Saturday, January 29, 2005

Blogroll Review

One of the really cool things about Blogging, is the blogroll. Bloggers will link to other blogs when they get an idea or material from them, but most bloggers also have a roll of sites they recommend. Stolen Thunder is modest in its attendance numbers, but even so, there are some sites I note for visits, and I'm actually pretty picky about them.

Like many bloggers, I read all sorts of blogs. Some I visit out of a morbid curiosity, to see what the Dark Side is up to. Others I visit regularly, like Hugh Hewitt, but don't think their egos need any feeding. And others I like, but haven't made up my mind about the blogroll. This is because while I accept the dinky size of my blog's readership, I like to think of it as an exclusive locale, more like Vargo's instead of McDonalds (Houston reference, that). And so my blogroll represents those sites which I find especially worthy of promotion. It seems appropriate to me, then, to briefly review the blogs on my blogroll, and why I think you should visit them.

I will start with the obvious picks. Polipundit is my daily bread, the site I visit most often, with its regular forum on Politics and Current Events. The fact that I am privileged to write there, is frosting on a favorite cake.

My fellow writers at Polipundit also have blogs worth noting. Lorie Byrd at Byrd Droppings writes political commentary at her site, but also throws in some personal thoughts and preferences (like ‘The Amazing Race’ updates).

Jayson Javitz writes Political Vice Squad for two main purposes: Nailing Liberals and observing Economics. He does both exceedingly well.

Along those same political lines, it’s no surprise I would link to Right Wing News for its links and conservative persoctive, and to Ankle Biting Pundits (formerly Crush Kerry) for its daily evisceration of Liberal excuses and conduct. They’re both funny, on-target, and insightful.

I also like blogs which think along the same lines as I do. That includes Daddy Pundit, Mover Mike, Radio BS and Kitty Litter, as well as Viking Pundit. We’re not clones of each other though, as each possesses its own character and identity. Visit each and you’ll see what I mean.

Other sites have earned my respect through constant levels of quality. That’s why I link to Real Clear Politics, Cold Hearted Truth, and Election Projection. Each of these three provided access to information I found reliable and fascinating throughout the 2004 Campaign.

I also link to sites you won’t find anywhere else, like Blog Houston Net, which covers Houston issues, Dinocrat, which examines the lunacy of the modern Democratic Party leadership, along with other political insight, Passion For Fairness, which examines the hypocrisy in Hollywood and it’s vapid dismissal of religious Americans’ opinions and values through the "Passion of the Christ" controversy, Mission Mind, which examines the intersection of politics and faith, and Gay Patriot, an insightful and well-documented site which, in the process of reviewing politics and news, blows away many preconceptions about the gay perspective and the identity of modern Conservatives.

Finally, I finish with three writers I greatly admire. I’d say I want to be like them when I grow up, but as I’m coming up on 45, that’s not quite the right phrase. Instead, I would say that as I develop this blog, I hope to bring it up someday to their level of acumen and intelligence.

Those begin with Betsy’s Page, which not only covers news and politics, but includes historical and cultural insights that are unique and superior to almost anything else out there.

The next is David Limbaugh, whose rhetorical and reasoning skills are certainly the equal (or better) of his more famous brother, but who understands blogs and the New Media to a much greater degree and depth than Rush does.

And last in note here but first in rank, is the absolute top-notch blog for history and perspective I read regularly, Bill Roggio’s The Fourth Rail. Bill not only understands his subjects well, and writes with precision and insight, he is very,very good at making the topic accessible and interesting to the reader.

There they are, and not a mediocre one in the bunch. If you haven’t tried them out, I truly recommend them to you. And as always, thanks for visiting Stolen Thunder, and for your comments.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Congress, Incorporated

Have you ever tried to call one of those "Customer Service" lines of a major corporation? We've all heard the caricature, the long wait on hold, the mechanical voice assuring you that "your call is very important to us - please continue to hold", and the uncaring attendant who finally answers the call, with a dice roll as to whether you'll get your problem solved. It seems to me, that's one of the big image problems of Corporations - they may care a great deal about their customers, but many give out signals that they couldn't care less. I'm getting those same signals from Congress.

For the curious, I'm starting to get back some of the auto-reply responses these guys have loaded onto their systems, and it's interesting the types I'm seeing. I will go into a deeper analysis of this when I think everyone's had a fair chance to acknowledge the receipt of the questionnaire. (note - when I refer to 'Congressmen' here, I mean both men and women, and both houses of Congress, for simplicity)

Auto-replies are form letters by definition, but some of the Congressmen have put more thought into their replies than others. Standard information is the 'I value your input' promise, the direction to the Congressman's web site, and a reminder to provide specific contact information, so the Congressman can "personally" respond. The form varies somewhat, but it provides a starting point for the Politician's arguments.

First, the question remains open as to who will actually answer the questions. It's quite valid, actually, for Congressmen to suggest a querant check out his web site, so I will also be checking out all the websites to see if the readers' questions were covered. Also, I understand the desire to attend to the constituents' need as a primary responsibility, but there are good reasons why I sent this poll out. First, while Congressmen believe they are answerable only to their district or state, if you take a look at the checks you get, you may be surprised to discover you are an employee of the Federal government, and as such are answerable to the nation as a whole. Also, since the overwhelming majority of Congressmen belong to one of the national parties, that 'national' aspect of their thinking and votes is reinforced. Also, from the response of our readers to their opinion of Congress, it sure sounds to me like the constituents do not feel that they are heard. There is not one state or district where a reader claimed to be satisfied with the attention Congress gives to voter concerns. So while this was my project, it was spurred by an intense dissatisfaction of Congress by the voters. That's a problem, I dare to say, that Congress needs to address. So, if by chance you are a Congressman or Senator, work for one or know one, you might suggest they answer the poll. Your people are watching, and there will be grades.

Anyway, back to the auto-replies. Some of them are really telling.

Richard Durbin (D-IL) has an e-mail address, but the auto-reply says it's "no longer active". The writer is directed to go through his Congressional web site, which screens out non-constituents.

Tom Allen (D-Me) states "Due to the amount of mail I receive, I regret that I am only able to respond to mail from the state of Maine". Bearing in mind the unlimited franking privilege, this is not at all reasonable, but I suspect will be a common excuse.

Tom Latham (R-Io) is a bit more courteous. He says "if you are not a resident of Iowa's Fourth Congressional District, I still appreciate reading your comments. You may also want to contact your own Member of Congress." I will be interested to see if many more Congressmen show this kind of class.

Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wi) is downright curt: "If you are not a constituent, please note that your communication has been received and recorded". Gee, if that doesn't sound like a 'File 13' promise, I don't know what it is!

Jeff Flake (R-Oh) actually reads like a real person wrote the mail, but he still mentions "I am unable to respond to individuals who do not reside in Ohio's 13th Congressional District"

French Waiter's Syndrome, that : "Zaat is not my table, monsieur"

A lot of attention has been focused on Arlen Specter (R-Pa). Arlen is very organized in his mail: "By following these simple steps, you will help me respond to your concerns in a more prompt and efficient manner."

Efficient, no doubt, but it won't be Senator Specter who responds. The "simple steps" which followed that statement, were directions to other offices and services, and what couldn't be shuffled off to someone else, was directed to the senator's staff. In no case, it appears, is anything an ordinary person says or does of concern sufficient to involve the personal attention of the Senator.

Others are downright cute - Vito Fossella (R-NY) directs his constituents to "contact my office" by telephone (apparently, there is something wrong with mail and e-mail where the Congressman is concerned), and says "If you live outside the 13th Congressional District, my office will be happy to forward you [sic] thoughts and concerns to the Member who represents you." Geez, sounds like this guy took lessons from Gotti!

So there's your first look at the auto-responses. Granted, none of these is the final answer from any of these guys, but they do set a tone.

Congress has become essentially a corporation, and not one which really feels pressured to take care of its clients and shareholders. I wonder if these suits on the Hill realize that this time, the results will be published nationwide, and won't end with just one try at contact, and will not be satisfied with the 'business as usual' attitude these responses are sending. We will be following up, me and others already warming to the call, and those grades will be there when these guys come up for their re-election campaigns.

Message to the Hill - You're answerable for a lot, folks, and the old days of a few appearances on 'Meet The Press' are gone. It's not just me, and it's not just this site, and it's not one party or one time or one complaint.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Money For Nothing

Imagine getting a job where the conditions are the following:

* Six-figure base salary
* Dozens of people work for you, doing everything for you but make a few speeches when a TV crew is nearby, so you can get your face time
* Tens of thousands more each year to spend on your office, personal expenses, and postage
* You have to apply for your job again every so often, but once in, there's historically a 97% chance you get to keep the job
* An unbelievable number of people will offer an unbelievable amount of money to advertise how great you are, and to help you (as historically is the case) leave your job much, much wealthier than your salary can explain
* Oh yeah, you also get to ignore the people you're supposed to be working for

In 1997, former Wahington Post report Ronald Kessler published a book called "Inside Congress". It was not very complimentary about Representatives and Senators, but it was pretty well-documented. Adultery, Bribery, Character Assassination, Duplicity, there's a whole alphabet of nasty things to say about Congress.

Why bring all this up? Because I sent out a letter yesterday to the whole bunch of 'em, excepting those who don't have valid e-mail addresses (I'm sending faxes to those, and should have those out by Tuesday of nest week). The readers over at Polipundit came up with the questions, and boted the 20 faves for the letter. The questions are pretty balanced, I think, and we'll get a good idea of how Congress thinks, and how responsible they feel to the nation. At worst, we'll confirm the past has not really changed. That would explain why Clinton couldn't get much done when he enjoyed Democrat majorities in both houses of Congress, and why Dubya may have trouble with clear GOP advantages this time around.

But, just maybe, we can find out that there are some good guys around, some elected officials who realize that as Federal officials, their duty is to the nation, all of us, and this is a chance for them to show the boss that they are clear about their mission.

There is a 3rd possibility, as well. From the auto-responses sent by the offices so far, I see a lot of presumption on the Congressman/Senator's part - an arrogant assumption that they owe nothing at all to people outside their district/state, and little more to the ones who are their territorial constituents. If this is the case, I have every intention of shaming their egos, if I can get the blogosphere rallied. They can ( and certanly will ) ignore one presumptuous blogger, but there is a force here I don't think Congress has learned, and it may be time for a lesson.

For now, I sit and wait. And I send out faxes to Congressmen who think they owe no accounting of themselves, if their websites are any indication.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Calling Congress - Is Anyone Listening?

CALLING CONGRESS (and President Bush)

Tonight, I will be sending out the largest group e-mail I have ever attempted, and one which may well be ignored by most of the recipients. For all that, I am hopeful and believe that the letter may provide a good look into the opinions of Americans held by the people elected to represent them, and at least in theory, who answer to the people.

The letter reads as follows:


My name is DJ Drummond, and I write for the political blog, which collected more than four million visits during 2004. Our nationwide readers have expressed an interest in the opinions and ideals of the 109th Congress, and we accordingly forward this twenty-item questionnaire to your office for your attention.

We realize that elected officials feel their strongest loyalty to their constituents, but our national audience wants to read the perspectives from all of Congress, and we will also note the level of response received from the Representatives’ and Senator’s offices. as well as which party responded in greater portion, and which Representatives and Senators responded first and in greatest detail . The 20-question format was selected to provide ease of response, and the questions were suggested by our readers, then voted on to select the favorites. Your answers will not only provide an overview of Congressional opinion, but will also address the most pressing questions of politically curious voters.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this poll. The responses will be collected and organized as they come in, and the results will be published on on Monday, February 7.

The questions are as follows:

1. Should photo ID cards be required in order to vote?

2. What will you do to secure our borders from illegal immigrants and/or terrorists?

3. Is there a better solution to Middle East turmoil, than the establishment or promotion of freely elected democratic republics? Why or why not?

4. What are your intentions regarding Tort Reform?

5. If you could write an Amendment to the Constitution and know it would pass and be ratified, what would that Amendment be?

6. What specific measures would you recommend to protect Social Security for coming generations?

7. Where do you stand on eliminating the income tax and SSI tax and replacing them with a national consumption tax?

8. What will you do to ensure the integrity of the voting system?

9. What are the limits to judicial authority?

10. Given that many states give equal treatment U.S. citizens, legal aliens and illegal aliens, just what does it mean to be a U.S. citizen (besides not being hassled by INS) ?

11. Should undocumented aliens have the ability to get legal drivers licenses?

12. What is your first proposal to balance the Federal Budget?

13. What is your proposal for lowering the National Debt?

14. Confidence in the validity of elections has fallen sharply in some places. What would you recommend to repair and rebuild that confidence?

15. What are the limits to the authority of the Federal Government?

16. Do you believe the continued existence of a central bank (the Federal Reserve) that issues fiat money is in the best interests of the U.S.?

17. What actions do you support for education reform?

18. Should judicial nominees be guaranteed a “yes or no” vote in Committee? Why or why not?

19. What should our short and long term strategies be in Iraq?

20. What should the United States’ relationship be with the United Nations?

The writers at Polipundit, and all our readers, look forward to your responses.
Cordially yours,

DJ Drummond, Staff Writer"

Well, in a couple weeks we’ll know a bit more about the American Democratic Republic, and the Jesters’ Court we call Congress. I rather suspect the White House will win this race, too.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


A week ago today, Right Wing News honored "Stolen Thunder" as its Website of the Day.

Partly because I was in the middle of the "Blog Identity" series, and partly because I thought it might be cool to send thanks when they weren't expecting it, I am noting that honor now.

If you are a fan of Reaganite thinking and Sanity, and for some reason have not been there already, go visit Right Wing News today. John Hawkins works hard on his blog, and it shows in the results. Here, you might get a contribution from my daughter Jagan, who increasingly thinks of the computer as part of her domain (she didn't care about it until she found out about the Blues Clues and Lizzy Maguire CD-ROM games she can play on it).

Image versus Fact

I was driving to work this morning, and as usual was listening to the radio, one which took pride in bragging about its traffic reports. Suddenly the traffic slowed, and came to a complete stop. There had been nothing about a problem with the traffic, so I was puzzled.

About 20 minutes later, we had crawled ahead enough, that I could see the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles. Another 15, and we finally got past. Some fifteen minutes after that, the radio station finally got around to mentioning the accident, long after the news lost any possible use for me and the drivers who had already been forced to wait. That inability to provide any useful service did not, however, prevent the radio station from bragging, once again, on how "fast" their response was, and how drivers could count on them.

It occurs to me, that this is how the Old Media works. They will promise and brag about themselves, never realizing that people will figure out they aren't up to their egos. In the case of the news, bloggers are correcting the exaggerations and outright lies. Hopefully, one day they'll even have radio stations with traffic reports that can actually be worth something. In the meantime, for those of you familiar with Houston radio, don't believe the traffic reports on either KPRC or KTRH; they simply aren't bothering to get it done right. Trust them, and you can plan on sucking exhaust for a while.


Monday, January 24, 2005

Party Players

I'm reading Craig Shirley's excellent account of the 1976 GOP Primaries and a window into the mind and spirit of Ronald Reagan. The book is entitled "Reagan's Revolution", and I can tell you already, it's going to be one of those books I highlight and dog-ear for reference again and again. My wife is already jealous of the book, because I'm giving it more attention than her (yeah, I'm working on improving that point). But the book also reminds me of a point too many political analysts forget,and which leads the unwary into naive assumptions; there are not two major political parties in the United States of America, but six.

Instead of clever graphs, detailed psychological consideration into the effects of events and figureheads, all you really need to do is just consider the six basic touchstones available to voters:

Party Leader

Party Loyalist

Empire Builder




There are certain qualities which we have been brought up to attach to certain parties and groups, and there are certain qualities which are seen as limited to a certain type of mind. It occurs to me that most qualities exist in a sort of spectrum, with extremes on either end, and most of us just looking for the most pragmatic blend.

For example, I'm wordy as all get-out. That's my bad trait, insofar as I simply will not shut up. If you lock me in a room with a dog, I will start talking to the dog. If you give me a computer, I will blog. If you let me have paper and time and word processor, I will write. But, on the flip side, I am very good at making sure to communicate to people. My employees have never complained that I didn't tell them something they needed to know, or that I was not available for feedback and requests. A lot of us are like that I think; our worst flaw is also our best talent, if we can use it correctly.

The same thing happens with these traits. There needs to be a consensus about party leadership, for instance - too many wanna-be chiefs, and the party is fractured. Empire builders are the parasites present in every party, but sometimes in the short term you have to deal with the fact they have real power and must be dealt with on some level to get work done. Coalitions can be great or stupid depending on what is being given up to reach an agreement. A certain amount of Idealism is fine, but can't be taken to the extreme to deny or evade the real needs of people. And so on.

In Craig Shirley's book, part of the Reagan Revolution was simply the matter of Republicans deciding their identity and mission; the combination of accepting Reagan's Leadership and values for the GOP in whole, along with party unity, consensus on tactics for the sake of mission, and pragmatic Idealism.

Well, here we are in 2005, and the same challenge confronts the Republicans again. From time to time, the Republicans and Democrats have had to renew their mission and purpose; that's why they have managed to not die out as political parties usually do. The Democrats under Andy Jackson were different from the Democrats under James Buchanan, were different from the Democrats under Grover Cleveland, were different from the Democrats under FDR, were different from the Democrats under JFK, were different from the Democrats under Clinton. And similarly, the Republicans under Lincoln were different from the Republicans under Hayes, were different from the Republicans under Teddy Roosevelt, were different from the Republicans under Hoover, were different from the Republicans under Reagan, were different from today's Republicans. Different conditions, different crises, different dreams, different missions.

Any basic understanding of the players in our present day politics, depends on knowing their true allegiance.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Candidates Speak Again


Salt, Light, and Aim

I was listening to my pastor drone on today in another sermon suited for first-graders. He was going on about Christians being the Salt of the world, and being a City on a Hill. This sermon followed an earlier one on the Beatitudes, and it had its virtues. I don’t mean to insult the good Reverend, he covered the basics, which is always wise every so often, and standard routine for any pastor these days; we Christians are quick to forget the basics in too many cases. But I couldn’t help but wonder, if some of the problems Christians are having in dealing with other faiths and the secularists and atheists, hasn’t come about precisely because we’re always encouraged to be ‘salt and light’, without any real focus and direction on how we go about it.

Maybe I shouldn’t call the sermon suited for first-graders, but I heard so many things today that I have heard before, without so many things that could have been used to take the lesson to the next level. While it’s true, as the Reverend mentioned, that sale was considered as valuable as money, and was used to not only enhance the flavor of food, but also to preserve it against spoilage, it is also true that too much salt completely spoils the meal, and can make people violently ill. In fact, over the course of a lifetime, too much sale can cause heart trouble. Salt can be good or bad.

Same thing about light. Jesus’ phrase about a ‘city on a hill’ is certanly pretty and poetic; President Reagan used that phrase to good effect. And it’s really hard to imagine life as we know it, without light whenever we need it. But anyone who’s ever had to drive with someone using their bright headlights coming the other way knows, something that can be too much. A house in Virginia last year was ordered by a Federal judge to turn off his Christmas lights, not because of religious issues, but because the lights were so numerous and bright, that the FAA had filed a complaint that the house lights were diverting commercial air traffic. There is such a thing, as too much of a good thing, and the need for focus and direction is very real.

Why am I making a big deal about this? Because of James Dobson’s controversy this past week. Dobson was making the very valid point, that educators should not be promoting any sort of sexual ethics to elementary school kids, nor allowing advocacy groups to promote their agenda with the school’s support. But Dobson failed to realize that his own advocacy would be an issue if he allowed it to be seen that way, which is what happened. Too much salt, Dr.Dobson.

Christians, especially evangelical Christians, need to consider their method, and especially their focus. Just my thought for the day.