Political MoJo

Pope Benedict XVI

| Tue Apr. 19, 2005 3:29 PM EDT

Wow, here's Andrew Sullivan on the new pope: "It would be hard to over-state the radicalism of this decision. It's not simply a continuation of John Paul II. It's a full-scale attack on the reformist wing of the church. The swiftness of the decision and the polarizing nature of this selection foretell a coming civil war within Catholicism. The space for dissidence, previously tiny, is now extinct. And the attack on individual political freedom is just beginning."

Um, and there was also a less colorful profile of Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict the XVI, in last week's Washington Post.

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Smackdown in the Senate!

| Tue Apr. 19, 2005 3:12 PM EDT

Via Ezra Klein, here's Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's letter to his colleague Mitch McConnell about the "nuclear option":

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Mitch:

Thank you for your letter yesterday regarding judicial nominations. I assume that your reply to my March 15 letter is not a substitute for Senator Frist's promise over a month ago to offer a compromise for resolving this issue. Democrats anxiously await that proposal.

I wholeheartedly agree with you that there is much important work to be done in the Senate. That is why it is so baffling that Republicans would precipitate this destructive confrontation over the Senate's decision to reject a small number of judicial nominees. As you well know, the Senate has confirmed 205 of President Bush's judicial candidates and turned back only ten, a 95% confirmation rate. Ten rejected judges – only seven of whom are currently before the Senate – does not seem reason enough for Republicans to break the Senate rules, violate over 200 years of Senate tradition and thereby impair the ability of Democrats and Republicans to work together on issues of real concern to the American people.

For example, you are absolutely right that "our transportation infrastructure needs improving." That is why I issued a public call last week for the Senate to take up the highway bill. Once we finish the supplemental appropriations bill, the Majority Leader has a clear choice: if he moves to proceed to the highway bill he can allow us to do the work that the American people sent us here to do. If, on the other hand, he chooses to launch what Senator Lott dubbed "the nuclear option," it will be clear that the Republican agenda is not based on the needs of the American people but rather on the demands of radical ideological elements in the Republican Party base.

I am committed to resolving the dispute over judicial nominations amicably. The first step in that process should be for the Majority Leader to abandon his proposal to break the Senate rules. We should not negotiate under a nuclear cloud.

Sincerely,

HARRY REID
Democratic Leader

Indeed, surely there's more important stuff out there for the Senate to do than break rules over a measly seven unqualified judges, no? Yes, yes there is. However, all this talk about a highway bill made me wonder. Highway bills are usually pork-filled grab bags, festivals of goodies that Congress-people can bring home to their districts. Now I'm not a big fan of this little practice, but it seems that the Democrats are placing themselves in a tough bind if Bill Frist pulls the nuclear trigger and the minority party holds up the Senate. Are they going to thwart the highway bill? Are they going to go home to their districts and tell constituents that there will be no pork this year because they decided to make a principled stand on the rule of law and tradition? That actually doesn't sound like something Democrats would ever do. But I'd be happy to be proved wrong.

The crackdown on labor

| Tue Apr. 19, 2005 3:03 PM EDT

As we noted around these parts a few weeks ago, the Bush administration has decided to "get tough" on labor unions by forcing them to submit detailed financial statements. On the face of it, this sounds like a decent way to increase accountability and transparency among unions, to the benefit of members. But come on, this is the Bush administration, who honestly believes that's the intention here? Right. As Nathan Newman points out, this is nothing more than a cheap way to bury organized labor in red tape, thus further eroding union influence. Hey, Grover Norquist openly bragged about it before the election—if Bush won, he would destroy organized labor.

But okay, what if unions really do need better transparency and accountability? Surely there must be some corruption among the ranks of organized labor? Well, Nathan looks into at least one accusation of corruption and finds it… wanting. Turns out the International Plumbers Union was fined $11 million for mismanaging a multi-billion dollar pension fund. Well, okay, there wasn't actually any crime involved. It was more that the trustees could have been more efficient with an investment in the Florida Westin Diplomat hotel, a move that even the Department of Labor couldn't bring itself to call a bad investment.

I'm not going to defend corrupt union bosses getting rich off their workers. But in the grand scheme of corrupt practices the White House could crack down on in the world, this is peanuts. As anyone who's read, well, anything at all about Iraq knows, the White House clearly isn't interested in transparency and accountability for mismanaged construction projects. There's something else going on here.

Mother Jones May/June Issue: "Climate of Denial"

| Mon Apr. 18, 2005 3:35 PM EDT

Our latest print issue is now up on the web! Readers can check out our cover package on global warming, "As The World Burns," online, including stories from the magazine and special web-only features.

From the editor's note: "In his article "Some Like It Hot," Chris Mooney pinpoints a critical distinction in the battle over global warming. The think tanks, crank scientists, and pseudo-journalists who dispute climate change with the aid of millions of corporate dollars are not just arguing the economics of the problem, as they sometimes pretend. That activity, engaging in a thoughtful discussion of politics and priorities, the wisdom of one or another course of action, could be considered honorable regardless of which side one argued from. Rather, the mouthpieces are ignobly contesting the very science itself, using any tactic, any slipshod fiction, that might throw doubt into the public mind and so deflect the dictates of hard fact. In other words, given a public policy debate, conservatives have decided to forgo real debate entirely—to adopt instead a radical course: denying reality itself.

Mooney's article and its companion pieces on the global warming wars, by Bill McKibben and Ross Gelbspan, appear under the banner "Climate of Denial." That banner could be stretched over other stories in this issue as well. It would certainly describe the experience of Dr. David Graham of the Food and Drug Administration ("The Side Effects of Truth"). Hired to investigate the dangers of drugs on the market, Graham was punished for doing his job too well. When he spotted the deadly effects of Vioxx, his superiors chose to muzzle the messenger instead of affronting the pharmaceutical industry."

So go read it. Web features on global warming include an interview with climatologist Michael Mann, Ross Gelbspan on how the media has dropped the ball on climate reporting, and an interactive map on global hotspots. You can check out the full thing here.

New at Mother Jones

| Mon Apr. 18, 2005 1:32 PM EDT

Lebanon, Thirty Years On: Three decades after the start of the civil war, Lebanon's politics may still be fractious--but at leat the guns aren't out. By David Enders.

Bush's Quest for Desired Endstate: One explanation for why the Global War on Terror hasn't worn well. By Steven Bodzin.

What liberal judiciary?

| Mon Apr. 18, 2005 1:31 PM EDT

The Los Angeles Times today does some nice number-crunching over judges on federal courts. Contrary to much "liberal activist judge" mythology, "ninety-four of the 162 active judges now on the U.S. Court of Appeals were chosen by Republican presidents." And Republican appointees have a clear majority on 10 of the 13 circuit courts. So George W. Bush's whining over the fact that a small handful of his judges are being blocked—and mostly just those who, like William G. Myers III, are wholly unqualified for the bench—sounds awfully petulant. Likewise, complaints by Bill Frist and Tom DeLay that there's an out of control liberal judiciary in America just sound silly.

That said, there's still a certain logic to all these complaints. Most of the Republican judges now on the circuit courts, after all, are merely conservative—by and large exerting a good deal of judicial restraint. By contrast, as Jeffrey Rosen nicely described over the weekend, a growing number of conservatives—including and up to Dick Cheney in the White House—actually want to place strong conservative activists on the court, people who, contrary to "mere conservatives" like Antonin Scalia, would be actively willing to overturn law after law in order to get legal doctrine back to where it was before the New Deal. The sort of judges who will strike down labor and environmental protections, scale back minimum-wage and maximum-hour laws, and take away Congress' ability to regulate commerce. Bill Pryor, one of the judges being held up by Democratic filibuster, likely falls under this category. ''Bill Pryor is the key to this puzzle; there's nobody like him,'' says Michael Greve, one of the foremost defenders of the so-called "Constitution in Exile."

Now obviously when Bill Frist rails against "activist judges," he's not intentionally referring about this sort of thing, even though there's nothing more activist than trying to overturn 70 years worth of legal precedent. No, his barking is directed at liberals, or judges whose decisions he disagrees with. But if, as the Los Angeles Times notes, the current judges simply aren't all that liberal, and if, as Jeffrey Rosen points out, the current judges aren't all that activist compared to what the president is proposing, well, the complaints against the judiciary start to descend into pure incoherence.

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New at Mother Jones

| Fri Apr. 15, 2005 8:55 PM EDT

A Tragedy of No Importance: Before Iraq, before Afghanistan and before Bosnia, the West set out to heal another ruined country—Cambodia. By Rich Garella and Eric Pape.

Who She Was: An Interview with Samuel G. Freedman: A son's search for his mother's life—and for atonement. By Julian Brookes

The neo-con beetles

Fri Apr. 15, 2005 3:29 PM EDT

Ah, the age-old conundrum of what to call newly-discovered species. Two U.S. scientists, self-identified political conservatives, faced no such pained deliberations over their newly-discovered beetles. The BBC reports that the three new mold-eating beetles discovered will be called Agathidium bushi, Agathidium cheneyi and Agathidium rumsfeldi. "One of the entomologists said he admired all three men for 'having the courage of their convictions' and standing up for freedom and democracy." There is no finer tribute.

Fighting terrorism with torture

Fri Apr. 15, 2005 3:14 PM EDT

Human Rights Watch released a new report today documenting the widespread and growing practice of Western governments "outsourcing" torture. It's about time. The report shows that it's not just the U.S. that has been expanding the practice, known as "extraordinary rendition": Canada, Sweden, the UK, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany have all been implicated as well.

It's no surprise, then, that the UN Commission on Human Rights has proposed the creation of a special rapporteur to monitor "counterterrorism laws and practices for their compatibility with human rights, act to prevent human rights violations arising from counterterrorism measures and provide technical assistance to states." It's also no surprise that a small number of states, led by China, Russia, and the U.S. are trying to block the move. Particularly amusing is China's argument that it is "too early" to establish a position like this. Too early? Well, it's true. There are probably a lot more people that could be outsourced and tortured before that pesky UN gets involved.

It's tough being Donald Rumsfeld

Fri Apr. 15, 2005 2:53 PM EDT

Check out the transcript of Donald Rumsfeld's talk with U.S. troops in Kyrgyzstan. He opens up the question and answer session with this:

Now I'd like to hear a few questions. It's late in my clock. We've been traveling, so if you have any tough questions --If you have any questions that require diplomacy, the Ambassador's right here. And if you have any nice, easy ones, I'm happy to respond.

And after fielding a somewhat difficult question, he wraps up with, "Last question. Make it an easy one. I've had a long day. I started in Baku."

It's not like he's talking to the press here. The people he's talking to are risking their lives for our country and are simply asking questions regarding their mission. At one point, true, Rumsfeld acknowledges the difficult circumstances they're in:

So, I know that you folks are a long ways from your families and that they also sacrifice even though they're not in a war zone or in a difficult situation - they're not living in tents. I saw the tents when I came by. I can't imagine what they look like with 10 or 12 inches of snow. Has anyone been here for that? Did any of the tents cave in? Did the heat go out? [Laughter]. Well, life's like that.

Yet he repeatedly asks them to "go easy" on him in their questions. Pretty poor form. Check out Intel Dump for Phillip Carter's further analysis of the substance of the Q&A session.