Three Ugly Weeks: Second Bush Term Goes From Bad to Worse
AUSTIN, Texas -- Dan Green of New York City says of the election results, "You can't be depressed now, the worst is yet to come." Following that good advice, I intended to keep my indignation dry and save the outrage for when it is really needed, kind of like saving room for the pumpkin pie after Thanksgiving dinner. If we're going to get through the next four years, we have to pace ourselves, I concluded.
But here it is, not even three weeks into the new Bush regime, and already I'm jaw-dropped, you've-got-to-be-kidding mad. Here's the record so far:
- Republicans somehow managed to squirrel an obscure little provision into the appropriations bill that gives congressmen or their "agents" the right to look at your IRS return and make what use of it they will. This perverse item was apparently the brainchild of Rep. Ernie Istook of Oklahoma, who is such a hopeless chucklehead it's often hard to take him seriously as a menace. He's chair of the transportation subcommittee of the appropriations committee, and in that position clearly needs to see your tax return. He also voted for funding for light rail in Salt Lake City (he's Mormon), but against light rail funding for Oklahoma City.
What is it with Oklahoma? Even Istook is likely to be out-dumbed by Oklahoma's new senator, Tom Coburn, who believes "lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they'll only let one girl go the bathroom" at a time. No evidence could be found for this peculiar claim. He also described state legislators as "a bunch of crapheads." While I do not agree, I am sympathetic to the perspective.
- Sen. Ted Stevens, who as usual has larded the appropriations bill with an outsize package of goodies for Alaska, assured the Senate that Istook's amendment would be deleted before the bill was sent to the president. He begged, he pleaded. "Do I have to get on my knees?" he asked.
Quick, someone check just how much more in federal spending the 250,000 citizens of Alaska are getting than the rest of us.
- Also stashed away inside the appropriations bill was a provision imposing a domestic gag rule on abortion: no federal money to agencies that require doctors, hospitals or insurers to provide abortions, cover them OR give referrals to abortion providers. Sailed right through the House. Hey, why not put a new abortion restriction in the appropriations bill, along with the kitchen sink?
- Republican House leaders rejected the 9-11 commission's bill on intelligence reform. Eighty percent of Americans want the intelligence reforms, and our safety is directly at stake. But hey, we're just chopped liver: The reforms would take power away from the Pentagon. And as we all know, we just can't have that.
- The Senate voted 65 to 30 to set funds aside for a special category of "priorities," including a new presidential yacht.
- It's really fascinating to watch the Republican slime machine at work on Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. Earle is one of the longest-serving district attorneys in the entire country. His constituents have been re-electing him since 1976. He was one of the first prosecutors in Texas to create a victim assistance program and helped start the Austin Children's Advocacy Center to help abused kids.
He's pretty much a local hero around here, and no D.A. gets that way by being "soft on crime." Earle is death penalty advocate. He is also noted for going after corrupt Democratic politicians in this state, even though he's a Democrat himself. He was willing not only to take on the slam-dunk cases, but also some tough ones just to remind everybody that the law is to be obeyed.
Earle is such a careful craftsman of prosecution that Time magazine selected him as their main example for a major 2003 article to explain how DAs like Earle might bring some resolution to the death penalty debate. Earle has experienced both the good and bad of the death penalty -- consequently, he has a special review procedure for cases on which his office seeks capital punishment.
He is widely admired among his peers, and his innovations are often copied. This is the guy the Republicans are blithely dismissing as a "crackpot." Since Earle has been in office almost 30 years and has a fine national reputation, it's ludicrous to dismiss him as a "runaway district attorney." Does anyone at Fox News ever do any research?
As though things on the legislative side weren't bad enough, Bush and Cheney are moving to make the executive branch all-powerful. You can already see several of the unfortunate characteristics of the first term being intensified in the second. The emphasis on secrecy is already more pronounced, as is the selection of people for loyalty rather than competence.
But we have to save some room for when it gets worse, so I'd like wish absolutely everybody, including the Bush administration, a swell Thanksgiving.
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