- Sunlight Foundation: Use the Net!
Both Sen. Jim Webb and Mark Warner are still filing campaign finance reports with the FEC on paper. They've presumably each got small staffs who do all of their data collection and number crunching on computers, only to them print out their campaign finance reporters, snail-mail them to the FEC, who have to scan them in and key them in again. The result is a huge waste of federal dollars and a significant delay in making those reports public. The rest of the world—including every last member of the House of Representatives—long ago moved to electronic filing. What's the deal with Webb and Warner?
- PhysOrg: Study shows voter turnout can be increased with simple word change
This small-scale study found a substantial increase in voter turnout by asking people to be a "voter," rather than to "vote." No doubt this logic will be put to work on a larger scale within the next couple of election cycles, and that demonstrate whether this theory stands up or not.
- BusinessJournalism.org: When visualizing numbers gets ridiculous
A journalism pet peeve of mine is when reporters provide numbers without context. "The state spent $34.4B last year." Is that a lot? How did that compare to the prior year, or ten years prior? Or they'll put "$1M" next to "$1B." That's not helpful—use the same unit for comparison, listing "$1M" and "$1,000M." But some have gone too far the other way, providing meaningless visualizations. "That's enough dollar bills to stretch to the moon and back." What is the reader to do with this knowledge? Better to just use numbers to express numbers, and let their context provide context.
- Washington Post: Hampton Roads lawyer David McCormick to seek 2012 GOP Senate nomination
Some random guy is running for the Republican nomination for Webb's seat. In his announcement, he compared himself to George Washington.
- New York Times: The Threatening Scent of Fertile Women
Men in stable, long-term relationships rank women as less attractive when they're ovulating than when they're not. It's part of "relationship maintenance," a defensive mechanism to prevent themselves (ourselves) from straying.
- PolitiFact Virginia: Gov. Bob McDonnell says Virginia road bids are the lowest in a generation
They're not. In fact, they cost twice as much as they did a generation ago, meaning that McDonnell's claim is the opposite of the truth.
- Richmond Times-Dispatch: Senate panel refuses to hear illegal immigration bills
I'm just making a note of this for future reference: Del. Lingamfelter says that when a subcommittee recommends killing a bill, and the committee subsequently strikes that bill from the docket, then they are "hiding, shirking their duty, when they should actually vote on the bills." So noted, Delegate.
This is a very clever simulation of what it's like to be a member of the working poor. It's worth spending at least a few minutes with this. It's like "Jones in the Fast Lane," that great old Sierra game, only you have no realistic chance of improving your lot in life.
- The Oregonian: Rep. David Wu’s staff confronted him over concerns about his mental health
This is the story how Congressman David Wu (D-OR) lost his mind. Shortly before last November's election, his entire campaign staff quit, convinced that he was mentally ill. He was reelected anyway. It's pretty clear that his staff was right. Now Portlanders are represented by this guy.
- DFW NBC: Armed Agent Slips Past DFW Body Scanner
An undercover TSA agent was able to get through a full-body scanner with a handgun not once, not twice, but as many times as she wanted.
- Washington Post: Ex-rep. Perriello might run for U.S. Senate in Va. if Kaine doesn’t
Good. Kaine is my first choice, for practical reasons, but Perriello is my second.
- Library of Congress: Chronicling America
The LoC has the complete contents of long-ago newspapers from all around Virginia, mostly from around the turn of the last century. The Richmond Planet, the Tazewell Republican, the Highland Recorder, The [Fredericksburg] Free Lance, the Clarke Courier—they've got it all.
- Hayes Carll: KMAG YOYO
One of my favorite musicians, country artist Hayes Carll, has a new album that does not disappoint. His prior release, "Trouble in Mind," was just brilliant, and I figured that his follow-up probably couldn't reach that bar. After listening to it a few times through, I think "KMAG YOYO" is every bit as good. (The title is a military acronym: "kiss my ass, guys—you're on your own.") Standouts include the title track, one of the few songs about the war in Afghanistan, and the very funny "Another Like You." If you're a fan of Todd Snider—who performs on this album—you'll like Hayes Carll. If you like country, but not the crap that's passed for country for the past twenty years, then you'll love him.
You know what Congressman Tom Perriello should have done differently?
That’s basically how I feel about today’s news that Senator Jim Webb isn’t going to seek a second term. If Perriello had changed his votes or his message to appease the right, he wouldn’t be Perriello—he’d just be another pandering politician. Webb hated running for Senate, and has demonstrated a remarkable independence in his four years in office. Webb’s a guy who just like to get shit done, and doesn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about it, least of all campaigning about it. The biggest news about Webb yesterday—eclipsed by today’s announcement—was that he is reintroducing his prison reform bill. (I speculated two years ago that Webb was planning to be a single term senator, with his prison reform plan as Exhibit A.) I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Today is Jim Webb’s 65th birthday. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, either.
So good for Jim Webb for not running for reelection. In two years, he’ll be able to be “James Webb” again—I’m not sure that he’s thrilled with strangers calling him by the familiar “Jim”—and, between now and then, he gets to retain his total freedom to vote for what he wants, introduce bills that support whatever he wants, continue to ignore fundraising, and just generally be Jim Webb.
As is obligatory to acknowledge at this point, yes, a lot of people are bound to dip their toe into the water for this seat. Now that there won’t be an incumbent, we’ll probably see more Republicans stepping forward, perhaps acting as a relief valve for the 2013 gubernatorial election. On the Democratic side, potentials surely include everybody from the odious Terry McAuliffe to the recently defeated Tom Perriello. But I suspect that, if Tim Kaine enters the race, everybody else will step aside. I imagine there will be a little dance, in which Kaine weakly denies that he’s going to run, then has a well-publicized meeting with President Obama at the White House, then says he’s thinking about it, starts fundraising, and then makes it official. The key for Democrats is to get a candidate quickly, somebody who can fundraise like there’s no tomorrow, and that’s somebody who can destroy George Allen in November of 2012, especially with Obama on the ticket. Given Kaine’s longstanding personal relationship with the president and that he’s the chair of the DNC, it’s hard to envision a more suitable candidate than him.
A Kaine-Allen race? That would be great. I’m not sure Allen could get the nomination but, Lawd, I hope he does.
I have to wonder if perhaps Sen. Jim Webb is planning to spend just a single session in the U.S. Senate. His mission to totally overhaul the criminal justice system is something approaching political suicide. It also shows the man has balls of steel.
Since the 1970s, politicians have all agreed that there’s no crime that shouldn’t have the punishment made more severe. A month for chicken thievery? Make it three. A year for shoplifting? Make it five. Five years for possession of LSD? Make it ten. Campaign promises of harsher penalties never have dollar values attached to them, and they’re used to show that the candidate is “tough on crime.” And any candidate suggesting that we do otherwise is a liberal sissy who wants to coddle criminals. Year after year, the punishments become more severe, and yet the punishments often bear no relationship to the severity of the crimes and do nothing to correct the offending behavior. One in six prisoners is mentally ill. One third of prisoners are in for a drug offense—for a crime in which they harmed nobody but themselves (if that). And “three strikes you’re out” laws are about the dumbest thing to emerge from this trend. We’re basing our criminal justice system on baseball? Really? What if four strikes were necessary for an out?
And so the ranks of our prisons have swelled, and now the United States incarcerates a greater percentage of its citizens than any other nation in the world. We’ve got 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners. The global average is 158 prisoners per 100,000 citizens; we’ve got 756. One out of every 31 American adults is behind bars, on probation, or parole. It’s madness. Based on these figures, Sen. Webb comes to a very reasonable conclusion:
With so many of our citizens in prison compared with the rest of the world, there are only two possibilities: Either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something different—and vastly counterproductive.
Webb will get nothing but grief for this. His political strategists must have told him in a half dozen ways how foolish that this is. The prison unions will hate him for it. The powerful private companies that own the prisons will be eager to fund his opponent. Republicans will tag him as a criminal-coddler. Hell, ex-felons can’t even vote in Virginia, so he won’t even earn votes from the folks that he gets out of prison. The sort of overhaul that he’s proposing will require a huge amount of work on his part, which will prevent him from introducing the sort of brochure bills that get legislators reelected.
If Webb is serious about this—and I believe that he is—I can’t see that he’s planning to run again in 2012. But if he’s going to effect the sort of change that he’s proposing, that seems like a pretty good plan.
From a statement issued by Sen. Jim Webb this afternoon:
Last week I communicated to Senator Obama and his presidential campaign my firm intention to remain in the United States Senate, where I believe I am best equipped to serve the people of Virginia and this country. Under no circumstances will I be a candidate for Vice President.
I have to wonder whether he’s decided that he’s not interested (unlikely) or whether Obama has taken Webb out of the running, and this is how Webb can save face. I remain convinced that Webb is the right man for the job, but that point has been mooted. The good news is that Webb will remain my senator.