Quote du Jour

The political doctrine which has represented the loftiest endeavor toward common life is liberal democracy…. Liberalism — it is well to recall this today — is the supreme form of generosity; it is the right which the majority concedes to minorities, and hence is the noblest cry that has ever resounded in this planet.

— José Ortega y Gasset, (1883-1955), Spanish philosopher

Congress Gone Wild — Supplemental Spending Even Alarms White House

Spending spree: You’d think they had just won the lottery, the way both houses of Congress are spending money they don’t have. And the profligate payouts are conspicuously bipartisan.

According to Congress Daily, Tuesday the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal 2006 emergency supplemental spending bill that is $15 billion more than the White House had requested. The measure next heads to the floor, where senators likely will try to attach billions more to the bloated bill.

During the final two hours in committee, money was pumped into the bill at an astounding rate of more than $80 million per minute.

The supplemental package, meant to cover wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, hurricane relief and other purposes, has hit $106.5 billion. After Tuesday’s committee action, it was about $10 billion heftier, with additional dollars earmarked for everything from Midwest drought relief to aid for New England lobstermen. The money was ladeled out in such a spirit of bipartisan largesse that none of the bill’s appropriations required a recorded vote.

During the final two hours in committee, money was pumped into the bill at an astounding rate of more than $80 million per minute.

The Spend-ators are not done yet, so when the bill goes to the floor after the Easter recess look for such amendments as $1.2 billion for veterans’ medical care. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is saying she’ll hold up all of President Bush’s nominees and appointments until he asks Congress for $6 billion more to rebuild levees in New Orleans.

The committee approved the bill 27-1, with the lone protest vote cast by Senate Budget Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H.

Even the White House — no slouch when when it comes to running up tabs — is alarmed by the sight of senators spending money like drunken sailors:

“The continued progress toward passage is good news, but the Senate committee’s funding level is significantly higher than the president’s request and that’s a cause for serious concern,” said Office of Management and Budget spokesman Scott Milburn.

The House of Repre-spendatives passed a more conservative $92 billion spending measure, so whatever final supplemental bill emerges in conference will be somewhere between that figure and the Senate’s $106.5 billion-plus.

But of course much of this frenzied spending is related to the fact that mid-term elections are looming on the horizon. House Republicans are seeking to add $7.2 billion for domestic — read “pork barrel” — programs.

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., who faces a tough re-election fight, co-sponsored a $4 billion amendment providing crop and livestock assistance for farmers and ranchers hurt by drought, frost and floods across the country.

Other amendments include $2.3 billion to combat avian flu; $1.1 billion in aid for the commercial seafood and recreational fishing industries, including $20 million for New England lobstermen affected by last year’s toxic red tide; $648 million for port security; $600 million for Katrina evacuee housing; $594 million for emergency highway repairs, and a measly $350 million for education.

Quote du Jour

It is not by accident that our schools and colleges, our universities and foundations, even the churches, are the instruments of big business. It is no accident that the press is now a branch of big business too. It would be madness to let the purposes or the methods of private enterprise set the habits of the age of atomic energy.

— Harold Laski, (1893-1950), British political scientist

Mystery Flu Hits 400 Chinese College Students

From news reports: The Henan Department of Health has refused to reveal the cause of a flu-like outbreak that has infected 400 students at a university in the province.

Students at Henan University of Science and Technology, in Luoyang city, started to become ill on March 26, 2006, many needing hospital treatment, as many as 400 according to state media.

‘We are sure the students are not victims of an epidemic influenza infection’
— Henan Health Department Spokeswoman

The Henan Department of Health said laboratory tests showed the infection
is not type A or type B influenza. When asked why so many students contracted the disease at the same time, vice director of the disease control and prevention division of the Henan Department of Health, Shan Xinguo, declined to give details. He said, “What I can say is the infection is now under control, and we can’t give any further information.”

Shan Xinguo said the students had contracted upper respiratory tract infections. He said, “It’s normal for students to have upper respiratory tract infections, especially in spring. And at colleges, students are concentrated, so it’s easy for many students to become infected with the disease at the same period of time.”

Another official from the Henan Department of Health, who declined to be named, said the situation is now under control, and the fever — some students having fever as high as 103.2 F — was starting to pass.

“The reason why so many students developed fever continuously still remains unclear,” she said. “We are still investigating the matter, but we are sure the students are not victims of an epidemic influenza infection.” She said the main symptoms of the sick students were fever and joint pains and that most recovered one or two days after medial treatment.

Shan Xinguo said the ill students had been quarantined and treated. Over 2000 dormitories as well as 130 classrooms are now being sanitized twice a day. As of 2 Apr 2006, 10 students were still in hospital for clinical observation.

Polls: Embattled Repugs Rattled by Dems

Outta here: The latest round of Wall Street Journal/Zogby Interactive statewide polls shows an interesting political terrain for both Democrat and Republican incumbents and challengers.

California: Terminator Terminated
California voters are seriously dissatisfied with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Fewer than one in three (30 percent) approve of his job performance in Sacramento, and just one-third (34 percent) think he deserves re-election. Matched up against potential Democratic opponents, the Gubernator does better than previous poll numbers had suggested, but he still trails both potential opponents. State Treasurer Phil Angelides leads Schwarzenegger by five (46 percent to 41 percent) and state Comptroller Steve Westly holds a nine-point advantage over the incumbent, 47 percent to 38 percent.

Pennsylvania: Santorum Toast
For Sen. Rick Santorum, considered the most vulnerable incumbent in the nation, election night is shaping up to be a big disappointment. But the race is far from over, with a nasty battle brewing within Democratic ranks over Democrat Bob Casey Jr.’s support for the pro-life position on abortion. The state Treasurer, Casey is beating Santorum by eight points, 47 percent to 39 percent. Just 40 percent give Santorum a positive job approval rating, and fewer (38 percent) think he deserves to be re-elected.

The fight for the Pennsylvania governor’s mansion continues to be close. But incumbent Democrat Ed Rendell, former Philadelphia mayor and Democratic National Committee chairman, may be opening up a lead over former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann. However, as an African American Republican with high name recognition, Swann will be able to attract national Republican resources for his race.

Illinois: Democratic Stronghold
In spite of a mere 33 percent job approval, incumbent Gov. Ron Blagojevich still holds a six-point lead (43 percent to 37 percent) over the GOP nominee, Judy Baar Topinka. However, Topinka, the Illinois state treasurer, receives more positive approval ratings (44 percent) than give Blagojevitch positive marks (42 percent).

Illinois voters remain strongly Democratic, the survey shows, reflecting the same political make-up that gave John Kerry a victory there in the 2004 election. Just 37 percent give President Bush positive marks for his work on the job, and Democrats enjoy a 50 percent to 36 percent lead when Illinois voters say which party’s congressional candidate they intend to vote for in November.

Florida: Still Red
The governor’s race is looking very close, with Republicans holding only a slight margin, despite outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush’s job approval rating of 54 percent. Republican Attorney General Charlie Crist currently is the marginal front runner. He tops both Democrats — Congressman Jim Davis by two points (42 percent-40 percent) and State Sen. Rod Smith by five points (43 percent-38 percent). Democrat Davis tops the other Republican candidate, state Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, by three points (41 percent-38 percent), but Gallagher is in a dead heat with Smith at 38 percent each.

Despite President Bush having just 42 percent of voting Floridians approving of his performance, the state remains closely divided. Democrats have a slight edge (44 percent-40 percent) in the generic Congressional ballot, but most Florida voters think Republicans better represent their conservative principles.

Harris’ ‘Total Commitment’ to Campaign Short About $7 Million

Short change: The “Miami Herald” reports today that Fla. Rep. Katherine Harris did not make good on her promise to place her entire personal fortune of $10 million into her lagging campaign for U.S. Senate. Harris, who is trailing Sen. Bill Nelson by double digits and whose campaign has seen a mass exodus of staffers in the past week, only deposited $3 million into her campaign account.

Harris’ smaller-than-expected investment could further hurt her credibility, already damaged by a staff mutiny, tepid support from leaders of her own party and shifting explanations about her campaign finances. Last month, she said on television that the $10 million would come from an inheritance from her late father. Days later, after persistent questions from reporters, she said the money would come from selling off her own assets.

Harris’ new campaign spokesman, Chris Ingram, said Harris will invest $10 million by Election Day.

”The plan is still the same,” Ingram said. “You start with the foundation, and then you put up the walls and the roof.”

‘If the $3 million is a down payment toward $10 million, she’s like any other good investor’
— Kellyanne Conway

Sounds more like she’s holding out, waiting to see if the Republican Party is going to stop picking on her and start supporting her. After all, why shoot the moon on a horse that might not even finish the race?

Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said the party needs to stop questioning Harris and rally around their presumptive nominee.

”You’d be hard pressed to find any other Republican candidate — especially one who invests $3 million — who receives such scrutiny,” she said. “If the $3 million is a down payment toward $10 million, she’s like any other good investor.”

Big “if.” That’s the problem with Katherine Harris — it’s not just about investing money, it’s about being 100 percent invested in the campaign and willing to, as we say in Cracker country, “Root, hog, or die.”

LitPAC: Reading Repugs Out of Office

Mighty, mighty pen: LitPAC is a coalition of authors that is planning a series of readings around the country to register voters and raise money for liberal candidates in the upcoming congressional elections.

Among those involved are Dave Eggers (“A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” McSweeney’s Internet Tendency), Jane Smiley (“Horse Heaven,” “Thousand Acres”) and Daniel Handler, aka “Lemony Snicket.”

‘We’re not George Soros; we’re not going to make a massive impact’ — Stephen Elliott

“We feel we can raise $75,000 in hard money for congressional candidates, at $5,000 apiece,” says LitPAC executive director Stephen Elliott, who has written four novels and a political memoir, “Looking Forward to It.”

“We’re not George Soros; we’re not going to make a massive impact. But if you ask any non-incumbent candidate if $5,000 is a big chunk of money, they’ll tell you it’s a very big chunk of money.”

Other LitPAC authors include Mary Gaitskill, whose “Veronica” was a finalist for the National Book Award, Tobias Wolff (“Colected Stories,” “This Boy’s Life”), Rick Moody (“Garden State,” “The Diviners”) and Anthony Swofford (“Jarhead : A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles.”)

What’s interesting to me is these authors are, except for Swofford, not overly political in their writing. They certainly are not militants. But it’s still way cool that they are doing this, so if they come to a bookstore or school near you, go.