Saturday, April 22, 2006

No Love from Moscow

Outside of the occasional criticism of Putin's disregard for civil liberties, few people these days seem to care about Russian foreign policy or Washington's relationship with Moscow. However, there is a vocal segment of the population that believes that American security policy requires the United Nations' stamp of approval. Unfortunately for those people, Russia's seat on the Security Council still comes with veto power. And it looks increasingly likely that veto is going to be used to make sure diplomacy and collective security do little to solve the current nuclear crisis with Iran.

For example, Russian is doing its best to make sure cooperation on the Bushehr nuclear plant continues. According to the Associated Press this week, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said

"The adoption of a commitment on ending cooperation with this or that state in some sphere lies exclusively in the competence of the UN Security Council," and "Up to now, the Security Council has made no decision on ending cooperation with Iran in nuclear energy." Kamynin said that every country "has the right to decide with whom and how it should cooperate," and that the Bushehr project was "under the full control" of the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. The plant has no relation to Iran's work in uranium enrichment, he said.

The last statement is the most troublesome. Whether the Bushehr plant is contributing to the Iranian uranium enrichment program or not, ending cooperation on the plant is the easiest and most effective way for Russia to express its displeasure with Iran and her recent threats against Israel. But evidently, one UN member state threatening to wipe another UN member state off the map isn't enough to spur some Security Council members to action.

According to Reuters on 21 April, Russia made it clear that it believes that the U.N. Security Council should only consider sanctions against Iran if it had proof the Islamic Republic was trying to build nuclear weapons. Non-compliance with previous U.N. demands to end enrichment, the fact that Iran hid its nuclear program for decades, and again, threats against Israel, don't warrant sanctions as far as Moscow is concerned.

One could, and probably should after the war in Iraq, make the argument that "proof" of a weapons program is the bare minimum required for military action. However, diplomacy is not an exact science. If the United States and the United nations are going to end this crisis by diplomatic means, the bar can't be that high. Sanctions are just the diplomatic response to Iran's diplomacy of threats.

Finally, as Russia sets proof of a weapons program as the requirement for sanctions, she is doing her best to make sure that any possible future military action be as costly as possible for the United States and our allies. The Washington Post reported this morning that despite United states' request to the contrary, Russia will go forward with the sale of 29 Tor-M1 air-defense missile systems to Iran.

So much for collective security.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Mollohan Quits Ethics Post; Will the House be Next?

Alan Mollohan has temporarily resigned as lead Democrat on the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct - the Ethics Committee. There's a good chance that this is only the first shoe to drop.

Tom DeLay and Bob Ney are object lessons - on the Republican side - of how difficult it is to hold on to your House seat once you get tarred with unethical behavior. And Mollohan certainly fits that description, now. He realized that surrendering his post would be seen by many as an admission of guilt - and that was why he fought hard to hold onto it.

Having effectively confirmed the suspicions of many that he did something wrong, he'll now have to convince the voters of his district that he still deserves re-election. That's very hard to do.

The Gang of 14 to be Tested

Update: Roll Call reports on April 26 that Specter announced a Judiciary Committee vote on Thursday, April 27, to report the Kavanaugh nomination to the Senate floor.

Second Update: The Senate Judiciary Committee has delayed the scheduled vote on the Kavanaugh nomination.

Third Update: Much more recent material on judicial nominations starting at the top.

National Journal (subscription required) reports that Bill Frist will schedule May votes on 14 of President Bush's judicial nominations:

Frist Ready To Tee Up The Next Floor Fight Over Judges

Senate Majority Leader Frist wants to bring two controversial judicial nominees to the Senate floor in May -- a strategic move that GOP strategists and aides say would help energize the Republican base and fundraising efforts heading into the November elections. A Frist aide said Tuesday the majority leader is considering scheduling votes next month on President Bush's long-stalled nominations of U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and White House aide Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Democrats adamantly oppose both nominees, along with nearly a dozen other Bush nominations. Partisan tension over Bush's judicial picks peaked last May when Frist threatened the so-called nuclear option -- a change in parliamentary procedures to stop minority filibusters of judicial nominees. A group of 14 senators -- seven Republicans and seven Democrats -- formed a pivotal coalition that persuaded both sides to avoid a showdown. The group said senators should not filibuster a president's nominee except under "extraordinary circumstances," which cleared the way for the Senate to approve several nominees.

Brett Kavanaugh is nominated for the US Circuit Court of Appeals for DC, and Boyle for the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Votes for these nominees are far overdue; they both have the support of a majority of the Senate, and were nominated by Bush in 2001. Further, both were left hanging after the 14-Senator judicial compromise of last May.

Kavanaugh was reportedly left out of the deal because:

• he was Ken Starr’s Associate Independent Counsel;
• he was part of the White House staff on Bush’s judicial nominations; and,
• he’s too conservative.

It was reported at the time of the deal that 6 of the 7 Democrats party to it had agreed to filibuster Kavanaugh – with only Ben Nelson declining. Since the deal, and with the shocking revelation that the Administration has wiretapped the calls of terrorists, Senate Democrats have also asked for a Committee hearing to explore Kavanaugh's role in that policy.

Boyle's problem is that he too, is 'ultraconservative.' He's also a protege of Jesse Helms, is overruled too often, and has a poor record on civil rights, according to Senate Democrats. Notably, he's been awaiting a vote for about 15 years - since George H.W. Bush originally nominated him.

Bob Novak recently reported that Frist and the Senate leadership saw little urgency to schedule votes on stalled judicial nominees like Kavanaugh and Boyle. That seems to have changed. Of Boyle, Novak reports that there are no 'extraordinary circumstances' that would justify a filibuster, and so 'the votes for the nuclear option presumably would be there.' That's certainly a loaded statement. I wonder how accurately that reflects the views of the 7 Republicans in the Gang of 14.

This move comes a little out of the blue. There are comparatively few legislative work days left on the Senate calendar, and lots to vote on. This debate will undoubtedly consume a lot of floor time, and be very contentious. Any potential votes to end filibusters and change Senate rules will take even longer. All this raises the prospect that the Senate could remain in session right up to election day.

A number of members of the Gang of 14 are up for re-election this year, and political considerations will influence some Senators. On the Democratic side, Lieberman, Byrd, and Nelson face re-election this year. Only Nelson has a race perceived as tough, and he's already said he won't support a filibuster. On the Republican side, DeWine and Chafee have competitive races this year, while Olympia Snowe will cruise. Chafee may be put in the toughest spot on this. His primary is May 20, so he will almost certainly have to vote for cloture - and even for the 'nuclear option' - to fend off the challenge from Laffey. He'll probably try to convince fellow New England Republicans Snowe and Collins to vote with him, too. And if McCain wants to be the Republican nominee in 2008, he will have a tough time voting against the 'nuclear option,' - it could be that Frist would schedule a vote partly to draw him out on the issue.

Lots of Republicans will welcome the chance of a Democratic filibuster and a change in the filibuster rule (although such a change is still a long way down the road). While no one seems sure whether the Democratic vote this fall will be energized or not, they are very fearful that Republicans will be apathetic. This kind of fight will be seen by some as a chance to do the right thing - ensure that nominees get a vote - while energizing the base.

Back to the top.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Our Porous Northern Border

The subject of illegal immigration and terrorism is a fascinating one. Many of those who oppose an immigration amnesty, and who push most aggressively for improved enforcement at the US-Mexican border, argue that these measures are necessary to reduce the possibility that Al Qaeda or other terrorists will take advantage of them to attack the US. And as far as I can tell, these ideas are misguided.

While there are millions of illegal crossings of the US Southern border each year, those crossings are directly due to the fact that that is where our poorer neighbors are - not because that border is undefended. It is the US's Northern border that is undefended. If the standard of living in the US was as superior to Canada's as it is to Mexico's, the border with Canada would be seen as a problem. The US-Canadian border is more than 4,000 miles long. And according to the Congressional Research Service, we have one agent for every 4.2 miles of the Northern border, compared to one for every .2 miles of the Southwestern border.

If you were Al Qaeda or another terrorist group seeking to pull off an attack inside the US, would you send your plotters through Canada or Mexico? Apart from the wide disparity in the level of border security, you might consider that Middle Easterners and Muslims stand out more in Mexico than in Canada - so your team would be less likely to attract attention in Canada. You might also consider that most of the US-Canada border is temperate and easy to cross, while the available crossing points from Mexico are largely deserts and rivers. Why would you pick Mexico? Wouldn't it be Canada that seemed the attractive option? We know that Ahmed Ressam was apprehended crossing into the US from Canada, preventing an attempt to bomb LAX at the turn of the millennium.

CNN recently reported on a smuggling ring that brought dozens of Indian and Pakistani immigrants into the US illegally. That's different from the ring that ICE broke up in February. Heck, the US-Canadian border even has its own smuggling tunnels. Considering that the US-Canadian border is so much less policed than our border with Mexico, what may be going on that we haven't discovered yet?

I'm not in any way saying that our southern border is not vulnerable to crossings by Al Qaeda. We have evidence that Al Qaeda has considered bringing nuclear weapons into the US through the border with Mexico. Crossings of the Mexican border by "OTMs" (other than Mexicans) have increased significantly in the last few years. CNN reports that there were about 100,000 in the first 9 months of 2005. Most of these are certainly Guatemalan and others from Central America, but there's at least anecdotal evidence that we are apprehending more from other parts of the world. The threat needs to be taken seriously.

But if you were AQ, why would you send operatives to a country where they stand out, to cross an unforgiving desert that is regularly patrolled, when you could send them to a place where they fit in, and have them cross an unguarded border where you can practically pick from city, suburb, rural area, or forest as a crossing point?

Republicans Feel Intensely About Immigration

Courtesy of Byron York at NRO, we see that Gallup's latest poll on immigration starts to answer the question I posed the other day: what groups of voters feel most intensely about immigration?

Gallup has the poll results here, and I don't see the partisan breakdown that York mentions. However, this is how he reports it:

But just as dramatic are the differences in who is most concerned about immigration. Thirty percent of self-identified Republicans named it the most important issue, while just 11 percent of self-identified Democrats said the same (for independents, the number was 16 percent). Twenty-five percent of people who called themselves conservatives named immigration the most important issue, versus 13 percent who called themselves liberal (for self-described moderates, the number was 18 percent).

Almost all the Republicans who feel intensely about immigration are bound to be those who favor stronger measures against illegal immigration. The fact that this group feels strongest about it is not surprising in the least, and it means that Republican candidates in general will probably have the most to gain by trying to appeal to this group, while worrying less about the others. Notwithstanding the promise of the House Republican leadership to bring a comprehensive immigration bill to the floor (ie, a bill that features earned legalization), I still bet it won't happen.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

No, it Only Looks Like the Onion

Today brings another example of the sort of mistake a blogger might make, but wouldn't make it past the multiple layers of fact-checking employed by the mainstream media. It's from the Washington Post's free daily the Express.

Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English portour, from Middle French porteour, from Late Latin portator, from Latin portare to carry
1 : a person who carries burdens; especially : one employed to carry baggage for patrons at a hotel or transportation terminal
2 : a parlor-car or sleeping-car attendant who waits on passengers and makes up berths

Do you think the Post is trying to say that he's going to be the administration's bag man?


Via Instapundit: Generals Call for Resignation of Media Leaders

What About Doha?

Although it's received almost no attention since the Hong Kong Ministerial meeting in December, the World Trade Organization continues to work toward an agreement on the framework (or 'modalities') of the Doha Round of trade liberalization talks. The Doha Round kicked off in 2001, with the goal of delivering substantial liberalization of agricultural trade, with attendant benefits for everyone - but especially less developed countries. Progress has come in fits and starts - almost exclusively when it was felt that Doha was on life support. Most recently (at Hong Kong), Europe agreed in principle to give up its agricultural export subsidies by 2013, pending an overall Doha Round agreement.

Now there is a theoretical deadline of the end of April for agreement on the parameters of a final deal. Countries are all supposed to approve the broad brushstrokes within which a deal will be negotiated. They will then hash out the actual provisions of a deal between now and December, when the final accord will be put on paper - theoretically.

The problem is that Europe is unwilling to actually put its cards on the table and agree to real openness in agriculture. Or maybe it's that Brazil won't agree on opening its industrial market, or the US won't go further on reducing its agricultural price supports. There's plenty of finger-pointing.

While there are apparently no real deadlines in trade talks that are governed by consensus, there is one real deadline in US law. Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) - or Fast Track - or whatever you like to call it - expires in mid-2007. Simply put, TPA requires the Congress to vote yes or no on a trade deal - to accept or reject it without amending it. If our trading partners know that Congress has the power to change a deal after the President has signed it, they will never sign on to an overall Doha agreement with the US. So for there to be a Doha Round agreement, it probably has to be signed, sealed and delivered by the end of 2006. No one wants to bet that Congress will be willing to extend TPA in the foreseeable future.

Into all this, the move of Rob Portman from USTR to OMB has set off shock waves. Our trading partners say that it sends the signal that the US doesn't take Doha seriously. They're implying that this might mean the end of the Doha Round.

Frankly, this is nonsense. Rob Portman - and before him Bob Zoellick - worked tirelessly to revive Doha when it seemed dead. Their shuttle diplomacy and their willingness to push the boundaries on what Congress might ultimately accept in a deal have helped keep the process moving. Europe has been unable to get down to brass tacks in these negotiations - largely because France will not contemplate further changes to farm programs, and especially not before their 2007 Presidential election. To the extent that Portman's departure means anything about Doha, it means that the US is recognizing that the intransigience of our trading partners means success in Doha is unlikely.

If you're interested in reading a critique of Europe's Common Agricultural Policy, written by those on the inside, check this out.

Illegal Immigrants in Mexico

I note that Ace and others are talking about the treatment illegal immigrants receive in Mexico. It's definitely true that Mexico takes illegal immigrants as seriously as the US does. I can't say that they take it more seriously, because most employment in Mexico is informal (40% according to this site, but I've heard up to 60%), and it's hard to enforce laws against employing illegals.

When travelling in the southern part of Mexico, near the border with Guatemala and Belize, it's not unusual to run into military checkpoints searching for illegals. Once when traveling near Oaxaca, I was in a bus that was stopped by the military for just this reason. I thought it stunning that when I asked my guide what the soldiers wanted, he told me 'they're looking for wetbacks.' I was amazed at the irony of a Mexican using this term.

It's certainly true that the US is more rigorous in protecting the rights of illegal immigrants than is Mexico.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Chavez Punishes his Enemies

Bloomberg notes that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is making sure that those who forced him to face a recall election in 2004 are punished. Thousands of government employees have been fired from among the 3.4 million that signed the recall petition.

It seems only a few years since the United States celebrated a new dawn in Latin America - with more or less freely elected regimes everywhere but Cuba and with the region increasingly looking to the US for friendship and support. Now however, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is proving increasingly successful at forging an anti-American alliance among leftist leaders throughout the hemisphere. As the BBC recently noted, the United States is losing Latin America.

This July will see a Presidential election in Mexico, where the stakes are higher than ever before. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (or AMLO, or the 'pejelegarto') is the candidate of the PRD, and it's alleged that Chavez has been funding his campaign. Should AMLO be elected, Chavez will have a powerful potential ally.

Europe Attacks American Companies, Profits

Rich Smith of the Motley Fool has an interesting post on the move by the European Community to rein in what credit card providers can charge. Smith notes that it appears to be an attack on US firms, and it fits in with a European pattern:

But after reading all these numbers the Commission is bandying about: "$1.6 trillion," "six times" this, and "12 times" that, I notice that nowhere have I read -- in any of the press reports on the Commission's witch hunt -- an actual number being put to these "outrageous" profits.

So I turned to Capital IQ, the Oracle of financial data we use here at the Fool, to find out, and it turns out that American Express nets just 6% of its revenues as profit. MasterCard earns a 9% net margin. Only the 14% margin that Visa boasts even shares a zip code with "outrageous."

Don't get me wrong. Fourteen percent is certainly respectable, but I was sure there were companies out there making better margins than that. With a few more clicks, I dug up a handful:

Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO): 21% net margin
Intel (Nasdaq: INTC): 22%
eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY): 24%
Google (Nasdaq: GOOG): 24%
Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT): 32%

Now, these companies all have a couple things in common -- both with each other and with the major card providers as well. First, they've all been targeted for criticism by European authorities in recent years -- Coke for out-competing other pop vendors for shelf space, Intel for controlling too much market share, eBay for failing to do the European Community's tax collecting for it, Google for getting too inventive with its advertising, and Microsoft seemingly for every single thing it does.

And the second thing they have in common: They're all American companies.

The fact that Europe is attacking America is nothing new. The US goes after European companies from time to time; sometimes it's justified, sometimes it's not. What's fascinating to me is the continuing creep toward socialism. European economic growth is at best sclerotic. Apart from immigration, its population is imploding. It features unfunded pension programs that cannot be sustained. The continent is headed for a crisis, and its leadership fiddles while Rome burns - or worse - throws on kerosene.

On the heels of Europe's unwillingness to open its markets in the current Doha Round trade talks, of France's refusal to allow private employers to fire new workers with cause, the EU is now talking about growing its own credit company:

"We need a European card payment system that can rival Visa and MasterCard...Those companies are welcome in Europe, as long as they conform to European competition rules, but there is evidence that [they] appear to be abusing the system at the moment."

How do they propose to create such a company? Probably the same way they created Airbus - government subsidies and protection. But that is no way to create wealth. Airbus is strong today, after receiving billions in government subsidies. But it is beholden to its host governments for those subsidies, and is hampered by them. For example, Airbus would like to reduce input costs by sourcing parts outside of Europe - but it is prevented from doing so by France and other governments. How long can Airbus stay competitive with firms that can buy parts wherever they are cheapest? Or alternately, what will it cost in terms of taxpayers subsidies to keep them competitive in a changing market?

What will it cost to create credit company? Will the money come from consumers or taxpayers? After all, those are the only choices. And of course they are the same people - so it doesn't really matter.

Only about 15 years since the collapse of communism as an economic model, Europe is slowly creeping in that direction. And they are doing so in the face of the Irish tiger - Europe's strongest growth economy for more than a decade, and one of its strongest market models. It is doing so even as increasing government intervention in the market causes slower and slower growth.

What can they be thinking?

Making Star Trek a Reality

Looks like the whiz kids at NASA are working on an anti-matter propulsion system, which could conceivably be used to put astronauts on Mars. I like the part where they say that this system would be much more simple - not a word I would previously have used to describe anti-matter drive:

"The most significant advantage is more safety," said Dr. Gerald Smith of Positronics Research, LLC, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The current Reference Mission calls for a nuclear reactor to propel the spaceship to Mars. This is desirable because nuclear propulsion reduces travel time to Mars, increasing safety for the crew by reducing their exposure to cosmic rays. Also, a chemically-powered spacecraft weighs much more and costs a lot more to launch. The reactor also provides ample power for the three-year mission. But nuclear reactors are complex, so more things could potentially go wrong during the mission. "However, the positron reactor offers the same advantages but is relatively simple," said Smith, lead researcher for the NIAC study.

No mention in the article of the timetable for testing and deploying such a system. Makes me think it's still safe to regard it as years off in the future.

Portman Moves Over

Well, I feel almost like I have the gift of prophecy. A few hours after I predict that Rob Portman will move from USTR to Treasury, he moves from USTR to... OMB. Oh well, I'm half right.

I suppose the next name that people are talking about for Treasury - assuming Snow is replaced - is Henry Paulson, Chief Executive of Goldman Sachs.

Monday, April 17, 2006

White House Shakeup

Looks like we can count on a shakeup of the President's team. Josh Bolten and Scott McClellan signalled as much today, as reported everywhere. The New York Times finds a way to twist the dagger, even as they try to describe such shakeups as normal:

Staff changes are common in a president's second term, as he and his most trusted associates try to preserve their influence and ward off the impression that they are sliding toward lame-duck irrelevance. President Bush has been beset by sagging support for the war in Iraq, as reflected in public-opinion polls, and has lost momentum on some of his domestic-policy goals as well.

The obvious likely change is John Snow at Treasury, since the administration has not gotten any credit for a strong economy on his watch. Snow has little to do with that of course, but if you're going to have a shakeup you have to dismiss someone. Rob Portman is an obvious rising star in the party, and would be a good pick. Supporters of expanded trade would be disappointed to lose him from USTR, but at least the Treasury Secretary has substantial infuence on trade discussions, so Portman could continue to push for progress in the Doha Round and in trade talks with China.

It appears that Rumsfeld is not going anywhere, but we'll need to get rid of another Secretary or two for this to qualify as a shakeup. We can probably rule out changes at HHS, DHS, Energy, State, Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, and the VA. All of those Secretaries assumed their duties in 2005, and none is really regarded as doing a bad job. That leaves Elaine Chao at Labor, Norm Mineta at Transportation, and Alphonso Jackson at HUD. Any or all of those three could be candidates for replacement. The first two have been in their jobs for the whole of the Bush Presidency, and Jackson has been at HUD for a little over 2 years. None is a star, and Mineta in particular has been criticized for the failure to increase airline security under his watch. Replacing Mineta might help Bush energize his base and promote turnout in the Fall. I would bet heavily on Mineta's moving on.

Since the White House is looking for a shakeup to generate some excitement - or at least to change the headlines for a few weeks - you'll try to find interesting and capable replacements, rather than just retreads. In a challenging election year, the White House will look to people who are not currently running for re-election in swing states or districts. That typically means retiring officials, but I don't see any likelies there. Names like Kenny Guinn, Dirk Kempthorne, Bill Frist and Henry Hyde don't work.

Moving past retirees on the list, the names that jump out at me as having potential are:

Bobby Jindal (LA) - a rising star
To raise a brilliant and successful young South Asian to a position of prominence would help generate buzz, while strengthening the President's team.

John Cornyn (TX) - close to the President
Cornyn is extremely bright, and has built a strong following in his short time as a national figure. Plus, there's almost no chance that a Democrat would win his seat in Texas.

Paul Ryan (WI)
Another bright candidate and good communicator, popular with the Right

Small Victories

Roll Call reports that Senate appropriators are starting to look at reining in spending in supplemental/emergency appropriations bills (subscription required). Depending on who's doing the counting, these measures are not typically added into the calculation of overall spending levels, and year-to-year changes in federal discretionary spending. For this reason, there's great incentive to push spending and policy changes into supplemental bills, which typically get less scrutiny than the regular 13 appropriations measures. While Roll Call reports explicitly on forcing the Administration to limit its ambitions in these measures, the same should be true of Congress, which often uses these same 'emergency' measures for pork-barrel spending.

Senate Targets Supplementals
April 17, 2006
By John Stanton,
Roll Call Staff

Senate appropriators have inserted language into the fiscal 2006 supplemental spending bill chastising the Bush administration for using the now twice-yearly “emergency war” supplementals as a shadow appropriations and policy process, warning the Senate will not consider future requests that do not include a full budget justification to appropriators.
Although budget hawks in the House and Senate have long criticized using the supplemental spending process and its attendant waivers from spending limits to prosecute the war on terror and campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, Senate leaders and rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats also have soured on the process.

Noting longstanding Appropriations Committee concerns with supplemental procurement spending requests by the military, the committee for the first time puts the administration on notice that “Congress will not be able to fully support [future] supplemental requests unless it is provided with the same detailed justification and program materials that it receives with the annual request,” according to the committee report.

A senior GOP aide said last week that Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and other leaders support the Appropriations Committee’s decision to seek a full accounting for future supplemental requests from the administration.

In fact, both House and Senate appropriators have repeatedly expressed concerns with how the Defense Department’s use of supplemental spending bills — which Congress has traditionally held to a lower level of expected spending justifications — to pay for either routine maintenance and procurement costs or projects and policies that have not received Congressional approval. Additionally, Members in both chambers, as well as members of the Senate’s GOP leadership, have become increasingly unwilling to allow the White House to use the supplemental process to keep the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “off budget” and are instead insisting that it be accounted for as part of the normal appropriations process, Senate aides said...

Additionally, in at least one case, the White House has sought to use the supplementals to affect a controversial policy change without Congressional approval or input.

Specifically, buried in the massive supplemental request was a series of DOD funding proposals to build permanent military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan — none of which has been approved by either country’s government and all of which violate an explicit U.S. policy that only temporary construction is allowed. The committee rejected all of the White House requests that were deemed to violate the prohibition on permanent construction projects.

The White House and the Appropriations Committee could not be reached for comment.

Why I Miss Mexico

Most major cities never see protests like this, but in Mexico they're common (mild content warning). If you've ever seen the farmers, you'd give them anything they want to get them to keep their clothes on.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Support for Amnesty

Well, Bob Novak joins the crowd of respected columnists disagreeing with me on immigration. This is what the Prince of Darkness has to say:

Immigration politics

New national polling data show, to the surprise of many politicians, that the immigration issue is one of the very rare areas where President Bush is gaining rather than losing strength.

The conventional wisdom has been that Bush's guest worker proposal runs sharply against mainstream Republican opinion and contributes to the president's loss of party support. However, polls show Republican opinion on the issue is split, as are the Democrats, with a national majority actually backing Bush (while he continues to drop in nearly every other category).

Some Republican members of Congress have reported back from Easter recess to say their constituents are less outraged by leaky borders than the possible loss of immigrant workers, some from their own households.

Surprised, I went to, to see what they have to say about immigration - and in particular, earned legalization. It seems that several recent polls do indeed show broad support for it. USA Today/Gallup and CBS News both poll a broad sample of adults nationwide, and show support of 63 and 74 percent, respectively, for an earned legalization program. I'm surprised by the level of support.

What these reports don't show however, and what I'm curious to see, is the respective views of the 'bases' of the two parties, and the views of those likely to vote this year. After all, not all adults are eligible to vote, and of those who are eligible, somewhere under 40 percent are likely to turn out for the midterm elections. It's possible - even likely - that the views of these people are very different from those of 'all adults.' The poll doesn't show us the intensity, either. How many supporters of amnesty will base their votes on it this year? Fewer than among the opponents, I bet. Elected officials who respond to polling are going to look at those questions - not just the data presented here - when deciding how to approach immigration legislation this year.

I'm also curious about Novak's assertion that the President's approval rating is being helped by increased support for him on immigration. Mickey Kaus pointed out that Daniel Schorr (and probably others) are sloppily characterizing the President as being opposed to amnesty. I bet there are lots of casual observers who think the same. To the extent that immigration is boosting his ratings, I bet it is from people confusing his policies with those of Congressional Republicans.