Friday, January 17 2003
MURRAY RETREATS: Senator Patty Murray pulled out of a fundraiser scheduled to take place in Phoenix tonight after conservative groups threatened to picket the event protesting her recent comments about Osama bin Laden. Murray's spokesman said she had to get back to DC for a big vote on the Senate Appropriations Committee where, presumably, she can help spend taxpayer money to build hospitals, day care centers and transit systems - you know, the sort of humanitarian-type projects that people are so revered for.......

FRUSTRATED BYRD: Speaking of people who are revered for spending other people's money, Senator Robert Byrd (D-W. VA) was so upset over successful Republican efforts to block billions worth of additional spending yesterday in the Senate he let go this eye-popper of a statement:

''He [President Bush] turned his back on his own country when he turned down'' extra domestic security spending last year, said Sen. Robert Byrd, who led the fight for extra funds. ''Let something happen, and then see what the polls show.''

This is the sort of response you'd expect from a teenager when daddy shuts off the Visa Gold, but not from a sitting Senator speaking about the President of the United States. I'm not sure which is worse, implying President Bush is a traitor or offering up a political threat in the event of another attack. These truly are tough days for Democrats in the Senate.

JUST ANOTHER DAY OFF: This story depresses me. It seems like a no-brainer that the kids should go to school on Monday and should spend the day reading and learning about Martin Luther King, Jr. Isn't that a perfect way to celebrate his legacy? I guess staying at home and watching TV or playing video games is better way to honor Dr. King's memory. Shame on the people who care more about symbolism than doing right by the kids.

TECHNICALITIES: Okay, this story is even more depressing than the last. A judge in Baltimore frees the city's worst drug kingpin in history on a technicality and says:

"I just think there's an occasion where what's right is right, and I don't think the community has the slightest bit of reason to be concerned here."

Prosecutors are beside themselves. Whenever I see a story like this I get the sinking feeling that we haven't heard the last of Mr. "Little Melvin" Williams.

GOP WIFE: What's wrong with having a Republican for a wife? Nothing, unless you're a Democrat presidential hopeful.

NO GO: Carol Mosley-Braun won't seek a rematch against Senator Peter Fitzgerald in Illinois. Braun was seen as a virtual lock to win the primary, but would have been considered an underdog against Fitzgerald who ousted her in 1998. So what do one-term, scandal-plagued former Senators do when they know they can't get reelected to office? They run for President! At least that is what Braun is considering, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Actually, it's the only way back into politics when you can't get yourself elected by the people: get yourself selected as Vice President. Good luck, Carol. - T. Bevan 7:06 am

Thursday January 16 2003
LIBERTIES: The ACLU released a report yesterday that's worth a read. It's called "Bigger Monster, Weaker Chains: The Growth of an American Surveillance Society." I've never been of the "our civil liberties are under assault and John Ashcroft is shredding the Constitution" persuasion, but you can't help but feel a sense of dread as the report lays out possible surveillance scenarios, the growing variety of data collections techniques and the like.

Of course most Americans, myself included, want to strike a balance between security and freedom. The question is whether our representatives in government are capable of striking this balance effectively, and whether the possible future consequences (either intended or unintended) of finding this balance argue against seeking a balance in the first place.

If there is one thing conservatives understand, it's that once you let the government become involved in an issue it is impossible to ever remove it. The best you can hope for is to curtail the slow and steady march of further intrusion and trust that those in power have the purest, most benign interests at heart.

I'm not arguing that the government shouldn't write laws regarding domestic security, it should. But we are currently surrounded by a plethora of complex legal and moral issues - from affirmative action, to cloning, to domestic security - where we see the government involved, constantly tinkering and calibrating its efforts to address real and perceived injustices and threats.

We should recognize that achieving the perfect legislative calibration in a dynamic, rapidly changing society like ours is impossible. Trying to do so often results in half-a-loaf measures that create more problems than they solve. Instead we should be setting strict boundaries and limits, lines that everyone agrees we as a society are not willing to cross. We should not legally discriminate against any of our fellow citizens. We should never allow the cloning of human beings. And while we should provide our government the latitude to investigate possible threats, we shouldn't allow it to collect and control personal data on all of its citizens and their activities.

DO IT FOR IRAQ: Fawaz Turki writes an open letter in today's Arab News asking Saddam to seek exile. Somehow I don't think he's going to take the advice - though we all wish he would.

THE SENATE DEAL: It's done. Jim Geraghty provides a littte behind-the-scenes detail in NRO this morning.

THE DUKAKIS TRIPLETS: Okay, maybe my title is a little unfair, but you get the gist. - T. Bevan 9:11 am

Wednesday, January 15 2003
'COUP' IN THE SENATE: Hugh Hewitt has been on this story for days. It looks like the rest of the mainstream media has finally caught on. Democrats are refusing to organize in the new Senate session, effectively blackmailing Republicans into getting a better deal on committee financing. Dems won't give up the gavels until they get the money. Carl Hulse has the details in today's NY Times and Helen Dewar writes up the story in the Washington Post. It's amazing the lengths to which the Dems are willing to go to test the new Republican Senate Majority Leader.

NO REFORM: John Breaux says Social Security reform isn't going to get done any time soon. The earliest chance to overhaul the system will probably come in 2005. Hopefully President Bush will make it a high priority on his second-term agenda. Alas, we'll have to endure another election cycle of rampant fear mongering on the issue by Democrats who still haven't come up with a single idea or proposal to fix the system.

BLAIR V. LABOUR: Tony Blair is no Margaret Thatcher but you have to respect the character and determination he's showing under immense pressure from his own party. Even as Britain continues to uncover serious terrorist threats and people die as a result of these threats, the British left is hardening its antiwar position on Iraq. - T. Bevan 7:50 am

Tuesday, January 14 2003
NEW JOE: Lieberman announced he's going to run for president as a "different kind of Democrat." We'll have to wait and see what that means. I had always liked and respected Lieberman until he turned himself inside out on just about every issue to run alongside Gore in 2000. If you're wondering which issues I'm talking about, the RNC issued a pretty comprehensive list yesterday afternoon.

It's hard to forget Lieberman's performance during the Florida fiasco where he repeatedly stepped in front of the camera to distort and misrepresent. This included a wretched turn on Meet the Press where Tim Russert asked Lieberman specifically about the Gore camp's effort to disqualify military absentee ballots. Despite numerous press reports confirming the tactic and the appearance of a five-page smoking-gun memo from one of Gore's lawyers providing specific instructions on how to go about disqualifying military ballots, Lieberman answered:

"Let me just say that the vice president and I would never authorize, and would not tolerate, a campaign that was aimed specifically at invalidating absentee ballots from members of our armed services."

Lieberman may not have authorized the operation to disqualify military absentee ballots, but he most certainly knew about it, tolerated it, and chose to lie about it on national television.

I doubt this statement will be addressed during the primary, but the clip of Lieberman on MTP in 2000 could make a devastating :30 spot in the general election.

LOSING STEAM?: A new CS Monitor poll shows public urgency over the Iraqi threat waning. Meanwhile, UN inspectors want nearly another full year to complete inspections. By then, who knows how the public will feel? Don't worry, it won't come to that, Washington and London understand the ultimate consequences of delay.

LAUGHABLE: Just one more reason the UN can't be taken seriously.

U of M: It looks like the Bush administration is set to oppose Michigan's affirmative action program that gives students admission points based solely on their race. We all know the reaction that will come when the briefs are officially filed before the Supreme Court, but it's a fight that's worth fighting. So is this one.

BACK AT IT: Prosecutors in Illinois are already working to put at least one murderer back on death row and are seeking the death penalty in a couple of cases to be sentenced in February. Despite the flaws in the Illinois death penalty system it's hard to see how a serial killer and rapist like Andrew Urdiales - with no apparent evidence indicating he was wrongfully convicted - deserves to have his sentence commuted. - T. Bevan 7:08 am

Monday, January 13 2003
ABUSE OF POWER: Over the weekend Illinois Governor George Ryan made news (and a bit of history) by commuting the death sentences of all 164 inmates on Illinois' death row. Additionally, on Friday Ryan bestowed full pardons on four other individuals, three of whom walked free that day.

I caught a bit of the event live on Saturday. The word "spectacle" barely begins to describe what I saw. A wildly enthusiastic crowd in a small Northwestern University lecture hall applauded nearly every word of Larry Marshall, the director of Center on Wrongful Convictions at NU's Law School, who heaped praise upon Ryan and his staff for their courage and leadership. In a stunning fit of hyperbole Marshall even managed to compare George Ryan - a man who has at least a 50/50 chance of being indicted upon leaving office this week for involvement in a bribery scandal that ultimately led to the tragic death of six children - to Nelson Mandela.

Naturally, victims' families and Illinois prosecutors are beside themselves with anger over the decision. It's easy to understand why: try to get through even a few of these profiles of death row inmates (Part I & Part II) without your blood beginning to boil or wondering how you would feel if someone you loved was on the victims' list.

Ultimately, however, this isn't about emotion, it's about one man's willingness to abuse a power bestowed upon him by the people to contravene state law. Ryan was furious over the fact that the state legislature - particularly his fellow Republicans - failed to act on the death penalty reforms recommended by his blue-ribbon commission. In addition to other motivations, Ryan's decision to grant blanket commutations instead of working the clemency process on a case-by-case basis was undeniably driven by a desire to spite the legislature.

In other words, Ryan grossly misused his powers as Governor to settle a political score. The legislature wouldn't do what he wanted, so Governor Ryan took matters into his own hands. He proudly admitted as much in his speech on Saturday:

"The legislature couldn't reform it. Lawmakers won't repeal it. But I will not stand for it."

Even proponents of the death penalty agree that extraordinary measures should be taken to insure the system works and doesn't execute the innocent. But the fact that George Ryan's administration couldn't get those reforms passed doesn't give him the right to singlehandly change the state's legal system with regard to these 167 individuals and undo decades of legal work, law enforcement and jury decisions.

THE NEXT PRESIDENT BUSH: There's been some recent (though not so serious) speculation about Jeb Bush's chances of running for President. Theoretically, I guess it's possible, though no matter how likable or qualified Jeb is and no matter how popular his brother might remain upon leaving office, it's hard to imagine the idea of the public responding favorably to a third President Bush in the near future. It just seems a bit too monarchical for America to swallow.

This guy, on the other hand, has a serious chance of being President. The way the composition of the electorate is shifting, in fifteen or twenty years he will be perfectly positioned to call on his family legacy (not to mention the good looks) to seek high office - barring some sort of crippling personal scandal. Smart money is on George P. in 2024.

KELLER'S LOGIC: Anyone else struck by this statement buried deep in Bill Keller's column last Friday?

"The North Koreans have made a show of expelling international inspectors and withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but they have not repudiated their deal with us, the Agreed Framework."

Isn't violating an agreement tantamount to repudiating it? Perhaps there is a semantic difference in the strictest sense of the words. Or maybe Keller is making an oblique reference to the technical difference between plutonium and uranium development - even though earlier in the column he says that in the 1994 deal "North Korea promised to put its nuclear program on hold and act nice."

Either way the argument is ridiculous. Maybe Keller should try the same logic with his wife: "Honey, just because you caught me in bed with another woman doesn't mean I'm repudiating my marriage vows." It just doesn't fly. - T. Bevan 8:47 am

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