Political MoJo

Lobbyist Donations As High As Ever

| Wed May 24, 2006 3:30 PM EDT

The midterm elections this fall will supposedly be all about the "culture of corruption" in Washington, wherein noble-minded reformers—most of them Democrats, presumably—will rail against lobbyists who are perverting and distorting government. So far, though, lobbyists are just carrying on as usual. Public Citizen released a report today looking at donations by lobbyists and their PACs—in 2006, lobbyist donations to members of Congress are on pace to be about 10 percent higher than they were in 2004 (totaling $34 million), which were in turn 90 percent higher than they were in 2000 (totaling $18 million).

Interestingly, Jack Abramoff is only the 30th-ranked lobbyist donor. And not surprisingly, most of the money goes to members of the Senate and House appropriations committees, which ultimately decides how federal money gets spent. Supposedly this is different from the actual bribery that took place when Duke Cunningham was sitting on the House appropriations committee, but the dividing line here seems pretty hazy.

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Importing Nurses

| Wed May 24, 2006 3:07 PM EDT

Nathan Newman raises an interesting issue here. Democrats in Congress offered an amendment to the immigration bill currently being debated that would allow an unlimited number of foreign nurses to enter the United States, on the grounds that there's a nurse shortage in this country.

That sounds like a good idea, but here's the problem: won't it cause an even more disastrous nurse shortage in developing countries, perhaps causing collapses in health care systems around the world? That already seems to be the case in the Philippines and India. On the broader issue, the New York Times ran a good piece a while back on the "brain drain" developing countries face when all their skilled workers leave for OECD countries. It can cause "a vicious downward cycle of underdevelopment." Not good for them, and it's hard to know what to do. Restrict immigration of skilled workers? Screw the poorer countries?

Now Newman's solution to the nursing issue seems unexceptionable—train more nurses in the United States, since there are currently more people who want to become nurses than spots in nursing school. On the other hand, for those worried about keeping health care costs down, it's much cheaper to "outsource" nursing education to the Third World, where education costs are naturally lower. Ideally, perhaps, the United States would do more to help develop the poorer countries that are sending us all their cheap labor, but that would involve more drastic changes than anything being contemplated in Congress right now.

Zogby poll shows interest in new Septmber 11 investigation

| Tue May 23, 2006 9:38 PM EDT

A recent Zogby poll found that over 70 million Americans distrust the official explanation of the September 11 attacks. 42% believe there has been some kind of coverup; 45% believe that Congress on an international tribunal should investigate the attacks again.

An August, 2004 poll showed that nearly half of New Yorkers believed that U.S. officials consciously allowed the attacks to happen, and 2/3 of New Yorkers want a new investigation of the events.

The report of the September 11 Commission left much to be desired in terms of White House culpability, and omitted information about the collapse of WTC Building 7.

William Jefferson and Corruption

| Tue May 23, 2006 5:00 PM EDT

By all accounts, William Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat caught taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, should resign. That's certainly what the DailyKos people are demanding. And in the interest of showing zero tolerance for congressional corruption, I'd agree. On the other hand, part of me wonders if maybe he should just stick it out and brazenly proclaim his innocence. That seems to have worked pretty well for Bob Ney and Jerry Lewis. No, okay, resign it is.

Now as Matt Yglesias says, it's a bit daft to try to equate this Jefferson scandal with the Tom DeLay and Duke Cunningham scandals and suggest that "both" parties have the same problem with corruption. DeLay, of course, was House Majority Leader. Sort of a big deal. Duke Cunningham sat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Defense and quite literally whored out defense contracts to the highest bidder. In both cases, as with the other GOP cases now under investigation, government was up for sale. Policy was up for sale. It's the sort of thing that can adversely affect millions of people. Jefferson... was something of a two-bit crook trying to get rich quick. Bad stuff, and if there are other corrupt Democrats throw those bums out too, but it's not quite the same thing.

Meanwhile, though, check out this Washington Post article about how all sorts of members of Congress are outraged that the federal government would raid Jefferson's home, just like that:

Republican leaders, who previously sought to focus attention on the Jefferson case as a counterpoint to their party's own ethical scandals, said they are disturbed by the raid. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said that he is "very concerned" about the incident and that Senate and House counsels will review it.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) expressed alarm at the raid. "The actions of the Justice Department in seeking and executing this warrant raise important Constitutional issues that go well beyond the specifics of this case," he said in a lengthy statement released last night.
"Insofar as I am aware, since the founding of our Republic 219 years ago, the Justice Department has never found it necessary to do what it did Saturday night, crossing this Separation of Powers line, in order to successfully prosecute corruption by Members of Congress," he said. "Nothing I have learned in the last 48 hours leads me to believe that there was any necessity to change the precedent established over those 219 years."

Hilarious. If the Bush administration wants to wiretap ordinary citizens without a warrant, or break the law to retrieve phone records, eh, Hastert and Frist will happily go along with it. Who needs privacy? But if it's their constitutional rights at stake, then lordy, the madness ends here. Granted, there might be legitimate concerns here—in the abstract, no one wants the executive branch to be able to harass legislators willy-nilly, although I don't know the finer points of law on this issue—but the unintended irony is a bit obnoxious.

Meanwhile, Justin Rood wonders if Republicans are simply complaining right now because they're afraid that the FBI might be coming for them next. Could be.

Hope is Still the Plan

| Tue May 23, 2006 4:14 PM EDT

Newsweek's Michael Hirsh is trying to figure out what the Bush administration is planning to do about Iraq. Best of luck to him. I gave up this game long ago, mainly because the administration doesn't even seem to have a plan, apart from muddling through and perpetually hoping that in six months time, things will get magically better. And that still seems to be the case:

So the very best that can be hoped for in Iraq, probably for many years to come, will be a non-bloodbath, a low-level civil war that doesn't get worse than the current cycle of insurgent killings and Shiite death-squad reprisals. This is bad, but it could be much worse. Containment, says one Army officer involved in training in Iraq, is at least "doable." He adds: "The only real question is: How do we keep Iraq from becoming a permissive environment for terrorists."
People will keep killing each other, sure, but at least it won't be some unspecified really large number of people killing each other. That's the plan. Although there still seem to be some technical problems:
The U.S. military is already gearing up for this outcome, but not for "victory" any longer. It is consolidating to several "superbases" in hopes that its continued presence will prevent Iraq from succumbing to full-flown civil war and turning into a failed state. Pentagon strategists admit they have not figured out how to move to superbases, as a way of reducing the pressure—and casualties—inflicted on the U.S. Army, while at the same time remaining embedded with Iraqi police and military units. It is a circle no one has squared.
Er, perhaps that's because it can't be done? It seems awfully hard for the military to stay out of the way and avoiding getting its soldiers killed and continue trying to influence events on the ground in Iraq. Pentagon strategists seem to agree. Really, no one seems to know what to do anymore. On the bright side, Ralph Peters says that this year more Americans will die in highway accidents than get killed in Iraq so I guess we can all clap our hands now...

We're Still #1... in Infant Mortality

| Mon May 22, 2006 7:51 PM EDT

Last Mother's Day, Save the Children released some statistics noting that infant mortality rates in the United States were ridiculously high compared to other "developed" countries, especially if you just look at infant mortality rates among African-Americans or Native Americans.

Now for a long time, many critics of these numbers have suggested that it's all a mirage, a trick of accounting, supposedly caused by the fact that other countries don't try to save as many babies as we do and hence count all those extra deaths as stillbirths. But over at Alas, a Blog, Ampersand looks at this claim and finds that it's quite wrong; the United States really does have a much higher infant mortality rate than other industrialized countries. Whether that's because of our inequitable health care system or environmental factors or pervasive poverty is up in the air, but there's no question that the problem exists.

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The Origins of Anti-Litter Campaigns

| Mon May 22, 2006 6:48 PM EDT

I've never known anyone who was objectively pro-litter. Litter's awful. It's disgusting. We're all agreed. But it seems that the nationwide anti-litter campaign, which began in the 1950s, was a bit less pure in its origins. According to Heather Rogers' Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, the entire anti-litter movement was initiated by a consortium of industry groups who wanted to divert the nation's attention away from even more radical legislation to control the amount of waste these companies were putting out. It's a good story worth retelling.

Prisoners, absolved of charges, still at Guantanamo

| Mon May 22, 2006 5:21 PM EDT

Since the opening of the Grantanamo prison, 38 of the 759 prisoners have been deemed "no longer enemy combatants." Right now there are four men at Guantanamo who have been cleared of all charges, but who have no idea when they will be released.

Many of the men who have been cleared of charges were rounded up by profiteers on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border and sold to U.S. or Northern Alliance forces, according to The Washington Post. The going prices were rumored to be $25,000 for each Arab, and $15,000 for each Afghan. Some were Arabs who "stood out," and some were arrested by the Pakistani police.

No Security Guarantees for Iran

| Mon May 22, 2006 3:33 PM EDT

Every now and again when I (or some other lily-livered appeaser) suggest that the Bush administration sit down and try to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program, someone points out that the United States already is talking to Iran, and already has offered lots of good things in exchange for disarmament. But that's not quite right. As the AP reported yesterday, Condoleezza Rice has categorically ruled out offering "a guarantee against attacking or undermining Iran's hard-line government in exchange for having Tehran curtail its nuclear program."

It's obvious that this is the one thing of value we can really offer Iran. The United States has already shown a propensity for abandoning all common sense and invading countries in the Middle East for no good reason. Absent guarantees that we won't do that again, it's not totally irrational that Iran wants a nuclear deterrent. Now granted, there's now nearly enough trust on either side at the moment for security guarantees to be very plausible. And maybe they wouldn't work. Nevertheless, so long as neither side is making any sort of move towards this eventual goal, all the various offers and counter-offers being floated in the press are simply charades.

Does the Border Need Securing?

| Mon May 22, 2006 3:05 PM EDT

This is several weeks old, but Peter Beinart's column on immigration and national security made a very good point. Every single politician in Washington, pro-immigration or no, claims that we need to secure our border with Mexico so that "terrorists" don't sneak in. That's one of the stated rationales that restrictionists offer for wanting to build a wall and militarize our border, but even people like Ted Kennedy argue that our porous Mexican border "directly threatens national security."

Yet as Beinart notes, potential terrorists are really, really unlikely to make the dangerous trek across the hot desert to enter the United States through the Mexican border, especially when they can just do what they've always done and walk in through the even-more-porous Canadian border. Or they can do what the 9/11 hijackers did and simply enter the country on student visas. Whatever the solution might be—Beinart suggests national ID cards—it's not a Berlin-style wall along the southern border.

Meanwhile, if someone wanted to sneak, say, some sort of nuclear device into this country, why go through Mexico? They could always just ship it in a cargo container, seeing as how our ports are totally unsecured and the ruling party in Washington has time and time again scotched proposals to pay for more security. Normally when this topic comes up I encourage everyone to read John Mueller's essay on how the threat of terrorism is fairly overblown (at least unless we do something crazy in response—like militarize our southern border), but even those who want to obsess about it should at least note that the Mexican border ranks relatively low on the list of our security concerns.