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The official blog of the National Center for Public Policy Research, covering news, current events and public policy from a conservative, free-market and pro-Constitution perspective.

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House GOP Rule Change: The Right Action

Here is my promised response to Professor Bainbridge's reply to my response to his post opining that the House Republican Caucus should not (as it did later today) repeal their 1993 rule requiring persons serving in a leadership position to leave their post if indicted. Rather than take the good Professor's points on a case-by-case basis, I am simply stating what I believe, and leave it to others to judge.

I believe it is bad public policy to let law enforcement authorities determine the leadership of Congress. Voters and caucus members should do so.

I agree the caucus should eject a leader they have solid reason to believe may be corrupt, but believe there are not so many caucus leaders and indictments to make it impractical for members to make case-by-case assessments.

If the caucus could be 99 percent sure no Member ever would be indicted except on the basis of reasonably sound evidence (as I believe was the assumption when the automatic-ejection rule was adopted), it might not matter overmuch if the ejection were automatic, but that is not the situation now.

The DeLay matter is taking place in an atmosphere in which political and policy differences too often (in my view) are criminalized instead of being openly debated and then put before the voters.

In my view, inappropriate and unwarranted investigations, not just indictments, are a key tool of what I believe is an increasing, and non-partisan, problem.

Imagine being accused of criminal fraud because you wrote something about a public policy issue. Would this have a chilling effect on your speech?

Would you be comfortable knowing that your fellow citizens, in the course of expressing their opinion, might face criminal probes?

Would you consider such a state of affairs good for democracy?

If you would, you can stop reading now. I've lost you. But if not, let me say this: The use of criminal probes as a political tool doesn't stop with targeting Tom DeLay, and it isn't used exclusively by Ronnie Earle, or by just one political party.

Government officials have very many ways of chilling speech.

For you bloggers out there who have a link on your blog asking for contributions: How many of you have even considered whether you might run afoul of laws in several dozen states requiring that persons/entities who solicit contributions register with that state -- even if you don't live there? When you write posts, do you think about the possibility of facing a criminal investigation for fraud by these states if someone disagrees with one of your posts?

I bet most of you take it for granted that this won't happen.

In the think-tank world, we used to assume that things like this wouldn't happen, either, but we don't anymore. Consider these real-life cases:

* A non-profit organization mails a letter stating a position on a foreign affairs issue, and requesting voluntary contributions in support of a project relating to it. An associate at a law firm whose partners made political contributions to the relevant state official sees the letter, and disagrees with the foreign policy position taken. Using his law firm's letterhead, he formally requests an investigation. The elected official complies.

* A different non-profit organization includes an illustrative, fictitious federal tax invoice in a letter advocating the privatization of certain government services. A liberal lawyer complains to a liberal state official who received campaign contributions from the complainer's law firm. The elected official hires another law firm -- one that also contributed to their campaign -- gives them de facto subpoena authority, and conducts an investigation costly to the non-profit group. No wrongdoing is found. However, the state informs the non-profit group that it will only close the investigation if the non-profit pays the bills of the law firm that investigated it.

* After a recent federal budget is signed into law it is discovered that someone who advocates nationalized health care has secretly inserted a provision in the legislation limiting the ability of Americans over 65 to purchase certain health care services outside of Medicare. The provision is unpopular and is a hardship to seniors who need services not covered by Medicare. Think tanks and columnists alert the public and advocate its repeal. A national seniors group sues the federal government, saying the provision violates the civil rights of seniors. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and a respected Senator jointly introduce legislation to repeal the provision. Then, one of the think tanks receives a subpoena and a visit from federal law enforcement. A Congressman who supports federalized health care has asked the federal government to open a mail fraud investigation against the group. The Congressman doesn't say the group misled the public about the provision's impact in publications it mailed around the country, but claims -- laughably -- that the provision simply doesn't exist. The think-tank is forced to "lawyer up" -- an expensive and time-consuming process. Funds that could have gone to public education projects instead go to lawyers, and the group remains in legal limbo for over a year.
If nothing about these stories bothers you, then you can quit reading this post. But if you think America can do better, then I hope you will agree that cases of alleged wrongdoing in today's heated political atmosphere should be judged on their individual merits and not by a blanket rule that rests on the assumption that all government investigations and indictments have equal or near-equal merit.

And I hope, also, that we can agree that rules which tend to encourage the worst instincts of those (thankfully, rare) prosecutors who are politically motivated are not in our national best interest. The one-strike-and-you're-out rule of the GOP caucus did tend to encourage overzealous prosecutors (under the rule, Ronnie Earle can get Tom DeLay ejected from his leadership post just by getting an indictment, even if the indictment is later tossed out of court -- as Earle's greatly-publicized indictment of Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson was). A check on the system, in the form of a caucus vote before indicted leaders are ejected, is a reasonable step.

Moreover, consider this, fans of clean government: What sends a better message? A vote to eject a genuinely corrupt leader, or the automatic ejection of one who can claim he was tossed out on a legal technicality?

Finally, this: Some say Congressmen will not vote to oust one of their own leaders. I believe they will, but, typically, they won't have to. A party leader who sees a truly serious tempest brewing (think Newt Gingrich following disappointing election results) will leave on his own. If one facing serious ethics charges doesn't do so, and his caucus doesn't vote to oust him, the voters will see them all for what they are, and be enlightened. There is value in that.


House GOP Rule Change: Recommended Links

I'm about to reply to Professor Bainbridge's response to my disagreement with his post saying the House Republican Caucus should not (as it how has) repeal their rule requiring persons serving in a leadership position to leave their post if indicted, but before I do so, I wanted to recommend the following posts on the matter by others:

"Rule Change Controversy," posted on Neutiquam erro, and "The Intersection of Criminal Law and Politics," posted on Crime & Federalism.

Good points made on each, in my view.


Professor Bainbridge: I Dissent

It seems to me that Professor Bainbridge is failing to take something to account: Specifically, the degree to which political disputes and rivalries are becoming criminalized.

In other words, it is increasingly common in Washington now for lawmakers and others who disagree with someone to call for -- and obtain -- a criminal investigation of them.

Professor Brainbridge, a great blogger and one I read very often, nonetheless is a professor at UCLA and not (to my knowledge), particularly close to DC political circles (apologies to the Professor if I am wrong about this). As such, I assume he may not be aware of the extent to which this is happening. Few are. It is the nature of the beast. The minute an investigation starts, a target's lawyers immediately urge them not to talk to anyone -- and that includes telling the press and allies what one has been accused of, even if the charge is laughably bogus. By the time a subject has been cleared, the matter is old news. Plus, there is a natural reluctance to go public with the news that one ever was investigated in the first place.

When the House GOP caucus originally approved the rule saying a party leader should step down if indicted, I agreed with it. I no longer do. I've seen too much use of the criminal justice system as a political tool here over the last ten years, the vast majority of the cases never receiving media coverage. Keep in mind, too (as I suppose most of you don't know), that I've been running a DC think-tank for 22 years, so I have some basis for comparison. There are good, honest people in town you've never heard of (let alone the high profile targets) who could probably wallpaper a room with copies of subpoenas. And put their kids through college on the legal fees they've paid.

Is there corruption in Washington? You bet there is. Is it possible to become the target of a criminal probe just because of the position one holds on a public policy issue? Regrettably, this is true as well.

Wait 'till the blogosphere starts getting subpoenas -- and not just the big guys. I wish I didn't think it will happen, but I do.

With this in mind, do you think, fellow bloggers, that if you become a target, that you should give up your day job before the verdict comes in?

Addendum: Professor Bainbridge has kindly responded to my thoughts. I'll reply a little later today, after I think about how appropriate it would be for me to reveal some of what I've seen in this town over the last few years. And, maybe, if I take the time to write thoughtfully, I can make a stronger case.

Meanwhile, thank you, Glenn, for mentioning this discussion.


Michael Ledeen Explains

Michael Ledeen explains what is going on at the CIA.


Atlantis Not Found: Mud, Anyone?

From the Frankfurt, Germany Allgemeine Zeitung, November 16:

Occasionally, it occurs that hobby researchers make important scientific discoveries. If one accepts the press conference that was recently organized in Cyprus by an architect from Los Angeles, one could get the impression that such feat was pulled off once again.

Robert Sarmast claims that he has definitely discovered the Acropolis of Atlantis in the Mediterranean Sea between Cyprus and the Syrian coast, presenting multicolored images based on measurements of underwater sonar. These images allegedly show the ancient castle of the sunk city, a channel as well as remainders of a city's wall.

What Sarmast did not know (or what he concealed), is the fact that [German] geophysicist Christian Huebscher of the University of Hamburg (Zentrum fur Marine und Atmospharische Wissenschaften), together with colleagues, analyzed and measured this particular area of the sea last summer on board the Dutch research ship "Pelagia."

The researchers were not in search for the lost island of Atlantis. As scientific experts on the mighty salt layers that rest under the bottom of the eastern Mediterranean, they wanted to find out more about their condition. Their sonar data also detected those submarine hills, which Sarmast now interprets as the Acropolis of Atlantis.

According to Huebscher, however, these [structures] are old mud volcanoes that are approximately 100,000 years old. These volcanoes were produced because the mud which lies under the salt layers penetrates through fractures and breaks into the salt layers and bulges the bottom of the sea floor. Such 'mud diapirs' exist on the bottom of many oceans. Thus, such finds are not as spectacular as the baseless statement that the legendary Atlantis has been discovered.
Hat tip and thanks for the information to Benny Peiser, who has more.


Ted Rall Ridicules Handicapped Kids

belowStreetLevel has kindly said some nice things about this blog, for which I thank them, but I want to direct readers to their post linking to yet another Ted Rall monstrosity: A cartoon in which Rall tries to make fun of President Bush, but in his incompetent, malevolent way, viciously ridicules physically and mentally handicapped kids instead.

Ted, handicapped children bring a lot of joy into this world. You, on the other hand, don't.

Addendum: The following story (excerpt only) appeared in Editor and Publisher on November 18, 2004: is no longer running the cartoons of hard-hitting liberal Ted Rall.

Rall said he thinks the site dropped his work because of a Nov. 4 cartoon he did showing a drooling, mentally handicapped student taking over a classroom. "The idea was to draw an analogy to the electorate -- in essence, the idiots are now running the country," he told E&P.

"That cartoon certainly drew a significant amount of negative comment from our users," said Executive Editor Doug Feaver when contacted by E&P. But he added that the decision to drop Rall was a "cumulative" one that had been building for a while.

"Ted Rall does very interesting work," Feaver said. "Some of it is not funny to an awful lot of people. We decided at the end of the day that it just did not fit the tone we wanted at"


Condoleezza Rice: Aunt Tom?

Marie of Roumania wonders if Condoleezza Rice is an "Aunt Tom."


Sparse Matrix: Bush's Second Term

David at The Sparse Matrix does me the honor of linking to and discussing a recent column I wrote (available on our website in the form of a short paper).

The column was part of a debate Knight-Ridder published on November 3 -- they asked one liberal and one conservative to each write a 650-word op-ed on what the President should do over the next four years. The pieces were marketed as a set.

I was the conservative, Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research was the liberal.

The piece was a bit bit tricky to write, not least because it was due noon the day after the election, and thus had to be written while votes were being tallied. (I decided to take a chance and write it as if Bush would win.) It also was tricky because it is impossible to describe every important issue a President should cover over four years using just 650 words or less.

I covered the war and economic prosperity, because you just have to. Then I tossed in Social Security, health care/Medicare, taming the federal regulatory monster (or, at the very least, reducing its growth), and legal reform.

David at the Sparse Matrix believes I should have added two more. I think he's right about the first issue he raised. The second issue was new to me. I'd heard of private space exploration, of course, but I had no idea that anyone among the feds wanted to squash it like a bug. Sometimes I suspect government sees its role as crushing every ounce of spirit humanity has (excepting that related to laviscious artwork and banal thoughts on public broadcasting). I hope David will continue to cover this issue in his blog, as I'd hate to see the federal government stop private space exploration.

My piece generated a lot of really vicious hate mail. I didn't even bother having it posted in our hate mail samples file. A lot of it was worse than what's in the sample file, even after I responded politely just to see if the sender would get a little bit abashed when he realized a real person was on the other end of his venting. You wouldn't believe the nasty things that were said. Even the critics who didn't call me names said I was a liar (people who disagree with my point of view on Social Security seemed particularly likely to dismiss the entire issue by screaming "liar! liar!."

People also were upset because some of the newspapers ran the piece under a headline saying Bush had a mandate. I didn't write the headlines and didn't address the mandate issue, but I got both barrels for it anyway.

I mention all this as one more bit of evidence that the left really has lost its mind since November 2. My piece was, after all, published as part of a tandem with a liberal author (copies of Mark Weisbrot's piece can be found in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, the Cincinnati Enquirer, or his organizations's website, among other places) who was pretty critical of Bush and the right, so it isn't as if both sides weren't represented.

So, anyway, I enjoyed reading the Sparse Matrix's take, especially as my morals and my intelligence weren't slammed even once in the entire piece. Refreshing!


Heritage Foundation United Nations Prediction

The Heritage Foundation's Nile Gardner, who is closely following the United Nations oil-for-food scandal, is predicting (on Fox's O'Reilly Factor tonight) that Kofi Annan may go down because of the scandal.

If Gardner is right, I hope Annan takes the whole U.N. organization down with him.

Addendum: Everything I Know Is Wrong has an informative post up on oil-for-food, covering new comments on the controversy by William Safire of the New York Times and Lou Dobbs of CNN.


Condoleezza Rice's Nomination

I wonder what Ted Rall will say now?

On a more sane note, blog readers might be interested in an op-ed Dr. Rice contributed to Project 21's national op-ed syndication service, New Visions Commentaries, last year. It is a good piece (by the way, folks are welcome to reprint it -- assuming they give full credit to the author, Dr. Rice, of course) that makes me feel encouraged about her nomination to the very important post of Secretary of State.


NLPC Asks Verizon to Stop Funding Jesse Jackson

The National Legal and Policy Center has submitted a shareholder resolution to Verizon Comunications requesting that the Verizon "Board of Directors to establish a policy precluding future financial support of Jesse Jackson, the Citizenship Education Fund, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and/or any other nonprofit organization founded, headed or primarily identified with Jesse Jackson."

Among several reasons for the action given by the NLPC are, according to the shareholder resolution:

The Company's relationship with Jesse Jackson creates controversy and impacts the Company's corporate image, brands and reputation. The news media has critically examined the relationship and will continue to do so as long as the Company is publicly identified with Jackson.

In order to demonstrate a sincere commitment to diversity, rather than supporting Jesse Jackson, the Company should support individuals and organizations that promote genuine civil rights and economic empowerment.
The resolution has been proposed for consideration at Verizon's 2005 annual meeting.


CodeBlueBlog: As The News Squeezes Out

CodeBlueBlog continues to try to unravel the mystery surrounding Yasser Araft's cause of death, while fisking -- in a highly amusing way -- statements made on the matter by the late terrorist's associates.


Global Warming

I was planning to blog about Ron Bailey's new piece on global warming in Reason, but I see that Sean at Everything I Know Is Wrong has just done so.

So, instead, I recommend Sean's piece -- and I would have done so even if Sean hadn't ended it by kindly linking to the National Center's own Global Warming Information Center.


Eliminating the U.N. -- By Stealth

From an article by Irwin M. Stelzer in the November 22 issue of the Weekly Standard:

More than one of the policy wonks scattered throughout the administration is giving serious thought to a radical change proposed almost 10 years ago by Charles Krauthammer (a contributing editor to this journal): marginalization of the U.N. At a conference last week in Washington, sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, Krauthammer re-floated that idea. The U.N. can't be eliminated, its gleaming tower converted to higher-value uses. So parallel institutions should be created. Over time, these new institutions -- which will consist only of the world's democracies, if Soviet dissident and Israeli minister Natan Sharansky has his way with the Krauthammer proposal -- will replace the U.N., which will wither into irrelevance.

That won't mean that America will always have its way. But it will mean that the new body will consist of nations whose main incentive is to produce better lives for their voters, rather than create external enemies as excuses for impoverishing their people. Right now, the development of these alternative institutions is only a gleam in the eye of far-thinking policy types. Rather as the U.N. was in the 1940s.


Reuters: Plane Carrying Arafat's Coffin Arrives in Cairo

Says Reuters: "Plane Carrying Arafat's Coffin Arrives in Cairo."

What, no hijacking?

I guess the old bat really is dead.


Joel Rosenberg: After Arafat

My old friend Joel Rosenberg, a novelist, remembers Arafat.


Fighting Theophobia*

From a Morton Kondrake column in the November 8 Roll Call (excerpt):

"...Democrats need to understand where Evangelicals are coming from, what George Bush's faith is all about and stop being either terrified by or (often) bigoted against what they imagine conservative Christians are all about.

A prime example of condescending bigotry was the widely read Oct. 17 New York Times Magazine hatchet-job against Bush, "Without a Doubt," by Ron Suskind, which likened Bush's "faith-based presidency" to the Islamic extremist movement.

If fair-minded secular Democrats went to church -- they are open to the public, by the way -- here's some of what they'd learn:

Lesson No. 1: Far more than abortion, evolution or homosexuality, Evangelical Christianity is about love, redemption, forgiveness, charity, humility, hope and self-sacrifice.

The best Evangelicals I know truly change lives - they turn around people who are addicted to drugs and pornography. They give the despairing and the guilt-ridden reason to persevere. They restore marriages. They transform criminals in prison.

They try to follow Jesus, who, if they studied him a little, no Democrat could possibly be scared of. I think this is what Bush's faith is all about - not arrogance or mindless certitude, but humility and a sense of duty.

Lesson No. 2: Evangelicals are scared, too. They are scared of the fruits of secularism and the deterioration of the culture in which they're trying to raise their children. Of hip-hop lyrics that encourage rape and murder. Of PG-13 movies and "family hour" sitcoms that tell children that if they're not having sex at 16, they're out of it. Of the scuzzy showbiz people who often surround Democrats."
There's lot's more, not all of which I agree with, but it is thought-provoking.


* "Theophobia" refers to people with an irrational fear of religion or religious persons.


Twins Named Yasser and Arafat

Good thinking, Mrs. Hassan, new mom of twins named "Yasser" and "Arafat." Maybe one will grow up to be a mass murderer, and the other, a thief.

Just warms your heart, doesn't it?


Boehner v. McDermott Phone Tape Case Apparently Resolved

I missed this when it was announced October 29, and suspect others who followed this case (which received a lot of attention from conservative talk radio) may have as well.

Roll Call, October 29, 2004 (excerpt):

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) has been ordered to pay Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) $60,000 in damages, plus "reasonable" attorney's fees that could total more than $500,000, a federal judge ruled...

The groundbreaking case stems from a December 1996 phone call among House GOP leaders to discuss strategy for handling the ethics case against then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Boehner, who at the time was GOP Conference chairman, took part in the call using a cellphone while parked at a northern Florida restaurant. The call was electronically intercepted by a Florida couple, Alice and John Martin, who eventually gave a copy of the tape to McDermott. He then gave the tape to three newspapers.

In March 1998, Boehner sued McDermott, alleging that the Washington Democrat had violated both federal and Florida wiretapping statutes by leaking the tape to the media. Since that time, there have been numerous legal twists and turns in the case, including a 1999 decision by Hogan to dismiss it that was later overturned by an appeals court, which then sent the case back to Hogan. Settlement talks in 2002 collapsed, and the two sides continued to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their legal teams, shelling out approximately $900,000 overall, according to the latest estimates.

In his decision to award Boehner both statutory and punitive damages totaling $60,000, Hogan criticized McDermott's "outrageous conduct in this case." Hogan added: "The Court finds that Defendant's conduct was malicious in that he intentionally disclosed the tape to the national media in an attempt to politically harm the participants through an invasion of their privacy."

Boehner's attorney, Michael Carvin of the firm Jones Day, said he expects that McDermott will eventually have to cover all of Boehner's legal bills. "You always have nibbling at the margins, but we have a good reasonableness argument here," said Carvin. "We're quite pleased" with the ruling.
Addendum: Reader Eric F. recommends this Seattle Post-Intelligencer story on the Boehner-McDermott case:
Another interesting tidbit on McDermott's fine -- he's getting lots of help ("heavy lifting") paying it off: McDermott's Allies Line Up to Help Him Pay Damages.

Funny (but not surprising) how the PI turns it around and makes the issue into a Republican issue.
I liked the end of the piece:
The judge's ruling was a double blow because Boehner, a seven-term congressman who is chairman of the House Education Committee, said he was willing to settle for a much lower amount.

"I told him there are three issues," Boehner told the P-I in August. "Admit you were wrong. Apologize. And since I was suing him for $10,000, I wanted him to make a donation to charity. He couldn't bring himself to do it."
Addendum II (11/20/04): Apparently, it is not resolved. McDermott plans an appeal.


Belgium Bans Democracy

Yet another strike against the European Union.

One begins to get the impression that Europeans horrified by the re-election of President Bush are not just horrified at the U.S. vote tally, but that George W. Bush was allowed to run for office at all.

Hat tip: The Sparse Matrix.

Addendum: It occurs to me that Belgium is one of the "good" nations in the United Nations. Food for thought.