Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Coming Primaries

I've been flirting with writing something about Iraq, especially after reading this op-ed by the National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley. But I'm not going to do it. The whole situation is simply infuriating, and the only thing left to do is wait for this "new" strategy to go the ways of previous "new" strategies and then hope the Republicans bail on the President and the Democrats remember how to use the power of the purse. In the mean time, I would like to share a few thoughts on the upcoming Presidential primary season.

First, there has been much ado about the Democrats proposal to shift around the primary calendar. The big shift's primary change is putting Nevada (home of the Senate Majority Leader, hmmm...) in between Iowa and New Hamshire. It's not a bad idea on it's own; western state, moderate, labor, lots of things the Democrats could use more of in picking its candidate (not to mention running the whole operation).

This, however, has upset a lot of other states who got passed over. Several states have threatened to push their primary forward as well, compressing the primary season even further. The Democratic Party has rules against this, of course. If a state holds its primary in violation of DNC rules, the party can disqualify the state's delegates. This op-ed argues it should be against the law for the DNC to hold such power. While I agree with the idea that "party action" == "state action," I also know that the party will have an easy time in court explaining why it has a compelling interest in organizing the primary schedule (easier for the candidates, historical tradition, etc), where it probably had less of a compelling interest in excluding blacks. So I don't really think the law is going to help here.

What really gets me about the primary calendar is how Iowa (as the first) has been able to literally hijack the Presidency with regards to ethanol subsidies. The state has everything to gain from high subsidies, so I'm not surprised that their delegation pushes them with gusto. But the historical quirk that places Iowa at the front of the calendar should not allow them to blackmail presidential candidates.

So, when I hear that Florida and California, huge states with significant interests of their own, consider moving their primaries forward, I'm not the least surprised. If Iowa showed a willingness to select a candidate based on more then their own petty self-interest, then perhaps this wouldn't be happening. Instead, the early states have shown a willingness to push their advantage to the absolute brink. And now, here we are... the brink. If California or Florida push their primaries up, Iowa will respond by scheduling even earlier. And then the race is on.

I wonder, in a race between a small agrarian state and a state whose economy is the 8th largest in the world, who is going to win?

More Useful Than Originally Intended

There is a new linux oriented website which I just learned of today called Aside from the likely Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution claim Microsoft has against the venture, I've got to say that I'm very impressed with what's going on here.

The idea is simple. Using nothing more than a webbrowser and Windows, go to a website and download all the necessary bits to install Debian Linux onto a desktop. No optical discs necessary. Besides the obvious marketing value of such a website, it has tremendous functionality value for those of us with laptops.

See, more and more laptops these days are shipped without an optical disc drive. Or, if they have one, it connects via a strange PCMCIA card. Which means that it is very difficult to start the Linux install process (though not impossible). The process itself is nearly painless these days (in stark contrast to my first experience in 2000). But if you can't get the damn thing started then you've got serious problems.

But now, thanks to this brilliant invention, it will be trivial to install Linux on my next laptop.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Keeping Count

With the 2006 elections less than three months behind us, the 2008 Presidential elections appear to be in full swing. I found this informative list in the New York Times that I felt was worth sharing to demonstrate just how strange the upcoming primary season is going to be. Here is the list, reproduced, for those who are too lazy to click.

Democratic Candidates
  • Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut
  • John Edwards, former senator from North Carolina
  • Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa
  • Representative Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio

  • Senator Barack Obama of Illinois
  • Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware
  • Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York

  • Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts
  • Al Gore, former vice president; from Tennessee
  • Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico
  • Gen. Wesley Clark, retired NATO commander; from Arkansas

  • Republican Candidates
  • Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas

  • Senator John McCain of Arizona
  • Rudolph W. Giuliani, former mayor of New York
  • Tommy G. Thompson, former governor of Wisconsin
  • James S. Gilmore III, former governor of Virginia
  • Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts
  • Representative Tom Tancredo of Colorado

  • Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska
  • Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas
  • Representative Duncan Hunter of California
  • Gov. George E. Pataki of New York
  • Newt Gingrich, former House speaker from Georgia

  • Assuming everyone runs (which is doubtful, but you never know) that means 11 Democrats and 12 Republicans. Talk about a crowded field!

    Thursday, January 18, 2007

    Amending the U.S. Senate Rules

    Now, I don't claim to be an expert on the U.S. Congress, but I do play one on the internet. As a results of my job I keep pretty well informed about the process and procedure of how the legislative branch goes about doing its business. I am, after all, the world's foremost expert on computerized simulations of Congress (shocking, I know).

    But even with all that knowledge, I cannot make heads or tails of the first legislative action taken by the Senate. You may have read about it, as it's in all the papers. My commentary is not on the substance of the bill, which seems all well and good, but rather the vehicle through which the action is being taken.

    Article I of the Constitution says "Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings," which is the basis for the Rules of the United States Senate and the Rules of the United States House of Representatives. Both sets of rules are very different from eachother, reflecting the unique nature of the chambers. For example, the Senate is home to the filibuster, a somewhat controversial rule that has been used by conservatives and liberals to fight for causes against a majority of senators. The House, with its expansive membership, has the Rules Committee and their special rules which allow for bill by bill modification of the procedure for consideration. This allows the majority to cut off debate, limit amendments, and generally get their way every time.

    What's critical here is that both sets of rules are the sole province of the respective chambers. The House sets its rules and there isn't a thing the Senate can do to stop them. So what does this have to do with the new Senate ethics package?

    When the House brought up its ethics package the decision was made to use the House Rules as the vehicle instead of actual law. The upside of such a decision is that you don't have to get Senate approval or the President's signature. But the downside (depending on your perspective) is that the rule only exists for the duration of the current Congress. Come the 111th Congress the House can decide to simply not re-up the ethics rules. It's a tradeoff between expediency and permanency.

    To make a change to the House Rules the House adopts a House Resolution, known simply as an H.Res. For the 110th Congress the House Rules took the form of H.Res 6. This is a different form of legislation then if the House were to enact a law. In those cases it uses a bill, and refer to them with just an H.R. H.R. 1 was the Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act. Again, the critical difference is that H.Res 6 took effect once approved by the House, where H.R. 1 will require Senate action and is subject to Presidential veto.

    The Senate is a little different. First, because the Senate has staggerred six year terms, in each new Congress only 1/3rd of the membership is up for reelection. This means the Senate does not dissolve in the way the House does. The practical result is that the Senate need not approve new rules every two years, it can simply keep the rules from the last Congress and no one would be the wiser.

    Which brings me to into the home stretch of this post... the Senate action to amend the Senate Rules took the form of S.1, not S.Res 1. As you may have guessed, an S. is used to adopt laws, just like an H.R., and require bicameral action and are subject to Presidential veto.

    But wait, your saying, couldn't it be that the Senate uses the S. designation to amend their rules for reasons of precedent?! Sure, that's possible. But then you have to explain §213, which amends 2 U.S.C. 1605. That's law folks, not just Senate Rules, which means the House gets a say and the President can use his fancy stamp*.

    So what am I (or you, for that matter) supposed to make of all this? If the House does not adopt similar language through an H.R., what becomes of those sections of S.1 that were just related to the Senate Rules? Is it permissible to mix rules changes with law changes? Is there a dependency here, or do the rules go into effect regardless of the outcome to the law amendments? A literal reading of the Constitution says that the Senate may adopt rules, and in this instance they voted 96 - 2 to adopt them.

    Strikes me as all very odd.

    * Actual presidential veto stamp not featured here. Why are there not photos of the stamp available online? Are we afraid the terrorists will somehow use it against us?

    Wednesday, January 10, 2007

    Christmas Time Update

    First, a big thankyou to everyone who made time in their busy holiday schedule to see me while I was up in Seattle. It was nice to talk to people and listen to stories of the rainy city. Overall I'm quite impressed with how things seem to be shaping up without me :)

    Second, wanted to share a bit of my family mania with you all, since few of you have ever had the chance to meet my mother and sister. Suffice to say, Christmas is not a spectator's sport in my family. Behold, our handy work:

    My mother's log cabin

    My sister's beach house

    Sarah's vintage house

    My Saltbox House

    You can see a ton more pictures of construction and decoration on my photo gallery site.

    Saturday, January 06, 2007

    Wrong Tactic for ANWR

    The Democrats, and by extension their friends in the environment lobby, now have control over Congress. Which means the end of efforts to drill in ANWR. Yay! But, according to CNN, the issue is not dead to this Congress. Apparently their are efforts afoot to declare ANWR a "wilderness" and permanently ban drilling.

    Now, I am not an environmental scientist and I am unfamiliar with ANWR's current designation (wasn't already a wilderness?) but I am familiar with our governmental system and this seems awfully stupid. Here's why...

    There is a current belief that legislation is required to open ANWR to drilling. That is the status quo. Passing new legislation doesn't change that situation. It's not "double" protected. New legislation can always repeal old legislation. The only way to protect something from legislative alteration is to enshrine it in the Constitution. A move even this green would vote against. If the bill were to ball it just means that the legislation to open drilling has to address the current provision which bans drilling and this new provision. Essentially, it maintains the status quo.

    But it could actually do harm, depending on certain court rulings. See, if Congress votes on but doesn't not pass the bill then the Bush Administration can make an attempt to open ANWR through Dept. of Interior administrative regulation. The environmentalists will sue, arguing the existing provision protects the area. But then the Bush Administration comes back and says, "are you sure? Congress doesn't seem to think so, or else it wouldn't have consider legislation to make the protect explicit." Which means the issue is unclear and gives the department deference to make a determination.

    Which makes Rep. Markey's bill both unnecessary and risky. If you want to protect ANWR the only way to do it is to keep a majority of one of the chambers on your side. Anything short of that is just grandstanding to look good in the papers.