Vitter's Meltdown

Roll Call reports that Sen. David Vitter (R–Hookerville) had an airport meltdown last week:

According to an HOH tipster who witnessed the scene, the Louisiana Republican arrived Thursday evening at his United Airlines gate 20 minutes before the plane was scheduled to depart, only to find the gate had already been closed. Undeterred, Vitter opened the door, setting off a security alarm and prompting an airline worker to warn him that entering the gate was forbidden.

Vitter, our spy said, gave the airline worker an earful, employing the timeworn “do-you-know-who-I-am” tirade that apparently grew quite heated.

That happened to me once.  I didn't barge through the door, and I wasn't important enough to credibly demand if the gate agent knew who I was, but I sure was pissed.  Obviously Vitter needs to learn a little impulse control, but I guess I sympathize a little bit here.  If you show up at your gate 20 minutes before the flight is scheduled, they really ought to let you on.

Advise and Consent

Bruce Ackerman is unhappy that lots of powerful executive branch appointments can be made without Senate approval:

Modern presidents have increasingly gained the power to make key appointments unilaterally — with President Obama taking this process to new heights. His White House czars such as Lawrence Summers and Carol Browner are likely to overshadow the Cabinet secretaries in their respective domains. Yet, as presidential assistants, they escape the need for Senate scrutiny.

....Consider, for example, the treatment accorded Eric Holder as attorney general and Gregory Craig as counsel to the president. Holder was carefully vetted by the Senate, and his work in previous administrations was the subject of much debate. Yet Craig, who will also be involved in important and public legal matters, largely escaped scrutiny. Why?

Craig, a distinguished lawyer and public servant, is an outstanding choice for his key position. But it is not enough to trust the president to make good appointments. The challenge is to make it difficult for future presidents to appoint less-qualified officials — such as Alberto Gonzales or Harriet Miers — without serious outside review of their credentials. That, after all, is the aim of our system of checks and balances.

Ackerman has a point, but here's a different suggestion: how about doing away with Senate confirmation entirely? It wastes tons of committee time, it promotes endless grandstanding by bloviating pols, it discourages all but the hardiest from working for the government, and — most important of all — it doesn't actually seem to produce a better class of appointees, does it?  Is the country really better off with a system that confirms Alberto Gonzales but deep sixes Tom Daschle?  Has the White House staff, on average, been any less competent or less honest in recent years than the Senate-confirmed cabinet staff?  Does the Senate, as Ackerman would like, really make it difficult for presidents to appoint underqualified officials?

The Senate would never agree to give up its precious consent privilege, of course, but I'm frankly not sure they add much to the process these days.  In the meantime, allowing the president to have a White House staff of his choosing — whether I like his choices or not — seems more important than providing yet more cannon fodder for the greatest deliberative body in the world.  They've got plenty to chew on already.

Well, it's spectacular, 15 floors up overlooking the waterfront, complete with a skyline of mylar and mirror highrises, fleets of water taxis, ferries, more buses than I thought existed on Earth, and mountains to put Maui to shame. I haven't been to Hong Kong since the handover and it's different. There's a green theme sprouting from tarmac, billboards, newspapers. Hard to tell how much of it will stick and what's glitter—but the same could be said for the US.

One thing of interest: the Green Long March, built on the iconic Red Long March of Chinese history. It's an army of college students fanning out across the countryside each summer spreading green messages to villages, schools, orphanages, factories, farms. Two thousand students participated in 2007, the debut year, spreading awareness about water and all its issues. Five thousands students marched by foot and via trains and so on throughout 2008, carrying messages about green enterprise.

Caroline Hsiao Van, a trustee of the nonprofit Future Generations and founding member of the Green Long March movement (FutureGenerations/CHINA), tells me she's not sure how many students will march this year—but the Green Long March has become a year-round platform for students from over 50 universities to have a voice and affect change in their communities. Since it's possible that as many as 2 million of last year's 6-7 million graduating college students in China are unemployed.. and this year... well, there could be a lot of diploma-bearers, undergrads, members of the China Youth League and university environmental clubs looking for something to march toward this summer and the theme on the calendar is green energy.

Most amazing: the Green Long March has gained the support of the government of China despite its notorious skittishness about movements and students. FutureGenerations/CHINA is also partnered with dozens of Chinese universities. Corporate sponsors and foundations support students on their summer odyssey.

The idea is that the marchers bring a message, listen to the responses, and forge evidence-based decisions. The plan is to build from known successes, spread the solutions, and let the good ideas proliferate at the grassroots level. It's an approach grown from the founding father of FutureGenerations, an American, Daniel Taylor, who's been working to green and improve the lives of people in Tibet, Afghanistan, India, and Peru for decades.

So what about a Green Long March in the US? The machinery exists, left over from the Obama campaign. Why let it become landfill? Why not recycle the energy of so many eager to forge solutions? Who among us wouldn't march out to the greenless realms and talk and listen and make change?


I cannot wrap my head around this op-ed by Jackson Diehl in Sunday's Washington Post. The theme? President Obama is starting to look a lot like President Bush:

The Bush administration pushed through the USA Patriot Act in October 2001 by suggesting that opponents didn't want to stop another al-Qaeda attack. In his first news conference, Obama suggested that congressional opponents of the stimulus package "believe that we should do nothing" about the economic emergency...

So Obama hasn't strayed far from Karl Rove's playbook for routing the opposition. But surely, you say, he's planning nothing as divisive or as risky as the Iraq war? Well, that's where the health-care plan comes in: a $634 billion (to begin) "historic commitment," as Obama calls it, that (like the removal of Saddam Hussein) has lurked in the background of the national agenda for years. We know from the Clinton administration that any attempt to create a national health-care system will touch off an enormous domestic battle, inside and outside Congress. If anything, Obama has raised the stakes by proposing no funding source other than higher taxes on wealthy Americans, allowing Republicans to raise the cries of "socialism" and "class warfare."

Just as Bush promoted tax cuts as a remedy for surplus and then later as essential in a time of deficits, so Obama has come up with strained arguments as to why health-care reform, which he supported before the economic collapse, turns out to be essential to recovery. Yet as he convened his "health care summit" at the White House on Thursday, the stock market was hitting another 12-year-low; General Motors was again teetering on the brink of insolvency and the country was still waiting to hear the details of the Treasury's proposal to bail out banks. George W. Bush might well be asking: Is the president taking his eye off the ball?

Okay, the Smashing Pumpkins frontman was actually asking the House Judiciary Committee to pass the Performance Rights Act, which would give artists royalties for having their songs played on the radio, rather than just the songwriters, but the end result would be more moolah for Mr. Mopey more bucks for baldy an increased revenue stream for Mr. Corgan. Pitchfork found the Getty page with pictures if you want to see him, all decked out in a suit and stuff. The Chicago Sun-Times has a transcript of Corgan's full testimony, including gems like "ours is a business that always begins with the brilliance of the artists." Sure, unless it starts with the cynicism of a label exec. But that's a kind of artistry! Anyway, Corgan was speaking on behalf of Music FIRST, an organization whose whole reason for being is to revise the royalty structure; internet and satellite radio pay royalties to artists and songwriters, while regular old AM/FM stations just pay songwriters. After the jump: your farcically-named DJ tries to untangle this moral web.
If you, like me, have been watching the Rihanna/Chris Brown scandal unfold with sick horror, get ready to have that feeling step up to a scream/hurl combo. Reuters is confirming TMZ's reports that Brown and his alleged victim of assault have been in the studio working on a "love song." The song was originally meant for Rihanna alone, but producer Polow Da Don apparently thought it would be a super idea to have Brown join in and make it a duet. The track's themes apparently touch on "overcoming difficult challenges as a couple." Insert scream/hurl noise here. A source told TMZ that the recording sessions were "very emotional... the feeling in the room was pure love." Insert louder scream/hurl noise here. Apparently the producer urged them to hurry up and record the track, since "the heightened emotions would translate powerfully into the music." Insert enormous scream/hurl noise here with additional sound of head exploding.

Blogs and The Man

Should the president read blogs?  Ezra thinks so:

Many of us bloggers know Jesse Lee, the White House's crack blog outreach guy. It would be nice, however, if the Eisenhower Executive Office Building housed Lee's inverse: An independent-minded new media guy charged by Obama with digging through the blogosphere and picking out a selection of posts and contrary voices that the President might find analytically useful. That's certainly happening on the communications side of things, where the blogs are watched with an eye towards message and influence. It would be nice to know a similar project was underway to trawl the more technical corners of the blogosphere for insights that might be useful but aren't being hunted down by a busy president or his overworked underlings, much less passed on by technocrats whose incentives don't include elevating analyses that undercut their own positions.

Nah.  Obama has all the technical expertise he needs, and the real outliers wouldn't make it past this hypothetical EEOB gatekeeper anyway. Instead, Obama ought to just read some blogs.  Either pick a few he likes and scan them daily, or else commission some kind of random RSS feed based on a larger universe of blogs.  It would be sort of like Ozymandias watching all those TV screens at once to suck in the zeitgeist, except in words.

(Sorry.  I played hooky this afternoon and went to see Watchmen. So I figured I ought to work in a reference somewhere.)

Anyway, one of the keys to this would be to keep his reading list absolutely secret.  Can you imagine what your blog would become like if you knew the president was reading it?  You'd either become a constant shill for every one of your pet hobbyhorses or else catatonic from the pressure of knowing that the leader of the free world was reading your pearls of wisdom.  So that means Obama needs to make the choices himself and not let anybody else in on it.

Besides, assuming that Obama doesn't screw the pooch completely over the next eight years, what would be cooler than discovering in 2016 that your blog was one of the ones he had been reading?  Not much.  So get that man an RSS reader and let him see the outside world in all its raw glory.

In Los Angeles County, cities are buying federal stimulus funds from each other at deep discounts, turning what was supposed to be a targeted infusion of cash into a huge auction.

It all started when the county's Metropolitan Transportation Agency decided to hand out $44 million from the federal stimulus package in the form of $500,000 transportation grants to each of the county's 88 cities. But some cities didn't have any shovel-ready transportation projects. So with MTA's blessing, they're selling the grants to the highest bidder:


La Habra Heights, a city of 6,000, has sold its $500,000 in federal funds to the city of Westlake Village for $310,000 cash. Irwindale, population 1,500, also sold its $500,000 to Westlake Village, for $325,000 cash.


The city of Rolling Hills, population 1,900, sold its $500,000 share to the city of Rancho Palos Verdes for $305,000 cash. The city of Avalon has reached an agreement to swap its $500,000 with L.A. County.

This is Southern California that we're talking about--the land of eternal gridlock. MTA could have redirected the money to a nearly infinite list of other transportation projects. But chief planning officer Carol Inge told the Pasadena Star-News that the agency didn't want to do that because "our board wanted to give every city at least a chance to benefit from the stimulus package."

I'm sure many cities have higher priorities than transportation. And I would have liked to have seen more direct aid to ailing local governments in the stimulus bill. Still, MTA's approach strikes me as a bit too creative. What's next, stimuls money credit default swaps?

UPDATE: After this post appeared, MTA reversed course and invalidated these sales. It now says that the stimulus funds can only be swapped for other county money targeted for transit projects. But this probably won't end the controversy. MTA is still handing out a half million bucks to all 88 cities in the county, including the tiny Irwindale, population 1,446. That's $345 per Irwindalian, just for transportation. With that they could hire a worker to dig through the yellow pages and dial up free limos for everyone. H/T to TotalCapitol in the comments.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, President Barack Obama said the United States was not winning the war in Afghanistan–but did not use the word "losing"–and he raised the possibility of talking to Taliban and Islamist factions in order to separate them from al Qaeda. The point: to isolate Osama bin Laden's murderous gang, both geographically and politically. Obama's remarks have generated much discussion about his policy on Afghanistan, though he does not yet have one. His national security team is in the middle of a review that is due to be completed by the end of the month. Obama has said he will send 17,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan in the spring and summer. But he has not yet said what the overall mission is there. While foreign policy experts and others await the results of the review, there's still plenty to discuss and ponder, and I did so Tuesday night on Hardball:

You can follow my postings and media appearances via Twitter by clicking here.

Oh, Amy Winehouse. No matter what sort of stupid crap you get up to, the hypnotic, neo-soul melody of "You Know I'm No Good" still haunts me, and of course I know that your actually being no good is part of the whole package, even though it makes me feel like as a consumer of your musical product I'm part of the problem, an "enabler;" but still, if you're so "no good" that you can't get a freakin' visa to come over here and perform, then that's too "no good," although it's clearly a difficult line to walk: you have to be bad enough to be scary, not bad enough to be, you know, dead, or permanently removed from society, or something, so I'm sympathetic, and also not. In simpler terms, it was announced yesterday that Winehouse was forced to cancel her appearance at the Coachella music festival in April, although spokeman Chris Goodman denied that any official visa-rejection happened, calling the problem "legal issues." He's likely talking about the assault charges the singer faces in the UK over a scuffle back in September of 2008, although I suppose it could be any combination of 80 gazillion other things: arms smuggling, baby seal torture, hastening the heat death of the universe. We know she's no good! But don't fret, Coachella-bound hipsters: will some freak-folk, electro, punk rock, and avant-hip-hop make up for Winehouse's absence? Organizers announced yesterday that longtime festival favorites the Chemical Brothers have been added to the lineup, along with beardy hippie Devendra Banhart, stoner-raver hero the Orb, oh-so-French disco-dance producer Etienne de Crecy, and they're-so-bad-they've-got-a-crime-in-their-name punk rockers Murder City Devils. Plus, the little DJ dome that I never go into because it seems like it must be stiflingly hot will play host to hip-hop boundary-pushers Flying Lotus, Kode 9, Daedelus and more. Maybe I'll stop by this time. Okay, it all sounds good; now, if we could only find a freakin' house to rent...