Political MoJo

No Immigration Bill for Now

| Wed Jun. 21, 2006 2:17 PM EDT

On one level, it seems like unabashed good news that the House has decided to put off negotiating any sort of immigration bill with the Senate until after the fall elections. After all, the betting line is that, even if the Democrats don't retake the House and the Senate, there will at least be more Democrats in Congress, which will likely make it harder for the GOP to pass a draconian immigration bill with walls along the border and mass deportations and the like.

But I can't honestly say I'm looking forward to a summer of "public hearings" on immigration from the House, which will likely consist of bashing the Senate's bill and trumpeting the House Republicans' own, more stringent bill. What are the odds that this won't degenerate into a babble of anti-immigrant demagoguery? Oh, right, zero.

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More ways to wreck whale ears

| Wed Jun. 21, 2006 2:51 AM EDT

Let's see. Most of the world has agreed to protect whales from extinction; whales rely on sound waves to navigate, communicate, in short, survive; so what we'll do is shoot "air guns" (sounds so innocuous, right?) into the ocean whose deafening sound can be heard from the California coast clear to the other end of the Pacific? This makes sense in whose world? The answer in a second; meanwhile, check out whale expert Dick Russell's piece in Mother Jones special oceans coverage on another sound source that has been causing whales to beach themselves en masse, some with their brains literally scrambled. Now--ready? The air guns (which are bad for squid, too) are "critical in the search for tomorrow's oil and gas resources," according to Exxon Mobil.

Press Secretary does Snow job on Imus

| Tue Jun. 20, 2006 9:42 PM EDT

It doesn't take much to get Don Imus to endorse all manner of lies and distortions. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow found it was pretty easy on June 14 when he stated that George W. Bush had never linked Saddam Hussein with the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Snow quoted Bush as saying "there's no demonstrated link between Saddam [Hussein] and 9-11, and we're never going to make that argument." Of course, Bush did make that link. For example, he made it in his letter of March 21, 2003 to the Speaker of the House and the President Pre Tempre of the Senate. Dick Cheney made the same link on two different appearances on Meet the Press, and the September 11 Commission reported that as early as September 12, 2001, Bush asked his staff to explore links between Saddam Hussein and the attacks of the day before. Bush's insistence that such a link be made is documented by former U.S. Treasurer Paul O'Neill in Ron Suskind's The Price Of Loyalty, and by former national security specialist Richard A. Clarke in Against All Enemies.

New Budget Rules Are a Disaster

| Tue Jun. 20, 2006 8:44 PM EDT

Fair warning: we're about to wade into some murky budget-related territory here, but these are important issues, so let's go. The House Budget Committee just approved a bill to give the president the line-item veto, which would allow Bush to strip out any piece of a spending bill he didn't like.

I happen to think this is a truly terrible idea, and you can read all about it here and here. The measure is being hyped as a way to let the president control "pork-barrel" spending, but in all likelihood, it will end up being used as a weapon for political retaliation—the president will get the power to nix spending projects in districts of representatives he wants to screw over. A man who orders that mentally disturbed prisoners be tortured so that he can "save face" surely doesn't deserve more power. We can all agree on that. Anyway, it gets worse…

Torture Is Depraved and Ineffective, Part 2,397

| Tue Jun. 20, 2006 7:52 PM EDT

Apparently, Ron Suskind's new book reports that the CIA tortured a mentally disturbed man who knew very little about al-Qaeda all so that the president didn't have to "lose face." Lucky for us, while under torture, Abu Zubaydah confessed to all manner of plots and schemes in every corner of the country and had law enforcement running around the country on various wild goose chases. Draw your own lessons from this little story.

Can't We Just Have a Moment of Silence?

| Tue Jun. 20, 2006 4:39 PM EDT

This is awful. And doesn't it seem... unseemly somehow to jump on the deaths as instant debate fodder?

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Back to "It's The Economy, Stupid?"

| Tue Jun. 20, 2006 3:30 PM EDT

Democrats in Congress seem to be running for cover in the face of a GOP rebound on the war, but a recent minimum-wage amendment introduced by Ted Kennedy could be the wedge issue they need for the upcoming election. The amendment, introduced June 19, would raise the minimum wage for the first time since 1997, from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour. "A minimum wage worker who works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, earns just $10,700 a year," Kennedy said in a floor statement. "That's $6,000 below the poverty line for a family of three."

A recent Labor Department report shows that inflation is erasing wage increases. Weekly wages dropped 0.7 percent in real terms in May. In 50 percent of the 65 months since Bush took office, workers' pay either has remained unchanged or declined, Bloomberg reports. "People at the high end of the income scale are doing a lot better than people in the middle or low end, but there are a lot more people in the middle and low end,'' Douglas Lee, president of Economics From Washington, a Potomac, Maryland, consulting firm, told Bloomberg. "For those people, inflation is eating into their income gains.'' An AP poll of 1000 or so people in early June found 60 percent disapproved of Bush's handling of the economy, while 38 percent approved.

It's possible that Democrats could, as they did during the 2002 midterms, try to focus on the economy and refuse to make Iraq an election issue. Even though the civil war in Iraq is intensifying, Bush's PR performance after the killing of Zarqawi has brought the president a rebound of sorts—at least with the media. Meanwhile, Dems may rant and rave about Iraq, but they can't agree on what to do about it. Four Democratic senators—Jack Reed, Carl Levin, Dianne Feinstein and Ken Salazar, with support from Hillary Clinton, Pat Leahy, and Minority Leader Harry Reid—have introduced a non-binding "sense of the Senate" resolution asking Bush to begin a phased redeployment out of Iraq by the end of this year. But the measure doesn't say how fast the drawdown should go.

An alternative measure, sponsored by Russ Feingold, Barbara Boxer and John Kerry would order the President to withdraw troops by July 1, 2007. But a similar withdrawal measure flopped last week on a 93-6 vote in the Senate—and the House has passed a nonbinding resolution rejecting a date for withdrawing the troops on a 256-153 vote, with large numbers of Democrats joining the GOP votes in favor of indeterminate commitment to the war.

Refusing to Abandon Roe

| Tue Jun. 20, 2006 3:25 PM EDT

Most people have heard the argument from various "contrarian" liberals that overturning Roe v. Wade would actually be a boon for abortion rights—not to mention the Democratic party—because it wouldn't make much of a difference anyway and it would rouse pro-choicers from their apathetic slumber. Examples are here and here. It's totally false, of course, but it's still an insidious idea that seems to have some staying power among well-to-do male pundits living in blue states. So I'm glad Scott Lemieux took the time to shred the argument in this American Prospect article.

But the other thing to note—and Scott sort of gets at this in his piece—is that Roe v. Wade is somewhat beside the point here. Don't get me wrong, I'm very glad Roe exists, and even seem to be one of the few people convinced it was correct as a legal decision. But barring John Paul Stevens dying or some similar catastrophe (and I'm not much for praying, but I could be persuaded to light a candle for Stevens), the Supreme Court isn't likely to overturn Roe anytime soon.

Rumsfeld's "Poor Memory"

| Tue Jun. 20, 2006 2:25 PM EDT

So back in April of last year, two investigators from the Pentagon's inspector general paid Donald Rumsfeld a little visit to ask him about "the largest defense procurement scandal in recent decades." Nothing major, just a few questions here and there. The usual. Here's how the interview went, according to the Washington Post:

Rumsfeld cited poor memory, loose office procedures, and a general distraction with "the wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan to explain why he was unsure how his department came to nearly squander $30 billion leasing several hundred new tanker aircraft that its own experts had decided were not needed…

[A] copy of the transcript [of the Rumsfeld interview], obtained recently by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act after a year-long wait, says a lot about how little of Rumsfeld's attention has been focused on weapons-buying—a function that consumes nearly a fifth of the $410 billion defense budget, exclusive of expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan.Yeah, what's a few billion dollars anyway? Lucky for us we have a "CEO President" at the helm to make sure everything's running smoothly…

Halliburton contracts up by 600%

| Mon Jun. 19, 2006 10:06 PM EDT

A document compiled at the request of Rep. Henry Waxman of California, confirms that federal contracts are now the fastest growing component of federal discretionary spending. The Government Accountability Office and the Defense Contract Audit Agency were two of the agencies whose 500 reports, audits and investigations were used to compile the report.

Procurement spending increased by 86% between 2000 and 2005, meaning that it has increased more than twice as fast as other federal discretionary spending. According to Waxman, overcharging--in terms of both error and fraud--has occurred frequently. 118 contracts worth $745.5 billion have been found to include waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement.

Last year alone, Lockheed Martin received contracts worth more than the combined budgets of the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior, the Small Business Administration, and the U.S. Congress. But the big winner, to no one's surprise, was Halliburton, whose contracts increased 600% from 2000 to 2005.

In 2004, Department of Defense Inspector General's auditors were removed from Iraq, so as of the end of 2005, $140 billion worth of spending was not being monitored. You may recall that Halliburton lost $9 billion, which has yet to be accounted for.