Thursday, 29 January 2009

A Republican Party That Can Say No

I am inclined to agree with Steven Taylor (and, by extension, disagree with Nate Silver and Kevin Drum) that it’s a bit early to assume that the House Republicans are just voting “no” in lockstep for the sole sake of being obstructionists.

For starters, the Republicans didn’t kill—merely delay—the ill-advised push to pretend* we’re delaying the digital TV transition. I also think this fits into the larger theme of a protest against Democratic efforts to circumscribe debate in the House; even if Senate Republicans agreed with Senate Democrats on the content of the DTV delay bill and it passed by unanimous consent (which isn’t a “unanimous vote” by the way), that’s no excuse for the House Democrats to rush it to the floor the next day under suspension of the rules—which allows exactly 40 minutes of debate followed by zero amendments—especially when there is a real consensus behind passing a “clean” bill providing coupon funding without the fake-delay provisions.

The fact of the matter is that pace Silver nobody is likely to remember either vote, particularly since the stimulus bill is going to bounce around the Hill several times, after which plenty of House Republicans will hail whatever (likely minimal) changes come out of conference as satisfying their concerns, and we’ll all go back to obsessing over Sasha Obama’s taste in hoodies or something much more important to the future of the republic.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

From the department of colossally good ideas (aka Congress)

Steven Taylor, Nate Silver, and Alex Knapp are all on-board with an amendment proposed by Sen. Russ Feingold to the U.S. Constitution to strip governors of their power to make long-term “temporary” appointments to the Senate. Since Feingold hasn’t released the text of his proposed amendment yet, I can’t consider the merits of his specific proposal, but in general I am supportive of the idea that a special election to fill a vacant seat should be held within 60–90 days of a senatorial vacancy. I’d also amend Article I, Section 2 to specify a similar, specific deadline for filling vacancies in the House of Representatives, but that is hardly a deal-breaker if omitted. Assuming there are no hidden catches, I hope Congress acts quickly to propose this amendment to the states, where I suspect it will be received warmly by the state legislatures—who, after all, do not require gubernatorial approval to ratify constitutional amendments.

At the same time, I hope this amendment (if it is ultimately successful, which I suspect it will be) helps dispel the modern myth that the Constitution is excessively hard to amend. In point of fact, throughout much of American history politically controversial amendments were proposed and ultimately adopted, including both the adoption and repeal of Prohibition, the extension of the right to vote to women, the abolition of the poll tax, the Civil War amendments (particularly the 14th and 15th amendments extending citizenship rights to ex-slaves), and the indirect taxation amendment that led to the federal income tax. Just because the Supreme Court in recent years has been willing to reinterpret the Constitution to better suit the often-evolving values of society (witness, for example, the magical constitutionalization of the Equal Rights Amendment absent its ratification*) does not mean that the document is too hard to amend and thus the Nine must reinterpret it instead, merely that it is easier to file an amicus curiæ brief than to work through the amendment process in Article V.

From the department of colossally bad ideas (aka Congress)

Our beloved Congress, having spent the last year or so steadfastly ignoring reports from the FCC regarding potential problems with the upcoming digital television transition, has finally decided to do a 180 and delay the mandatory transition date at a point so late in the process as to invite unmitigated chaos.

I’ll gladly concede that Congress needed to fix the accounting rules that made the converter box coupon program “run out of money” (on paper at least) but fixing those rules easily could have been done anytime over the last year (when Congress was doing exactly nothing worthwhile that I can remember) without any impact on the transition date. Instead, now we have a situation where a billion-dollar public education campaign—still ongoing as of today—that has been drilling into Americans’ skulls the date “February 17, 2009” for months will be rendered moot because a small percentage of the population can’t find it in their annual budgets to find $50 for a box to make their TVs still work and can’t plan ahead enough to get a coupon to shave that down to $10.

The best part of this bill, however, is that it’s going to create a 120-day “half-transition” period during which some stations will switch off their analog signals and some won’t. So the folks without boxes are still at least partially screwed, since there’s a good chance they will need the boxes anyway on the 17th, and folks with a box or a digital TV will get to play the fun game of “make the TV rescan for channels” every time over the next few months a local station decides it’s had enough of spending $20k/month broadcasting its analog signal and goes digital on its own whim.

At least there are some winners. The cable and satellite industries must be loving every single minute of this nonsense.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

In which I admit I am a dork

Instead of doing something productive today, I spent the day in San Antonio at an OpenStreetMap mapping party. I got to meet some interesting folks and play “OpenStreetMap teacher” some, and it’s nice to be reminded that at least one of my dopey childhood hobbies has some practical application in the real world. And of course I got to put some more miles on the new car, which was fun too.

Thanks to the folks at CloudMade, and particularly their community ambassador, for putting the meeting together as well as for the swag. I can’t quite figure out how they think they’re going to make money off of OSM, at least until the OSM data gets in a lot better shape, but I suppose that’s their problem and not mine.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


Syllabi for Texas Government and Congress and the Presidency are now done. Yay?

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

On the motion to recommit

Over at OTB, I look at proposed changes in parliamentary procedure in the House which continue the chamber’s bipartisan slide towards majority-party dictatorship—or, perhaps to riff on Matthew Shugart’s observations regarding the House, irresponsible party government.

Thursday, 1 January 2009


Congratulations to my occasional host James and his wife Kimberly on the birth of their daughter Katie! And my apologies in advance to my fellow December baby Katie for all the birthday gifts she’ll miss out on—even though I don’t doubt that she will still be spoiled rotten nonetheless!