The Lookout
  • Picture 1Last November, Rep. Raul Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, wrote a letter to the White House requesting information about the government's handling of the BP oil disaster. In particular, the Arizona Democrat was looking to flesh out the dubious assertions made by Carol Browner and others that the "vast majority" of the oil was gone by early August.

    This week, the White House finally responded to Grijalva's request -- but not with an abundance of actual information. Instead, the lawmaker found himself wading through a bunch of heavily redacted emails like the one to the right. He has since fired off another letter to the White House labeling the redactions "unacceptable and overreaching," adding that such secrecy violates "the spirit and principle of the accountability" that President Obama promised voters on the 2008 campaign trail.

    Even with so much material blacked out, some of the emails forwarded to Grijalva shed light on the intra-White House intrigue surrounding public statements about the spill. There's correspondence that shows, for instance, that some officials at the Environmental Protection Agency were not on board with the push to make public a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stating that three-fourths of the spilled oil was no longer soiling the Gulf. Dissenting EPA officials insisted that such findings "should not be considered accurate" -- but their views obviously did not carry the day.

    Read More »from Heavily redacted emails offer a window into WH effort to spin oil spill
  • AP03050807123The ghost of John C. Calhoun must be proud.

    The AP reports that Republican lawmakers in Idaho, Alabama, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Nebraska, Texas and Wyoming are talking about nullification measures--arising from the principle that individual states can reject federal laws they view as unfounded--as a way to battle the new health-care law.

    The 18th-century doctrine hasn't had a great success rate when politicians have invoked it in the past.

    Calhoun, as vice president, fought passionately in the 1820s and 30s for South Carolina's right to declare certain federal laws unconstitutional and thus ignore them. He based the right on writings by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, none of which were actually included in the Constitution. (Though "states rights" proponents also point to the 10th Amendment--which reserves all powers not enumerated as belonging to the federal government as belonging to the states as justification.)

    South Carolina voted to nullify the federal tariff, which state leaders viewed as a burden on its agricultural export, after Calhoun resigned the vice presidency, but revoked the nullification after they renegotiated the terms of the tariff with the federal government in the 1830s. Andrew Jackson also threatened to use force against the state if it didn't fall into line.

    The conflict set the stage for secession and the Civil War. Northern states invoked "states rights" defenses to fend off pro-slavery laws that required runaway slaves to be returned to their owners. (The Supreme Court ruled the Northern states were violating federal law, but they continued to resist.) But when President Abraham Lincoln was elected the tables turned and Southern states began to use the argument again.

    Read More »from Lawmakers want to fight health-care law with ‘nullification’ argument
  • Fed will continue asset-purchase program

    BernankeNoting that inflation does not appear to be on the rise, Federal Reserve policymakers voted unanimously today to continue its $600 billion bond-buying program, in a bid to jolt the economy.

    The result represents a vote of confidence in Chairman Ben Bernanke, who has championed the program. Some critics, especially on the right, have expressed concern that the asset buys could trigger price rises and won't help the economy.

    Whether the current $600 billion bond-purchase initiative will be extended after it expires in June remains to be seen.

    (Photo of Bernanke: AP/Dennis Cook)

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