Nation editor-at-large and host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes.
1) The stalemate in Afghanistan continues.
2) John Judis on the American Adam.
3) Today, MoveOn.org launched a new Iraq/Recession campaign, linking the money spent on the war to economic woes at home. It's part of a renewed effort to attempt (once again!) to pressure the White House into de-escalation. But the votes look the exact same as they did last year on the Hill. If there's a silver lining, it's that the Democrats actually defied the White House recently on FISA and haven't suffered much in the way of political recriminations. Perhaps it will be emboldening, but that's almost certainly over-optimistic.
In a radio address this weekend, Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) boiled it down:
The President and House Republicans simply can't have it both ways. They cannot argue simultaneously that the temporary August law was essential to national security, and then turn around and engineer the defeat of an extension of it.
(Last week, Conyers stayed in Washington during the Presidents' Day recess to try and re-negotiate FISA. House Republicans told their staff to boycott the meetings.)
By the way, as a Leahy-Conyers-Rockefeller-Reyes Washington Post oped details this morning, the directives obtained under last August's temporary Protect America Act are still in force until at least this fall. As the Assistant AG for National Security put it, "We'll be able to continue doing surveillance based on those directives." So the White House's current fear-circus is just that: a show.
A warm, hearty bowl of kudos to Sen. Feingold for continuing to push Senate debate on the Iraq War. This week, the Senate will take up two of Feingold's bills. One would require troop redeployment and after 120 days would limit troop activities to tracking Al Qaeda, personnel security and training duties. The other requires the Bush administration to submit to Congress a plan for fighting Al Qaeda globally (wait--you mean no one at the White House has come up with that yet?) and would also limit military reserve deployment.
Getting the Senate to talk about the issue wasn't easy: Feingold only secured the promise of the roll call vote last year after backing off a threatened filibuster of a Defense authorization bill. And sure, there's little chance the measures will garner the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.
But with Joseph Stiglitz's latest projection of the war's costs ballooning to $3 trillion, it's nice to know that some members of Congress are still paying attention.
It's not easy suing big and powerful U.S. companies on U.S. soil and under the U.S. court system.
But even after Vietnamese plaintiffs were rebuffed last Friday when New York's US Court of Appeals dismissed their claims against Dow Chemical Company, Monsanto and nearly 30 other manufacturers of "Agent Orange," they're not giving up. Their next stage of appeal is likely to be the U.S. Supreme Court.
While in 1984, seven companies (including Dow and Monsanto) agreed to a $180 million settlement with U.S. veterans who suffered from Agent Orange, no Vietnamese has ever received compensation. The United States maintains there is no scientifically proven link between the 79 million liters of Agent Orange the U.S. dropped during the Vietnam War and the dioxin poisoning of over 3 million Vietnamese.
The U.S. government is also claiming sovereign immunity in the case.
It's a peculiar notion, the idea that only members of Congress should be able to bring ethics complaints against other Congressmen. But well over a year after the Democrats stormed Capitol Hill promising ethics reform, that's precisely the way Congress continues to function.
Such insular self-policing, not surprisingly, lends itself to discipline both spotty and toothless. Take, for example, the "bipartisan letter of admonition" the Senate issued this month to Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), which did no more than chide the lately discomfited official for his actions--which, beyond his 'lewd conduct' in an airport bathroom, included the dubious use of $213,000 in campaign contributions to fund his legal defense associated with the incident.
House investigations are still more limp-handed. Last May, House Democrats voted along party lines to block the censure of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pennsylvania), who stood accused of violating a new ethics rule that prohibits lawmakers from swapping votes for pork.
Last week, however, the criminal indictment of Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Az.) seemed to revive the House momentum for reform. "I think the time has come to have an independent entity," said Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass), who heads the House taskforce exploring the creation of an independent ethics panel.
After scads of bipartisan scandals, with Congress's approval ratings languishing at 22%, most Americans long ago reached that conclusion.
Call it the "Yes, That Too is About Immigration" platform.
For the past two years, House Republicans jockeying for support at the ballot box have worked strenuously to knit the issue of immigration into seemingly every issue that reaches the floor. A federal housing bill? Mortgage reform? Native American housing assistance? All bills vitally linked to illegal immigrants, says the GOP.
Chief among the GOP's tools is the motion to recommit, by which a minority member can propose a last-minute amendment to a bill during the final floor vote--which, if rejected, effectively kills the entire legislation. Often, the GOP's amendments have simply reiterated immigration laws that are already exist (for example, by inserting redundant language stressing undocumented immigrants' ineligibility for public housing). But in using the maneuver, says Marshall Fitz, advocacy director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, House Republicans are "forcing Democrats to take tough votes that divide or embarrass the party," all while throwing political red meat to party conservatives.
A nifty set of tricks, but so far, the immigration-as-wedge tactic hasn't proved terribly effective. In 2006, harsh restrictionist House Republicans like J.D. Hayworth were trounced. Last year, state elections in Virginia and New York--where controversy over issues like drivers' licenses for immigrants became something of a fury--similarly failed to deliver electoral returns for the GOP.
And yet House Republicans still don't seem inclined to give up the game. Even with the much-touted bipartisan nature of the House's January stimulus package, Republicans didn't pass up the chance to needle Democrats about illegal immigrants being eligible for tax rebates. (They weren't.)
But any way you slice the potential short-term House dividends, alienating a Latino electorate that's grown by 2 million in the past three years alone--particularly in key swing states like New Mexico and Ohio--is a terrible, no-good, very bad political strategy. No wonder Bush and Rove have taken a more conciliatory approach to the issue. And if McCain has any hope of redeeming his party's prospects this fall, so will he.
After several months of preparing and brainstorming names, we're pleased to introduce our new blog from the nation's capital: J Street.
What's the name mean? Well, if you walk north from the Mall, Washington DC's streets ascend in alphabetical order. That is, until you get to I street, which is followed somewhat mysteriously by K Street, the (in)famous address of Washington's ruling lobbyist class. Legend has it that District planner Pierre-Charles L'enfant omitted J Street out of contempt for Supreme Court Justice and proto-abolitionist John Jay.
The real reason probably had more to do with typography than ideology, but the missing J street is a fitting metaphor for all the things that should be in the nation's capital but aren't: voices that are marginalized or ignored, ideas deemed too radical or politically unpopular to garner note, movements that are elided or dismissed.
That's what we cover here in the magazine's Washington bureau. I'll be posting here regularly along with my Washington-based colleague Te-Ping Chen. We'll be adding more contributors in the future, so add us to your RSS reader or just check back often.
This just in from Nation Washington Intern Te-Ping Chen:
There have been so many egregious dealings emerging out of Bush's cabinet -- the rancid workings of former Interior Secretary, allegations of Thomas White's insider trading -- that perhaps it's not surprising that the tracings of one cabinet member, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, have gone under-scrutinized.
But no longer, advocates say. With one year left of the beleaguered Bush Administration, American Rights at Work is hustling to shine light on Chao's record.
A former Bush Pioneer who served on thirteen corporate boards before assuming the role of Secretary of Labor, Chao has overseen some of the Department of Labor's more offensive hires, including Edwin Foulke, Jr., Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health -- the former partner of Jackson Lewis, a law firm perhaps best known for its union-busting and trainings on How to Stay Union-Free.
She's also campaigned tirelessly along with her husband, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) against the Employee Free Choice Act, worked to roll back mine provision safety, and hired several of her husband's former aides to her staff.
"Elaine Chao's family connections and corporate ties have transformed the Department of Labor into the 'Department of Business,'" said Mary Beth Maxwell, American Rights at Work's executive director.
But this morning, with the launch of their new website attacking the Secretary of Labor -- the only original member of Bush's cabinet -- Elaine Chao's "long honeymoon," says Maxwell, is over.
Among the more comic gems the Web site highlights:
The Labor Secretary's megalomania: at a mine rescue contest in 2003, Chao handed out gold-colored coins, the size of a half-dollar with Chao's bas relief at the center. Since then, Chao has lined the executive offices of the Labor Department's headquarters with 58 pictures of herself and gone on to distribute lanyards and fleece blankets embroidered with her name.
Meanwhile in February 2006, Sen. McConnell earmarked $14.2 million for his lady-love to support the christening of a library wing at the University of Louisville, to be named in honor of Elaine (who never attended the university).
All paid for by America's workers.
A brilliant, humane scholar. A public intellectual in the finest sense, and a profound influence on the way I think about politics, long-time Nation contributor Richard Rorty has died.
I had the pleasure of meeting Rorty a few years ago and wrote one of my earliest pieces about a debate he had with Jurgen Habermas here in Chicago. Rorty had an uncanny ability to stare into the post-modern abyss, in which nothing is grounded in the divine or universal, and yet somehow, some way, find a kind of practical empathy that could serve as a beacon in the face of nihilism, authoritarianism and cruelty.
He will be greatly, greatly missed.