As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, January 13, 2006


They're starting to fall in the GOP Congressional Caucus. First Tom DeLay ends his quixotic bid to regain the Leadership, and now Bob Ney's being told to step down:

Embattled Ohio Republican Bob Ney is in talks with House Speaker Dennis Hastert about resigning his chairmanship of the House Administration Committee, a senior House GOP aide told The Associated Press on Friday.

Ney has been linked to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and has denied wrongdoing in the burgeoning scandal. But he is facing the loss of his chairmanship as House Republicans seek to implement an ambitious lobbying reform agenda, much of which would pass through his committee.

"There have been ongoing discussions between Speaker Hastert and Rep. Ney about his role as chairman of the House Administration Committee," said Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean.

Ney is all but mentioned in the Abramoff plea agreement. He'd shouldn't worry about resisting dropping his chairmanship; he should worry about resisting arrest.

But these drips of the faucet aren't going to stop. One by one the Justice Department will scoop up one Congressman after another. There's no way to stop the bleeding politically. Abramoff's flipped, and this is now a legal matter. Those bricks you see on the Capitol steps were left by the Republicans that shit them.

p.s. It's a separate issue, but if he did something wrong, Democrat Bill Jefferson needs to go as well. Corruption is not a partisan issue. I refuse to defend those who work against honesty and integrity in government, regardless of party.

Jefferson, you might remember, is the guy that commandeered a boat during Hurricane Katrina rescue efforts so he could enter his house and get rid of a bunch of documents.


The Outsourcing Blues

So now we have a Democratic Senator of a rapidly emerging purple state deciding that laying off American workers is a great thing:

U.S. Senator Max Baucus, the top Democrat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, said Friday he supports the outsourcing of white-collar jobs to low-wage countries such as India - a position at odds with his party's traditional stance on the issue.

Baucus insisted a majority of fellow Senate Democrats agreed with him, despite the party's longtime opposition to American companies moving jobs overseas.

"Everybody is concerned about job losses and so am I," he told The Associated Press in an interview in Bangalore, his first stop on an five-day tour of India.

"But the world is flat and we must work harder to better retrain our people," rather than resist outsourcing, he said. "Offshoring is a fact of globalization. Opportunities for U.S. companies come from everywhere - including India."

Of all the books to read, Baucus had to pick up Tom Friedman's. Ugh.

I have no doubt that Washington Democrats agree with him on this. I could give them the addresses and phone numbers of about 20 million workers that disagree. The world is flat because we flattened our own manufacturing base. We did it knowingly and willingly. We were eager to keep multinational corporations besotted with cheap labor, and we thought we could lift up the world from poverty by giving them our cheap manufacturing jobs. Didn't work out that way. Poor countries are still poor countries, only now they're being exploited by multinationals, who without government oversight can now offer slave wages with impunity. US manufacturing workers were never retrained, no matter what Baucus says about "working harder." We never gave a thought to incenting American companies to compete in America. Those companies that try it are penalized by soaring healthcare costs. We received nary a tax boost, a lightening to our aid burden overseas, really nothing. All we got was this lousy $1.98 T-shirt... that cost two cents to make.

When I say "we" I mean the whole government, by the way, Democrats and Republicans. In 1979 my father, a textile manufacturer, lobbied Congress on this very issue, and was told basically that the US was going to pull up stakes in their industry for the sake of world peace. Since then the world has been more violent than ever.

A country without a manufacturing base, a country that doesn't produce, that only consumes, will not be able to last economically. We're falling dangerously into that category.


Would Democrats Suffer From A Filibuster?

I really don't have an answer to whether or not Democrats SHOULD filibuster the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. I found his answers drenched in legalese, offering himself a way out of the answer almost universally. Confirmation hearings under direct questioning, in the post-Bork era, are probably the least likely source for real information about a nominee. It's great for political theater, like the "spontaneous tears" from the nominee's wife which were followed by an oh-so-timely press release:

The always-alert Creative Response Concepts, a conservative public relations firm, sent this bulletin: "Former Alito clerk Gary Rubman witnessed Mrs. Alito leaving her husband's confirmation in tears and is available for interviews, along with other former Alito clerks who know her personally and are very upset about this development."

In case that was too much trouble for the journalists, the firm also e-mailed out a statement from the Judicial Confirmation Network calling "for the abuse to stop."

...but for really getting to the bottom of a judicial nominee's fitness for the bench, not so much.

Clearly, Alito has the votes, albeit by the skin of his teeth, to make it through the Judiciary Committee and the full Senate. It's pretty clear, given the statements of most of the Republican "Gang of 14," that any attempt to filibuster will be met by the "changing the rules to break the rules" that lat year was called the nuclear option. There's no doubt in my mind, therefore, that Alito gets on the bench, one way or another.

What I want to look at is the political fallout from a filibuster. Democratic leaders are forever being framed as weak, ineffectual, unwilling to stand up for their principles. I don't know if there's a better opportunity to put forth party principles than in a Supreme Court nomination debate. You can do that without a filibuster, and you can draw distinctions and set up the game plan for future nominees and all the rest. But unless you're willing to pull the trigger, all the talk and debate will still be dismissed, in favor of the narrative of being weak and ineffectual. From a political standpoint the only way to counteract that is to stand on principle and say that "we won't accept a nominee who will move to upend our basic freedoms as Americans and subvert the government that has served us so well for 217 years."

What would the fallout from such an event look like? As I said, I think Bill Frist would immediately trigger the nuclear option. He has no choice; the theocratic right has the gun at his back. This would trigger a showdown in the Senate, and in a match between Harry Reid and Bill Frist, my money's on Reid. Anybody that writes this op-ed in Tom DeLay's hometown newspaper is a fighter:

In 1977, I was appointed chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. It was a difficult time for the gaming industry and Las Vegas, which were being overrun by organized crime. To that point in my life, I had served in the Nevada Assembly and even as lieutenant governor, but nothing prepared me for my fight with the mob.

Over the next few years, there would be threats on my life, bribes, FBI stings and even a car bomb placed in my family's station wagon. It was a terrifying experience, but at the end of the day, we cleaned up Las Vegas and ushered in a new era of responsibility.

My term on the gaming commission came to an end in 1981, and when it did, I thought I had seen such corruption for the last time. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. It is not quite the mafia of Las Vegas in the 1970s, but what is happening today in Washington is every bit as corrupt and the consequences for our country have been severe.

Our nation's capital has been overrun by organized crime — Tom DeLay-style.

Nobody frames the issue better than Harry Reid. And he's indicated his concern over the nominee. Once the nuclear option is triggered, however, Alito becomes irrelevant. The story is about changing the rules of the Senate to break the rules of the Senate. I'm certain Reid will frame it in this way, and follow through on the threat he has always maintained: that he will make it damn near impossible to govern if the Senate carries this out.

How would this affect the midterms? Exceedingly little, I would say. There are few if any incumbent Democratic seats in play (especially if Ben Nelson of Nebraska is allowed by the caucus to go his own way on this). The wingnut faction who votes on choice and religion will always be out there, but by and large the Supreme Court is not a major issue in most elections. If it was you would have heard more about it in 2004. The notion of the Senate changing their rules to accomodate a Bush nominee plays right into the "culture of corruption and cronyism" narrative that the Dems are clearly pushing this fall.

I honestly don't see much of a political disadvantage to a filibuster. If the nuclear option is triggered, suddenly 60 senators are no longer needed to get judicial nominees through. It may even DEPRESS theocrat turnout, since you could no longer say "we need to get to 60." And it would portray Democrats as willing to stand up, willing to show a backbone, willing to fight.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

They Picked the Wrong Week to Keep Me Busy

"They" meaning my employer... but alas, they have, leaving me pretty much no time to blog. I'll quickly link to Billmon's vivisection of the "Jack Abramoff bipartisan scandal" Big Lie, but that'll be about it for today.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Shiite Bait and Switch

In the tense days leading up to the vote on Iraq's Constitution, the Shiites and Sunnis struck a "deal" wherein the two sides agreed to leave open the option to amend the Constitution in the future if the Sunnis would just vote for it now.

I wrote about this at the time:

So let me get this straight.  The deal on the Constitution is that they'll write another Constitution next year?

And that won't work, so they'll write ANOTHER Constitution that'll get voted on in '07, and then there's the 2008 Constitution, and the '09, and the 2010 (The Year We Make Constitution)...

This does nothing but prolong the inevitable; autonomous areas in the North and South, and a restive Sunni population in the middle.  Do you think for a second that, once given these powers, Shiites and Kurds will vote to have them TAKEN AWAY?  I don't think so...

These changes only suggest that there may be a way in the future to move Iraq away from a Shiite-dominated Islamic republic.  That doesn't pass the smell test.  These "promises" sound empty.  The Shiites could bottle changes up in committee, then plead that "we went through the democratic process and the changes were rejected."

Well, the Shiites don't even seem to be waiting for committee. They're essentially saying to the Sunnis, "we won, you lost, now shut up and get used to it!"

The leader of Iraq's most powerful party indicated today that his group would block substantive changes to the country's new constitution.

Last fall, as Sunni Arabs protested vehemently against the proposed constitution, the Shiite and Kurd leaders who dominated its drafting promised that a panel would be created which could recommend amendments during the four months following the formation of a new government.

Amendments would need a majority in Parliament to win approval, and the Sunni parties are certain to hold far fewer seats than that; moreover, the Shiites and Kurds did not bind themselves to lend their support to any specific change.

Still, the promise of a chance to seek changes was crucial in gaining support for the constitution from the largest Sunni party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, just before the October referendum.

But Abdul Azziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, the most influential group in the ruling Shiite coalition, appeared to pull back from any suggestion of significant change.

"The first principle is not to change the essence of the constitution," he said, during a speech in honor of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, news agencies reported. "The constitution was endorsed by the Iraqi people."

Mr. Hakim appeared to rule out in particular any change in the constitution's provisions allowing the creation of strong regional provinces, a point that had angered many Sunnis.

"It is our responsibility to form Baghdad provinces and southern Iraq provinces," Mr. Hakim said, news agencies reported.

Hakim alos blamed the US for inciting the insurgency, and lumped the Sunnis in with that effort.

This was the whole basis for the Constitution (narrowly) passing; some Sunnis would agree to support it if they were allowed to make changes once they had fuller representation. Now, the Sunnis are going to see that they were utterly used, the Shiites have shown themselves unwilling to compromise in any way, and the Kurds don't care as long as they get Kirkuk.

This is the true "turn the corner" moment in Iraq. It's going to get real real bad from here. Because the Sunnis, already disheartened by losing the Constitutional ratification, already frustrated by alleged fraud in the parliamentary elections, now see the ruling party pull back their promises to compromise. There can be no way to achieve their goals electorally, they must be thinking. There can be no way we can trust the Shiites, they must be thinking. Armed struggle must be the only way to get what we want, they must be thinking. And for their part, the Shiites aren't exactly disabusing them of that notion.

Everyone thinks Iraq is already in civil war, but as Juan Cole informs us, it can get a hell of a lot worse:

During the course of the guerrilla war, the daily number of dead has fluctuated, between about 20 and about 60. But in a real civil war, it could easily be 10 times that. Some estimates of the number of Afghans killed during their long set of civil wars put the number at 2.5 million, along with 5 million displaced abroad and more millions displaced internally. Iraq is Malibu Beach compared to Afghanistan in its darkest hours. The US has a responsibility to get out of Iraq responsibly and to not allow it to fall into that kind of genocidal civil conflict.

This kind of reneging on promises is likely to head us right into that genocidal direction.

(Hat tip: this Kos diary.)


They Never Asked for a License on the Set of T3!

Add "driving without a license" to the long list of malfeasance and embarrassments for America's most famous bad governor:

Sporting a split lip after his motorcycle collided with a car over the weekend, Arnold Schwarzenegger now may be headed for a run-in with the LAPD. The police say the governor was riding his Harley Davidson illegally -- without the proper license. The matter has been referred to the city attorney's office for a possible citation. California Highway Patrol always ride along with the governor. Apparently, they never checked.

Cut him some slack, maybe he was just showing solidarity with the illegal immigrants he has been denying licenses to for years.

Most important thing in the world? No. Speaks to Arnold's character and his sense that he's above the law? Absolutely. Like most Hollywood stars, he simply believes the rules don't apply to him. I was in a Starbucks recently in a particularly chi-chi section of Santa Monica, and the barrista mentioned her run-in with the Governor. He came in and ordered a bunch of coffees, and then seemed genuinely shocked when he was asked to pay. "But I'm the Governor!" he cried. He also had a problem with the idea of waiting his turn.

Again, this is not the end of the world, and I think Schwarzenegger himself could tout this as a campaign issue ("I'm a maverick!") if he wanted to. But the guy's an arrogant prick, above anything else. And his impending loss in November couldn't happen to a nicer guy.


Ten Percent

That's how much the average CEO is taking out of the company till (Via silence at Kos):

In the period from 2001 to 2003, top-executive compensation amounted to 9.8% of the companies' net income, almost double the 5% in 1993 to 1995.

Remember, during the ill-fated Social Security debate, when they talked about giving adminstrative functions to fund managers would "streamline" the process?

CEOs of those brokerage houses would get more Social Security money than current administrative costs, which are pennies on the dollar.

Barney Frank had an executive pay reform bill in committee, I'm not sure what's going on with it. But clearly 10% of income is a ridiculous amount of compensation, and few if any members of the public even know about this.


None Dare Speak Ill of Corrupty McJunketKing

A group produced an ad talking about Tom DeLay's connections to the Jack Abramoff scandal. Tom DeLay has threatened to sue any television station who runs the ad.

I wonder what Judge Alito's thoughts are on freedom of expression as contained in the First Amendment?

The cornered animal attacks, we've seen it time and time again in politics. Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, the Senator most closely tied to Abramoff, is trying to blame Democrats for the news reports in his state linking his name to the convicted lobbyist's. It wouldn't be the $150,000 he received from Abramoff, but those that MENTION it. I see.

Now DeLay's doing the same thing. And it's clear that threatening to sue just over MENTIONING the Abramoff scandal proves that they're all scared shitless, as well they should be.


How Do You Solve A Problem Like Alito?

(Admittedly, that pun would have been better with Scalia.)

We're again witnessing a runaround taking place at the Senate confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito. While more forthcoming that John Roberts (and he has to be, because there's so much case law for him to defend), Alito is still skillfully giving himself an out on a number of topics. Stare decisis (respecting precedent) is important but not inexorable; Roe is important law but not settled law; no man is above the law, and the President must follow the Constitution, but that doesn't settle the idea of inherent Constitutional powers (in other words, John Yoo and his crowd have tried to embed the shredding of the Bill of Rights and separation of powers WITHIN the law; Alito has said nothing on that). He acknowledged Presidential signing statements but said "I don't think the Supreme Court has dealt with them yet," a non-answer (considering he endorsed the practice 20 years ago).

Fair enough; it's nearly impossible to pin down a lawyer. The real concerns are the things Alito can't adequately explain, which speak to his character and integrity. He expressly stated in his Circuit Court hearings that he would recuse himself from any case involving the Vanguard Company; 12 years later, he ruled on a Vanguard case. His explanation was "I forgot." He wrote on his job application for the Justice Department in 1985 that he was a member of Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a conservative group that opposed equal access to women and blacks at the university. His explanation was "I forgot that I was part of it."

In addition, outside the hearing room, we've heard Alito's reverence for America's worst Supreme Court nominee, Robert Bork:

Aron: Do you think Robert Bork should have been confirmed?

Alito: I certainly thought he should have been confirmed. I think he was one of the most outstanding nominees of this century.

Aron: Why? How?

Alito: He is a man of unequaled intellectual ability, understanding of constitutional history, someone who had thought deeply throughout his entire life about constitutional issues and about the Supreme Court and the role that it ought to play in American society.

Robert Bork was a nutcase. He believed in an almost unlimited scope of Presidential power, rejected checks and balances, said the Constitution does not give "a right to procreation," would have struck down laws allowing contraceptive use among COUPLES, and was generally judged to be radically outside the judicial mainstream. That's high praise indeed from the current nominee.

All of these things make Alito a very troubling nominee IMO. But Democrats need to understand their position. Elections have consequences: it would have been wise to have started talking about "changing the ideological balance of the Court" before November 2004, if you thought voters would want the Court's balance to remain the same. I'm gonna wash my mouth out with soap for saying this, but Sam Brownback was right in saying that there is no guaranteed ideological status quo to the Supreme Court. A conservative replacing O'Connor is no different than Ruth Bader Ginsburg replacing the conservative Byron White. So that's not a proper argument for rejecting Alito.

What is important is that the Constitution is respected. That Presidential power is checked. That a man who belonged to what seems like a sexist and racist hate group doesn't get off by saying "I forgot." It's clear that Alito is a very conservative jurist, and would overturn many basic rights that a lot of Americans take for granted. There's such a thing as losing well, and short of a filibuster (on which I remain undecided) it's important for the Democrats to state why they object to Alito's judicial philosophy. It's part of defining difference between the two parties. The whole "all politicians are the same" canard is given creedence when Democrats lie down on the job and don't press their responsibility to define who they are and what they stand for. There's no better time to do that than in a Supreme Court nomination hearing.

UPDATE: BenGoshi makes an important point about Alito's penchant to take the decision-making process away from juries, even where there is reasonable doubt about the facts of cases. Now that's REAL judicial activism.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Counter-Reformation

Digby raises an excellent point (how many times have I said THAT?), but it'll take some Democrats to actually call bullshit for the public to understand.

There is simply no way the Republicans can reclaim the mantle of reform, given how mired in scandal they currently find themselves. However, that's never stopped them before. Already we've seen Newt Gingrich try to get out in front of this scandal, offering Tom DeLay's head on a platter and arguing for real reform. This is the same Newt Gingrich who was censured multiple times by the then-functional House ethics committee while serving as speaker. That he's the poster child for the anti-corruption brigade is laughable. And that he's allowed to get away with saying "people expect Democrats to be corrupt" is absurd. But when nobody calls him on this nonsense, it creates a narrative in voters' minds.

Then George Will comes along and says pretty much the same thing, essentially that the whole problem is big government, which automatically creates corrupt officials. Well, that's sounds like he's arguing for a return to the Clinton years, when the national debt was shrunk, budgets were balanced, and the size of government was streamlined. Certainly this faux-conservative-in-chief and his allies in Congress have presided over a tremendous government spending explosion (not to the poor and needy, mind you; to the rich and those who build weapons). This is the "get out of jail free" card conservatives always try to play. If a Democrat is nailed for corruption it's because they're a Democrat; if a Republican is nailed for corruption it's because of the government. Or because they weren't a "real" conservative. Anything but the fact staring you in the face - that it's because they're a Republican, and particularly a DeLay Republican.

You can't just say as a conservative that government is inherently corrupt, and then when you start taking money from every lobbyist in town, blame government and use that as an opportunity to shrink the size and effectiveness of government. It's a cop-out. The logical reasoning out of Will's mode of thinking is that conservatives OUGHT to be as corrupt as humanly possible, to PROVE that government is a corrupting influence. This brand of Republicans in power have nothing but contempt for government; OF COURSE they're going to run it like their own private playland. In fact, it strengthens their narrative when they are inevitably caught: "See, I TOLD you government was the problem!"

Well, somebody on the Democratic side of the aisle needs to explain this to the American people. Because already we see the GOP acting like they're the real reformers in the country, that they'll pass ethics legislation. The notion of this gang of crooks policing themselves is the ultimate in giving the fox the keys to the hen house, but the Democrats have to strongly suggest that this isn't just about corruption; it's about Republicanism. The "culture of corruption" meme is a good start, and I guess they're going to announce their own "Honest Leadership" plan. But the Republican Noise Machine is in full gear, and the Dems had better speak up before they get drowned out.


Deadline Day

Again, it'll be difficult for me to post. I'll try to get something up in the afternoon.

But if I have any advice for you, I'd say invest in gold:

China has resolved to shift some of its foreign exchange reserves -- now in excess of $800 billion -- away from the U.S. dollar and into other world currencies in a move likely to push down the value of the greenback, a high-level state economist who advises the nation's economic policymakers said in an interview Monday.

As China's manufacturing industries flood the world with cheap goods, the Chinese central bank has invested roughly three-fourths of its growing foreign currency reserves in U.S. Treasury bills and other dollar-denominated assets. The new policy reflects China's fears that too much of its savings is tied up in the dollar, a currency widely expected to drop in value as the U.S. trade and fiscal deficits climb.

This is what I've always feared. For almost the duration of the Bush presidency, China has basically been paying the US to buy their goods. They send tons of imports over here, and we send our debt over there. Worked good for both countries, for a while: We found a willing repository for our debt so we could continue to borrow and spend, and China got its manufacturers access to the US market and basically financed that industry's expansion. But it could never last forever: sooner or later China was going to wake up and say "This good be very very bad if the dollar tanks. Maybe we need to diversify."

Woe to us if this is anything more than a temporary shift.


Monday, January 09, 2006

The Most Useful of Idiots

Joe Klein, who's been consistently wrong since the day he was born, has another "hold your fire" column up on the Time website. His answer to everything is "hold your fire, Democrats." This guy would have thought Neville Chamberlain was being too aggressive with the Third Reich and needed to back off so he wouldn't alienate constituents of German origin.

This latest "hold your fire" column concerns the NSA illegal wiretapping story. He starts with this bit of nonsense:

The liberal reaction is also an understandable consequence of the Bush Administration's tendency to play fast and loose on issues of war and peace—rushing to war after overhyping the intelligence on Saddam Hussein's nuclear-weapons program, appearing to tolerate torture, keeping secret prisons in foreign countries and denying prisoners basic rights.

Appearing? APPEARING? Yeah, just like that guy in the photo appears to have shit on his back.

Then Klein goes completely to the crazy house by dismissing the rule of law and the separation of powers indiscriminantly. And makes shit up to do it:

At the very least, the Administration should have acted, with alacrity, to update the federal intelligence laws to include the powerful new technologies developed by the NSA.

But these concerns pale before the importance of the program. It would have been a scandal if the NSA had not been using these tools to track down the bad guys. There is evidence that the information harvested helped foil several plots and disrupt al-Qaeda operations.

There is also evidence, according to U.S. intelligence officials, that since the New York Times broke the story, the terrorists have modified their behavior, hampering our efforts to keep track of them—but also, on the plus side, hampering their ability to communicate with one another.

Not true at all, and this is from as right-wing a rag as they come:

The Bush administration's surveillance policy has failed to make a dent in the war against al Qaeda.

U.S. law enforcement sources said that more than four years of surveillance by the National Security Agency has failed to capture any high-level al Qaeda operative in the United States. They said al Qaeda insurgents have long stopped using the phones and even computers to relay messages. Instead, they employ couriers.

"They have been way ahead of us in communications security," a law enforcement source said. "At most, we have caught some riff-raff. But the heavies remain free and we believe some of them are in the United States."

Terrorists would have more of a reason to know US rules on monitoring communications than the average American. It would have been exceedingly easy for them to know that the government could get a secret warrant to spy on their phone calls and e-mails. They wouldn't care if it was legal or illegal. And clearly they changed their tactic well before the program was in place. You knew this was true when the only specific plot the White House claimed to thwart using this program was the guy who wanted to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge using a blowtorch. That would be an example of the "riff-raff" cited in the article.

As Digby writes,

But even if that were not true and American suicide bombers were plotting their next attacks in AOL chat rooms, the government would have no trouble getting warrants to spy on them. And that's the rub. I just don't see any scenario in which a FISA judge would not retroactively grant a warrant in a case that thwarted a terrorist plot. Neither can I imagine that if the administration made a case to the congress that it needed to extend the 72 hour retroactive limit to three weeks (or three months!) that the GOP congress wouldn't have gone along. Nor would they have withheld the money required to hire all the people needed to do the paperwork, or whatever the excuse of the day is. The administration would have gotten whatever it needed to legally monitor terrorist suspects. In fact, the terrorists and Americans alike assumed it had already done so.

Therefore, the only logical reason that the administration believed that it had to secretly and illegally spy on Americans is because they knew that Americans would not approve of which Americans they were monitoring. As Glenn says, the only security threatened by the revelations in the NY Times story is the Republican Party's political security.

Of course, Joe Klein would have to have his hear surgically removed from his ass to recognize this. It's much easier for him to make up shit and use it as evidence. And it's always easier for him to distill an argument into the exact opposite of what it actually is.

I have to hold back my deep sigh before writing this out AGAIN, but the issue here is the executive ignoring federal statutes. What you end up with, if unchecked, is a bloodless coup. We can't have an executive unilaterally deciding what laws to follow and what laws to ignore. He's a President, not a king (hat tip to Russ Feingold for that part of the soundbite).

Shorter Joe Klein: We have a President who can decide to be a king if he says it's really really important.


All The Way to the Top

This Jack Abramoff scandal, as we know, is a Republican scandal. And it wouldn't be a complete Republican scandal without implicating the guy at the top of the ticket:

In President Bush's first 10 months, GOP fundraiser Jack Abramoff and his lobbying team logged nearly 200 contacts with the new administration as they pressed for friendly hires at federal agencies and sought to keep the Northern Mariana Islands exempt from the minimum wage and other laws, records show.

The meetings between Abramoff's lobbying team and the administration ranged from Attorney General John Ashcroft to policy advisers in Vice President Dick Cheney's office, according to his lobbying firm billing records.

Abramoff, a $100,000-plus fundraiser for Bush, is now under criminal investigation for some of his lobbying work. His firm boasted its lobbying team helped revise a section of the Republican Party's 2000 platform to make it favorable to its island client.

I thought this was an interesting tidbit to throw back at the "This is a bipartisan scandal, everybody does it" crowd:

The reception Abramoff's team received from the Bush administration was in stark contrast to the chilly relations of the Clinton years. Abramoff, then at the Preston Gates firm, scored few meetings with Clinton aides and the lobbyist and the islands vehemently opposed White House attempts to extend U.S. labor laws to the territory's clothing factories.

By the way, Bush returned exactly $6,000 of that $100,000-plus he received as a result of Abramoff's efforts. Even though he received at least $8,000 from Abramoff's parents, sister and brother-in-law, all on the same day in June 2003.

Apparently these ties between Bush and the admitted felon go back to the Texas governor days. And they bore fruit: $36,000 in the President's campaign war chest from the Marianas Islands. By the way, the Marianas Islands are a US commonwealth that, through lobbying efforts, are immune from federal minimum wage laws. In addition, they have been accused of running sweatshops:

The Pacific commonwealth serves as a haven for garment sweatshops that evade U.S. labor and immigration laws while legally labeling their products "Made in the U.S.A." Nearly every big name in the American rag trade has dealt with factories there.

Several years ago, the gross abuse of the laborers in the islands—mostly young women imported from China and Thailand—drew unwanted attention from the federal government. When Clinton administration officials proposed to crack down on the Marianas sweatshops and labor contractors, the commonwealth’s ruling elite hired Mr. Abramoff to protect them. He sponsored dozens of luxury junkets to the islands for Republican politicians and commentators, spread around plenty of campaign money, and soon had Mr. DeLay pledging to defend the Marianas factories from modern labor standards.

The conditions endured by the women workers in the islands ought to have shocked any religious conscience. Swindled, starved and overworked, many of them were ultimately forced into prostitution—and when they got pregnant, they were forced to endure abortions. Young women who arrived expecting to work in restaurants found themselves suddenly hustled into topless bars, where they were coerced into drinking and having sex with customers. And they often were deprived of the money paid by the johns.

Promoted by Mr. DeLay and Mr. Abramoff as a libertarian utopia, the islands were actually a sinkhole of indentured slavery and sex tourism. Enchanted by all the easy money and free vacations, however, those Washington worthies and their friends disregarded the suffering.

This is basically why my textile industry dad has no business anymore; it's impossible for American manufacturers to compete on prices with countries that enslave their own workers. And people buy these clothes with "Made in the USA" on them, thinking they're doing something honorable by buying American. It's about the most disgusting story I've heard in my recent memory, and it's actually affected me and my family, personally.

This scandal isn't just about public officials taking dirty money and doing the bidding of corporate lobbyists (although that's part of it). There are real-world consequences here. There are impoverished, desperate girls that have been forced into the sex trade, forced to get abortions, forced into slavery, basically. And one man lobbied to keep this odious status quo. And he lobbied everyone in the Republican Party to do it. Including the President, who took nearly $40,000 from these Marianas Island warlords for his re-election campaign.

And he met with Abramoff clients in the White House:

Abramoff was so closely tied to the Bush Administration that he could, and did, charge two of his clients $25,000 for a White House lunch date and a meeting with the President. From the same two clients he took to the White House in May 2001, Abramoff also obtained $2.5 million in contributions for a non-profit foundation he and his wife operated.

Abramoff’s White House guests were the chiefs of two of the six casino-rich Indian tribes he and his partner Mike Scanlon ultimately billed $82 million for services tribal leaders now claim were never performed or were improperly performed. Together the six tribes would make $10 million in political contributions, at Abramoff’s direction, almost all of it to Republican campaigns of his choosing...

Abramoff brought the Coushatta and Choctaw chiefs to Washington at the request of Grover Norquist. Norquist is founder and director of Americans for Tax Reform, the advocacy group committed to slashing taxes until the federal government is so small you “can drown it in the bathtub.” Norquist started ATR in 1985. His power increased exponentially in 1994, when Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and he collaborated with then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay to launch the “K Street Project”—a coordinated campaign to compel lobbyists to contribute only to Republican candidates and ultimately to hire only Republicans. Like Abramoff and Rove, Norquist considered George Bush’s victory over Al Gore the culmination of a project the three Washington insiders started 30 years ago as national leaders of the College Republicans.

You have to read that whole story, by the great Lou DuBose. He lays out exactly who Jack Abramoff is and what he was up to. This is not "more of the same" in Washington. This is a Republican-owned, Republican-operated, Republican-manufactured system of kickbacks, bribes, bilking clients, trading favors. And before the Justice Department called it illegal, to a man the GOP would have called it "getting things done."

UPDATE: Worry warts in the White House:

Bracing for the worst, Administration officials obtained from the Secret Service a list of all the times Abramoff entered the White House complex, and they scrambled to determine the reason for each visit. Bush aides are also trying to identify all the photos that may exist of the two men together. Abramoff attended Hanukkah and holiday events at the White House, according to an aide who has seen the list. Press secretary Scott McClellan said Abramoff might have attended large gatherings with Bush but added, "The President does not know him, nor does the President recall ever meeting him."


More on Signing Statements

I wrote last week about this relatively new phenomenon of signing statements, where the President uses a bill-signing ceremony to make a proclamation basically determining what parts of the law by which he will or will not abide. This was used last week in reference to John McCain's anti-torture amendment, where the President's signing statement basically said "I won't torture, unless I want to, and then I will." McCain has responded that he will use strict oversight to counteract the signing statement, but it's unclear where that would go legally. From a "strict constructionist" perspective it would seem that the text of the law is the law, and that Presidents aren't able to pick and choose what laws they will follow and what laws they will overrule. But in our current climate, anything is possible. After all, in the next couple weeks we might confirm the guy who came up with this nonsense to the Supreme Court:

In a Feb. 5, 1986, draft memo, Alito, then deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, outlined a strategy for changing that. It laid out a case for having the president routinely issue statements about the meaning of statutes when he signs them into law.

Such "interpretive signing statements" would be a significant departure from run-of-the-mill bill signing pronouncements, which are "often little more than a press release," Alito wrote. The idea was to flag constitutional concerns and get courts to pay as much attention to the president's take on a law as to "legislative intent."

This played out in an extreme expansion of signing statements from the Reagan years onward. Reagan used 71. Bush I doubled up to 146 in half the time. Clinton did it 105 times. Our current President ballooned to 500, more than all other Presidents combined.

I don't understand the difference in using this little subversion as opposed to directing the Justice Department to sue over the unconstitutionality of provisions in a particular law. Alito sees it as getting the executive view on record before ever going to the courts. It's almost a pre-emptive strike on the inevitable judicial review that will occur when delaing with Congressional laws and their implementation by the executive.

But it's more than that. It's an attempt to go around Congress and bury the legislative intent in the process. I recall Clinton doing this with regard to the Communications Decency Act:

President Clinton and the Justice Department say they don't "intend" to prosecute people who put abortion information on the Net. And that's good enough, according to a federal judge in Brooklyn who threw out a challenge to a law that prohibits making such information available to minors.

The little-known provision, part of the Communications Decency Act, took effect when the CDA was signed in February 1996. Nine abortion rights groups and individuals filed a lawsuit to block the provision. Soon after, the Justice Department specifically said it wouldn't prosecute online producers of abortion material.

Justice Charles Sifton issued his decision on March 12, saying that the government's promise not to prosecute was grounds to dismiss the case. He said the government is good for its word because, for example, it has never prosecuted a statute passed in 1897 that made it illegal to cross state lines with information about products "intended to induce abortion."

That precedent would tend to make one believe that these signing statements are accepted Constitutional practice and settled law. That decision was not a Supreme Court ruling, however, which I think we need. This is basically an end run around a line-item veto. I'm pretty sure I don't like it, and the President needs to have his power checked by either signing the laws passed by Congress or vetoing them. You shouldn't be able to have it both ways. This is certainly not what the Founders foresaw: note the NINE uses of the practice in the first 100 years of the Republic. I wouldn't want any President to have this kind of power. We have seen Presidential power expand and contract over the years. It was at an ebb after Watergate, then shot back up more recently. It's time to get a ruling on this, once and for all. I'd like to see the "textualists" like Scalia argue that a President can interpret Congressional legislation any way they want.


Thank you

This is what I was looking for:

Hoping to gain an early political edge in 2006, Congressional Democratic leaders next week will unveil the first piece of their election-year agenda by announcing a far-reaching legislative package that the party says will clean up government and stop influence peddling in Congress.

The move comes as Congress is set to start the second session of the 109th Congress, and just days after former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to federal counts of conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion in a growing scandal that involves bribing Members in exchange for official acts.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will join with other Congressional Democrats at a Jan. 18 event to introduce their "Honest Leadership Act." Reid and Pelosi plan to use it as the main component of the Democrats' ethics agenda for 2006.

"We long ago identified the Republican soft spot, which is this culture of corruption that pervades every aspect of government in Washington," said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.

I think it's a week late and would like to see this unveiled as soon as today. I also want to see the specifics of the proposal before endorsing it. Clearly lobbying reform will be a part of it: the fact that members of Congress and their staff can skip from the Capitol to K Street so easily, benefiting from both sides of the system, has got to stop.

The way to get money out of the system is through public financing, strict limits, and Clean Money elections. This already happens in Maine and Arizona, and I think there's so much inertia in the federal sphere that the real push for this is going to come out of the states. California is attempting this right now, and since the state is usually seen as a bellweather on national issues, it's important that this passes. Not only would this get private financing out of the system, it would open up the field to candidates heretofore barred from entering political races. The way it stands now, the more money you are willing to personally sink into your own campaign, the more attractive you are to the state and federal campaign committees (they'll be able to funnel less money to you if you have a bunch yourself). The last New Jersey governor's race featured multi-millionaires and was the most expensive gubenatorial race on record. This will only get worse without Clean Money elections. Wouldn't it be something if a middle class, or God forbid, a POOR person represented their constituents in Washington? Maybe you wouldn't see so much legislation narrowly tailored to fit the interests of the rich and those that contribute.

Clean money elections are the way to go. I hope that's part of the Democrats' anti-corruption agenda.


Trolls, You're Safe Here

I promise to never press charges using this cockamamie law:

Annoying someone via the Internet is now a federal crime.

It's no joke. Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity.

In other words, it's OK to flame someone on a mailing list or in a blog as long as you do it under your real name. Thank Congress for small favors, I guess.

This ridiculous prohibition, which would likely imperil much of Usenet, is buried in the so-called Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. Criminal penalties include stiff fines and two years in prison.

"Whoever...utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet... without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person...who receives the communications...shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."

What I want to know is, will this statute be used by people who honestly feel they are being cyberstalked, whiny bloggers who get mad when challenged about their opinions, or (worse) public officials of any stripe, who are criticized legitimately on the Internet, call it "annoyance," and try to shut down dissent. I'm thinking the latter.

I would never try to shut down or even moderate comments (what little there are). Who gives a crap? Answer everything and let your readers decide.


Stacking the Deck

Today Judge Samuel Alito begins his confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee. I'm guessing he'll have a very good idea of the questions one Senator will ask him:

In preparation for his confirmation hearings, which start Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Alito has been drilling regularly since Thanksgiving in questioning sessions lasting around 30 minutes at the Justice Department, with two department lawyers doing the questioning. On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the "gang of 14" who sits on Judiciary, joined a so-called moot court session at the White House.

I'm pretty sure it's not illegal, but it sure seems unseemly. On of the questioners is coaching the nominee about how to answer the questioners? I said during the Roberts hearings that these events seemed very showy but essentially without merit, where most people ask questions to which they already have answers. Given this revelation I see no reason to change that opinion. These are fake hearings, which fit right in with our fake political culture. It's enough to make me throw up my hands and turn away... 'cept I can't. I like the country too much.

UPDATE: Corrente is liveblogging the hearings. Just once in my life I would like a Senator, ANY Senator, to say: "I don't have an opening statement. We have a limited amount of time, I'm here to ask the nominee questions, and I wish those of us on this Committee would stop grandstanding and shut our mouths so we can let the questioning begin." What a moment that would be.


Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sunday Morning Follies

On Fox News Sunday, Charles Krauthammer claimed that the Jack Abramoff scandal won't affect the midterm elections, saying that "the voters think they're all crooks...Republican and Democrat." In other words, the voters will think they're all crooks because I, Lord Krauthammer, will do everything in my power not to disabuse them of that notion.

Then there was Bill Kristol with the "is it any surprise that this comes out of Indian gambling and the ridiculous laws bringing it into existence" statement. Shorter Bill Kristol: Indians have had it far too good for far too long.

Schumer was good on the Abramoff "bipartisan fig leaf" issue today on MTP. Russert asked pointedly about Harry Reid, adn Schumer said 'Harry Reid didn't take any money,' to which Pumpkinhead sputtered... "b-b-but tribal clients," which Schumer smacked down by noting the difference between taking a contribution and getting something specific for that contribution in return.

But Howard Dean got it exactly right on Wolf Blitzer. Here's the video. Bink gives a paraphrase/transcript:

Wolf: "But didn't Democrats also ...?"

Dean: "No."

Wolf: "But isn't this ...?"

Dean: "No. There is absolutely no evidence that any Democrats took money from Jack Abramoff. We have gone through all of the FEC records to make sure that this was so."

Wolf: "Okay, but didn't Democrats take money from organizations controlled by Abramoff and can't it be said that this money came indirectly from him?"

Dean: "No. There is absolutely no evidence that that happaned. This is a Republican scandal only."

Wolf (now panic-stricken and becoming flustered): "But what about Senator Byron Dorgan?"

Dean: "Sen. Dorgan took money from a couple of Indian tribes. Are you really trying to say that Indian tribes are agents of Jack Abramoff?"

Wolf (Long, fifteen-second pause. There is a look on his face of total surprise and bewilderment. He doesn't know what to do or so. Finally, he appears to be listening to a voice in his earpiece.): "Okay, unfortunately, we have to let you go now ..."

Dean nods and winks at the camera.