Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Going on a Thanksgiving vacation, offline for a few days... Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bob Woodward: Secret Government Should Be Nation's Greatest Fear

From the Yale Daily News (ht FOIABlog):
lmost 40 years after renowned journalist and author Bob Woodward ’65 reported on the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon’s presidency, he warned the audience at a Law School panel Thursday that secret government should be the nation’s biggest fear.

Woodward was one of four members on a panel to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the the Freedom of Information Act’s passage in Connecticut. He and the other panelists, including Connecticut Mirror editor Michael Regan and Colleen Murphy, the executive director and general counsel of the state commission that administers FOIA, discussed the difficulties journalists face in obtaining information. The general consensus among the panel was that FOIA had not proven as useful as journalists had hoped.

Woodward started the discussion by sharing an anecdote about a FOIA request he made in the 1980s under the Reagan administration. Just last year, he said, he received heavily redacted copies of the documents he requested almost 30 years ago.

“Government is a closed shop,” Woodward said. “FOIA is one of the tools that should be used to open up government.”

Document of the Week: US State Department Telephone Directory

Thanks to a tweet from PetulantSage, here's a link to the November 15th US State Department Telephone Directory, on Box.Net.

IMHO, this is public information that should be posted on the US State Department's website's home page...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

NGOs Banked Aid Donations While Haitians Died of Cholera

No surprise here. Not only is the UN possibly responsible for spreading cholera to Haiti, but NGOs are sitting on piles of unspent cash donated for Haitian relief, according to this oped by Georgianne Nienabe.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

House Defeats Republican Move to Cut NPR

Cutting NPR was the top vote-getter on Republican House Whip Eric Cantor's "YouCut" website, I'm pleased to learn. Some people think this has something to do with Juan Williams' firing. I think it is unfinished business from the pre-Bush age...

Here's the story from Radio-Info.com:
Pulling federal funding from NPR, which fired Juan Williams last month, was the latest choice of the "YouCut" website, which lets online users vote on programs that should be cut. Virginia Republican Eric Cantor said "it is not the government's job to tell a news organization how to do its job. But what's equally certain is it should not be the taxpayers' responsibility to fund news organizations with a partisan point of view." The de-funding measure was defeated, 239 to 171. NPR quickly said that "Today, good judgment prevailed, as Congress rejected a move to assert government control over the content of news." It called the bill to prohibit public radio stations from using their CPB grant money to buy programming from NPR "an unwarranted attempted to interject federal authority into local station program decision making."
Let's see, the Republicans gained 61 seats in the 2012 election. If all the Republicans who voted to cut NPR today voted the same way in January, and all the new Republicans voted with them, that would give them 232 votes to cut NPR. There are 435 seats in the House of Representatives. If everyone voted, the next vote could be 232-203 to cut NPR funding.

Message of this vote: Republicans are within spitting distance of eliminating NPR funding (which would clearly reduce media pressure on Congress for increased spending, since it is essentially a DNC lobbying arm, and dominates the radio news business, crowding out possible competition).

Memo to Eric Cantor and the Republicans: If at first you don't succeed--try, try, again!

Swedish Diplomat: Haitian Cholera From Nepal

If true, it means that UN troops brought the cholera epidemic to Haiti--which has killed over 1,000 people so far...

From Haitinews.net:
A Swedish diplomat claimed Wednesday that Haiti's cholera outbreak originated in Nepal.

'Unfortunately that is the case. It has proved that the cholera came from Nepal,' Claes Hammar, Sweden's ambassador to Haiti, told daily Svenska Dagbladet.

Hammar, who visited Haiti two weeks ago, said the information came from 'a diplomatic source. It is 100 percent true. Tests were made and the source was traced to Nepal.'

ACLU Announces TSA Complaint Website

Here's a link to the ACLU online TSA complaint form:https://secure.aclu.org/site/SPageNavigator/TSA_Travel_Complaint?JServSessionIdr004=hrq983kwn6.app224a.

From the ACLU's emailed announcement:
Dear ACLU Supporter,

Tell Secretary Napolitano to implement security measures that ensure passenger privacy.

Planning to fly this holiday season? You've probably already braced yourself for long lines, delays and extra fees just to check your luggage.

Unfortunately, you can also expect another hassle at the airport this year. 70 airports around the country are now using controversial body scanners—also known as "naked scanners." These machines use low-dose radiation to produce strikingly graphic images of passengers' bodies, essentially taking a naked picture as passengers pass through security checkpoints.

Yes, authorities at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) say you can opt out of the naked scan. But doing so will subject you to new and highly invasive manual searches of your body, including your breasts, buttocks and inner thighs.

All of us have a right to travel without such crude invasions of our privacy. Tell DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to put in place security measures that respect passengers' privacy rights.

The government is also violating travelers' privacy in another way: by searching and seizing the laptops and other electronic devices of international travelers. Never before in history have customs officers been able to routinely pour through a lifetime's worth of letters, photographs, purchase records and other data. This enormous invasion of privacy peers into people's lives in a way that has never been done before.

There's already an outcry building over all of these new searches. In fact, travelers and the ACLU have pushed back before against invasive screening, and the TSA quietly retreated back to a lighter touch. But if we want to stop these invasive practices, we've got to put our voices together.

Tell DHS to rein in these invasive, out-of-control searches and to implement security measures that ensure passenger privacy.

The ACLU has prepared a useful guide to help you navigate your options at the airport. It details ways to protect your privacy during air travel. It also describes how to file official complaints about any TSA trouble you encounter. View it here.

If you think your rights have been violated while you're traveling, please let us know about it. Just fill out this form online to share your story.

You shouldn't have to check your rights when you check your luggage. With the holiday travel season fast approaching, we need to make sure that security measures are in place that actually make us more secure without compromising passenger privacy.

Please write Secretary Napolitano today.

Thanks for speaking out,

Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director
© ACLU, 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10004
I was surprised Romero didn't make explicit reference to the Fourth Amendment from the Bill of Rights in his email. Sounds like the relevant text in this regard, so here it is:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The issues of reasonableness and of probable cause have been ignored, IMHO, because of political paranoia about charges of Islamophobia--with the result that worse injustice has been done to a larger population, the violation of the Fourth Amendment by treatment of ordinary citizens as potential criminals. Unreasonable searches and seizures, without probable cause, have become routine, as a result.

I hope the ACLU litigates this matter on behalf of ordinary airline passengers, in order to end unwarranted police-state tactics by the federal government...

Bottom Line for the TSA, and I hope ACLU: Reasonable search and seizure with probable cause: OK. Unreasonable search and seizure without probable cause: NOT.

UPDATE: More reaction from Tools of Renewal:
I am writing this because I just read about John Tyner’s TSA experience. He refused to have his genitals grabbed by TSA screeners, and they forced him to miss a flight. They even manufactured a bogus lawsuit threat, ordering him to leave the airport and then telling him he would be fined and sued if he obeyed. They acted the way threatened bureaucrats always act. The way the Founding Fathers had seen colonial bureaucrats act, prior to the Constitutional Congress.

One commenter on Tyner’s blog said he was making a big fuss over a brief grope. Here is what another commenter said: “Anonymous 3:22: it probably seemed excessive for Rosa Parks to risk arrest over a bus seat.”

Exactly. I guarantee you, there were people who said Rosa Parks was crazy. All she had to do was sit in the back of the bus. She would have arrived at her destination at the same time as the white people up front. She wasn’t even required to let a stranger feel her breasts. But she was right. Dignity matters. A good deal of the Bill of Rights exists purely to protect our dignity. And dignity is exactly what we gave up when we agreed to be photographed naked and allow TSA agents to handle our children’s crotches.

Ask yourself if George Washington would have let the TSA feel up Martha.

Liberals like to tell us “slippery slope” arguments are nonsense, but of course, that’s wrong. The Jews in Germany and Austria lost their rights incrementally. We went from a modest Social Security system to a bankrupt socialist ponzi scheme incrementally. The “slippery slope” concept exists because it has been proven right, time and again. We are seeing it now, in our airports. If you will let a stranger palm your wife’s crotch, what exactly would it take to offend you?

Just blow me up. Really. Kill me. Today. How bad can death be? I am not that scared of it. I ride motorcycles. I’ve flown in private planes. The other day I ate tomato sauce from a dubious can, just because I didn’t want to drive to the store. I’m not that scared of death. A low risk of death is preferable to certain repeated humiliation.

If you think things are bad now, wait until the first rectum bomb goes off on a plane. I guarantee you, most Americans will gladly submit to random rectal exams. When we reach that point, consider me grounded. Eventually, you have to put a firm price on your dignity. I don’t like the idea of being molested just so I can have a short vacation, and when they reach the stage where they’re looking inside anuses and vaginas, there will be no destination I consider sufficiently tempting. Seriously, if I offered you a ticket to California in exchange for letting me sodomize you, would you go for it?

I’ve always been like this. When I was in college, I thought fraternities were disgusting because they made young men strip naked and perform in gay rites.

I can’t wait to see what the next “necessary” violation will be. I don’t think Americans have the guts to stand up to the TSA, so I think the abusive searches will continue, and that will encourage the government, and they’ll go ahead and make things worse.

John Tyner is an inspiration. I don’t have a tenth of the character he has. People like John Tyner are our only hope of an acceptable quality of life in the future. Let the commenters criticize him. Capos criticized people who resisted the Nazis, and history passed judgment. History will be very kind to our John Tyners. It always has.
And from PopeHat.com:
The proponents of the Security State — and the people who make their living from it — think just shut up and obey. Take the blogger Mom vs. the World, a former TSA agent. Even though she questions the value of the scanners, and even though she thinks the enhanced pat-downs are bullshit, she remains captured by the TSA mindset. Her view of the proper relationship between the state and the citizen is typified by her post Shut Up And Get In The Scanner. Aside from asserting, basically, that what should really embarrass us is not being scanned or groped, but the fact that we’re a pack of quarreling, vibrator-carrying, trash-dressing, child-abusing trailer trash, she offers this:

Flying is a privilege not a right. As such, it can be and is regulated. Requirements can and are set up to ensure that everyone who flies is safe. If you don’t like it, then don’t fly. You may not be as concerned as the next guy about the safety or you may be more concerned. Point is the job of TSA is to ensure the entire traveling public is safe not just you. TSA officers don’t care what you as an individual want, they can’t, it just isn’t possible. You may be ok with lax security but what about the next passenger who wants thorough security?

Your right to privacy isn’t being violated at all. You always have the option to drive a car, take a train, grab the bus or start rowing a boat. You do not have to fly, you just want to fly. The minute you decide you want to fly then you have to accept that security is involved and you are going to have consent and submit to it period the end.

Now if you want to fly, suck it up and accept that you have to submit to the security procedures. Yes you think they are stupid or unnecessary but TSA officers and TSA don’t care what you think. They try to make it all warm and fuzzy but they can’t because it is security not a trip to Disney World. Shut up and get in the scanner or don’t fly.

Well, “Mom”, if flying is a “privilege, not a right,” it’s because over the last century we have gradually accepted the proposition that anything the government tells us it can regulate, it can regulate. Unlike “Mom”, Justice Stewart knows a right when he sees it: “The constitutional right to travel from one State to another . . . occupies a position fundamental to the concept of our Federal Union. It is a right that has been firmly established and repeatedly recognized.” Of course, rights are subject to limitations. Should the right to travel be limited by forced subservience to groping for purposes of Security Theater?

Now, I’m not saying that Mom is herself a perverted thug, like the people she’s saying we should just obey. I’m saying that she’s a sneering, entitled apologist for perverted thugs — and for the canine, un-American value of slobbery submission to the state. Even though she concedes that the groping is retaliatory bullshit, and even though she has no basis to assert that Security Theater actually increases real security, she’s deeply resentful that people are not putting up with it. Her righteous anger — like the anger of of the TSA thugs groping just a little bit harder to punish you for saying no to the body scanner — is the result we should expect from the small-time thugs whose identity is tied up in their petty authority.

Throughout my career — both as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney — I’ve observed a consistent inverse relationship: the more petty a government officer’s authority, the more that officer will feel a need to swagger and demand that you RESPECT HIS AUTHORITAH. Your average FBI agent might search your house based on a crappy perjured warrant, invade your attorney-client emails, and flush your life down the toilet by lying on the stand at your mail fraud trial. But he doesn’t feel a need to vogue and posture to prove anything in the process. He’s the FBI. But God above help you when you run into the guy with a badge from some obscure and puny government agency with a narrow fiefdom. He and his Napoleon syndrome have got something to prove. And he’s terrified that you’ll not take him very, very seriously. When I call FBI agents on behalf of my clients, they’re cool but professional and nonchalant. When I call a small agency — say, state Fish & Game, or one of the minor agency Inspector Generals — they’re hostile, belligerent, and so comically suspicious that you’d think I was asking for their permission to let my client smuggle heroin into the country in the anuses of handicapped Christian missionary orphans. They are infuriated, OUTRAGED, when a client asserts rights, when a client fails to genuflect and display unquestioning obedience. They are, in short, the TSA.

The media is trying out the story-of-the-week that the populace is revolting against the TSA, and against Security Theater. It might even be a little bit true.

It’s about godammed time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Israeli Expert: TSA Full-Body Scanners "Useless"

Israeli airline security expert Rafi Sela testified in Canada against full-body scanners (ht Ann Coulter):
"I don't know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747," Rafi Sela told parliamentarians probing the state of aviation safety in Canada.

"That's why we haven't put them in our airport," Sela said, referring to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, which has some of the toughest security in the world.

Sela, former chief security officer of the Israel Airport Authority and a 30-year veteran in airport security and defence technology, helped design the security at Ben Gurion.

He told MPs on the House of Commons transport committee via video conference from Kfar Vradim, Israel, that he wouldn't reveal how to get past the virtual strip-search scanners, but said he can provide briefings to officials with security clearance.

Canada this year bought 44 body scanners for major Canadian airports -- three of them for Vancouver International. Each machine cost $250,000 and is being use for secondary screening to detect non-metallic threats, unless the passenger prefers a physical pat-down.

CATSA, the Canadian agency in charge of screening airline passengers, declined to provide comment on Sela's analysis.

Junior Transport Minister Rob Merrifield, who is responsible for the agency, defended the $11-million investment in the machines.

"Full-body scanners are used by dozens of countries around the world and are considered one of the most effective methods of screening," Merrifield said in a statement.

Sela testified it makes more sense to create a "trusted traveller" system so pre-approved low-risk passengers can move through an expedited screening process. That would leave more resources in the screening areas, where automatic sniffing technology would detect any explosive residue on a person or their baggage.

Behavioural profiling also must be used instead of random checks, he said.
BTW, when I last flew to Israel, not only did I not go through a full-body scan, I didn't even have to take off my shoes. On the other hand, they did ask me a few questions...

WSJ: Save Election Day!

From Eliot Cutler's op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal:
Finally, I am convinced that we lose something intangible but important when we make voting just another item on our fall to-do list.

As I greeted voters at polling stations around Maine on Election Day, I saw countless sons and daughters casting their first votes, proudly accompanied by their parents. Squeezing into the booths with elders, younger children learn a civics lesson that no book can teach.

The act of voting together on Election Day has represented an important affirmation of democracy and citizenship since the earliest days of our nation. However inconvenient, standing in line to vote reminds us that our democracy is a shared enterprise and that, no matter our individual circumstances, every person in line has just one vote.

Jack Matlock's Blog

I leafed through Jack Matlock's latest book, Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray--And How to Return to Reality, about Russian-American relations, in Politics & Prose yesterday--he had been President Reagan's ambassador to Moscow--and thought it looked interesting.

What Matlock has to say about the failure of the Bush administration's "unipolar" strategy made some sense to me. Likewise, his critique of Clinton's war on the former Yugoslavia and other adventures. Also, his interpretation that Russians believe that Russians dismantled Communism, perhaps with American pressure, rather than surrendered to the US, also makes sense. So, it was interesting to see that he has a blog of his own, here: http://jackmatlock.com/here-now/.

Here's Matlock's own summary of his latest book, from his blog:
Superpower Illusions:
How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray—And How to Return to Reality

by Jack F. Matlock, Jr.

Summary Argument

Myths about the way the Cold War ended, along with ideologies divorced from reality led America into a series of blunders that drained its power and increased the dangers to its national security.

Myth #1: The Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

NO! It ended well before the Soviet Union broke up.

Myth #2: Military and economic pressure destroyed Communist rule in the USSR.

NO! Mikhail Gorbachev undermined the Party’s control of the country because it was blocking the reforms he considered necessary.

Myth #3: The USSR collapsed under pressure from the United States and its allies.

NO! Internal contradictions caused its collapse, not external pressure.

These myths stem from a tendency to conflate three geopolitically seismic events which were separate, though connected:

(1) The end of the Cold War (1988-89)

(2) Weakening of Communist Party control of the USSR (1989-91)

(3) Break-up of the Soviet Union (December, 1991)

The Cold War ended peacefully, by negotiation, on terms that were in the interest of a reforming Soviet Union. President Reagan had defined the terms of settlement on the basis of common interests. In time, Gorbachev accepted his agenda, since it was in the Soviet interest. As Gorbachev subsequently observed, “We all won the Cold War.”

The end of the arms race permitted Gorbachev to concentrate on reform at home, which in turn led to his ending the Communist Party’s monopoly of power, using contested elections as a major tool. President Reagan recognized, and stated publicly, that Gorbachev’s Soviet Union was no longer an “evil empire.”

While the United States supported the restoration of independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, it favored Gorbachev’s effort to create a voluntary federation of the remaining twelve union republics. The break-up of the USSR, caused by internal factors, was a defeat for American policy, not a victory.

Myth #4: Russia was defeated in the Cold War.

NO! Today’s Russian Federation was not a party to the Cold War. It was part of a Communist-ruled empire. Its elected leaders in 1990 and 1991 were strongly pro-Western and aspired to replace communist with democratic values.

Myth #5: The Cold War should be considered World War III.

NO WAY! “Cold War” is a metaphor, not the real thing. There was never any direct combat between the United States and its allies with the Soviet Union. If there had been, we would probably not be here today to write about it.

The myths are also connected with the mistaken notion of “superpower.” The United States and the USSR were considered superpowers because they had the means to destroy the world. They were not superpowers in the sense that they could change the world using their superior military power. The end of the Cold War diminished American power since much had derived from its ability to defend countries against Communist aggression and infiltration. The world did not suddenly become “unipolar;” there was not even a “unipolar moment.” (So far as the power to destroy the world is concerned, the United States and Russia both still have that capability with their nuclear arsenals.)

While not a superpower in the sense that it could successfully rule other countries, the United States emerged from the Cold War the pre-eminent power in the world. It had the opportunity to create a safer world by strengthening international structures to deal with local conflicts, failed states, organized crime, and the threat of terrorism. It had the opportunity to reduce its military commitments abroad (there was no longer a Soviet Union to contain) and to accelerate the destruction of nuclear weapons started by Reagan, Bush I, and Gorbachev. Nevertheless, the Clinton administration, lacking a coherent strategy, was drawn into local conflicts not vital to U.S. security and without UN Security Council authority. It failed to bring Russia into the European security structure as a responsible partner but treated it as a defeated nation, thus undermining the prospects for democracy and full cooperation in dealing with global issues.

If the Clinton administration missed opportunities, the Bush-Cheney administration destroyed them. Having ignored warnings of an impending terrorist attack on the United States—which could and should have been prevented—it invaded Iraq without adequate cause or international sanction, ignored or withdrew from treaty commitments, stalled verified nuclear arms reductions, and took a series of actions that encouraged rather than deterred nuclear weapons proliferation. It is ironic that a president who professed to admire President Reagan followed policies that were often the opposite of his, both in substance and in execution.

Myths about the Cold War and its end combined with theories taken to logical but unrealistic extremes undermined America’s strength at home. Market fundamentalism ruled the day and the loosening of controls on banks and financial markets contributed to the sub-prime bubble and a near collapse of the financial system in 2008. Tax cuts despite two wars produced an unprecedented budget deficit and the country as a whole began to live beyond its means, even as education and infrastructure were allowed to deteriorate. The United States became the world’s largest debtor.

Meanwhile what passed for political debate was reduced to distorted slogans. The very meaning of many terms came under assault. There is nothing “conservative” about running large budget deficits, invading countries that are no direct and imminent threat, and exaggerating and sometimes fabricating intelligence reports, yet political spinmasters convinced a significant portion of the public that radical, high-risk, arguably illegal policies were “conservative.” In fact, foreign policy cannot be calibrated on a “conservative-liberal” scale, and neither can many domestic issues.

The Obama administration has made a start, turning the ship of state toward a more constructive course. The book makes illustrative suggestions regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea, relations with Russia, nuclear arms reduction, missile defense, and the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Though President Obama has, in general, set a moderate course of change, obstacles both abroad and at home are substantial. He still must deal with damage to the nation inherited from past administrations and overcome entrenched special interests—some in his own administration–that resist change.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Melanie Sloan: Obama Administration Must Do More to Lift Government Secrecy

Melanie Sloan
Yesterday, I attended an interesting panel discussion about National Security and Open Government at the Carnegie Institution, sponsored by the American Constitution Society (sort of a liberal Federalist Society). Among the speakers was Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Her comments have been posted on the ACS website. An excerpt of her criticism of Obama administration failures to make records available to the public--or to keep emails properly stored and inventoried:

All of this sounds great and we applaud the president for his clear desire to create a more open government. Still, it all hasn't gone quite as planned. Based on our own experiences and those of some of our colleagues in the transparency community, government openness, has not necessarily been remarkably better under the Obama administration than it was under the Bush administration. CREW conducted a survey of FOIA officers to discover their perceptions of whether information is more freely and easily disseminated. Overwhelmingly, the answer is no. First, FOIA offices do not have adequate resources to handle the volume of requests they get. Officers also report a lack of training and political interference. The new chief FOIA officers, intended to bring more accountability to the agency FOIA process, were described by one survey respondent as a "useless position filled by someone who is already wearing too many managerial hats."

Another major problem confronting the administration is the preservation of records. Record keeping laws are not keeping pace with technology. Electronic records seem to routinely become lost. For example, the Department of Justice was unable to locate many of torture memo author John Yoo's e-mails - were they deliberately deleted or just lost - it is difficult to know.

E-mails are probably some of the most important records for uncovering the truth. While surely, some are just junk - planning lunch or passing jokes, they can also include unguarded truths. Though we all know e-mails are forever and can come back to haunt us - we have Jack Abramoff as exhibit 1 - somehow, we generally still treat them like phone conversations and do not consider they may one day become public. As a result, a trove of information may be contained in these documents and one day, someone may uncover and view an e-mail from a top ranking Obama administration official with as much interest as we view Lincoln's letter to his general today.
Beth Noveck
BTW, the event was moderated by NY Times Supreme Court reporter (and former corporate lawyer) Adam Liptak. I haven't seen a word about the event in his paper, where keynote speaker Beth Noveck, Director of the White House Open Government Inititative, in Liptak's own words, was "disparaging about FOIA." Liptak added: "I don't know any journalist who has ever gotten anything valuable under FOIA, particularly because it takes so long." Yet nothing about this dissing of FOIA by the Obama administration, to a conference of Open Government advocates no less, was reported in the NY Times--by Liptak or anyone else...

What did Noveck say? Bender's Immigration Bulletin has this account:
FOIA? Nah, I've got Beth Noveck on speed dial!
"The White House's open government leader said Americans should not bother filing requests for government documents under the Freedom of Information Act and instead should contact open government officials at agencies who can post or e-mail the materials faster. ... A more effective way to obtain information would be to contact the designated open government officer at a particular agency -- or herself, Noveck said." NextGov, Nov. 15, 2010.

Federal News Radio story here. And here's an excerpt from the cited NextGov story by Aliya Silverstein:
Bypass FOIA and seek data from agencies, says Obama official

The White House's open government leader said Americans should not bother filing requests for government documents under the Freedom of Information Act and instead should contact open government officials at agencies who can post or e-mail the materials faster.

Beth Noveck, deputy chief technology officer for open government, on Monday said the purpose of the Obama administration's transparency agenda is to institutionalize a culture in which agencies proactively release data so that disclosing government information is the default. She was addressing complaints about denials of FOIA requests at an event hosted by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, a liberal think tank. The talk centered on the conflict between national security and government transparency.

"Why are you writing to the lawyers? We all know it's going to take months and months. That's how FOIA works," said Noveck, who is on leave as a professor at New York Law School, where she researches intellectual property and constitutional law. "The manual nature of the process is so egregious . . . so burdensome." A more effective way to obtain information would be to contact the designated open government officer at a particular agency -- or herself, Noveck said.

For example, in response to public requests, the Patent and Trademark Office this summer partnered with Google to offer bulk downloads of patent materials, such as published applications, grants and assignments, as well as trademark documents, including registrations and applications.

But legal experts debating data disclosure disagreed with Noveck's advice about bypassing FOIA, arguing that the White House needs to expedite the process. "They should make FOIA work," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "You shouldn't have to go around [the process] and call Beth Noveck," she added, noting the general public probably does not know who she is...
BTW, I just googled Noveck's phone number and looked for it on the White House website and Open Government Initiative blog. So far as I can tell, Beth Noveck's phone number is unlisted.

For background on Noveck's world-view, her 2008 Democracy Journal article on "Wiki Government" can be found by clicking here.

UPDATE: ACS has posted this video recording of the event on its website:

Interesting Presentation on the Banking Crisis...

Found this interesting PPT analysis presented at the Darden Business School on my LinkedIn account, sent by a friend: Also, this interesting PPT from Niall Ferguson (ht Charles Crawford): http://www.iie.com/publications/papers/ferguson201005.pdf.

Eid Mubarak!

Happy Eid ul-Adha to our Muslim readers!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Document of the Week: Justice Department OSI Report on Nazis Working for US Government

Link from the New York Times, to full report as PDF file, here: http://documents.nytimes.com/confidential-report-provides-new-evidence-of-notorious-nazi-cases?ref=us#p=1.

From the NY Times story:
The 600-page report, which the Justice Department has tried to keep secret for four years, provides new evidence about more than two dozen of the most notorious Nazi cases of the last three decades.
IMHO, the real question is: Why the secrecy? Tom Lehrer wrote a satirical song about Werner von Braun in the 1960s, after all.

My guess is that it sets a precedent for disclosure of documents relating to Islamist extremist terrorists working for the US government, paid for by the US government, killing Americans and American allies while receiving US government subsidy--which, after 9/11, would be hard to explain to the American people.

Especially since, unlike Nazis, Islamist extremist terrorists haven't been defeated yet...

UPDATE: FOIABlog linked to this item from the Federation of American Scientists:
A side-by-side review of the leaked and the redacted versions compels the conclusion that the Department of Justice exceeded its authority to withhold information from the public, and violated the disclosure requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. “Now that we can compare the redacted document with the complete text of the original report, it is clear that the Justice Department is withholding information without legal justification,” said attorney David Sobel, who represented the National Security Archive in its request for the document. “For an administration — and an Attorney General — supposedly committed to an ‘unprecedented’ level of transparency, this case provides a troubling example of how far the reality is from the rhetoric.”
More from the National Security Archive.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Your Tax Dollars At Work...

Official TSA video of airport security screening (ht Drudge)...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Good Opening Move...

From Politico.com:
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday he intends to take commercial flights home when he moves up to speaker in the new Congress.

“Over the last 20 years, I have flown back and forth to my district on commercial aircraft, and I am going to continue to do that,” he told reporters.
Now, if Boehner could get those announced TSA airport "strip searches" cancelled...

Friday, November 05, 2010

Happy Diwali!

Washington Times: Election Was Obamacare Referendum

From today's Washington Times editorial:
The most odious aspects of Obamacare are yet to hit. The law was crafted so that the harsh provisions would kick in after the election, a failed attempt to insulate Democrats from voter backlash. Obamacare is not only bad law, it is the symbol of a broken system. The legislation was slapped together hurriedly and without adequate staff - or lawmaker - review. It became a grab bag of regulations and loopholes favoring Democratic-leaning special interests. Republican suggestions for reform were never given a hearing, and the GOP was unceremoniously shut out of the process. The bill was forced through the Congress in a riot of arm-twisting and secretive backroom deals. Few if any members of Congress read the bill before they voted on it. The American people were denied the transparency and open process Mr. Obama had promised during his campaign. Obamacare was the poster child for everything wrong with the contemporary legislative process. It is the fruit of a poisoned tree.

Saudi Leader Bashes Republican Congressional Victory

From the Washington Times:
A senior member of the Saudi royal family warned Thursday that Republican victories in this week's elections will encourage what he called "neoconservatives" and "warmongers" to push back against the Obama administration's peace initiative in the Middle East.

Observers said that Prince Turki al-Faisal, the kingdom's former intelligence head who also served as ambassador to the United States, was likely delivering a message on behalf of the Saudi government when he launched an outspoken attack on the supporters of Israel in Washington.

"Neocon advisers, American conservatives and Zionist extremists" promoted policies "that continually throw a wrench into the progress of peace," the prince told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

Quoting from an article by Robert Satloff, director of "the pro-Israeli" think tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Prince Turki characterized these policies as an opposition to the idea that an Israeli settlement freeze was vital; a call for the United States not to force Israel's hand to make concessions in the negotiations; and the conviction that a tough U.S. stand on Iran, including the possibility of military action, was an essential prerequisite for peace in the region.

President Obama's victory in 2008 encouraged many "to believe that the neocon movement had died, the victim of its own, failed delusional policies," he said. But he added that neoconservative ideas were "crawl[ing] from their grave of failure," and their proponents would be encouraged by the election results Tuesday, which gave Republicans control of the House and reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate by at least six seats.

"This recent election," the prince said, "will give more fodder for these warmongers to pursue their favorite exercise — war-making."

"I think these comments were out of line and not well received," David Pollock of the Washington Institute told The Washington Times. "If he really wants to promote Arab-Israeli peace," he added, "This is not the way to do it."

John Boehner's Republican Manifesto

From today's Wall Street Journal:
The political landscape has been permanently reshaped over the past two years. Overreaching by elected officials—in the form of pork-laden "stimulus" spending, permanent bailouts, and policies that force responsible taxpayers to subsidize irresponsible behavior—has awakened something deep in our national character. This has led to a surge of activism by citizens demanding smaller, more accountable government and a repudiation of Washington in Tuesday's elections.

Tired of politicians who refuse to listen, Americans who previously were not involved or minimally involved in the political process are now helping to drive it. While their backgrounds are as diverse as the country itself, their message to Washington is the same: Government leaders are servants of the people; the people are not servants of their government.

The members of the 112th Congress must heed this message if there is to be any hope of repairing the shattered bonds of trust between the American people and their elected leaders. And that begins with the speaker of the House, who as leader of the institution must lead by example.

Accordingly, there are several steps I believe the next speaker should be prepared to take immediately. Among them:

• No earmarks. Earmarks have become a symbol of a broken Washington, and an entire lobbying industry has been created around them. The speaker of the House shouldn't use the power of the office to raid the federal Treasury for pork-barrel projects. To the contrary, the speaker should be an advocate for ending the current earmark process, and should adhere to a personal no-earmarks policy that stands as an example for all members of Congress to follow.

I have maintained a no-earmarks policy throughout my time of service in Congress. I believe the House must adopt a moratorium on all earmarks as a signal of our commitment to ending business as usual in the spending process.

• Let Americans read bills before they are brought to a vote. The speaker of the House should not allow any bill to come to a vote that has not been posted publicly online for at least three days. Members of Congress and the American people must have the opportunity to read it.

Similarly, the speaker should insist that every bill include a clause citing where in the Constitution Congress is given the power to pass it. Bills that can't pass this test shouldn't get a vote. House Republicans' new governing agenda, "A Pledge to America," calls for the speaker to implement such reforms immediately.

• No more "comprehensive" bills. The next speaker should put an end to so-called comprehensive bills with thousands of pages of legislative text that make it easy to hide spending projects and job-killing policies. President Obama's massive "stimulus" and health-care bills, written behind closed doors with minimal public scrutiny, were the last straw for many Americans. The American people are not well-served by "comprehensive," and they are rightly suspicious of the adjective.

• No more bills written behind closed doors in the speaker's office. Bills should be written by legislators in committee in plain public view. Issues should be advanced one at a time, and the speaker should place an emphasis on smaller, more focused legislation that is properly scrutinized, constitutionally sound, and consistent with Americans' demand for a less-costly, less-intrusive government.
IMHO, Congressman Boehner might have added one additional promise:

That as incoming Speaker he will introduce a private member's bill to sell Nancy Pelosi's private jet, on the opening day of the new session of Congress in 2011, as HR 1. Such a move would have significant symbolic, as well as financial, value in providing a new direction for Congress.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Could the Health Care Bill Be Repealed?

CNBC says yes. It happened once before, with President Ronald Reagan's catastrophic coverage bill (IMHO a good bill that could be a model for a replacement, unfortunately a victim of partisan politics at the time):

Yes. In June 1988 Republican President Ronald Reagan and the Democratic Congress passed the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, which was intended to fill gaps in coverage in the government insurance program for older Americans.

It was celebrated as a bipartisan success that would provide new medical benefits for the elderly. However, older Americans had to pay for it, in the form of an extra Medicare premium and a surtax for people over 65 with higher incomes. The tax led to a protest campaign and Congress, in another bipartisan vote, repealed it in 1989.

FOIABlog: What Do The Mid-Term Elections Mean For FOIA?

From FOIABlog:
Gazing into the crystal ball, one can see positive and negative fallout from the midterm elections that saw a change in leadership in the House of Representatives.

The positive is that there may be more oversight of the Executive Branch, which will include FOIA Operations. House Leadership may use their new powers to have actual hearings concerning FOIA Operations, especially in those agencies that view the twenty working day time to respond to FOIA requests as a guidepost, not a law. Agencies such as Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ("CMS" a component of the Department of Homeland Security) and FEMA (a component of the Department of Homeland Security) take yearsto respond to simple FOIA requests. The previous House Leadership failed to ask any questions about this practice, of course four years ago, when the new House Leaders were in power, they failed to use their oversight practice on FOIA Operations. However, this time, the President is in an opposition party so they may take the opportunity to tweak his administration for this failure (which started in many cases in the George W. Bush administration or earlier).

On a negative note, many FOIA Operations are clearly underfunded. With a large deficit, no one is going to be in the mood to increase spending for what many consider a discretionary practice (even though I fail to see how informing the public on what its government is doing is discretionary). So, I don't see the budgets of agency FOIA Operations increasing -- those agencies that are swamped will continue to have to get by with less, which is not a good thing for the agencies or requesters.

Finally, I don't see much FOIA legislation taking place. While there are a number of things that could be fixed in the current FOIA law, I don't foresee them taking place during the upcoming Congress. For instance, the current discretionary disclosure standard could, and should be put in the actual FOIA. However, the administration will say it is our policy (albeit without any statutory authority to get judicial review of whether an agency reviewed the documents for this purpose--it is my belief that many do not) and the new House Leadership, eyeing the White House in 2012 will want to preserve its next President's FOIA options--no matter what they say about their belief in transparency.

The most important FOIA venue in the next few months will be the Supreme Court, where a number of FOIA issues are pending, such as whether corporations have privacy under the FOIA's privacy exemptions (such as Exemption 7(C)). I believe Congress will react to these decisions rather than proactively moot those disputes.

What do the FOIA blog's readers think the new Congress will do?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Virginia Closes Borders to Proposed DC Raccoon Relocations

From the "they can't make this stuff up" department, this item from the Washington Examiner today:
Virginia won't accept the District's unwanted raccoons, opossums and other "nuisance" critters, calling into question key components of a D.C. Council bill designed to make life easier for pesky animals.

The legislation introduced by Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh sets new standards for the treatment of wild animals by the professionals hired to boot the critters out of homes received tentative approval from the full council last month. The new law would limit the tools wildlife managers can use to kill the beasts. In many cases it requires the animals to be kept alive and relocated "to safe location where nuisance problems are unlikely to occur."

But "since relatively few areas within the District of Columbia are likely to meet this definition, we are concerned that wildlife control operators may be inclined to transport the nuisance wildlife into Virginia for release," Robert Ellis, deputy director of the commonwealth's Bureau of Wildlife Resources, wrote this week in a letter addressed to Council Chairman Vince Gray.

If wildlife managers want to transport their catches across the Potomac River, they'll have to get special permission from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Ellis told The Washington Examiner that they won't receive permission.

"We really see no reason for them to bring these animals here," Ellis said. "We have our own nuisance animals, more than we can handle."

The term "nuisance animal" covers every animal imaginable, Ellis said, and it's simply illegal for any wild animal to be transported across state lines without permission.

Ellis said he sent the letter because "we wanted to make sure [the Council] is aware that Virginia won't be able to accept these animals."

In the letter Ellis suggested the Council adopt language specifically prohibiting exporting captured animals outside of the District, have the District Department of Environment clearly inform wildlife managers that transporting the animals across state lines is illegal.

Cheh did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday afternoon...

President Obama's Post-Election Press Conference

From WhiteHouse.gov:
Q    Is there anything in the “Pledge to America” that you think you can support?

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, I’m sure there are going to be areas, particularly around, for example, reforming how Washington works, that I’ll be interested in.  I think the American people want to see more transparency, more openness.  As I said, in the midst of economic crisis, I think one of the things I take responsibility for is not having pushed harder on some of those issues.  And I think if you take Republicans and Democrats at their word this is an area that they want to deliver on for the American people, I want to be supportive of that effort.

I'd like to see more transparency and openness, myself...

Eric Cantor's Manifesto for the Republican Congressional Majority

The title is "Delivering on Our Commitment" and it has been posted on Scribd, here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/40885401/Cantor:
In the attached document, Delivering on Our Commitment: A Majority to Limit Government and Create Jobs, I outline some thoughts on how we can begin that effort.Included is a particular focus on a sustained effort on jobs, reducing government spending, putting in place a new standard for prioritizing legislation, and how we strengthen oversight.

In thinking about and preparing this plan, I found myself guided by one simple proposition which I believe will be instructive for our efforts over the next two years: “Are my efforts addressing job creation and the economy; are they reducing spending; and are they shrinking the size of the Federal Government while increasing and protecting liberty? If not, why am I doing it? Why are WE doing it?”

I would greatly appreciate any thoughts, feedback, or suggestions you may have. I know that by changing the culture and focusing on our priorities, ours will be a lasting and worthwhile legacy: that we will achieve what we said we came to accomplish, and in so doing, deliver on the type of conservative governance that has been promised.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Document of the Week: CAMERA's Report on NPR's Federal Funding

Written by Alex Safian in the aftermath of NPR's Juan Williams firing controversy, the October 27, 2010 CAMERA report makes a convincing case that NPR benefits from taxpayer subsidy, contra public claims to the contrary made by the network's chief executive:
In the wake of National Public Radio's firing of Juan Williams, NPR chief Vivian Schiller has defended her network, in part, by claiming that NPR is a purely private organization that gets essentially "zero" taxpayer funding....

Other National Public Radio staffers and officials have made similar assertions in the past, despite the fact that such claims are blatantly deceptive.

In fact NPR does receive large amounts of taxpayer money, but via the equivalent of a shell game – for some years now instead of the taxpayer money going directly from the taxpayer-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to NPR, it has gone to the local affiliates as "community service grants," which the stations then turn around and send to NPR to help pay for the right to broadcast the network's programs.

Before 1989 the money paying for the programming went directly from CPB to NPR, and the local affiliates had nominal membership dues, ie they got the programming for essentially nothing. Since then the money has been laundered thru the affiliates, which have to pay substantial amounts for the programming.

When this change occurred it materially affected NPR's financial statements, and the network had to note it and explain it in an attachment to their IRS-required Form 990. Here's an excerpt of that attachment:

This return reflects a change in NPR's method of obtaining funding for its operations. Commencing in its Fiscal Year 1987, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which receives money from Congress to fund public radio, increased significantly the proportion of that money it gave directly to qualified public radio stations, and reduced significantly the proportion of that money it gave directly to National Public Radio. National Public Radio in turn increased significantly the amount of dues its member stations must pay for membership and programming services in order to obtain sufficient funds to operate....

As a result of these changes, the bulk of NPR's revenue now comes from membership dues, a significant portion of which is attributable to program-related services.

Of course, it may no longer be the case that the bulk of NPR's revenue comes from membership dues, but the point is clear: NPR is still receiving substantial amounts of taxpayer money from the CPB, but this money goes through the affiliates rather than straight to NPR....

In addition, in NPR's latest Form 990, it admits that its operating costs were paid for largely by those program fees:

Operating costs were met by program fees paid by public radio stations that broadcast NPR programming, as well as grants and contributions from foundations and corporations. (page 17 of NPR's IRS Form 990 for TY 2007)

Is NPR's Lobbying Illegal?

Another measure of NPR's dependence on taxpayer support is its lobbying to preserve the taxpayer dollars going to the CPB, which then flow to NPR's affiliates. According to its 990, in FY 2007 NPR spent a substantial amount, more than $456,000, on such lobbying.

Now under federal regulations (U.S.C. Title 26, §4911) non-profits are generally prohibited from any substantial lobbying (that is, attempting to influence legislation), but there are exceptions.

Before looking at the exception NPR is using, let's look at the network's legally required description of its lobbying, on page 63 of its Form 990:

NPR has been involved in the following lobbying activities – appropriations for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, ...

That is, the first item listed is preserving the taxpayer funds that go to the CPB, which NPR claims it is not dependent on!

Now, if as NPR claims to the public, they really got no funding from the CPB, then their lobbying would be blatantly illegal. That's because for NPR the only applicable exception to the prohibition on lobbying is the "self-defense" clause, and in particular the part referring to the "continued existence" of the organization. Here's the text of that exception clause (U.S.C. Title 26 § 4911(d)(2)(C) ):

appearances before, or communications to, any legislative body with respect to a possible decision of such body which might affect the existence of the organization, its powers and duties, tax-exempt status, or the deduction of contributions to the organization;

In other words, the loophole that NPR exploits to lobby congress proves that it itself believes public funding, and CPB funding in particular, is crucial to its existence. Why won't NPR admit this to the public? Indeed, why does it disingenuously claim the opposite?

What is the total amount of taxpayer funding for public radio?

According to the CPB's Public Broadcasting Revenue: Fiscal Year 2008, public radio got at least 26% of its revenue from public sources, including the Congressional appropriation to CPB, Federal Grants and Contracts, Local Governments, State Governments and State Colleges and Universities, an amount that totals almost $252,000,000 dollars. (derived from Table 2) By far, most of this taxpayer-based funding for public radio goes to NPR and its affiliates. A relatively small amount goes to other public radio, such as the egregiously biased, lunatic fringe Pacifica Radio, which is so extreme in its coverage of Israel that it actually makes NPR sound reasonable.

The bottom line is that contrary to NPR's claims, the local affiliates are using taxpayer money, much of it funneled through the CPB, to pay for NPR's programming, which they otherwise could not afford. And without that money that is then sent to NPR, the network could not survive. Which is why NPR fights so hard to maintain and even increase that taxpayer funding.

Charlie Clark on the Higher Cost of American Higher Education

His review of Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — And What We Can Do About It, as published in AARP Magazine:
If you can afford to plunk down the cash to buy a Lexus — and do it each September for four years running — you're probably not flipping out about sending your kid to college. But even bottomless moneybags hate rip-offs, which is close to the way many renowned American universities come off in Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids---and What We Can Do About It

The authors — Andrew Hacker, a political science professor at the City University of New York, and Claudia Dreifus, a New York Times contributing writer who teaches at Columbia University — are out to spread itching powder beneath the robes of academe. "The American way of higher education puts a premium on prestige," they opine, "making a fetish of brand names and using price as a guarantor of quality." This $420 billion industry, they write, has proliferated to the tune of 4,352 educational franchises nationwide, yet somewhere during that growth spurt it lost track of its original purpose: "to challenge the minds and imaginations of this nation's young people, to expand their understanding of the world, and thus of themselves."

The question mark in the book's title is designed to cast doubt on the value proposition of today's conventional, and costly, college experience. Many of the book's jabs — at professors who shun teaching, at the "intercollegiate arms race" waged over cushy student amenities such as recreational climbing walls and specialized cafeteria food — are familiar. But Hacker and Dreifus have also done enough new research to fire some jarring blasts at formerly unassailable brands.

Take Princeton. A survey of its Class of 1973 found that not a single alumnus had served in a cabinet or sub-cabinet position, in Congress, as a federal judge, or as a CFO or CEO of any major national company. Or take Harvard, where full professors pull down an average annual salary of $192,600, for which some of them teach only one course per year. The sinking prestige of classroom instruction, claim Hacker and Dreifus, is subverting undergraduate education nationwide. For starters, professors — particularly those who have earned the protective shield of tenure — identify more with far-flung colleagues in their disciplines than they do with the supposed "learning community" in which they are embedded. And these "teachers" — researchers, really — propose increasingly recondite subjects as courses simply because those happen to be the ones they are pursuing for their latest journal article or book.

Higher Education? unearths professors who boast of arbitrarily assigning students too much reading. But when the book describes the "predicament" of college students loath to avail themselves of professors' scanty office hours lest they "waste" the time of great minds, the authors' argument gets hard to swallow. Could Hacker and Dreifus truly be unaware of "helicopter parents," hovering over professors to demand that they lavish more time and attention on their precious charges?

How did college get so pricey? The graduate teaching assistant who’s handling your introductory sociology class might blame it on "the intrinsic nature of a bureaucracy to propagate itself." And she or he would have a legitimate point, for the ratio of campus bureaucrats to students has doubled since 1980. Corporate-executive-style compensation levels for superstar campus presidents have hyperinflated tuition bills, too; Elwood Gordon Gee of Ohio State University, Nicholas Zeppos of Vanderbilt University and Shirley Ann Jackson of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute all command million-dollar pay packages.

If Hacker and Dreifus were education czars, they would surely reshape the American campus. But some of their ukases hold more water than others:

1) Subordinate pure research to practical teaching. Achieving this goal would benefit the "undergraduate consumer," to be sure, but where would it leave campus-based researchers on track to cure cancer? One of the "off-label uses" for campus research that emerged from the recent BP disaster, for example, came when fistfuls of Gulf-area college professors suddenly began weighing in with oil-containment strategies they had been pursuing as pure research projects for years.

2) Abolish tenure. The authors contend that it no longer serves its original purpose: to safeguard academic freedom. It should therefore be replaced, they say, by five- to seven-year teaching contracts and cash incentives for earlier retirement.

3) Spend less money ginning up football and basketball fever. Risking coming across as killjoy critics of the sports fandom that boosts colleges' visibility (and, in some cases, alumni donations), they ask why squads from Western Kentucky and Vermont, for example, must travel to California to play Stanford in softball.

The true value of a college degree, Higher Education? reminds us, lies in fostering a student's ability to think independently. To that end, the authors profile 11 moderately priced, publicly funded regional colleges that they believe pull this off. If their picks (listed below) are accurate, the most promising future for higher education may reside in a state U. near you.

Arizona State University
Berea College
The Cooper Union
Evergreen State College
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Raritan Valley Community College
University of Colorado
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
University of Mississippi
University of Notre Dame
Western Oregon University

Monday, November 01, 2010

Cook Political Report's Pre-Election Analysis

From the Cook Political Report:
November 1, 2010 
The Cook Political Report's pre-election House outlook is a Democratic net loss of 50 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible. A turnover of just 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands. The midterm maelstrom pulling House Democrats under shows no signs of abating, if anything it has intensified. Whereas fewer than a third of Democratic Senate seats are up for election, House Democrats are suffering the full violence of this national undertow. Over a quarter of the entire 255-member House Democratic caucus have trailed GOP opponents in at least one public or private survey, and nearly half have tested under 50 percent of the vote in at least one poll. At this point, only 181 House seats are Solid, Likely or Lean Democratic, while 204 seats are Solid, Likely or Lean Republican, and 50 seats are in the Toss Up column. While there are certain to be at least 43 new members of the House thanks to 41 open seats and two vacancies, between 40 and 50 incumbents (over 95 percent of them Democrats) are likely to lose their seats, making for possibly the largest freshman class since 1992.

Vote Tuesday!

I don't believe in early voting, but do believe in voting on Election Day, after all the arguments have been made, and all the facts that are going to come out have come out...so, I'll be voting Tuesday, Nov. 2nd, and hope our American readers do so as well--for the candidates of their choice...