Friday, May 12, 2006

NY Times Deflects Meaning of Embryonic Stem Cell Research Fraud

Dedicated readers of this site will be well aware of the fact that adult stem cells—cells taken from people, placentas, umbilical cords, etc.—have been used in a great variety of ways to effect cures in medicine in the past couple of decades, and have proven their value. Embryonic stem cells (those taken from unborn, developing human beings that have been killed), on the other hand, while receiving the bulk of the research money, have proven useless in curing ills. Readers will also recall that the most celebrated case allegedly establishing the value of embryonic stem cells, that of South Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk, was proven to be a fraud.

The New York Times article on the subject reported it as follows:

Reconfirming the earlier findings by Hwang's school, Seoul National University, Mr. Lee said that Hwang had never cloned embryonic stem cells from patients. Mr. Hwang's now-discredited claim had raised hopes that doctors one day would grow genetically matching tissues from embryonic stem cells to repair damaged organs or treat diseases like Alzheimer's.

Hwang was indicted for fraud and embezzlement today in Seoul, along with five of his associates.

Given that the alleged evidence behind Hwang's findings has already been proven phony in the scientific realm, it is certainly correct to describe Hwang as a scientific fraud. The appropriate, full term, then, should be something along the lines of disgraced stem cell researcher Hwang.

Better yet, for further accuracy, he should best be described as disgraced embryonic stem cell researcher Hwang.

And how did the Times story describe him?

Disgraced cloning expert.

Um, excuse me, New York Times, but his disgrace was not over cloning, even though your story inaccurately claims, in its early paragraphs, that Hwang's research was about cloning stem cells. It was not. In fact, your story admits this, a few paragraphs down the page (in case anybody should get that far):

The scandal raised doubt about the feasibility and ethics of one of science's most cutting-edge research fields: cloning human embryos and then destroying them to extract stem cells.

So he's not a disgraced cloning expert.

He's a disgraced embryonic stem cell researcher.

Let's all try to remember that, OK?


Addendum: Alex Avery of the Center for Global Food Issues informs me that Woo Suk successfully (and verifiably) cloned dogs, creating Snuppy. So cloning was in fact his only certified success—which in fact strengthens the point I was making.

Humor in Events

Well, it's the weekend. It's a time to sit back in the easy chair with some light reading and emit a series of chuckles, punctuated by the occasional guffaw.

Toward that end, I wrote a spoof translation of the mysterious and portentous Ahmadinejad letter, and it is running in today's Human Events.

I was thinking of accompanying it with a cartoon, but I was too lazy to do any sketching, so I had a Danish instead.

Incidentally, my sources tell me that the Weekly Standard will run a spoof of their own in the Parody section of next week's issue. It will be interesting to see whose is funnier. Perhaps we should commission a poll.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

TVD's Newswalk™: Polls Schmolls

A guided tour of those who make the news and those who re-make it:

BAGHDAD (AP)---Gathering a crowd by hawking flour at half-price from a pickup, a suicide attacker set off bombs hidden beneath the flour sacks at a market in Tal Afar on Tuesday, killing at least 17 people and wounding 35 in a city cited by President Bush as a success story in battling insurgents.

Now, certainly technically accurate. And I suppose a moron might miss the intended snarkiness there toward the president.

Someone might remind the Associated Press (the original is not bylined) that terrorism can happen everywhere, even in areas under firm coalition control.

Like London.

That's why it's terrorism, stupid. The flour sacks were being sold at half market value, and so attracted quite a crowd. I could take out three-quarters of San Francisco if I passed out "Impeach Bush" buttons first.


Poll Gives Bush His Worst Marks Yet


So sayeth the NYT headline. OK, though a bit ho-hum. Another day, another drop in the polls. Down to 31%. Buried in the last paragraph, I mean the last, folks, are some other interesting approval ratings: Al Gore, 28%. And in the next-to-last, John Kerry, 26.

28, 26. Y tu mamá también. Thank God Dubya stole those elections.


Over in the UK, where he just won another term while promising to quit before it's over (how perverse!), Tony Blair is at 26%, too. And I can't even imagine how low the heinous, corrupt Chirac regime has slipped, especially among those who got their Citroens all burned up in the recent, um, civil unrest.

The Battleaxis of Evil (HT: Jay Homnick), Hillary Clinton, who says little and does nothing of value, only has an approval rating of 34%, and all-around good guy centrist John McCain is at 35. There's a pattern here.

In this day and age of 24/7 bad news here in the western world, all things considered like the (un)popularity of his previous crap opponents, his political ally in another country, and senators who have no real responsibility, Dubya is lookin' pretty danged good.


May 8 (KGO)---Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says the war in Iraq may turn out to be the worst foreign policy mistake in American history.

Maybe, but we've made some other doozies. Let's take a

{{[~~Wayne's World Flashback to 1996~~]}}

Lesley Stahl: We have heard that half a million children have died (in Iraq). I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And you know, is the price worth it?

Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price---we think the price is worth it.


You made no hard choice, Madame. You chose the easy way out. It was not worth it. You "contained" Saddam for a handful of years, changed nothing, and only the innocent died. And I'd like to know who "we" are.

There are some things in today's world worse than war, and you proved it. I'll take this war, which has Saddam in a prison, his lovely sons Uday and Attila dead instead of throwing their countrymen into meatgrinders, and the Iraqi people with at least a puncher's chance to win their liberty. I understand that many seem to disagree, but me, yeah, I think it was worth it, especially in comparision with your "choice."

Go home, ma'am, and be quiet. Some people have no shame. If anyone on this earth has no moral or political standing to judge the decision to topple Saddam, it's Madeleine Albright.


Or, all things considered, mebbe not:

(AP)---Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general now defending Saddam Hussein, said the former Iraqi president's trial is a sham staged and paid for by the United States. "This court is nothing more than a continuation of the war---shock and awe--- and the occupation to destroy and demonize the former leadership, make them seem barbarian," Clark said.

Make them seem barbarian? Should it take any effort at all?

If Saddam had had Clark instead of Baghdad Bob, I have no doubt that he'd have won the war and his approval rating would now be in the high 70s. At least in San Francisco, where now he's only hovering in the low 50s.

May 11 (NYPost)---WASHINGTON - President Bush yesterday said his younger brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, would make "a great president" as Bush III.
"I would like to see Jeb run at some point in time, but I have no idea if that's his intention or not."


And the irony is that Bush III, who as governor of bellwether Florida enjoys a 55% approval rating, won't be our slam dunk next president only because of his brother. On the other hand, Clinton II, who would hold no political office above dogcatcher without her husband, might make it because of him. Guilt, or merit, by association.

If Iraq and Dubya will keep Jeb out of '08, then Madeleine Albright (and whoever "we" is/am/are) should send Hillary to political oblivion.


The polls indicate that everybody everywhere is pretty friggin' miserable, is what I get. Sorry, nobody's perfect, and politics cannot solve the problem of the human condition. Democracies don't do that philosopher-king thing, at least since FDR. Except for what he did and didn't do with Iraq, I thought Bill Clinton was pretty much an OK president. I think Dubya handled Iraq better and it's best he doesn't listen to the polls, all things considered, though most criticisms of him are valid, too.

In the music business, what I'm doing here is called "turd-polishing." You work with what you're given, and that's what the bridge to the 21st century dumped on Bush. It was a crap situation, with nothing but crap alternatives. I think he did the best any of us could, at least if our names are Al Gore, John Kerry, or Madeleine Albright.

(My apologies for the fecal imagery at the close. Just couldn't find anything better or apt. "Sucks" just didn't swing it but it's one or the other here in the 21st until we learn to chin up and chill out a little...)

Making Civil Crimes Criminal

In an interesting article on the political ideas of British Tory MP Alan Duncan at Tech Central Station, James Pinkerton notes that prosecutors in the United States have been increasingly using the criminal process to chase after civil violations, referring to a Wall Street Journal article I referenced recently on the same subject:

A couple of years ago, Cato's own Gene Healy wrote a book about this, Go Directly To Jail: The Criminalization of Almost Everything, in which he argued that prosecutors were zealously turning civil violations into criminal violations, in part to extort plea bargains, in part because, well, this is a prison-happy culture, where nearly one percent of the US population is locked up. More recently, The Wall Street Journal editorial page has taken note of this same phenomenon; prosecutors now have the legal equivalent of Abrams tanks, which they can use to run over anybody, accused of just about anything. When non-violent suspects are threatened with prison terms that stretch for decades, or even centuries (and when employers are terrorized into cutting accused employees loose, financially, leaving them with no hope of paying their legal bills), well, then, of course, the accused take the plea, and justice, of course, is traduced.

Pinkerton and Healy are correct. Martha Stewart and other bosses of big companies may be unsavory characters, but their crimes are civil ones for which the justice system provides appropriate remedies, which criminal prosecutions are most decidedly not.

When they came for the farmer who tilled land supposedly holding endangered species, I cheered.

When they came for the CEO whose firm manipulated their books to keep their tax payments low, I cheered.

When they came for the politician whose fundraising activities could be portrayed as violating an obscure, incomprehensible, and unconstitutional law, I cheered.

When they came for me, there was no one left to cheer.

Response to Dick on Intelligent Design

National Review Associate Editor Anthony Dick has an article up today
praising a new documentary about Intelligent Design and Evolution. I got
hung up on the part where Dick starts talking about the concept of irreducible
complexity:
Olson’s exposition of this first point hinges on what has become the
biggest buzzword in the ID movement: “irreducible complexity.” This concept is
the golden calf of ID advocates, who argue that there are some biological
structures that are so complex that they could not possibly have evolved through
the Darwinian process of genetic mutation and natural selection. The proper
functioning of these structures, they claim, requires the simultaneous operation
of numerous different components. These components supposedly could not have
been of any use to an organism if they had evolved individually on a gradual
timescale, so it is not clear how they could have evolved together to form the
larger structures.

And so? Do IDers modestly conclude from this that they may have found
an interesting challenge that should be the topic of further discussion and
investigation?

Well, not exactly: They conclude that, because we can’t presently think
of a way that some complex biological structures evolved naturally, these
structures must have been fashioned by an intelligent designer. Here you will
want to fire up your camcorders: Rarely will you see a logical long-jump that
hurdles so many acres of careful reasoning with such soaring ease. If ever there
was a record-breaking flight of fallacy, surely this is it.

Olson correctly identifies this “irreducible complexity” canard as a
textbook example of “God of the gaps” reasoning, whereby one finds a gap in
human understanding of the world, and then immediately plugs this gap by
invoking divine intervention. It is by the same thought process that the ancient
Greeks deduced the existence of an angry Zeus hurling thunderbolts.


Mr. Dick appears to have done some easy leaping of his own. If it is the case that there are some biological structures that are simultaneously too complex and too irreducible in function to have had some predecessor (and we don't mean the eye, but a flagellum), then the entire evolutionary theory is on the rocks waiting to be spelled out by a more capable theory. Such a finding would not be modest, but would be foundation shaking. Dick's "god of the gaps" is Behe's "find a new theory, don't worry I'll wait."

Once again, as an observer of the debate rather than as a participant, I can't help but feel that one team is desperate to knock the other one of out the arena by pure scorn rather than by engagement.

I'm particularly intrigued by the accusations about "god in the gaps." It is quite true that one of the great achievements of science is to explain how certain things work, how they happened, or how they might have happened in such a way that we can go beyond, "God made it that way." And we should all applaud. I can imagine some good Calvinists out there thinking that scientific exploration is exactly the sort of role God envisioned for man right from the beginning.

However, the joy of learning, explaining, and naming shouldn't mean that we are incapable of admitting a need to go back to the drawing board or to make a major revision. I think that because the issue of evolution has been so charged with atheist and Christian fervor, there are many who believe evolutionary theory is a battlefield of honor on which science must prove itself to be the master narrative with the best chance of explaining "life, the universe, and everything." And on the battlefield, you don't admit weakness, even if it's real.

When I watch the way this battle is conducted. I see weakness and its not with the IDers. It's with the guys who conduct little inquisitions in colleges and universities when they find a colleague whose orthodoxy is suspect.

A Comity of Eras

Our title may be a gentle play on words, but it conveys a notion of some depth. Antiquity and modernity are not two jarringly contradicting elements; when viewed as part of a Divine plan, they prove to be surprisingly complementary.

Wednesday's edition of The American Spectator included an article of mine, in which I argued that Mr. Ahmadinejad, who labels Israel as an aberration out of step with the history of the Middle East, is actually exposing his own weakest side.

Because there is no greater anti-historical lesion on the map of that region than his regime, which unseated a monarchy that had survived for 2500 years, the longest in human history.

Yet I kept a piece to myself, to be shared only with my fellow Reform Clubbers, who would be more disposed to take seriously the role of Biblical prophecy in the disposition of international affairs.

The question I have been pondering is: why did God allow that one monarchy to survive through all these eons of turmoil, only to fall thirty years after the State of Israel was founded?

Half the answer is that they merited to have great longevity as a kingdom because they allowed the Jews to rebuild the Temple. That part is fairly straightforward. But why quite this long? And why for thirty years into Israel's existence?

My theory - a spiritual, Biblical thesis, formed in the seam where knowledge meets intuition, not a testable scientific hypothesis - is that it was their special role to testify to the claim of the Jews upon their land.

The Jews went on a long trip and came back; in those situations, it is enough to have one neighbor who can confirm the legitimacy of the faded old deed. And who better than the one who sent them back home to build their Temple 2300 years ago?

Once they fulfilled that task of bearing witness (and, indeed, Iran was Israel's only friend in the Middle East in those days), they naturally dissipated. After all, they were not of this time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Waist Lines

Wow, that Town Hall outfit is a-hoppin' and a-buzzin' today with letters and comments, most of them favorable to my position against creating formalistic or governmental entities to make war on overeating. But a minority think that I have come to defend the adipose and the corpulent, that I am downplaying the danger of obesity. I counter by saying that cultural venues such as print media are the appropriate locale for appeals to the populace to curb its intake.

To prove my sincerity, I dug up this cute bit of satire I did a few years back. (I censored out an inappropriate stanza, but I left in the one that refers to 'vomit'. If that's too strong for you, my apologies.)

THE BULIMIC'S SONG

Not for me the alfalfa grain
No, I will not eat any millet
Won't touch it if it had no brain
Won't eat it unless I can kill it.

Doesn't take more than a twinge
Not even that full-scale urge
And I'm ready to start a new binge
And to clean up with a fresh purge.

In spring that the snow melts in
Or winter when it keeps on fallin'
I still binge even more than Yeltsin
And I still purge more than Stalin.

Oh, you would certainly cringe
To see how much I will splurge
When it's time to start a new binge
And to clean up with a fresh purge.

I might miss the New Year's Ball
And I may miss Haley's Comet
But I never miss that Last Call
And I never miss my daily vomit.

I don't shoot up with a syringe
And drugs are not my scourge
But it's time to start a new binge
And to clean up with a fresh purge.

Criticism of Catholics and Muslims: An Eye Opening Contrast

Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic organization, has asked for a disclaimer in the upcoming film based on The Da Vinci Code. Not only does the author of the book, Dan Brown, defame this Catholic group, but the thesis undermines the very legitimacy of the Church and its doctrines.

Brown’s argument is that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and there are descendants living in Europe. Although Brown maintains this claim is predicated on a non-fiction book, the evidence for this assertion is entirely speculative.

Sony Pictures, which has produced the film, dismissed the request by noting the film is “a work of fiction, and at its heart, it’s a thriller, not a religious tract.”

Contrast this event which blasphemes Catholicism, with an Italian magazine, Studi Catollic, that recently published a cartoon of Prophet Mohammad cut in half and burning in hell. The drawing in question shows the poets Virgil and Dante looking down on Mohammed split in two and engulfed in flames

"Isn’t that man there split in two from head to navel, Mohammed?” Dante asks Virgil.

“Yes and he is cut in two because he has divided society,” Virgil replies. “While that woman there, with the burning coals, represents the politics of Italy towards Islam.”

As an aftermath of publication, the editor was threatened. He immediately said he hadn’t any intention of offending any religion. “I freely ask… for forgiveness.”

This was a marked change of tone from the editor’s initial comment, when he said, “We must not fear freedom of opinion.”

In fact, included in the apology is the claim that the cartoon isn’t against Mohammad; “it addresses a loss of the West’s identity.”

While I don’t have evidence suggesting a change of heart was brought about by intimidation, it is a plausible conclusion based on dozens of similar events. Moreover, it might well be asked why there is any fuss over a cartoon which represents in graphic form what Dante Alighieri wrote centuries ago?

Dante placed Mohammed in Hell in Canto 28 of the Divine Comedy. This canto inspired a painting by William Blake, depicting Muhammad with his entrails hanging out, and a fresco in Bologna Cathedral showing him being tortured by a devil.

There are several conclusions that can be drawn from these two descriptions. Criticism of religion is permitted, whether tasteful or not, in Western societies. In the case of Opus Dei, a disclaimer for an offensive film was requested. In the case of Muslims, offended by a cartoon in an Italian publication, threats are made and intimidation quite likely.

In the former case, the request is rejected; in the latter, the editor grovels and revises his intentions.

The role that Islamic violence, or possible violence, plays in preemptive acceptance of Islamic positions should not be underestimated. Catholics understandably reject the implicit precepts in the Da Vinci Code, which goes directly to the heart of the religion. But I could not find any evidence that Brown and his publisher have been threatened. Had they been put in that position, the public outcry would be deafening.

Islam, however, is treated differently. The West is fearful of offending Muslims because we have seen the reaction on our television screens and on the streets of European capitals. One might even say the threat of violence has a chastening effect on public attitudes.

This is the dilemma: Western tolerance permits intolerant responses to real or perceived offenses. In fact, the sensitivity to Islamic concerns is so well ensconced in the public imagination that self-censorship often precedes revelation.

Who can forget what happened to Theo Van Gogh when he criticized the treatment of Muslim women? Emerging from this comparison is a West that may not be able to defend its own traditions, not when might makes right or principle is modified by fear.


Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001). London maintains a website, www.herblondon.org.

Dems Look at Big Picture, Shrink Back in Horror

The New York Times reports that the Democrat Party and the Left in general are looking at the party's political strategy of recent years and finding it wanting.

Ya think? There's a news flash.

The article does include an interesting summary of what the Dems and Left in general are thinking about thier strategy: It has been too centrist:

This discussion of first principles and big goals marks a psychological shift for many in the party; a frequent theme is that Democrats must stop being afraid, stop worrying that their core beliefs are out of step with the times, stop ceding so much ground to the conservatives.

So, the strategists and idea generators conclude, the Dems and Left in general must Look at the Big Picture, Go Back to Their Roots, and FInd the Great Cliches That Will Fool Voters into Thinking They're Not Crazy. (OK, that last one's my addition, but hey, we're here to analyze.)

Of course, it makes sense for a party that is out of power to rethink what it has been doing. Even the Republicans, who have been in power but have squandered much of their political capital, are doing that in turning away from their drunken-sailor spending habits of the past few years, if only rhetorically at this point.

The $6.4 trillion question, however, for the Democrats is what vision they should pursue. Of course, you know my preference would be for them to move to the right of the Republicans on all issues. But I would also like to own a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, and will probably have one before the Dems move to the Right (and I never will, just to be perfectly clear, unless my DEAR FRIEND AND THE SMARTEST AND FINEST GENTLEMAN IN THE WORLD Alan Reynolds gives me one for my birthday).

So, what are the core beliefs the Democrats should pursue? The Times story quotes Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) as providing his usual sage advice:

Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, said, "One of the most successful right-wing ploys was to demonize any concern about the distribution of income in America as, quote, class warfare."

OK, so the Dems' core ideas are good, albeit unidentified at this point in the article, and their political problem is strictly a result of the American people being fooled into believing that angry diatribes against the "rich," with the latter defined as anybody earning more than about 5 percent above the median income, are "class warfare." That's certainly good to know, and it points the way toward a real winner of a political philosophy, as outlined by Michael Tomasky, editor of the liberal journal The American Prospect, in "a much-discussed essay in the May issue" of that august publication:

Mr. Tomasky argued in his article that "the party and the constellation of interests around it don't even think in philosophical terms and haven't for quite some time. There's a reason for this. They've all been trained to believe — by the media, by their pollsters — that their philosophy is an electoral loser.

"Mr. Tomasky argues that the Democratic Party needs to stand for more than diversity and rights; it needs to return to its New Deal, New Frontier and Great Society roots and run as the party of the common good — the philosophy, he says, that brought the nation Social Security, the Marshall Plan, the Peace Corps and civil rights legislation. After years of what he calls "rapacious social Darwinism" under Mr. Bush, Mr. Tomasky argues that the country is ready for the idea that "we're all in this—postindustrial America, the globalized world and especially the post-9/11 world in which free peoples have to unite to fight new threats—together."

Well, that certainly sounds meaty (or for Dems, tofuey), nutritious, and delicious. I concede that it would be a surefire winner. . . .

If we were in a Depression or trying to rebuild Europe after a devastating war.

But we aren't. And no amount of complaining about present-day conditions is going to change the fact that the economy is humming along nicely, the environment is cleaner every day, the War in Iraq is winding down, and that what really counts when crises arise is finding the most sensible solutions. Meaning that policy is indeed central.

A governing philosophy is essential, of course, if a political party is to have a coherent base, but people vote based on which philosophy they think works best at this time and for the future. The Republicans can plausibly claim that their philosophy is one designed for the common good. And that is in fact what they do argue. So the argument will become, as it always is . . . an argument about policies.

And if the Democrats run on the New Deal and the Marshall Plan, Republicans will surely be delighted.

Though not as delighted as I'd be if the Dems would move to the right of the Republicans and give the latter some actual competition.

Until then, I'll just have to keep driving my Mazda.

Pelosi Talk

"I am the decider." President Bush's spectacularly unfortunate remark, when pestered to fire Rumsfeld, feeds right into the media portrait of Republicans as authoritarian. Historians of a leftist bent may well seize on that as the defining line of his presidency, something like old King Louie's song "I am the State".

The irony is that the opposite is the truth. Republicans fight to give the people more freedom. Democrats confiscate their freedoms through the instrument of government and then distribute putatively life-improving largesse.

My column in Town Hall today targets the recently announced "portly deal" by which Bill Clinton has convinced schools to disallow the vending of soda on their premises. Can anyone possibly imagine a more busybody nosy-Parker sort of intervention in the lives of ordinary citizens?

Meanwhile, across town at Human Events, I highlight the unseemly gloating of Democrats anticipating foreclosure on the Republican House in November, promising heavy-handed and punitive hearings and investigations to settle old scores. This from the genteel anti-fascists? Gimme a break. These Democrats deserve a new theme song: "You Did it My Way."

Monday, May 08, 2006

Think Tank Partisanship

The Great Hunter Baker---gentleman, scholar, bon vivant---asks whether open partisanship on the part of think tanks is a breach of etiquette.

Etiquette, schmetiquette, as we say in the locker room. The usefulness of such partisan activity is determined by the fundamental goals of the organization and by those of the funding sources, and not necessarily in that order. I have been affiliated with a number of policy think tanks over the years, and the universal allegiance was to a set of policy principles regardless of Party. (RAND was the large exception, in that it pursues mindlessly the twin vanities that it is "nonprofit," signifying nothing at all except cost inefficiency, and "nonpartisan," which by no means is evidence that ideological biases are lacking.) With respect to CAP, if its fundamental goal is not the advancement of knowledge, but instead is the provision of sound bites for journalists and politicians, then such activities as referenced in Hunter's note are wholly appropriate, even if unmentioned as explicit fodder for partisan advantage, and even if implemented in a manner both clumsy and transparent.

That CAP is envisioned as a left-wing counterpart to Heritage and AEI is preposterous. Heritage, AEI, Cato, Brookings, Manhattan (where I an a senior fellow), PRI, and the others are populated with serious people doing serious research on important questions; people who would have tenure and perhaps chairs at major universities were the latter not bastions of leftist bigotry. Even the Economic Policy Institute---the labor union think tank---puts out real studies that, however poorly done, nonetheless can be discussed in a serious way. Will CAP do that? I rather doubt it.

Public's Top Concern: Ending Pork Barrel Spending

John Fund of The Wall Street Journal notes that the public has decided that pork-barrel spending should stop, and Republicans may finally be listening:

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll offered respondents a menu of legislative action Congress could address before it goes home this year. Asked to choose which should be its top priority, a stunning 39% selected "prohibiting Members of Congress from directing federal funds to specific projects benefiting only certain constituents"--i.e., the pork-barrel spending at the heart of the Congressional earmark process. Immigration reform was in second place with 32%. It would be ironic if the big-spending strategy Tom DeLay thought was a key to shoring up incumbents and keeping GOP control of Congress winds up ending that control.

One of the messages that [Republican strategist Kenneth] Mehlman tried to convey last week to Republicans on Capitol Hill is that continued inaction and business-as-usual behavior by Congress are an easy ticket to losses in this fall's elections. "We have met the enemy, and too often it is us," one GOP member told me. "We either learn lessons from our mistakes in the next few weeks or our own voters will teach us in November by staying home."

Evidently there is no hope whatever that Democrats will get the message, but half a loaf is better than having the whole thing taxed away.

Is this How a Think Tank Works?

I've now read in several places that John Podesta's (Bill Clinton's former Chief of Staff) glitzy new think tank, the Center for American Progress, circulated press kits to members of the media informing them of Tony Snow's negative appraisals of the Bush White House. The idea was apparently to embarrass Bush or Snow or both on the day of his hiring as White House spokesman.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) was conceived as a left-wing counter to outfits like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. It launched with a lot of fanfare and has surely offered its share of white papers, policy briefs, and expert testimonies. I sense that with the Tony Snow maneuver the CAP may have damaged its own credibility. We're talking about petty electioneering type stuff and my experience is that think tanks don't do that, not even the ones with a clear ideological bent.

S.T., Kathy, Ben, Alan, you have all done plenty of think tank time. Am I right? Is this a breach of etiquette?