What is a SOTU?

Does anyone else think the State of the Union Address is on pretty tenuous constitutional ground? I’m no constitutional scholar, but here’s the relevant passage in the document:

“He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” – Article II, Section III

Ok, so first thing to do is check the history of the SOTU in Wikipedia. There we find that President Washington gave the first SOTU as a speech, but then Jefferson started writing it and mailing it to Congress, a practice that lasted until the 20th Century. Fascinating.

If you actually parse the text (say you’re a constitutional “originalist” like Scalia or Alito or Robers), the first thing that stands out is, “from time to time.” The tradition of doing it annually certainly fits the bill, but it is a little odd that the founding fathers didn’t specify more exactly.

It seems to me that the purpose of this passage was NOT to have the president give an annual address to the Congress (and the Nation), but rather to do set the congressional agenda, propose legislation, and write the federal budget. The speech itself is a red herring.

John Dickerson sort of gets at this in an article in Slate today, but he’s mostly focused on the silliness of the actual speech. Money quote:

Sticking to the big issues would also circumvent the wild spinning to put the best face on the budget Bush will deliver a few days later. That’s where the true domestic priorities are spelled out in more specific language that often directly contradicts the rhetoric of the speech. In a fantasy world, White House aides would hyperlink the text of the president’s speech to the line items in his budget.

I think the founding fathers would be pretty concerned with the “unitary executive” and “king in wartime” theories espoused by Justice Alito in his confirmation hearings. Overall, though, it seems like the trend toward increasing executive power is inescapable. Or, as the Professor likes to say, “people want a Czar.” Either way, tonight’s speech is a bit of a silly relic, and certainly seems like a perversion of consitutional intent. Not that I think it’s a bad idea. In fact I very much like the idea of the President giving an annual speech to the American people. But said speech seems to bear little or no resemblance to the specifications in Article II.

Energy Policy

There’s a great Tucker Carlson article from a couple of years back (reprinted here) where he attempts to convince the Democrats that they’ve lost their sense of humor: too self-serious, too PC, etc. It’s a funny piece. But there’s a gem in there that’s been in the back of my mind since I first read it:

[Former Presidential candidate Dick Gepardt] should head to the steps of the Department of Energy, to unveil his party’s plan to develop alternative energy sources. Cynics will expect the usual dopey ”No Nukes, Go Solar” slogans of the 70’s. Gephardt should surprise them by framing the issue from the right, as a matter of urgent national security: energy independence as a weapon in the war against terrorism. He ought to make open-minded noises about nuclear power, just to prove he’s serious. In the months after Sept. 11, Gephardt called for another Manhattan Project to develop new energy sources, like hydrogen fuel cells. He hasn’t said much about it since. He should.

And he should hurry. It can’t be long before the president comes out with his own plan to develop alternatives to fossil fuels. Imagine it: an oilman pledges to wean America from oil. It’s brilliant. Bush will do it. He isn’t stupid. Which is something else Democrats ought to remember.

Well, it’s been a couple of years, but we may actually be seeing the beginnings of the Bush plan, and it has two main components: ethanol and nuclear (umm… does that mean he’s going to butcher that word more than a few times tonight?). They’re worth parsing separately, because right now there’s a difference between energy policy (where electricity comes from) and oil policy (which moves vehicles and, to a lesser extent, heats houses). We may see these converge down the road (so to speak) as fuel cells and other means of powering cars via electricity become more mainstream.

But for now, the issues are more or less independent, since solving one doesn’t really solve the other. Even if we convert our electricity production from (primarily) coal to a mix of nuclear, wind, and hydro, we still need oil for our cars and planes. That’s where ethanol comes in. I’m a little suspicious of ethanol thus far because it relies on cheap corn, and cheap corn in turn relies on petroleum-based fertilizers, so we’re back to square one. But perhaps someone out there can convince me otherwise.

In either case, it should be an interesting speech tonight.

Saccharine Trust

I can deal with “the ability to spot the pink,” “it tastes like metal,” and “not to boast, but I’ve had eight cans today,” but four words I never, ever again want to read in the dieretic* New Yorker are “retro cachet of Tab”:

As if the mainstream media were not beleaguered enough, now comes word that the Coca-Cola Company is about to release a new drink called Tab Energy. The plan is to capitalize on the popularity of the Red Bull genre while trading on the retro cachet of Tab, with those iconic pink cans — a plan that could threaten the sanctity of one of journalism’s secret, and most self-conscious, power cliques: the cult of Tab lovers, who have persisted in drinking the pioneering diet soda, despite its virtual disappearance from the market.

“This is a lonely but inspired society,” David Bradley, the owner of The Atlantic Monthly and National Journal, said recently, before news of the brand’s reëngineering had spread. “You can’t imagine the purchasing and trucking and warehousing issues we address in getting Tab into Washington.”

The original Tab, which appeared in 1963, is still produced, though in dwindling quantities. You’d be unlikely to find it at Gristedes, however, because Coke stopped promoting the drink in the mid-eighties, after the cancer scare involving saccharin, an artificial sweetener used in Tab. Present-day Tab enthusiasts must seek out wholesalers (New York Beverage, in the Bronx, is a local favorite) or rely on a kind of sixth soda sense — “the ability to spot the pink,” David Edelstein, the film critic for New York, calls it — in obtaining their daily fixes.

It doesn’t stop there:

Here in the city, drinkers include Steven Brill and Danny Goldberg, the C.E.O. of the radio network Air America, each of whom has an office fridge stocked with Tab. “I have unadulterated enthusiasm for it,” Goldberg said, adding that he has long since delegated the task of finding the stuff to an assistant.

The fact that Tab comes in a pink can and was conceived as a drink for women seems only to have bolstered the appeal — it’s a “boy named Sue thing,” according to a financier, who picked up the habit from Bradley. (Brill, just to be sure, tends to crush his Tab cans as he drains them.) Then, there is the peculiar flavor (“It tastes like metal”) and the reputation for unhealthiness, a combination that Edelstein, who has four cases delivered to his house every other week, believes gives Tab “the courage of its convictions.”

Steve Isaacs, a self-described “Tab nut” and former Washington Post editor who teaches at the Columbia Journalism School, has been told by several doctors not to drink it. “I tell them to go to hell,” he said recently. Isaacs used to work at CBS, where his boss, Van Gordon Sauter, often drank two Tabs at breakfast. Now Isaacs may be the most influential Tab advocate in the business: he begins each semester by holding up a Tab and asking students to come up with a hundred story ideas inspired by the can.

*Those umlauts are not actually umlauts . . .

Either you’re with Pittsburgh, or you’re with bin Laden.

Via Slog, we see that The National Review has taken Matski’s bait on the metaphorical implications of Pittsburgh v. Seattle in the Superbowl:

GO STEELERS! [Michael Novak]
So it’s steeltown America on the rise, the rough and the ready, not a rich team but always fighting and always playing smash-mouth, and running hard, and slashing… and I love it that their opponents this year will be wearing the colors of –hard to comprehend this — Hamas!

Got that, Seattle? If the Seahawks beat Pittsburgh, then the terrorists have already won.

Which Way Did He Go? Which Way Did He Go?

The big question over the weekend was what will happen in Israel/Palestine now that Hamas is in charge. Thursday, we wondered whether it wasn’t actually an OK thing. That led to open speculation that perhaps this was, if not a desired result, at least an acceptable outcome. Today, Administration officials seem to support this reading, as Condi basically shrugs off the implications of Hamas’ win:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged Sunday that the United States had failed to understand the depth of hostility among Palestinians toward their longtime leaders. The hostility led to an election victory by the militant group Hamas that has reduced to tatters crucial assumptions underlying American policies and hopes in the Middle East.

“I’ve asked why nobody saw it coming,” Ms. Rice said, speaking of her own staff. “It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse.”

Immediately after the election, Bush administration officials said the results reflected a Palestinian desire for change and not necessarily an embrace of Hamas, which the United States, Israel and the European Union consider a terrorist organization sworn to Israel’s destruction. But Ms. Rice’s comments seemed to reflect a certain second-guessing over how the administration had failed to foresee, or factor into its thinking, the possibility of a Hamas victory.

Indeed, Hamas’s victory has set off a debate whether the administration was so wedded to its belief in democracy that it could not see the dangers of holding elections in regions where Islamist groups were strong and democratic institutions weak.

“There is a lot of blame to go around,” said Martin Indyk, a top Middle East negotiator in the Clinton administration, referring to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and his Fatah party. “But on the American side, the conceptual failure that contributed to disaster was the president’s belief that democracy and elections solve everything.”

Ms. Rice pointed out that the election results surprised just about everyone. “I don’t know anyone who wasn’t caught off guard by Hamas’s strong showing,” she said on her way to London for meetings on the Middle East, Iran and other matters. “Some say that Hamas itself was caught off guard by its strong showing.”

I find it very hard to believe that no one saw this coming. You mean to say that even the Israelis missed this? Doubtful! See also this sweet piece of wild, unsubstantiated geopolitical intrigue — it reads like a Harrison Ford movie! Stay tuned . . .


How confusing is health care policy in America? So confusing that the New York Times can’t even figure out if American business is for more government intervention or against it. On page one of today’s print edition, business is still relatively hostile to the idea of socialized medicine:

Over the years, many employers have become expert in buying health coverage for employees, and they do not want to drop this responsibility or dismantle the current system.

But in the Week in Review, they seem warmer to the idea:

Today, it should not be surprising that a major supporter of the Medicare drug benefit is the Employers’ Coalition on Medicare, made up of companies like Caterpillar and Goodyear and trade groups like the National Association of Manufacturers, which was once antagonistic to such benefits. When the drug plan was approved in 2003, the companies were promised billions of dollars in subsidies.

Some want government to go further.

Welcome to the funhouse.

Brain Activity Ceased

Slashdot readers will have noted this yesterday, but for those of you not trolling the net in search of arcane arguments among Linux geeks, Emory University announced the results of a study of the psychology of political partisianship, leading one site to conclude that “Democrats and Republicans alike are adept at making decisions without letting the facts get in the way…”

The test subjects on both sides of the political aisle reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted, Westen and his colleagues say.

Then, with their minds made up, brain activity ceased in the areas that deal with negative emotions such as disgust. But activity spiked in the circuits involved in reward, a response similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix, Westen explained.

I mean, you’d always suspected, hadn’t you?

The Crying Game

Yesterday, exit polls in the Palestinian territories seemed to indicate a victory for the less-crazy Fatah party (damn exit polls!) and we all went to bed with our supreme Democracy Porn Fantasy intact. Today it emerges that the more-crazy Hamas party actually won, blowing that sweet dream to pieces (d’oh! bad choice of words!):

The Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, which has said it favors the destruction of Israel, won an apparent victory in Palestinian legislative elections, officials said Thursday, reshaping the political landscape of the Middle East.

“We have lost the elections; Hamas has won,” said Saeb Erakat, a Palestinian lawmaker with the ruling Fatah Party. He said Fatah, which has held power since the creation of the Palestinian Authority, will now be the opposition.

Hamas and Fatah supporters scuffled Thursday outside the Palestinian parliament building when Hamas supporters attempted to raise the green Hamas flag.

Shots were fired into the air, observers said. The scuffle came as thousands of Palestinians celebrated the election results in Ramallah and Gaza.

Although official results are not expected until 7 p.m. (noon ET), Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has already accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei, Erakat said Thursday. The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority Cabinet also has resigned.

A Hamas victory will mark the first opportunity for the group — which the United States and Israel consider to be a terrorist organization — to run a government. Hamas has operated a successful network of charities and schools in Gaza.

Erakat said Abbas will soon ask Hamas to form a new government.

Bush is speaking right now — he sort of sounds like Will Forte — and it’s coming off as something along the lines of, “The thing is, with democracy, see . . . it’s hard!” Does this change any of the wording in next week’s State of the Union? We’ll see . . .

Back in the real world, folks are speculating how this will turn out for Hamas and this is one of the more attractive angles so far:

It’s not clear anyone wanted this, least of all Hamas, who in assuming the administration of the Palestinian national authority’s creaking and often corrupt bureaucracy single-handed in a moment when its sole lifeline of European and other international support appears threatened, may just have stumbled into the biggest molasses patch the Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah has ever faced. Unlike the Lib Dems of 1985, Hamas did not go to its constituencies to prepare for government. It had prepared for a coalition, or possibly pristine opposition, but not this. [Link via.]

I’ll take it!