must always keep in mind that every politician has limited connections to corrupt officials, however, in the case of James, the connections are egregious. His police chief has been convicted of embezzlement, his chief of staff of bribery. These are his appointments. Whether or not James is a super villain or the most innocent politician in Newark, the image he casts over his city is not a pretty one. Is it time for him to go? Or are we all too naive to determine Newark leadership?

Discovery Launch

Watching on television just a little while ago and seeing the launch of that space shuttle was a surprisingly powerful experience. There's really something incredible about the sheer force of the rocketship moving thousands and thousands of miles per hour above the Earth. But more impressive and impactful is the human emotion involved. The faces of the men and women in the mission control center and their joyous reactions upon the successful liftoff. The voice of the captain coming through loudly, clearly, and with confidence as the ship drove through the sky. The feeling that I, and any human being anywhere who watched the launch, got as the countdown began and then the excitement as it moved from t-minus to t-plus and the NASA announcer proclaimed "the vehicle has cleared the tower!" The pure, admirable goals of this entire program - to further humankind's understanding of the world that exists beyond our planet - make this launch a great moment for people everywhere. There aren't many times when such a declaration can be made and not seem like hyperbole, but I think this may be one of them.

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Keep up with Spaceflight Now for very frequent updates on the STS-114 mission, which will last 12 days and will take the 7 men and women on board to the International Space Station.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Of Lautenberg and Trains

Senators Corzine and Lautenberg recently announced over $112 million in federal funding for projects in New Jersey, reports NJpolitics. At a press conference, both senators emphasized the need for investment in public transportation, which millions of New Jersey commuters depend on, especially in light of recent security increases.

Corzine and Lautenberg have so far made a good team in D.C. They rarely vote against one another, and Corzine has wisely fallen in step with the Lautenberg crusade for transportation funding, or due to the recent proposals to roll back funding for Amtrak in Congress, "transportation protection". They sit on similar committees, Corzine having seats on Banking, Energy, Budget, and Intelligence, while Lautenberg sit on Environment and Public Works, Transportation, and Homeland Security.

Go to NJpolitics for a complete list of the projects and expenditures.

Southern Democrats

I've always been interested in southern politics, especially concerning the Democratic Party, because, unlike the GOP, the Democrats had a virtual stranglehold on the South's congressional delegation for the first 80 years of the last century. The presidential elections were a little less partisan. Anyway, I will be adding some blogs to the link list that will seem odd to Jersey readers, but it is not out of partisan interest. I encourage any Northern Democrats to look into some of these sites and get a glimpse of a party that perhaps represents very different opinions indeed. Check out the Methodist Democrat, done by an Alabama blogger.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

AFL-CIO On Verge of Breakup

It's starting to look hopeless for the nation's most powerful labor federation. Four unions that are currently members of the AFL-CIO have decided to boycott the organization's upcoming convention, according to anonymous sources.

The dissidents include the Service Employlers International Union, the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and United Here. These unions comprise roughly 30% of the present AFL-CIO membership.

The four unions have become increasingly vocal about what they view as the wrong path for workers, who are under the leadership of AFL-CIO president John Sweeney. Many believe that the federation has become disillusioned with the concerns of workers because of political distractions.

``I admire Sweeney very much, but I don't believe he's the person to lead the movement at this moment in our history,'' said Unite Here President Bruce Raynor, who helped organize workers at a J.P. Stevens & Co.'s textile plant in North Carolina 30 years ago -- an effort chronicled in the 1979 movie ``Norma Rae.''

Is this the best option for organized labor? What are the political implications of this boycott? John Kerry carried union votes nearly 2-1 in the general election. Could the SEIU's rally against "petty politics" be political in and of itself?

Bush Threatens Veto On Anti-Torture Bill

Words in the upcoming Defense Appropriations Bill have appeared to offend the White House, who declared that the bill was in danger of being vetoed over provisions that threaten to regulate the Pentagon's treatment of detainees in the war on terror.

Interestingly enough, this has not yet become a partisan issue. The three authors of the legislation are all prominent Republicans: John McCain, Lindsey Grahm, and John Warner; all members of "the gang of 14", who healed the filibuster debate. Nevertheless, all three senators are known to be mavericks who don't shy away from challenging the President on military issues.

At Mydd, Scott Shields declares that thousands of intelligence experts have decided that torture isn't an effective way of gathering information. While I find the statement hard to believe, ironically, one of the only members of Congress who might have endured the torture that the Bush administration lauds, John McCain, is writing legislation to eliminate it.

It's important to set clear interrogation boundaries, even if they do involve what other countries might define as torture. Investigators should know what they can and cannot do, and although in the past they have, the post 9/11 events of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib have blurred the definitions.

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