2005 - %3, July

Help DeLay!

| Fri Jul. 22, 2005 2:03 PM EDT

Speaking of fundraising, it seems that not everyone is doing quite as well as Howard Dean. Public Citizen reports:

For the first time, DeLay's legal defense contributions did not keep pace with his legal fees. In the past three months, DeLay's legal defense fund raised only $42,900 – $13,311 less than his legal expenses for the same period, which totaled $56,211.92. DeLay's legal defense fund has spent a total of $90,216 this year.

What's interesting here is that DeLay's own congressional colleagues are backing away slowly, no longer contributing quite as much to their majority leader's defense fund. Meanwhile, still no word on whether the newly formed House ethics committee is going to undertake a formal investigation of DeLay.

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And the Money Kept Rolling In...

| Fri Jul. 22, 2005 1:56 PM EDT

Well, for all the concerns and hand-wringing of various Democrats over the past half-year, it seems that Howard Dean is performing just fine as chief fundraiser for the DNC. Here is the FEC report:

During the first six months of 2005, federally registered Republican party committees raised $142.7 million and spent $98.1 million, while the Democratic committees raised $86.3 million and spent $60.2 million. This is a 2% increase in receipts for Republicans when compared to the same period in 2003 and a 53% increase for Democrats. When compared to the same period in 2001, the last non-presidential cycle, Republicans registered a 50% increase in federal receipts, while the Democrats showed a 113% increase.

The Republican party, quite clearly, has a huge lead in fundraising, but Democrats are closing the gap decently enough. Interestingly, the gap used to be much, much larger—poking around through the charts, back in 1989 the RNC was raising six times as much money as the DNC ($18 million to about $3 million.) This despite the fact that the party is out of power and presumably gets fewer donations from corporate donors. (Although, Democratic votes for the recent bankruptcy bill no doubt helped peel off a few bucks from MNBA and other financial companies.) Anyway, a lot of money sloshing around there…

New at Mother Jones

| Fri Jul. 22, 2005 1:01 PM EDT

Iraqi Casualties: Unnamed and Unnoticed
By Judith Coburn
An in-depth look at how we have treated Iraqi civilian deaths

The Spies Who Came in From the Hot Tub
By Tom Engelhardt
The CIA's war on terror meets La Dolce Vita – courtesy of the US taxpayer.

The Memo, the Press, and the War
An exchange between Michael Kinsley and Mark Danner

Odds and Ends on Roberts

| Thu Jul. 21, 2005 4:52 PM EDT

There are plenty of other blogs raking John G. Roberts over the coals. (Or finding faces of the Messiah in the folds of his suit, if that's what you're after.) But I did want to point out an interesting comment made by Ramesh Ponnuru over at NRO, suggesting that it may be far easier in the future for conservatives to push through "stealth" judges without a long paper trail while still being assured of their conservative pedigree:

In-the-know legal conservatives are much more supportive of, and in several cases enthusiastic about, Roberts [than they were about David Souter]. It may be that the development of the Federalist Society--and the maturation of conservatism, as David Brooks suggests today--has made it possible for conservatives to pull off the stealth strategy today in a way that was not possible fifteen years ago. People familiar with him signal his acceptability to their acquaintances, and the message radiates outward.

So that will help them avoid future Souters. Although let me point out one potential flaw with Roberts for conservatives—and I don't think I'm being disingenuous here. Commentators have noted that Roberts is very likely to judge like William Rehnquist judges: by having conservative instincts but not being very good at articulating a legal theory to support those instincts. Anyway, I just stumbled on an old Legal Affairs issue in which Kermit Roosevelt, a former Rehnquist clerk—and apparently not the CIA guy who overthrew the Mossadeq government in Iran in 1953—described the problems that Rehnquist's under-theorizing created:

In 2003's Nevada v. Hibbs, Rehnquist unexpectedly wrote a majority opinion upholding the Family and Medical Leave Act, which entitles employees to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for family members. The court ruled that the act was a valid exercise of Congress's enforcement power under Section Five of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision is hard to square with the court's earlier Section Five cases and, in classic Rehnquist fashion, the nature of the distinction is left largely unstated. One possible interpretation is that Congress has greater leeway to address types of discrimination—such as gender-based discrimination—that courts have held are usually unconstitutional.

That Rehnquist might not have intended that principle, or, if he did, that he intended a narrower version, became apparent in Tennessee v. Lane. In that case last term, the court said that Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which ensures access to public facilities, was also a permissible exercise of Congress's power. Differential treatment of the disabled is usually constitutionally acceptable, in contrast to discrimination on the basis of gender or race. But the majority in Lane upheld Title II of the ADA as an effort by Congress to preserve the fundamental right of access to the courts. Rehnquist dissented, protesting vainly that Title II was "an illegitimate attempt to rewrite the constitutional provisions it purports to enforce."

From Rehnquist's perspective, Lane was a setback for both federalism and judicial supremacy. The diversion in Hibbs had proved costly. Of course, it may be that a more tightly written Hibbs opinion would have drawn protests from the other justices in the majority. It may even be, as some have speculated, that Rehnquist opposed the result in Hibbs and took the majority's side only to limit the damage by writing a narrow opinion. Either way, in Lane, the chief justice lost.

Indeed, as Roosevelt says: "Under-theorizing may make it easier for an opinion's author to bring together a majority in the immediate case, but it restrains an ambitious agenda. A seemingly solid coalition may fragment in future cases as its members realize they don't share the same animating principles." Simply having conservative instincts may allow a judge to sneak under the radar, but it could lead to some unexpected results down the road. Granted, this is, presumably, a pretty minor point, but worth thinking about.

Campaign Finance Vouchers

| Thu Jul. 21, 2005 3:34 PM EDT

One of the various innovative proposals for campaign finance reform that have been floating around over the years is the idea of a campaign voucher, proposed in the "Our Democracy, Our Airwaves" Act sponsored by John McCain, Russ Feingold, and Dick Durbin in the Senate. Each congressional and presidential candidate would be given a predetermined number of vouchers that could then be exchanged with television and radio stations for advertising time. Naturally, there have been a lot of theoretical arguments back and forth about the voucher proposal, but no one has ever shown what practical effects they would actually have, until now. The Campaign Finance Institute just released a study )pdf) that analyzed campaign finance data and tried to figure out what sort of effect these vouchers might have. The results?

  • Challengers who received less than 45 percent of the vote in 2000, 2002, and 2004 would have received, on average, between one and two additional percentage points of the vote with vouchers. Challengers who received more than 45 percent of the vote and open seat candidates would not, on average, receive a significant boost in vote share from vouchers.
  • Almost all candidates who are even slightly competitive would have qualified for vouchers. Most highly competitive candidates would have received the maximum amount.
  • Approximately one-third of candidates who spent too much of their own money to qualify for vouchers would have been better off with vouchers.
  • Hm, so it doesn't seem like this proposal would change the actual electoral results very much, though it would improve competitiveness, which is in theory good. (If anything, it forces incumbents to move to the center.) Although, the study's authors note that vouchers could produce a "snowball" effect in primaries, which could have an effect on fundraising, and that make races more competitive.

    On the other hand, perhaps it's wrong to worry too much about improving competitiveness in races and we should instead worry more about simply improving both communication and accountability. In that sense, the vouchers seem to work well. Plus, there are all sorts of other considerations that aren't tested. Perhaps vouchers would encourage different candidates to run—that is, the ability to raise a lot of money on one's own would become less important in a candidate. And vouchers could well decrease the influence of large donors.

    No Felon Left Behind

    | Thu Jul. 21, 2005 12:44 PM EDT

    Heh, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's editorial on Rove-Plame is appropriately scathing:

    Schoolchildren, take note. There will still be high standards for you, your teachers and your schools. But at the White House, the rule is a little different: No pal left behind. Unless, of course, he is an out-and-out criminal. That's quite a standard.

    Yep: No felons in the White House. That's the new Bush standard. Actually, that's not quite true. The standard is: No current felons. Former felons like John Poindexter and Elliott Abrams are, of course, welcome to work in the administration.

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    Not Ready? Great!

    | Thu Jul. 21, 2005 11:49 AM EDT

    Readers may think that this New York Times headline today signals a lack of progress: "Iraqis Not Ready to Fight Rebels on Their Own, U.S. Says." (Conservative readers may wince at the word "rebels," imagining that if we could only call them "evil-bastard-baby-murderers" all our problems would be solved.) That headline is based on a new Pentagon assessment, not yet released. Nevertheless, this is actually good news. The Pentagon is finally taking steps to scrutinize very closely the progress of troop-training in Iraq, something I've been chafing about for a while now. Says the Times, "The assessment, which has not been publicly released, is the most precise analysis of the Iraqis' readiness levels that the military has provided." Whether people are thinking about an exit strategy or a plan for "victory" in Iraq, actually knowing what's going on seems like the fairly obvious first step here.

    One thing to wonder about, however, is the ethnic and sectarian composition of the Iraqi security forces. Peter Galbraith in the New York Review of Books recently claimed that the only competent security forces hail from the Kurdish peshmerga, and the Kurds' loyalty is first and foremost to Kurdistan. (The claim, like most in Galbraith's essay, comes without evidence or citation, so take it for what it's worth.) And then there are the recurring reports that the Iraqi paramilitary units are nothing more than glorified Salvadoran death squads. And then there are questions surrounding civilian control of both the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense. It would help if the Pentagon was equally as forthcoming about all of these things, so that people could actually figure out what's going on in Iraq; otherwise, we're left with New York Times headlines of suicide bombings aplenty and that, quite obviously, looks like resounding failure.

    Meanwhile, Galbraith thinks that the big problem in Iraq isn't the insurgency, but the coming quarrel between Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis. Indeed, our friendly San Francisco Chronicle had not-so-bright news along that line this morning: "Kurdish leaders have presented a redrawn map with a larger Kurdistan to the Iraqi National Assembly for consideration in the new constitution, a Kurdish party official said Thursday." Not only that, but one Kurdish official calls the boundary a "red line."

    We're Just Reporters!

    | Wed Jul. 20, 2005 3:43 PM EDT

    What is wrong with these people? Atrios catches this marvelous bit of self-awareness on CNN:

    MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Also, there's word the president could announce his Supreme Court nominee as early as today. Could that take some of the media heat off of the president's top adviser Karl Rove?

    Surprise, Miles! You are the media! It's much like when, during the 2000 election campaign, the Times would fabricate stories about how Gore was untruthful and then publish news analysis pieces with phrases like "it is Mr. Gore who faces the most scrutiny as he tries not to say or do anything that will cement an image that he puffs up stories and is not to be trusted"—as if somehow this "scrutiny" appeared on its own and the Times was just reporting what was already out there. Or when the Washington Post published a long news analysis piece about wondering why the Downing Street Memos weren't getting any major press coverage. It defies parody. If these folks want to analyze the media process, they can go work for Columbia Journalism Review; otherwise, report the goddamn stories.

    UPDATE: Dana Milbank also seems curiously confused as to what, exactly, it is that he does all day:

    [Roberts' nomination] is going to dominate the news up until the court begins in Oct 1; that's not to say the Karl Rove story won't make its cameo appearance somewhat-of course it will and it's likely to go on somewhat after this nomination ends, but this is clearly going to be the main game in town now.

    Right, and it's just a pity that one of the star political reporters for one of the most influential newspapers in the country can do nothing whatsoever about this sad state of affairs.

    Downsizing Prisons

    | Wed Jul. 20, 2005 3:26 PM EDT

    In the American Prospect, Robert Dirnan surveys the alarming growth of the prison population in the United States, and the various problems that's quite obviously causing. The piece ends with a rousing call to arms: "The time to act is now." Okay, but what? My preferred solution is to focus on the parole process; according to a 2002 Justice Department study on recidivism, 51.8 percent of released prisoners get right back in within three years. And about half of those are put back in prison for technical violations of parole—oftentimes they don't even need to commit a crime, they can just miss a few meetings with their case officer. Pretty clearly, attacking this problem would be one of the easiest ways to keep the exploding prison population under control. The question is whether state budget crunches are going to lead governors and state legislatures to seek out actual solutions; but both inertia and vested interests augur for continuing to expand prisons without bound.

    Women's Rights in Iraq

    | Wed Jul. 20, 2005 1:52 PM EDT

    Speaking of rolling back women's rights, a while back I stumbled across a draft version of the new Iraqi constitution that somewhat liberal on women's rights. But today the New York Times has gotten their hands on yet another draft version that seems to be much, much more restrictive. And equally disconcerting is this: "[T]wo Sunni Arabs involved in writing the constitution were fatally shot near a Baghdad restaurant, threatening to throw the drafting process into turmoil."