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Solitaire and sports on the statehouse floor

September 06, 2009|Andrew Malcolm, Johanna Neuman and Mark Milian

Everybody knows how intellectually and physically demanding it is to be an elected official in modern times.

You have to ask for people's money to ask for people's votes regularly.

You have to spend other people's money all the time.

You must thoroughly listen to long legislative debates and important discussions.

You must get yelled at in town hall meetings.

You must look like you're working and paying attention when, in fact, you aren't.

Check out the computer screens of these Connecticut House members (photo right) as a colleague speaks passionately about something or other on the budget Aug. 31.

Now, about banning photographers from the House floor. . . .

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Dick Cheney for president in 2012?

When George W. Bush selected Dick Cheney to be his running mate in 2000, some political observers thought it was a smart move.

After all, Cheney had cut his political teeth working for the candidate's father and had already endured several heart attacks. So, the thinking went, the 60-year-old Cheney would not be a political rival staging occasional rear-action insurrections, just a steadying veteran hand.

Right. In fact Cheney became the most powerful vice president in history, and Barton Gellman says in his book "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency" that Cheney did most of the steering in George W. Bush's first term.

Now, nine years later, having survived heart seizures and eight years in the Bush administration, Cheney has emerged as an energizing force in Republican politics, becoming the most outspoken Bush-era critic of the Obama administration.

Although the former president maintains a dignified public silence about his views, his former vice president has turned into a media pit bull -- accusing the new president of putting the country at risk by closing the Guantanamo Bay prison and banning torture, and accusing Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. of politicizing the fight against terrorism by investigating CIA interrogators.

On Aug. 31, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs let him have it, accusing the former vice president of getting his facts wrong, of "the same song and dance we've heard almost from the first day."

Now comes James Taranto, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, who is suggesting that Cheney would be a terrific presidential candidate in 2012.

If national security emerges as the key issue in the election, he says, "Republicans would be wise to nominate someone with both toughness and experience. Under such circumstances, it's hard to think of a better candidate -- assuming, of course, that he could be persuaded to run -- than Richard B. Cheney."

The calculus: If the Afghanistan war worsens, it will become Obama's war. And if terrorists attack this country again, a fierce voice on national security might have a chance. Plus, Cheney is writing his memoirs, a sure route to the presidency.

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Twitter 101: Univ class abt Tweets

This fall, some DePaul University students will learn how to report news in 140 characters or less, thanks to a new class centered on Twitter, which --

Oops. We went over.

Of course, brevity will be only one of the many lessons the Chicago journalism students will get as they follow politics and politicians on the booming social network.

Last year's presidential election gave Twitter a chance to shine as "both a feedback mechanism and organizational tool," inspiring the course's instructor, Craig Kanalley, to join the service.

That's what he wrote in an old-fashioned e-mail. Naturally, the subject of politics will be a recurring theme in the class.

Kanalley founded the website Breaking Tweets, which bills itself as "world news, Twitter style."

President Obama's inauguration "gave me the idea for Breaking Tweets, chronicling major events around the world through citizen reports from the scene," Kanalley wrote.

A valuable use for plugged-in journalists on the Hill, Kanalley wrote, is to keep tabs on members of Congress and officials by following Twitter accounts of those on their beats.

Reporters can then get crucial alerts from sources about, for example, when Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) is celebrating his wedding anniversary or when Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) goes surfing. (Find out which beach, and you've got yourself an exclusive interview, Cub Scout!)

This new medium has a potential stumbling block, however. "It's important to verify that it's really them, and even then, you have to be careful attributing words to them because the updates could be from campaign staffers," Kanalley wrote.

Making the work easier for students, Twitter has begun verifying account holders and placing badges on the pages of some public figures.

One unanswered question: How many characters in each class lecture?

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andrew malcolm@latimes.com

mark.milian@latimes.com

Top of the Ticket, The Times' blog on national politics ( ), is a blend of commentary, analysis and news. These are selections from the last week.

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