Political MoJo

The gangster-ization of the GOP

| Tue Apr. 5, 2005 3:32 PM EDT

First we had Tom DeLay on the activist judges in the Schiavo case:

"The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."

Now we have Sen. John Cornyn noting that certain segments of the conservative base are, um, energized:

"I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in, engage in violence. Certainly without any justification, but a concern that I have."

What next, a severed horse head in Harry Reid's bed?

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Another conservative split ...

| Tue Apr. 5, 2005 3:05 PM EDT

... between the politically smart ones ...:

Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio said several national surveys found that 60 to 80 percent of Americans opposed Congress's March 20 intervention in the Schiavo case. Federal courts promptly rejected the lawmakers' directive to review a series of Florida court decisions allowing Schiavo's feeding tube to be removed. One appellate judge chastised Congress and Bush for their actions.

Fabrizio said voters "are probably wondering why we can't get deficit reduction or tax reform or Social Security reform as quickly as we got the Schiavo bill" from the Republican-controlled Congress. Because conservative Christian activists were seen as pushing the legislation, he said, "that's a symbol of what your [party's] priorities are, and you'd better show them another symbol."

Also during the recess, former GOP senator John C. Danforth of Missouri, an ordained Episcopal minister, wrote a New York Times op-ed article criticizing his party's emphasis on opposing stem cell research, same-sex marriage and Schiavo's husband. "Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians," he wrote. ...

... and the other kind:

To some, the darkest cloud above Congress is the Senate's looming clash over judicial nominees. Democrats have used the filibuster -- which can be stopped only by 60 votes in the 100-member chamber -- to thwart several of Bush's most conservative appellate court appointees. Republican leaders have threatened to change Senate rules to bar such filibusters, which would require 51 votes. Democrats say they would respond by bringing the Senate to a standstill, hence the scenario's moniker, "the nuclear option."

Yesterday, dozens of conservative groups released a letter urging Frist to end the filibusters "at the earliest possible moment." Some of the signers predicted Frist has the votes he needs, but others said the vote count is uncertain and may remain so for weeks.

If anything, the Schiavo case has heightened tensions over the judicial stalemate. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the woman's death "should awaken Americans to the problems of the courts." More conservative judges are needed, he said, even though others noted that several of the judges involved in the Schiavo case are Republican appointees.

Here's hoping the dumb guys win out.

Stop hiding behind the African Union

| Tue Apr. 5, 2005 2:51 PM EDT

Ah, so there are still diplomats who believe that the African Union cab "handle" the genocide in Darfur, are there?

An internal African Union (AU) report has called on the 53-member bloc to double the size of its military force in Sudan's troubled western region of Darfur over the next four months, diplomatic sources said Tuesday.

Some quick background: The AU force in Darfur is currently about 2,200 soldiers in Sudan, a woefully inadequate number. Furthermore the troops have only a mandate to monitor the basically-unobserved "ceasefire" between the Darfur rebels and the Khartoum government, and no mandate to protect civilians. Even doubling the size of the force—which seems unlikely, given the AU's current recalcitrance on the matter—won't stop the genocide, which has claimed some 300,000 lives by now, and certainly won't be enough to disarm the janjawid horseback militias running through the country, butchering civilians.

The idea that the AU can "resolve" the problem is a fiction that very desperately needs to end. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Condoleeza Rice hid shamefully behind this facade: "The [African Union] ceiling is 3,400 and the AU has said they'd like to go to five or six thousand. I think we ought to try to fully realize that." But even "five or six thousand" troops is not enough, not so long as the AU isn't tasked with protecting civilians, and not so long as Khartoum maintains its air assistance for the janjawid militias. Jan Egeland, the UN Humanitarian Affairs Secretary, estimates that at least 10,000 troops are needed to protect the 3-4 million refugees displaced by all the violence. That won't come from the African Union.

Indeed, watching the Nigerian leadership steer the AU over the last few months, it's become clear that the African bloc is much-too reluctant to stop the violence in Darfur; the AU still maintains the dangerous delusion that the National Islamic Front in Khartoum is a "responsible government". It's not, and it's long past time for the UN or, failing that, NATO to intervene.

He's proposing what now?

| Tue Apr. 5, 2005 1:59 PM EDT

"New Nuclear Warhead Proposed to Congress," says the Washington Post this morning. Wha—? When did they decide to do that? But yes, that's exactly what Linton Brooks, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, is proposing.

The money, it seems, would coming out of a program Congress approved last year called the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, which was supposed to "improve the reliability, longevity, and certifiability of existing weapons and their components." Note the word "existing". But now Brooks is proposing "replacements for existing stockpile weapons." That's a very different thing, and apparently it's now going to be necessary to keep an eye on the slippery slope from updating our current stockpiles to developing brand new nuclear weapons. Fantastic; this should fit right in with the administration's new non-proliferation strategy.

What do 56 million Americans have in common?

| Tue Apr. 5, 2005 1:45 PM EDT

Landing in my inbox just now is a grim new report from Health Affairs, noting that by 2013, 56 million Americans will be uninsured. One-fourth of all workers. Most of this, by the way, will be due to strained budgets and unaffordable health care costs for low- and middle-income people.

The interesting thing in the report—well, interesting to health care wonks, depressing to everyone else—is that the researchers found a "remarkably tight relationship" between affordability and coverage. It doesn't matter whether workers are covered by their employers or pay out-of-pocket. When premiums go up, fewer Americans get coverage, period. As one would expect.

So there are two things to conclude here. One, covering the uninsured is going to cost both employers and taxpayers a lot of money—a good rule of thumb is about $200 billion per year, which is relative peanuts in the cost of total health care spending (roughly $29 trillion over the next decade), but a lot of money all the same. There's no way of getting around this, and it does no good to pretend, as the president does, that spending just a little bit of money will solve the problem. Second, universal coverage, so long as it involves the private insurance industry, simply isn't going to work without serious cost containment measures that keep premiums from rising faster than income. Unfortunately there seem to be far more calls to do this sort of thing—usually involving completely unrelated cuts for Medicare or Medicaid—than there are actual solutions. Still, before anyone proposes anything, it never hurts to understand the problem, so for a good primer on why health care costs are so high in America, I suggest another old Health Affairs report (pdf) on the matter.

Social Security solved?

Tue Apr. 5, 2005 1:39 PM EDT

Call off the Minutemen! Those illegal immigrants could be keeping Social Security and Medicare afloat.

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All in favor of judicial killings...

| Mon Apr. 4, 2005 8:26 PM EDT

Oh marvelous. I see it's now in vogue for Republican Senators to support violence against judges. Here's a quote from Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) on the Senate floor earlier today:

I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certainly nothing new, but we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in - engage in violence.

Lovely. So, if a judge gets murdered—like, say Rowland Barnes, who was shot by a convicted rapist two weeks ago—it's his own damn fault. That seems to be the opinion of one standing Senator of the United States. Now let's count up GOP threats against judges. First there was Tom DeLay saying, "The time will come for the men responsible for [ruling on the Schiavo case] to answer for their behavior." Now Cornyn. Who's next? Vice-president Dick Cheney has said he might "have problems" with retribution against judges, but apparently hasn't quite taken a firm stance on the matter. Where do the other Republicans stand? Who's pro-judge-killing and who's anti-judge-killing? Are there any other Republicans still in favor of the rule of law?

How screwed is Tom DeLay? (Latest in a series)

| Mon Apr. 4, 2005 7:29 PM EDT

From the Houston Chronicle:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's footing among his constituents has slipped drastically during the past year and a majority of his district disapproves of how he handled the Terri Schiavo case, according to a Houston Chronicle poll.

Nearly 40 percent of the 501 voters questioned Wednesday through Friday said their opinion of the powerful Sugar Land Republican is less favorable than last year, compared with 11 percent who said their view of him has improved.

Half of the respondents gave DeLay a somewhat or very favorable rating.

Yet 45 percent said they would vote for someone other than DeLay if a congressional election in the 22nd District were at hand; 38 percent said they would stick with him.

"There seems to be no question that there has been an erosion in support for the congressman," said John Zogby, whose polling company, Zogby International, performed the survey. "He is posting numbers that one would have to consider in the dangerous territory for an incumbent. And he isn't just an incumbent, he is a longtime incumbent."

Win or lose ...

| Mon Apr. 4, 2005 7:12 PM EDT

There used to be a spirit of solidarity binding all the embattled members of the conservative movement. But with conservatism ascendant, that spirit has eroded. Should Bush lose, it will be like a pack of wolves that suddenly turns on itself. The civil war over the future of the party will be ruthless and bloody. The foreign-policy realists will battle the democracy-promoting Reaganites. The immigrant-bashing nativists will battle the free marketeers. The tax-cutting growth wing will battle the fiscally prudent deficit hawks. The social conservatives will war with the social moderates, the biotech skeptics with the biotech enthusiasts, the K Street corporatists with the tariff-loving populists, the civil libertarians with the security-minded Ashcroftians. In short, the Republican Party is unstable.

New York Times Magazine
How to Reinvent the G.O.P.
August 29, 2004


Republicans and conservatives are quarreling over Congress's intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, and the rising influence of Christian conservatives. Some Republicans in Washington and statehouses are balking at federal tax cuts in the face of deficits or spending cuts, while a few are worried that the war in Iraq will lead to more foreign entanglements. Republicans are beginning to whisper in the past tense as they discuss Mr. Bush's signature second-term measure, the revamping of Social Security.

Conservative commentators and blogs are even warning that Republican divisions could turn into turmoil once President Bush begins his fade from power. "The American right is splintering," the sometimes-conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan wrote in a column for The Sunday Times of London headlined, "Bush's Triumph Conceals the Great Conservative Crack-Up."

New York Times
Squabbles Under the Big Tent
April 2, 2005

Why is the NIC still standing?

| Mon Apr. 4, 2005 4:49 PM EDT

After reading through the WMD Commission's recent report on intelligence failures in Iraq, Larry Johnson of the Counterterrorism Blog asks a good question: Why haven't more administration officials been held accountable for their screw-ups?

It is astonishing at this juncture that there has not been a major shake up at the [National Intelligence Council]. In fact, those responsible for the sections with the most errors are still on the job and, in one instance, given more authority. The principal drafters of the October 2002 NIE were Robert Walpole, National Intelligence Officer for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Proliferation; Lawrence K. Gershwin, the National Intelligence Officer for Science and Technology; retired Army Maj. Gen. John R. Landry, National Intelligence Officer for Conventional Military Issues, and Paul R. Pillar, NIO for the Near East and South Asia. Walpole oversaw the entire effort but had specific responsibility for nuclear issues. Gershwin handled issues related to biological weapons, Gordon focused on chemical weapons, and Pillar dealt with the issues pertaining to international terrorism.

Of the four, the one who got it right in the estimate was Paul Pillar. Yet, both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have continued to insist that Pillar's judgments on terrorism were wrong.

Ah yes, the old "promote the folks who screwed up" trick. How familiar this is all becoming.

One other note: The commission's report lay blame almost entirely at the CIA's feet; quite predictably, given that the commission wasn't authorized to look at how the Bush administration handled those intelligence reports. Now on the one hand, yes, the CIA screwed up and overestimated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. But on the other hand, at the time the CIA had been far more reluctant to push this line than many in the administration, as neoconservatives like Jim Hoagland were whining back in October 2002. Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith set up their own intelligence shop, the Office of Special Plans, because they thought the CIA was downplaying the Iraqi threat. As Josh Marshall wrote last fall: "Sometimes the intel folks were wrong… but when that was so, the appointees were always more wrong."

Nevertheless, if the administration is going to foist the blame on intelligence officials, it would be nice if they actually held those intelligence officials responsible.