Friday, August 03, 2007

Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are the Great Under-Estimators

It is midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Iraq but our long national nightmare has barely begun.

The surge in US troop numbers was designed to provide a breathing space to pursue reconciliation. This was opportunity for the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to win a vote of no confidence from its patrons in Washington.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said he is disappointed by the lack of political progress in Iraq. The immediate cause of Gate's disappointment were recent discouraging developments, especially the withdrawal of the main Sunni Arab bloc from the government of the Green Zone.
In some ways we probably all underestimated the depth of the mistrust and how difficult it would be for these guys to come together on legislation. The kinds of legislation they're talking about will establish the framework of Iraq for the future so it's almost like our constitutional convention... And the difficulty in coming to grips with those, we may all have underestimated six or eight months ago.
No. Not even close. Gates is covering for Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld.
  • They all underestimated the resentment of the Iraqi people for being invaded without provocation after they had been bombed and embargoed for ten years (for provocation).
  • They all underestimated the gratitude rage Iraqis would feel when their command and control infrastructure was deconstructed with our smart bombs Shock and Awe.
  • They all underestimated the fear of the Iraqis that the plunder of their oil reserves was the objective of their invaders.
  • They all underestimated the cultural, political, and historical complexities of Iraqi society.
  • They all underestimated the number of troops it would take to shove democracy down the throats of a people who had never had the urge to swallow such a delicacy.
In short, Bush and Cheney themselves, along with the cowboys they rode in with, are the great under-estimators. They are building for the American people in Iraq a bridge back to the 20th century to nowhere. We are to think that Bush and Cheney, as neo-colonial occupiers of Iraq, have no confidence in Malicki? More to the point: it is the American people, after having stupidly and unaccountably elected (twice!) this imperial executive, who now feel themselves an occupied people with no confidence in their Decider.

Do my docile fellow Americans now consign themselves to being passive passengers in a runaway bus? Do they think salavation is just around the corner in a year or so when the hijackers run out of gas?

No. Again, not even close. The residues of our nightmare will last decades. This eight-year episode will turn out to be expensive enough. We should get a start on dispelling our our demons and their fantasies now.

When It Comes to Earmarks, Flakes Are a Good Thing!

Republican Friday #2: Another in my series which attempts to establish that some Republicans retain socially redeeming qualities.

According to Tax-Payers for Common Sense there are only two Congressmen who do not request earmarks in appropriations bills. They are Jeff Flake and John B. Shadegg, both Republicans from Arizona.

Obviously we can speculate if it is just a coincidence that they represent constituencies from the home state of Barry Goldwater, an authentic, old-school, conservative.

In order to high-light the earmarking process I rely heavily on the Sunlight Foundation:

What is an earmark?

An earmark is a line-item that is inserted into a bill to direct funds to a specific project or recipient without any public hearing or review. Members of Congress—both in the House and the Senate—use earmarks to direct funds to projects of their choice. Typically earmarks fund projects in the district of the House member or the state of the Senator who inserted it; the beneficiary of the funds can be a state or local agency or a private entity; often, the ultimate beneficiary is a political supporter of the legislator. Earmarks are the principal means by which Members of Congress “bring home the bacon.”

What’s wrong with earmarks?

In the ear-marking process there is no transparency or accountability in the system. Members can secure hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for a project without subjecting it to debate by their colleagues in the Congress, or to the scrutiny and oversight of the public. Because earmarks are hard to identify, some members use them to secretly award their biggest campaign contributors. The secrecy of the earmarking process invites backroom deals and unethical—or even corrupt—behavior, part of a pay-to-play culture where lobbyists and contractors and well-connected individuals give campaign contributions to legislators in return for federal funding.

Where do you find a list of earmarks?

Earmarks are not published in any one place. They are inserted anonymously as line items in appropriations and other bills, or appear, sometimes as lists, sometimes embedded in text, in the House, Senate or Conference Committee reports that accompany legislation.

How can I find out who inserted an earmark?

Authors of earmarks are generally anonymous; under current congressional rules, there is no requirement that a member identify his or her earmarks. Some Representatives and Senator publicize the earmarks that they secure by issuing press releases; many others refuse to discuss them. One way of telling who secured an earmark is to look at the name of the entity receiving the money. Many bridges, university buildings, and technology centers have been named after the appropriators who secured the federal funding for the project.

Who secures the most earmarks?

Generally the more powerful members of Congress get more earmarks. The surest way to become a leader in earmarking is to sit on the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate. Members of these committees, and especially the chairs of their subcommittees, are in the best position to secure earmarks.

Like Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska, for example.

They can insert them into spending bills during closed committee meetings, with no public scrutiny. Earmarks are also offered to members to entice them to vote for a bill they otherwise would not vote for. Sen. Tom Coburn calls earmarks the “trading currency” of Congress.

How are earmarks requested?

Members of Congress request that earmarks be placed in particular bills. The language used is often written by lobbyists who have been hired to obtain the federal funding for a project from a particular legislator. Some members of Congress offer online “Appropriations Request Forms” where an earmark-seeker can send their request for funds directly to the member’s office. But for most this is still a highly secretive process.

What is a conference committee?

Before a bill becomes a law, both the House and the Senate must pass a single, identical version of the bill. (Often times, in the legislative process, the two chambers pass bills that have slightly different language, or differing amendments.) A conference committee, made up of lawmakers selected from both the House and the Senate, reconcile differences and agree on the final language of a bill. The conferees tend to include the chairman and ranking members of the committee from which the bill emerged along with other selected members.

How are conference committees involved in the earmarking process?

Earmarks are often slipped into conference committee reports after the differing bills have passed one of the two legislative chambers. This is an even more secretive course of action than the insertion of earmarks during the regular committee process. Because the conference version of a bill cannot be challenged by amendment on the floor, the inclusion of an earmark at this stage usually guarantees its passage with no debate and little publicity or oversight.

Do members of Congress like earmarks?

Of course members like earmarks! One of the keys to pleasing constituents, and maintaining incumbency, is to prove how much federal money you can bring home to your district. Just look at the press releases on a member’s web site. They are proud of the money that they have secured. In recent reelection races Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, both touted their ability to bring home federal dollars. Legislators in tight races are helped enormously by earmarks as they can tout their ability to provide for their district.

What purpose do earmarks serve?

Earmarks serve many purposes. They provide a way for members of Congress to secure funds for important projects that they may have better knowledge about than others from outside of their district. They can also help a member bring jobs to their district. Earmarks also help members get reelected. By securing funding for a project that brings new jobs to a depressed community or for much needed infrastructure repairs, a legislator can show what they can do for their community. Members of Congress also can receive campaign contributions from those seeking an earmark, or from the lobbying firm hired to secure the funds.

How many earmarks are there in a given year?

The number of earmarks has been on the rise for a decade. In 1996 there were only 3,055 earmarks. In 2004 there were 14,211 of them, costing some $52.69 billion dollars. H.R. 5647, the “Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations” bill, contains a total of 1,700 earmarks inserted just by House members; that number will surely increase when the Senate begins considering it.

Why has earmarking grown so much over the past decade?

Earmarking began to grow after 1996, two years after the Republican takeover of Congress. The new majority used earmarks as a means of protecting vulnerable incumbents by showing their ability to secure funds for local projects. This growth in earmarks created its own industry among lobbyists in Washington who specialize in securing the special provisions for local interests (schools, universities, recreation centers, municipalities, cities, etc…) and for private companies, including defense and other government contractors.

A shining example of the excess and abuses of the earmarking process is H.R. 5647, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. Just last year the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill carried no earmarks. This year’s version contains over 1,700 earmarked projects totaling nearly $1 billion.

Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has distinguished himself by launching a crusade against earmarks, especially against those authored by members of his own GOP. On June 20, 2006, he even attempted to strip an earmark inserted by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) which is set to provide $2.5 million for the Illinois Technology Transistion Center. Flake also criticized an earmark of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) which set aside $250,000 for a public swimming pool in Benning, California. On July 8, 2006, Flake attempted to strip a $250,000 appropriation for the Science Museum of Virginia. He stated,
I would note that the museum will soon open a traveling exhibit on candy, sponsored by the Jelly Belly Candy Co...It does not sound like much research to me.
Unfortunately, each of Flake’s attempts failed. More unfortunately, still, is that there are not more FLAKES in Congress. Earmarks prosper as Congress' dirty little secrets.