Saturday, December 31, 2005

DeLay Top Hog at Abramoff Trough

Washington Post reporter R. Jeffrey Smith has a long and complicated article (a sordid tale, even) in today's WaPo detailing financial and other relationships between Tom DeLay and disgraced uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Indian tribes, Russian energy executives, DeLay family members - they're all here. Definitely a must read.

I've said it before, I'll say it again ... even if the current charges against DeLay don't stick, or don't result in a conviction, he has done serious damage to the Republican Party through his sleazy dealings. It's time for him to go. That should be the GOP's New Year's resolution.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Congressional Report Card

The first session of the 109th Congress has, finally, come to an end. And it's time once again for a report card to gauge the progress (or lack thereof) made in recent months by our elected representatives. Of course, by way of disclaimer, this report card (like the last one) is completely selective, capricious and otherwise totally my own. Feel free to offer revisions, additions, etc. in the comments - all I ask if that you keep them clean.

First, the subjects:

Budget: (B). Some decent cost-saving measures, but more unfair cuts in programs that benefit millions of Americans (student loans, health care, heating assistance). This grade could have been much improved by getting rid of more fat in the form of pork-barrel projects.

ANWR: (A). When all was said and done, the refuge survived another day. Those who want to open ANWR will try again next year, so this fight's not over by any means ... but we won another round.

Torture Ban: (A). This was always a winning issue, and after the Administration's inevitable capitulation its passage was guaranteed.

PATRIOT Act: (B+). The five-week extension forced by Sensenbrenner provides a little bit of time for the Senate and House to continue their negotiations. I continue to support the Senate's shorter-term sunsetting provisions and added protections for civil liberties, so I hope the bipartisan group there keeps up the good work.

Stem Cell Research Funding: (Incomplete). This one's still on the agenda, folks. And the delaying tactics continue. Back in October, Senator Specter accepted a deal with Senate leadership to take up in January the House-passed bill to allow federal funding on stem cells taken from embryos which would be discarded anyway. Now that the Alito hearings are scheduled to occur during the month, though, stem cells seem likely to fall off the radar again.

Tax Cuts: (Incomplete). After the Senate Finance Committee balked, further tax cuts this year got shoved off the table. Unless any proposed cuts are to be offset by cuts in pork so they don't add to the deficit, I will continue to oppose them in most cases. Stay tuned for more on this in the coming months.

Alito Confirmation
: (Incomplete). No idea where this one's going. Confirmation seems relatively likely, but the hearings are definitely going to matter much more this time than they did with Roberts.

Now the individual/group marks:

Ted Stevens: (F). Does not play well with others. After those ANWR shenanigans, an F is being generous. And that was on top of his previous escapades this year (oil execs, bridge to nowhere).

John McCain: (A-). Excellent work on the torture ban and other areas this year, including the Abramoff sleaze hearings.

Feingold, Sununu, Craig, Hagel, Murkoswki, Durbin, Salazar: (A). The bipartisan group responsible for pushing (hard) for additional civil liberties protections and shorter sunsetting timetables. Well done.

House leadership: (Incomplete). Tom DeLay's still lurking. It's time for a change. The caucus ought to get that done when they return in January.

There must be more of these that I wanted to add but they're slipping my mind. If I think of any more, I'll update.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Season's Greetings

I have been planning another Congressional Report Card to cover the latest shenanigans of the House and Senate, but I've decided that the hours of research involved had better wait until after Christmas (present-wrapping and polishing off the rest of the cookies need to happen first). So I'll work on the Report Card next week.

For now, I want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus ... I hope whichever holiday you celebrate is a happy one for you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

ANWR Safe for Another Day

The Senate today defeated Ted Stevens' attempt to circumvent the rules, knocking down his effort to insert language opening ANWR for oil drilling into the DoD appropriations bill. The leadership is expected to send the bill back to conference, where the ANWR provision will be removed and the bill brought back to the Senate and approved very quickly - as it should be.

As I wrote earlier this week, Senator Stevens should be ashamed of himself for this blatant attempt to pull an end-run around the Senate rules so that he could get his way. Good for the rest of the Senate for not allowing it to occur.

Spy "Game"

Between traveling home for Christmas and, well, trying to finish shopping and all that jazz, I have been delinquent in discussing the revelations that the Administration has been utilizing the NSA's capabilities to intercept communications of a domestic (or partially domestic) nature. It is certainly of great interest to me, and I applaud the bipartisan call in the Senate for an investigation into the use of this technique. If the Administration felt that the FISA was not effective enough, they should have asked Congress to amend the law, not circumvented it.

This Administration has been working diligently to accumulate more and more power at the expense of both the legislative and judicial branches. I don't want this to sound like one of those shrill "we're becoming a fascist state" posts that I seem to see everywhere these days, but it is rather worrisome to see the executive branch working around both Congress and the courts at every opportunity and then simply claiming the authority to do so exists as part of the president's power to prosecute the war on terror.

Executive power is not, and has never been, absolute, even in time of war. It is well past time for Congress to reassert its oversight authority - their acquiescence in the heady moments after 9/11 is at least partially to blame for the increased power of the president in recent years, and I hope members of Congress will continue to step up (as they have with torture and in other areas recently).

TMV has, as usual, an excellent post on this subject, which I highly recommend. It includes a good rundown of the whole business, as well as quotes from other bloggers.

This morning in the Senate Dick Cheney cast the tie vote in approving the budget conference report; the ANWR-stuffed DoD bill comes up for a cloture vote at some point today. Unfortunately things don't look good, but cross your fingers and call your senators.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Feingold Takes on Stevens

This morning, Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold made an excellent speech lambasting Ted Stevens and his colluders for inserting the ANWR-opening provision into the Defense Department appropriations bill. That circuitous maneuver was approved by the House early this morning, since members were understandably unwilling to hold up passage of a bill to fund our men and women in uniform. The Senate will take up the bill in the coming days.

Feingold's main point is very important. Senate rules prohibit the insertion of language into a conference committee report that was not in the version of the bill approved by either chamber. Neither the House nor Senate drafts of the DoD appropriations bill included the ANWR language, so technically it should not be allowed. But the little paragraph inserted by Ted Stevens into the conference report basically says that the Senate rules are suspended so that the ANWR provision can be included ... and then once it's passed, the rules are immediately reinstated. Ridiculous.

The senator from Wisconsin is correct. This end-run around the Senate rules should not be allowed.

[Update: TMV has more on this. Don't miss Joe's post. -- 11:18 a.m.]

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bush Backs Down, While Stevens Causes Trouble

First the good news. The president, finally understanding the impossibility of maintaining his position on the McCain amendment, relented yesterday and accepted McCain's language banning "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of prisoners in US custody. This is an excellent - if not entirely unexpected - turn of events, and passage of the McCain legislation will go far to ensure that another Abu Ghraib scandal does not blot America's reputation in the future.

Now the bad news. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, probably most famous for threatening alternately to resign or die if the Senate passed an amendment removing funds for some pork-bridge construction projects in his state and refusing to swear in oil execs when they appeared before the Commerce Committee, has decided to attach language opening ANWR for exploration and drilling into the Defense Appropriations conference report. In an obnoxiously ironic twist, this is the same bill to which McCain's anti-torture language is attached.

You'll recall that the Senate passed ANWR language as part of its budget package, but centrist Republicans in the House blocked the provision from their chamber's version of the budget. Now Stevens is back with a vengeance, and will stick the ANWR-opening clause into the key Defense Appropriations legislation. A vote could come today or tomorrow on a Democrat-backed move to keep the provision out on (extremely sound) grounds that it does not belong in the bill.

This is the height of political sliminess. Ted Stevens ought to be ashamed of himself, and I'm sure he would be if his sense of shame wasn't of Grinchian proportions (pre-Christmas-morning-revelationary Grinchian proportions, I hasten to note).

Senators should not be put in the position of voting against a Defense Appropriations bill because it contains this language, which has absolutely nothing to do with the Pentagon's budget. As Senator McCain - a strong supporter of the military and an equally strong opponent of drilling - said, "I think it's disgraceful I have to be put in that position."

It is disgraceful, and I hope the Senate tells Mr. Stevens so in no uncertain terms.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

House Backs Torture Ban; Bush Defends Sleaze

In a nonbinding but important step forward, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly yesterday to instruct that chamber's Defense Appropriations bill conferees to accept without change the Senate-passed language of the McCain amendment, which will bar the use of "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" against any detainee held in American custody. The tally in the House was 308-122: 107 Republicans joined 200 Dems and Independent Bernie Sanders (VT) in supporting the measure; 121 Republicans and a single Democrat voted no.

This second veto-proof vote of support for the McCain language (the Senate's tally, you'll recall, wasa 90-9) is tremendously important. The Administration stands alone now in its opposition, and it is increasingly clear that even an ill-advised veto would ultimately be unsuccessful. While NSA Steve Hadley apparently continues to "chat" with McCain about the precise language, the senator has made clear that "he is opposed to any language that would undermine the intent of his provisions," according to the Washington Post.

The Defense Appropriations bill conferees seemed more confident yesterday that the McCain language would be included in their final report. John Murtha, a top House Democrat on the conference committee, said "It's going to be in there, period," and even Senator Ted Stevens (one of the Senate Nine) seemed resigned. He told reporters on Wednesday "that McCain 'wants it in there, and I think it will stay in there.'"

While Congress was acting to put a stop to the potential for nefarious treatment of prisoners, the president was, contrary to recent practice, over on "Fox News" commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation. Asked by interviewer Brit Hume to answer whether he thought Tom DeLay is innocent of money laundering and other charges, Bush replied "Yes, I do." He added that he hoped DeLay would be restored to his post as Majority Leader "because I like him, and plus, when he's over there we get our votes through the House."


Of course Tom DeLay is innocent until proven guilty. Innocent, that is, of the official charges filed against him. He is quite guilty, however, of tarnishing the reputation of the Republican Party, surrounding it and its members with an aura of sleaze which will not be easily dissipated. The culture of corruption that Tom DeLay's shenanigans (and others, he's certainly not the only one) have revealed must be ended if the GOP as now constructed is to remain a viable political entity. The Party must end its ridiculous and unwarranted embrace of Tom DeLay and his corruption-blackened reputation just as the Administration must end its positively obtuse opposition to the McCain amendment.

What would Theodore Roosevelt say if he could see his party today? I shudder at the thought. Those of us who stand for the renewal of honor and integrity to the Republican Party must continue to speak out against those who would allow its destruction to proceed apace. We will not stand for torture, and we will not stand for corruption.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Redistricting Watch: SCOTUS Grabs the Ball

I return from hibernation this morning just to comment briefly on some events from yesterday. The Supreme Court agreed to hear four separate challenges to Tom DeLay's 2003 Texas redistricting shenanigans, accepting the cases on a rare expedited basis. The Court will hear two hours of argument (instead of the usual one hour) in March, and then hopefully will be able to issue a decision prior to the end of its current term in late June.

One of the constitutional questions at issue is the legality of so-called "mid-decade" redistricting - allowing partisan politicians to redraw legislative boundaries any time the majority changes in the state legislature. Until recently, district lines were only re-drafted each ten years, after new census data (as they should be, in my most humble of opinions).

This case will be one of the most important the Court hears and decides this term. If they allow or express support for partisan mid-decade redistricting plans the gerrymander's continued reign is all but assured unless reform legislation is passed (that legislation should be passed regardless of the Court's decision). Their findings on the vital concept of "one man, one vote" will also be incredibly important as we move forward. I am absolutely delighted that they've decided to hear this case, and while the outcome is obviously in serious question, I hope that at the very least this will make the redistricting issue even slightly more salient to the silent majority out there.

For some excellent coverage of the Court's decision to hear these cases, see Warren Richey in the CSM, Linda Greenhouse in the NYT, and Jonathan Weisman in the WaPo.

For previous Redistricting Watch posts, click here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

RINO Needs a Rest

There really are only so many ways to say DeLay needs to go, McCain's anti-torture amendment should become law, everyone should drop the overheated rhetoric and get serious about Iraq, we need redistricting reform, etc. etc. etc. I've said them. And I need a rest. It's been a very busy few months for me between blogging, the first term of grad school, and the rest of life. I'm tired.

I'm not giving up. I'll still blog, and probably often. I will continue to sound the call for true and meaningful redistricting reform, and will not keep silent about the continued troubling trends within the Republican Party and across the political world. I just want you all to know why it is that a new post might not show up every single morning before 9 a.m. Keep emailing me your thoughts and ideas - I appreciate them all - and thank you for reading. We've still got much work to accomplish together, and we'll get it done, I have no doubt of that.

Monday, December 05, 2005

McCain Holds Firm on Anti-Torture Language

After multiple reports of negotiations between the Administration and the office of Senator McCain over the language in McCain's anti-torture amendment, the senator flat-out rejected any notion that he's planning to allow the measure to be watered down. Asked on "Meet the Press" if he would accept compromise language, McCain responded "No, I won't. We won't." He said that his discussions with NSA Hadley and others focus on "aspects" of the amendment but would not comment on which aspects those were (presumably the Administration is still trying to weasel out a CIA exemption or something).

McCain and the others must stand their ground here. The Administration knows its position is absolutely untenable, and this president must realize that using his first veto to defend the executive branch's ability (which doesn't exist under treaty-law anyway, in my view) to use torture is hardly a desirable thing to do. This amendment, with all its strengths intact, must be included in the final bill - and if the president vetoes that bill, his veto should be overturned.

[Update: Joe Gandelman at TMV has more on this, so don't miss his post. Also, The Moderate Voice has earned a well-deserved nomination as Best Group Blog for the 2005 Wizbang Weblog Awards. I will certainly be casting my ballot for them, and if you'd like to, you may do so here. -- 7:40 a.m.]

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Broder Hails Bipartisanship

David Broder's column today profiles Senators Lindsey Graham and John Sununu, praising them for their willingness to think independently and work toward bipartisan solutions on national security. From talking to them, Broder reports, what "came through most clearly" is "their sense that Congress as an institution must assert itself and take responsibility for setting policy on these national security issues."

"For too long, they both said, it has been too easy to say - or imply - that it's the president's job alone to decide how to protect the nation's safety and vital interests. That complacent attitude may have been tolerable during the false lull after the end of the Cold War, but it cannot be accepted during a time of war and continuing terrorist threats.

Last month the Senate asserted itself by passing a meaningful, bipartisan declaration that 2006 must be a 'year of transition' in which Iraqis take over major responsibility for the security and stability of their own country.

That younger senators such as Graham and Sununu are organizing bipartisan coalitions on such corollary national security issues as the Patriot Act and treatment of detainees is good news for the country. It is time for a similar effort in the House."


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Sunday Show Guests

Late Edition (CNN): National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar and ranking Dem Joe Biden, and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. Wolf's topics: "We dissect the president's strategy for victory in Iraq, timetable for U.S. troops to come home, and a check up on the war on terror."

Fox News Sunday: "Is the president's strategy for victory in Iraq a winning formula or nothing more than a glossy version of the status quo?" Hadley again, along with Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) of the Foreign Relations Committee. There will also be a roundtable.

This Week (ABC): Hadley again, this time with Rep. John Murtha (D-PA). Also New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin. Robert Reich, Cokie Roberts, and George Will with panelize.

Face the Nation (CBS): Host Bob Schieffer gets the first Sunday morning interview with Senator John Kerry in nearly a year. Kerry will discuss Iraq and more.

Meet the Press (NBC): Senator John McCain will discuss Iraq. Then Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, the leaders of the 9/11 Commission, will talk about their final report: "
The 9/11 Commission Report: The Unfinished Agenda."

Short Takes

- Jonathan Weisman reports in the WaPo that calls for changes in the House GOP leadership next year continue to grow, with some lawmakers expressing greater reticence about restoring Tom DeLay's leadership post in the next session of Congress ... but not officially. Weisman quotes one aide as saying "No question, there's considerable discontent in the conference about DeLay's return, but nobody's talking on the record. If he beats this rap in Austin, he will be back as majority leader, because nobody's going to tell him no."

As regular readers know, I think it's more than high time someone did tell Tom DeLay no. The Republican caucus could only be improved by new leadership, preferably leadership which is not implicated in the wave of scandals washing over DC at the moment. I know I've had enough of trying to deal with Tom DeLay's shenanigans as a leader of the GOP, and I think - I know - that we can do better.

- After his meeting with Pentagon officials yesterday, Senator John Warner said he remains "gravely concerned" about the insertion of disinformation into the Iraqi media by coalition information operations. He said he'll continue to examine this program and will take further action if necessary.

- Senators Lugar and Obama have an important op/ed in the WaPo outlining a new bill they're cosponsoring that would implement a program to "seek out and destroy surplus and unguarded stocks of conventional arms in Asia, Europe, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East." There's more to it than that, of course, so be sure to read the whole piece - certainly seems like a good idea to me, and good to see bipartisan cooperation on something this vital.

- New York's Republican party continues to spiral into the pit of irrelevancy: after meeting with Governor George Pataki yesterday morning about withdrawing from the race against Hillary Clinton, hapless Senate candidate Jeanine Pirro emerged and told reporters her campaign is "going extremely well." Of course she also told Pataki that she would "consider" switching races and running for attorney general instead.

- Whew. Bees can fly.

Good News

Various news outlets are reporting that al-Qaeda's operational commander, Hamza Rabia, was killed Thursday morning by a CIA-drone missile strike on a house in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan. If accurate, this is excellent news.

Friday, December 02, 2005

DeLay-backed Redistricting Plan Opposed by DOJ

... before they approved it, that is.

Joe Gandelman's got the full scoop here.

[Update: Stygius tackles this one well too. -- 10:58 a.m.]

Warner Takes Names

Some top Pentagon officials are going to find themselves in an uncomfortable position today: across the table from a displeased John Warner. Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will hold a closed-door session with the brass to discuss ongoing reports of "reported secret military campaign in Iraq to plant paid propaganda in the Iraqi news media," the NYTimes reports this morning.

More from the Times: "Under the program, the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based public relations firm working in Iraq, was hired to translate articles written by American troops into Arabic and then, in many cases, give them to advertising agencies for placement in the Iraqi news media.

At a time when the State Department is paying contractors millions of dollars to promote professional and independent media, the military campaign appeared to defy the basic tenets of Western journalism."

Warner said Thursday "I am concerned about any actions that may undermine the credibility of the United States as we help the Iraqi people stand up as a democracy. A free and independent press is critical to the functioning of a democracy, and I am concerned about any actions which may erode the independence of the Iraqi media." Foreign Relations Committee chair Richard Lugar added "How are people going to get information that's reliable? Who can they trust? If you are a devout Shiite or Sunni, and you suspect that the press has been bought, why, then you wouldn't respect the press."

The military in Iraq insists that only truthful information is disseminated through this program. I'm not sure that matters. But I'm glad that Warner (clearly assisted by Lugar and others) is going to get to the bottom of it. I have to say, with all the scandals and accusations being thrown around Washington, I'm still glad there are people like John Warner and others about whom I can say positive things once in a while.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Rethinking the Red/Blue Divide

Via PoliticalWire, I wanted to mention Josh Goodman's blog post discussing some very interesting (and possibly centrist-heartening) findings from the new SurveyUSA governor approval ratings.

Petition for Darfur

The Coalition for Darfur and Professor Samuel Totten (author of A Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts) are seeking 2,000 signatures on a petition calling on the international community to step up and end the ongoing genocide in Sudan's Darfur region. The petition's text is here, and you can sign it by emailing your name and city to Totten at I have done so, and hope that all those interested in this continued tragedy will do the same.

Walking the Line

As promised yesterday, here's the audio from the Supreme Court oral argument on the New Hampshire parental notification case. I have not yet had the chance to listen to the whole thing, but from press accounts (WaPo, NYTimes, LATimes) it sounds like the justices, led by their new chief, were close to agreeing on a narrowed interpretation of the law which would remove the constitutional objections to it and preserve emergency health exceptions. We won't know for sure until the decision is released, of course (which could be months away, and might be complicated further by the Alito confirmation), but so far it looks promising.