Political MoJo

T-Bills for Tots

Mon Mar. 27, 2006 5:48 PM EST

The Federal Reserve recently launched a site geared towards kids aged eleven to fourteen. Trying to make financial matters "fun and interesting," children are lead by a giant eagle wearing a patriotic top-hat and a tie through the basic world of the Federal Reserve. Curiously, the site fails to mention the word "debt" anywhere, a gaping hole in any economics lesson. But it does delve into interest rates, inflation, growth and the Federal Open Market Committee.

Another fun kids' site stimulates kids by querying: "Have you ever asked 'Why do we have to pay taxes?' Do your parents pull their hair out around April 15th?" Oh, to be a kid in the age of the internet.

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Scalia Speaks Out on Gitmo

Mon Mar. 27, 2006 3:33 PM EST

Antonin Scalia recently questioned the rights of detainees in Guantanamo Bay under the Geneva convention:

"War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts," he says on a tape of the talk reviewed by Newsweek. "Give me a break."

Challenged by one audience member about whether the Gitmo detainees don't have protections under the Geneva or human-rights conventions, Scalia shot back: "If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it's crazy."Coincidentally, the Supreme Court is set to hear the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan tomorrow. Hamdan, allegedly a former employee of Osama Bin Laden, is challenging the Bush administration's right to hold military tribunal, questioning whether it violates national and international law by not granting prisoner-of-war protections. Hamdan claims that he did not receive a fair process, an argument that will apparently fall on Scalia's deaf ears. Despite the fact Scalia's assertions were not related specifically to this week's case, U.S. code states , "Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." More specifically, a judge should withdraw him/herself where if there is "a personal bias or prejudice."

And for a little more background on Scalia's approach to this issue, here is his dissent from Rasul v. Bush in 2004:

"The consequence of this holding, as applied to aliens outside the country, is breathtaking. It permits an alien captured in a foreign theater of active combat to bring a petition against the secretary of defense. . . . Each detainee (at Guantanamo) undoubtedly has complaints -- real or contrived -- about those terms and circumstances. . . . From this point forward, federal courts will entertain petitions from these prisoners, and others like them around the world, challenging actions and events far away, and forcing the courts to oversee one aspect of the executive's conduct of a foreign war."
It's entirely possible that Scalia will recuse himself from Hamdan, much like he did in a case on the Pledge of Allegiance in 2004, after he expressed an opinion on the case beforehand.

"BUSHIT" Sticker Nets $100 Fine

Mon Mar. 27, 2006 2:37 PM EST

Denise Grier, an Atlanta nurse, was ticketed for driving with a bumper sticker that read, "I'm tired of all the BUSHIT." Accused of brandishing "lewd" material, the officer approached her with his hand on his weapon and dispensed a $100 fine. Grier reportedly has no intention of paying the ticket, saying "I am so appalled at the officer's attempt to squash my freedom of speech. It's not just a Democrat/Republican issue. Y'all need to get beyond that. It's my right to speak, and yours." Stay tuned for her court date, April 18.

Christian Groups Ask Bush to Defend Religious Freedom

Fri Mar. 24, 2006 6:48 PM EST

Earlier this week I posted on Abdul Rahman, a man in Afghanistan who may be sentenced to death for practicing Christianity. Now Christian groups in the United States—the same ones that once applauded when the U.S. ousted the Taliban—are incensed that the President isn't doing more to protect Rahman's freedom of religion.

Bush Declares Congress Irrelevant

| Fri Mar. 24, 2006 5:27 PM EST

Another day, another tinpot dictator declaring himself above the law:

When President Bush signed the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act this month, he included an addendum saying that he did not feel obliged to obey requirements that he inform Congress about how the FBI was using the act's expanded police powers.
Read this old-but-excellent Dahlia Lithwick piece on the uses and abuses (mostly abuses) of presidential signing statements. In Bush's worldview, "it is for the president—not Congress or the courts—to determine when the provisions of this bill interfere with his war-making powers, and when they do, he will freely ignore the law." And these signing statements can have a real impact.

Long-Term Bases in Iraq?

| Fri Mar. 24, 2006 5:02 PM EST

The Bush administration still can't give a clear answer about its long-term plans for Iraq. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said last week, on Iraqi TV, that the United States had "no goal of establishing permanent bases in Iraq." But that same week the House of Representatives also passed a $67.6 billion spending bill that included funding for… permanent bases in Iraq.

Officials claim that the bases currently under constructed will be turned over to the Iraqi government at some future point. But that leaves ambiguous whether or not the Shiite and Kurdish-dominated Iraqi government could sign an agreement to keep U.S. forces in the country over the long term. Meanwhile, John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told Congress last week, "The policy on long-term presence in Iraq hasn't been formulated."

Now maybe some people can make the case for a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq—it would be nice to hear it. On the other hand, we've heard over and over that the only hope for something resembling stability in Iraq is to bring various Sunni parties into the government. Part of that process will involve a clear statement that we have no long-term designs on Iraq—as is widely feared—in order to defuse Sunni fears. (Indeed, insurgent groups agreed to negotiate with U.S. officials the day after Khalilzad's statement.) But as far as anyone can tell, those long-term designs are still very much unknown—and there's plenty of evidence to suggest that the U.S. really is planning on digging in and keeping some military presence in the country for a long, long time.

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New Research on Melting Ice Sheets

Fri Mar. 24, 2006 2:32 PM EST

The current issue of Science Magazine is devoted to ice—or, more specifically, the accelerating rate at which the world's ice sheets are melting. "Glacial earthquakes" have reportedly been rocking Greenland of late, as giant chunks of ice the size of Manhattan, lubricated by melting water, start stumbling into the ocean.

According to the findings in Science, the Earth's temperature by 2100 will probably be at least 4 degrees warmer than it is now, if current warming rates continue. The Arctic Ocean will be warmer than it's been in 130,000 years. Computer models indicate that warming could raise the average temperature in parts of Greenland to above freezing for multiple months, which could have a substantial impact on melting of the polar ice sheets, according to a paper by researchers led by Bette Otto-Bliesner of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. That melting could, in turn, raise the sea level by one to three feet over the next 100 to 150 years.

As Science puts it, "man is doing an experiment with the ice sheets, which is a scientifically interesting experiment, except it is going to have some serious consequences." As a result, island nations could be submerged, cities flooded, and millions of coastal residents could be exposed to destructive storm surges. According to researcher Julian Dowdeswell of Cambridge University, "the changing mass of the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica represents the largest unknown in predictions of global sea level rise over the coming decades," making scientists increasingly concerned that at the rate we're going, global warming because of greenhouse emissions could raise sea levels to catastrophic proportions.

The Value of Health Insurance

| Thu Mar. 23, 2006 9:01 PM EST

Tyler Cowen links to a new RAND study purporting to show, among other things, that "insurance status has no real effect on quality"—in other words, the insured don't get significantly better care than the uninsured. I'm hardly the best person to pick apart this study, but on the face of things, that would be a surprising finding if true. A while back, I discussed a study by MIT economist Peter Doyle that used some clever methodology—he looked at car accident victims—and found that the uninsured really do get worse care from providers at critical moments than the insured do. Either way, the RAND study's certainly interesting.

TABOR Doesn't Work

| Thu Mar. 23, 2006 5:32 PM EST

While I'm poking around the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities site, I may as well post about their other report today, about Colorado. The story goes like this: Colorado enjoyed very strong economic growth during the 1990s. Conservatives say that success was all due to the "taxpayer's bill of rights" that the state adopted in 1992, which curtailed the legislature's ability to raise taxes. (TABOR was eventually repealed last year when voters realized that the state couldn't raise enough revenue to fund things that they actually needed and wanted, like education and infrastructure.)

Anyway, CBPP finds that Colorado's growth had nothing to do with TABOR; instead, it was due to government investments in the 1980s in education and infrastructure. This sounds a bit convenient—"Wow, liberal think tank finds that liberal policies are good for growth"—but the argument looks pretty solid. And it's important, because a lot of other states, including Maine, Ohio, and Oklahoma, are putting TABOR-like laws on the ballot this fall. A "taxpayer bill of rights" is something right-wingers like Grover Norquist have been pushing for a long, long time. But the laws only hurt the ability of states to raise money for stuff they need, and seem to have little effect on the economy.

UPDATE: See Greg Anrig for more on the damage TABOR has done to Colorado.

Line-Item Veto: Worse Than We Thought

| Thu Mar. 23, 2006 5:18 PM EST

Because no budget maneuver is too arcane or seemingly trivial for us to analyze, let's discuss the line-item veto again. Previously, we've argued that giving the president the power to strip out any part of a congressional spending bill he or she didn't like would invite abuse by the executive branch.

Now the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has their own report on the line-item veto, noting that the line-item veto powers sought by this administration would enable the president to withhold funding for all sorts of programs beyond earmarks—"pork," in other words. If Bush wanted to, he could withhold funds for months and months from, say, the Education Department, even if Congress doesn't approve. In his 2006 budget, Bush called for, among other things, a $3.4 billion cut to education, an $866 million cut to the Department of Health and Human Services, and a $277 million cut from the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress will likely (and sensibly) reject all of these cuts—unless, of course, the president can skirt around Congress.

You'd think this sort of thing would never pass muster with the Supreme Court since it violates the separation of powers in a major way. Still, the idea needs to be stopped. Letting the president basically write legislation on his own would be catastrophic, to put it very mildly.