There is one good thing that comes with "conservative" Republican hegemony: Proof positive that the Grand Old Party is no longer even feigns interest in fiscal responsibility.
Complete Republican control of the White House and Congress has unleashed a pork-barrel spending spree of unprecedented proportions. Deficit spending in on the rise. The national debt is soaring. And the greying pachyderms of the GOP just keeps dipping into the federal treasury to pay for more pet projects.
With the federal government on track to spend $371 billion more than it takes in this year, these "fiscal conservatives" are on a spree that the rest of us will be paying off for decades to come.
And they show no sign of slowing down.
The latest example of how powerful Republicans are porking up the budget comes from Mississippi's Republican delegation, and even by the standards of this Congress it's a pork-barrel pig out.
Mississippi Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, both self-proclaimed "conservatives," are busy securing Congressional approval for a $700 million scheme to relocate a Gulf Coast railroad line. Lott, the Dixiecrat-hailing former Senate Majority Leader who hopes to return to the chamber's leadership after Tennessee's Bill Frist steps down in January, is the prime mover of the budget pen on this one -- and the prancing Prince of Pork really has outdone himself.
The railroad line in question was just repaired at a cost of $250 million but, after that money was spent, Lott and Cochran suddenly figured our that the tracks needed to go elsewhere – so they added their $700 million "earmark" to a $106.5 billion emergency defense spending bill in the Senate.
Earmarks, for those who don't speak Washingtonese, are the legislative tricks that powerful members of Congress use to secure funding for homestate projects without going through standard budget reviews. They are usually attached to major spending bills, in hopes that a few hundred million in additional expense will not be noticed amid the hundreds of billions that are being allocated.
The earmark that Lott and Cochran have come up with is the largest in the history of the Congress. And it may well be the sleaziest.
The railroad line that's slated for removal is in great shape. And no one seriously suggests that moving it a slight distance will make it significantly more secure if a hurricane hits the region – as they regularly do. So why is the federal treasury being raided to pay for the relocation?
The CSX freight line is in the way of a grand plan by wealthy, politically-connected developers in Mississippi to erect new casinos and hotels along the beaches that were just devastated by Hurricane Katrina. They want to move a perfectly good railroad line to open up land so that they can, in the words of the Christian Science Monitor , "turn Mississippi's struggling Gulf Coast into Las Vegas South."
That's right. Lott and Cochran, who when they aren't bragging about their "fiscal conservatism" are busy preaching about the need to restore "moral values" to America, are grabbing $700 million from federal taxpayers to clear the way for a new Sin City.
Some will cry "hypocrisy." A better description is "business as usual" in Republican-run Washington.
John McCain recently courted Jerry Falwell. So I guess Rudy Giuliani felt he needed to get Ralph Reed. According to the Associated Press, Giuliani has agreed to headline a fundraiser in May for Reed's campaign for Georgia Lt. Gov.
Oh, the irony. A pro-gay rights, pro-choice, pro-gun control New Yorker stumping with a right-wing Christian crook. If Giuliani had to pick an evangelical activist to campaign with, couldn't he of found someone who wasn't Jack Abramoff's best friend? Shouldn't the so-called law and order Mayor be shunning a cynical political operator who defrauded fellow Christians and robbed and ruined Indian tribes? Doesn't he realize that a path to the presidency no longer runs through Ralph Reed?
Campaigning with the likes of Rick Santorum, as Giuliani did in Philadelphia today, is bad enough. But Reed represents a whole 'nother level of despicable. If Rudy wanted to show solidarity with a conservative moonbat, he should've picked Reed's primary opponent, Casey Cagle.
Those inveterate whiners in the White House are now complaining that the president's poll numbers should be much higher given the strong economic indicators at the moment. Their problem may lie in the fact that average Americans--the vast majority of the population--aren't the ones enjoying the benefits of Bush's trickle down tax policies.
The New York Times recently analyzed IRS data on the Bush tax cuts on dividends and capital gains. Here is the money quote: "Taxpayers, whose average income was $26 million, paid about the same share of their income in income taxes as those making $200,000 to $500,000because of the lowered rates on investment income."
To find an individual example, one needs look no further than the Cheneys. In 2005, Dick and Lynne received a huge tax rebate on their $8.8 million income, largely because most of that money was the result of exercising Halliburton stock options.
Talk about death and taxes.
But not to worry, it gets worse.
To cover the tax breaks for investment, Congress recently refused to extend the patch on the alternative minimum tax. The AMT patch is complicated but what it means is that "one in four families with children--up from one in 22 last year--will owe up to $3,640 in additional federal income tax come next April."
Happy Tax Season.
Nation Event Note
The Nation is visiting Yale University on Wednesday, April 26, 2006. Click here for details on a free public event, sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute, featuring Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan could not resist adding a little irony to the session where it was announced that he was being fired -- er, stepping down -- as the chief spinner for the Bush administration.
"You have accomplished a lot over the last several years with this team," McClellan said to President Bush.
Yes, the team has accomplished so much that it is being systematically dismantled by new White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten at breakneck speed. With public support for the president's agenda dipping to Nixon-in-Watergate lows, and with even the Republican Congress breaking with the White House on major issues, Bolten -- who replaced ousted Chief of Staff Andy Card -- seems to have determined that the administration might need a new team.
In addition to McClellan's exit Wednesday morning, Karl Rove was edged out of his position as deputy White House chief of staff for policy development. Rove's being delegated back to his old job of managing Republican campaigns from within the White House and at taxpayer expense.
What next for old team that helped the president "accomplish" a 33 percent job approval rating?
Let's just say that Treasury Secretary John Snow may not be launching any new projects.
Speaking the other day at the Derryfield Restaurant to members of the Greater Manchester (New Hampshire)Chamber of Commerce, Snow said he hopes to attend a signing ceremony on legislation that would lower tax rates. Snow did not say whether he expected to do so as a member of the Cabinet or a private citizen, but it is a fair bet that a treasury secretary who is making the rounds of local chamber of commerce luncheons probably ought to be polishing up his resume.
Finally, total synchronicity. Fox News and the White House are merging into one entity. Well, not really.
CNN just reported that a few weeks ago new White House chief of staff Josh Bolten asked Fox News's Tony Snow if he would be interested in replacing Scott McClellan as White House press secretary. CNN did not report whether Snow responded affirmatively and Snow refused to comment publicly. Funny how his website boasts of "The Power of Fox. The Connections of Snow."
This causes us to think of other potential White House hires:
Lou Dobbs as head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement?
Geraldo Rivera as Secretary of Defense?
Bill O'Reilly as director of Faith-Based Initiatives?
Why not call it a day and hire Roger Ailes as communications director?
There is a clash of titans underway at the filing room of the federal courthouse in Washington. Now that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and Scooter Libby's defense team are in the thick of pretrial motions, every week or so one side or the other files a motion, a counter-motion or a counter-counter-motion, and these documents are providing sporadic glimpses into what happened in the weeks that led up to the Plame/CIA leak in 2003. For instance, it was a Fitzgerald filing that revealed that Libby had testified that Dick Cheney had authorized him to leak selective portions of the National Intelligence Estimate on WMDs in Iraq to New York Times reporter Judith Miller and that this had happened after George W. Bush approved releasing (or leaking) slices of the NIE.
The most recent Libby filing did not contain such a blockbuster disclosure. But here are a few interesting portions:
When the issue of Valerie Wilson's employment is viewed in its proper context, and the full story is revealed, it will be clear that Ms. Wilson's role was a peripheral issue. If the press stories surrounding the governments NIE disclosure illustrate anything, it is that this case is factually complex and that the government's notion that it involves only Mr. Libby and the OVP [Office of the Vice President] is a fairy tale.
Hmmm, does this mean that there was a wide-ranging White House effort to undercut Joe Wilson's credibility that involved others than Libby and went beyond trying to depict Wilson trip to Niger as a boondoggle orchestrated by his wife, a CIA officer? Libby's lawyers keep hinting that they will suck the rest of the White House into the case to defend their man. But this is puzzling, for if Libby goes too far down that road, won't he hurt his standing as a deserving recipient of a presidential pardon? Many White House fans are raising millions of dollars for the Libby defense fund and a conservative think tank has put him on the payroll. So how many grenades can Libby throw at Bush, Cheney and Karl Rove?
The defense is likely to call Mr. Rove to provide testimony regarding Mr. Libby's conversations with Mr. Rove concerning reporters' inquiries about Ms. Wilson, as expressly discussed in the indictment.
Rove on the stand, being examined by Fitzgerald? Neither Rove nor the White House can want that. Fitzgerald has not indicted Rove, and his exact role in the leak remains murky--though he reportedly was the second source for the Bob Novak column that disclosed Valerie Wilson's CIA employment. And he was the firt source for Matt Cooper of Time. If he hits the witness stand, Fitzgerald can ask much. What exactly did Rove do before the leak? What did he say to Novak? How did he learn about Valerie Wilson's CIA status? Who else knew? Did he talk to Bush about this? After the leak investigation began--and Bush publicly said he wanted to know who the leakers were--did Rove inform his boss that he had been one of leakers? If so, why did Bush not keep his promise to fire anyone who had leaked classified information? This could be a rather dramatic moment in the Libby trial. Will Libby really put Rove (and the White House) through this? Or are his lawyers merely bluffing for now--in order to burden Fitzgerald with various documents requests? For his part, Fitzgerald has said he has no plans to call Rove as a witness.
In addition, Mr. Libby plans to demonstrate that the indictment is wrong when it suggests that he and other government officials viewed Ms. Wilson's role in sending her husband to Africa as important. We need the requested documents to prepare this crucial aspect of his defense.
Fitzgerald's indictment of Libby notes that Cheney--weeks before the Plame leak happened--told Libby that Valerie Wilson worked for the Counterproliferation Division of the clandestine service of the CIA, the operations directorate. Why was Cheney himself seeking out--and passing to Libby--information on Valerie Wilson if he did not view her role as potentially significant? Perhaps Cheney can answer that on the stand.
Further, Mr. Tenet is a likely witness.
Should this happen, Fitzgerald, unfortunately, is not going to examine former CIA chief George Tenet on how the agency screwed up much (though not all) of the prewar intelligence. He won't grill Tenet on why the CIA director did not say anything when Bush and other administration officials overstated the CIA's intelligence. That's not part of Fitzgerald's case. But it would be rather interesting to hear Tenet discuss the conflict that raged between the CIA and the White House at the time of the leak, when it was becoming increasingly likely that no WMDs would be found in Iraq and when the agency and the Bush crew were pointing fingers at each other. Tenet, who oversaw one of the biggest intelligence screw-ups in the CIA's history (two, if you count 9/11), has snagged a presumably lucrative book contract. American citizens should not have to pay $30 each to receive Tenet's explanations of what went wrong. They deserve this information (even if it is self-serving) for free. But none of the Republican-controlled congressional committees have called Tenet to testify publicly and extensively about the prewar intelligence disaster. Perhaps Fitzgerald can slip in one or two questions.
Imagine the spectacle if Libby's attorneys are right in their pretrial assertions: Rove, Cheney and Tenet on the stand. The trial is not scheduled to begin until next January. Republicans fretting about the coming congressional elections should at least be happy about that.
I'M A DECIDER-MAKER. On Tuesday, Bush once again came to Donald Rumsfeld's rescue--and he did so with that patented Bush eloquence:
I say, I listen to all voices, but mine is the final decision. And Don Rumsfeld is doing a fine job. He's not only transforming the military, he's fighting a war on terror. He's helping us fight a war on terror. I have strong confidence in Donald Rumsfeld. I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation. But I'm the decider, and I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense.
Ladies and gentlemen, your president--who hears voices and reads the front page (anything on the inside?), and who is the "decider" who decides "what is best." This should really help him in the polls.
For months now, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh has been traveling all across the country fashioning himself as the latest incarnation of warrior Democrat. A key part of Bayh's routine is talking "tough" on Iran. Bayh says Bush "was right to label Iran part of the axis of evil," and agrees with the President that a military strike option should remain on the table. Bayh recently introduced a Senate resolution calling for strict sanctions on the Iranian regime--including cutting off supplies of refined gasoline, denying foreign investment and isolating the regime "diplomatically, financially, and culturally."
No doubt Iran is a bad actor and its anti-semitic President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a full-blown lunatic. But these sanctions sound very much like a pretext to war. If anything, they will only intensify Iran's effort to develop a nuclear weapon. Which is why Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Bayh to take a chill pill on Sunday. From ABC's This Week:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Lugar, time for sanctions?
LUGAR: I would hold off for the time being until we're certain that they're going to be effective. And they will not be effective without European friends who are in our negotiations quite apart from the Chinese, the Indians and the others.
I believe, for the moment, that we ought to cool this one, too. The rhetoric has been pretty hot and heavy with the president of Iran on TV constantly. It appears to me they're not making that muchheadway. And we need to make more headway diplomatically.
Well said. If anyone wants to imagine what war with Iran might look like, read Sy Hersh's terrifying new piece in The New Yorker.
When Democrats in my home state of Wisconsin voted at their state party convention last spring to call for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, they added the name of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to the list.
That still sounds like an appropriate roster for removal.
While there is much attention this week to the call from an ever widening circle of former military commanders in the failed Iraq War and other recent U.S. misadventures -- including a half dozen retired generals -- who have called for Rumsfeld's firing, how much sense does make to get rid of the Secretary of Defense when his actions have been so clearly a reflection of goals and strategies developed by the president and vice president?
No doubt, Rumsfeld has mishandled the Iraq invasion and occupation.
But would another Secretary of Defense chosen by Bush and Cheney do any better?
Doesn't the current crisis have more to do with the administration's misguided project of regime change and nation building than with the approach that Rumsfeld has taken to it?
If the problem is with the project, then shouldn't the focus be on the serious task of removing Bush and Cheney, rather than the cosmetic change of names of the office of the Secretary of Defense?
While there is no question that Rumsfeld should go, there ought to be some question about whether extracting one rotten apple from the barrel will cure what ails this administration.
It is true that the forced removal of Rumsfeld could further weaken a president whose popularity is already in steep decline. But it could also create the false impression of a course correction even as Bush and Cheney -- and Secretary of Defense Joe Lieberman -- steer the U.S. further into quagmire.
Following the recent testimony by Dick Cheney's former chief of staff that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney were actively involved in scheming to discredit former Ambassador Joe Wilson, after Wilson revealed that the administration had used discredited intelligence to make the "case" for attacking Iraq, another key figure from the Watergate era has called for a Congressional investigation of wrongdoing by the current occupants of the White House.
On the heels of former White House counsel John Dean's charge that the crimes of the Bush administration are "worse than Watergate," Carl Bernstein, who as a young reporter for the Washington Post was part of the team that broke the story of Richard Nixon's high crimes and misdemeanors, is urging the Senate to launch a bipartisan investigation into the president's actions.
Though he says it is "premature" to talk of impeachment, Bernstein argues in a new Vanity Fair article that, "[It] is essential that the Senate vote -- hopefully before the November elections, and with overwhelming support from both parties -- to undertake a full investigation of the conduct of the presidency of George W. Bush, along the lines of the Senate Watergate Committee's investigation during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon."
Bernstein asks, rhetorically, "How much evidence is there to justify such action?"
His answer: "Certainly enough to form a consensus around a national imperative: to learn what this president and his vice president knew and when they knew it; to determine what the Bush administration has done under the guise of national security; and to find out who did what, whether legal or illegal, unconstitutional or merely under the wire, in ignorance or incompetence or with good reason, while the administration barricaded itself behind the most Draconian secrecy and disingenuous information policies of the modern presidential era."
But could Arlen Specter really be the Sam Ervin of the 21st century?
Bernstein suggests that Republicans such as Senate Judiciary Committee chair Specter, who control the Senate, ought to recognize -- for political reasons, if nothing else -- that their party needs to signal its willingness to challenge an increasingly unpopular. administration.
"[Voting] now to create a Senate investigation -- chaired by a Republican -- could work to the advantage both of the truth and of Republican candidates eager to put distance between themselves and the White House," writes the veteran reporter, who adds, "The calculations of politicians about their electoral futures should pale in comparison to the urgency of examining perhaps the most disastrous five years of decision-making of any modern American presidency."
Bernstein closes his detailed argument for a senatorial intervention with an observation and an appropriate call to action.
"After Nixon's resignation, it was often said that the system had worked. Confronted by an aberrant president, the checks and balances on the executive by the legislative and judicial branches of government, and by a free press, had functioned as the founders had envisioned," he writes. "The system has thus far failed during the presidency of George W. Bush - at incalculable cost in human lives, to the American political system, to undertaking an intelligent and effective war against terror, and to the standing of the United States in parts of the world where it previously had been held in the highest regard. There was understandable reluctance in the Congress to begin a serious investigation of the Nixon presidency. Then there came a time when it was unavoidable. That time in the Bush presidency has arrived."
In the Washington Post Monday, pollster Richard Morin writes about how George Bush's plummeting poll numbers have rendered the red-blue political map close-to-obsolete.
"States that were once reliably red are turning pink," Morin points out. "Some are no longer red but a sort of powder blue." The Washington Post's polling director goes on to note that "In fact, a solid majority of residents in states that president Bush carried in 2004 now disapprove of the job he is doing...[and] views of the GOP have also soured in those Republican red states."
Residents of states Bush carried in 2004 now trust Democrats over Republicans to deal with our nation's biggest problems--48 to 42 percent. And in the 2004 blue states, George Bush's approval rating has declined even further from 45 to 33 percent.
Morin quotes pollster Dan Jones at the University of Utah, "Bush is dragging down every Republican officeholder in the nation, even here." Which, actually, doesn't surprise The Nation one bit--one of our most loyal readers is the Mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson.
I would suggest that the hues are not just red and blue, or pink and powder blue, but green and yellow and purple and beige. And that until we see electoral reform that changes the way votes are counted, districts are proportioned and views are represented, the political map will fail to reveal our true colors.
Just after the 2004 election, The Nation argued that the red-blue stereotype propagated by the television media was hyped--that, in fact, many states labeled red or blue were almost evenly divided.
And as the Bush administration implodes, we see a diverse opposition emerging to confront it--its lies and ineptitude on Iraq policy; its extremist positions on fiscal policy and trade; its brazen approach to everything from Katrina response to domestic spying to social security privatization.
This is a moment of change--a time to act boldly not only to capture the new shades of red and blue in 2006, but to reform our system so that the political map of the future is drawn using a color palette that represents the great diversity of this country.
Nation Event Note
The Nation is visiting Yale University on Wednesday, April 26, 2006. Click here for details on a free public event, sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute, featuring Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel.