Point Austin: This Week's War ...

A few irritable speculations, from D.C. to City Hall

Point Austin
I am under no delusions that a newsweekly popinjay from the Texas provinces has any influence on the august foreign policy deliberations of the U.S. empire, but perhaps it's worth noting what a prominent candidate for president told Charlie Savage of The Boston Globe in December 2007: "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." That was Barack Obama on the question of whether the president could, without con­gressional authorization, attack Iran's supposed nuclear sites, certainly more of an "imminent threat" (however fanciful) than anyone suggests is posed by Gaddafi's Libya.

Obama was joined in that position by his most prominent opponent, Hillary Clinton, now secretary of state. Clinton told the Globe: "[T]he Constitution requires Congress to authorize war. I do not believe that the President can take military action – including any kind of strategic bombing – against Iran without congressional authorization."

I guess they've changed their minds.

Executive power has that effect on people – if some other president did it, runs the logic, then I can do it, too, and since at least the Korean War, U.S. presidents have treated the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution as just so many "technicalities" to be violated as readily as does a prosecutor in a capital punishment case. If attacking Libya for "humanitarian" reasons was so all-fired necessary, Obama had ample opportunity to consult Congress and receive authority to do so. That authority would, of course, have been quickly forthcoming; in these supposedly partisan times, all parties routinely agree that the U.S. monopoly on military hammers means every international problem must be a nail.

That doesn't make it right. Dennis Kucinich and a handful of other congressmen are entirely correct to remind us all of the simple language of Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution: "The Congress shall have power ... to declare war." Simple enough to understand, I would guess, but in our time seemingly impossible for presidents to obey.

They sow the wind, and the rest of us reap the whirlwinds.

They Call the Wind María

Speaking of wind, that sound coming from the Capitol is more of the same: this week's House debate on the so-called voter ID bill, more accurately described as the Open Season on Hispanic Voters Bill. The state budget is in flames, and the majority party's absolute priority is its culture war against the fastest-growing population in Texas. In the short run – the only run a politician understands – the GOP is winning, and although the Senate version may moderate the most extreme aspects of the House bill, the law will inevitably license shameless abuse by right-wing poll-watchers in Houston, Dallas, and the Valley, and might even turn a few close elections (although Dallas Dem Rafael Anchía astutely noted that if fraudulent voters are running amok in Texas, they're apparently all voting Republican).

The real action, of course, will come with redistricting, and the GOP map-drawers will do their best to work around the Hispanic growth and pack the congressional delegation with more of the same. At the state level, they'll have a harder time, if only because depopulating rural districts will inevitably pit GOP incumbents against one another, and there are only so many gubernatorial appointments and right-wing think-tank cubicles to go around. And it will take a while – the likely budget gridlock almost certainly means a special session or two before redistricting even raises its ugly head.

In the end, it may mean the Texas GOP holds its grip for another decade. But the party's leadership has made a deal with the devil – the hard-right (and mostly hard-white) voters who rule Republican primaries and who provided the 2010 anti-Obama backlash. Unless state demographic trends magically reverse – or the GOP leadership even more magically stops pandering to unreason – those margins simply cannot hold indefinitely. Somewhere about mid-decade, the Aaron Peñas at the Capitol will once again be slowly raising their fingers in the wind.

Careful What You Wish For

There's plenty of hot air blowing around City Hall at the moment, and this week I see the City Hall Hustle has decided to face the e-mail heat straight on, God bless him. (As I write, city tech staff is reportedly combing through computer trash files in search of possibly errant e-mails – about time we ask for an invoice on all this due diligence.) With the Hustle covering this week's main developments, let's consider what matters of substance we have learned thus far from the document dump:

• There is (or was) serious tension between City Council and city staff over Fire Department hiring procedures – something we knew from more than a decade of public wrangling, but the e-mails highlighted the dispute in a sharper way, one that will bear pursuing.

• There is also internal tension over the prospect of wooing another Downtown convention hotel, although it's not yet clear if that's simply a procedural or operational dispute or something deeper, about the wisdom of the project itself. That too will bear watching, and additional questions.

• And finally, after a decadelong battle to wrest control over policy matters away from city managers and staff and back to the elected council – one of the goals of extending term limits in 2006 – the e-mail fight and pending investigation appear to have once again, at least in the short term, given staff the upper hand. More than one observer of the recent council discussion on Downtown parking policies noticed the hesitation among council members essentially at the mercy of the staff's public briefing, and the ambivalence of the final decision – which may well be revisited before the vote takes effect in August.

If one of the goals of this combined legalistic, journalistic, and political e-mail rump campaign is to undermine Austin's embattled grasp on representative government, it may well have already begun to succeed.

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Libya, Barack Obama, war, voter ID, redistricting, City Council, Open Meetings Act

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