Political MoJo

Pro-"nuclear option"

| Mon Apr. 4, 2005 2:26 PM EDT

Nathan Newman has an interesting take on the GOP effort to eliminate the filibuster in the Senate. Noting that some conservative groups like the NRA are actually opposed to Bill Frist's "nuclear option," Nathan argues that in the long run, the filibuster is far, far more useful to conservatives than liberals. That seems about right. Many progressive policies—expanding health care, progressive tax reform, environmental protections—are, almost by definition, fairly expansive, and can be easily stopped up in Congress. The current conservative agenda, by contrast, is essentially a dismantling project, and can be done more or less incrementally: erode labor laws here, strike down a few abortion provisions there, slash revenue and create a deficit, chip away at health care spending, etc. etc. It's pretty clear that Republicans have a structural advantage in the sluggish and veto-heavy Senate. (Indeed, Social Security privatization proves the exception to the rule.)

It's no coincidence that the only two big eras of progressive gains—the New Deal and the Great Society—came when Democrats had juggernaut-sized and mostly filibuster-proof majorities in Congress. It's simply impossible to pass drastic reform otherwise, as Bill Clinton discovered in 1994 with his attempt at health care reform, which was indirectly shot down by a Senate filibuster. Meanwhile, as Nathan points out, liberals lose longer-term ideological battle by relying too heavily on obstructionism: "Blocking conservative action through filibusters has short-term gains, but it feeds the long-term cynicism of voters that government cannot accomplish anything."

Of course, the big catch here is that if Frist does succeed in going nuclear, the GOP will be able to stack the judiciary with a new generation of radical activist judges, most of whom will spend their time rolling back the New Deal economic consensus and returning us to the glory days of Warren G. Harding and Herbert Hoover. That would be a very high price indeed for the loss of the filibuster.

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Aggressive auditing

| Mon Apr. 4, 2005 1:55 PM EDT

Henry Farrell relays the latest attack on organized labor:

The [Financial Times] reports (sub required) that the US administration is planning to "toughen its regulation of organised labour, in what critics see as the latest in a series of pro-business policies sweeping Washington." It's invoking powers that haven't been used in decades to force unions to file detailed financial statements and increase "accountability and transparency." This isn't an effort to further the interests of union members; it's the beginning of a quite deliberate attempt to cripple unions as political actors.

Unfortunately, I don't have a FT subscription, but reading through Henry's summary, the specific measures listed here don't necessarily seem objectionable on the merits. Detailed financial statements sound like a good thing. So does increased accountability and transparency. What's troubling, however, is that the administration seems to be focusing solely on unions, with senior officials expressing "concern" that "some [labor] campaigns against big business were not always in the interests of members." Meanwhile, is anyone in the White House planning to crack down on "accountability and transparency" at the Chamber of Commerce, or the NRA? Doesn't seem like it. So there's no reason to think the White House is pursuing these moves out of a sudden interest in promoting good governance—especially coming from a party whose spiritual leaders were openly bragging about dismantling organized labor before the 2004 election.

UPDATE: David Sirota nicely recounts the long history of the administration's attacks on labor unions.

Never mind the serious threats...

| Mon Apr. 4, 2005 12:50 PM EDT

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists got his hands on a new National Security Council organizational chart (pdf), which establishes "five deputy National Security Advisers to focus on the president's priorities" for the second term. Those priorities:

  1. Winning the war on terror
  2. Succeeding in Iraq and Afghanistan
  3. Advancing the President's freedom agenda, particularly in the Middle East
  4. Advancing the President's prosperity agenda; and
  5. Explaining the President's strategy at home and abroad.

Nothing too shocking, I suppose—though I'd like to know what this "prosperity agenda" is, exactly—but there seems to be at least one notable and rather scary omission. Can't find it? Just hark back to the first presidential debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry:

LEHRER: If you are elected president, what will you take to that office thinking is the single most serious threat to the national security to the United States?

KERRY: Nuclear proliferation...

BUSH: ...first of all, I agree with my opponent that the biggest threat facing this country is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist network.

Right. So, um, any chance we might get a deputy National Security Adviser to work on nuclear proliferation?

An Army of Not Enough

| Fri Apr. 1, 2005 6:47 PM EST

From Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Army missed its March recruiting goal by 32 percent, and the Marine Corps also came up short, officials said on Friday, as the Iraq war undermined the all-volunteer U.S. military's ability to sign up new troops. ...

The active-duty Army, in danger of missing its first annual recruiting goal since 1999, netted 4,650 recruits in March, far below its goal of 6,800 for the month, Army Recruiting Command spokesman Douglas Smith said. ...

The situation was worse in the part-time Army Reserve and Army National Guard, with the Pentagon relying heavily on reservists to maintain troop levels in Iraq.

The Army Reserve missed its March recruiting goal by 46 percent -- getting 861 recruits with a goal of 1,600 -- and was now nearly 18 percent behind its year-to-date goal.

Pity the poor recruiters.

The gang's all here...

Fri Apr. 1, 2005 6:26 PM EST

Here's a bad idea: get a group of thrill-seeking armed volunteers to scour the Arizona-Mexico border for illegal immigrants. That's the premise behind the "Minuteman Project." You have to admit, they have a killer slogan: "Americans doing the jobs Congress won't do." But for some reason the concept doesn't seem to be sitting well with too many people.

Mexican President Vicente Fox as well as President Bush have already condemned the vigilantes, the ACLU has volunteers out monitoring the project, and the press is on the watch for a showdown. The New York Times writes of one Minuteman volunteer: "People like Mr. McCarty, the retired marine, say they are here for the distraction, and the thrill. 'I'm restless,' Mr. McCarty said, leaning against an adobe fence in the midday sun. 'I needed something to do before I drove my wife crazy.'"

The situation might seem funny until one considers the potential for ugliness. The founder of the Minuteman Project insists that the volunteers will simply "inform" border patrol officials if they find an illegal immigrant, and not handle the immigrants themselves. However, the fact that many of the volunteers will be carrying concealed firearms is cause for alarm. Human rights groups have also expressed concern that some white supremacist groups have endorsed the Minuteman Project. Even more troubling is the fact that the volunteers have come from all across the country and may be unfamiliar with the Arizona border. The areas they plan to patrol have large Hispanic populations, leading some to worry that the wrong people will be targeted as "illegals."

Meanwhile, the "minutemen" may get a visit from members of the violent Central American-based gang, Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13. One of the organizers of the Minuteman Project has been told that California and Texas leaders of MS-13 "have issued orders to teach 'a lesson' to the Minutemen volunteers." According to the organizer, James Gilchrist, he's "not worried because half of our recruits are retired trained combat soldiers and those guys are just a bunch of punks."

DLC on Sudan

| Fri Apr. 1, 2005 6:03 PM EST

Shortly after I wrote the Sudan post below, the Democratic Leadership Council's "New Dem Dispatch" on Darfur showed up in my inbox, hitting many of the exact same notes and calling for robust intervention. Kudos to them. The DLC also writes: "But if the United Nations cannot act, NATO should." Indeed, I've heard rumors that NATO headquarters are a lot more gung-ho about getting involved in the Sudan than they were during, say, Bosnia, so that's certainly a good sign, but absent the necessary political will on the part of the U.S. and Europe, these initiatives aren't going to get very far.

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Still a shameful response to Sudan

| Fri Apr. 1, 2005 5:41 PM EST

Ah, so I had a post on the current Sudan crisis all ready to go, railing on the current UN resolutions and noting that yesterday's bickering over the ICC completely misses the point. The point, of course, is that the genocide and the starvation and the humanitarian crisis going on right now need to be stopped, and the only way to stop it is to send in an intervention force. But after reading this article by Eric Reeves, I sort of realized that my rant was a bit inadequate. So please read his.

At the moment, it doesn't appear that either the U.S. or Europe will take any sort of serious action to halt the violence in Darfur. Reeves suggests this might partly be out of fear of jeopardizing the recently-signed peace treaty halting Sudan's other civil war between north and south, separate from Darfur, that raged on for the past 20 years or so. (Without insinuating too much, that civil war involved Christians in Sudan's south, and hence attracted a lot more attention.) Nevertheless, the present UN measures against the Khartoum government, and the janjawid warriors carrying out the mass slaughter, has been shamefully, shamefully inadequate.

Some observers have suggested strengthening the African Union (AU) forces in Sudan to enforce the ceasefire. But even if the AU force was upped to 6,000 or so, and even if it was given a mandate to actually protect civilians in Darfur, the AU would still be inadequate for the region's security needs. At the very least, the UN Security Council needs to enforce no-fly zones across the region, using United States airpower, so that Khartoum can't use its planes to bomb and strafe Darfur villages. More realistically, ground forces will need to disable or destroy Khartoum's air force. Meanwhile, UN security forces will need to be sent in to protect refugees, secure humanitarian corridors, and forcibly disarm the janjawid.

But the UN hasn't shown signs that it is willing to do any such thing, and instead contents itself with passing half-measures like setting up a committee that will dawdle for 90 days (90 days of genocide!) before deciding who the war criminals are and then freezing their assets abroad. Woo-hoo. It's near-impotent, and unfortunately, the National Islamic Front in Khartoum knows full well the West lacks all political will for serious action. Which means that the body count—some 300,000 at this point—will continue to rise. So much for "never again."

Lawsuits over mercury

Fri Apr. 1, 2005 5:20 PM EST

The EPA's new mercury cap-and-trade rule is now officially—and predictably—under legal attack. On March 29th, one day after the rule was published in the Federal Register (PDF), nine states sued the EPA over its decision to take mercury emissions from power plants off the list of air toxins. (They did this so that they could regulate mercury using a cap-and-trade approach, which is forbidden for toxic chemicals under the Clean Air Act.)

Down with the ship!

| Fri Apr. 1, 2005 5:12 PM EST

Now that Tom DeLay's scandal woes are finally hitting the big time, the big question is whether or not the Democrats are actually going to capitalize on all this.

The other day I started fretting that liberal groups were failing to tie DeLay's corruption woes into a larger story about the way the Republican Party in general has conducted itself over the last four years. The new anti-DeLay ads, after all, offer congressional Republicans a chance to "wash their hands" of DeLay. The worry here is that the GOP will just purge the House Majority Leader, carry on with its rule-bending, K Street-cozying business, and life would carry on as ever before. Well, it's probably safe to set those fears aside. First the Washington Post reports that conservative groups are all holding hands and lining up behind their fearless leader. Then, over at TAPPED, Garance Franke-Ruta notes that the GOP is doing everything humanly possible to make DeLayism synonymous with the Republican Party. So I stand corrected! It's not often that the rats actually lash themselves tightly to the sinking ship, but hey, who's going to complain here...

Invade Syria, Krauthammer edition

| Fri Apr. 1, 2005 4:01 PM EST

I see in the Washington Post today that Charles Krauthammer wants to go to war with Syria. Well, good for him. Not a whole lot to say here, except perhaps this. When the U.S. went to war with Iraq, please remember, policymakers had only the foggiest idea what Iraq's internal structure was like—the social dynamics, the nuances of the Shi'ite community, the intricate tribal structures, the longstanding feuds and rivalries. And, please remember, that ignorance led to a lot of horrific mistakes very early on that left a lot of people dead. But in the case of Iraq, we at least had the exile groups and our Kurdish pals to give us some information about what was going on. In Syria, we don't even have that. Just, you know, throwing that out there.

Meanwhile, Justin Logan notes that, at least according to Gen. John Abizaid, "it's unclear whether or not there's been any Syrian government complicity in [abetting insurgents]." Not that that will stop Krauthammer from getting ready to lock and load on the way to Damascus, but it would be nice if facts played a role here once in a great while...