Political MoJo

Park Service managers now must be screened for Bush loyalty

| Thu Oct. 13, 2005 10:05 PM EDT

The National Park Service is made up of civil service employees, and though they will continue to be called civil service employees, things have changed. Today, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility issued a directive which requires all mid-level and above managers to be approved by a Bush administration political appointee.

Managers must be screened by Park Service headquarters and by the Assistant Secretary for Fish, and Wildlife, and Parks. They must be willing to lead their employees in Bush's Management Agenda, which includes outsourcing to replace civil servants, the use of faith-based initiatives, and rollbacks of civil service rights.

They must also be able to lead employees in Interior Secretary Gale Norton's 4 C's: "communication, consultation, cooperation, all in the name of conservation." Presumably, they will provide milk and cookies at 3 p.m. every afternoon.

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Yes, But What About the War?

| Thu Oct. 13, 2005 7:59 PM EDT

Here's George Packer, noted liberal hawk, anguishing about his earlier support for the war in Iraq:

In the winter of 2003, what you thought about the war mattered less to me than how you thought about it. The ability to function meant honest engagement with the full range of opposing ideas; it meant facing rather than avoiding the other position's best arguments. In those tense months, the mark of second-rate minds was absolute certainty one way or the other.
Well, why couldn't you have thought of it this way? Way back in 1865 the United States deposed one of the more sordid apartheid regimes on the planet and then occupied the region so as to bring liberal democracy to the people there. But a mere five years later domestic newspapers like the New York Tribune pronounced the occupation a failure and declared that the nation was "tired" of the whole process. Eventually the occupation ended in the face of an armed insurgency and political revolt, and the occupiers left a corrupt one-party state in place that didn't get around to respecting minority rights until 100 years later, and to this day still exports militant fundamentalism abroad that continues to threaten world peace. So, you know, if it couldn't work here at home, why on earth would it ever have worked in the Middle East?

No, really, there's no sense responding seriously to this. Prior to the war, in the "winter of 2003," there were two distinct events taking place. On the one hand, we had a president whose incompetence was perfectly well known preparing to invade, on shadowy pretenses, a country rife with internal tension. On the other hand, we had a bunch of intellectuals, Packer and Christopher Hitchens among them, carrying out a public debate about liberal ideals and national greatness and whether anti-totalitarianism was morally preferable to anti-imperialism, or vice-versa. All well and good, but the latter event had nothing whatsoever to do with the former, and many a person displaying a "second-rate mind" in Packer's little coffeehouse discussion were absolutely right about the president who was about to launch a war.

Sexual Slavery

| Thu Oct. 13, 2005 7:49 PM EDT

Here's a charming story on the sexual slavery rampant in prisons, courtesy of the New York Times editorial page:

When Congress issued the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, that should have put corrections officials on notice. The measure requires the Justice Department to study the endemic problem of sexual assault behind bars and develop a strategy for coping with it. But prison officials have continued to play down this problem. The costs of denial are on vivid display this month in a federal courtroom in Texas, where a former inmate has told jurors how corrections officers ignored his written pleas for help, and even laughed at him, while he was repeatedly raped and sold into sexual slavery by prisoners who viewed him as "property."

The lawsuit was brought by Roderick Johnson, a former Navy seaman who is openly gay and who landed in prison for violating the conditions of his probation. He was quickly pounced upon and told that he would have to submit to sex or be killed. Mr. Johnson filed several written pleas to prison officials, asking them to put him in a secure section of the prison. He says prison officers mocked him, accusing him of wanting to be raped.

According to court documents, vulnerable inmates were told to either fight it out with rapists or find boyfriends who would protect them in return for sex. Mr. Johnson says gang members were free to rape him, sometimes by paying a few dollars to the prisoner who in effect "owned" him. Speaking of prison officials, a witness said, "They seen what was happening but they pretended they didn't."Hilarious! Luckily prisons aren't an incubator for HIV or hepatitis or anything of that sort; all just fun and games in here. It would be naïve, of course, to pretend that any of this is new; for a sense of the sheer prevalence of prison rape, the testimonies in this 2001 Human Rights Watch report pretty much cover the basics. And we've known for ages that the sort of naked authoritarianism and power handed, for instance, to prison guards will always bring out the sadistic side of people. But the sexual character of all of this never fails to shock. In light of all the naked human pyramids and menstrual blood and genital squeezing and "fuck a PUC" routines to which detainees in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere have found themselves subject, stories about guards sexually abusing prisoners have a sick resonance. I don't know what's wrong with this country, but I suspect Rush Limbaugh of all people put his finger on it when he said: "I think the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country." Yes, well, then we need more of that, don't we?

Hundreds of Boeing jets may be unsafe. So why are they still flying?

| Thu Oct. 13, 2005 7:29 PM EDT

Just posted at Mother Jones: Flight Risk, by Sheila Kaplan

Documents made public in a whistleblower lawsuit filed against Boeing suggest that thousands of unsafe and unapproved parts have been installed on hundreds of commercial jets the company produced between 1994 and 2004.

The scope of the Wichita, Kansas, federal case—which focuses on parts supplied by Carson, California-based Ducommun—is limited to jets built for the government, but Mother Jones has found that the alleged flaws could threaten at least 1,600 commercial airplanes manufactured between 1994 and 2004, many of which are still flying. The suit alleges that Boeing knew the Ducommun parts were faulty but used them anyway.

Read the story--the first in a series--at motherjones.com.

As though Katrina's homeless didn't have enough to worry about

| Wed Oct. 12, 2005 11:57 PM EDT

The East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office asked that firearms be banned from the new FEMA trailer park in Baker, Louisiana. The request was made because the trailer walls are thin, and it is estimated that a discharged bullet could go through several trailers. The request wasn't necessary, however; it has been a FEMA policy for years to ban firearms at FEMA facilities such as the one in Baker.

However, threatened with a lawsuit by the National Rife Association, FEMA is now considering reversing its policy and allowing residents to have guns.

The park houses almost 600 trailers, and the final population is expected to be around 2,000. Transportation and postal service are expected to be added, as well as security. Though it is understandable that people who legally own guns do not want to be told they cannot take them to their temporary homes, in a stress-filled environment such as the Baker park, it is easy to understand why both the federal and local governments want to get firearms out of the picture.

Evacuees from other storms who have lived in FEMA trailer parks have complained about constant loud fighting among bored adolescents, and some have said they were afraid to go outside at night. Given the very close quarters, the anger over loss of homes and jobs, and the shock of being in a cramped new environment, the introduction of firearms sounds like an accident--or maybe something worse--waiting to happen.

C.I.A. Smacks White House

Wed Oct. 12, 2005 7:22 PM EDT

Alternate Brain comments on some interesting news: the CIA is lashing back at the Bush administration for not heeding their predictions on a post-invasion struggle between Iraq's various ethnic groups:

A newly released report published by the CIA rebukes the Bush administration for not paying enough attention to prewar intelligence that predicted the factional rivalries now threatening to split Iraq.

Policymakers worried more about making the case for the war, particularly the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, than planning for the aftermath, the report says.

Well, we already new that the Bush administration dropped the ball when it came to post-war Iraq. What makes this new report interesting is that it further reveals how the administration picked and chose which bits of intelligence it found relevant.

As the USA Today story notes:

In an ironic twist, the policy community was receptive to technical intelligence (the weapons program), where the analysis was wrong, but apparently paid little attention to intelligence on cultural and political issues (post-Saddam Iraq), where the analysis was right.

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Just Another Exclusive Source

Wed Oct. 12, 2005 6:34 PM EDT

This morning, on his national radio show Focus on the Family, James Dobson revealed the contents of a confidential conversation he had had with Karl Rove, which had somehow—and mysteriously—convinced him to support Harriet Miers. (The Senate Judiciary Committee had earlier threatened to subpoena Dobson over the secret "information" he claimed to have.) The full transcript of Dobson's address is available here. He said, "Karl Rove didn't tell me anything about the way Harriet Miers would vote on cases that may come before the Supreme Court" and explains his elusive comments to holding privileged information as a matter of timing.

So, what was it that I couldn't talk about? The answer has everything to do with timing. It's very important to remember that when I first made that statement about knowing things that I shouldn't know, and shared that with my colleagues the day that the President made his announcement, maybe two or three hours after his press conference.

And then, that very night, I went on the Brit Hume program—the FOX News program—and…and talked about the President's nomination. And then, the following day—Tuesday—I recorded a statement for FOF, which was heard on Wednesday. And that is the last time that I said that I had information that was confidential and that I really couldn't talk about.

Why? Because what I was told by Karl Rove had been confirmed and reported from other sources by that time.

What did Karl Rove say to me that I knew on Monday that I couldn't reveal? Well, it's what we all know now, that Harriet Miers is an Evangelical Christian, that she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life, that she had taken on the American Bar Association on the issue of abortion and fought for a policy that would not be supportive of abortion, that she had been a member of the Texas Right to Life. In other words, there is a characterization of her that was given to me before the President had actually made this decision. I could not talk about that on Monday. I couldn't talk about it on Tuesday. In fact, Brit Hume said, "What church does she go to?" And I said, "I don't think it's up to me to reveal that." Do you remember my saying that?

What I meant was, I couldn't get into this. But by Wednesday and Thursday and Friday, all this information began to come out and it was no longer sensitive. I didn't have the right to be the one that revealed it and that's what I was referring to.Well, that was worth holding our breath for. No explicit discussion of Roe v. Wade, just what is now generally known—that Miers is an evangelical Christian. On the other hand, the fact that Rove could so fully assure Dobson on Miers' position on abortion is telling, and should cast doubt on any liberal hopes that Miers wouldn't vote to overturn Roe.

Meanwhile, Dobson's not the only one with a super-secret intelligence source. According to ex-CIA official Larry Johnson, the White House got its supply of ingredients to bake the Plamegate yellow cake from people who know their pantone, the Italian Intelligence Service (SISMI). Johnson, who bases his information on reports "knowledgeable friends"—presumably from his old haunt in the CIA, provides a careful history of how Italian information on WMDs were discredited before the war, only to be bounced around and revived again.

And finally, in a groundbreaking exclusive with the San Francisco Chronicle, Dubya's secret source—the ultimate intelligence operative—Mr. Omnipotent reveals Himself. (This is a fun one.)

The Imperial Presidency

| Wed Oct. 12, 2005 3:07 PM EDT

Oy. Harold Meyerson reports that Andy Card is confirming some of my worst fears on Harriet Miers:

As White House chief-of-staff, [Card] found the most intriguing article, he said, to be Article II, which established the presidency and the executive branch. Miers, he continued, understood Article II as well, and would defend it "when challenged by those given the power to challenge it by Article I [i.e., the Congress] and Article III [i.e., the courts]." …

At minimum, he suggested that Miers would be the staunchest proponent of executive power over that of the other two branches that the Court had seen in a very long time.It's worth unpacking this statement, because it's much more significant than one might think at first glance. Neil Kinkopf, a former lawyer in the Clinton administration's Office of Legal Counsel, wrote a Legal Affairs article a while back noting that Republican administrations for decades have adhered to this "exclusivity" view of the executive branch—the view that the Constitution divides executive and congressional power into separate spheres, and one cannot encroach on the other. The view appeared in 1989, when then-Assistant Attorney General William Barr wrote a memo to all federal agencies saying: "Only by consistently and forcefully resisting… congressional incursions can Executive Branch prerogatives be preserved." And it came up in the torture memos written in 2002 by Jay Bybee and John Yoo, arguing that the executive has sole control over the military, and as such, Congress cannot stop the president from ordering torture or other coercive interrogation methods.

At least in modern times, the Supreme Court has generally dismissed this "exclusivity" view, with important results. In 1952, the Court barred Harry Truman from seizing steel mills under strike, on the view that the Constitution "enjoins upon its branches separateness but interdependence." In 1974, the Court rejected Nixon's claim of executive privilege to withhold Watergate tapes. In 1988 the Court upheld a congressional law creating an "independent counsel" to investigate and prosecute government wrongdoing, on the theory that Congress may regulate the executive branch. The constitutional theory outlined by Card—and, apparently, Harriet Miers—would, apparently, reject this reasoning.

Does it matter? Yes, and not just because such a view would prevent Congress from banning torture. In his Legal Affairs article, Kinkopf noted that in 1988 Congress required the Department of Health and Human Services to mail every household an educational pamphlet on AIDS. The Reagan administration didn't like the pamphlet and refused to mail it, and the Reagan OLC argued that Congress was encroaching on the president's exclusive right to administer the DHHS. Congress ordered the mailing regardless, but a Court filled with Miers-esque judges might have sided with Reagan. In 1989 the first Bush administration tried to use the "exclusivity" view before the Court to strike down a law authorizing whistleblowers to bring lawsuits on behalf of the federal government against fraudulent contractors. And so on. A judge sympathetic to the "imperial presidency" view is a very bad thing, and seems to me like a much bigger deal than Miers' supposed lack of qualifications.

Raise Taxes on Whom?

| Wed Oct. 12, 2005 1:06 PM EDT

It's hard to know what the Bush administration plans to do with this:

President Bush's tax advisory commission indicated on Tuesday that it would not propose replacing the income tax with a national sales tax or a value-added tax, but would recommend limits in the popular tax deductions for mortgage interest and employer-provided health insurance.

Interesting. Depending on how that mortage-interest deduction gets phased out, a lot of home values could end up dropping as a result, on the theory that currently, many folks are already bidding up the price of homes until it roughly offsets the value of the deduction. Since the deduction would only be limited rather than eliminated, I'm guessing this would disproportionately affect the upper-middle-class. (Same with the health care deduction for businesses, which is largely regressive.) To balance against this, the commission has recommended eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, which would give many of these—presumably upper-middle-class—homeowners an offsetting tax cut, depending on the details, but ultimately, the bulk of the AMT affects high income-earners, primarily. Best to wait until CBPP comes out with an analysis before judging.

In the past, the White House has screwed the poor in order to benefit the well-off; but creating winners and losers among the upper-middle class? Seems treacherous. Or maybe not: Kevin Drum once noted that this constituency is the easiest group for the Republicans to abandon when it comes to tax cut politics. Guess he was right.

Oh, and a flat tax is still under consideration.

It only appears that way when you have a pinhead

| Tue Oct. 11, 2005 10:40 PM EDT

"He is doing great. He has big broad shoulders."

That was First Lady Laura Bush's assessment of her husband and his handling of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and September 11. In her interview with NBC's Today, Bush went on to say that the people in Louisiana "are rebuilding their lives and other people want to help them."

She was a few miles from my house when she said these things. Her husband was hammering nails at our Habitat for Humanity headquarters in a photo op that even the insulated pod people in his inner circle should have told him to avoid. I listened to the radio this afternoon--all of New Orleans' radio stations are still broadcasting out of Baton Rouge under the United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans umbrella--and the usual conservative callers were enraged that Bush had made another trip to Louisiana to have dinner and engage in yet another shallow photo session. One of the hosts, not known for his liberal thinking or even for deep thinking, remarked that "if this is the compassionate conservative, I'd hate to see the mean-spirited jerk."

Over the last several years, Louisiana, formerly a solidly Democratic (moderate, of course) state, has become more and more conservative. The state went for Bush in 2000 and 2004. Today, though--at least in south Louisiana--there is agreement that the White House and the entire federal government let Louisiana down in the worst way. There are a few who want to blame Governor Blanco, Mayor Nagin, or Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard, but they are becoming a smaller and smaller minority.

As for people rebuilding their lives, thousands are not. They are in other states and will never come back. Many are still living in shelters; the luckier ones have moved into the few FEMA trailers we have seen. Untold numbers of people in New Orleans and surrounding parishes have lost their businesses, just like that. Thousands more have lost their jobs. Those who have returned to New Orleans cannot shop for supplies. There are no hospitals. There is no payroll for law enforcement officers. There is no public transportation. Hundreds of people are still unaccounted for. The tax base is nonexistent. And unlike other areas who have received large relief packets from the federal government, Louisiana has been told we will have to repay the money.

There is no way to really understand the devastation unless you live here. Pretending that Bush--a man so out of touch, one of his aides had to make him a DVD so he would have a clue about what happened when Katrina hit--is prepared to handle the tragedy that has befallen Louisiana is just adding insult to a region that has already suffered catastrophic injury.