Political MoJo

Why Is Congress Even Bothering To Pass Laws?

| Thu Oct. 19, 2006 3:06 PM EDT

George W. Bush has already made it clear that he may ignore parts of the 2007 Defense Authorization Act. To be exact, he has listed two dozens provisions in the act which he may trash, including the budget requirements for the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush made his stand Tuesday in one of his now-famous "signing statements," which the White House maintains are not unlike other presidential signing statements, but which are, in fact, completely different. Instead of making notes about his personal interpretations of some laws, Bush has used the signing statement to eliminate parts of laws, or the spirit of entire laws, that he does not like.

Some Constitutional scholars say that it is within Bush's legal rights to reject the war budget because, they say, the Constitution does not give Congress the authority to tell the president (or, in this case, Bush) what to request or how to request it.

Bush's other objections include:

• A requirement that he name a "coordinator of policy on North Korea" within 60 days, and submit within 90 days an updated intelligence assessment on Iran.

• A call for reports on subjects ranging from an early education program for military children to a study on assessing the safety of the nuclear stockpile.

• A response plan for remediation of unexploded ordnance, discarded military munitions, and munitions constituents.

• A report on a program for replacement of nuclear warheads on certain Trident sea-launched ballistic missiles with conventional warheads.

• Energy efficiency in weapons platforms.

• A report on participation of multinational partners in the United Nations Command in the Republic of Korea.

• A report on the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement.

• Quarterly reports on Department of Defense response to threat posed by improvised explosive devices.

• A National Academy of Sciences study of quantification of margins and uncertainty methodology for assessing and certifying the safety and reliability of the nuclear stockpile.

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Tet

| Thu Oct. 19, 2006 2:36 PM EDT

The apparently popular notion that recent guerrilla strikes in Iraq bear similarities to Tet is succinctly laid to rest this morning by Juan Cole. Here's a paragraph from his Informed Comment blog:

"The current guerrilla war against US troops and the new Iraqi government isn't at all like the Tet offensive. It is deadly serious. Because the US military is not defeating the guerrillas militarily any more. They have succeeded in provoking an unconventional, hot civil war, which was their "poison pill" strategy for getting the US out. The US has alienated the Sunni Arab population decisively. In summer of 2003, only 14 percent of them supported violent attacks on US troops. In a recent poll, 70 percent supported such attacks. And, the guerrilla movement is well-heeled, well-trained, and adaptive.''

You can find Juan Cole's daily analysis at www.juancole.com or write him direct at jrcole@umich.edu.

Christians Counter Climate Change

| Thu Oct. 19, 2006 1:30 PM EDT

Dozens of evangelical Christian leaders, breaking ranks with the Bush administration as well as many of their peers, yesterday launched a new faith-based campaign against global warming. "(M)any of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians," declares their official statement. "But now we have seen and heard enough" to convince them that climate change is real, it's bad, and people of conscience should do something about it. It's signed by 86 people, from Rick Warren, author of the bestseller "The Purpose-Driven Life," to the new head of the Christian Coalition.

Minnesota Taxi Drivers Seek Religious Exemptions

| Wed Oct. 18, 2006 10:40 PM EDT

It's hard enough to get a taxi in some places if you are not Caucasion, but it's becoming even harder, in some cities, to get one if you do not fit the driver's religious ideal of a passenger. For example, in London, two Muslim taxi drivers were fined for refusing to pick up a blind customer. The same thing has happened repeatedly in Melbouren. The reason? The customer's seeing-eye dog was "unclean." In Minneapolis, Muslim taxi drivers have refused to pick up a transgendered customer. And throughout Minnesota, taxi drivers are seeking a two-tiered system that would permit them to refuse to pick up certain fares because of their own religious beliefs.

This is how the system would work: If a driver refuses to pick you up because you are gay, transgendered, have a seeing-eye dog, are carrying a "forbidden" book, have a peace symbol on your briefcase, or are a woman with part of your abdomen showing (I could go on and on), you go to the back of the queue until someone finds you acceptable enough to ride in his or her cab.

Katherine Kersten of the Minneapolis Star Tribune says:

And what if Muslim drivers demand the right not to transport women wearing short skirts or tank tops, or unmarried couples? After taxis, why not buses, trains and planes? Eventually, in some respects, our society could be divided along religious lines.

Pam Spaulding, writing in Pandagon, says:

I hate to break it to the Star Tribune's Katherine Kersten, but we already are divided. "Christian" pharmacists in some parts of the country are allowed to refuse filling a prescription if they object on religious principles to the use of the drug.

Tom Reynolds in Washington

| Wed Oct. 18, 2006 5:16 PM EDT

Tom Reynolds, head of the House Republican Campaign Committee, and another member of the House leadership mired into the Foley scandal, appeared in Washington at the National Press Club for lunch Wednesday noon. He talked about the House campaigns and identified "Members, money and message" as the most decisive factors in winning this year's midterm election. Reynolds had no message to give on his own involvement in the Foley page scandal. He did say, however, he doubts the scandal will effect any of the races.

Dozens of reporters, and a phalanx of cameras greeted him. Likely the last thing on anyone's mind was Reynolds opinion on the election. The Foley scandal was front and center. But in the harried scrum following the luncheon nobody asked him about it. Instead, it was "Hi Tom," and "How's your house, Tom?'' "Hey Tom, do you notice you are always in my lede?'' and so on. Not like, "What were you doing with Foley, Tom?'' Or: "Are you Hastert's fall guy?"

Reynolds's top assistant had previously worked for Foley. Reynolds reportedly is the one who talked Foley into seeking re-election this year.

Tom is best known of late for dodging questions by surrounding himself with children—just so you know he's no pervert—before blithering on about how he was doing his job just like any other worker, by passing the information on up the line to his "supervisor" House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Reynolds emphasized that the election was being fought by candidates, based on their reputation at the local level. "We are dealing with fierce contests fought by local personalities on local pocket book issues," said Reynolds. "[Constituents] will vote for Candidate A or Candidate B, not for a Republican or a Democratic Congress." According to Reynolds, the G.O.P. candidates are "excelling at the nuts and bolts" of the election at that local level.

Reynolds equated the growing size of Republican candidates' campaign coffers with election success. Said Congressman Chris Van Hollen, who spoke for the Democrats: "There's a real sense in this country that what has been the 'People's House' has become the auction house."

Ford's Fancy Fling

| Wed Oct. 18, 2006 4:51 PM EDT

In Tennessee where Harold Ford, Jr. is battling Bob Corker in what some pros think is the toughest Senate race in the nation, the Republicans have been trying to smear Ford for a ski weekend 'fling' with Julia Allison (formerly Baugher), then a Georgetown University sophomore. Ford was unmarried and celebrating his 31st birthday. He saw her in a restaurant. One thing led to another and the couple had some sort of relationship which Allison later described in a Cosmopolitan article. She currently writes a dating column for AM New York as well as doing a monthly column in Coed, a Maxim like mag for teens. At Georgetown she wrote a sex column for the student newspaper, and later worked on the campaign of an Illinois congressman, then as a congressional liaison for a House member.

Somebody at the National Republican Committee thought the Julia story could add to the GOP's smear campaign which portrays Ford as a high liver, attending parties with Playboy beauties, who actually wore lingerie in his company. And they started putting out stuff under headlines like: Ford's "Fancy Fling" with the opening: "Find out how much Congressmen Harold Ford, Jr. enjoys the good life – including his lavish hotel stays, expensive dinners, and parties with Playboy Playmates."

No one cared. This news doesn't seem to have affected Julia's own career.You can read her blog here, but only if want to bore yourself to death.

"Other than a fabulous weekend ski vacation and a few fancy dinners," the Memphis Flyer quotes Allison as saying,"all Harold gave me was the certainty that dating a [politician] is overrated."

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GOP Debates "Pink Purge"

| Wed Oct. 18, 2006 1:34 PM EDT

Shocked, SHOCKED to discover that there are homosexuals among the ranks of their beloved Republican party, hardline Christian conservatives are calling for a "pink purge" of the GOP's ranks, the LA Times reports. The sectarian schism is a win-win for Democrats: if Republican leaders lean too hard on gays, they'll alienate moderate voters, but if they don't, they risk dampening enthusiasm among their social-conservative base, whose high turnout has been key to recent GOP victories.

Seems the soc-cons are upset not only about Foleygate, but over other recent events that have been less well-publicized because, well, they're really no big deal to most people. The list includes Condi Rice swearing in a new, openly gay US global AIDS coordinator and referring to his partner's mother as his "mother in law".

Hobbit Fans Unleash Geek Fury on Rick Santorum

| Wed Oct. 18, 2006 12:48 PM EDT

Yesterday, Sen. Rick Santorum tried to explain the war in Iraq by drawing an analogy to the Lord of the Rings:

As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else.... It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S. You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States.

Really, Santorum should have known better. By invoking LOTR, he was inviting the scrutiny of hordes of Tolkien fans, who, sure enough, are unleashing their fantasy-lit fury on him. First off, Santorum called it the Eye of Mordor, when it's really the Eye of Sauron. Jeeze! Scott Rosenberg exposes more flaws in Santorum's comments:

First of all, in Tolkien's saga, the good guys are outgunned and outmanned by the Dark Lord, whereas in our world, the U.S. is a "hyperpower" whose military, in 2001-2, seemed to bestride the world. Second, in Tolkien, the good guys sent Frodo with the Ring into the depths of Mordor as a sort of last-ditch, bet-everything gamble; then they sent an army to the gates of Mordor as a diversion — to keep the Eye occupied and distract it from the hobbits headed for Mount Doom.

David Weigel at Reason's Hit and Run further explains how Santorum's comments failed to reflect the geopolitical complexities of Middle Earth:

Was Santorum referring to the hobbits' final approach up Mount Doom, when Aragorn (George Bush) was convincing the men of Gondor (Tony Blair) and Rohan (John Howard) to make a final, diversionary push at the Black Gates? Or is he referring to the entire quest of Frodo and Sam (300 million Americans), which was aided at various points by mystical creatures - the Ents, the Dead Men of Dunharrow - that don't have any easy relations in the real war on terror?

And Rosenberg again:

It's hard, in truth, to find any useful Middle Earth analogy to the Iraq War: the parallels break down across the board. Still, you might think of Bush's invasion of Iraq as the equivalent of a beleaguered Gondor, attacked by the armies of Mordor across the River Anduin, sending its army off on an expedition to Far Harad, after its leaders issued proclamations that the White Council had incontrovertible evidence of the Haradrim's possession of Rings of Mass Destruction.

So wait, if Bush is Aragorn, does that mean Condi Rice is Arwen?

Money in California Politics Laid Bare

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 8:40 PM EDT

Hey California voters! Curious about how much beverage company cash helped influence a vote on bottled-water standards? Wondering which interest groups are especially generous to your state Assembly member? Check out this new online money-and-politics database from Maplight.org, a Berkeley-based non-profit. It tracks votes on specific bills by state pols and cross-references that info with details on who gave them money, and when. So far, only data from 2003-2004 is available, but the Maplighters claim more recent stuff will be up soon. The impatient can do their own state-level research with the help of The Institute on Money and State Politics , or go federal at OpenSecrets.org. And of course there's always the famous Mother Jones 400, one of the very first online sources of campaign finace dirt.

Muslim Religious Differences Too Trivial to Pursue

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 8:09 PM EDT

Jeff Stein, the national security editor at Congressional Quarterly, published an op-ed piece in today's New York Times (available, alas, only to TimesSelect members) giving the results of his recent survey of counterterrorism officials. The survey has just one question: What's the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?

Stein was dumbfounded to learn that very few of his interviewees, who play important roles in intelligence and law enforcement communities and Congress, had any idea. And, as Stein writes, he wasn't asking deep, theological questions, "just the basics: Who's on what side today, and what does each want?"

For those of you who might—like Trent Lott, who recently wondered, "Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me"—see this as a rarefied inquiry, here's how Stein explains why it matters:

[T]he nature of the threat from Iran [Shiite], a potential nuclear power with protégés in the Gulf states, northern Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, is entirely different from that of Al Qaeda [Sunni]. It seems silly to have to argue that officials responsible for counterterrorism should be able to recognize opportunities for pitting these rivals against each other.

Hostilities between Sunnis and Shiites are on center stage in Iraq, and play an important role in Al Qaeda's motivations. Perhaps if officials knew more about them, better policy would follow?

But one of Stein's interviewees—the spokesman for the FBI—took the position that understanding the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite was akin to "memoriz[ing] the collected statements of Osama bin Laden, or be[ing] able to read Urdu [or] playing 'Islamic Trivial Pursuit.'"

If there's a game comparison, shouldn't it at least be Risk?