As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, May 20, 2006

It's A Matter Of A Vowel

What the Congress is doing: protecting minors.

Crossing the line on TV may soon cost a lot more.

The Senate late Thursday unanimously approved a tenfold increase in broadcast indecency fines — boosting the maximum penalty to $325,000 per violation.

The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), passed with little notice in a nearly empty chamber after an unusual parliamentary maneuver by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) that assured approval unless any senator objected.

(that maneuver allowd the bill to bypass the Commerce Committee, where the chairman was set to bottle it up)

What the Congress isn't doing: protecting miners.

HOLMES MILL, Kentucky -- An explosion in an eastern Kentucky coal mine killed five miners while one other miner was able to get out alive...

The blast at the Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County occurred between midnight and 1 a.m. EDT while a maintenance shift was on duty, said Amy Louviere, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Nearly half a year after the Sago Mine disaster, practically nothing has been done to improve mine safety.

"When Janet Jackson had her wardrobe [malfunction], it took Congress 40 days to change the law," (Democratic Rep. George) Miller said. "It's now over 120 days, and Congress hasn't done a damn thing about securing a safer workplace for these miners and for these families."

Davitt McAteer, who is investigating the Sago Mine disaster, said action is needed.

"I think we need to step up," he said, "both from the standpoint of enforcement, but also from the standpoint of awareness of the miners themselves — that actions need to be taken to prevent accidents from occurring."

The GOP Congress: loves to protect minors, hates to protect miners. And the miners are, you know, dying. Needlessly, I might add.


Christian Nationalism

That Rudy Giuliani went down to Georgia and stumped for the former head of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed, who is running for lieutenant governor, is not in itself disturbing. Neither is the burgeoning McCain/Falwell alliance (although his attempt to give the same "you kids don't know everything" speech at The New School in New York City ended up falling victim to a smart lady who saw through it and did a pre-emptive strike on the speech). These are electoral realities coming to bear on two candidates who need to burnish their conservative bona fides to get through a primary. Anyway, these two guys (particularly Giuliani) believe in a much more pernicious fantasy, that of free-market Jesus:

Mr. Giuliani did not once mention Jesus Christ or his childhood interest in becoming a priest, but instead preached from the Bible of fiscal conservatism. He called for more federal tax cuts as a means of creating more jobs and stimulating the economy, and argued that tax cuts would invigorate business and ultimately yield greater total tax receipts, thereby helping the cause of deficit reduction.

How many times does that have to be disproven before the Republicans stop saying it? (The answer is that they never will: it's the straw that stirs the corporate conservative drink. Something as appealing a canard as "we can give billions in tax cuts to the rich AND increase the size of government AND shrink the deficit" will never die, no matter what the facts)

What is disturbing is that these candidates are playing to a base that has no belief in or use for democracy. Orcinus points us to this amazing excerpt from Salon writer Michelle Goldberg's new book "The Rise of Christian Nationalism". Goldberg deconstructs the fights over seemingly innocuous fights like the Ten Commandments in courthouses or "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and finds the end goals underneath of a growing sect that wants America to become an explicitly Christian nation. These are not merely people of faith, they are zealots and charlatans that should be exposed for the danger they represent.

You need to know the players. People like Judge Roy Moore, the newest martyr in this trumped-up "war" against secular tyranny:

After all, Moore is a man who, in a 2002 court decision awarding custody of three children to their allegedly abusive father over their lesbian mother, called homosexuality "abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature's God upon which this Nation and our laws are predicated," and argued, "The State carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle." [...]

As the controversy over the statue ignited, Moore's fame grew. At rallies across the country, he summoned the faithful to an ideal that sounded very much like theocracy. "For forty years we have wandered like the children of Israel," he told a crowd of three thousand supporters in Tennessee. "In homes and schools across our land, it's time for Christians to take a stand. This is not a nation established on the principles of Buddha or Hinduism. Our faith is not Islam. What we follow is not the Koran but the Bible. This is a Christian nation."

There's a Christian folk singer named Thomas Bowman whose songs recall the civil rights movement but whose ends are very avowedly the destruction of those who don't follow his beliefs:

"The opposing side, the anti-God side, the do-whatever-you-want side, the judicial side, just kept pushing and pushing and pushing for the last forty years," Bowman said. "They keep moving that line back." Finally, he said, God called on Christians to defend themselves.

There's a very defined military aspect to this movement:

True, our homegrown quasi-fascists often appear so absurd as to seem harmless. Take, for example, American Veterans in Domestic Defense, the organization that took the Ten Commandments on tour. The group says it exists to "neutralize the destructiveness" of America's "domestic enemies," which include "biased liberal, socialist news media," "the ACLU," and "the conspiracy of an immoral film industry." To do this, it aims to recruit former military men. "AVIDD reminds all American Veterans that you took an oath to defend the United States against all enemies, 'both foreign and domestic,'" its Web site says. "In your military capacity, you were called upon to defend the United States against foreign enemies. AVIDD now calls upon you to continue to fulfill your oath and help us defend this nation on the political front, against equally dangerous domestic enemies."

According to Jim Cabaniss, the seventy-two-year-old Korean War veteran who founded AVIDD, the group now has thirty-three chapters across the country. It's entirely likely that some of these chapters just represent one or two men, and as of 2005, AVIDD didn't seem large enough to be much of a danger to anyone.

Still, it's worth noting that thousands of Americans nationwide have flocked to rallies at which military men don uniforms and pledge to seize the reins of power in America on behalf of Christianity. In many places, local religious leaders and politicians lend their support to AVIDD's cause. And at least some of the people at these rallies speak with seething resentment about the tyranny of Jews over America's Christian majority.

"People who call themselves Jews represent maybe 2 or 3 percent of our people," Cabaniss told me after a January 2005 rally in Austin. "Christians represent a huge percent, and we don't believe that a small percentage should destroy the values of the larger percentage."

And it doesn't stop with crazy civilian defense corps that sound like the Minutemen or the Branch Davidians. How about the Air Force:

Also speaking was John Eidsmoe, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force who wore full military dress... He's a proponent of a Confederate doctrine called interposition, which holds that states have the right to reject federal government mandates they deem unconstitutional. "Implementation of the doctrine may be peaceable, as by resolution, remonstrance or legislation, or may proceed ultimately to nullification with forcible resistance," he wrote in a manifesto titled "A Call to Stand with Chief Justice Roy Moore."

I should mention at this point that this isn't the only member of the Air Force whose rhetoric has become increasingly alien as of late. It's become something of an adjunct of the religious Right, which should be deeply troubling. This is from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Less than two years after it was plunged into a rape scandal, the Air Force Academy is scrambling to address complaints that evangelical Christians wield so much influence at the school that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment have become pervasive.

There have been 55 complaints of religious discrimination at the academy in the past four years, including cases in which a Jewish cadet was told the Holocaust was revenge for the death of Jesus and another was called a Christ killer by a fellow cadet. [...]

Critics of the academy say the sometimes-public endorsement of Christianity by high-ranking staff has contributed to a climate of fear and violates the constitutional separation of church and state at a taxpayer-supported school whose mission is to produce Air Force leaders.

The commandant of the academy, a born-again Christian, said in 2003 that cadets' "first responsibility is to their God." That sounds like something out of the Shi'a militia in Iraq. And officers are forcing cadets to send money to conservative Christian candidates for Congress.

Maj. Gen. Jack J. Catton Jr., who is on active duty at Langley Air Force Base, sent the fundraising appeal on Thursday from his official e-mail account to more than 200 fellow members of the academy's class of 1976, many of whom are also on active duty.

"We are certainly in need of Christian men with integrity and military experience in Congress," Catton wrote.

Defense Department rules prohibit active-duty officers from using their position to solicit campaign contributions or seek votes for a particular candidate. An Air Force spokesman said yesterday that "appropriate officials are inquiring into the facts surrounding these e-mails."

Movements like this don't begin with ten million people all at once. They bubble up from the underground, playing on people's rage, finding a convenient scapegoat, and using demonization to push into the mainstream. Not only is the US Air Force apparently on board, but the leaders of the religious right are stoking these Dominionist fires, which assert that men of Christ must take over every aspect of society in order to usher in the Revelation and Jesus' return. Here's another bit from the Salon piece:

Tim LaHaye, who is most famous for putting a Tom Clancy gloss on premillennialist theology in the Left Behind thrillers that he co-writes with Jerry Jenkins, was heavily influenced by... a conspiratorial view of history and politics, arguing, "Most people today do not realize what humanism really is and how it is destroying our culture, families, country -- and, one day, the entire world. Most of the evils in the world today can be traced to humanism, which has taken over our government, the UN, education, TV, and most of the other influential things of life.

"We must remove all humanists from public office and replace them with pro-moral political leaders," LaHaye wrote.

I think we ignore this movement at our peril. These are a group of people with only one thing in mind: global dominance. In fact, they are sancitified by God himself to bring that about.

These are not all Christians. These are fundamentalists who pervert the values of Christianity in which hundreds of millions find comfort. But in a chaotic world, self-styled "leaders" may find themselves leading the easily led into violent confrontation. In fact, we may be seeing that already.


Why I'm Optimistic About 2006

Thereisnospoon, whose opinion I respect, wrote a very disheartening post about how 2006 will be a major disappointment for Democrats. I have to say I disagree. And I do so for a very simple reason.

The people that decide elections don't vote for ideology. They vote for candidates. And we have the better candidates.

Now, ideology is of course a part of the picture, and on that scale the optics are moving in our direction (if you'll allow me to butcher a metaphor).  People are starting to question Republicanism and the GOP has nowhere else to go.  They've built their entire worldview on that short, six-word epigram of "smaller government, stronger military, moral values," and people sense that it's not working.  In this way their defined brand can be a hindrance and not a help.  Sure, they're trying to blame it all on Bush and claim he's "not a real conservative" but I don't think anyone outside the real Kool-Aid drinkers are going to believe that.  Thereisnospoon is absolutely correct that we need to define the message.  But I digress...

Here on the blog we have our resident commenter Hooper. Something of a fixture around these parts. The other day, on a post about the ridiculous Senate Judiciary passage of the gay marriage bill from a storage closet (literally "in the closet" about discriminating against gays), he chimed in with this:

But can the Dems come with a likable candidate? Clinton was more likable than Bush and Dole, W was more likable than Gore and Kerry - it's likability, I tell you! Nothing else matters (seemingly).

I don't know if I totally agree, and he ignores the role of the media in painting someone as likable, but there's something to that.  There's a correlative between Halloween mask sales and who wins the Presidency that year.  Likability is important.  More than that, however, it's about the MATCHUP.  This is why I don't pretend to speak about 2008, because I have no idea what the matchup will be.  But from where I'm sitting now, in 2006, we have some very favorable matchups.

(quick basketball analogy: if it was just about the teams, San Antonio would have whipped Dallas in 5 games.  But the Spurs were built to handle teams with big men and post-up games.  Nowitzki is a bad matchup, forcing them to go small, and the Mavs' quick guards match up well against the Spurs'.  This is why Dallas would have elminated the best team in basketball last night if Jason Terry wasn't suspended.)

Take PA-10.  We have a naval reserve officer.  They have a guy accused of strangling his mistress.

Or PA-08.  We have an Iraq War veteran who's 32 and full of energy.  They have a first-termer whose signature accomplishment is trrying to ban MySpace.

Or CA-50.  We have an school board member.  They have a lobbyist who lives in Virginia.

Or NC-11.  We have a quarterback.  An NFL quarterback!  They have the guy who tried to block funding for the 9/11 memorial in Shanksville, PA.

And I could go on and on and on.  We have very favorable matchups.  53 veteran challengers are running as Democrats.  That's practically one out of every 4 challenges.  There are really solid Dem candidates up and down the ledger.  Ex-congressmen like Nick Lampson and Ken Lucas.  Jim Webb.  Jon Tester.  Ned!

I'm not completely on board with Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer, and I think a lot of this recruitment is happening in spite of them.  It's happening because so many Americans are seeing the disaster we have masquerading as leadership and have jumped in to take a stand and make a difference.  But clearly the D-Trip and the D-Stick are kicking ass over their Republican counterparts.  Liddy Dole?  Who'd she recruit?  Katherine Harris?

The good news is that the slate of candidates who will put us over the top are really good on the issues.  They are "standing up," in thereisnospoon's parlance.  They are going to be attractive to the independents and prior non-voters that decide elections.  Look at this video and tell me this guy is one of those mushy Democrats that has "no message."

We're going to win in 2006 in spite of ourselves.  In spite of the DC class that still doesn't totally get it.  In spite of what will likely be something of a money disadvantage (although YOU can change that by donating).  In spite of the protection racket of incumbency.  In spite of the doomsayers.  We're going to win because we have really fine men and women who have decided to become the change they wanted to see.  And it's up to us in the netroots to support them.


Friday, May 19, 2006

Speak English or Die!

Who asked for this? Why is this necessary?

After an emotional debate fraught with symbolism, the Senate yesterday voted to make English the "national language" of the United States, declaring that no one has a right to federal communications or services in a language other than English except for those already guaranteed by law.

In other words, you have to use English unless we've made a law that says you don't have to use English. So this wastes yet more of our time on bullshit, useless issues that do nothing to move the country forward.

Practically everyone in this country now springs from an ancestor who didn't speak English when they got here (excepting those whose ancestors are actually from the UK). Furthermore, any time a country makes something "official" it ends up weakening it. Ask all the countries in Europe who have an "official" religion; church attendance is dwindling.

When you start trying to mollify a base that is certifiable, as the GOP is doing, you end up with ridiculous crap like this.


Thanks For All The Security

Since we've once again heard Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts remark you don't have any civil liberties if you're dead, a cowardly, historically ignorant comment if there ever was one (see Matthew Yglesias' takedown), let's examine just what is being done to keep us safe. Like what they're doing on, say, airplanes.

The head of a group of Federal Air Marshals says the service is badly broken.

"Right now we cannot protect the public," says Frank Terreri, an active duty air marshal who represents a group of 1,500 air marshals. "And not because we're not proficient, not that we're not capable, it's because federal air marshal management, along with the Department of Homeland Security, won't let us do our jobs."

Terreri says air marshals are not able to work undercover because check-in and boarding procedures at airports make it impossible for air marshals to maintain their anonymity:

"We're supposed to be undercover. But basically when everybody knows who you are, you're just the guys on the plane with the gun. Either they're gonna avoid you or overcome you, you're at a severe disadvantage."

Apparently DHS and the air marshals management have attacked this whistleblower by investigating him repeatedly and generally trying to get him kicked out of the program. Brian Ross updated his report here. This is insane:

The investigation also found air marshals are required to stay in the same hotels, which often advertise their presence.

"Welcome Federal Air Marshals, Company of the Month" read the sign outside a Sheraton hotel in Florida.

At a Holiday Inn, a list of the air marshals with their names and room numbers was kept in public view at the front desk.

Why don't we just have them wear "I Am A Federal Air Marshal" T-shirts, while we're at it?

I could go on and on about the ports, the chemical plants, the container shipments, the nuclear plants. Practically none of them are secure either. This Administration and its supporters in Congress pay lip service to security. They use it as a means to strip Americans of civil rights and civil liberties (not to mention a political cudgel to bash Democrats). But they don't actually do much of anything to make Americans more safe or secure.


The Oil (or, if you like, Earl!) Report

My Congresscritter Henry Waxman has put out a five-year review of the Bush energy policy, and these results shouldn't surprise anybody who's been living here the past five years, but it's amazing to see them in such stark relief:

Energy prices have risen rapidly. Over the last five years, crude oil prices have increased by 143%; gasoline prices have increased by 71%; natural gas prices have increased by 46%; and prices for other fuels have increased at a rate significantly higher than the inflation rate.

American families are spending record amounts for energy. Five years ago, the average American family spent $3,300 on gasoline, home heating, and electricity. This year, the average American family will spend over $5,100 on gasoline, home heating, and electricity. This is an increase of nearly $2,000 per family. The indirect costs of higher energy prices in the form of higher prices for consumer goods and services are likely to cost families another $1,400 per year.

The nation’s dependence on foreign oil has increased. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Texas Governor George Bush criticized the Clinton Administration for allowing U.S. imports on foreign oil to reach 56% of U.S. oil consumption. Five years after President Bush announced his energy plan, U.S. imports of foreign oil have risen to 65% of U.S. consumption.

The entire review is here.

What do you expect from a President who said "There's no such thing as being too closely aligned with the oil industry in West Texas."

On the heels of this comes an ad campaign by the "Competitive Enterprise Institute" (a front for Exxon and other big oil companies), presumably timed to counter the opening of Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth," that actually tries to argue in favor of carbon dioxide emissions because "we breathe it out." This is the kind of insanity that passes for "debate" in America.

There is some good news to report. The Republican-controlled House bowed to public anger over energy prices and passed two bills yesterday, one repealing subsidies for oil companies that drill in federal waters, and the other upholding a ban on drilling in coastal areas in Florida and California that are within 3 miles of the shoreline. Democrats almost unanimously supported both bills. The fact that the Congress realized that subsidizing the oil industry during a time of record profits was unwise represents an actual shift in the debate in Washington, and offers hope that Congress will understand reality and act in the interests of their constituents. At least in an election year.


Deploy Guns and Badges

This was part 1 of Josh Bolten's game plan, as reported by Time magazine earlier this month:

1 DEPLOY GUNS AND BADGES. This is an unabashed play to members of the conservative base who are worried about illegal immigration. Under the banner of homeland security, the White House plans to seek more funding for an extremely visible enforcement crackdown at the Mexican border, including a beefed-up force of agents patrolling on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). "It'll be more guys with guns and badges," said a proponent of the plan. "Think of the visuals. The President can go down and meet with the new recruits. He can go down to the border and meet with a bunch of guys and go ride around on an ATV."

Mission accomplished.

And as I noted, it didn't work at all.

Maybe they'll scrap part 2.


"we're starting to behave like a movement"

These were the words of David Sirota last night, at a reception in Santa Monica for his new book Hostile Takeover. I've admired Sirota in the past for his take on economic issues and Washington corruption, but seeing him discuss the issues facing our country all in one place was extremely enlightening and revelatory. I thought I'd offer a rundown of last night's speech.

Sirota started by making an extremely important point: the current talk of the "culture of corruption" has nothing to do with this individual Republican or that individual Democrat. Indeed corruption is what the federal government is now based on, in many ways. Anyone who wants to run for federal office must deal with a system of, essentially, legalized bribery, where Big Money exchanges cash for access to get their legislation passed. The system selects for "telemarketers and shakedown artists." Many Democrats are complicit in this exchange. Sirota brought up the case of Jim Moran, who was $700,000 in debt and received the lowest-cost loan from MBNA that they've given to an individual in 5 years... and then Moran supported the odious bankruptcy bill. I didn't know that there are explicit protections in that bankruptcy bill for people with over $2 million dollars in business debt. But the rest of it, all the giveaways to Big Oil and Big Pharma and the rest, was all too familiar.

Big Business figured out a while back that it wasn't enough to own one party. To truly get their way, to really re-make the country as one beholden to corporate interests, they had to take a chunk out of the other party. This has led to a conventional wisdom that is extremely aligned with corporate interests, both in the media and in the halls of power (Sirota brought up an example of the Washington Post saying "we're not going to start a debate where none exists" over NAFTA, despite poll after poll showing that Americans didn't support it). Anyone who brings up single-payer universal health care in Congress is a lunatic. The energy debate frequently ends up being about which tax breaks to give to which oil companies. Tort reform only talks about limiting frivolous lawsuits brought by individuals, when 4 times as many lawsuits are brought by corporations. There is an artificial narrowing, Sirota explains, of how issues are talked about in Congress, and this leads ordinary Americans to very rationally tune out politics, since it appears so disconnected from their concerns.

Clearly having a Democratic Party that is allied with the interests of the people, that acts as a counter-balance to the corporate GOP, is the only way to take the government back. But it's not going to happen overnight. Not in this election or the next. Sirota made two major points in outlining how we can get our government back.

1- Don't just focus on the White House and Congress. State and local legislatures are less beholden to these Big Money interests, and they have just as profound an aspect on our lives. There's a lower barrier to entry for progressive candidates and the grassroots to enter and win at the local and state level. And that will eventually trickle up and offer more change. He didn't mention it last night, but I'm a big believer in PLAN (the Progressive Legislative Action Network), an organization dedicated to getting progressive legislation passed at the state level. This is sorely needed infrastructure, to bubble up ideas in the "incubators of democracy" to push them into the public consciousness.

2- Full public financing of all elections, starting with the states. Last night's event was sponsored by the California Clean Money Campaign, which is actually making headway toward getting the nation's largest state to join Arizona and Maine as clean-money states. It's already passed the State Assembly. You can get on board with the campaign at the link.

In the Q&A, Sirota said one of the most important things I think we all need to hear. "We're starting to behave like a movement." I think sometimes we don't give ourselves enough credit for what we're all helping to build. We're in year 3 or 4 of what was a 40 year movement for Republicans to get themselves where they are today. And they don't have the benefit of competency on their side. Behaving like a movement isn't only about building progressive idea factories and media machines. It's about sending messages to incumbents that they can't damage the ideological brand and still remain unchallenged. Sirota made a nice parallel between the Lamont campaign and 2004's Pat Toomey-Arlen Specter primary. That primary wasn't only for Specter, but all the other "moderates" in the Republican Party, a message that they will face the same difficulties if they step out of line. We're not there yet with our internal primary battles, but we are starting to push a movement politics instead of a party politics. Sirota argues that we would do well to frame that politics on economic orthodoxies rather than social ones. So-called moderate Democrats that are ardent free-traders and corporate whores (looking at you, Mr. Biden) should not be able to get away with those stances.

Sirota had quite a bit more to say, but those were the main points. I urge you to not only get the book, but internalize these ideas, because only then will we be able to reclaim our government and further the progressive movement.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Comeback Kid

Right after California's special election last November, Arnold Schwarzenegger looked doomed. All of his agenda items were defeated by the voters. He had to come out in a press conference and admit to being incredibly wrong. He tacked very hard to the center, hiring Gray Davis' former chief of staff and trying to buy votes by pressing an historic bond program to fund improvements to California's sagging infrastructure.

I am afraid that it appears to be working. Some of it is fortuitous: an unexpected increase in tax revenue (and a lot of that must be credited to gubenatorial candidate and current State Controller Steve Westly, who's been prety diligent in making sure corporate taxes were paid) allowed Arnold to settle his disagreement with California teachers by giving back the $3 billion dollars he borrowed from the public schools without planning to give it back. This was one of the top lines of attack against Arnold for the past year: every candidate and campaign talked about "fully funding education." That's not as strong a line anymore.

Then, Arnold allocated the rest of the tax windfall in what I must describe as a somewhat responsible way.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a $131.1-billion revised budget plan Friday that would reduce the state's debt, increase school funding, launch new healthcare and law enforcement programs and build the biggest reserve in nearly a generation.

But the proposed $2.2-billion rainy-day fund — the largest in California since 1978 — may be at least partly illusory: A large chunk of it would be immediately swallowed up by pay boosts for tens of thousands of state employees, more than half of whom are preparing to strike after working without a contract for nearly a year.

The spending blueprint includes no raises for about 153,000 state workers — janitors, prison guards, Department of Motor Vehicles clerks and others — whose contracts end this year. The last pay increase state workers received, in the 2004-05 budget year, averaged 5%. Granting such a raise again would cost the state $600 million this year. Some union leaders say their rank and file are due even more.

The governor's proposals would dip into state coffers flush from a surge in tax revenue to give hospitals and public health agencies a one-time infusion of $400 million to provide medicine, equipment, special staff and thousands of emergency beds. The money — far more than any other state allocates — would help prepare California for an outbreak of avian flu or a natural disaster.

The budget includes money to strengthen the state's levees — $500 million to begin repairing decades-old ones immediately and "help protect the people of California from a Katrina-style disaster."

Obviously this opens up a new line of attack, that Arnold is taking for granted state workers. But if the state workers walk off the job next month (which has been floated) public opinion might go against the rank and file, playing into the Governor's hands. And putting money into levee repair and emergency funds is responsible.

Then there was the deal reached on the infrastructure bonds, the result of a compromise between Schwarzenegger and the Democrats that control the legislature. There are conflicting reports about how involved he was in the deal (some reports say that only after Arnold backed out of the negotiations did anything get done), but certainly it looked like a symbolic victory. That's especially true after State Assembly and State Senate Democrats started flying around the state with the governor promoting the bond measure, which must be approved by voters. Of course, this gaffe didn't help matters:

ov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislative leaders stood in the middle of Highway 24 during the morning commute Tuesday to sign legislation for a nearly $20 billion bond measure to combat congestion.

Although they weren't standing in traffic, the 10:20 a.m. signing ceremony on a stony spit of land between the approaches to the north and center bores of the Caldecott Tunnel slowed westbound traffic and extended the morning slog toward the tunnel.

Three California Highway Patrol officers stood beside the freeway lanes, waving motorists past the site, but many of them still braked to sneak a peek at the movie star governor, who stood behind a lectern bearing the state seal. Some drivers honked their horns, others waved and called out "Arnold," and some shouted insults.

Way to stop congestion, guys.

If you add all of these small victories, it seems that Arnold's had a pretty good year, however. And unlike in 2005, he's getting something of a free pass so far from labor unions and Democratic groups, who are presumably holding their fire for the election campaign. I think that's a mistake; they could be out there defining the governor right now. The Democratic primary between Treasurer Phil Angelides and Controller Steve Westly is simply getting no traction. This LA Times editorial is the conventional wisdom:

THIS SHOULD BE a golden time for California Democrats. They control both chambers of the Legislature. The state's Republican governor has low (though improving) performance ratings. And they have two gubernatorial candidates with the resources to mount a substantial challenge in the fall.But there is no gold. There are only the leaden front-runners, state Treasurer Phil Angelides and Controller Steve Westly — two rich men who spend so much time raising more money and clawing at each other that it's hard to tell them apart. [...]

Either of the two ought to pose a formidable challenge to Schwarzenegger. But Angelides and Westly are colorless and uninspiring, not because they aren't movie action heroes but because they are unable to connect with the average nonmillionaire Californian.

It's almost a good thing that nobody's paying attention to their primary battle. It's grown increasingly nasty in recent weeks, since they have nothing to debate but character. All the voters will know come June is that somebody they haven't heard of won a primary election and isn't Arnold. But that might not be enough. Arnold has gotten enough of a free ride that he's nudging back to respectability in his favorable/unfavorable ratings. Democrats have a line of attack regarding his chameleon-like ability to run to any position to satisfy voters, his complete lack of a central governing philosophy. He started as a conciliator, then went right to curry favor with his base, then swung all the way back in the election year. His flip-flops would fit the feet of a giant.

But he's got a very good wind at his back, he'll have tons of money, and of course he was in "Last Action Hero," so I'm concerned about Angelides or Westly's chances. It seems like the 1996 Presidential election to me: the challenger is a loyal soldier who quietly moved up through the ranks, a placeholder whose time has come but who doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Dan Schnur sums it up here.

In addition to the desultory nature of the primary campaign, there is a growing suspicion that the combination of the governor's infrastructure bond and billions of dollars in new education spending is going to make it very difficult for either candidate to knock off the incumbent this year. All of which results in a Democratic primary campaign that is almost unprecedented in the level of disengagement and disinterest it has produced.

By contrast, California Democratic voters already are kicking the tires of the 2010 models, watching (LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and (SF Mayor Gavin) Newsom as the bookend mayors demonstrate a real knack for drumming up excitement, not only among their respective constituents but Democratic voters in other parts of the state as well. Both received much more enthusiastic responses than Westly or Angelides at their state party convention this spring, and, more importantly, both seem to be making the early moves that signal an interest in a campaign for statewide office in the not-too-distant future.

I think he's right. Democrats are not putting their best feet forward to win the top post in the state. And this is a year when national politics will sag all Republicans who are running. Angelides and Westly are good men, competent, right on the issues. But they're climbing a rarefied mountain to topple a star, one who was bruised last year but has emerged unscathed.


The Hayden Hearings

I listened to a bunch this morning, and I think Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) made some of the best points. He basically got Gen. Hayden to admit that the White House broke the law (specifically, the National Security Act of 1947) by not informing all members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees (until yesterday, that is) about the full scope of the NSA wiretapping program. He also dug up some of Hayden's previous quotes from earlier appearances before the committee, and wondered why we should take his word when the other statements appeared to be utter falsehoods. Finally, Wyden showed how there was no independent oversight of this program (Hayden could only come up with the NSA general counsel when asked who holds oversight)

Patsy Roberts, the Chairman, then jumped in and said "I've been briefed about this program 13 times and I'M INDEPENDENT!"

OK Pat. Sure. Have a seat.

Reuters picked up on Wyden's tough questioning.

This guy should not be able to get away with "I'm not a lawyer" or "I was just following the orders from the President." There's a serious issue as to legality and to his character (not to mention his understanding of the Fourth Amendment).


More of This Please

We need to support this kind of stuff:

Tens of thousands of Turks have turned funeral ceremonies for a judge shot by a suspected Islamist gunman, into a mass show of support for secularism.

They waved Turkish flags and chanted for the country to remain secular on marches through the capital Ankara.

A man calling himself "a soldier of Allah" shot dead Judge Mustafa Yucel Ozbilgin and wounded four others at a top administrative court on Wednesday.

He was immediately arrested. At least three others have since been detained.

The attack is believed to have been linked to the court's record of strictly upholding the ban on Muslim headscarves in universities and government offices.

The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has Islamist roots, has been campaigning for the regulations to be relaxed or removed.

However, at the judge's funeral at Ankara's main mosque, many protesters chanted slogans calling for the government to resign, calling cabinet members a threat to the secular republic.

Fundamentalism in all its guises, both here and abroad, indeed anything that rejects progress, inevitably will fail unless resuscitated by its equal yet separate partner. This is what gets me about this so-called "war on terror." If we hadn't backslid on our own values, if we didn't "fight fire with fire" and engage in torture and indiscriminant murder, this would be the easiest war of ideas you could possibly win. The idea that "people have a desire to be free," as the President puts it, is not far wrong but it needs an outlet, a contrast, some alternative that shows the downtrodden and oppressed that another world is possible. To the extent that we haven't done that is why we find ourselves where we are today.


The Work of the People

Anybody in Congress ever heard about Iran?

A Senate committee approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage Thursday, after a shouting match that ended when one Democrat strode out and the Republican chairman bid him "good riddance."

You bet the guy that walked out was Future President Feingold. This is priceless:

"I don't need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., shouted after Sen. Russ Feingold declared his opposition to the amendment, his affinity for the Constitution and his intention to leave the meeting.

"If you want to leave, good riddance," Specter finished.

"I've enjoyed your lecture, too, Mr. Chairman," replied Feingold, D-Wis., who is considering a run for president in 2008. "See ya."

Good for him. This is a mockery and a shell game. Specter is such a "protector of the Constitution" that he doesn't even believe in what he's voting for:

Not all those who voted "yes" support the amendment, however. Specter said he is "totally opposed" to it, but felt it deserved a debate in the Senate.

This is a dead-on-arrival bill cynically designed by the Senate leadership to try and show the whack-jobs that they're paying attention to social issues.

Instead of wasting a few of the criminally negligent 100 or so days in session debating a bill everyody knows has no chance of passage, how about looking at energy independence, or the federal budget deficit, or foreign policy, or ANYTHING THAT MATTERS?


A Disclaimer

We're in the midst of my seasonal traffic spike due to the upcoming anniversary of the D-Day invasion. For the benefit of those looking for information about the assault on Omaha Beach in Normandy, here are some excellent links:


American Experience

Eisenhower Archive

And if you wish to learn about things 62 years in the future, please stick around.


p.s. I should mention that D-Day is a contraction of my name, and was not meant to deliberately confuse you. However, you should visit my other sites, The Battle of the Bulge and The Complete Guide to World War II. Those are also contractions of my name.


It's a Bloodbath!

Now the head man in the House in charge of their punitive immigration bill is pinning it on the President:

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who has pushed a tough border security bill through the House, accused President Bush on Wednesday of abandoning the legislation after asking for many of its provisions.

"He basically turned his back on provisions of the House-passed bill, a lot of which we were requested to put in the bill by the White House," Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., angrily told reporters in a conference call. "That was last fall when we were drafting the bill, and now the president appears not to be interested in it at all."

Sensenbrenner chairs the House Judiciary Committee and would be the House's chief negotiator on any final immigration package for Bush's signature. He said it was the White House that had requested two controversial felony provisions in the bill the House passed last winter.

"We worked very closely with White House in the fall in putting together the border security bill that the House passed," he said. "... What we heard in November and December, he seems to be going in the opposite direction in May. That is really at the crux of this irritation," he said of Bush.

Now that turns the whole "compassionate conservative" thing on its head, don't it?

If the President were still on board with the anti-immigrant plank of his base, maybe these little secrets wouldn't come out. But Sensenbrenner added:

"I was very disappointed in the president's speech," Sensenbrenner said. "I think he doesn't get it."

Asked if Bush mollified conservatives in the speech by calling for sending National Guard troops to states along the Mexican border, Sensenbrenner said, "He failed in that completely."

And despite Bush's insistence that he was not calling for amnesty, Sensenbrenner said, "Well it is an amnesty, because it allows people who have broken the law to stay in the country."

The President is being hung out to dry by the House Republicans because they feel they've been treated the same way. So we have parallel scapegoating here. And neither side looks good to the public. The Democrats must let the public know that nothing gets done in the House without the support of the White House. They must let the public know that the President wanted to imprison a priest if he gave food or communion to an undocumented immigrant. And more to the point of the midterms, they must let the public know that these House Republicans up for election still support that extreme measure. And once that happens, the stampede you'll hear is of the entire Hispanic population running to grab their voter registration cards.

UPDATE: TPM Muckraker makes exactly the right point: it was not even a couple weeks ago that the Republicans were saying it was the DEMOCRATS' idea to make illegal immigration a felony. Now Sensenbrenner's blaming the White House. Who's next, Scalia?


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Well THAT could have gone better

Apparently I have misjudged the pull of the Bush Administration. I thought that the very idea of sending National Guard troops to the border (to do clerical work and such... that's helpful!) would satisfy the mouth-breathers on the right and let them know that he's "one a' us" again (immigration being an excellent dog whistle for a certain group in the country that would rather demonize the other - in this case, Hispanics - than take responsibility for their own failings).

Turns out, no, na' ga' work this time. Sadly, No has one of many rundowns.

Here's a quick round-up from right-wing blogs.


My admiration for President Bush is great, but it reaches its limit on the subject of immigration.

Jesse Malkin:

811: Bush has lost touch with reality, arguing that guest worker/amnesty will reduce the incentive to cross the border. Reality check.
814 Bush tosses a bone to Americans outraged by the reconquista desecration of the American flag...paraphrasing...immigrants must "respect the flag we fly."

816. Bush admonishes others not to exploit immigration for political gain.

Right-Wing News:

So, in my view, this isn't even an olive branch to people who are serious about defending this border and dealing with illegal immigration.
Overall grade for the speech: F

LGF Poster "michael moore's coffin":


Brad also noticed that Hugh Hewitt is still a team player, but he must be playing solitaire at the weekly "We Love the Dear Leader Mr. Bush" meetings.

I mean, there's this incredible passage by right-wing law professor Steven Bainbridge that suggests the immigration debate merely puts into words what conservatives have been feeling on a lot of issues about Bush for a while now:

I don't really care one iota about "irredentist Democrats in Congress and their fifth-column in the media." I'm suffering from Bush fatigue brought on by the culmination of:

-Failure to finish the 9/11 job by bringing Osama to justice
-An unnecessary and unwise war of choice in Iraq, waged with inadequate resources and a degree of political interference unmatched since LBJ ran the Viet Nam War from the Oval Office, as forcefully demonstrated by the W$J's extended story on retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste
-Runaway spending
-Vast expansion of the federal government in areas like No Child Left Behind, Sarbanes-Oxley, and the Medicare drug benefit
-Failure to address entitlement reform
-Failure to address comprehensive immigration reform that includes a guest worker system and regularization of the current undocumented population
-Infingement of civil liberties in the various NSA domestic spying programs
-An unwillingness to confront the corruption plaguing the party by virtue of the K Street Gang; or, rather, the Gang's lack of virtue
-Inability to admit error
-Entrenched anti-intellectualism

Since when did Janeane Garofalo get her own right-wing blog?

Some conservatives have even drafted articles of impeachment over immigration, but I think the real answer lies more with what Professor Bainbridge is saying. They're not mad at Bush for Issue A or Issue B; they're mad because he's a fuck-up. A colossal, Super-Sized, free-toy-surprise-in-the-Happy-Meal fuck-up, and they're afraid he's about to bring the entire Party down with him for a generation. So they're getting out in front of it now. They're severing all ties. We'll start hearing lines like "I was never really a Bush fan anyway" or "He's not a REAL conservative." In fact, we're already hearing that one. Digby digs up the most amazing photo, something that's apparently making its way around the right:

Wow. This is far worse along than I thought. I don't think it's a good thing for the country to have a Presidency this irrelevant for the next three years. And I certainly don't think we should let those completely willing to support Bush in the dastardly policies he undertook the last 5 years to wriggle out of accountability for those policies. Maybe the Republican Party ought to sink with the ship. And certainly the right blogosphere should. After all, they hitched their tugboat to W.'s luxury yacht. They forgot there was such a thing as oversight. They called anyone who disagreed with them "traitors" and "on the side of the terrorists."

It comes down to a question of judgment. And if these guys could unfailingly defend the President for five years, only to abandon ship when the going gets tough... well, I have to question that judgment.


In Cold Blood

This was actually a major story when I was over in Ireland two months ago. I'm not sure how it played here back then, but the BBC had video of the survivors of the Haditha siege, as well as the bodies of the dead. Basically insurgents killed a Marine, and the Marines took it out on the civilians of the town. This is unconscionable. And I agree with Jack Murtha, this is the product of three and four and five deployments, being under stress day after day, where the commanders in charge don't even test for mental illness. I don't blame the soldiers as much s I blame the situation they've been put in. A failure of a war like this creates these conditions:

A Pentagon probe into the death of Iraqi civilians last November in the Iraqi city of Haditha will show that U.S. Marines "killed innocent civilians in cold blood," a U.S. lawmaker said Wednesday.

From the beginning, Iraqis in the town of Haditha said U.S. Marines deliberately killed 15 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including seven women and three children.

One young Iraqi girl said the Marines killed six members of her family, including her parents. “The Americans came into the room where my father was praying,” she said, “and shot him.”

On Wednesday, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said the accounts are true.

Military officials told NBC News that the Marine Corps' own evidence appears to show Murtha is right.

A videotape taken by an Iraqi showed the aftermath of the alleged attack: a blood-smeared bedroom floor and bits of what appear to be human flesh and bullet holes on the walls.

The video, obtained by Time magazine, was broadcast a day after town residents told The Associated Press that American troops entered homes on Nov. 19 and shot dead 15 members of two families, including a 3-year-old girl, after a roadside bomb killed a U.S. Marine.

It's just as sad as could be. Meanwhile the Defense Secretary is trying to figure out whether to allow torture in the Army Field Manual. The saying is that "a fish rots from the top." The amoral, sadistic, uncaring nature of the civilian commanders leads to unfortunate incidents like that in Haditha. Forget resigning - Don Rumsfeld should voluntarily take a jail sentence.


Inside the Republican Mind

By now I'm sure everyone has gotten some spam email from Ted Baiamonte, or (he gives that out pretty willingly, so I don't consider it to be a bad thing). He's one of our finest "blog-spammers," sending out insane rantings to his email list and inviting people to read his weblog The Dumb Democrat. Corrente did a great and revealing profile of him here (he apparently has a predilection for young boys, if Corrente is on target, and I have no reason to doubt it). He even used to post here every so often, although I forgot under what screen name.

Yesterday I received another one of his many screeds, and as I do on occasion I decided to confront him on it. The missive contained plenty of mischaracterizations and outright lies, but I honed in on this paragraph:

And then there is Darfur. Are the Democrats clamoring to get involved in that civil war just to stop a little genocide? Of course not. Bush didn't lie there, there is not even an opposing military to speak of. It is the first genocide of a new century; yet the sweet, caring and ever so principled Democrats are still dead silent, or should we say, dead cowardly, just as they were when their hasty retreat from Vietnam precipitated the massive genocide in Cambodia.

This is actually (believe it or not) central to his critique; his argument is that Democrats, for all their talk or compassion, are somehow causing the death of 100 million Africans (his stat).

Sometimes when I'm feeling frisky I'll mix it up with this guy. I scared the shit out of him one time when I threatened to sue him for violating the CAN-SPAM act of 2002 by not allowing an "opt-out" option on his emails and by advertising for his book (therefore marketing). He actually changed his emails after that, but quickly changed them back and I didn't have the stamina to bother with it again. But this line on Darfur I found just ridiculous. Especially since just yesterday 7 prominent Democrats were arrested for protesting the Darfur situation. As the minority party, there's simply not a lot to do to move this issue outside of raising awareness. Getting arrested (and this is the second time) is hardly remaining "dead silent."

So I sent him this email:

Seven members of the Congressional Black Caucus were
arrested at the Embassy of Sudan on Tuesday while protesting conditions in the nation's Darfur region.

"We will not tolerate genocide," said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., the caucus chairman. "We are saying to Sudan this has got to stop."

The seven were taken away in Secret Service cars after blocking the entrance to an embassy. They were released a short time later after paying $50 fines.

Who's in the majority in Congress again?


After a day, I received a response. I should mention that normally this clown takes about 5 minutes to get back to me. That he mused for an entire day must have meant some elaborate crafting was going into this statement. Here it is in its entirety:

Seven members of the Congressional Black Caucus were
arrested at the Embassy of Sudan on Tuesday while protesting conditions in the nation's Darfur region.

"We will not tolerate genocide," said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., the caucus chairman. "We are saying to Sudan this has got to stop."


The seven were taken away in Secret Service cars after blocking the entrance to an embassy. They were released a short time later after paying $50 fines.


Who's in the majority in Congress again?

******Republicans but so what?????

Well, there you have it. A peek inside the fertile wingnut mind, replete with all the scintillating ideas contained therein. I am pleased that Ted has seemed to have found the asterisk key AND the question mark key, and has no trouble using either. It certainly does wonders for the depth of his argument.

Since there's no way to ever get Ted to stop sending these emails (unless I can manage to actually get him sued), it's very amusing to watch the synapses snap crackle and pop as he returns serve with such zeal and terrifying intelligence. At any rate it's fun to bat him around for a few rounds, as long as you don't take it seriously.

What a loser.


Spygate Update

Let's synthesize a bunch of the new information coming in:

-Showing just what how important the USA Today article was to the national debate, the Bush Administration relented and will now brief all members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees about the NSA program. They couldn't hold back the walls of the dam any longer.

-The major telecom companies have all kinds sorta denied the USA Today report, but they (a) did it several days after the initial story (long enough to have full conversations with legal and very carefully craft their responses), and (b) really focused their denials on the lack of a contract with the NSA, which doesn't deny the existence of the program... at all, really. This is clearly designed to strengthen their case in one of the many class action lawsuits sure to come out of this release of data.

-Meanwhile Think Progress reports that on May 5 of this year, the President signed a memorandum allowing John Negroponte, the National Intelligence Director, to "authorize a company to conceal activities related to national security." Interesting timing on that memorandum, isn't it? Surely the White House wasn't completely surprised by the USA Today article: the press would typically refer the information to them for comment. This has "cover your ass" written all over it.

-The White House still will not confirm or deny the article. But Orrin Hatch had no problem doing so:

Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said that at least two of the chief judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had been informed since 2001 of White House-approved National Security Agency monitoring operations.

“None raised any objections, as far as I know,” said Hatch, a member of a special Intelligence Committee panel appointed to oversee the NSA’s work.

I hope the White House will launch an immediate investigation into which CIA case officer living inside Orrin Hatch's larynx leaked this classified information.

-Arlen Spector, who Jack Cafferty of CNN called "our last hope to save us from a dictatorship" last week, has abdicated that responsibility by changing a bill regarding oversight of the NSA program. His bill would have required the NSA to get a legal judgment from FISA on the program's legality; that part has been scrapped. Of course, the White House does not want judicial review of this program, primarily because they must know they're in the wrong, and that their fanciful arguments about "the unitary executive" are literally being laughed out of court.

-Emptywheel at Kos suggests that there was no transfer of data between the Telcos and the NSA. The telcos merely gave the NSA access to the switches, the large gateways that connect domestic and international calls. The supporting evidence sounds about right. So Verizon's argument that they don't track local calls, so how could they give that information to the NSA, is pointless, since the NSA could generate that information at the switch level.

-A win for the Electronic Frontier Foundation in their lawsuit against AT&T. The judge has forced AT&T to reveal documents relating to its authorizing access to the NSA to switches, databases, and all other information regarding their collaboration.

All of this suggests that we're still at the beginning of this story, that while Congress takes two steps forward and two steps back regarding its oversight, the courts are cracking this wide open, and the White House is feeling the heat. Obviously this will be the big story tomorrow, when Gen. Michael Hayden testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee in confirmation hearings for his nomination as CIA Director. There could be some real fireworks tomorrow.

This was mostly for MY benefit, to try and understand where the story is going. I hope it helps you too.


A Note on Corruption

I think we have to give the Democrats a lot of credit for getting this "culture of corruption" theme into the popular consciousness. They're swimming against a very strong tide to do so. The power of staying on message, of using the term in practically every announcement, every press release, every interview, has borne fruit. It takes that kind of persistence for the media to awake and reluctantly report it.

I know that we're not all the way there, as the poll reports that a strong majority feels that both parties are equally involved in corruption (although they do find that a plurality pick the Democrats as more trusted to dealing with that corruption). Being that there are more Republicans in office than Democrats, simple logic dictates that the feeling that incumbents are corrupt is more beneficial to the minority party. Democrats must continue to draw contrast, to separate things out. However, the case of William Jefferson is not helping, and I wish he would resign.

Not to mention the fact that the netroots is performing admirably as a backup to the Party in ensuring that the media reports fairly. The Deborah Howell affair is an obvious example.

I'm fairly confident that continued insistence on these points will provide continued understanding in the electorate that what is going on here is not just corruption among individual Republicans or individual Democrats, but an over-arching culture that is key to the Republican functioning of government since the Gingrich Revolution of 1994. Lobbyists writing legislation. Back-room arm-twisting deals. Pay-to-play schemes for lobbyists. Money flowing freely and disappearing in Iraq. These are not sins of selected Congressmen. All the while I agree that any Congressman proven to be breaking the laws of the office needs to go, regardless of party affiliation. Corruption is not a partisan issue. Throw them all out.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mentally Unfit

I didn't get to this yesterday, but this country apparently has no problems sending in the mentally ill to fight our battles:

Despite a congressional order that the military assess the mental health of all deploying troops, fewer than 1 in 300 service members see a mental health professional before shipping out.

Once at war, some unstable troops are kept on the front lines while on potent antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, with little or no counseling or medical monitoring.

And some troops who developed post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq are being sent back to the war zone, increasing the risk to their mental health.

These practices, which have received little public scrutiny and in some cases violate the military's own policies, have helped to fuel an increase in the suicide rate among troops serving in Iraq, which reached an all-time high in 2005 when 22 soldiers killed themselves - accounting for nearly one in five of all Army non-combat deaths.

The Courant's investigation found that at least 11 service members who committed suicide in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 were kept on duty despite exhibiting signs of significant psychological distress. In at least seven of the cases, superiors were aware of the problems, military investigative records and interviews with families indicate.

There are some really heartbreaking personal stories in this investigative report by the Hartford Courant. When all that matters is keeping up troop levels, or making sure your opponents can't make political hay, you lose sight of what your policies do to people. The only surprise is that there haven't been more suicides in Iraq, considering the stress these kids are under, and how many tours of duty they've had to endure (4, 5, sometimes 6)

I hear a lot of people say "well, retention rates are up, so the troop morale must not be all bad." These guys re-up so they can take care of their buddies. I'm not going to pretend to know what it's like in a war zone, but I suspect the term "foxhole mentality" applies when you're, you know, actually in a foxhole with other people. To leave one man behind is to leave them all.

Incidentally these suicides are not counted in official combat death tolls in Iraq. That's disgusting.

Added to that, not only are we putting these kids at risk, we put the whole platoon at risk by sending mentally and emotionally disturbed soldiers onto the battlefield. This is just stupid and callous. The military is so broken right now that a mentally ill soldier is considered better than no soldier at all.

Look at this:

A law passed in 1997 requires the military to conduct an "assessment of mental health" on all deploying troops. But the "assessment" now being used is a single mental health question on a pre-deployment form filled out by service members.

Even using that limited tool, troops who self-report psychological problems are rarely referred for evaluations by mental health professionals, Department of Defense records obtained by The Courant indicate. From March 2003 to October 2005, only 6.5 percent of deploying service members who indicated a mental health problem were referred for evaluations; overall, fewer than 1 in 300 deploying troops, or 0.3 percent, were referred.

That rate of referral is dramatically lower than the more than 9 percent of deploying troops that the Army itself acknowledges in studies have serious psychiatric disorders.

Instead they medicate the hell out of the soldiers, putting them on Zoloft and Prozac and other psychiatric drugs to keep them on the front lines.

Honestly I have no words for my anger right now.


My Grandmother and John McCain

Just to give you a sense of how powerful the narrative of John McCain's visit to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University truly was, I offer this anecdote.

I made the traditional Mother's Day call to my grandmother, who lives in the coal-mining region of Johnstown, PA. Jack Murtha is her Congressman. She fits with where a lot of the country is at: down the middle, but not really paying a lot of attention to politics. When my grandfather died she remarried a nice gentleman who has Fox News playing in their house pretty much all day long.

So it surprised me in the course of this call when she suddenly said, "So what is it with John McCain going to Jerry Falwell's college? I didn't think he was political like that! This is disgusting!"

I really didn't know what to say. For a lot of America that isn't plugged in to the say-one-thing, do-another McCain myth and how it's evolved over the years, he's the sensible Republican that is strong on defense but would respect civil liberties, and a moderate on social issues. This isn't true, of course, but that's the image many have of him. This Falwell thing just blows that out of the water, and to most Americans, it doesn't matter what he said.

Pericles has a very good synopsis of the speech, and while I agree to an extent, I don't see the rhetoric matching the reality. Here's an excerpt of the rhetoric:

Ours is a noisy, contentious society, and always has been, for we love our liberties much. And among those liberties we love most, particularly so when we are young, is our right to self-expression. That passion for self-expression sometimes overwhelms our civility, and our presumption that those with whom we have strong disagreements, wrong as they might be, believe that they, too, are answering the demands of their conscience [...]

We have our disagreements, we Americans. We contend regularly and enthusiastically over many questions: over the size and purposes of our government; over the social responsibilities we accept in accord with the dictates of our conscience and our faithfulness to the God we pray to; over our role in the world and how to defend our security interests and values in places where they are threatened. These are important questions; worth arguing about. We should contend over them with one another. It is more than appropriate, it is necessary that even in times of crisis, especially in times of crisis, we fight among ourselves for the things we believe in. It is not just our right, but our civic and moral obligation.

I didn't see McCain being so civil when he mocked and chided Barack Obama earlier this year for essentially disagreeing with him about how best to undertake lobbying reform. Or when he asked his supporters in the Republican straw poll at the SRLC to write in the President's name because "For the next three years, with our country at war, he’s our president and the only one who needs our support today." That doesn't sound like someone who welcomes disagreement and tolerance.

But none of this really matters. It's the act of going to the college of the man who blamed gays, feminists and the ACLU for 9/11 that was a dagger to the heart for the center of the country. My grandmother, my little 80 year-old grandmother, just washed her hands of John McCain. "I guess I'll have to vote for Hillary then." As if those are the only two choices, but that's another post.

McCain took a gamble he needed to take to win the Republican nomination. But if this anecdote was played out throughout the rest of the country, that gamble may have cost him a shot at the Presidency.


So Spend Less Time on the Phone If You're Worried About The Loss Of All Of Your Privacy

The FBI says "Yeah, we're spying on you, what are you gonna do about it?"

The FBI acknowledged late Monday that it is increasingly seeking reporters' phone records in leak investigations.

"It used to be very hard and complicated to do this, but it no longer is in the Bush administration," said a senior federal official.

Yeah, I'll bet. Funny what you can do without those pesky "checks and balances" and that annoying "oversight."

In a statement, the FBI press office said its leak investigations begin with the examination of government phone records.

"The FBI will take logical investigative steps to determine if a criminal act was committed by a government employee by the unauthorized release of classified information," the statement said.

Officials say that means that phone records of reporters will be sought if government records are not sufficient.

Apparently National Security Letters (authorized by the Patriot Act) are the linchpin to allowing this kind of spying on journalists to be done. That doesn't make it go down any smoother. It's amazing that the Republicans really haven't changed their tactics since the age of Nixon. They still go after journalists, they still collect intelligence on their political enemies. And this is necessary due to "extraordinary circumstances," they say. What's extraordinary is that we as a people have let this crowd get away with it for this long.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall goes a little more in-depth and notes that:

...the investigators also seem to be using legal methods at least nominally intended for use in counter-espionage or counter-terrorism. In this case, so-called National Security Letters, the use of which was dramatically expanded by the Patriot Act and has grown by more than 100 fold since 9/11.

Given the Bush administration's self-servingly indulgent definition of the War on Terror, I don't doubt that they would define finding leakers as a subdivision of fighting terrorism, or for that matter scrutinizing political opponents.

We need to know more about what Ross is talking about.

It seems of a piece with the administration's record of abuses of power. But what we know is too vague.


Monday, May 15, 2006

The Last Honest Man

I didn't mean for this to be Anti-Corporation Day, but this warrants attention. John Garamendi is a candidate for Lieutenant Governor in California. He's also the current Insurance Commissioner, an elected position which has the task of regulating state insurance rates over a variety of industries. Recently he called for implementing a change in how car insurance rates are set. Specifically, he would reduce the role of location in setting rates, instead going by driver history, age and miles driven. In Los Angeles this makes perfect sense. My rates went way down just for moving to Santa Monica from Hollywood (in other words, technically outside the city of Los Angeles), even though I was essentially using the same roads. This change was part of a ballot initiative (Proposition 103), which was passed by the voters EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO. It wasn't even his idea: he was simply trying to fulfill his mandate as a public official, a mandate which has sadly been ignored by previous officeholders.

But insurers didn't like this because they like to jack up the rates in urban areas. They've threatened a $2.4 million-dollar advertising campaign right in the middle of Garamendi's primary battle to force him to drop the proposal. And they apparently did more than that:

State Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi accused automobile insurers of "coercion, extortion and blackmail" for launching a $2.4 million campaign attacking his proposed regulations that would cut the cost of some drivers' coverage in crowded urban areas. He asked the FBI, the U.S. Attorney and state Attorney General Bill Lockyer to investigate his allegations.

Garamendi, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in the June 6 primary, said he was told that if he backed off pushing the regulation, he would be spared an attack by insurers as Election Day neared.

He said he was informed that "if I abandoned my political responsibilities and delayed implementing the will of the people, I would not be hit by a $2 million negative advertising campaign," Garamendi said Monday. "I firmly believe that this amounts to a serious attempt to blackmail me in my role (as insurance commissioner)." [...]

Garamendi said veteran political consultant Darry Sragow telephoned him two weeks ago to alert him that automobile insurers planned to move forward with their campaign if Garamendi proceeded with the regulations. Sragow, who learned of the insurers' plans from an insurance executive, said he had contacted Garamendi at the executive's request.

"I thought, 'Well, if there's going to be a messenger, it might as well be me,'" Sragow said, adding that he had been told that "they (insurers) planned to move ahead unless John was willing to let this issue go and leave the issue to be dealt with by his successor. That's what they were looking for."

"I played a very specific role. I was asked to make a call… I did that. He gave a very clear response," Sragow added.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether or not location should factor in determining risk and setting insurance rates. But the insurance companies are literally trying to blackmail this guy. The sad news is that this isn't unprecedented: quid-pro-quo relationships happen all the time between politicians and Big Business. The good news is that John Garamendi is taking his office seriously and refusing to cow to corporate pressure.

Allstate, Farmer's, State Farm, Safeco and 21st Century are spearheading this effort. I'm happy to say I don't have insurance with any of them. You shouldn't either. Corporations should not be able to bully government officials and I hope the FBI follows through with their investigation.


Rovian Kabuki

Karl Rove popped up at the American Enterprise Institute today (was he giving a farewell address?), and he had this to say:

"Look, we're in a sour time. I readily admit it. To be in the middle of a war where people turn on their television set and see people dying is not something that makes people happy and optimistic and upbeat. I heard the same kind of language about the 2004 election."

Since when? There are published reports of Iraq casualties, but I consume a lot of news, and I don't remember the last time I saw a dead or even wounded body from Baghdad. They won't even allow the flag-draped coffins to be photographed.

I hear Rove and Bush say this a lot (after all, they share the same speechwriter, namely Rove). This is misdirection. The Iraq war isn't seen as a failure because of the broadcast media (and that's the implicit charge here), it's seen as a failure because of the facts: the death toll, the lack of reconstruction, the sectarian strife, the weakness of the central government.


We need a 3-strikes law for corporations

Blogging at Kos, David Sirota shows us that the dirty game of corporate welfare continues:

In a unanimous decision today, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a lower court ruling that would have invalidated massive taxpayer giveaways to Corporate America. The Supreme Court has long been the victim of a hostile takeover by Big Money interests - it is a court now headed by a corporate lawyer that has repeatedly gone out of its way to protect Corporate America's ability to bleed the middle class dry. Today's ruling, though, is particularly egregious. Not only did the court strike down an important ruling, but it essentially emasculated taxpayers' ability to bring any such lawsuits against their own government in the future.

The money quote in Chief Justice Roberts' opinion is that "State taxpayers have no standing ... to challenge state tax or spending decisions simply by virtue of their status as taxpayers." All taxpayers get to do is vote for one of the two approved corporate-backed candidates; then they must sit back and say nothing when those candidates dole out millions of dollars to their wealthy contributors.

Sirota shows that this is a growing concern:

Remember - these taxpayer giveaways are accelerating and come at a huge cost in terms of higher taxes for individuals. As USA Today noted, "In 1977, nine states gave tax credits to corporations [but] by 1998, that number had grown to 36." At the same time, "individual income taxes are growing at a faster rate than corporate income taxes" because state/local governments are recovering the tax giveaways from ordinary citizens. According to the Census Bureau, "corporate income taxes collected rose 6.5% from 1994 to 2004, while individual income taxes collected went up 49.7%."

Also remember that, as Greg LeRoy notes in his book The Great American Jobs Scam, these taxpayer giveaways often do not result in the benefits Big Business promises. In fact, many of the corporations that receive these taxpayer giveaways never even follow through on the economic development or job creation they promise.

Clearly, the Republican Party, the party of personal responsibility, and increasingly the corporate wing of the Democratic Party, none of them feel any need to force corporations, seen as people in the eyes of the law, to have any sort of personal responsibility for the success of their business, instead showering gifts and cash payouts upon them. And to think, these huge cash outlays are called "business-friendly" policies. How about "taxpayer-unfriendly" policies?

This is such a troubling story. The only way we're going to stop this is by starting at the roots and making this the huge issue it deserves to be. This is nothing more than earmarking (you know, what's got the libertarian faction of the GOP up in arms) on a massive scale, where politicians earmark funds to go directly into the pockets of their corporate funders rather than towards projects which the public at least might have a chance to enjoy.

Well, I've got an idea to push this issue into the forefront using the initiative process at the state level. It's way past time for a three-strikes law for corporations.

We all know that corporations are not all bad. Indeed, much like with other power-law distributions, there are a number of repeat offenders at one end of the scale that flagrantly violate the law over and over again, plead "nolo contendre" or even plead guilty, pay a meaningless fine and continue to violate statutes. If only we could get away with this in court.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights has a chart of several repeat offenders, including Teledyne, International Paper, and Royal Caribbean Cruises.

It's bad enough that local and state governments are offering hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to companies. But in addition, some of those companies are abusing the laws of the land without feeling any kind of pressure to quit. Indeed they're using TAXPAYER money to pay fines for the criminal activity they continue to perpetuate. And if they aren't doing that, they're passing on the cost of breaking the law by charging more for their products. So why do we give longer and harsher sentences to criminals who are repeat offenders, but not to corporate criminals, who are governed by the same laws? Why aren't we "locking up" corporations after they continue to commit a series of crimes?

As it turns out, in April of 2003 California State Senator Gloria Romero introduced a corporate three strikes bill that would have punished corporate repeat offenders. Obviously it's impossible to "lock up" a corporation, since it's nothing more than an artificial person under the law. So the bill would have done this:

40003. (a) A corporation that commits three or more major violations of law within a ten-year period, commencing after the effective date of this title, is declared to be a corporate repeat offender.

(b) A corporate repeat offender shall not be permitted to be incorporated or to transact intrastate business in California .

(c) A corporation shall not be permitted to be incorporated or to transact intrastate business in California if a majority of its directors or officers have ever been directors or officers of a corporate repeat offender as determined by the Secretary of State after notice to the corporation and an opportunity for the corporation to respond.

(d) A corporation shall not be permitted to be incorporated or to transact intrastate business in California if it is legally controlled by a corporation a majority of whose directors or officers have ever been directors or officers of a corporate repeat offender, as determined by the Secretary of State after notice to the corporation and an opportunity for the corporation to respond.

There's an FAQ on the intricacies of the legislation here.

Why didn't this pass? See for yourself. It didn't even get out of committee:

Corporate crime walked free today in the California Senate when three Democrats joined five Republicans on the Appropriations committee to kill the Corporate Three Strikes Act.

The Bill was friendly to business because it restored honest competition. It was unfriendly only to corporate felons. Yet the Republicans all instinctively voted against it. They are filled with fulminations against the teenager who steals a slice of pizza, ready to lock him up for life. But their hearts bleed for the corporation caught dumping toxic waste or defrauding consumers of millions of dollars. Their position is that Three-Strikes-And-You're Out is good for pizza thieves, but corporate felons deserve perpetual existence.

Today, three Democrats on the Committee showed that their hearts, too, march to the beat of that Republican double standard. Democrats Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach), Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco) and Michael Machado (D-Stockton), whose votes could have saved the Bill, killed it instead.

"It became clear to me in long discussions with Bowen and Speier's offices that they were madly hunting for excuses to destroy it," commented Professor Robert Benson of Loyola Law School who advised Romero on the Bill. "They were ignorant of the history of corporate regulation, and of the fact that legal authority for the state to put corporations out of business for law violations has been on the books in California for 150 years. They were unaware that even the American Bar Association recommends this legal tool and that Senator Romero was just trying to get the state to actually use it, at least in outrageous cases of three-strike repeat-offender corporate felons. They had long lists of technical quibbles, all of which were precisely answered, but they didn't care about the answers. They kept pulling more rabbits out of the hat and asking you to play fox in a disingenuous game. They should have just come clean in the first place that Bowen and Speier have made a political calculation that cozying up to corporate power is going to help them run for statewide office in 2006. We'll see about that."

Incidentally, Bowen and Speier are running for state office this year, and while I still have tepid support for Bowen's campaign she needs to explain this to me to get my vote.

Clearly it would be nearly impossible to get a bill like this passed by the politicians whose campaigns depend on corporate money and big-donor donations. But there's an initiative process, and in California there's a low barrier to entry. I don't think the public even realizes that corporations must apply for a state charter that can be revoked by the state at any time if they determine that the corporation is not working in the state's interests.

It seems that the corporations are wise to this, and while it almost never gets enforced, they have sought to strike democratic enforcement of corporate charters from state Constitutions. They're not content with beating the states into submission through intimidation and protection money shakedowns; they actually want to remove all accountability. This should not stand.

An education campaign that shows this three-strikes proposal would be 1) as tough on corporate crime as many states are on individual crime, 2) a business-friendly propostion seeking to level the playing field and eliminate the repeat offenders at one end of the scale, 3) a taxpayer-savings initiative designed to stop corporate criminals from charging state governments and consumers for their own sins, could absolutely work. I'm convinced of it. We need some sanity in corporate justice. If corporations want to be treated like human beings, they need to suffer the consequences the same way.


Perpetual War

Josh Marshall, who doesn't even blog much about the immigration debate, is dead on with this observation about the President's loony idea to send the National Guard to militarize the border.

The White House is now saying the troops would only be temporary. But temporary until when? I guess just until there aren't any more illegals trying to come across the border from Latin America.

Just like how the war on terror will be over when there are no more terrorists left. In other words, never. Because this type of government that we're getting these days can only function in opposition to an enemy. Otherwise you can't have the kind of power grabs we've seen.

I wonder if we'll get any analysis after tonight's speech about the fact that National Guard troops would be completely unnecessary if the President didn't cut funding for the Border Patrol in a de facto cut of 10,000 officers at the border (who are actually trained specifically to defend it).

But we had enough money for a $70 billion dollar tax cut for the rich last week.


Easily Stereotyped

My favorite "liberal" columnist Joe Klein writes an article for Time's website that essentially says "Karl Rove is looking to demonize Democrats to win the election this fall - let me help him!" In it he has this deeply offensive passage.

But the ugly truth is that Conyers is a twofer: in addition to being foolishly incendiary, he is an African American of a certain age and ideology, easily stereotyped by Republicans...

Yeah, Conyers is of "a certain age" all right. The age when blacks got too uppity and suddenly decided that they wanted equal rights and equal protection under the law. How dare theose black people demand that they eat at the same lunch counter as whites, or use the same water fountain! Yes, that is an easy stereotype. "Wahh wahh... white supremacists are lynching me... wahh wahh... I'm mad because I can be sent to jail or strung from a tree just for looking at a white woman... wahh wahh... look at me, I just want attention!"

This guy should be shunned on the street.