Political MoJo

Signing Statements and Secrecy

| Wed Jun. 28, 2006 4:52 PM EDT

Orin Kerr makes a great point about presidential signing statements here. It's a grave problem that the president has decided that his Article II powers exempt him from having to obey every single provision of every bill signed into law, especially provisions he thinks are unconstitutional. But another—and perhaps bigger—problem is that Bush sometimes doesn't explain what, exactly, he disagrees with. If he did, then perhaps Congress could respond appropriately—perhaps by passing other laws to constrain the president if need be, and there might still be at least some semblance of checks and balances.

Instead, Bush just says that he's free to disagree with and disobey parts of the law, but declines to say which parts. To make the contrast clear, as a commenter at Orin Kerr's site points out, Bill Clinton occasionally used signing statements to disagree with parts of bills he thought unconstitutional (never to the extent Bush has, though), but he specified exactly what he was doing and why he disagreed. The same isn't true of Bush; basically, we have no idea what laws he thinks he can violate.

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Revisiting the Gaza Beach Shelling

Wed Jun. 28, 2006 4:32 PM EDT

An investigation by the British Guardian has cast doubt on the Israeli government's claim that the seven family members killed on a Gaza beach in June died from a Palestinian mine, rather than IDF gunfire.

Israel had initially apologized for the attack, saying it was "aimed at stopping militants from firing into Israel." But that admission of guilt was soon retracted: the IDF launched its own investigation into the incident, and concluded that its forces were not at fault. According to The Guardian, the IDF now argues that the family was killed nine minutes after Israeli shelling of the area ceased: "But hospital records, testimony from doctors and ambulance men and eyewitness accounts suggest that the military has the timing of the explosion wrong, and that it occurred while the army was still shelling the beach."

Human Rights Watch has also called has also called the Israeli investigation inadequate. HRW researchers reached that conclusion in part from a June 19 meeting with Israeli Major-General Meir Kalifi, during which the general said that Palestinians "have no problem lying," and that Palestinian sources were therefore not considered during the IDF investigation. Perhaps this means that another controversial shooting incident, three years ago, merits reconsideration too.

Can Malaria Be Stopped?

| Wed Jun. 28, 2006 4:19 PM EDT

Why are 800,000 young children in Africa dying of malaria each year when "when there are medicines that cure for 55 cents a dose, mosquito nets that shield a child for $1 a year and indoor insecticide spraying that costs about $10 annually for a household"? The New York Times tries to figure that out today. Insufficient funds are part of the reason; mismanagement and dysfunctional aid agencies are another:

Only 1 percent of [USAID's] 2004 malaria budget went for medicines, 1 percent for insecticides and 6 percent for mosquito nets. The rest was spent on research, education, evaluation, administration and other costs.
Social conservatives like Sen. Sam Brownback, to their credit, are trying to reform the "foreign aid industrial complex" and make things more efficient. Via Tapped, I also see that Joshua Kurlantzick has a good article in the Washington Monthly about efforts to fight malaria, which notes that USAID has been reluctant to push a new and effective malarial medicine for a variety of reasons, racism among them. Kurlantzick also knocks down the oft-repeated right-wing canard that people are dying in Africa because they're not allowed to spray DDT all over the place (contrary to what conservatives often say, they are allowed to do so, and anyway, that's only a partial solution). And the obsession with DDT has hampered the push to get effective anti-malarial drugs to Africans.

Ultimately, a lot of this comes down to money—namely, that current aid levels are inadequate. Private charity can't solve everything on its own. As the Times reports, the Gates Foundation has given $177 million for malarial controls. That's significant, but last year the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria came up $300 million short of what it needed to buy drugs. The Bush administration requested only $200 million for the Global Fund, half of what Congress had appropriated the year before. That's quite clearly not enough.

An Inconvenient Truth: Inconvenient...and true

| Wed Jun. 28, 2006 3:27 PM EDT

In another small victory for reality over fantasy, the AP called 100 climate scientists and asked how they rated the science in Al Gore's global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. The 19 who'd seen the film, which is in limited release, gave the doc a pretty unequivocal thumbs-up.

... Gore conveyed the science correctly; the world is getting hotter and it is a manmade catastrophe-in-the-making caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

"Excellent," said William Schlesinger, dean of the Nicholas School of Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University. "He got all the important material and got it right." ...

The tiny errors scientists found weren't a big deal, "far, far fewer and less significant than the shortcoming in speeches by the typical politician explaining an issue," said Michael MacCracken, who used to be in charge of the nation's global warming effects program and is now chief scientist at the Climate Institute in Washington. ...

And yet, and yet...

While more than 1 million people have seen the movie since it opened in May, that does not include Washington's top science decision makers. President Bush said he won't see it. The heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA haven't seen it, and the president's science adviser said the movie is on his to-see list. [Italics mine.]

"They are quite literally afraid to know the truth," Gore said. "Because if you accept the truth of what the scientific community is saying, it gives you a moral imperative to start to rein in the 70 million tons of global warming pollution that human civilization is putting into the atmosphere every day."

UPDATE: (Via ThinkProgress) Even Frank Luntz (he of the famed there-is-no-consensus-on-global-warming memo), has come around.

UPDATE II: (Via Grist) The natural order reasserts itself as Sen. James Inhofe raises "serious [sic!] questions about AP's bias and methodology."

Homelessness a threat to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan

| Tue Jun. 27, 2006 9:39 PM EDT

The government estimates that, on any given night, hundreds of military veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan are homeless. Some cannot adjust after being in a war zone, some cannot navigate federal red tape, and some simply do not have the money to afford a place to live. The problem is the worst in New York City because of the high cost of housing.

The Veterans Administration provides grants to nonprofit housing organizations that provide about 8,000 beds a night across the nation.

Almost half of the U.S.'s disabled veterans receive $337 a month or less in benefits, which makes matters worse. Only those who are classified as 100% disabled receive $2,393 a month, but that group makes up only 10% of all disabled veterans.

Add to this problem the thousands and thousands of homeless Vietnam veterans who were already in the country. Both groups of veterans suffer from high degrees of posttraumatic stress syndrome, in addition to physical handicaps.

The Bush administration is not incompetent. Really.

| Tue Jun. 27, 2006 7:06 PM EDT

Liberal-progressive-reality-based rock star George Lakoff has a new paper out explaining, once again, that liberals have their framing all wrong.

Progressives have fallen into a trap. Emboldened by President Bush's plummeting approval ratings, progressives increasingly point to Bush's "failures" and label him and his administration as incompetent. Self-satisfying as this criticism may be, it misses the bigger point. Bush's disasters—Katrina, the Iraq War, the budget deficit—are not so much a testament to his incompetence or a failure of execution. Rather, they are the natural, even inevitable result of his conservative governing philosophy. It is conservatism itself, carried out according to plan, that is at fault.


...The issue that arises every day is which philosophy of governing should shape our country. It is the issue of our times. Unless conservative philosophy itself is discredited, Conservatives will continue their domination of public discourse, and with it, will continue their domination of politics.

Obviously, he has a point (though small-government conservatives might disagree that their "philosophy" has been greatly advanced under GWB). What it ignores, though, is that these guys manifestly don't know what they're doing half the time (hence their abysmal approval numbers; surely those aren't part of the master plan). Seems a shame to ditch the incompetence frame entirely—especially if you can stretch it to cover the Republican Congress. And maybe the dichotomy's a bit overblown. Why not split the difference and say—to paraphrase Alan Wolfe's argument in this month's Washington Monthly—that the conservative governing philosophy is a philosophy...of incompetent governance?

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Actually-Existing Fascism

| Tue Jun. 27, 2006 6:10 PM EDT

"For the first time in more than thirty years, and to a greater extent than even then, our constitutional form of government is in jeopardy." That's what Elizabeth Drew recently wrote with regards to George W. Bush's unprecedented use of "presidential signing statements" during his tenure in office, as first documented by Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe. Over the past six years, the president has tacked addendums onto over 750 laws passed by Congress noting that he has the "right to ignore numerous sections of the bills." L'etat, c'est moi and all that.

And the kicker is that, as Dan Froomkin points out in his column today, very few reporters have bothered to follow up on this story. The president has openly stated that he's above the law, and no one seems to care. It's apparently of no interest whatsoever to find out what laws Bush "hasn't felt like" obeying. Meanwhile, conservatives seemed to have collectively decided that this week's the week to chuck away whatever last scraps of rationality they still had and suggest that Bush prosecute the New York Times for treason because of a story it published. In the midst of all this, it would take a very daft commentator indeed to worry about signs of incipient fascism in the blogosphere of all places.

Leaving Afghanistan

Tue Jun. 27, 2006 4:05 PM EDT

Much has been made recently of the Bush administration's plans to draw down troops in Iraq in anticipation of midterm elections next fall. But according to Ahmed Rashid, a reporter for the Daily Telegraph and author of the 2001 bestseller Taliban, the U.S. is also planning to pull troops out of Afghanistan—only this time, it could have disastrous consequences. Writing in The New York Review of Books, Rashid says that the scheduled departure of 23,000 US troops from Afghanistan this summer "is particularly disillusioning for millions of Afghans who, unlike their Iraqi counterparts, still equate a sizable US military presence with security, continued international funding, and reconstruction."

Indeed, the renewed Taliban offensive that has claimed over 600 lives since April only seems to have added to the feeling: one woman from the area of the fighting told The Washington Post today, "We only see foreign soldiers once in a while. There is no one to protect us."

According to Rashid, these American troops are leaving just when Afghanistan needs them most: despite some signs of progress, Rashid writes, the country is "near collapse once again… What has gone wrong has been the invasion of Iraq." And now, with the war in Iraq less popular than ever, Republicans seem to have realized that electoral victory in November will likely require a reduction in the number of troops deployed abroad (one Democratic Senator calls the plan "the worst kept secret in town"), forcing Afghans once again to suffer the consequences of a disastrous war in Iraq.

So Much for Democratization

Tue Jun. 27, 2006 3:31 PM EDT

Have the Bushies have given up on promoting democracy in the Middle East? A new crop of articles in the Daily Star, Foreign Affairs and the Washington Post all say that they have.

"The rhetoric of the Bush revolution may live on," writes Philip Gordon in this issue of Foreign Affairs, "but the revolution itself is over." The reasons he posits are both practical and philosophical: having overstretched itself in Iraq, alienated key US allies, and worn down domestic support for spreading democracy abroad (only 20 percent of Americans today say that should be "a very important goal"), the administration just can't do it anymore. Another reasons, the other two authors say, is fear of what free elections might bring, fueled by Hamas's ascendance in Palestinian elections and the Muslim Brotherhood's in Egypt. Plus, Gordon explains, Bush's post-9/11 revolution in foreign policy was enabled by "a feeling of tremendous power." And, well, we have seen what that did for us. Good job, George.

More than a prayer: activists take on corruption and poverty today

| Tue Jun. 27, 2006 1:05 AM EDT

Progressive activists are launching new initiatives today that take on, in different ways, our distorted government priorities fueled by crony capitalism and a corrupted Congress. Hundreds of faith-based leaders, led by the Rev. Jim Wallis and his Sojurners-affiliated groups, will be marching to Capitol Hill before noon and lobbying members of Congress about specific goals to end poverty here and abroad.

Meanwhile, at hundreds of homes around the country tonight, activists led by Public Citizen and other clean government groups, will be screening a riveting new film, "The Big Buy," about how Tom DeLay helped sell off and gerrymander Congress to benefit special interests and Republican donors. (There's still time to join up and learn about both actions. Read more below.)
One goal of that "Clean Money Day" is to promote a new "Voters First" pledge by candidates to commit to public financing of federal campaigns and lobbying reform.

Even though the activists may be different, their reform efforts reflect a battle against an underlying wrong: a federal government and budget rigged on behalf of the rich at the expense of the poor and middle-class. The slashed funding for social needs that the progressive Christians are protesting was shaped by a Congress and federal government that was turned into a Republican money-making machine for special interests with earmarks, tax breaks and lucrative contracts from Iraq to Katrina.

But Wallis, though, is shrewdly seeking to make the ending of poverty a bipartisan moral crusade, so Republican Senator Sam Brownback and Senator Barack Obama will be addressing the faithful. Wallis and his allies are calling their effort a solutions-oriented Covenant for a New America, declaring that "poverty is not a family value."