Two days ago, we wrote about a GAO report on presidential signing statements. While signing statements can be used legitimately to indicate how the executive branch interprets a law passed by Congress, the Bush Administration has used them to basically nullify laws without having to go through the embarrassment of vetoing them. Moreover, this president has used signing statements in unprecedented numbers. (For a couple examples of laws that were distorted or completely ignored because of this problem, see this article from our March/April 2007 issue.)

Democrats in Congress caught wind of the GAO report -- which is no shock because two Democrats in Congress commissioned it -- and will investigate. No law has been broken, just the spirit of the law violated, so it's unlikely that Congress's inquiry will lead to anything more than a reprimand. But add this to the list of very needed investigations that began only after the GOP lost control of both houses.

Bush Vows to Veto Stem Cell Bill

President Bush, pushing for more embryo "adoptions," has promised to veto a stem cell research bill that passed the House 247-176. Read more at The Blue Marble.

Good Job, You're Fired

The Bush administration's pattern of promoting imbeciles like Paul Wolfowitz while sacking competent lawmakers like Colin Powell continues, with the news that budget director Rob Portman will step down. (His stated reason—to spend more time with his family—suggests that the move was not voluntary.) The Washington Post reports that Portman "is one of the most popular Cabinet members on the Hill, and even Democrats speak highly of his intellect and affability." The timing of Portman's departure is odd, given that the next two years will require someone who can negotiate with the Democrats.

Enter Jim Nussle, who is known for his combative style. The AP reports:

As House budget chairman, Nussle helped draft the blueprint for Bush's signature 2001 and 2003 tax bills....Republican leaders and conservatives such as Nussle regularly rolled over Democrats - and took pleasure in doing so.

Asked what he thought of Nussle, House budget chair Steny Hoyer said, "What's the next question?" So why did this guy get the job, beyond the fact that the Bush White House seems to love to do things that throttle the democratic process?

He's a hawk.

With Friends Like Bush...

Imagine that somebody in power made it impossible for you to do your job, then watched as you were fired for not doing your job, then appeared on TV with your long-time nemesis, who had participated in making it impossible for you to do your job, and declared his support for you.

That's what President Bush has done to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. After free elections created a government divided between Abbas' moderate Fatah party and the radical Hamas party, Bush and his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Olmert, imposed such strict sanctions on the Palestinians that even those who had jobs weren't getting paid. Hamas would not and did not stand by and let this happen: The group overthrew Fatah in the Gaza Strip. Today, Bush and Olmert stood in the Oval Office together and declared their support for Abbas. Seriously? Here's the kiss of death: Bush called the emergency prime minister Abbas appointed "a good fella." Brownie, anyone?

As I've pointed out before, the United States has refrained from directly criticizing General Musharraf's assault on the judiciary and his crackdown on the Pakistani media. And once again, the Bush Administration is paying more lip service to its "commitment to democracy" while giving a military dictator full backing in the same breath.

This weekend, during his visit to Pakistan, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte gave Musharraf support by stating, "It is up to him (Gen Musharraf) to decide when to take off his uniform but we do want free, fair and transparent elections scheduled for this fall or early next year." Negroponte makes it clear where America stands: Despite the fact that Musharraf has locked up more than 1,000 opposition activists and shut down Pakistani TV channels that have been critical of him, it's really up to the good General to decide when to stop being a military dictator.

Negroponte and Musharraf also discussed strong U.S. support for Pakistan government's FATA Development Plan, "a $ 750 million five-year US support programme that we will begin implementing in the next few months" Money and political backing—what more could Musharraf ask for?

But the administration's actions certainly aren't winning us any hearts and minds of the people. As one Pakistani teacher puts it, "America is supporting Musharraf against the people...The reason people hate America here is that they always support dictatorship in Pakistan."

—Neha Inamdar

Okay, I was all set to rip Hillary Clinton's choice of campaign song, but I can't anymore. She's really impressed me.

You probably know the story: supporters were allowed to suggest songs on the Clinton website and Clinton's top folks picked the one they liked best. Just today, they chose "You and I" by Celine Dion, which is great if you like shrieking Canadians and awful if you have taste. (You can hear the song at Clinton's campaign site.)

But boy, have they headed off criticism big time. The video introducing the pick is genius. Pure genius. I've watched it twice and smiled more the second time. It even has Bill Clinton saying, "My money's on Smashmouth!" Check it out here.

Note: After you've watched the video, come back and watch this one -- tell us which is better.

Presidential candidate and hilarious ad-man Bill Richardson has frequently criticized Democratic frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for being willing to leave a "residual" force in Iraq after the main pullout of American troops is over. Richardson says he would never support such a thing. "No airbases, no troops in the Green Zone, no embedded soldiers training Iraqi forces -- because we all know what that means -- it means our troops will still be out on patrol, with targets on their back."

But here's where it get interesting -- Richardson would leave some troops behind: "An all-Muslim peacekeeping force." I've never heard that before, but it could be interesting. I wonder if the Muslim peacekeepers would come from the region or from America. I also wonder if this idea has been seriously debated and fleshed out in think tanks and other places, or if Richardson is just pulling it out of thin air to gain a bit of publicity. Either way, interesting brain candy.

Update: An all-Muslim peacekeeping force has been considered before. Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf proposed it in May. Minus points for cribbing from a dictator, plus points for being open to ideas from around the world.

Remember this video of Mike Gravel staring into your soul and then throwing a rock in a lake? It had a companion that consisted of (1) Gravel gathering twigs, and (2) a fire made of those twigs burning for seven minutes.

Weird and inexplicable, right? That's what I thought too until I found on MSNBC, via Wonkette, Gravel explaining the videos in brazenly cantankerous fashion.

"What people like you don't understand — which I think is hilarious — is this is a metaphor," Gravel said Monday, lecturing guest host David Shuster during an appearance on MSNBC's "Tucker."

You didn't understand two videos that looked like they were made by two dudes who got hopped up on acid, read a bunch of Foucault, and decided to make a crazy dreamscape campaign video? Listen closely to Mike Gravel: this means you're dumb.

Anyway, here's the explanations for the spots. Of the rock one, Gravel says, "The point of the spot is not the rock but the ripples it leaves in the water." Gravel is making waves. That doesn't explain the several minutes of staring directly into the camera, but whatevs.

Of the fire spot, the candidate says, "Branches are what people acquire in the way of wisdom... And then he reaches down and acquires a little more experience, a little more wisdom. Reaches down, picks up a little more wisdom. And then goes out and starts a fire."

"What does a fire represent?" Gravel asked rhetorically. "Fire represents light, heat, warmth. It's the sustenance of life."

Makes sense, I guess. Except for the part about "branches are what people acquire in the way of wisdom." I always thought those were "degrees."

So, anyway, yeah -- how about Mike Gravel, everybody?

Massive Number of White House Emails Deleted

Quick follow up on the missing emails story. Here's what we know: the White House has been using nongovernmental email addresses, specifically ones administered by the RNC, in order to keep its correspondence out of the hands of investigators and historians. Congress caught wind of these nongovernmental email addresses through an entirely separate investigation, looked into the issue, and found that many of the emails sent through the RNC had been deleted.

Now we find that many, many more have been deleted than previously thought. The White House originally said that about 50 White House officials had RNC email accounts. But Henry Waxman and his supersleuth committee have found that there were at least 88 officials with secondary email addresses, and that emails for 51 of them have been completely lost.

While this shakes ones trust in our government -- what do they have to hide? -- the good news is that this is a potential violation of the Presidential Records Act, and officials scared of being indicted may take immunity in exchange for ratting out their superiors. Eighty-eight officials with nongovernmental emails is a coordinated, deliberate attempt to drive a stake through the heart of open government, and it must have been directed at the highest levels. Further investigation of Rove, anyone?

One of the problems that hampered reconstruction in Iraq was that the Bush Administration hired young loyalists with no foreign policy experience to do extremely important and difficult jobs. In his book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Rajiv Chandrasekaran noted that potential employees seeking a position in Iraq were asked explicitly if they voted for George Bush in 2000, and some were even asked for their views on Roe v. Wade. Unsurprisingly, the people hired tried to implement tenets of conservative ideology instead of taking necessary and pragmatic steps.

So why stop now? The new U.S. ambassador to Iraq just complained to Condoleezza Rice in an unclassified memo that employees at the massive U.S. embassy in Baghdad are either too young for the job, are unqualified, and/or are "trying to save their careers" by taking an urgent assignment in Iraq.

"Simply put," wrote the ambassador, Ryan Crocker, "we cannot do the nation's most important work if we do not have the Department's best people." Sorry, Mr. Crocker. If this administration's track record is any indication, you'll be getting Bush-Cheney '04 opposition researchers and Heritage Foundation junior staffers. Good luck trying to protect America's interests in a failed state of our own making -- especially with those folks on your team.

The embassy in Baghdad is America's largest embassy in the world, with a 2007 budget of more than $1 billion and a staff that includes more than 1,000 Americans and 4,000 third-country nationals. It is due for a $1.3 billion remodeling, which would renovate the 100+ acre compound and add a new pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, and the like. Whoops, forget I mentioned that.