Mojo - June 2007

More on Our New Fourth Branch of Government

| Fri Jun. 22, 2007 5:20 PM EDT

Ever-helpful White House spokesperson Dana Perino addresses the curious question of whether Dick Cheney is his own special branch of government:

Q: Do you agree with the contention that the Office of the Vice President is not part of the executive branch?

MS. PERINO: What I know -- and I am not a lawyer; and this is an interesting constitutional question that legal scholars can debate and I'm sure you'll find plenty of them inside the beltway -- is that the Vice President has a unique role in our United States government. He is not only the Vice President of the United States, but in that role he is also the President of the Senate. I will let him go ahead and --

Q: So there's a fourth branch of government.

MS. PERINO: -- I will let that debate be held.

So Cheney's not part of the executive because he's part of the legislative branch. Fascinating. And you gotta love Perino's deft use of the old "We've Made Up Our Minds, But You're Welcome to Debate This" move from the Bush Rhetorical Playbook.

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Sheriff Obama To Clean Up Town -- On the First Day

| Fri Jun. 22, 2007 3:47 PM EDT

The Obama campaign has released Barack Obama's plan to reform Washington -- a plan they say he will enact on his first day in office. Some of it goes a good bit further than the measures Democrats in Congress have enacted, some of it is short on details. Regardless, he definitely has his heart in the right place. Highlights from a fact sheet sent out by the campaign:

- Closing the revolving door: No political appointee in an Obama Administration would be able to lobby the executive branch during the remainder of the Administration. Huge change from the current way of doing things.

- Ending the abuse of no-bid contracts: Admirable, but no details given.

- Stopping the influence of lobbyists: President Obama would issue an executive order banning lobbyists from giving gifts in any form to executive branch employees.

- Ending politicization of the federal government: Tougher enforcement measures in the Hatch Act.

- Cute/nutty stuff: Obama would not sign any bill without giving the public an opportunity to comment on the White House website for five days. Cabinet officials would be required to host national broadband town halls. And there's this sort of Big-Brother-for-federal-employees thing: "Obama will require his appointees... to conduct the significant business of the agency in public, so that any citizen can see in person or watch on the Internet as the agencies debate and deliberate the issues that affect American society. Videos of meetings will be archived on the web, and the transcript will be available to the public." American citizens can watch in person as bureaucrats do their jobs?? How incredibly boring and ripe for trouble.

- Disclosure on earmarks and tax breaks: President Obama would ensure that tax
breaks to special interests and all congressional earmarks are posted on the Office of Management and Budget's website.

- No more political operatives with sweet jobs: "Obama will issue an Executive Order requiring that political appointees possess relevant professional qualifications and experience related to the core mission of the agency for which they are nominated."

You can read more about Obama's plans for corruption, oversight, etc. at this campaign web page.

Media Donates Politically in Small Numbers -- But Mostly to Democrats

| Fri Jun. 22, 2007 2:06 PM EDT

The investigative unit at MSNBC.com just published a long study of which journalists donate money to political candidates and causes. Campaign contributions by a journalist are often seen as acceptable things -- the assumption being that the contribution is part of the journalist's private life and the partisan support it implies won't affect his or her work. Some newsrooms don't care, some ban contributions by political reporters and editors (Abe Rosenthal, the former New York Times editor, is reported to have said, "I don't care if you sleep with elephants as long as you don't cover the circus."), and some ban donations altogether. But the workplace rules that govern or don't govern this issue are less interesting that the picture it paints of journalism as an industry.

Of the 144 journalists who made political contributions between 2004 and the first quarter of 2007, 125 gave to Democrats and liberal causes. Just 17 gave to Republicans, while two gave to both. There are some obvious ones -- a producer for Bill O'Reilly gave to Republicans -- but there are some surprises -- a researcher for Brit Hume gave to Democrats. (Penance?)

Salon.com loves Democrats, as do Newsweek and Rolling Stone. But perhaps no one helps out the left more than The New Yorker, which places no restrictions on donations and had fully 10 writers and staffer donate to Democrats (and none to Republicans). You can see the full list here. What is it about journalism as a business that attracts left-leaning folks? Or is there something about working in journalism that makes a lefty out of you over time? Speculation is welcomed in the comments.

Maybe the most valuable conclusion here, though, is that journalists mostly take pains to maintain objectivity -- the 144 who have donated represent less than one percent of the reported 100,000 journalists nationwide.

Redoing the Primary System: Rotating Regionals?

| Fri Jun. 22, 2007 1:56 PM EDT

Lamar Alexander, like many people, is upset with the primaries-gone-wild fiasco we've seen recently: too many states are moving too far up the calendar, leading to a front-loaded campaign that favors big money candidates and necessitates frenetic campaigning years before the election. What's the alternative? A rotating regional primary system:

Alexander said the model for federal legislation is based on a 1999 bill that Lieberman co-wrote that would have created a regional primary system. That bill would have created a system of four rotating regions, with a cluster of 13 mid-Atlantic and Northeast states voting on the first Tuesday of March, with a southern group of states going the first Tuesday of April, a Midwest group the first Tuesday of May and a Mountain West and far West group going last, the first Tuesday of June.
The next election, the order would be rotated so that no region would always go first. That bill, which was referred to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, went nowhere legislatively speaking.

The states would likely hate this idea, because it takes control away from them, and in a body where a single senator can hold up legislation, the lawmakers from New Hampshire and Iowa would make sure it doesn't go anywhere. But at least someone's doing some thinking on the issue.

Dick Cheney: Check and Balance This!

| Thu Jun. 21, 2007 8:14 PM EDT
3branches.gif

Quick, forget everything you learned in 5th-grade social studies (or Election) about the three branches of government. You know, the executive, judicial, and legislative. Now it turns out we actually have four branches of government. Like so many of the interesting new things we've learned about how the federal government is really supposed to work, this head-scratcher comes from Dick Cheney. Rep. Henry Waxman's government oversight committee has the details:

The Oversight Committee has learned that over the objections of the National Archives, Vice President Cheney exempted his office from the presidential order that establishes government-wide procedures for safeguarding classified national security information. The Vice President asserts that his office is not an "entity within the executive branch." [emphasis mine]

So there you have it. There's a fourth branch of government, and its name is Dick Cheney. But what should the official name be? How about the "extracurricular branch"? Add your naming suggestions in the comments.

Finally, Some Answers on NSA Domestic Spying?

| Thu Jun. 21, 2007 2:40 PM EDT

The Senate Judiciary Committee has made at least nine formal requests for documents regarding the NSA's domestic spying programs, but the Bush Administration has refused to hand anything over. The stonewalling may finally cease now that the committee has voted to issue subpoenas, with Chairman Leahy openly questioning what the Administration has to hide.

A list of the documents Leahy and the committee hope to uncover can be found here.

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Look Who's Back

| Thu Jun. 21, 2007 1:08 PM EDT

Ralph Nader is considering another run for president and if the early reviews are any indication, even the lefty blogs are against him. See Daily Kos, The Plank, AMERICAblog, and Obsidian Wings.

And you can add me to the list. Ralph, please, we've had enough.

Police Academy 8: Iraqi Edition

| Thu Jun. 21, 2007 12:33 PM EDT

Yikes. AMERICAblog finds a startling comparison: it takes seven days of training to become a Starbucks barista. It takes just eight to become an Iraqi cop.

Well, not exactly a cop. A backup cop, part of an Anbar "provincial security force." You see, there aren't enough police academies in which to train police recruits properly, so the thousands of extra men who seek the uniform head out to dusty back lots with U.S. Marines and run obstacles courses for little over a week. When they're done, they keep the uniform and gun, do security operations occasionally, and wait until they get called for real police training.

Now this may come as a surprise, but this rigorous process isn't exactly inspiring confidence or creating a trustworthy police force. The governor of the province in which this is occurring says the police are unreliable and operate with their own agendas. Prime Minister Maliki is complaining that the Americans are artificially inflating the Iraqi police corps. Even American forces can see we're just arming random people, and possibly creating bigger problems than the ones we hope to solve.

Democrats' Plans for Universal Health Care Helps Red States Most

| Thu Jun. 21, 2007 12:15 PM EDT

Let's say a Democrat wins the 2008 election and institutes universal health care. Who benefits the most? Republicans.

That's right -- a new study shows that the red states (mostly in the South) consistently rate at the bottom of the country in terms of health care for residents. The Commonwealth Fund report ranked states according to 32 indicators of health care access, quality, outcomes, and hospital use. Consider the political leanings of the top ten and the bottom ten.

States 1-10: Hawaii, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, South Dakota.

States 50-41: Oklahoma, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Nevada, Louisiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Florida, Georgia.

This shouldn't be a surprise. States led by Republicans are more likely to have laissez faire attitudes towards health care and be less sympathetic to the plights of those who cannot afford it. It doesn't help that these states are often the most hostile towards workers' rights, thus driving down wages, and often have the highest number of single mothers, due to the nation's highest rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births. Get all the details and schadenfreude at PERRspectives Blog.

Who Needs It? Only Tiny Percentage of Baghdad Embassy Employees Speak Arabic

| Thu Jun. 21, 2007 11:59 AM EDT

We blogged a while back about how the U.S. ambassador to Iraq was complaining to Condi Rice about the quality of his people in the Baghdad embassy. Too young, he said. Or too inexperienced. Or couldn't find work elsewhere.

Maybe the fact that only 10 of his foreign service folks speak Arabic fluently has something to do with his griping.