Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sunday roundup and branding -- the Gazette, and beyond...

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Mayor Tussing is confused: On whether he has a conflict of interest in Billings City Council discussions about the $1.3 million settlement against the city, that is.

For those who haven't been reading Montana Headlines for a couple of weeks, a Billings jury awarded about $300K in economic damages and tacked on $1 million of "pain and suffering" damages -- a million dollars, that is, that can only reasonably be seen as punitive damages by another name.

It should also be noted that since the city's insurance carrier won't cover civil rights violations, taxpayers in the city of Billings are going to have to come up with up to half of this sum themselves, unless the city is lucky enough to have a judge reduce the amount of the award.

Let's review the facts: as Ed Kemmick notes in the news article linked to above, Mayor Tussing was one of the individuals originally being personally sued by Steve Feuerstein, until this was thrown out by the court. What has been reported in other Gazette articles is that the court ruled that then Police Chief Tussing was acting as a city official, and thus couldn't be personally sued.

In addition, at least one juror stated that the testimony by the city's defense witnesses in general (and Mayor Tussing in particular) hurt the city's case and were in large part responsible for the verdict.

Another individual close to the trial told Montana Headlines that Tussing's testimony was "without question" the most damaging of the trial. Had the juror not essentially made the same comment to the press, we would have tucked that away as just one person's opinion. But the combination of the two led to our own review of Tussing's testimony, which was eye-opening.

Add to this the fact (as we have noted before) that this trial was specifically about retaliation and intimidation (including allegations of physical intimidation of Feuerstein by Tussing himself,) and it should be a no-brainer that Mayor Tussing should stay as far away from this discussion as possible.

And yet, here is Tussing's coy statement:

Tussing said Friday that he was aware there could be a conflict of interest if he got involved in the case as mayor, but he doesn't know yet whether he will have to excuse himself from further discussion of the lawsuit.

"Could be" a conflict? My, my.

Kemmick, incidentally, does an important service by reporting the proper procedure for handling conflicts of interest at the city level, soliciting opinions from people who should know:

(City Attorney Brent Brooks) said city ordinances touching on conflict of interest are self-executing, meaning it is generally up to the public official in question to disclose his own potential conflicts of interest and to make the decision on whether to get involved in a particular issue.

Former Mayor Chuck Tooley said much the same thing.

"You pretty much have to come to the judgment yourself, unless it's really obvious," he said.

Brooks and Volek said they can advise City Council members and the mayor on potential conflicts, but they have no authority to order them to recuse themselves from a specific vote or council deliberation.

In short, Mayor Tussing can't claim that "no one told me to recuse myself," since no-one has the standing to give him such an order. The law assumes that he will recognize the conflict of interest and remove himself voluntarily.

Somehow we doubt that Tussing will do so -- let alone resign, as he should.

To the victors go the spoils: Of electoral wars, that is. Yet another Democratic legislator has been appointed to a state job by the governor or his executive branch. This time, it is state Rep. Eve Franklin, D-Great Falls, who has been appointed "mental-health ombudsman."

Democrats continue to be mystified that anyone sees anything wrong with this practice, in spite of the fact that many states ban it -- and yes, most states have citizen legislatures just like ours. Yet somehow actively-serving legislators manage to put food on the table without being appointed to government jobs that could be perceived as political payoffs.

As the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations committee, Rep. Franklin was noted for leading her fellow Democratic committee-members in voting against every bill and amendment that came out of that Republican-controlled committee, regardless of merit -- including voting against amendments that would have directly benefited her city.

This was because she claimed the process was "tainted" (i.e. Republicans threw them a curve-ball that was entirely consistent with House rules -- but that they didn't like.) But to be sure, she was owed a reward.

She was also labelled a "rock star" by the governor, and if you don't award a government job to a rock star, to whom would you give it?

And then there's that intern -- but that is another story.

Ron Paul -- a man for the dawning of a century: The last century, that is. John Derbyshire, who is one of our very favorite National Review favorite writers (in spite of him being a confused atheist) has this to say to his fellow conservatives:

Go on, admit it: you have felt the Ron Paul temptation, haven’t you? And it’s not just the thrill of imagining another president named Ron, is it? Ron Paul believes a lot of what you believe, and what I believe. You don’t imagine he’s going to be the 44th POTUS, but you kind of hope he does well none the less.

Well, of course we've felt the temptation, and as stated before on these pages, we hope he stays in the GOP presidential race just to remind Republicans of some of the things our party used to stand for (including staying out of the foreign wars of which Democrats were so fond in the 20th c.)

As Derbyshire notes, after listing Paul's positions on many issues:

Unlike the product in that automobile commercial, this is your father’s conservatism — the Old-Time Religion. What is there among Ron Paul’s policy prescriptions that the young William F. Buckley would have disagreed with?

Indeed, indeed. But then Derbyshire comes down on us with a load of reality bricks -- and not just the electability ones:

If Washington, D.C. were the drowsy southern town that Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge rode into, Ron Paul would have a chance.

Washington’s not like that nowadays, though. It is a vast megalopolis, every nook and cranny stuffed with lobbyists, lawyers, and a hundred thousand species of tax-eater.

The sleepy old boulevards of the 1920s are now shadowed between great glittering ziggurats of glass and marble, where millions of administrative assistants to the Department of Administrative Assistance toil away at sending memos to each other.

[ ]

Imagine, for example, President Ron II trying to push his bill to abolish the IRS through Congress. Congress! — whose members eat, drink, breathe and live for the wrinkles they can add to the tax code on behalf of their favored interest groups!

Or imagine him trying to kick the U.N. parasites out of our country. Think of the howls of outrage on behalf of suffering humanity from all the lefty academics, MSM bleeding hearts, love-the-world flower children, Eleanor Roosevelt worshippers, and bureaucratic globalizers!

Ain’t gonna happen. It was, after all, a conservative who said that politics is the art of the possible. Ron Paul is not possible. His candidacy belongs to the realm of dreams, not practical politics. But, oh, what sweet dreams!

CHIP simplified: Sort of. Mike Dennison's Lee article explains the details of how CHIP would affect Montana, and does a good job of it.

He specifically notes the significant differences between the House bill and the Senate bill -- and that the final product (if Congress actually wants it to pass muster with the President) will have to resemble the Senate version far more closely than the House version.

At issue are things like whether adults should be covered under CHIP (House -- yes, Senate -- no) or whether money would be taken from programs currently used to help adults purchase private insurance in order to pay for expanded coverage (House -- yes, Senate -- probably not, President -- definitely not.)

What is missing in Dennison's piece is a little "connect the dots" that would help Montanans understand why the simplistic mantras of "Evil Republican Denny Rehberg voted against health care for kids" but "Saintly Sens. Tester and Baucus voted to help kids" are just that -- simplistic, not to mention misleading.

Rehberg is in the House. Had Rehberg been presented with a bill closer to what Sen. Baucus had the privilege of voting for, he could perhaps have supported it with some enthusiasm.

It is understandable why lefty bloggers would fail to note these points -- after all, Jay Stevens at Left in the West seems to be salivating in anticipation of the "political theater" that Democrats would be able to get out of a Bush veto of CHIP.

Will Democrats serve up a House-like bill just to draw a Bush veto that they can demagogue? Who knows? It appears that Sen. Baucus may be leaning toward political theater rather than toward bipartisan legislation.

But regarding the positions of our Montana delegation, one would hope for a little background perspective from Dennison, who is, in general, an admirable political reporter.

"How to win in Iraq": Wait! Don't scroll on past this. Please trust Montana Headlines not to be trotting out any triumphalistic head-in-the-sand neoconservative drivel on this subject.

The article we are linking to is one of the better pieces of genuinely conservative realism on the subject of Iraq, and where we go from here.

MH has been pretty clear that we opposed this expedition in the first place, but we have to admit to having sympathies in the direction of David Crisp, when he said that he was "very much of the Colin Powell if-you-break-it-you-own-it school."

And yet, we clearly need to get out.

William Lind is an interesting and sometimes controversial curmudgeon, but not one to be accused of thinking inside the box. Long a proponent of the "Fourth Generation Warfare" school of military thought, Lind makes the case that the only possible "successful" finish to this war for the U.S. is if we leave an Iraqi state behind -- any Iraqi state, even one hostile to us -- perhaps especially one hostile to us (since it would then have credibility in the region.)

This could be followed by bridge-building with Iran analogous to President Nixon's highly publicized and carefully orchestrated trip to China.

The whole article is worth reading, but this gives a taste:

To devise a successful strategy, we must begin by defining what we mean by winning. The Bush administration, consistent with its record of military incompetence, continues to pursue the folly of maximalist objectives.

It still defines victory as it did at the war’s outset: an Iraq that is an American satellite, friendly to Israel, happy to provide the U.S. with a limitless supply of oil and vast military bases from which American forces can dominate the region.

None of these objectives are now attainable. None were ever attainable, no matter what our troops did.

And as long as those objectives define victory, we are doomed to defeat.

Senator Tester's fake earmark reform: When "maverick" Senators like our Sen. Jon Tester headed for Washington, it was in part with the promise to do something meaningful about the process of earmarking -- a big reason for bloated budgets and "bridges to nowhere."

While we would strongly have preferred that Sen. Burns had won that election, and while we are appreciative of the federal money that he brought to Montana in general and Billings in particular, there is little question that a big part of the reason that Sen. Burns lost was that the more he talked about how much money he brought to Montana, the more Republicans were reminded of just why they were disgusted with the pork-laden, earmarking, out-of-control spending that Republicans were engaging in.

We have already written extensively on earmarks and on Sen. Tester's failure to back meaningful earmark reforms (Included in that discussion was acknowledgment of the valid case to be made for earmarking, or something like earmarking, where legislators rather than executive branch bureaucrats set spending priorities.)

Sen. Tester has rather chosen to go along with the Democratic Party's fake reforms, and again recently failed to come down on the side of those who wished to draw attention to the fact that these reforms aren't really meaningful reforms as long as things like earmarks aren't strictly reined in.

When running for office, Tester said that he would "work to end the anonymous ‘earmarks’ that allow a member of the Senate or the House to slip in a lobbyist’s favorite pork-barrel spending item without any accountability."

A good plan. But as Michael O'Brien points out, the Reid bill that Tester voted for was full of loopholes:

The DeMint Amendment (MH: which Tester hasn't supported since his highly publicized crossing of the aisle early on) did several things: it forbade trading earmarks with other members of Congress for votes, strengthened the ability to challenge earmarks added during conference of a bill, and required more disclosure as to whom an earmark financially benefits.

Sounds like something that candidate Tester would have promised to support. But O'Brien continues:

Of chief concern to the Senate Republicans was the change in the new bill that changes the authority to decide whether or not an earmark is considered out of order from the Senate parliamentarian to the Majority Leader (Reid), or the chairman of the Appropriations Committee (Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia).

Even if senators were to challenge an earmark Byrd or Reid had certified, the threshold needed to keep the earmark in place is considerably lower in the new version of the bill.

[ ]

“This is an unethical ethics bill,” DeMint said. “It pretends to do something that it does not,” he said, arguing that the earmark provisions in the bill considered by the Senate this morning were superficial at best.

Only a courageous few Republicans voted against the Reid bill, in spite of the fact that it firmly places control over earmarks and earmark disclosure in the hands of the highly politicized Senate Democratic leadership. Why? DeMint explains:

Despite the protests by Coburn and DeMint, many Senate Republicans voted for the legislation. Many worried about the weakened earmark portions of the bill, DeMint said at this morning’s press conference, but they feared even more the prospect of being pegged by Democrats as being against ethics and lobbying reform.

So, Sen. Tester gets it both ways. He gets to claim to have voted for ethical reform (the fact that 83 Senators were willing to vote for it is proof enough that it is toothless) and he gets to keep his Democratic taskmasters in Washington happy.

If Sen. Tester were truly a maverick and committed to earmark reform, he would have been a lone Democrat standing at that press conference with Republican Sens. DeMint, McCain, Coburn, Cornyn, et al. There is no doubt that he would have been welcome.

That would have been truly courageous, and it might have forced Democrats to take real earmark reform seriously, rather than merely paying it lip-service. Senator Tester missed his chance, and so did the country.

Sen. John McCain expressed his disappointment openly. “This was a great opportunity to fix…a process that has lurched out of control,” McCain said. Chances for true reform only occur every five to ten years, McCain said, “We’re missing this chance.”


Why President Bush is not a lame duck: One thing we rarely miss here at MH is Jay Cost's HorseRaceBlog over at RealClearPolitics. Most recently, Cost explains why, in the current situation, President Bush still holds most of the cards, specifically with regard to the Iraq War. Any President whose major policies were as unpopular as Bush's would normally be hamstrung, but in this specific situation, he is not. Cost explains why:

As commander in chief, Bush has the power to use whatever tactics he wishes to use in Iraq. Democrats can pass legislation to change those tactics. However, they require his signature, which of course will not be forthcoming. They can then try to override his veto - but ... legislative vetoes are ... hard to override.

On any controversial position, the minority-plus-the-president is usually large enough to block the majority. Bush will probably have 33% of at least one chamber on his side from now until the end of his term.


Anonymous said...

I hear from friends in Helena that many top state jobs are being filled by Democratic insiders. Some of these hires have been reported on by the press; many have not. Meanwhile, at the rate we are going, all 75 or so Democratic legislators will have administration jobs in the next few years.

I wasn't as impressed with Dennison's story on CHIP as you were. I seemed like another case of calling a story a "news analysis" in order to take a shot at Republicans. You notice how it whacked the GOP for claiming this would move the country toward socialized medicine, but didn't challenge the claims of Democrats, as best as I could tell.

Jay Stevens said...

Rehberg is in the House. Had Rehberg been presented with a [CHIP] bill closer to what Sen. Baucus had the privilege of voting for, he could perhaps have supported it with some enthusiasm.

Montana Headlines:

"Our goal should be to give every child the opportunity to become a productive member of society -- suffering from poor health care in childhood is a good way to ensure that they won't make it. And right now, we can afford it -- something that may not always be the case, by the way."

Denny Rehberg:

"U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg on Wednesday voted against House Democrats' bill to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, known as SCHIP, saying it's based on an 'extremist political ideology' to expand government-run health care...."

Ouch! He just called you an extremist!

Seriously, even the most optimistic supporter of Rehberg would have to admit that there's not even a hint of support for CHIP in our representative's statement.

Montana Headlines said...

Dennison's story seemed to be a policy analysis rather than a political analysis. The problem is that one really can't separate the two, and Dennison's story fell down on the job of pointing out the political implications as they relate to Montana.

Jay, if the expansion of CHIP to include more low-income children would undermine our current system by which the majority of non-seniors are covered by private insurance, then such a plan would indeed be extremist.

There is little question that the House version is quite unpalatable as described.

It was, indeed a speculation that Rehberg would vote for the expansion of CHIP if it was like the Senate version described by Dennison.

If Baucus serves up a bill that will cover more low-income Montana children, without the parts that Republicans object to, it would be surprising if Rehberg voted against it.

Jay Stevens said...

Well, to be fair to Dennis, I did say he'd probably change his opinion on the issue once he realized how popular it is. Expect some backtracking from his quotes this week later next year.

(BTW, while that's written as a slam, it's also acknowleging DR's political skill in appeasing the base while simulataneously not obstructing popular legislation...)

I agree with your assessment on Lind's piece on ending the Iraq War. I considered writing about that article a bit ago, but never got around to it. I'd mention there's really only one flaw with his plan: he never mentions the Sunnis.

On LiTW and B'birds I've pitched in my own humble opinion on the best way to "save" Iraq from its current morass, and that would involve the international community -- probably regional forces doing the grunt work -- and an Iraqi govt that wouldn't necessarily be inclined towards the U.S., but would be stable.

The problem is, of course, all the talk about plans doesn't do a bit of good. We've really only two options at this point: leave or stay the course. Only in leaving could we actually change policy, IMHO.

I'm not a big fan of waiting this administration out. That seems like a high cost to keep the Bushies from eating crow.