Political MoJo

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.

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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.

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.

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Are Democrats trying to shoot down Paul Hackett in Ohio?

| Tue Oct. 11, 2005 7:34 PM EDT

Just posted at Mother Jones: "Friendly Fire," by David Goodman.

For a candidate who just lost a congressional race, Paul Hackett has been a popular guy this fall. The tough-talking Iraq combat veteran turned a special-election fight in Ohio's Second District into this summer's political sleeper hit, energizing Democrats and converting Republicans in the deep-red counties outside Cincinnati and pulling 48 percent of the vote in a district where John Kerry got a mere 36 percent. Soon the national party came courting: Hackett met several times with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer, chair of the Senate Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), both of whom encouraged him to run for the seat of Ohio's senior senator, Republican Mike DeWine, in '06. Hackett said he would—after been told by Ohio Congressman Sherrod Brown that he wasn't planning to run—and on October 3 he publicly threw his hat in the ring.

Then, last week, his phone rang again. It was Sherrod Brown calling to tell Hackett he'd changed his mind: he was running after all. Then Schumer called, and this time he wasn't delivering a pep talk. Hackett got the distinct sense that he was being asked to make way for the party insider. "Schumer didn't tell me anything definitive," he says. "But I'm not a dumb ass, and I know what he wanted me to do."

Continue reading "Friendly Fire" at MotherJones.com

Should Miers Be Confirmed?

| Tue Oct. 11, 2005 4:43 PM EDT

Mark Kleiman is thinking about what the Democrats should do on Harriet Miers. I'm certainly not much good at giving political advice, and there's no reason why anyone should listen to what I suggest, but here are a few odds and ends:

  • Obviously, the key consideration is this: "If Miers is defeated, would her replacement be better or worse?" With that in mind...
  • Whatever else one can say about her, say this: Miers is an administration hack of the first order, utterly subservient to the Bush family. She will almost certainly rule Bush's way in a number of upcoming Supreme Court cases—Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Padilla v. Rumsfeld, challenging the authority of the president to detain and torture whoever he wants without Congressional oversight. This, to me, is the most important issue on the Court's docket in the near future, along with abortion.
  • The Senate recently passed a bill regulating treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. How long will that bill last? The White House OLC, under Alberto Gonzales, has argued that "any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of battlefield combatants would violate the Constitution's sole vesting of the Commander-in-Chief authority to the President." As a legal matter, I think this is flat wrong. As policy, it's disastrous. But would Miers endorse this view, or something like it? Another, more "principled" conservative might put limits on Bush, although that's a gamble: Antonin Scalia has argued, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, that American citizens have a right to challenge their imprisonment, but "enemy combatants" abroad do not; Clarence Thomas, meanwhile, basically believes the executive branch can do whatever it wants. Miers will almost surely take Thomas' view; if she was defeated or her nomination withdrawn, her replacement might take Scalia's slightly-less-bad view, which would be better than nothing. But maybe not.
  • On matters concerning things other than the executive branch, Miers is likely to vote no more conservatively than anyone else Bush might nominate. From what we've seen, she might cast a few surprise liberal votes on social issues, especially when it comes to criminal justice, while taking a more consistently pro-business line than a "principled" originalist might do. (Of course, there are very few principled originalists anywhere—see "14th Amendment, affirmative action and"—so this doesn't really matter.)
  • The danger with replacing Miers with a more qualified and "knowledgeable" Justice, one who has a firmer grasp of constitutional issues, like Michael McConnnell, is that a persuasive replacement could potentially convince the centrists on the Court—Breyer, Souter, Kennedy—to swing further to the right. Dahlia Lithwick has suggested that Scalia's antagonistic temperament has alienated many of his colleagues, and Marisa Katz has noted that Rehnquist was unable to convince the liberal justices on his court to sign onto his opinions until he became more likable and less harsh. I already worry that John G. Roberts will be more effective than Rehnquist at this, and we don't need another like him.
  • Politically, if Miers' nomination was sunk, that might harm the Bush administration, but based on history, Bush's ability to ram stuff through Congress seems unrelated to the fact of individual victories or defeats. The Bernie Kerik fiasco didn't hurt the White house, and neither would this. The administration's frequent bumbling of late seems mostly due to the fact that Karl Rove is focusing on staying out of jail. One good thing that could come out of a Miers confirmation would be that evangelical turnout in the 2006 midterms might be depressed; but on the other hand, William Galston and Elaine Karmack have recently observed that evangelical turnout has been mostly constant since 1988, so this seems pretty unlikely.
  • Prediction: The current conservative infighting over Miers will have precisely zero effect on anything substantive, nor will it harm the Republican Party in any way. Read Stanley Coser. Six months from now, they'll have forgotten all about their little grumbling.
  • At an emotional level, I agree with Jack Hitt: Democrats shouldn't even show up for the vote to confirm Miers. This country is fast becoming a banana republic and the best thing the party can do is to let voters know who holds the reins in Congress. More "seriously," though, I don't really know.

    Taking the Offensive on Defense

    | Tue Oct. 11, 2005 1:49 PM EDT

    In a recent interview with Salon, Sen. Russ Feingold got vocal about the mess in Iraq and the likelihood that we won't be hanging a "mission accomplished" sign over a working democracy in Iraq before it comes time to withdraw troops. Meanwhile, Robert Kuttner notes in the Boston Globe a CBS poll reporting that 64 percent of Americans "oppose Bush's conduct of the war," and hence:

    [A]n antiwar candidate such as Feingold would be an odds-on favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination over bigger names disabled by their own fatal caution.

    Keep your hat on Hillary, winning the nomination in 2008 will take more than a diplomatic distaste for war, Bush cronyism, and a federal disaster, or even a season of what some on the right are calling Hillary's primetime infomercial.

    Keeping the Poor Out

    Tue Oct. 11, 2005 12:40 PM EDT

    Recall that Bush, in the wake of Katrina, was able to suspend federal labor laws that require federal contractors to pay a prevailing wage.

    That was bad enough.

    But now it seems that not only are workers at companies with federal contracts being paid below the prevailing wage, but they are being radically underpaid. Body and Soul links to an LATimes story today which notes that some workers are only being paid $4 an hour!

    Jeanne then writes:

    If all you care about is putting up structures, cheap is good. If you're trying to rebuild a community, the most important thing is giving people something to come back to. Four dollars isn't it. If anybody cared about the community, they'd be paying way more than prevailing wages, and giving evacuees priority on getting the jobs.
    Somehow we have trained these corporations to believe that national disasters are a time for them to profit. But this gets things all wrong. A system that privileges the profit of a construction company over the basic welfare of those who will live in the area after it is rebuilt is a system that has been turned upside down. Indeed, what good will it be to rebuild that community if you underpay the very people who are supposed to live that community?