Tag Archives: congress

Don’t average voters deserve a little representation?

Here’s the thing about Rep. Robert Hurt: he’s a perfectly average congressman.

It’s tough to campaign against average. There’s a reason why just a shade less than 100% of Congressmen seeking reelection are successful: they keep their mouths shut and try not to do anything, while their staff dutifully arranges tours of the Capitol, mails out American flags, and expedites agency responses to constituents’ requests.

Hurt is one of these congressman. In his first two years in office, he has passed no legislation, and introduced just four bills. He’s cast no brave votes. He’s taken no principled stands. He’s a standard nobody freshman, and as long as he remains in congress, he will continue to be a nobody in congress. He’s not a major figure in the district, certainly not nearly as visible as past congressmen. I’ll wager that there’s a solid majority of congress who could not pick him out of a two-man lineup.

(Keep in mind, being a nobody in congress still makes you a congressman. There are a few hundred nobodies in congress. It’s perfectly ordinary.)

The other day I got a slick, two-page mailer from Hurt—paid for by the Republican Party of Virginia—and nowhere on it does he mention that he’s a Republican. An informed voter would probably figure out that he’s a Republican, based on some of his positions, but a lot of people would have no idea. That’s the point.

Hurt stands in sharp contrast to our last two congressmen: Virgil H. Goode (D/I/R/C) and Tom Perriello (D). Like ‘em or not, nobody could doubt where these guys stood.

Goode was firmly against NAFTA, Muslims, the United Nations, and Mexican restaurants displaying the Mexican flag. He made national headlines on a few occasions, none for reasons that made the district look particularly good, but most of which I’ll wager he was proud of. Goode routinely took unpopular positions, and his legislative priorities were either bold or Quixotesque, depending on one’s perspective.

Perriello distinguished himself by being quantifiably the hardest-working member of Congress, holding more town hall meetings with constituents than any other member. He met with thousands of constituents to discuss healthcare reform, ultimately becoming a notably important vote in favor of the Obama administration’s overhaul. Perriello suspected that his vote would cost him his seat, and he was right—he was one of a handful of freshman Democrats across the U.S. who were unseated in 2010, losses that were attributed widely to backlash over healthcare reform. Casting that vote, knowing that it would cost him his seat, is the very definition of taking a principled stand, regardless of what one thinks of healthcare reform. Perriello introduced 23 bills in the same amount of time in which Hurt introduced four, with seven passing the House (three resolutions, four bills) and one (the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act) passing into law.

Hurt has distinguished himself among this trio by doing absolutely nothing to distinguish himself.

You’ve got to feel for…Douglass? Is that name of the Democratic nominee? I truly cannot remember the name of the nominee. (I looked it up—yup, it’s John Douglass.) He’s got no purchase on Hurt. Sure, he can run against Hurt as a generic Republican, and that’s what he appears to be doing. This is effective in a wave election, or a demographic-shifting redistricting. but there’s no sign of the former and the latter does not describe last year’s redistricting, which did turn the Fifth District into a sociogeographically bizarre district, but it became only more conservative. Hurt was nominated two years ago by virtue of being the sole non-Tea-Party-aligned candidate, so he can’t even be tied to that fringe group’s fading fortunes.

President Obama has been rising in the polls in Virginia and nationally, and it’s certainly not impossible that he’ll win by the same landslide electoral college margin that he won in 2008. If that’s the case, it’s likewise not impossible that he’d bring Douglass along with him, if only because independents turned off by Mitt Romney’s incompetent campaign decide to toss in for some other Democrats as long as they’re in the booth.

Short of such an event, it’s tough to see how Hurt loses his seat any time soon. He’s got a district that was tailored to him and he’s unlikely to ever do anything interesting. Inertia is a powerful thing.

Why the USPS is running out of money.

I thought that the USPS was in financial trouble because they’d over-promised pensions. Nope. It turns out that a law passed by Congress in 2006 requires the USPS to save up enough money to pay 100% of their pension obligations for the next 75 years by 2016. That’s unheard of. So why require that? To break the back of the USPS union. The same law prohibits the USPS from engaging in any business activity other than strictly postal services, so they can’t even innovate their way out of this. 

House Republicans are looking to bring back the earmark.

Quiet discussions are beginning, behind closed doors, about bringing back earmarks. Why? Because legislators can’t pass spending bills on their own merits. In order to get 218 votes, they need to festoon bills with funding for congressmen’s pet projects. It’s easy for legislators cast spending as “wasteful spending” if it doesn’t funnel money directly into their district. (Funny how billions in “wasteful spending” are rendered non-wasteful with a few million well-targeted dollars.) I think earmarks can be made acceptable, with plenty of transparency in both the process and the allocated funding. 

Links for November 30th

  • Christian Science Monitor: Way cleared for horse slaughter to resume in US after 5-year ban
    Congress has passed a bill, and the president has signed it into law, that re-legalizes the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Banning that practice was a huge mistake, for reasons that were obvious at the time, but it took a five-year ban to show that to be so. Even PETA supports the change. The problem was that horses were either being abandoned to starve to death or shipped in crowded trailers to Canada or Mexico, where they were slaughtered (under terrible conditions in Mexico) and their meat sent back to the U.S. It actually increased animal suffering. Good for Congress for making a necessary—sure to be unpopular—change in the law.
  • ACLU of Virginia: Norfolk Man Who Refused to Stop Videotaping Police at Demonstration Is Not Guilty of Disorderly Conduct
    A Norfolk man was charged with disorderly conduct for videotaping an on-duty police officer back in April. I'm glad to see that he's been found not guilty by a Norfolk General District Court judge. There's been a strange rash of arrests, all around the country, for the non-existent crime of videotaping police officers. Decisions like this will help bring this to an end.
  • Print Free Graph Paper
    Just what it says on the tin.
  • Wikipedia: Point Roberts, Washington
    A tiny exclave of the United States is found off the coast of Washington State. "Point Bob," as it's known, is the southernmost tip of a Canadian peninsula, which extends just barely south of the 49th parallel that defines the U.S./Canadian border. To get there by land, one must go through two international border crossings. There are just over 600 households there, and one elementary school. After third grade, kids have to take a bus through Canada and back to the U.S. to get to school.

Links for September 27th

  • Mediaite: AP Reporter Responds To Chris Hayes Panel Debate On Racism Of Droppin’ G’s From Obama Speech
    There's some fussing about how an AP reporter transcribed a quote from President Obama. In a recent speech, the president said: "Shake it off. Stop complainin’. Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’." On one of those sunday morning shouting shows, the reporter was declared to be racist for doing so. Ridiculous. Anybody who saw or heard the president's remarks knows full well that this was a deliberately affected speaking style. To transcribe his remarks with the "g" would have whitewashed his speech while altering his remarks. This is not a matter of transcribing a dialect paternally, but instead attempting to convey his remarks accurately.
  • National Arbitration Forum: Ms. Stefani Germanotta v. oranges arecool XD
    This is a really interesting decision that resulted from an ICANN complaint that Germanotta filed against a Lady Gaga fan site, ladygaga.org, demanding that the fan turn over the domain name. Though there are a lot of facts that led to their conclusion, the mediators found in favor of the fan, finding that the site was run in good faith, there was no substantial likelihood of confusion with the official site, and that Germanotta doesn't appear to be having any trouble promoting herself.
  • Sunlight Labs: House Revamps Floor Feed
    The U.S. House has made some great changes to their legislative data service. The U.S. Senate remains in the stone age.

Links for September 6th

  • ThinkProgress: The Conservative Recovery Teeters Into Recession
    17,000 new jobs were created by the private sector last month. 17,000 jobs were eliminated by the public sector last month. Bummed by last month's flatlining of job growth? Thank a congressman.
  • New York Times: Rep. Shelley Berkley’s Cause Is Often Her Husband’s Gain
    She's a strong supporter of (admittedly much-needed) better funding of kidney-care facilities. He's making a fortune on it as a nephrologist. If you ask her, it's just the darnedest coincidence. If you ask an ethicist, it's just plain wrong.
  • List of Virginia Caves
    The most extensive cave system in Virginia is Butler-Sinking Creek, in Bath County, at seventeen miles of total passages. The deepest is 786 feet—that's measured from the highest point to the lowest point—at Burns Cave, in Highland County. That's more than half again as deep as Virginia's tallest building is tall, the 38-story Westin Virginia Beach Town Center

Links for September 5th

Congressmen are upside-down in a new CNN poll.

The post-debt-ceiling poll numbers are in, and they’re not good for Republicans. A CNN poll released today finds the Republican Party is down to a 33% approval rating, vs. a 47% approval rating for the Democratic Party. Speaker John Boehner’s approval rating has dropped ten points in the past three weeks, down to 33%, while his unfavorable rating shot right past it, up to 40% from 32%. Even less popular than the Republican Party is the Tea Party, at 31% approval, with a majority—51%—expressing disapproval.

Especially interesting is the steady erosion of support of incumbents in Congress. In 2006, 57% of voters believed that their own congressman deserved reelection, but that’s dropped steadily down to a current level of 45%, which is exceeded by the 48% who believe that their own congressman doesn’t deserve to be reelected. (Googling around, I can’t find any major survey that has ever found those results.) Compare that to 23%, which is the portion of registered voters who believe that “most” members of congress deserve reelection. 39% believe that most Democrats should be reelected, while 31% believe that most Republicans should be reelected. As always, people like their own congressman more than everybody else; unlike always, they like a hypothetical new congressman better than their own.

Links for August 6th

  • The Washington Post: Fewer dinners mean meaner politics
    Since Gingrich's cohort of Republicans came into office in 1994, there has been a steady decline in bipartisan socialization and, indeed, socialization at all. He exhorted freshmen to return to their districts whenever possible, to be in D.C. only when absolutely necessary. The result is a dangerous loss in bipartisanship. It's easy to see opposing opinions as evil if you don't actually know anybody who holds those opinions.
  • AP: Surry County to Open Poll for One Voter
    There's just one guy in the 3rd Senate district in Surry County. State law requires that a polling place be open all day, staffed by three people. It'll cost $2,000. Bang-up job on redistricting, legislature. It's these little things that really show the attention to detail.
  • New York Times: Public Views Congress as Top Culprit in Debt Debate, Poll Finds
    Congress is at its highest-ever disapproval rating. If you were one of the people insisting last year that the majority had lost the right to lead Congress because of their low approval ratings, this might be an occasion for a little hypocrisy gut check.

Links for August 2nd

  • Aloha Editor
    I love this HTML5 WYSIWYG editor. They had me at the introductory paragraph, what with the editing of it. I haven't implemented it anywhere, but I love the concept.
  • Slow Clap for Congress
    Dear Congress, For your leadership, your maturity, and your inspiring ability to perform the basic duties of your job, We applaud you.
  • PolitiFact: Florida state investment chief says transparency was a big issue for lawmakers in 2011
    Here's a great use of legislative video: to fact-check a claim that financial transparency "got a great airing" during a recent session. PolitiFact Florida checked the video and calculated that a total of 36 minutes was spent on the topic, 25 minutes from just one senator. Legislative video is important stuff.
  • Internet Archive: Mother’s Best Flour
    This collection of songs from the "Mother's Best Flour" radio show is a must-listen for country fans. There are 70 shows of Hank Williams’ performances, from 1950–1951, many of which include first-ever performances of some classics. Each show includes in-studio chatter, which is fun to listen to, along with the constant promotions for the advertiser's brand of flour.

Links for July 28th

Links for July 16th

Links for July 14th

  • Reuters: How I misread News Corp’s taxes
    Pulitzer-prize winning journalist David Cay Johnston broke a story earlier this week about how News Corp had received $4.8B in income tax refunds over the past four years, while paying nothing. Turns out he was entirely wrong. What he'd written was the opposite of the truth. News Corp changed how they report their tax payments on their financial statements—switching from positive to negative numbers—and that was how it all started. Further confusing matters, Johnston contacted News Corp about his conclusions, and they had no quarrel with it. To Johnston's credit, he's going on the same press tour he went on a few days ago, trying to make the story of his mistake as big as his incorrect initial story.
  • CSS Sprite Generator
    Upload a ZIP file full of images, it returns with a file full of sprites and the relevant CSS. It's a great little tool!
  • Thirty Thousand: The Population Size of U.S. House Districts by Year and by Congress from 1790 to 2100
    This website, which advocates returning the House of Representatives to its 1793 rate of representation, provides this chart of the average population per U.S. House district from its founding until 2010. The chamber was envisioned—and created—to have each member represent 30,000 people. Congress fixed the number of seats at the arbitrary number of 435 back in 1929, and congressmen have come to represent more and more people ever since. It now stands at 710,000 people and climbing.

Links for July 9th

  • GAO: Replacing the $1 Note with a $1 Coin Would Provide a Financial Benefit to the Government
    Getting rid of the $1 bill would save the government $184M/year. Not an enormous amount, on the scale of the budget, but there's no getting around that $184M is a very large amount of money indeed. Ten years ago, it would have saved $522M/year, but the Treasury has improved the technology that they use to identify and destroy worn notes—it used to be overload broad, but that's fixed, allowing lots of bills to stay in circulation longer.
  • The Economist: America’s debt—Shame on them
    The Economist, a relatively staid and conservative publication, has run an editorial in which they describe Republicans' stance on the debt ceiling as "economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical." They go on to describe Republicans as "unprincipled," as not being "real tax reformers," and conclude by declaring that "the blame falls clearly on the Republicans" in debt talks. Yup.
  • PolitiFact: Allen says China owns more U.S. bonds than Americans
    It's not even close. Of $14.3T of national debt, China owns $1.2T. The U.S. government owns $6T. $3.8T is privately held. When confronted with the facts, the Allen campaign claimed that they were talking only about debt held by ordinary American investors, but the numbers that they cited to back up that claim actually proved the opposite. I hope NBC-29 runs a correction. Lord knows Allen won't admit that he's full of shit.

Links for July 7th

“The American people.”

A pet peeve of mine: Politicians who insist on talking about what “the American people” want, and what “the American people” think. Every politician who says that believes that—in a striking coincidence—what the American people want happens to be precisely what said politician wants.

Never noticed this? You will now. You can hear an example of this in All Things Considered’s interview with Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) this evening, in which he says:

The American people know that tax increases don’t create a single job. [...] The American people are not interested in having the tax [sic] increased, the American people understand that Washington spends way too much money, and we need to get our fiscal house in order…

(Also alarming in this story is Price’s response to a question from host Melissa Block as to whether the failure to raise the debt ceiling would be an economic calamity, to which he responds: “I don’t know—we’ve never been in this situation.”)

A good politician will take about what he thinks and what he thinks is right for the country. A suck-up politician leans on his claims about what “the American people” think—meaning that either he’s governing by poll results or he’s pretending to govern by poll results. You can decide which is worse.

Links for July 6th

  • The Register: Google dumps all 11+ million .co.cc sites from its results
    Good. .co.cc sites are almost uniformly worthless—a hive of malware sites and search engine spam.
  • Andrew Sullivan: Boehner’s Economic Terrorism
    "For the GOP to use the debt ceiling to put a gun to the head of the US and global economy until they get only massive spending cuts and no revenue enhancement is therefore the clearest sign yet of their abandonment of the last shreds of a conservative disposition. A conservative does not risk the entire economic system to score an ideological victory. That is what a fanatic does."
  • Salon.com: The final nail in the supply side coffin
    For the twelve people who still believe in trickle-down economics, the current economic climate is the final proof of its failure. We've got low taxes, record corporate profits, businesses are sitting on huge piles of cash…but ain't nothin' trickling down.
  • DosMan Drivel
    MS-DOS creator Tim Paterson maintains this blog, in which he recounts his work developing operating systems in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Of particular interest to me is how hardware and code were co-optimized to read from and write to floppy discs in the most efficient manner. The work at that point was incredibly low-level in a way that must have been very satisfying to develop.
  • Slate: How the voters of 2004 are blocking same-sex marriage in 2011.
    This is something that I've complained about here in Virginia—that by using a constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage, we have bound ourselves to the wishes of our past selves. There can be no doubt that gay marriage will be legalized in Virginia, but it's going to require a lot of work to get done.