Friday, March 31, 2006

Frist Leadership Gets Low Marks

... at least according to Mary Curtius' story in today's LATimes, "Frist's Senate Leadership Faulted as Self-Serving." Of course it is, he's running for president. We'd just all better be happy he's leaving the post at the end of this congressional session so we don't have to endure another couple years of his shenanigans. The article's got a few good quotes, some on the record from Republican senators, and is an interesting look at Frist's record as leader.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Reid on Democratic Unanimity

Trent Lott compared being Senate Majority Leader to herding cats. Yesterday in an NYT article, Minority Leader Harry Reid quipped "I don't think there's 100 percent support in my caucus for what time of the day it is" (when asked about the Democrats' position on immigration reform).

(via Political Wire)

What's in the Senate's Lobby Reform Bill?

Yesterday the Senate passed - by an unsurprisingly huge margin - a bill called the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006. The vote was 90-8, which the opposition coming for the most part from senators who felt the legislation did not go far enough (McCain, Obama, Kerry, Feingold, Graham, Coburn). Senators DeMint and Inhofe also voted against final passage.

What's in this bill? The following are drawn from coverage today in the NYT, WaPo, LATimes, and The Hill, as well as the Congressional Record.

- Lobbyists will be banned from purchasing gifts and meals for members of Congress.

- Lobbyists will be required to submit quarterly reports (rather than biannual ones) about their work, which will then be made publicly available. Lobbyists will also need to submit an annual report detailing their campaign contributions to candidates for federal office and to political parties. All travel arranged for legislators will also require disclosure.

- Senators will need to get prior approval from the Ethics Committee to go on any privately-funded trips [think of this as a sort of permission slip]. More disclosure requirements on this one, including the names of other passengers on board if a private aircraft is used as well as who paid for what.

- Former members of Congress and top executive branch officials will be banned from lobbying Congress for two years, rather than the current one year. Top Congressional aides will be banned for a year from lobbying any legislators in the chamber where they had been employed.

- Members would be allowed to lodge a point of order against any earmark inserted into a spending bill at the conference committee stage; a 60-vote majority would have to agree to retain the earmark if a point of order is filed. If it's utilized, this will be an important tool for the budget hawks.

- An amendment passed on Monday ends the practice of "secret holds" on legislation or nominations. Sponsored by Senators Wyden and Grassley, this addition to the bill passed 84-13, and is probably one of the most important long-term victories for proponents of open government.

Perhaps more importantly, we should turn now to what's not in the bill, and why are opponents already saying it doesn't go far enough?

- The Senate rejected an amendment by Senator Feingold to clarify the ban on lobbyist gifts; he wanted to keep corporate execs from picking up the check as well. That amendment was tabled by a vote of 68-30.

- Also rejected was the Collins-Lieberman-McCain plan to establish a Senate Office of Public Integrity, an outside watchdog body to monitor and govern ethics violations. That failed 30-67.

- Some amendments from Senator McCain, including one that would force lawmakers using private jets to pay charter prices rather than commercial prices, were blocked from consideration.

- Aside from the point of order provision governing a narrow portion of the earmark spectrum, no provisions were included to ban or limit earmarking.

Asked yesterday if he thought the bill lived up to the clamor for reform that had been echoing around Washington earlier in the year, Senator McCain laughed, according to the Washington Post, and said in true McCain style "The good news is there will be more indictments, and we will be revisiting this issue."

The House will debate lobbying reform as early as next week, and then differences between the bills will need to be hammered out so that it can go to the president. Each chamber can have different rules for its own members, but provisions going beyond chamber rules must match.

Don't get me wrong, I think the bill as passed is better than nothing. But in principle I agree with those who voted against it that it simply does not go far enough. The revolving-door ban should be longer, McCain's corporate jet amendment should have been considered, and earmark reform should be extended. This is a good beginning, but as McCain said, I think there's more to do.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

SCOTUS on Tribunals

Yesterday an eight-person Supreme Court (Chief Justice Roberts recused himself since he ruled on an earlier incarnation of the case) heard oral arguments in the watershed case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which tests the constitutionality of the military tribunals set up to try enemy combatants held at Gitmo. The case warranted not only an extra half hour of arguments, but also a very rare immediate release of the audio recording. I listened to much of the discussion last night, and I was quite surprised at the judicial smackdown delivered to those arguing the Administration's position.

The two main points in this case are, first, whether the Court has jurisdiction at all after the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act late last year (after the Court had accepted the case on appeal) and second, whether the military tribunals are a constitutional way to try terror suspects/enemy combatants/Osama's chauffeur.

Linda Greenhouse is on the story as always for the New York Times; David Savage writes for the LA Times, and Dahlia Lithwick complements those pieces with her marvelous dispatch over at Slate. Greenhouse notes that the Administration's argument, as voiced by Solicitor General Paul Clement, seemed to frustrate many of the justices: Clement's "stolid refusal to concede that any of the government's positions, on the jurisdictional as well as ultimate questions of the case, might present even theoretical problems provoked the normally soft-spoken Justice Souter into an outburst of anger."

What seemed to upset Souter (at this particular point) was a real eyebrow-raiser from Clement in a response to Justice Stevens, who had asked him if he through Congress had suspended habeas corpus rights for the prisoners in the Detainee Treatment Act:

Clement (in part): "My view would be that if Congress sort of stumbles upon a suspension of the writ, that the preconditions are satisfied, that would still be constitutionally valid."

Souter: "Isn't there a pretty good argument that suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is just about the most stupendously significant act that the Congress of the United States can take, and therefore we ought to be at least a little slow to accept your argument that it can be done from pure inadvertence? You are leaving us with the position of the United States that the Congress may validly suspend it inadvertently. Is that really your position?"

Clement: "I think at least if you're talking about the extension of the writ to enemy combatants held outside the territory of the United States ..."

Souter: "Now wait a minute! [waving a finger, as Greenhouse and the others note] The writ is the writ. There are not two writs of habeas corpus, for some cases and for other cases. The rights that may be asserted, the rights that may be vindicated, will vary with the circumstances, but jurisdiction over habeas corpus is jurisdiction over habeas corpus."

There were a few other interesting exchanges, including one in which Clement suggested that detainees should go through the tribunal process and then argue on appeal in federal court that that process was improper. Justice Ginsburg responded "Straighten me out. I thought it was the government's position that these enemy combatants do not have any rights under the Constitution and laws of the United States." Clement replied "That is true, Justice Ginsburg." Whaaa??

Thankfully Lithwick is here to explain Clement's strange and circular arguments: her piece is titled "Because I Say So." She calls the Souter-Clement sputter-fest "the morning's best example of the degree to which, for Souter as well as for Justice Stephen Breyer, today's argument is an agonizing exercise in Bush administration doublespeak."

"Clement's arguments are frequently drawn from the well of 'because the president says so,' or 'because the president is the president,' or 'because it's wartime.' They start to sound like Alberto Gonzales' testimony before Congress or the president's signing statements: legal analysis by assertion and justification by double standard. This war is like every other war except to the extent that it differs from those other wars. We follow the laws of war except to the extent that they do not apply to us. These prisoners have all the rights to which they are entitled by law, except to the extent that we have changed the law to limit their rights. In other words, there is almost no question for which the government cannot find a circular answer."

Because it's so bizarre, another little bit:

"Souter takes a slightly different tack: If you accept that the military commissions apply the laws of war, don't you have to accept the Geneva Conventions? he asks. Clement responds that the commissions can 'adjudicate that the Geneva Conventions don't apply.'

'You can't have it both ways,' Souter retorts. The government can't say the president is operating under the laws of war, as recognized by Congress, and then for purposes of defining those laws, say the Geneva Conventions don't apply.

Sure it can. Clement replies that if a detainee has such a claim, he should bring it before the military courts. Even Kennedy seems alarmed now. He confesses that he's troubled by the notion of bringing challenges about the structure of the tribunal to the tribunal itself. 'If a group is going to try some people, do you first have the trial and then challenge the legitimacy of the tribunal?' he asks incredulously.

Clement objects to his word choice. 'This isn't just some group of people,' he says. This is the president invoking his authority to try terrorists."

..."Stevens serves up another can't-have-it-both-ways query: When Congress takes away the courts' habeas corpus jurisdiction, 'Do you say it's a permissible suspension of the writ or that it's not a suspension of the writ?' he asks.

'Both,' replies Clement.

'You can't say both,' chides Stevens. So this is where Clement claims that Congress could have accidentally suspended the writ, the way you might accidentally drop your eyeglasses into a punchbowl."

This sounds like something out of Wonderland, or Oz, or a bad Monty Python sketch. The Administration's legal positioning gets curious and curiouser with every exercise in the open air, and the more it's voiced, the more totally insane it sounds.

Lithwick writes in her penultimate paragraph "At some point, it must begin to insult the collective intelligence of the court, these tautological arguments that end where they begin: The existing laws do not apply because this is a different kind of war. It's a different kind of war because the president says so. The president gets to say so because he is president."

At least five of the eight justices sitting yesterday (Souter, Breyer, Kennedy, Ginsburg and Stevens) appeared inclined to disagree with the Administration's view. Justices Scalia and Alito seemed to be leaning the other way; Justice Thomas did not speak. Judging from how quickly the decisions have been coming from the Court lately, we may know the outcome of this case sooner rather than later, which would certainly be a good thing. It's time to end "Because I Say So" executive power, and this Court has the opportunity right now with this case to do just that.

Former FISA Judges Discuss Wiretap Program

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony Tuesday from five former judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court; the judges urged Congress to impose oversight on the president's secret and controversial warrantless wiretap program. The New York Times has the only report I've found so far on this (it is a big news day, after all), but it's a decent one.

Four of the judges were on Capitol Hill testifying in support of Senator Specter's plan to grant the FISA court explicit oversight responsibilities for the wiretap programs; the fifth judge, who resigned in December after the program's existence was revealed, submitted a letter which was read into the record.

As the Times reports, Judge Harold Baker told the Committee "the president was bound by the law 'like everyone else.' If a law like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is duly enacted by Congress and considered constitutional, Judge Baker said, 'the president ignores it at the president's peril.'" For more than three hours, Baker and his counterparts "discussed in detail their views on the standards of proof required by the court, its relations with the Justice Department, and the constitutional, balance-of-power issues at the heart of the debate over the NSA program."

The letter from judge James Robertson expressed support for granting oversight to the FISA court, but he said he favored not a blanket approval of the warrantless program as Mr. Specter has proposed, but a case-by-case review of wiretap applications after a certain period of time. "Seeking judicial approval for government activities that implicate constitutional protections is, of course, the American way," Robertson wrote in his letter to the committee, adding later his belief that the FISA judges are suited well to handle the sensitive information the wiretap situations require: "Its judges are independent, appropriately cleared, experienced in intelligence matters, and have a perfect security record."

As I've written in the past, I don't favor a blanket approval of warrantless wiretaps, nor do I support giving the Administration a blank check for 45 or 90 days before a court reviews the evidence in support of wiretapping. The Administration's justifications for not following FISA - the problems they've indicated exist should be solvable without a major rejiggering of the oversight apparatus as laid out in FISA. Sure, some streamlining may need to be done, but I continue to see no compelling evidence that end-running FISA is necessarily the best way to get the job done.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Card Resigns - First of Many?

As you likely know by now, Andy Card has resigned from his position as White House chief of staff; he'll be replaced by budget director Josh Bolten. Sources suggest the decision to leave was Card's, and that he was not forced out (although that story could certainly change). That Bush picked Bolten shouldn't come as a surprise, given that Bolten has long been in the White House inner circle. The question now arises whether this will be "the big shakeup," or if there is much more to come in the months ahead. I'm underwhelmed by this change, but it's at least a step in the right direction.

Joe Gandelman, as usual, has the must-read post on this, covering the news and the reaction from left, right, and center.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Immigration Bill Passes Judiciary Committee

On Monday, a bipartisan immigration reform bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, but its prospects remain unclear. Both the House and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist favor a harder line on immigration reform, and Frist has been threatening to bypass the Judiciary Committee and move his own bill directly to the Senate floor this week. According to the Washington Post report, Frist "declined to say" Monday night what course of action he would take.

The bill approved today would create a temporary worker program "to allow roughly 400,000 foreigners to come to the United States to work each year and would ultimately grant them citizenship as well," according to the New York Times. It also "emphasized border security and would nearly double the number of Border Patrol agents over the next five years, criminalize the construction of tunnels into the United States from another country and speed the deportation of illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico." Other provisions in the legislation would "eliminate the provisions that ... criminalize immigrants for living here illegally and protect groups and individuals from being prosecuted for offering humanitarian assistance to illegal immigrants."

The most contentious provision is one which would "legalize the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants and to grant them citizenship, provided that they hold jobs, pass criminal background checks, learn English and pay fines and back taxes." Workers would have to "work in the United States for six years before they could apply for permanent residency. They could apply for citizenship five years after that. Immigrants would have to pay a fine, back taxes and learn English."

Supporters of the plan says this is much more than a simple grant of amnesty; as Lindsey Graham put it, "To me that's not amnesty. That is working for the right over an 11-year period to become a citizen. It is not a blanket pardon. The president believes and most of us here believe that the 11 million undocumented people are also workers. We couldn't get by as a nation without those workers and without those people."

In the Judiciary Committee, the bill passed by a vote of 12-6, with all eight Democrats as well as Republicans Graham, Arlen Specter, Mike DeWine and Sam Brownback in support. Senator McCain, a co-sponsor of the legalization plan (along with Senator Kennedy), expressed his support for the bill, and White House spokesman Scott McClellan voiced (at least tepid) Administration backing for the plan as well.

I think this bill strikes a good balance. It's a bipartisan and centrist solution to a problem that simply cannot be solved by building a wall or hiring more border guards. While the specifics will still obviously need to be hammered out, I think the basic groundwork of the bill passed today is a very good beginning, and I do hope that Senator Frist moves this version of the legislation to the floor for the Senate to debate. To thwart the will of a bipartisan majority of the Committee just because some Republicans disagree would be inappropriate and unwise.


- Laura Bush has been shaking up her East Wing staff. Maybe her West Wing-heading 'other half' should take some lessons?

- Where things stand on the earmark reform plans in the House and Senate, from the WaPo.

- Some Scalia comments reported over the weekend mean he probably ought to recuse himself from tomorrow's oral argument in a case testing the constitutional rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees. Donklephant has more.

- The NYTimes reported this weekend that George Allen (R-VA) is "bored" in the Senate, quoting him as saying "I made more decisions in half a day as governor than you can make in a whole week in the Senate." Fine George, but then why are you running for reelection? Your ambition for higher office is showing.

- Centrerion is hosting a "Mediocre Media Carnival," and is accepting submissions.

- Alan Stewart Carl has a good post at Donklephant on the illegal immigration issue, which will be debated in the Senate this week.

- Joe Gandelman discusses a Time report suggesting that the Republicans at this point are in real danger of losing the House of Representatives in this fall's elections.

- Michael Reynolds celebrates one year of blogging at The Mighty Middle ... better late than never. Congrats, Michael!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Not All "Reform" Ideas are Good

Again I must apologize for my scarce posting lately, life is conspiring against my spare time again - hate it when that happens! I am hoping that things will settle down pretty soon, but in the meantime, I wanted to mention today's David Broder column in the WaPo. It discusses a new proposal from former GOP congressman and independent 1980 presidential candidate John Anderson (whose career and campaign I respect and admire greatly) and former Indiana senator Birch Bayh (father of current Indiana senator Evan Bayh), as well as a number of reform watchdog groups.

I support almost all aspects of the plan, with one exception (that which Broder takes up in his column this morning). Anderson and Bayh propose that rather than amend the Constitution to abolish the electoral college and switch to a national popular vote system for electing the president (which they support, but realize the impossibility of given small state opposition to such a maneuver), states controlling a majority of electoral votes should "enter into an interstate compact, pledging to give their votes to the candidate receiving the largest number of popular votes. That action could allow the legislatures of as few as 11 states to change the whole system of electing a president," as Broder notes.

There are at least three major problems with this plan, Broder writes:

- Broder notes the implications for small states: "It is no accident that the Founders chose to elect the president by counting votes in the states, since they wanted to emphasize that this is a federal republic with sovereignty shared between the states and Washington. Past efforts to abolish the electoral college have foundered on the objections of small states, which worry that they would be ignored in the pursuit of giant voting blocs in big population centers. Have their claims no merit?"

- While the current system contains a great many difficulties for third party candidates, the Anderson-Bayh plan could make those hurdles even more perilous ... or it could greatly magnify the impact of a third party campaign. The organzation offering the proposal suggests that the former would be true (which would serve to further entrench the two-party system), while Broder maintains this is only speculation: "The reality is that we don't know how a Ralph Nader or a Ross Perot or a Pat Buchanan or a George Wallace would see his potential leverage in a direct-election system with no runoff requirement."

- This is not the way to get reform. If people want to abolish the electoral college, they should do it head on. As Broder concludes, "a change of this scale requires careful consideration - something the amendment process provides and this mechanism is designed to circumvent. A change of this sort should not be created by 11 of the 50 state legislatures." I agree. I do not support the abolition of the electoral college, although it certainly could use some reforms.

First and foremost among the changes I would make is a return to a district-based electoral system like that used in Maine and Nebraska - that is, the winning candidate in each congressional district in a state gets one electoral vote, with the statewide winner getting the two at-large electoral votes. While this wouldn't make a great deal of difference in places like Vermont or South Dakota that already have only three votes apiece, it could change the dynamic immensely in places where congressional delegations are divided (and in the so-called battleground states). It would force candidates to campaign more widely, and could potentially result in greater participation by third parties by allowing them to target efforts more narrowly.

Of course, such a system would work best if districts weren't completely gerrymandered, which means an additional step of creating independently-drawn, fair congressional districts which would be competitive in presidential elections rather than being sure things for whichever party happens to be in control at the time. These reforms I'm suggesting could be done at the state level (most states did have a district-based system up through the 1820s or longer), and would require neither a consitutional amendment or a bizarre "end-run" (as Broder calls the Anderson-Bayh plan).

Clearly this is not in any way a final plan, and as always I'd welcome any thoughts on all aspects of this. I know that many do favor a complete overhaul of the system, a step which I feel goes contrary to the very carefully-constructed and balanced system created by the Constitution's Framers, but I'm happy to discuss.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ripples of Dissent on the Roberts Court

Schedule difficulties are making this week a tough one for me, and I apologize for the lack of very much posting here recently, but I did want to quickly pass along this Linda Greenhouse report from today's NYTimes. Greenhouse discusses yesterday's 5-3 Supreme Court decision regarding police searches and the evidence of some unpleasantness among the Court's members.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The $2 Billion Mistake

There are many lawsuits out there that make me shake my head and go "hmmm." This one is one of those, but in a very different sort of way. The Washington Post reports this morning that the watchdog group Public Citizen has filed suit in federal court to block the implementation of the Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005, the gigantic budget bill signed last month by President Bush.

Apparently there's a little problem with this law ... the House never actually voted on it. After the Senate passed the bill (with Dick Cheney casting the tie vote) back in December, a clerk managed to change a 13 to a 36, which had the effect of extending government-funded leases for "durable medical equipment" (wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, etc.) from 13 months to 36 months (a period which adds a whopping $2 billion to the overall bill). The House, not realizing that the change had been made, voted in the measure in a nailbiter, 216-214. As the Post report notes, "Once the mistake was revealed, Republican leaders were loath to fight the battle again by having another vote, so White House officials simply deemed the Senate version to be the law." The Speaker of the House and the Senate leadership simply "certified" the law, Bush signed it, and that was that.

Until yesterday, when Public Citizen filed suit to stop the law (or not-quite-a-law, as they call it), from taking effect. The Post reports on the various angles taken by law professors and other scholars about this case, which promises to be an interesting one for those of us who enjoy this kind of oddity.

I agree with those taking the position that this would set a very dangerous precedent if allowed to stand. It should take more than the "certification" of the House and Senate leaders to pass a law, and I hope the courts will make that abundantly clear. Yes it's a pain in the neck to fix a mistake like this, but really in the long run, taking another vote seems the most sensible solution.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Today's contribution from op/ed columnist EJ Dionne in the Washington Post is called "The GOP's Shrinking Middle," and it's well worth a read.

Dionne, discussing the retirement of Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, writes on the shrinking cohort of liberal/moderate/progressive Republicans (he uses each of those terms) representing the party in Congress. "Boehlert's departure does not leave the House bereft of liberal Republicans," Dionne writes, "-- Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa is more liberal than Boehlert. But Leach, alas, is an outlier. The spotted owl is in good shape compared with liberal Republicans."

Continuing: "Why does the decline and fall of liberal Republicanism matter? After all, rationalizing the political system into a more conservative GOP and a more-or-less liberal Democratic Party makes the alternatives clearer to voters, who are offered, in Goldwater's famous phrase, 'a choice, not an echo.'

But it turns out that a Republican Party dominated by conservatives is no more coherent than the party that left room for progressives. The huge budget deficit is conservatism's Waterloo, testimony to its political failure. The conservatives love to cut taxes but can't square their lust for tax reduction with plausible spending cuts. Oh, yes, a group of House conservatives has a paper plan involving deep program cuts, but other conservatives know that these cuts will not pass, and shouldn't.

Paradoxically, because the liberal Republicans didn't pretend to hate government, they were better at fiscal responsibility. They were willing to match their desired spending levels with the taxes to pay for them. It didn't make for exciting, to-the-barricades politics. It merely produced good government

I don't always (or even often) agree with Dionne, but I think he's come close to accurate on this point - centrists (of either party, or none at all) understand that tax cuts and spending hikes just don't work in tandem, and that fiscal sanity is an important component of budget management.

Dionne concludes this way: "I'll miss Boehlert and his optimistic moderation. Our politics worked better when a sufficiently large band of Republican moderates and liberals could take the edge off polarization and orient government toward problem-solving. But the liberal Republicans are gone. We have to deal with the GOP we have, not the GOP we wish still existed."

On this point, I'm afraid Dionne's right again, but that's not going to stop me from continuing to plug away at taking the party back to its traditional progressive, good-government roots. The stakes are to high for me to give up.

[Note: Also posted at TMV.]

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Year is a Lifetime

One year ago today I made my first post here at Charging RINO. Since the anecdotal evidence suggests that the vast majority of all blogs don't last this long, I suppose making it this far is something. I went back this morning and read those first few posts, and wanted to share just a few of the things I said way back then - which are still true today:

"I'd much rather be a Republican 'In Name Only' and still stand up for the ideals upon which our party was founded than get in line with the current party leadership and surrender those ideals to the demands and whims of those on the radical fringe. (Note the intentional non-use of the term 'conservative', as I do not believe that today's Republican leadership has any right to describe themselves as such.) I'm charging now because I can't sit back and watch partisan gridlock overtake America, and because I am hopeful that if more moderates like me (whether you're a Republican, a Democrat, an independent or something else entirely) stand up and speak our minds, instead of getting frustrated and becoming disillusioned, we really can 'change the tone' in Washington and solve some of the many important problems facing our country today."

"Compromise has, from the very beginning, been a key part of our government's structure. In recent years, however, compromise has come to play an ever-decreasing role in the way things get done in Washington. The administration likes to 'bring people together', but only with the sort-of-important caveat that you already have to agree with their position ('I'll reach out to everyone who shares our goals,' Bush said on November 4, 2004). Seems to me we could get a whole lot more accomplished if we put people who had different views in a room and urged them to reach agreement. Pick your issue: Social Security, judicial nominations, global warming, you name it -- find a common point of agreement, get people talking, and eventually a compromise will be reached. It might not be exactly what each person wanted at the beginning, but isn't that the point? Republicans need to learn that there's nothing wrong with working together with Democrats to solve problems, and in fact our country would almost certainly be better served if that were the case."

Some of the early issues I discussed (Terri Schiavo, John Bolton, the nuclear option) have faded from our current discussions, but almost all of the topics I've spent time with over the last year, from stem cells to Darfur to redistricting reform to the role of centrists in government, are still at the forefront of what I'm reading and blogging about almost every day. While I have consciously abandoned "moderate" in favor of "centrist" as an adjective to describe myself, my overall approach and vision have not shifted to a large degrees.

It's true, we haven't changed the world yet. We've won some important victories this year, but have also suffered a few setbacks. The centrist moment is still on the horizon, and it's going to take much more time and energy to make it happen. But the wheels have begun to turn, and that moment is closer now than it was one year ago. Whatever tiny little role I've played in that, I'm proud of it. I'm proud also of the new people I've come to know, including all of my readers who leave comments or send me emails to tip me off to a story, offer suggestions, praise, or criticisms, or even just let me know I've made a typo (I appreciate [typo corrected 3/24, d'oh!] that, I hate typos).

I won't linger any more on anniversarial musings, since there's work to be done. Thanks for reading, and I do hope you'll stop by again soon.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


- The big story of the day (anticipated by Joe Gandelman at TMV yesterday) comes from USNews: Chitra Ragavan reports that soon after 9/11, the same group of White House and DoJ lawyers who came up with the Administration's "justification" for the NSA warrantless wiretappping program met with FBI officials "about using the same legal authority to conduct physical searches of homes and businesses of terrorism suspects - also without court approval, one current and one former government official," according to one former and one current government official. FBI Director Robert Mueller was "very alarmed" by the proposal, and "pushed back hard against it," the magazine reports. Not surprising, but yet another example of the willingness of some in this Administration to push the envelope over a cliff.

- Via PoliticalWire, USNews' "Washington Whispers" reports this week that while Rudy Giuliani "hasn't talked about running, there are hints he's ready. A key Republican senator tells us that Rudy's peeps are already at work in Florida. And we hear that he's making a trip to Iowa ... to help raise money for Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Jim Nussle." Giuliani would of course make things interesting in the GOP primary race. As I have been for a long time though, I'm worried that there are too many skeletons in Rudy's closet, and I'm not sure he's going to be able to teach all of them to dance.

- Over in the New York Times "Week in Review," Anne Kornblut asks "But Will They Love Him Tomorrow?" about Illinois senator Barack Obama. She highlights a recent joke (at the Gridiron Club roast) from President Bush to the famously hyped wunderkind legislator: "Senator Obama, I want to do a joke on you. But doing a joke on you is like doing a joke on the pope. Give me something to work with. Mispronounce something." Kornblut asks "If Mr. Obama's popularity and reputation among Democrats grow, will it be possible, his advisers and other Democrats wonder, for Mr. Obama to maintain his smooth trajectory over time? How can he lower expectations, to reduce the impact of any future misstep?"

So far, Obama's taking the hype in stride and doing his best to turn it back on the press. Here's his own crescendo line from the Gridiron Club: "I want to thank you for all the generous advance coverage you've given me in anticipation of a successful career. When I actually do something, we'll let you know."

- Over at Centerfield, Mathew has a long and thoughtful post on the Feingold censure resolution.

- Joe Gandelman's got some excellent musings on John McCain's hiring of a top Bush-Cheney political director to run his PAC, and about McCain's dangerous balancing act of keeping his independent centrist base while trying also to appeal to those who support Bush.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Clean Air Wins a Round

A three-judge panel of the federal district court of appeals for D.C. ruled unanimously yesterday (coverage from WP, NYT, LAT) that a Bush Administration effort to allow "older power plants, refineries and factories to upgrade their facilities without having to install the most advanced pollution controls" contravenes the Clean Air Act and goes against the express intent of Congress.

A victory for fourteen states and numerous advocacy groups which had sued to block the proposed EPA rules, the decision was called "a major victory for clean air and public health" and "a rejection of a flawed policy" by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who's been leading the charge against the New Source Review plan issued by the EPA back in 2003. Spitzer continued "It will encourage industry to build new and cleaner facilities, instead of prolonging the life of old, dirty plants."

The Washington Post article on the case discusses the main legal issue that the judges dealt with:

"The central question in the case focused on what constitutes an industrial facility 'modification,' because that is what triggers the federal requirement to cut down on the smog or soot emitted by utilities, oil refineries, incinerators, chemical plants and manufacturing operations. Previous administrations, including Bill Clinton's, had interpreted that phrase to encompass any physical activity that increases pollution from a given facility, with the exception of routine maintenance.

EPA officials in the Bush administration sought to broaden this exemption by asserting that 'routine maintenance' is any activity that amounts to less than 20 percent of a plant's value. But the ruling, written by Judge Judith W. Rogers, rejected that reasoning as illogical.

'EPA's approach would ostensibly require that the definition of 'modification' include a phrase such as 'regardless of size, cost, frequency, effect,' or other distinguishing characteristic,' Rogers wrote. 'Only in a Humpty Dumpty world would Congress be required to use superfluous words while an agency could ignore an expansive word that Congress did use. We decline to adopt such a world-view.'"

The EPA said it was disappointed in the decision and was reviewing its options. The ruling could go on appeal to the Supreme Court, or Congress could intervene on behalf of the Administration.

It's probably needless to say that I agree wholeheartedly with this ruling. The Bush Administrations' attempts to undo or circumvent the provisions of the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws have been egregious to say the least, and moments like this are important to remember why that whole "separation of powers" thing really is paramount in our governing system.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Boehlert to Retire

This is a sad day indeed.

Boehlert's statement is here. Some words from it will suffice to show us why his career has been of tremendous importance to the centrist cause, and why he will be missed so sorely:

"My manner of representation and voting record of more than two decades has earned for me the label of moderate.

I’m proud of the label, fervently believing that the overwhelming majority of thinking people reject the extremes of the left and right.

They find stalemate unacceptable and want us to sort out our differences and find common ground. As I see it, that personifies a moderate.

As events of the past year in Washington has documented, this has been the 'moderates' moment.' There is an abundance of evidence to suggest that our influence has expanded and our moment has been extended.

A few years ago, Congressional Quarterly, the highly respected, non partisan magazine, conducted an extensive review and analysis of the records and performance of all 535 of the Representatives and Senators. The magazine then developed a list of 50 of the 'the most effective Member of Congress', honoring me among them as a 'centrist' who works to build consensus.

The magazine went on to say of the group 'they exemplify skills and behaviors that help them accomplish their goals.'

That made me proud."

Sherry, you've made us in the great Leatherstocking region of New York and centrists of all party labels around the country proud for the last twenty-four years. We will miss you more than you can know.

Bill to Permit Wiretaps Introduced

Senators Graham, DeWine, Snowe and Hagel introduced legislation yesterday that "would allow the NSA to eavesdrop, without a warrant, for up to 45 days per case, at which point the Justice Department would have three options. It could drop the surveillance, seek a warrant from FISA's court, or convince a handful of House and Senate members that although there is insufficient evidence for a warrant, continued surveillance "is necessary to protect the United States.'"

I'm with Arlen Specter on this. When asked about the legislation, Specter pointed his thumb down, adding that he particularly objected to allowing the Administration to "do whatever the hell it wants" for 45 days before seeking a warrant or taking other action. Other senators said that a recently-formed subcommittee of the Intel Committee should be allowed to complete its review of the program before legislation is considered.

As I've said, there needs to be a serious bipartisan investigation into Bush's wiretap scheme, and Congress does need to take its oversight responsibilities seriously. That does not mean grandfathering the program into law now with giant loopholes in it. While I believe the senators who introduced this legislation mean well and are seriously trying to solve the problem, I'm afraid their solution's not quite the right one.

Evacuation Day

Today is a holiday in Boston - yes, St. Patrick's Day, but that's not why county and city government offices, public schools and libraries are closed - although it is seen as a rather convenient coincidental bit of timing. It is Evacuation Day, the 230th anniversary of the beginning of the British Army's departure from Boston, which they'd occupied for the opening months of what would become the Revolutionary War.

The absolutely brilliant (and lucky) strategy by the nascent American military which forced the British out of Boston is one of the best stories of the Revolutionary era. Back on the night of March 4, 1776, Washington had ordered a large contingent his troops to occupy Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston with fortifications, barrels, and cannon hauled overland during the winter from Fort Ticonderoga in extreme upstate New York. Working under a full moon on a warm night (conditions almost exactly like those in Boston last night as I walked home thinking about this anniversary), the ragtag Americans worked on the hills, while a haze obscured the view from Boston and hid them from the view of the British.

As David McCullough writes in his eloquent treatment of the subject in 1776, "At daybreak [March 5], the British commanders looking up at the Heights could scarcely believe their eyes. The hoped-for, all-important surprise was total. General [Sir William] Howe was said to have exclaimed 'My God, these fellows have done more work in one night than I could make my army do in three months.'"

The guns on the Heights posed a severe problem for the British Navy vessels stationed in Boston Harbor - they could be fired upon, but could not return fire. Howe decided on an immediate frontal assault upon the Heights, but the weather, being that of Boston, decided to have its way with him. A howling wind grounded troop ships, and driving snow and rain conspired to force Howe to call off the attack. There would be no further opportunities, and Howe, seeing the writing on the wall, began preparations to evacuate British troops, loyalist citizens, and the Navy ships from the city. The winds weren't right until Sunday, March 17. McCullough again:

"The troops began moving out at four in the morning, more than 8,000 redcoats marching through the dark, narrow streets of Boston, as if on parade. By seven the sun was up and ships thronged at the wharves began lifting sail. By nine o'clock all were under way."

The American mainland would be bathed in blood for years to come, as the war ground on from New England to Georgia and beyond. Other cities would be occupied, and others would be evacuated. But it was the psychological (not to mention military) victory of forcing the British out of Boston that made the greatest difference to the continuation of the American cause.

So, Happy St. Patrick's Day, but as you revel, take a moment to enjoy the other significance of March 17.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


A few of the best things I've read recently from around the centrist corner of the blogosphere (and beyond):

- "Moose Heaven" from The Bull Moose. A great post on the John McCain and Joe Lieberman receiving the Henry [Scoop] Jackson Award for Distinguished Public Service. From the citation, "Joe Lieberman and John McCain embody the qualities so valued by Scoop - unshakable integrity, the ability to stay the course against the odds, and a willingness to cross party lines to get the job done."

Adds the Moose "While both John McCain and Joe Lieberman are loyal to their party, they put truth first. McCain has stood up to some in the GOP on such issues as campaign finance reform, climate change and torture. Joe Lieberman has been a lonely voice in his party in refusing to concede defeat in Iraq. At various times, their positions have earned them the ire of the left or the right or both. But, who are the other politicians who are brave enough to sail against the wind even at the risk of political consequences? And what courageous stances have their critics taken to give them the moral standing to excoriate these statesmen for insufficient devotion to party, principle and country?"

- "Fighting the Weakness Within" at Maverick Views. Alan Stewart Carl discusses the current leadership vacuum: "
In times of great strife America has often been blessed with great leaders. Where are those leaders now? Where are the men and women who can combine candid yet powerful rhetoric, decisive yet competent action? Where are those with the strength of character and force of will to reject the divisive games of petty politics? Where are those who know how to unite? ... I do not know what the next few years will bring. But I sense there is a swelling frustration out here. I sense more and more people are growing weary of the charlatan acts of those who claim to lead and inform us. And I hope someone will rise to unite this growing group of honest yet discontented Americans. It is past time for real leadership." Don't miss the entirety of this post, it's fantastic. Amba has more on this topic at Ambivablog, in another great post.

- "Keeping the Crazies in Check" at Balloon Juice. John Cole on the danger of talking points and reprehensible rhetoric. Bouncing off one of Joe's great posts at TMV about the news that Supreme Court justices Ginsburg and O'Connor received death threats last year, Cole writes "If someone were to murder a judge, Tom DeLay and those like him would not be to blame. They would, however, be responsible for years of irresponsible and self-serving rhetoric- rhetoric that is driving me away from the party I have been a member of for 22 years."

These are just a sampling of the things I've enjoyed reading recently; as always, remember to check out the links on the right side of the blog and see what other folks out there have to say.

Boehlert to Announce Plans Tomorrow

As I mentioned earlier in the week, speculation is rife that upstate NY congressman and leading Republican centrist Sherwood Boehlert may be planning to retire. Boehlert will end the speculation tomorrow at 3 p.m. with an announcement at Utica's Union Station, upstate news outlets are reporting (Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin, Utica Observer Dispatch).

Boehlert told the president what his plans are earlier this week on board Air Force One, but played coy with the press yesterday: "I pretty much know what I'm going to say, and I've got to make sure I say it." Boehlert said he used a large legal pad to draw up lists of pros and cons to running again, adding "The list is long on both sides." He told reporters in Washington "I came to this town 42 years ago a starry-eyed youngster. That dream has come true. I'm living it." But, he said, he had to weigh the factors and come to a decision: "I can't play Hamlet forever."

I don't know what Boehlert's going to say, but his comments have me concerned, and I think at this point it could go either way. Needless to say, I'll be paying close attention to tomorrow's announcement.

Run, Sherry, Run!!

Time for a Shakeup?

As Joe Gandelman comprehensively reports over at TMV, the rampant rumors of a White House staff shakeup are growing louder by the day. CBS News says former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker is trying to persuade CoS Andy Card to bring on former TN Senator Fred Thompson (currently better known as DA Arthur Branch on "Law & Order") as a "top advisor." CBS sources say that Baker's suggestion fell on deaf presidential ears.

ABC adds "Two Republican sources close to the White House have confirmed to ABC News that in recent days there has been talk of making staff additions to the Bush team to bring a steadying influence to the White House." CNN has basically the same story, also without using Baker's name.

Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) recently joined the calls for change, saying "I have some concerns about the team that's around the president. I think you need to take a look at it. ... For the good of the team, a line of fresh legs, or in this case, fresh political antenna, would better serve this president. ..."

Andy Card, the second-longest serving chief of staff in White House history, has got to be tired out. A recent Washington Post article points out that Card typically rises at 4:20 a.m. and often doesn't stop taking phone calls until after 11 p.m. - that's less sleep than I get, and I'm not helping run the country. He's been at that schedule since early 2001, and has got to be exhausted. CNN points out "Senior officials and friends of Card said Bush is reluctant to let him leave, saying he is concerned major changes would lead to a transition time they can't afford."

You know what, Mr. President? Transition time might be about the most affordable option right now. Your staff is worn out. They're not making good decisions, and you're letting their bad decisions be policy for the country. It is, indeed, time for a shakeup. I agree with Senator Baker that Fred Thompson would be the optimal choice - get some new faces, fall back and regroup. It may be too late to salvage your approval ratings, but let's stop the mistakes. This isn't "parlor games," as Scott McClellan put it - this is serious stuff. Get serious, Mr. President, and realize that loyalty stops meaning much when burnout overrides it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

NYGOP in Turmoil?

Is the New York Republican Party about to implode? So suggests prominent Albany political writer Fred Dicker of the New York Post. Writes Dicker:

"Class warfare is erupting in the New York GOP with a fury unseen since a proudly pushy, middle-class suburban, conservative Italo-American took on a polished political icon of the rich liberal Manhattan Republican establishment more than a quarter century ago.

Al D'Amato's paradigm-shattering struggle against Sen. Jacob K. Javits set the direction for the state GOP for decades. In this year's replay, the same Rockefeller/Javits/Wall Street wing of the party - now represented by Gov. Pataki, former Mayor Giuliani, longtime Rockefeller buddy Henry Kissinger and Manhattan GOP boss James Ortenzio - is backing two ultra-wealthy, pro-choice, pro-gay-rights Protestant Manhattan aristocrats: blueblood William Weld for governor, and Park Avenue housewife-cum-foreign-policy-expert Kathleen McFarland for U.S. Senate.

The party's D'Amato wing, most clearly represented by small-business-oriented upstate leaders, has lined up behind two suburban, middle-class, anti-abortion ethnic Catholics: gubernatorial hopeful John Faso, whose father was a TV repairman and school janitor, and Senate hopeful John Spencer, the ex-mayor of gritty Yonkers, whose father worked in construction and groomed Westchester golf courses for the likes of the Rockefellers.

... I
f the likes of McFarland and Weld again set the agenda for the state GOP, D'Amato won't be alone, many local party leaders agree: Hundreds of thousands of other working-and middle-class Republicans - who have nothing in common with the likes of Pataki, Giuliani, Kissinger and Ortenzio - will be pulling the Democratic lever on Election Day."

Dicker goes on to suggest that former senator D'Amato is considering endorsing Eliot Spitzer for governor, which given recent polling data as well as Spitzer's record as attorney general doesn't seem like too far-fetched an idea at all; heck, I'm as likely to support Spitzer at this point as I am any Republican candidate because I respect what he's done for the state and I think he'd make a good governor.

Will the state GOP splinter? Probably not. Will they benefit from a few years in the political wilderness? Almost certainly.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Will Snow Depart?

Is Treasury Secretary John Snow about to call it quits? Hotline sources suggest such a move may be in the cards.

Senate Nailbiter

In cliffhanger classic style this afternoon, the Senate rejected an amendment to the '07 budget framework which would have restored the "pay-as-you-go" requirements set aside in 2002. Had the amendment passed, any all tax cuts through 2011 would have had to be offset with decreases in spending, rather than resulting in increased deficit spending.

All 44 Democrats and Independent Jim Jeffords voted for the amendment, offered by Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND). Four Republicans (Chafee, McCain, Snowe, Voinovich) joined them. The amendment failed 50-50.

Where is the fiscal sanity? Where is the spending discipline? Fifty Republican senators should be ashamed of themselves.

[Update: I can't count (I must have learned using Bush Administration math or something). It was five Republicans who stood for fiscal sanity: the fifth was Susan Collins, also of Maine.]

Boehlert to Decide Soon on Reelection Bid

Via PoliticalWire, CQ Politics reports that centrist upstate New York Rep. Sherwood Boehlert is expected to announce within the next several days whether he'll seek reelection for a 13th term this November. Boehlert, who represents the district where I grew up, has been one of the strongest voices for moderation and principle within the Republican Party, and his loss would be a tremendous blow.

Run, Sherry, Run!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Good One from the Bull Moose

Marshall Wittmann, who blogs at Bull Moose, was one of my earliest and most frequent stops when I started reading blogs. His pithy commentary and centrist-oriented posts are regular must-reads for those of us who pride ourselves on 'raging moderation' (as Norm Ornstein put it the other night on "The Colbert Report").

Today's Bull Moose post wonders if Republicans are beginning to reconsider whether victory in the '04 presidential race was actually a good thing, given the many pits the Administration has fallen into since then. I agree with much of what he says, and recommend the post to all of you.

While the Moose and I have not agreed on the important implications of the NSA wiretap program, I do agree with him that the censure resolution to be offered today by the junior senator from Wisconsin is not in the best interests of the Democratic Party, the Senate, or the country. It will only further poison an already-too-partisan atmosphere at a moment when partisanship is the last thing we need, and may serve to bring some Republicans who have been critical of the president's actions back into the fold.

We do need a comprehensive investigation into the actions of the Administration, and if that reveals wrongdoing, actions should then be taken. The Congress should not shirk its oversight responsibilities here - aside from asserting their authority now, they should also examine the president's past actions. But a censure resolution does none of that, and simply creates more problems when I think we can all agree we've got plenty of those on our plate already.

[Update: Some further thoughts on the censure idea over at TMV. -- 7:58 p.m.]

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Don't Miss ...

... Matt Bai's New York Times Magazine cover article on former VA Gov/potential '08 contender Mark Warner. I'm having an unexpectedly busy day today and can't post more right this second, but will update this post with my thoughts on the article hopefully later on this evening.

[Update: It's a good article, I think. I laughed out loud at Bai's characterization of how the '08 Dem field is currently shaping up, that it's "looking a lot like Gladys Knight and the Pips — and you can guess who gets to be Gladys." Mark Warner certainly will have a difficult row to hoe if Hillary Clinton does get into the race (and for all intents and purposes, she might as well already have made her announcement). His issues are the right ones to be talking about in these times of partisan tension, and if he can keep his face out there and his nose clean, I think he's got just as good a chance as anyone at becoming that "anti-Hillary-Democrat." This kind of article is the kind of (ahem, free) publicity he's got to be hoping for to increase his name recognition big-time - he'll need all he can get. -- 9:42 p.m.]

Saturday, March 11, 2006


- In case you missed it, Interior Secretary Gale Norton resigned yesterday, effective at the end of March. As the NYTimes puts it today, Norton "was at the nexus of many controversies, including drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other sensitive areas, administration of the Endangered Species Act, handling of trust money for Indian tribes, and collection of royalties due the federal government for natural gas drilling on public lands." She had been one of four original Bush cabinet members still on the job (the others are Rumsfeld, Chao and Mineta).

I must admit, my favorite reaction to Norton's resignation was the two-word press statement released by Defenders of Wildlife: "Good riddance."

- The Times also reports today that efforts to pass a substantial overhaul in lobbying procedures seems to have faltered. Shocking, isn't it? Must be time for another indictment, that'll get things back on track.

- In what would be a stunning display of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Kate Michaelman (former head of NARAL) says she will decide "very soon" whether she'll enter the race for the Democratic nomination against Rick Santorum in the PA Senate race.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Redistricting Watch: Avlon Joins the Fray

Centrist columnist John Avlon added his voice to the movement for redistricting reform this week, devoting his March 7 column in the New York Sun to the topic. Noting "No single action would do more to heal the artificial polarization of Americans politics," Avlon makes an eloquent case for changing the way congressional districts are drawn.

After discussing the current pending Supreme Court case as well as recent developments in Congress and the many ongoing reform efforts at the state level (at least fifteen at last count), Avlon concludes:

"The resilience of redistricting reform in the face of strenuous professional partisan opposition is a testament to its urgency and merit. Congressional scandals and increased public disgust with the artificial polarization of politics may finally force Congress and state legislatures alike to end this corrupt bargain. But it will only happen if our elected representatives are shamed into taking action. Once redistricting is reformed, the political process will be more open to competition, while there will be tangible electoral rewards for working constructively across the aisle. It is the reform that would open the door to all others."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

[Note: Also posted at TMV.]

Previous Redistricting Watch posts:
- "Action in the Senate [and more!]" (3/1)
- "NTU Endorses Tanner Legislation" (1/10/06)
- "SCOTUS Grabs the Ball" (12/13/05)
- "Tanner Calls for Hearings" (11/3)
- "WaPo Weighs In" (10/24)
- "Q & A with Congressman John Tanner" (10/20)
- "Governator Goes to Ohio" (10/18)
- "Schwarzenegger Calls on McCain" (10/11)
- "Broder's Right" (9/1)
- "WaPo on Prop 77" (8/21)
- "Prop 77 Back On" (8/12)
- "Updates from the States" (8/10)
- "Updates on Several Fronts" (7/28)
- "Cosponsors Update" (7/22)
- "How Exactly do you Gerrymander a Birthday Cake?" (7/20)
- "Happy Birthday Mr. Gerry" (7/19)
- "Federal Authority in Historical Perspective" (7/16)
- "Blue Dogs, on the Scent" (7/12)
- "Cosponsors Update" (7/1)
- "Links, News, and Views" (6/24)
- "Polarization & Collegiality" (6/24)
- "Centrist Action on Redistricting Reform" (6/23)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Santorum Continues Lobbyist Meetings

At the end of January, Senator Rick Santorum said he would no longer hold biweekly powwows with lobbyists in his Capitol offices. Which was true ... to a point. As the Washington Post reports today, Santorum has held two such meetings since his announcement - the meetings were held on the same day of the week, at the same time, and lasted an hour (just those those prior to the 'suspension'). Ah, but the senator met with the lobbyists three blocks from the Capitol, once at the National Republican Senate Campaign Committee headquarters, and once at the Heritage Foundation.

Santorum aides told the Post the senator resumed the meetings (which never really ended exactly) "to help Santorum's reelection effort." Those older meetings were for open to all Republican members, a Republican Conference aide said, while these latest "were largely about how the lobbyists and other attendees could help Santorum's fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts in Pennsylvania."

At least the truth comes out - Santorum wants all the lobbyist attention for himself!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Centrism Wins in Texas 28

Over at Centerfield, Tully's got a good post discussing last night's primary victory by centrist Dem Henry Cueller, who faced a strong challenge from former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Senate Intel Panel Rejects Wiretap Inquiry

The Senate Intelligence Committee agreed today to form a special seven-member subcommittee to "oversee" the president's NSA wiretap program, while rejecting calls to carry out a full investigation of the whole business.

New legislation, the Terrorist Surveillance Act of 2006 (proposed by Republican senators DeWine, Hagel, Snowe, and Graham) "would authorize the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without a warrant for 45 days but require the White House to justify every decision to continue beyond that timeframe," according to a Reuters report. It "also would force the eavesdropping program to cease after five years unless renewed by Congress."

Senator Chuck Hagel said the subcommittee created by proposed legislation would have a "broad, wide, deep" purview to monitor and oversee the wiretap program. The White House has not expressed outright support for the proposal.

The Houston Chronicle adds to the Reuters report, noting that along with today's proposed bill, Senator Arlen Specter has circulated legislation which would "allow the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court the authority to give the program a broad constitutional blessing every 45 days."

I don't think either of these bills are a bad idea. However, I do think that some investigation into the program must be carried out, and it is the responsibility of the House and Senate intelligence committees to conduct such an inquiry. Oversight now is great, and should happen for sure, but Congress must consider how the Administration got us into this mess so we can be sure it doesn't happen again.

[Note: Also posted at TMV].

Monday, March 06, 2006

Bush's Line-Item Veto Idea

In principle, I like the idea of a line-item veto. As with most things, however, the devil's in the details, and there are quite a few details in the president's new plan that I find troublesome.

Under Bush's proposal, unveiled on Monday, the president would be able to excise individual provisions from spending bills, after which the list of vetoed items would be sent back to Congress, "which could then reinstate them by majority vote, rather than the traditional two-thirds margin." Congress would have ten days to act on the president's proposed cuts. This "veto-lite" idea is designed specifically to get around the objections of the Supreme Court, which struck down a previous line-item veto law in 1998.

The New York Times says of the plan "Even though only a majority vote would be needed to override, members of Congress might find it more difficult to vote for questionable items once they stood by themselves instead of lying buried in the depths of larger legislation."

[Note: Also posted at TMV.]

Over at the Washington Post, Michael Fletcher adds that Bush's proposal will be introduced in the Senate by Bill Frist, Mitch McConnell and John McCain. Senator John Kerry, who spoke in favor of the line-item veto during the presidential campaign in 2004, introduced a measure yesterday which his office called "no different" from that now favored by the president.

Here's the problem. This president hasn't vetoed a single solitary spending bill (or any other bill) passed by the (Republican-controlled) Congress since his inauguration. Arguing that he is committed to fiscal discipline is beyond ludicrous, considering the pork-stuffed budget bills and highway legislation he's signed into law in recent months. Offering him a line-item veto hardly seems like a good solution to his aversion to wielding the responsibility and power afforded to him under the Constitution.

This proposal offers the president a hefty opportunity for partisan mischief. As long as the president's party controls Congress, the simple majority override rule would allow the excision of any and all spending projects proposed by the congressional minority - while I am all for the reduction of earmarks, I'm for doing so across the board, not in a patently unfair and partisan way. I would favor instead some proposals now moving through Congress under which legislators could object to specific earmarks, which would then have to jump a 60-vote hurdle to remain in the spending bill. As the Times notes, this would likely make specific provisions harder to slip through, while at the same time removing at least a major portion of the likelihood of partisanship (since any senator could lodge the objections).

There are better solutions to earmark-reduction at this time than a line-item veto; given his track record on fiscal matters, I cannot support this proposal from the president.

Crunchy Cons: Not a Breakfast Cereal

Alan Stewart Carl, posting at Donklephant, has some interesting comments on Rod Dreher's book Crunchy Cons, particularly focusing on that group's distrust of huge, multi-national corporations. I haven't read the book, but Alan's thoughts are, as always, intriguing.

Interesting New Poll

Via PoliticalWire, I discovered this new poll and analysis from Quinnipiac University. Surveying nearly 1900 people in what they're calling a "Thermometer" survery, Quinnipiac "asked voters to rate leaders from 0 to 100 on a 'feeling thermometer,' with the highest numbers reflecting the warmest feelings."

The full results are here, but the top ten mean scores are quite interesting:

- Rudy Giuliani: 63.5
- Barack Obama 59.9
- John McCain 59.7
- Condi Rice 57.1
- Bill Clinton 56.1
- John Edwards 50.8
- Mark Warner 50.7
- Hillary Clinton 50.4
- Russ Feingold 49
- George Allen 48.6

George W. Bush got a 44.1 temperature; Cheney's was 41.

Importantly, these temperatures don't take into account the number of voters who said they felt unable to rate the contenders: 59% said they couldn't rate Obama, for insance, while only 13% couldn't rate Rudy and only 2% couldn't rate Hillary Clinton.

Quinnipiac polling center assistant director Peter Brown said of the results "Not only do Mayor Giuliani and Sen. McCain get the best ratings, but their numbers are uniform across the country. There is less than a 1 percent difference in their ratings between the red, blue and purple states." Bush, in contrast, received a 49.2 in red states, 41.2 in blue states, and 40.2 in purple states (defined for this study as "12 states in which there was a popular vote margin of 5 percentage points or less in the 2004 Presidential election").

You can get breakdowns for each contender by gender, region, and political party on the poll page.

Perhaps what should disturb us most is that not a single current political leader reaches room temperature.

Bush had a

Sunday, March 05, 2006


- Tom DeLay faces three challengers in a primary to hold his seat this coming Tuesday. For the first time in many years, he actually stands a chance of losing, or at least being forced into an April 11 runoff. If the voters of the Sugarland area really want to send a message to the rest of us that they too are sick of the sleaze and corruption which Tom DeLay has inflicted on the Republican Party and the entire country, now's the time to send it. Go vote on Tuesday, and turn Tom DeLay out on his ear.

- Joe Gandelman has great coverage of a new threat from Bill Frist - apparently he's suggesting that if the Senate Intelligence Committee votes to hold hearings on the NSA wiretapping program, he will change the balance of power on the committee from its current equally-divided state to a lopsided, Republican-majority body like the rest of the committees. Joe's post includes commentary from others as well, so make sure to visit. Like Joe, I find this conduct by Frist utterly ridiculous, and hope all members of the Intel committee will stand up and do what needs to be done, not kowtow to the Administration and the majority leader. Stygius has more on this, as does Michael at Mighty Middle. You should also read the original post from Glenn Greenwald, who's done really excellent work on this story.

- Over at Maverick Views, Alan Stewart Carl's got a bunch of great posts: a new discussion of Michael Brown's role in the Katrina fiasco, the problem with Bush, and some good things coming out of the evangelical movement recently.

- Michael Reynolds thinks it's time for a world government.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Congress to Investigate Reclassification Program

As a followup to yesterday's post, I wanted to point out a Washington Post article which provides some updates on the secret reclassification program used by the intel agencies until recently to make thousands of once-available archival documents off-limits to the public. According to the Post, Rep. Chris Shays, who chairs the House Government Affairs Committee's subcommittee on national security, emerging threats and international relations, will hold an oversight hearing to discuss the program on March 14.

Says Shays: "We are spending literally millions and millions of dollars to keep secrets from ourselves. We've got a huge problem." He added that "the suppression of documents that pose no threat to national security is indicative of a larger problem in which government secrecy is on the rise," according to the Post.

The report also follows up with National Archivist Allen Weinstein, who has announced a moratorium on the reclassification project. Weinstein said that halt would continue until an audit of the reclassified material is completed, probably around the end of April. "I felt that it was important to give people time to cool off in this whole matter. It's an effort to slow the trains down," Weinstein told the Post. He will meet next week with representatives from the intelligence agencies.

Weinstein's general philosophy about the reclassification process seems fairly sound: "Stuff has to be held back when it's important to hold it back, when you can make a legitimate legal case for not releasing it, not when you are going on impulse or gut reaction or just because you don't like something in some document." I just hope that he can stand up to the intel agencies, and I hope too that Shays' subcommittee can make some progress as well.

Friday, March 03, 2006

New Poll Analysis

I will have more on this later once I've had a chance to read the report, but I wanted to just pass along the link to the latest Stan Greenberg-Matt Hogan memo [PDF], "Cracks in the Two Americas: Republican Loyalists and Swing Blocs Move Toward the Democrats." [Via PoliticalWire].

Administration Tries to Evade Torture Ban (Again)

The Washington Post reports that lawyers for the Bush Administration have filed court briefs arguing that the ban on "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" passed (finally) as part of last year's Defense appropriations bill "does not apply to people held at" Guantanamo Bay prison, because of another provision in the bill which limited detainees' access to federal courts.

"U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said in a hearing yesterday that she found allegations of aggressive U.S. military tactics used to break the detainee hunger strike 'extremely disturbing' and possibly against U.S. and international law. But Justice Department lawyers argued that even if the tactics were considered in violation of McCain's language, detainees at Guantanamo would have no recourse to challenge them in court."

Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch, told the Post "Unfortunately, I think the government's right; it's a correct reading of the law. The law says you can't torture detainees at Guantanamo, but it also says you can't enforce that law in the courts."

McCain's office had no comment for the Post, and a quick GoogleNews search doesn't bring up any statement from him so far. If this reading of the law is correct, it's time to make a change - I cannot believe that the intention of all those who voted for the torture ban in the Senate and the House was for it to mean absolutely nothing.

National Archivist: Stop the Insanity

Back on 2/21, I posted in "Gratuitous Reclassification" about a program undertaken by some of the national intelligence agencies to reclassify thousands of historical documents, many of which had been published and available for many years. Since then, we've seen at least one of the more absolutely ridiculous applications of the program, in the reclassification of the 1959 Pentagon Emergency Plans Book ... which anyone can purchase through Amazon for a mere $12.97.

Yesterday, the New York Times reports, current National Archivist Allen Weinstein ordered a "moratorium" on the reclassification program, directing "intelligence agencies ... to stop removing previously declassified historical documents from public access and urged them to return to the shelves as quickly as possible many of the records they had already pulled."

An audit by the Archives' Information Security Oversight Office is now studying which if any records should be reclassified. Weinstein "said the archives' goal was to make sure that government records that could safely be released were available." He will meet with intelligence agency representatives on Monday to inform them of the moratorium, and in his statement on Thursday called on the intel and military intel units to "commit the necessary resources to restore to the public shelves as quickly as possible the maximum amount of information consistent with the obligation to protect truly sensitive national security information."

This story is a very important one to me personally - I am, after all, training to be an archivist. The very idea that records long in the public eye would then suddenly be "disappeared" is totally antithetical to all principles of archival practice ... especially if the material they contain does not in any way warrant such a treatment (there could be certain very odd cases where such a reclassification is warranted, but it would be quite rare). I'm glad that Mr. Weinstein has stepped up here and announced this moratorium, but he'll almost certainly have a fight on his hands next week from the intel folks. I hope his backbone holds out.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

SCOTUS Redistricting Roundup

I promised yesterday that I'd put up links to the coverage of the Supreme Court's arguments in the consolidated challenges to the 2003 Texas redistricting scheme, so here goes. I have to say at the outset that from the excerpts in the media (the full transcript is not yet available), it doesn't appear very likely that the justices are going to issue a positive ruling, which will throw the ball back in our court to effect change.

First the links. In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank devotes his "Washington Sketch" to the arguments while Charles Lane provides the straight run-down. Linda Greenhouse has the story for the New York Times, and Charles Savage does the honors for the LA Times. Dahlia Lithwick dispatches for Slate. Allen Pusey and Todd Gillman cover the arguments for the Dallas Morning News.

Each of the articles makes clear the general unease expressed by the justices in wading into the redistricting process: Pusey and Gillman describe their attitude as "palpably cool to the much-anticipated argument that a 2003 map of congressional districts approved by the GOP-dominated Legislature amounted to 'excessively' partisan politics." At the same time, however, at least a majority of the justices did express concerns that one aspect of the redistricting plan may have disenfranchised black and Hispanic voters: Justice Kennedy commented "It seems to me that is an affront and an insult."

The justices seemed to indicate that at least a majority of them believe that partisan redistricting is perfectly acceptable. Justice Ginsburg responded to an argument by those appealing the Texas plan by saying "I thought a plan drafted by the state legislature replaced a plan that had been drafted by a court?", and Justice Souter added "The difficulty I have is that it is impossible, and let's even assume it's undesirable, to take partisanship out of a political process." He added that if appellants used pure partisanship as a basis for challenging redistricting plans, "I don't see why that does not imply the illegitimacy of any redistricting at any time."

Without seeing the context it's hard to understand why Justice Souter would express the view that taking partisanship out of redistricting is "undesirable," and I'll certainly be interested to see how that fits into the full transcript once it's released.

Justice Scalia, not surprisingly, was the most skeptical to the arguments of those opposed to the Texas plan: at one point he retorted "Legislatures redraw maps all the time for political reasons. To say it's something horrible is ridiculous." He added that mid-decade redistricting ought to be permitted if the first redistricting plan after a census had been constructed by a court. Of court-drawn districts, Scalia said at one point that "it's a shame for the democratic process that there are districts that have never been drawn by the people."

This argument from Scalia is positively specious. "The people" haven't drawn up a congressional district since goodness knows when; if Justice Scalia believes that today's gerrymandered-to-death congressional districts were drawn by anyone other than self-interested politicians looking to maximize their reelection margins year after year, I've got a bridge to sell him. While of course I'd rather not have serving judges draw up district lines either, to suggest that they redistrict less fairly or equitably than legislators seems totally ridiculous.

While Milbank's sketch is largely concerned with Justice Ginsburg's unfortunate 15-minute nap during the two-hour argument and the lack of real-time transcripts or video/audio coverage of Court arguments, he does make a good point about the important nature of the case in question: the American people "could have benefited from a glimpse of the high court's proceedings. Yesterday's case on Texas redistricting was about crucial matters: the fate of minority voting rights; the principle of one man, one vote; the balance of power in the House of Representatives; and political gerrymandering that protects 98 percent of incumbents in both parties from challengers."

Once the transcript comes out next week I'll read it over and probably have some more musings once I've seen things in context. Even then, of course, it's impossible to tell for sure how justices will vote based on their statements at yesterday's session. But it doesn't seem likely that the justices will decide that redistricting can be too partisan ... which just means that we - yes, "the people" - have to dedicate ourselves more strongly to reforming the process at the ballot box. Let's get to it.

[Update: Writing at Poliblog, Dr. Steven Taylor has a good post on the redistricting case, partially in response to this one. Check it out. -- 10:59 a.m.]

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Patriot Act, Lieberman, Wiretaps, Oh My!

- I have not yet seen a complete report on the oral arguments this afternoon in the Texas redistricting cases - hopefully Greenhouse or Lithwick (who disappointed me yesterday by dispatching on the Anna Nicole Smith case instead of the Vermont campaign finance hearing) will have something out before the end of the evening. But Bloomberg, Forbes, and the Associated Press all have articles out on the hearing which are worth reading. The AP's notes one exchange from within the Court: Paul Smith, an attorney for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said "The only reason it [the 2003 mid-decade redistricting maneuver] was considered, let alone passed, was to help one political party get more seats than another," to which Justice Scalia (whose vote I'm fairly confident is well beyond reach) quipped "That's a surprise. Legislatures re-draw the map all the time for political reasons." Exactly, Justice Scalia. The question is, should that be permitted? The person I'll be waiting (impatiently) for comments from is Justice Kennedy, since he will almost certainly be the swing vote on this one. What Roberts and Alito said today will be key as well. Stay tuned.

- The Hill reports today that the number of House Republicans planning to retire from Congress after this term could increase dramatically, with some analysts predicting 10-15 more retirements above the sixteen already announced. Over at RedState, editor Dales writes of this story "If that transpires, ... that will be an ominous sign. One of the earliest warning signs for Democrats in 1994 was that they had a high number of retirements-- it is usually a sign that the polls done behind the scenes (and not just media polls) are showing some really bad news. Forecasters should keep their eyes on that particular canary in the coalmine." Perhaps we should also take even the possibility as a sign that perhaps something's gone a little off-track. Imagine that.

- The Senate today agreed by a vote of 95-4 to amend the current version of the PATRIOT Act reauthorization "
to make it clear that individuals who receive subpoena-like 'national security letters' from investigators are not required to disclose the names of their lawyers, and to limit the use of national security letters in obtaining Internet records from libraries." Senators Feingold, Byrd, Harkin and Jeffords voted against the amendment. Later, the chamber voted 84-15 to invoke cloture on the reauthorization bill, which means final passage could come as early as tomorrow. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) did not vote in either case. After the final Senate vote, the bill goes back to the House for action.

- In a surprising display of bipartisan unity, Rep. Chris Shays has announced he'll support Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman in his reelection bid this fall. Shays says he's also encouraging other Republican officeholders to support Lieberman's campaign. There is currently no Republican slated to run against the incumbent, although Lieberman does face a primary challenge from anti-war candidate and DailyKos darling Ned Lamont.

- This report in today's Washington Post is worrisome. It covers a letter sent by AG Alberto Gonzales to the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which he suggests that clandestine activities approved since 9/11 may go beyond the NSA wiretap program made public in December, saying "I did not and could not address ... any other classified intelligence activities. ... I was confining my remarks to the Terrorist Surveillance Program as described by the President, the legality of which was the subject" of the Judiciary Committee's meeting. Gonzales' letter also raises questions about how and when the legal justification for the wiretap program was developed. It sounds to me like it's time for another Judiciary Committee hearing.