Franken Loses on Absentee Ballots — For Now

Minnesota’s state Canvassing Board refused the Franken campaign’s request to count rejected absentee ballots in the Senate race, but — and this is key — they did not rule on the merits of his claim. They only said that it was a matter to be decided by the courts. So in other words, no matter what the final recount numbers show next week, we’ll still have a protracted legal fight over these absentee ballots, and that’s not even taking into account the thousands of challenged ballots by both campaigns that still need to be ruled on by the Canvassing Board.

Defining Libertarianism Down

Shorter Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch: Government regulation and spending may be out of control, but we’re all libertarians now because we have Facebook, online dating, and diverse coffee options!

This means that when Obama-Daschle bring socialized medicine to America, I’ll still get to order a chai latte and update my Facebook status to read: “We’re screwed!”

Live From Minnesota

For those who are anxiously following the Minnesota senate race, today’s hearing on whether to accept rejected absentee ballots is being held this morning, from 9:30-11:30 am CT, and you can watch the proceedings here.

New Deputy SoS Candidate Steinberg Proposed League of Democracies-Type Org

One of the ideas that John McCain had during the campaign, which he spoke of intermittently but that never received much attention, was the concept of some sort of League of Democracies as an adjunct to the existing international system. As it turns out, James Steinberg, reportedly the man being tapped as Hillary Clinton’s deputy at the Department of State, proposed something similar in a Los Angeles Times op-ed he co-authored in 2005.

Steinberg declared that, “It would be unfortunate if President Bush’s doctrine of preemption were a casualty of the Iraq war.”

The problem, Steinberg argued, is not the concept of preemtive war itself, but of unilateralism:

When states fail to meet their responsibilities, the international community will need to step in. Diplomacy and economic pressure are frequently sufficient to do the job. But there will be times when limited military action will be the only effective way to obviate an imminent threat — before, say, a state produces enough fissile material to make nuclear weapons or before terrorists are fully able to hatch their plots. One problem with the Bush doctrine, then, is not that it is overly reliant on preventive force but that it too narrowly conceives of its use, primarily to deal with terrorism and to remove threatening regimes.

The Bush doctrine’s other problem is that it insists that individual states, or at least the United States, must have the right to decide when preventive force is justified, even though the threat affects the security of many. The decision to use force in these cases cannot be one state’s alone.

Of course, if preemtive action is deemed necessary to retard or eliminate a threat to America’s national security, and other nations won’t go along with such action, should such action be ruled out? In other words, does all possible U.S. military action need to meet John Kerry’s infamous “global test”?

Steinberg goes on to write that the U.N. Security Council is undependable, and that while regional networks such as NATO are more reliable (see Kosovo as the model), global challenges often are beyond their scope. He then proposes:

Which leaves the alternative of creating a coalition of like-minded states. One such coalition could be composed of democracies, because democracies should have an interest in upholding the norm of state responsibility. Because these governments are elected, their collective decision to use force would carry more legitimacy than a decision of any one of them. And if it proved impossible to convince any or most of the coalition’s democratic peers that a state had failed to meet its responsibilities and that intervention was therefore justified, that outcome in and of itself should give pause about proceeding. Iraq was a case in point. Finally, the existence of an alternative decision-making body may prompt the Security Council or a regional organization to act sooner.

Obama Maintains Gates

In a nod toward bipartisanship, Obama has reportedly decided to keep Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense, at least in the near term.

The NY Times also reports:

The developments came as Mr. Obama prepared to begin unveiling his national security team after the long Thanksgiving weekend. Besides formally announcing his nomination of Mrs. Clinton as secretary of state, Mr. Obama was expected to appoint Gen. James L. Jones, a retired Marine commandant and NATO supreme commander, as his national security adviser.

Other front-runners have emerged in recent days, including Adm. Dennis Blair, retired from the Navy, for director of national intelligence; Susan E. Rice, a former assistant secretary of state, for ambassador to the United Nations; James B. Steinberg, a former deputy national security adviser, for deputy secretary of state; and Thomas E. Donilon, a former chief of staff at the State Department, for deputy national security adviser.

The Minnesota Circus

Earlier today, I spoke to several Norm Coleman campaign representatives to get their perspective on the ongoing recount. Here are some of the things they emphasized:

— They believed the current margin was somewhere in the middle of the 160 to 211 vote range.

— They were confident that Franken did not make the gains he should have in the highly Democratic and populated Hennepin, Ramsey, and St. Louis counties. They said they were basing this claim on the hard count, not on the fact that Coleman challenges were removing more votes from the Franken stack.

— Tomorrow, they said they anticpate a “circus” as there is a hearing before the state Canvassing Board, which will rule on whether to count up to 6,400 rejected absentee ballots. They said they anticipate that the Board will rule that the ballots will not be counted, and that the Franken campaign will eventually pursue further legal action on this matter.

— “I have never seen the intensity in terms of upsetting the apple cart than I have seen on the Franken side,” said one representative. “They are pulling out all the stops.”

— There is a chance that the Democratic Senate could get involved, by either declaring the seat vacant, or having Coleman appointed on a provisional basis, one official posited.

The Star Tribune has more from the Franken camp, including their charges of missing ballots and contention that the real margin is only 84 votes.

Obama Praised Daschle’s Federal Health Board Idea

Barack Obama said earlier this year that Tom Daschle’s idea of creating a Federal Health Board (modeled after the Federal Reserve) to manage the nation’s medical system showed “great promise.”

“The American health care system is in crisis, and workable solutions have been blocked for years by deeply entrenched ideological divisions,” Obama wrote in a blurb on the back of Daschle’s book, Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis. “Sen. Daschle brings fresh thinking to this problem, and his Federal Reserve for Health concept holds great promise for bridging this intellectual chasm and, at long last, giving this nation the health care it deserves.”

Now that Daschle is expected to shepard Obama’s health care plan through Congress as Secretary of Health and Human Services this takes on an added importance.

Here’s how Daschle described the idea in his book:

“Like the Federal Reserve, the Federal Health Board would be composed of highly independent experts insulated from politics. Congress and the White House would relinquish some of their health-policy decisions to it. For example, a shift to a more effective drug service would be accomplished without an act of Congress or the White House.”

However benign Daschle tries to make the idea sound, just as, over time, the power of the Federal Reserve grew dramatically beyond its original intentions (ironically, the more it messed up, the more power it got) its easy to see the Federal Health Board morph into an all-powerful entity dictating every aspect of health policy over time, with limited oversight, as America marches toward a socialized system. This is a scary thought, and it’s at the heart of Daschle’s health-care policy vision, which President-elect Obama is sympathetic to.

King Paulson Speaks

Our Dear Leader, Hank Paulson, just wrapped up a press conference on the financial crisis. He said it would be “much worse” if Congress didn’t give him $700 billion to unclog credit markets by purchasing troubled mortgage assets, er, spend however he wants and make stuff up as he goes along.

The State of the Senate Update

In Minnesota, Norm Coleman’s lead has grown back to 210 votes. (At the start of the recount process, Coleman was up 215 votes, but during the recount Franken had narrowed the gap to as low as 120.) The catch is that, with 77 percent of the recount in, the campaigns have challenged more than 3,000 ballots, so it’s hard to say for sure who is gaining or losing votes. Nate Silver has done some statistical work suggesting that Franken’s gains have been understated, and that actually he’s the favorite to win. His analysis is based on the idea that Franken has gained in counties in which there are either no challenges or few challenges, and that Coleman’s gap widened as challenges increased dramatically. But I’d take a bit different of an approach. If Coleman’s lead stays in the 200 vote range, it would seem difficult for Franken to gain that many votes in a universe of just a few thousand challenged ballots. Keep in mind that these ballots have already been ruled on once by an elections judge, so you’d have to assume that an overwhelming majority of the challenges will fail, and right now the campaigns are challenging roughly the same number of ballots. So, if Coleman maintains his current margin as the Canvassing Board meets to rule on the challenged ballots, I think he’d be an pretty good position.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, Saxby Chambliss looks like he has the edge in next week’s run-off, with a new PPP poll showing him crossing the magic 50-percent number with a 52-46 lead. An internal Democratic poll shows Chambliss below 50 percent, but still leading 48-46. I would add that the final PPP poll prior to the election showed Chambliss with a 48-46 lead, and he ended up winning the initial vote by a 49.8-46.8 margin. So in other words, the poll didn’t skew Republican. I continue to believe that without Obama on the ballot, Martin won’t benefit from super-sized black turnout, and that the state’s traditional voting universe favors Chambliss.

“What’s the Worst That Can Happen?” Revisited

I spent the election doing a lot of spectualting over whether Obama would merely be a center-left president in the Clinton mold — i.e., one who enjoys short-term political success while failing to seriously advance liberalism — or whether he would actually be a transformational liberal leader who creates enduring big government institutions a la FDR and LBJ. Having been able to take a look at some of his early appoints, right now, it’s looking more and more like the Clinton model. As Jim noted, there is already growling among the left because Obama has steered clear of radical progressive appointments thus far. Also, while what we know of the economic stimulus package thus far should be disconcerting to conservatives — a $500-$700 billion price tag, plenty of room for pork in infastructure and environmental handouts — none of it seems to be creating any lasting institutions that will be with us when the economy recovers, and/or irreversible during any future conservative administration. Obama also left open the possibliity that he wouldn’t raise taxes on those making over $250,000 until the tax cuts are set to expire in 2011. With that said, there are clear long-term threats to the free market, with the most troubling on regulation and health care. Given that the ultimate cost of the bailouts will be in the trillions of dollars, and government will end up with huge stakes in banking, insurance, and the housing market, it’s inevitable that we’ll end up with a massive increase in regulation. Furthermore, Daschle’s appointment to HHS signals that Obama is serious about creating universal health care, and the former Senate majority leader’s keen understanding of the legislative process makes this a real possibility.