Sunday, April 30, 2006


- Over in the LATimes, Janet Hook asks "Are the Republicans Ready for Rudy?" It's an interesting article about Giuliani's positions and how they'll play in the GOP primary contest, but I think the larger issue for Rudy is all the skeletons in his closet. There's just no way he's going to be able to teach them all to dance.

- Also from LA, Ron Brownstein has today's must-read piece, "All Revved Up, Going Nowhere on Energy Policy." Key paragraphs: "The collapse of the fuel economy movement captures the real problem in the energy debate. It isn't a shortage of good ideas; it's a refusal to accept the political risks that could advance those ideas." "For all the howling from Washington, energy policy will remain stuck in neutral until both parties confront their supporters to construct a grand bargain of more domestic production, greater conservation and more focus on alternative energy." Read the whole thing.

- The WaPo has a rundown of last week's Senate shenanigans with the "emergency" spending bill.

- Meanwhile, over in the House, a watered-down lobbying reform bill is still alive (if barely). It was opposed this week by a coalition of Democrats and twelve Republican centrists who called it too weak. Key quote from Rep. Chris Shays: "I happen to believe we're losing our moral authority to lead this place. It's been over a decade since my party took over the majority and I feel like we've forgotten how we got here."

I wanted to do more from the blogs this morning but Blogger is being cranky so I will have to save that for another time.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Specter Threatens to Cut Wiretap Funding

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, growing increasingly frustrated with the Administration's stonewall tactics on the extralegal warrantless NSA wiretap program, has suggested he will propose legislation to cut all funding for the surveillance. Specter threatened the move, which he calls a "measure of last resort" because of continued unwillingness from the Bush folks to either comply with current law or agree to abide by a new framework.

Said Specter "What's the use of passing another statute if the president won't pay any attention to it? When you talk about withholding funds, there you're talking about a real authority." The LATimes reports that a draft of Specter's funding cutoff "would prohibit the use of funds for domestic electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes 'unless Congress is kept fully and currently informed.' In particular, the proposed bill would require the administration to brief all members of the House and Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees."

With the window of opportunity to get anything done on this front slowly closing (the public's attention has already been refocused on, well, gas prices), Specter needs to move fast. I agree that some step should be taken that will make clear to the Administration that Congress takes its responsibilities in this area very seriously, and this might be the way to do that.

Bush: "I Need More Power"

Speaking at a "surprise" appearance at a Biloxi, MS gas station yesterday, President Bush said that part of his long-term plan to bring down high gas prices would be to raise fuel efficiency standards in cars. Some of us have been saying that for years, but alright, fine, welcome to the show - better late than never, Mr. President.

Here's the problem. Bush reverted to what seems to be this administration's default position when something needs to be done: give me the authority to do it. Just what Bush needs - more power. Apparently he wants Congress to delegate the authority to set fuel efficiency standards directly to the Administration; as Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta said yesterday "At the president's request, I hereby ask that the Congress take prompt action to authorize the U.S. Department of Transportation to reform fuel economy standards for passenger automobiles."

Bush noted "It's an authority I used for light trucks, and I intend to use it wisely if Congress will give me that authority." Because you've used what authority you have so very wisely for the past six years, forgive me if I'm not leaping for joy.

Raising fuel efficiency standards is an absolutely crucial component of reducing our nation's dependence on foreign oil and for lowering gas prices (in the long term, it will not help overnight). Congress should pass a framework that would lay out a progressive increase in standards over the next x-number of years, and then hand it over to the DoT for enforcement. Congress should not blithely hand over its authority and allow the DoT to set the rules itself.

Congress is currently falling all over itself to take whatever steps it can to look like it's doing something about gas prices (so long as it doesn't hurt the poor starving oil companies, of course - ExxonMobil's first-quarter earnings were only up 7% this year). The House and Senate ought to do their jobs and pass fuel efficiency reform. The President should then do his and enforce that reform.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Who'll Blink?

As I noted yesterday, President Bush threatened to veto the "emergency" spending bill now under consideration in the Senate if it exceeded $92.2 billion. As expected, that threat meant, well, nothing, in the Senate (and why should it?). Yesterday the Senate voted 49-48 to table (i.e. kill) an amendment offered by Tom Coburn to cut out the $700 "railroad to nowhere" provision. They also voted 72-26 to table another amendment by Senator Thomas that would have restored the bill's cost to that proposed by the president and passed by the House. Aaand then they voted 84-13 to add another $430 million onto the bill (granted it's for "outpatient care and treatment for veterans") which is hard to argue with ... but still.

Fiscal discipline? Not from this Congress. And not from this president, who will probably cave (even though he received a letter yesterday from 35 Republicans, enough to sustain a veto, who said they would back him if he used the pen on this one).

Of course this could all be a designed plan to allow Bush his first veto without it being on something like, oh, stem cells for example. We'll see how the rhetoric plays out over the next couple of days. But if I had to guess now, I'd wager it'll be the president who blinks first.

NARA Audit Reveals Improper Reclassification

The National Archives' Internal Security Oversight Office (ISOO) has completed its audit of the (formerly-secret) reclassification program conducted over the past several years, and released its report yesterday. The audit uncovered evidence that 25,315 records were reclassified under the program - of a sample of those, 24% were found to fall under the category "clearly inappropriate for continued classification," and another 12% were "questionable."

"In one re-review effort," the audit reports, "the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) withdrew a considerable number of purely unclassified records in order to obfuscate the classified equity that the agency was intent on protecting. Included in the inappropriate category above, at least 12 percent of the records sampled had apparently been properly declassified, but were later improperly reclassified."

While the report concludes that reclassification was appropriate "anywhere from 50 percent to 98 percent of the time" (differing from review to review), "Even when a withdrawn record met the standard for continued classification, in a number of instances we believe insufficient judgment was applied to the decision to withdraw the record from public access."

Responding to the audit, Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein released a lengthy statement, calling the percentage of improperly-reclassifed documents "stunning[ly] large," adding "In short, more than one of every three documents removed from the open shelves and barred to researchers should not have been tampered with." Of the CIA's reclassifying records in order to keep other records hidden, Weinstein said "That practice, which undermined NARA's basic mission to preserve the authenticity of files under our stewardship, must never be repeated."

Weinstein went on to announce a series of six directives in response to the audit:

- New guidelines for agencies engaged in any reclassification efforts, which establish "standardized procedures that will ensure that withdrawal of records from public access are rare, are conducted in collaboration with NARA, and take place only when continued public access to a record would cause serious, demonstrable damage to national security."

- An effort to work "with the agencies involved to ensure that documents removed erroneously or improperly from open shelves at the National Archives will be restored to public access as expeditiously as possible."

- The formation of a National Declassification Initiative, intended to reduce a severe backlog of files marked for declassification and make them available.

- Appointment of "a team to undertake a longer-term analysis of how NARA processes the classified material in its custody."

- Recommendation for "an appropriation to be used to expedite processing of classified files, both paper and electronic, in order to begin reducing the unconscionable backlog of unprocessed documents due to funding shortfalls."

In a press conference, Weinstein commented "We're in the access business, not the classification business" as he announced these new measures.

This is a good start from NARA. Weinstein has conducted himself admirably throughout this process, and it is my hope that the Archives will manage to hold its ground here. As I've said before, of course I agree that materials should remain classified if their release would harm national security; but reclassification for its own sake makes no sense. Weinstein's responses seem appropriate to the situation, but as one researcher noted yesterday "It's too early to say whether this will solve the problem, but it brings the matter out into the open where it belongs."

The NYTimes, WaPo, and LATimes all have coverage of this story today.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bush Threatens Veto: Senate Rolls Eyes

That "emergency spending bill" that I wrote about yesterday was the subject of a veto threat from the White House yesterday. "If the president is ultimately presented a bill that provides more than $92.2 billion, exclusive of funding for the president's plan to address pandemic influenza, he will veto the bill," according to a statement released by the Administration.

While budget hawks applauded the threat (Rep. Mike Pence: "This legislation has become a fruit basket of spending unrelated to our war effort and Katrina. I say plainly, 'Mr. President, veto this bill.'"), given the Administration's track record on controlling spending (or rather, severe and acute lack thereof), let's just say I'll believe it when I see it. And I don't expect to see it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Book Review: A Revolution in Favor of Government

Another week of seminar reading, another recent book about which I can write up a review that might be of some interest. This time it's Max Edling's 2003 A Revolution in Favor of Government, a flawed but still valuable re-interpretation of the origins of the Constitution. Edling, a Swede who's currently teaching at the University of Uppsala, expanded his two doctoral theses into this book, which claims that the debate between federalist and anti-federalists over the Constitution was really about the concept of state-building.

The federalists, Edling argues, saw the need to create a powerful national government which controlled the ability to set fiscal and military policy, a la the European states of the day. In America, however, the people would only accept such a state if it could function, in Edling's words, in a "light and inconspicuous" manner - that is, if the government wasn't visible in the everyday lives of the citizens, didn't make them pay too many obvious taxes, etc. The anti-federalists, while agreeing for the most part that the national government should have those functions (after living through the Confederation, who wouldn't?), disagreed on what limits should be placed on the national government's ability to make war and raise money.

Edling's research suggests that anti-federalist sentiment stems largely from the "English opposition" tradition (the roots of which are documented well in Bernard Bailyn's cornerstone work The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution). Deep suspicion of government and fear of anything that could be perceived as an encroachment on personal liberty were the hallmarks of this line of thinking, which is extended by Edling into the anti-federalist rhetoric during the debate over ratification of the Constitution and beyond. He fails to address the obvious tension for those who utilized the rhetoric during the run-up to Revolution and then pushed for the Constitution - (a good jumping-off point for future study, if anyone's if need of a dissertation idea).

I have a few issues with the arguments Edling puts forward, mainly for the questions they leave unanswered than anything else. He seems at various points but particularly in the final chapters to conflate anti-federalism with Democratic-Republicanism as it arose in the 1790s; this is really a difficult case to make, given the participation of so many one-time federalists (Madison being the preeminent one) on the Jeffersonian side of the first party debate. I worry that Edling has equated small-f federalism (the ideology) with large-F Federalism (the political party); his failure to differentiate the terms is troublesome.

As a prior reviewer (the eminent historian Lance Banning of the University of Kentucky) has written, "This is not an easy work to read. It is repetitive and graceless, decidedly monographic, and heavy handed in the stating of its case. And yet, despite a number of mistakes with scholars’ names or titles, the scholarship is deeply impressive and the argument is an important contribution. It will certainly repay the efforts of every scholar in the field." This text is a historian's history, full of references to the prior work of such-and-who, and totally lacking in narrative structure or style. It's not difficult to tell it stemmed from a doctoral thesis, and Edling does repeat himself ad nauseum (if you don't get his point after reading the book ... or even the first five pages ... you haven't been paying attention).

For its stylistic and structural flaws, the argument is interesting and different. Edling's book is a significant one, however imperfect.

A Hodgepodge

- Fox News commentator Tony Snow is reportedly "leaning toward accepting a job as the new White House press secretary," says the New York Times. When I first heard about this possibility I was a little surprised, but then I realized they might as well just cut out the middleman and pay Snow directly to flack for the Administration since he's done it so well for six years anyway.

- Another Times headline today is "New Criticism Falls on 'Emergency Spending'". Now, since I've been immersed (submerged?) in academia for the past few years when I first reading that I shuddered and thought 'Oh no, do we really have to bring Foucault into the debate over earmarking?' Thankfully that's not what the cheeky Times headliner meant - it really is just "renewed criticism" over what really counts as an "emergency" in a spending bill to cover costs for the Iraq war and hurricane recovery. I've said for a long time that the Administration has been dishonest (and fiscally tricky) by refusing to include war costs in the regular budget and then forcing Congress to pass "emergency" spending bills. Guess what? They're still doing it. And of course, by doing so, members of Congress get to tack on little projects here and there, and pretty soon we're talking about real money.

This bill's tab so far is hovering around the $106 billion mark, thanks to chunks tacked on by senators, like $1.1 billion in fisheries projects, including a $15.1 million "seafood promotion strategy". Great, we're now going to foot the bill for the triumphal return of Charlie the Tuna. The Senate version of the bill is now more than $14 billion over what President Bush requested, and $15 billion more than the House version (which already passed).

There are two issues here: first, what is an emergency (not seafood promotion strategies, I would argue, but also not the war in Iraq, which we've sort of known about for a few years now and ought to be folded into the regular budget process), and second, will the President actually call the Senate's bluff and make them keep to the limits? [Note: If you laughed as you read that sentence don't worry, I laughed as I was writing it too.]

- President Bush's poll numbers continue to win the limbo competition ("how low can they go?") - a new CNN survey puts his approval rating at a new low - 32%. Sixty percent now say they disapprove of the job W's doing. Clearly that mini-shake-up didn't do the trick, and I'm guessing neither will the newest strategy (which is set to be announced later this morning: investigate high gas prices! It's time for something big - what's it gonna be?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Time to Pass Stem-Cell Legislation

[This was posted earlier but has not been appearing due to Blogger issues ... I also posted it over at TMV, where there is an update. Apologies for the circumstances, hopefully things are resolved now. -- 1:47 p.m.]

Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports in the New York Times that Democratic candidates across the country are preparing campaign strategies which highlight their support for embryonic stem-cell research. The issue has "cropped up in Senate races in Maryland and Missouri, and in House races in California, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin, especially in suburban swing districts," writes Stolberg.

The article highlights Missouri, where a constitutional amendment governing state funding of stem-cell research will be on the ballot this fall. Dem Senate candidate Claire McCaskill has been making political hay of her opponent's refusal to take a position on the amendment; Senator Jim Talent has thus far avoided stating his views on the matter, partly to avoid the wrath of (some) evangelical Christian groups which have threatened to sit out Election Day if Talent comes out in support of the amendment. Meanwhile the proposal is backed by Missouri's governor (Matt Blunt) as well as prominent centrist and former senator Jack Danforth, a minister.

With the anniversary of House passage of the Castle-DeGette bill approaching (one month from today, in fact), it is a good time for a reminder that the Senate must still act on this vital piece of legislation. It has the support of a majority of senators (likely more than the 60 needed to break a near-certain filibuster), and it deserves a debate and a vote. Of course Bill Frist, who supports the Specter-Harkin bill in the Senate, will continue to do everything in his power to keep the bill from the floor so he doesn't have to cast his vote in favor of it and rile up the right wing ... it's going to take some major pressure on him to get this bill scheduled. But it must be done.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

On Earth Day

Unfortunately, given the number of interesting things that are going on these days that deserve comment and/or discussion, I must go incommunicado for the remainder of the day (at least) in order to pound out a research paper. Before I disappear, however, I did want to note that today marks the thirty-sixth anniversary of Earth Day, and to recommend this article by Brad Knickerbocker from yesterday's Christian Science Monitor. It's a good run-down of many of the advances that have been made in environmental protection since the first Earth Day back in 1970 ... obviously we've still got a long way to go, but as Knickerbocker points out, we have made some progress.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Check Out GreenGOP

I've added a link on the sidebar to, a new blog by yet another Republican concerned with environmental protection and conservation. I like the site, and will stop by often.

Is Harriet Next?

The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller and Jim Rutenberg suggest today that new White House Chief of State Josh Bolten may be planning to replace current WH Counsel and failed Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. Citing an unnamed "influential Republican with close ties to Mr. Bolten," the dynamic Times duo report "Mr. Bolten had floated the idea among confidants, but that it was unclear whether he would follow through or if the move would be acceptable to Mr. Bush, who has a longtime personal bond with Ms. Miers."

Bolten apparently thinks Miers "is indecisive, a weak manager and slow in moving vital paperwork through the system," but, say Bumiller and Rutenberg, "It was not clear whether Mr. Bolten was floating a trial balloon to gauge White House reaction to the idea, or whether he might have been intending to send a signal to Ms. Miers that he would like her to think about leaving on her own."

"Moving Ms. Miers would be a strike at the heart of Mr. Bush's emotional bonds in the White House and would eliminate another Texan from the circle he has kept close to him in Washington. Republicans who talk regularly to senior West Wing advisers say the president has been unhappy and on edge about the staff changes that he nonetheless sees as necessary for revitalizing the West Wing." A 'strike at the heart of Mr. Bush's emotional bonds in the White House'? Somebody's been reading too many "Commander in Chief" scripts ...

A "senior White House official," also unnamed (I really wonder if these guys secretly keep all the clippings of the stories where they're "quoted-but-not-named" for their scrapbooks), denied that Bolten is considering sacking Ms. Miers.

Will any of these changes Bolten's making so far have a real impact on the way things in the White House operate? That, to this point, remains entirely up in the air. I'd like to think so, but given the learning curve of this Administration so far, I'm not entirely convinced it's even possible.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Some Goodies

- I added a link to Weekend Pundit, a new blog run by yet another of us moderate/centrist Republicans.

- Do not miss (and I mean that in the strongest possible terms) Joe Gandelman's absolute must-read post on the Scotty-Rove Shuffle. As he does, Joe's managed to pull it all together for us.

- New York Magazine has a really interesting series on the idea of a "Purple Party." I'm still getting through it (there are a number of articles) but it's definitely worth reading.

Whitman Speaks

Former NJ Governor Christie Whitman got some ink in the Newark Star-Ledger on Monday, which oddly just happens to jive with the release of her book in paperback. Nonetheless, she's got some important things so say as usual. Speaking of the current state of Republican affairs, Whitman's not optimistic: "We're at a critical point. We're starting to see polls that look just like the polls looked to Democrats in '94."

From the Star-Ledger piece: "She says Republicans must stop their internal bickering and adopt a broader view that allows a less conservative take on social issues such as abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research. She calls for a 'new civility.'

"'The rhetoric is getting harsher, and we're having more divisive elections,' Whitman said. 'We can't just agree to disagree anymore without being disagreeable. ... People see their opponents as not just wrong, but evil.'"

The most interesting part of the article are some comments from former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who's now in charge of Freedom Works, described as "a grassroots organization of fiscal conservatives." Armey says of Whitman's views "There may be something to what she says," adding that the GOP has become "preoccupied by the Christian conservative agenda," to the detriment of "small-government, fiscal conservatives."

I agree with both Whitman and Armey, as might be expected. I'm glad Whitman continues to speak out, and I hope that will continue. One party or the other must embrace centrism and openness ... if they don't, something else will rise out of the rubble they leave behind.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

McClellan Out

Well, the White House exodus continues. Scott McClellan, the second Bush press secretary, announced his resignation this morning. Among possible replacement candidates, Fox reports, are Tony Snow, former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clark, and former Iraq provisional authority spokesman Dan Senor.

Hotline adds "New WH CoS Josh Bolton has asked DCoS Karl Rove to give up his policy planning portfolio. Rove will retain the title of deputy chief of staff and continue to serve as the president's chief political and strategic adviser. Joel Kaplan, Bolton's OMB deputy, will replace rove as Pres. Bush's policy coordinator."

Keep it up, Bolten.

A Few Good Links

- has launched, billing themselves as "the primary grassroots
organizing center for McCain fans this year." Looks like this will be a good resource for McCain-related news and posts as we move ever-closer to '08.

- PoliticalWire's Bonus Quote of the Day yesterday comes from Senator Chuck Hagel, quoted in the Lincoln Journal Star. Speaking of SecDef Rummy, Hagel remarked "The concern I’ve had is, at a very dangerous time, (the) secretary of defense does not command the respect and confidence of our men and women in uniform ... There is a real question about his capacity to lead at this critical time." Certainly a bit more erudite than our commander in chief, whose comments on Rummy ranked as PW's original Quote of the Day: "I'm the decider, and I decide what's best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense." The decider?

- The Centrists are gathering. You should come.

- Joe at The Middle of DC (and nearly everyone else) approves of Rob Portman as head of the OMB. I do too, it's a good start.

- Another "bridge to nowhere" on the horizon?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Archivists Speak Out on NARA

An email came over the Archivists listserv this morning from Richard Pearce-Moses, current president of the Society of American Archivists (SAA). I can't see where they've posted this on their website yet, so I'm going to run the whole thing, a letter from the SAA Council to Allen Weinstein, the Archivist of the United States:

"Dear Professor Weinstein:

Archivists share a passion and professional ethic for open access to government records. We believe that a citizen’s right to review public records is a hallmark of democratic government. This right allows citizens to hold their public leaders accountable and to protect their rights and privileges.

Archivists understand that access to some records must be limited in the interests of national security and to protect individuals’ privacy. However, recent news articles about efforts begun before you took office to reclassify records, including references to a secret memorandum of understanding, have raised a number of concerns. We understand that these reclassification efforts may be an attempt to correct errors of documents mistakenly declassified.

At the same time, we are concerned that those agreements may have been an effort to restrict access to information for reasons other than national security. Our concerns are reinforced by a portion of the agreement with the Air Force that indicates the motivation was, in part, 'to avoid the attention and researcher complaints that may arise from removing material that has already been available publicly from the open shelves for an extended period of time.' As Representative Christopher Shays said in a 14 March 2006 hearing, 'Secrets are kept to protect the national security, not to prevent embarrassment or protect Cold War bureaucrats from history's judgment.'

We very much appreciate several actions that you have taken to balance the public’s need to know against national security interests, including

- Halting all reclassification pending an audit to distinguish fact from fiction and gather the information necessary to make intelligent, informed decisions.

- Holding a meeting with national security agencies to establish a balance between classification and access in a manner that is consistent with law, regulation, and common sense.

- Calling for the resources necessary to restore access to government records while protecting truly sensitive national security information from unauthorized disclosure.

- Establishing transparent standards governing the review of previously declassified records that have been available for research at the National Archives.

- Publishing the memoranda of understanding between NARA and the Air Force and NARA and the CIA, and stating publicly, 'If records must be removed for reasons of national security, the American people will always, at the very least, know when it occurs and how many records are affected.'

The Society believes that only those documents that would pose a genuine security threat if open should be reclassified, that all other documents be left declassified, and that agreements with agencies restricting access [ought] to be published.

On behalf of the members of Council of the Society of American Archivists, I commend your efforts to support those principles.

Richard Pearce-Moses
President, 2005-2006"

Can the White House "Refresh and Re-engergize"?

The New York Times and Washington Post both have good coverage of new WH CoS Josh Bolten's surprisingly candid (at least for this Administration) announcement to senior staff yesterday that big changes in staffing and structure may be (stress may be) coming to the West Wing in the near future. Without asking for specific resignations yesterday, Bolten said that it was his goal to "refresh and re-energize" the White House staff, and told anyone who's thinking of departing prior to the end of 2006 to do so now.

Scott McClellan, Bush's erstwhile press secretary whose name is often on the short list of potential candidates for replacement, said yesterday that Bush has given Bolten "wide latitude" to pursue staff changes, "the full authority to do what he needs to do, and what he believes is in the best interest of this White House and this president."

The question now becomes "What will Bolten do?" Too often from this Administration we've gotten bold pledges and then no follow-up, and this could certainly be one of those moments. Bolten has a very narrow window of opportunity in these first few weeks on job to get things done, and I hope he uses it to its full advantage.

Clearly one of the major areas that needs some TLC is the Administration's liaison arm with Congress, which has been practically useless in recent months. The appointment of a "senior statesman" who's got credibility on the Hill would be a wise move on Bolten's part, as would be pushing for some Cabinet-level switcheroos (Rumsfeld being at the top of my wish list, although I suspect that is somewhat less likely than the president naming Cynthia McKinney his new press secretary).

The time is ripe for change - the public wants it, the Republicans in Congress want it, and Bolten's moment is now. Will they let it slip away? Oh, I'd say very probably.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Happy Patriots' Day!

It's Patriots' Day/Marathon Monday here in Massachusetts, so things are even more crazy than on a normal Monday around here (the thronging hordes of spectators are already assembling in Kenmore Square as of 9:30 a.m., although I suspect some of them will head into the Sox game). I probably won't get too much of a chance to post very much today since I'm sure the bookstore will be "rather busy", but check back in, I may try to write something up later on. If you're in Boston, come out and enjoy the day!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

LibraryThing: Best Thing Since Dewey

I thought I'd take a brief foray out of the political realm this morning to extoll the virtues of a great new web tool I've been enjoying lately: LibraryThing. It's a viciously (but pleasantly) addictive site that allows you to catalog your library, "tag" your books so they're sortable by subject (or any other feature at all, really) and to check out similar libraries. Since late August of last year, more than 32,000 people have signed up (you can catalog 200 books for free, after that it's $10 a year or $25 for a full lifetime membership), and almost 2.3 million books have been catalogued into the system ... pretty incredible!

After discovering LT in early January (via an article in the Christian Science Monitor), I slowly began inputting my books; that took quite a while, but was great fun. Now I just tend to tinker with things, which can be done absolutely endlessly. You can add pictures of your books (or choose cover images from Amazon, or use those other LTers have added), post reviews of books, you name it. The possibilities and the flexibilities that LT offers are (almost) endless, and the designer, Tim Spalding, is constantly adding new features and improving the existing structure. Just this week a new "Pssst!" page was added, which offers recommendations for you based on how you and others have tagged books.

With a system like this, the potential for statistic-harvesting is fantastic, and Tim does an excellent job of providing all sorts of goodies on his Zeitgeist page: from the 50 largest libraries in LT (someone with over 8,100 books is the current leader!) to the most prolific reviewers (I'm in the top ten with 341 and counting) to the 25 most contentious books based on user-ratings, etc. etc.

Another of my favorite features are the Tag and Author clouds (links are to those of my own collection) - there's also an Author cloud for all of LT, which is quite interesting (JK Rowling blows away the competition). As I said, the possibilities really are endless, and Tim's done an excellent job with making this site as useful and usable as it is.

A very committed community of LT folks (they've started calling themselves Thingamabrians) has sprung up, and they are always debating very interesting issues about LT, cataloging, tagging, etc. in the GoogleGroup or on Tim's LT blog - should music be allowed? How will it handle Japanese characters, or Finnish? Should you catalog books you don't own but want, or books you haven't read? Interestingly, some people say no on that last one ... it's a very diverse crowd, as you might expect on a site like this.

I've finally gotten around to implementing one of the great blog-widgets the site offers (you can see random books from my library over in the sidebar), which was what prompted me to post this morning about LT. There's much more I could discuss, but you really ought to go check out the site yourself. I will warn you, it really is addictive (it's been called "the booklover's equivalent of crack" and "heroin for book junkies"), and you may spend many hours with it - but it's a great site - the web and the world are better for it.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Moose Weighs In

Marshall Wittman has a fabulous post on the Secretary of Defense. Here's a bit:

"Donald Rumsfeld has accomplished something no government official has achieved. Rummy has brought the country together. He is truly a uniter and not a divider.

Republican and Democrat. Conservative and Liberal. Civilian and Military. Red State and Blue State. All together.

America is agreed. We are a united nation.

There is a national consensus - Donald Rumsfeld must go.

It appears that there are only two holdouts on this national consensus - Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush. It is a curious moment. The Administration is in a free fall and yet the President is refusing to take dramatic action. Is W. engaged in a perverse competition with Richard Nixon for which President can achieve the lowest popularity numbers?"

Needless to say, read the whole thing!

Friday, April 14, 2006


- The WaPo covers Linc Chafee's road to reelection (quite well). Also a piece from them on McCain's visit to Iowa that's worth taking a look at.

- Another retired general calls for Rummy's ouster.

- Via PoliticalWire, an AP report notes that federal spending hit $250 last month, up 13.7% from a year ago. While revenues were also up (10.6%), the month's deficit still totals a whopping record $85.5 billion ... and that's for March alone! The budget for this fiscal year (ending September 30) is currently projected by the administration to reach a record $423 billion. Fiscal responsibility, anyone?

- Joe Weedon's got a whole slew of great posts this week at The Middle of DC. I can't pick just one to highlight, so make sure you stop by there and read them all.

- Over at TMV, Joe Gandelman's got some thoughts on third parties.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Broder on the Budget

David Broder's column this morning on fiscal restraint and the budget is a don't-miss.

Ramblings on Rummy

I had a dream last night in which I woke up this morning, turned on the computer and read the welcome news that SecDef Rumsfeld had resigned. Sadly, it hasn't come true (yet). However, the drum-beat of criticism for the Old Man of the Pentagon continues to grow louder, joined now by several top retired generals.

The Washington Post reports on comments by Maj. General John Batiste (Ret.), who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq 2004-2005. Batiste said on CNN yesterday "I think we need a fresh start. We need leadership up there that respects the military as they expect the military to respect them. And that leadership needs to understand teamwork." Asked directly if he thought Rumsfeld should step down, Batiste replied "In my opinion, yes."

No blogger (or at least none that I read regularly) has done a better job capturing these recent retired general-comments than Michael Reynolds at The Mighty Middle, who's inaugurated a new series: MSM - Mainstream Military. See his installments here, here, and here. While I disagree with his assertion in the first linked post that non-retired generals ought to be speaking out publicly about the political leadership above them (privately absolutely they should), I like what he's done with the series and hope he'll continue it.

I've said it before, I'll say it again. It's time for Rummy to go.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

More Trouble for NARA

I've previously written about the "gratuitous reclassification" program undertaken at the National Archives in recent years (here and here), but I thought the most recently twist in that saga certainly worth noting. The LATimes (and others) report on the release of a previously-classified "Memorandum of Understanding" between the Archives and several intelligence agencies which laid out the strategy for reclassify documents and for keeping that action secret from researchers and the media.

The Associated Press filed a FOIA request for the MOU back in 2003, and NARA finally released a much-redacted version of the four-page document this week. It is now available on the Archives' website (PDF).

In part, the agreement reads "It is in the interest of both [agency name redacted] and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to avoid the attention and researcher complaints that may arise from removing material that has already been available publicly from the open shelves for extended periods of time." ... NARA "will not acknowledge the role of [redacted] AFDO [Air Force Declassification Office] in the review of these documents or the withholding of any documents determined to need continued protection from unauthorized disclosure."

The reclassification program, which began under the prior Archivist of the United States, has met with opposition from the current Archivist, Allen Weinstein, who has frozen the process until an internal audit of the reclassification program is completed. He said on Monday "I applaud the release of this document. It is an important first step in finding the balance between continuing to protect national security and protecting the right to know by the American public. This release underlines the cooperation of our Federal partners. The National Archives continues to work together with them and with the public to ensure that the issue of inappropriate classification is fully investigated."

This agreement between NARA and the intelligence agencies is troubling, and I certainly hope that Weinstein has put a stop to such shenanigans under his watch. While I fully support withholding documents that would truly endanger national security, reclassification of materials that have been available for decades and have in some cases even been published just doesn't make sense. I certainly look forward to hearing what the internal investigation reveals at the end of the month.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Book Review: "Washington's Crossing"

David Hackett Fischer's 2004 book Washington's Crossing (out this year in paperback from Oxford University Press) is a fascinating look at the events of the last months of 1776 and the beginning of 1777. The narrative style of Crossing is very similar to David McCullough's 1776 (which I reviewed here), although Fischer handles the military details with slightly more dexterity than McCullough was able to muster.

Fischer begins (and ends) the book by suggesting that he's going to discuss the role of contingency in history, but the thread gets lost in the mud, ice and snow of the the New Jersey winter through most of the text. Instead, Crossing provides some fabulous insights into areas American historians generally don't handle particularly well - the military culture of the British and Hessian troops, as well as the psychologies and political backgrounds of their commanding officers. These discussions are some of the strongest in the book, much stronger than Fischer's handling of the American side.

Strategically-placed images do an excellent job of enhancing the text, as do the hundred-plus pages of appendices. I was particularly taken with Fischer's long "Historiography" section at the rear of the book, where he concisely summarizes the various interpretations of the significance of Washington's attack on Trenton through several generations of historical thought. Of course I must briefly grouse about the relegation of footnotes to the back of the book, a publishing practice which is positively obnoxious but apparently a losing battle (it's a pain in the neck to keep flipping back and forth if you want to read a footnote).

Like McCullough, Fischer believes we can learn lessons for today from the actions of the Revolutionaries; I think that's true, but we must always be careful to recognize not only the inconsistencies of the past, but the inconsistencies of the present time as well. I agree wholeheartedly with Fischer's conclusion ("The story of Washington's Crossing tells us that Americans in an earlier generation were capable of acting in a higher spirit - and so are we") with the little caveat that one must not pick and choose one's history. Those fighting at Trenton and meeting at Philadelphia were human beings just like we are, and to ignore their faults is just as dangerous as ignoring our own.

Fischer has written a work that is almost sure to become the classic discussion of Trenton and its influence on the American Revolution, even if I would quibble with his characterization of it as the turning point of the war (Saratoga retains its preemenince in that regard for me even after reading Fischer's case). It is certainly worth reading, and I recommend it without reservation.

A Few Good Links

- Joe Gandelman's got a fabulous discussion of the latest Bush approval numbers, which continue their downward spiral.

- Mike Huckabee, the AR Gov, is taking on the Club for Growth.

- Dennis at NeoMugwump talks immigration, and does it well.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Time for an Explanation

Now that the White House has admitted that President Bush unilaterally declassified parts of a (faulty) intelligence report to justify going to war in Iraq and to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson's report, the American people deserve an explanation about why such a step was taken. Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said as much yesterday on "Fox News Sunday."

"I think that there has to be a detailed explanation precisely as to what Vice President Cheney did, what the president said to him, and an explanation from the president as to what he said so that it can be evaluated." He added "We ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated by the American people. ... The president may be entirely in the clear, and it may turn out that he had the authority to make the disclosures which were made," but "'it was not the right way to go about it because we ought not to have leaks in government."

I agree with Senator Specter; President Bush and Vice President Cheney should offer a full explanation of how this decision to declassify was taken and why - and how the declassified information was to be distributed to the presss. It's an important question, and one which after many years of taxpayer-funded investigations, we are all entitled to having answered.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Straight Talk Express Today

Dan Balz has an excellent piece in today's Washington Post on being John McCain these days; he looks at McCain's week (meeting with Falwell, joining with Kennedy on immigration, holding a town hall meeting in New Hampshire) and the tensions he faces.

Balz: "The McCain of 2000 found his voice as the outsider railing against a corrupt political system in Washington. The McCain of 2006 still attacks a system dominated by lobbyists, special interests and congressional earmarks, but he now finds himself buffeted from both left and right over steps he is taking to advance both his legislative and political priorities."

It's true, he's getting roughed up something fierce. Like I said earlier in the week, I just hope he knows what he's doing. I certainly wouldn't want to be in his shoes right now.

George Will also has some thoughts on the man he calls "St. John of Arizona" and his prospects for 2008.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Gonzales: Bush Can Eavesdrop on Domestic Calls

In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, AG Alberto Gonzales suggested (for the first time publicly) that the Administration believes there may be legal justification to eavesdrop on communications occurring solely within the United States (the program already revealed covers only calls in which one party is outside the US).

As the NYT and WaPo report this morning, Gonzales was asked by Rep. Adam Schiff if such domestic eavesdropping could occur; the AG replied "I'm not going to rule it out." He continued by suggesting that such authority would be based on precedent, suggesting that Woodrow Wilson's interception of cables during WWI was "based upon the Constitution and his inherent role as commander in chief." He would not say, the Times article notes, whether any such interceptions had occurred or are occurring.

Schiff responded to Gonzales somewhat incredulously, saying that his stated position "represents a wholly unprecedented assertion of executive power. No one in Congress would deny the need to tap certain calls under court order. But if the administration believes it can tap purely domestic phone calls between Americans without court approval, there is no limit to executive power. This is contrary to settled law and the most basic constitutional principles of the separation of powers."

The papers note that a Justice Department spokesperson said later "The attorney general's comments today should not be interpreted to suggest the existence or nonexistence of a domestic program or whether any such program would be lawful under the existing legal analysis." But it notably does not say that such a program would be illegal.

How far does this go? It's time to find out. No more stonewalling. Our laws exist for a reason, and we have separate powers for a reason. Congress had better get off its butt and start acting in a serious way to find out just how far outside the rule of law this Administration has gone and probably continues to go, and rein them in. Executive power cannot go unchecked.

Immigration Debate Turns Nice ... Then Nasty Again

Well I was going to write this morning about the immigration compromise that seemed to have been reached in the Senate yesterday, which I thought was a muddled and practically unworkable mess but would have at least been better than nothing at all ... and then I woke up to discover even that deal seems in jeopardy now. As Joe Gandelman reports magnificently at TMV, "it could well be that deadlock will be snatched from the jaws of compromise."

Apparently an amendment-spat is at the heart of the latest controversy: Democrats want to block votes on amendments from conservative critics of immigration reform, even though proponents of the bill say they have plenty of votes to defeat those amendments on the floor. Honestly. Just get it done. Stop the bickering, and get back to work.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Worrisome Scheme

Hotline On Call reported yesterday on a troublesome trend in some states which could have a major impact on how the next Republican presidential nominee is chosen. In several key states, so-called "conservative activists" are working to gain control of the state Republican committees in order to push for switching from primary elections to caucuses for choosing delegates to the national nominating conventions? Why would they do this? Hotline: "Caucuses favor organized interests. Primaries dilute them. (Soccer moms don't vote in caucuses. [Ne]ither do investment bankers. Moral conservatives usually do.)"

Particularly in Washington, California, and Oregon, the report suggests, National Federation of Republican Assembly members (yes, they're the group that sponsors a "RINO Hunters Club", which you can join for $360 to "help the NFRA root out and hunt down RINO's.") have been slowly increasing their membership on the state organizing committees for the last several years. Hotline quotes Bob Novak on this: "So far, it has gone largely under the radar. CRAs hope they will increase their ranks to as many as 600 members on the 1,500 member committee from the current 400 or so. Although it would deny them an outright majority of members, this would give them a working majority on the committee, where several non-members are sympathetic to their positions."

In Washington state, the NFRA folks have been "rebuffed" from controlling a majority on the state committee ... as Hotline notes, "for now." In other states, efforts are moving ahead, apparently with the "tacit encouragement" of certain presidential hopefuls, including Mitt Romney and Sam Brownback.

Switching from primaries to caucuses would be an utter disaster for centrist hopes in the Republican party. The fact that Iowa has so much power as a caucus is bad enough, but to have the delegate-selection process in California controlled by caucus-goers would be utterly ruinous for candidates claiming the middle ground. It's a bad, backwards-thinking idea, and it should be fought at every turn, in every state. Hotline quotes one "conservative activist involved in the effort" as saying "The conservative movement has had a 30-year strategy of rule changes that no one understands but [about] 5 people." Let's turn that 5 into 5,000 and stop them in their tracks.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

To Talk of Many Things

- First, a hearty welcome to Joe Weedon, formerly of The Yellow Line, who's now blogging over at The Middle of DC. Joe's already got some great posts up on Tom DeLay, immgration, Cynthia McKinney, and many other topics. Make this a regular stop. Glad to have you back, Joe!

- All the papers this morning are highlighting a meeting among Senate Republicans yesterday to come to some agreement on an immigration bill (here's the NYT piece). McCain and Martinez, proponents of a wide-ranging guest worker plan, say they don't have enough votes to overcome a potential filibuster, so they've been discussing various options to gain additional support from Republican senators. This is all very much still in play and changing all the time, so what happens next is really anybody's guess.

- Senator McCain met with a tough crowd when he spoke to the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades department meeting in Washington yesterday; he was booed several times and even offered to cut the speech short, according to an AP report. After the speech though, McCain was positive: "I loved it. I love mixing it up like that." What other high-stature politician would go before a crowd so generally opposed to their positions? I can't think of any.

McCain also met with some good-natured but pointed ribbing from Jon Stewart on last night's "Daily Show" about his plans to give the commencement address at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. McCain looked genuinely pained about that, and said he plans to give the same commencement address he gives at colleges around the country, even if he doesn't agree with some specific policies of their institutions. Would I rather him avoid Falwell and his ilk like the plague? You betcha, because I believe what John McCain said back on February 28, 2000 is just as true today as it ever was. As Stewart said to him last night, "I hope you know what you're doing, senator."

- Don't miss David Broder's column. He suggests that the GOP needs a new game plan in the House now that DeLay is leaving the building: "The old game of muscling bills through by rounding up Republican votes through a combination of political and financial force - the game at which Tom DeLay excelled - is over. The question for the White House is whether it can come up with a different strategy that looks for support from at least some Democrats." Quite so. Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Book Review: "The Messiah of Morris Avenue"

I haven't done nearly as many book reviews on Charging RINO as I intended to when I started blogging, and that's one area that I really want to expand as the summer moves forward and I get a little bit more of that "free time" people are always talking about. I did just read one that I thought I'd post some quick thoughts on though.

A couple weeks ago, I got an email from a marketing director at Henry Holt regarding Tony Hendra's new first novel, The Messiah of Morris Avenue. The author of Father Joe, Hendra has previously edited National Lampoon and Spy, and according to his bio he also performed in college with John Cleese and Graham Chapman. Apparently he's quite well-known as a satirist, although I admit I hadn't heard of him. In the email I received, the Holt marketer wrote "There are plenty of reasons to get depressed or angry about the current political climate, but sometimes it's fun to mix in a few laughs with all the politics. Since you write on political topics on your blog, I hope you'll be interested in this book and will help spread the word to others who could use a laugh in their day." He offered to send me a free copy, which I accepted.

I received the book late last week; since it's short (245 pages) and I've had several lengthy T-rides recently, I finished it already. I was pleasantly surprised. The book was indeed amusing at times, but it's also a sharp-edged vision of a dark near-future in which America is controlled by Christian fundamentalism, from the presidency to Hollywood (rechristened "Holywood" by the man running the show, Reverend James Zebediah Sabbath). Hendra's plot revolves around the emergence of Jose Francisco Lorcan Kennedy (aka Jay), who claims to be the son of God and begins criticizing those in charge for distorting the true message of Christianity to their own ends.

While the course of the book is (necessarily) somewhat predictable, and Hendra's cliches get a bit tiresome, the message is an important one. In every satire there is a core of potential truth, and this book trenchantly (even chillingly at times) brings out some of the real dangers humanity faces when fundamentalists (of any sort) rule the roost. Hendra has written a provocative novel that I feel perfectly comfortable recommending. It's not Orwell, granted, but it's worth a read.

- Hendra's webpage contains some interesting podcasts to accompanying the book: sermons ("Godcasts") by the Reverend Sabbath himself, as well as a few background news stories (narrated by Hendra) of how America has changed in the years before the book's events occur.

- Yes, it feels weird to be recommending a book that the publisher sent to me. I almost wanted it to be bad so that I could pan it and not feel like I was selling out. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it.

DeLay to DePart

Tom DeLay announced last night via an interview with Time that he will leave Congress and not run for reelection this fall. In fact, he is planning to resign from the House as early as the end of May and change his residency from Texas to Alexandria, Virginia. Apparently in order to be removed from the ballot for November's election, DeLay would have to either "die, be convicted of a felony, or move out of his district," according to the Washington Post. As the author of the Time piece notes wryly, by moving DeLay will be "turning election law to his purposes for perhaps one last time."

My short reaction to this: Good riddance.

My slightly longer reaction to this: There are few elected officials who have done more lasting harm to the Republican Party and the state of American politics in the last ten years than Tom DeLay. His shenanigans (legal and/or otherwise) have painted the GOP with (at least) ten coats of sleaze, and his continued arrogance and selfish behavior only show that he has in no way learned from his errors.

Some are saying that DeLay "has the best interests of the party at heart" by backing out of the race now. I disagree. If that were the case, DeLay should have withdrawn before the Republican primary several weeks ago. Instead, he went through the motions of campaigning for that contest, and only now, under the threat of more indictments and plea deals with people close to him and his office has he decided to step aside. That's not altruism, that's jumping from a sinking ship - there's a difference.

Goodbye, Tom DeLay. Here's one Republican who can quite honestly say you will not be missed. Now it's time to move on, get out the turpentine and start washing away the slimy trail DeLay has left behind.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Justices Won't Rule on Padilla Detention

In an interesting exercise of judicial restraint, the Supreme Court announced this morning that an appeal from Jose Padilla - the American citizen held for more than three years in a Navy brig as an 'enemy combatant' before being charged last fall - was now moot considering his current legal status.

Justices Thomas, Alito, and Scalia made no comment on the ruling, while Justice Kennedy took the rather uncommon step of writing an opinion [PDF] explaining his vote. Kennedy's concurrence was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Stevens. Kennedy writes that a denial of cert is "a proper exercise of [the Court's] discretion in light of the circumstances of this case," before providing a detailed legal history of the Padilla case. Kennedy continues by noting the arguments made by the Administration for mootness (that Padilla got the what he requested by being charged with a crime) and by Padilla's legal team (that "there remains a possibility that he will be redesignated and redetained as an enemy combatant").

The main point of Kennedy's opinion is that a decision by the Court on the legality of Padilla's detention would be, at this point, hypothetical (since currently he is being held under civilian authority). "In light of the previous changes in his custody status," Kennedy writes, "and the fact that nearly four years have passed since he first was detained, Padilla, it must be acknowledged, has a continuing concern that his status might be altered again. That concern, however, can be addressed if necessity arises." He notes that the federal district court now in charge of Padilla's case "will be obliged to afford him the protection, including the right to a speedy trial, guaranteed to all federal criminal defendants." If Padilla's status were to be changed, Kennedy continues, the courts would then be able to rule on the underlying issues at that time.

Concluding, Kennedy adds "That Padilla's claims raise fundamental issues respecting the separation of powers, including consideration of the role and function of the courts, also counsels against addressing those claims when the course of legal proceedings has made them, at least for now, hypothetical."

Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Souter voted to grant Padilla's appeal; in an opinion [PDF], Ginsburg writes that because the Administration has not retracted its claim of the power to designate enemy combatants, the case is not moot and should have been heard.

While I agree that the fundamental issues in question here need to be addressed, I have to agree with Justice Kennedy that a hypothetical decision on such an important issue isn't a good idea. Should Padilla's status change again, or should another person be designated an enemy combatant and held without charges, I would fully expect the case to again work its way to the Court and eventually reach a conclusion. But as Kennedy writes, it should be a case where a decision would make a practical difference. Will the Administration continue to play a legal shell-game, designating and redesignating just to avoid a judicial determination on this question? It's possible, but I think if that game is attempted the patience of the justices will be found to wear thin rather quickly indeed.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

It's That Time Again ...

I hope everyone remembered to switch their clocks ahead ... and (grumble) if you want my thoughts on the whole daylight saving business, here they are (that's my post from last year at this time, and since nothing's changed since then it should work just about right).

Saturday, April 01, 2006


- PoliticalWire notes that in a new Time poll, 79% of Americans said they favor some form of guest worker program for immigrants, while 47% say all illegal immigrants should be deported.

- Alan Stewart Carl notes that the national debt clock near Times Square will soon run out of digits as it hits the $10 trillion mark ... yes, that's $10,000,000,000,000. As he says "At some point this will be an issue again. Hopefully some point very soon."

- John at Centerfield has a very interesting post discussing In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State, a new book out by Charles Murray. John has a good rundown of "the plan," and some criticisms of it, so be sure to check out this post. Intriguing.

- Amba discusses the dilemma of the Democrats, caught between their angry left base and the disenchanted and winnable voters in the center.

- Over at Donklephant, they've been debating definitions: what's a centrist, a moderate, an independent? Join the fray!

- Joe Gandelman's got some goodies (as he always does), including some thoughts on Bill Buckley's criticism of the handling of the Iraq war, a (guest) poem on the idea of a tax-free nation, and a great series of posts on the release of reporter Jill Carroll (the most recent post is here, with links to the others at the bottom).

- At NeoMugwump, Dennis Sanders has a bunch of good posts this week as well, including one voicing his new policy about being a Republican: "Stay loudly or leave loudly." I like it. He's also got two on McCain's dangerous balancing act (here and here).

- The Campaign for the American Reader is looking for a good novel to stress the importance of habeas corpus rights. If you have any suggestions, be sure to submit them; you could even win a prize!