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

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Power of Stunting

It's so hard to get any attention in this distracted, short-attention-span culture we have, that unconventional means must be applied to conventional ends. So this is the kind of thing we'll need to see more often. I got this email from the Charlie Brown for Congress campaign:

Fifty two days after first agreeing to meet retired Air Force Officer Charlie Brown in a public forum, John Doolittle has refused to commit to a schedule of debates

On recess since July 31st, Doolittle has ignored no fewer than 7 invitations from local media outlets, community organizations, a local high school government class, and a second letter from Brown proposing a series of joint town hall meetings to discuss issues like national security, gas prices, corruption, and the soaring federal debt.

“John Doolittle doesn’t want to talk about the real issues that voters care about,” Brown said.

Earlier today, dozens of local voters turned out to Doolittle’s Granite Bay Campaign office to protest the Congressman’s well documented ethical problems, and failure to debate Brown. Playing on Doolittle’s insistence that local voters “hire a lobbyist” to get his attention, a chicken called “Jack Abracluck” was on hand to pose as a lobbyist for 4th CD Voters, advocating for debate dates and poking fun at Doolittle’s close ties to disgraced Congressional briber Jack Abramoff.

I almost wish it wasn't this way. Issues should be enough to capture people's attention. Who our Congressman is absolutely has an impact on people's lives. But we're in an age where politics is almost completely invisible to most people. The media is far more concerned with JonBenet's murder than the 4th Congressional District of California, even IN the 4th Congressional District of California.

This necessitates implementing things like Jack Abracluck. And it's nothing new. The first political stunt happened during the campaign of 1840:

Consider, for example, the first "modern" political campaign -- the Whig campaign for William Henry Harrison in 1840. Apart from some success as an Indian killer, Harrison had minimal credentials, but the Whigs figured out how to use the tremendous organizational apparatus of their party to promote him. They fabricated the image of Harrison as the "log cabin and hard cider" candidate, despite his more patrician roots, and used the party organization to enforce discipline around the fabrication -- to get everyone to say the same thing at the same time. In America's first political mass media stunt, they constructed a 10-foot-high ball of twine, wood and tin, covered it with Whig political slogans, and rolled it first from Cleveland to Columbus and then from town to town across the country (hence the expression "Keep the ball rolling").

Political stunts are part of the long history of America. But never before have they been so necessary. The rise of alternative media channels like YouTube and the like can make stunts like these very powerful, and can disseminate them to a wider audience. This is key for underdog candidates and campaigns. Channel 89 is an online channel devoted to Proposition 89 in California, which would provide public financing for all state candidates. Watch the Batman video, where the Caped Crusader tries to interview big lobbysists going into a fundraising event. This is not the entire future, but it's a small part of it.

Every Democratic campaign out there would do well to have their version of a "Kiss float". Political stunts are an important tool, all of a sudden, and we have a lot of creative people on our side. We need to take advantage of this creativity.



I've created a Feedburner for the site. What this allows you to do is to subscribe, and view all the material on the site at a glance with a very nice search tool. Also you'll be updated when there is new content on the site.

RSS feeds have completely changed how I view news sites and blogs. It's well worth it to subscribe. And you can easily get to the main site to comment through the feed.


Leaker Revealed, Nobody Vindicated

Lots of gloating in the conservosphere over the revelation that Richard Armitage, former deputy Secretary of State under Colin Powell, was the original leaker to Robert Novak's story which outed Valerie Plame's occupation as a covert CIA operative. I'm not seeing why.

Step down to paragraphs four and five of this article with me, will you?

In the accounts by the lawyer and associates, Mr. Armitage disclosed casually to Mr. Novak that Ms. Wilson worked for the C.I.A. at the end of an interview in his State Department office. Mr. Armitage knew that, the accounts continue, because he had seen a written memorandum by Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman.

Mr. Grossman had taken up the task of finding out about Ms. Wilson after an inquiry from I. Lewis Libby Jr., chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Libby’s inquiry was prompted by an Op-Ed article on May 6, 2003, in The New York Times by Nicholas D. Kristof and an article on June 12, 2003, in The Washington Post by Walter Pincus.

Scooter Libby is on trial for obstructing justice. That has nothing to do with this revelation. Scooter Libby initially dug out the opposition research on Plame, in direct response to Joe Wilson's criticisms of the Administration's run-up to war. This article confirms that. Karl Rove was the second source for Novak and a source for Matt Cooper. This article says nothing about that. Rove said to Chris Matthews that Plame, a covert operative working on WMD proliferation in Iran (think we need that now?), was "fair game." This article takes no position on that.

In other words, Armitage deserves to be held accountable for his mistake, but the central issue of the CIA leak, that a group in the White House deliberately pushed disclosure as a form of political payback, remains the central issue regardless of Armitage's admission, and in fact is bolstered by it.

When I want information on this investigation, I turn to Firedoglake and emptywheel. Here's the first:

And there is a lesson buried in the midst of the NYTimes story that I want to emphasize for a moment, as a former prosecutor: Armitage realized he was the source of the initial leak, and he immediately went to the State Department’s offices of legal and intelligence affairs, owned up to what had occurred, and discusssed his errors with the FBI before Patrick Fitzgerald was even appointed as Special Prosecutor [...]

But as a prosecutor, I can honestly tell you that when you have a genuinely contrite person in front of you, who has owned up to all their activity, put everything out on the table, and you have all the facts to look at — both the prosecutor and the criminal investigators are more likely to work with that person in terms of using them as a witness against others, cutting a deal, everything.

It does not in any way excuse the behavior, but acceptance of responsibility and willingness to work with authorities can go a long, long way sometimes. Something that Scooter Libby failed to do from the get go — big mistake. Never lie to investigative officers, repeatedly, becuse if you do, you will have to deal with the legal consequences of your behavior. Period. Karl Rove may only have come around to honesty in some form by his fifth attempt at Grand Jury testimony, but it’s tough to tell from the outside. I do hope that, at some point, we get to the backstory on all of this during the Libby trial…there are way too many holes remaining for my legal brain to be comfortable [...]

But the second thing is this: no matter how much of a "decent guy" Richard Armitage may have been considered by colleagues (and reports from a number of people are that he’s a "good guy," fun at work, considerate of colleagues, tough when he needs to be, he and his wife have taken in hundreds of foster kids through the years, etc., etc.), he opened his yap and outed a covert CIA operative through careless gossip. On multiple occasions.

Shameful. Wrong. Deadly careless [...]

Richard Armitage gossiped about a member of the CIA to journalists. He violated the first principle of national security clearances — disclose information on a "need to know" basis only. I do not care how valuable his knowledge may be, he should never, ever have a high level security clearance again, because he is not to be trusted. (And while we are at it, why does Karl Rove still have his? Given his admission to discussing Valerie with journalists as well, he should be held to the same standard. He is also not to be trusted.)

National security is not some game. I don’t care about the "everybody does it" argument that Washington, D.C., is one big pit of gossip about who does what portfolio in intel or covert ops — this is not a game. And anyone who has ever known an officer who put their life on the line in a covert operation knows that for a fact.

And emptywheel, in a very well-researched piece, discusses how the Bush Administration widened the scope of the investigation, not the so-called "runaway prosecutor" Patrick Fitzgerald (who was so out of control that he indicted exactly one person and displayed a very strict interpretation of the law, despite all indications that Rove could have easily been indicted):

Richard Armitage revealed his role on October 1, 2003. He was interviewed on October 2, 2003. Robert Novak was interviewed on October 7, 2003.

Now at this point, if the Armitage to Novak leak really explained everything the CIA had reported in their complaint, you'd think they would have gone no further, right? You'd think they would have either thrown Armitage into jail, or they'd have made an announcement, "um, sorry, nothing to see here folks. It was all a misunderstanding."

Particularly since a bunch of Bush cronies and RNC hacks were overseeing the investigation.

John Ashcroft, then Attorney General, had paid Rove over $700,000 to help him win three different elections. Robert McCallum, Associate Attorney General and then-acting Deputy Attorney General, knew Bush from their days in Skull and Bones at Yale. David Israelite, Deputy Chief of Staff to Ashcroft, had served as the RNC's political director. Barbara Comstock, then Ashcroft's Director of Public Affairs, had run the RNC's opposition research. Mark Corallo, transitioning into Comstock's role, had also worked for the RNC.

Yet in spite of the fact that the folks at the top of this investigation must have been more interested in helping Dick Cheney and George Bush avoid embarrassment than Patrick Fitzgerald later was, they continued to pursue the investigation, even after they had spoken to Armitage and Novak. Either something in the CIA referral, something reported in the popular press, or something they learned in the very first days of the investigation convinced them to continue pursuing the case. And by the time Fitzgerald was appointed at the end of December, FBI investigators already had reason to believe Libby and Rove were lying to them.

The Bush Administration made their own bed on this one. Scooter Libby will lie in it. And Richard Armitage, while he performed a shameful act, does not have any bearing on the central conspiracy at work here.


CA-Gov: The Underbelly of the News

Scanning the papers in a desperate attempt for news on the California governor's race, there were the predictable and not altogether wrong stories about the political impact of the productive legislative session. But beyond those process/narrative stories, a couple others caught my eye.

First concerns Dom Perata pleading with the governor to reverse reductions for worker's compensation beneficiaries, which were slashed tremendously in the name of reform. Here are the real-world consequences:

The reduction has brought a real hardship to Kyle Van Houten, 23.

The former champion football player from Escalon in the Central Valley lost his leg in a construction accident in July 2004, three months after Schwarzenegger signed his workers' compensation bill.

Under the new law, Van Houten's permanent disability benefit is $29,150, compared with $122,812 he would have received under the old formula.

"I went from being an all-state football player to feeling like less than a whole person," he said at a news conference Friday. "I lost my active youth, and now the governor is taking most of my permanent disability compensation." His employer's insurance company also turned down his request for a prosthetic leg, rehabilitation training and physical therapy, he said.

Perata's bill, SB 815, would gradually raise permanent disability benefits over three years to their level before Schwarzenegger overhauled workers' compensation. However, the proposal would not affect eligibility criteria or any of the new law's other money-saving changes.

Cost-cutting to enhance California businesses is fine. When it's at the expense of the disabled, who are pushed permanently into the lower class through no fault of their own, that's a problem. Billions would be saved without reducing benefits so dramatically. Angelides needs to take a look at this.

The other article concerns a major meeting of National Latino leaders which will take place next week in Los Angeles. Literally one of the last sentences in the article reads, "Highlights among the 251 speeches are expected to include addresses by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Fabian Nuñez, speaker of the state Assembly; and Phil Angelides, state treasurer."

Oh yeah? Angelides? He running for anything?

On the heels of the long-delayed endorsement from Antonio Villaraigosa, it's time to consider the influence of the Latino vote on this race. Schwarzenegger garnered 30% of the Latino vote in the 2003 recall, but he was facing a Latino in Cruz Bustamante (who took 52%), and Latinos voted in very high numbers (47%) for the recall itself. They've seen this governor vote against driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, send National Guard troops to the border, and vocally support the Minutemen, but they've also seen him reverse his stance on Prop. 187. Arnold's election team has set a target of 35% for the Latino vote. But last month, Frank Russo suggested that was an unrealistic goal.

State Senator Abel Maldonado, the highest ranking Mexican-American elected Republican in the state, committed a sin that furious Republicans have said is suicide for his career. His offense? He committed truth.

An interview with the Los Angeles Times that he arranged, was reported last week as follows, with quotes from Maldonado:

"Our governor cares about one thing only, and that's Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

The senator also said many Latinos thought Schwarzenegger had shown "a lack of respect" with the Latino community by spending too little time in Mexico.

"When he needs Latinos, Latinos are always there for him," Maldonado said. "When Latinos need him, the answer's been no."

Obviously, the Latino population has increased over the last several years, and there is an under-the-radar registration drive in the Latino community, with the goal of registering 1 million new voters nationwide. Clearly there will be a bigger share of Latinos voting in 2006 than ever before. And Angelides is targeting much of his economic proposals at easing the burden of the middle class, where so many Latinos reside.

This could be something that defies traditional polling models and increases Angelides' final numbers. I don't know if anyone can say with any certainty what that impact will be.


Friday, September 01, 2006

Fun Video of the Day


Quick Hits

I really need to clear out my story dump:

I'm calling bullshit on George W. Bush reading 60 books and three Shakespeares this year, and frankly I don't want him to. Guys working on their screenplays and retired bibliophiles have enough time to read 60 books a year. The President shoud not.

• What some would call participatory deomcracy, others would call a homeland security threat:

Proponents of Proposition 89, which would reduce the role of big money in politics, were warned by a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer yesterday that they could be considered a "homeland security threat" as they filmed lawmakers and lobbyists wrapping up end of the session deals.

"When did the CHP become a private security force for corporate lobbyists? Prop 89, the campaign finance overhaul, will make the Capitol a public space again," said Jerry Flanagan of the nonpartisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR).

FTCR's public interest news crew, Channel 89, was in the Capitol yesterday filming lawmakers and lobbyists as they exchange favors and campaign contributions in the final days of the legislative session. A CHP officer warned the Channel 89 staff that they could be considered a "homeland security threat" for filming the democratic process in the Capitol. Shortly after, Channel 89 staff members were stopped as they tried to interview Assembly Speaker Nuñez outside his office. The CHP called FTCR staff to suggest they were breaking the law.

How dare they try to interview people on a public street! They're taking this democracy thing WAYYY too seriously.

• This is an interesting post at TAPPED that I've been meaning to share. Word of mouth has always been the best form of advertising. We are well into the age of online word of mouth, and savvy political campaigns could use this to great effect.

The US is investigating Israel for using cluster bombs given to them by the US.

Let me shake my head loose until I understand that one. Were they just supposed to HOLD the bombs we sold them? Talk about projection.

Another welcome addition to the freedom agenda. The White House is hosting the premier of Kazakhstan, one of the most autocratic countries on the globe. I believe that realpolitik exists and that the enemy of your enemy can be your friend, but there's such a disconnect between "freedom is on the march" rhetoric and reality.

A great discussion about Edward R. Murrow and Keith Olbermann. For some reason I remembered watching the very first broadcast of ESPN2, anchored by Olbermann in a leather biker's jacket (it was considered hip then). His opening line was "Welcome to the end of all of our careers." You've come a long way, baby.

• Support Debra Bowen for California's Secretary of State so that attempting to steal elections does not go unpunished, as I suspect this will.

• From the great TBogg, you really need to read this and this and then discuss amongst yourselves.


Sean Hannity Fan Fiction

If you believe that these are consequential, transformative times, if you believe our borders need to be secure, if you believe that we need to cut taxes to keep the economy humming, if you think it's an absolute mistake and a disaster to pull out of Iraq too early, if you think we're gonna retreat in the war on terrorism, if you think we're gonna be less safe, less secure with a party that has a pre-9-11 mentality, then this is the time not to give up. This is the moment to say that there are things in life worth fighting and dying for and one of 'em is making sure Nancy Pelosi doesn't become the speaker.

The air was thick that night. Thick with sweat and the smell of liberalism. I looked over at Colmes. He was still tied up with that ball gag in his mouth. He won't be bothering us very much. Like he ever did before.

Brit and I attached the last of the bungee cords around my hips. This would hold the explosive device in place, and right before he detonated, I would rush the Speaker's podium. "You sure you want to do this?" Brit asked, offering me a final cigarette.

I pushed his hand away. "Are you sure you want freedom," I replied. Brit was always too much of a pantywaist to really sacrifice for the cause. Us guys who live this stuff, breathe it, eat it and sleep it, we're the warriors. We're the angels. Brit's too worried about his tee time.

I checked my watch. 10 to midnight. The swearing-in ceremony was painful to watch. Pelosi. That smug look of hers is burned into my brain. The Islamofascists must be passing their... whatever kind of alcohol fascists drink around tonight. We just lost this war. But not if I can help it.

The movement will lose a soldier but gain a great victory. In my farewell video I talked about the young people, the little spawns of Hannidate bursting out all over the country, and I reminded them of what's at stake. If we aren't willing to die so our boys can continue to die for freedom then we ought to just kill ourselves. It sounded better in my head.

Liberals are the great evil of the 21st century. They aren't even letting us confront the great evil of the 21st century! They want me to pay for the country I love, more than poor people do! Well, this is where is ends. This is where we fight back. We've been the persecuted majority for too long.

Target: Locked in. Somebody should thank Murdoch for letting us use the satellite tonight. There she is. On the steps of the Capitol. At least it isn't the Reagan Building, I'd hate to harm so much as a brick of it. Oh well, time to go. I shake Brit's hand. "Godspeed, soldier." We give the secret salute. I'll be damned if I'm going to tell you what it is.

Popping out of the bushed, Pelosi's in my sights. I give the all-go signal and storm headlong toward the steps. The countdown clock begins, sequence intitiated.






"Sean? What the hell did you tackle me for? Get off of me!"

Damn Army Corps of Engineers explosives.


The End of the California Republican Party

The close of this week's legislative session drew an unequivocal distinction between Democrats and Republicans in this state. It was not in any way a victory for bipartisanship. If it were, you would be able to find ONE Republican in the State Senate or the State Assembly who actually voted for the "cap-and-trade" greenhouse gas emissions bill. You'd be able to find more than Abel Maldonado, the only Republican in either chamber to vote to increase the minimum wage. You'd have a SINGLE Republican member of the State Assembly, and more than TWO Republican State Senators (Denham, Harman) who voted for the bill providing universal health care in California. The only "bipartisanship" on display was between a Democratic legislature who moved California forward on the big issues, and a Governor trying to save his job in an election year. In this way California is a mirror image of the country at large. In election years of the recent past, Republicans have typically thrown red meat at their base, hoping to increase turnout among conservatives to carry them to victory. California's governor has completely abandoned that strategy, and in so doing neutured his party for decades to come.

By accepting such major legislation on global warming, on prescription drugs, on the minimum wage (although trying to steer a middle course on all, and rejecting universal health care), the governor has essentially validated that the progressive message is the right message for the state. He's enabled Democrats to make the argument that they have the only positive message on legislative issues, that they are the only ones with any ideas to move the state ahead.

The matter at hand is the 2006 California governor's race. But I think it's notable that Governor Schwarzenegger, in his desire to appeal to everyone and sell out his own party's core principles time and again, has destroyed the CA GOP's chances to win in 2010, 2014, 2018, and maybe beyond. There is no electable Republican in the state for the next decade and a half. Schwarzenegger is proving by his campaign that the only electable Republican is not a Republican at all, but a Republican that becomes a Democrat for three months leading up to the election. Republicans are out of touch on global warming, on health care, on wages for working families, on pretty much every major issue facing the state.

This really was not always the case here. In 1992, Bill Clinton broke a 28-year record of California voting for Republicans in the Presidential election. We've had a string of Republican governors and colorless technocrat Dems like Gray Davis. The changing demographics of the state and the disaster of Prop. 187 have shifted the balance. And this year's legislative session provided confirmation that the only ideas that work in the Golden State are progressive ones.

This is where Phil Angelides comes in. He can deliver the knockout blow to the state Republican Party. If a guy who basically adopts dozens of Democratic frames can't win, no Republican will be able to for a long time. Angelides' Harry Truman analogy is apt: When given the choice between Democrat-lite and a true Democrat, what would you do? Take the guy who governs from the left for three months to get elected, or the guy who's been calling for a progressive vision his entire career?

This is how the choice must be framed. This is what voters need to hear. And given those options, this can be a winning strategy that would send the California Republican Party home, licking their wounds, in a cataclysmic event that would reverberate for a long while.


A Random Drive-Time Ten

Above is my iPod dock for the Scion. These will be standard in all cars within 3 years. Apple Corporation has really become genuis at marketing. Come a long way from the IIc (my first computer).

Anyway, here's the shuffle. Haven't done one of these in a while.

These Are The Fables - The New Pornographers
This Boy - Franz Ferdinand
I Walk The Line - Johnny Cash (I was a pre-movie fan)
Lint of Love - Cibo Matto
Happiness Is A Warm Gun - Breeders
Latin Girls - Black Eyed Peas
The W.A.N.D. - The Flaming Lips
Van Lear Rose - Loretta Lynn (second time that's been on a random ten, which is uncanny when you consider I've got about 1,600 songs on the iPod)
Colorado - Fussible (Nortec Collective)
A Grand Flying Bird - Guided By Voices

Nice list.


Thursday, August 31, 2006

Onward to Iran

I'll tell ya, the rhetoric coming out of the Administration today, and the timing, is eerily familiar.

Where have I heard "the world now faces a grave threat from the radical regime" and "it is time for Iran to make a choice" and "there will be consequences" before? And from the guy who says what he means and means what he says, to boot?

This is 2002's rolling out of new product after Labor Day all over again. The election has taken on an entirely new meaning and I'm afraid the Democrats are completely unprepared for it. Expect saber-rattling over Iran for the next 70 days. It's getting very nasty out there, and Democrats had better dip their toes in the water rather than trying to fight on other fronts. The insanity of attacking Iran, right now, is clear. It must be expressed.


The Second Hold

Via TPM Muckraker, it appears Robert Byrd had also placed a "secret hold" on the porkbarrel legislation oversight bill sponsored by Sens. Obama and Coburn. His spokesman gave a pretty weasel-like answer about it, saying that "Senators have an obligation to their constituents to know what they are voting on before signing off on any proposal," which is exactly what this legislation provides to constituents, so what's the problem?

But at the end of the statement, Sen. Byrd announces that he has released the hold. Now that Ted Stevens is the lone Senator holding up this bill, because of THE COST according to him (the cost of bridges that link 50 Eskimos to the mainland is apparently besides the point), will he relent?


Good for California

I suppose I should be upset that California has voted to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the latest in a series of wins for the Democratic-controlled legislature in the state. I'm supposed to be upset because, as a rabid partisan animal, anything that gives the Governor a victory, symbolic or not, helps his re-election chances and hurts those of his opponent, Phil Angelides. Because it's all about winning with folks like me, and I'm simply too stubborn to look past politics for even one second to look at the issue on its own terms.

Except that I breathe. And as a breather, my being able to breathe, and continue to live on this planet with other people who like to breathe, and who won't be threatened by the potentially disastrous effects of climate change, is of paramount importance. The bill will use a "cap-and-trade" market-based solution to force polluters in the state to either reduce emissions (by 25% over the next 14 years), or pay significant amounts in noncompliance penalties, or trade with other companies who fall under the targets for the right to produce more emissions. There are also safeguards to exempt the standards for up to a year in the event of a state catastrophe. That sounds curiously like last years Prop.76, which would have allowed the governor basically to line-item out spending on education and health care and any other entitlement in the event of a "budget emergency."

But compromise is often how things get done in our political system. Although this so-called "grand compromise" between a Democratic legislative majority and a Republican governor really isn't much of one. The ENTIRE Republican caucus in the State Senate voted against it, and the ENTIRE Republican caucus in the Assembly is likely to follow suit. This is exactly the same scenario as the minimum wage (without a COLA adjustment) bill, which all but one Republican (Abel Maldonado) refused to support. These deals represent a compromise between a dominant Democratic legislature and a neutered puppy of a Governor who needs to go along with this stuff to save his job.

I applaud Dom Perata and Fabian Nunez for recognizing that this Governor was at his lowest ebb of power, and deciding that now was the time to get something done for the state. It would be a tragedy to hold fire because of an election year while the climate crisis continues and the federal government remains unconcerned with doing anything about it. Progressive legislative agendas at the state level have a way of bubbling up to the surface and eventually forcing themselves onto the federal stage. And California is the world's 12th-largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, so the victory is not symbolic but tangible.

The politics of this are of less concern to me than ensuring our children's future by fighting global warming today. Phil Angelides has a tough sell, but would be right in saying that he supports the same basic goals and would go further in making California the world leader in the alternative clean energy industry. Where he would be even righter is to note that not one Republican in both State Houses supported this legislation. "Do you want a Democrat or Democrat-lite?" is the question. Leading Democrats are making progress on a wide range of legislation. Republicans are obstructing all of it, to a man. If Arnold Schwarzenegger is re-elected and he is unconstrained by the voters, will he shift again to the side of pretty much every member of his party?

But for now, I say, good for California, for doing something to protect the environment and help save the planet.

P.S. It's been a week now since the Honest Corporate Tax Reporting Act reached the governor's desk. Will he sign, veto, or just misplace?

And while both candidates have come out against Shiela Kuehl's universal health care bill, which candidate has consistently fought against any measure that expands health insurance for Californians? There are plenty of points of contrast, despite the neutered puppy's lurches leftward attempting to curry favor with the dominant ideology in the state.


Number One Threat to America

Not bears, Mr. Colbert. Taxi drivers:

Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, whose recent comments have stirred controversy, says the United States is up against a faceless enemy of terrorists who "drive taxi cabs in the daytime and kill at night."

During a fundraiser Wednesday with first lady Laura Bush, the three-term Montana senator talked about terrorism, tax cuts and the money he has brought to his state. Burns is one of the more vulnerable Senate incumbents, facing a tough challenge from Democrat Jon Tester.

How many taxis are there in Montana? There's one service in the entire Big Sky region. Capitol Taxi in Helena (state capital), Billings Area City Cab, and Mining City Taxi in Butte. I think that's pretty much it, though I could be wrong. Of course, Conrad Burns used the image of a taxi driver since he's probably so used to seeing them in his adopted home of Washington, DC. For the next few months, at least.

Maybe we should call all these places and tell them to get rid of their TERRORISTS!!!!


"Peace Is At Hand"

It's amazing to me that the crowd that's tried to dismiss the last three years in Iraq by saying "history will judge" and that it's only relevant to wait 20 years and see what's happening then will turn right around and tout two weeks' worth of progress, which is dubious to begin with, and extrapolate that out to a wide-ranging pronouncement:

Bombers killed nearly 50 Iraqis on Wednesday, mostly in Baghdad, but the top U.S. commander said a security drive in the capital was making progress and local forces could largely be running Iraq within 12 to 18 months.

General George Casey declined to be drawn on what that might mean for how many American troops could go home, and when.

He told reporters a fierce battle on Monday in which Shi'ite militiamen in a southern city killed at least 20 Iraqi soldiers -- 13 of them "executed" after they ran out of bullets -- was not a setback and that continuing operations would show the U.S.-trained Iraqi army had the upper hand in Diwaniya [...]

"I don't have a date, but I can see over the next 12-18 months the Iraqi security forces progressing to a point where they can take on the security responsibilities for the country, with very little Coalition support," Casey said in Baghdad.

In 1972, days before the Presidential election, Henry Kissinger emerged from months of secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese and declared "peace is at hand." It's debatable whether or not this won an election for Nixon which was going his way to begin with. But clearly the announcement of peace had a political cast to it. Approximately 1,500 soldiers died in Vietnam after that announcement. The Bush Administration won't go as far as ending the war immediately to save their political hides. But it's no secret that they sought to bring troops home this summer before conditions on the ground made that impossible. And there's no doubt they desire to restore public confidence by saying "We swear, the war's almost over" in a craven attempt to get votes. In a way, the White House is a victim of their own rhetoric. They were the ones who claimed it would be a cakewalk, that we'd be welcomed as liberators, that the war would pay for itself out of Iraqi oil revenues, and they're the ones who have lost all credibility with Americans based on those initial rosy reports. So any assessment now of "peace is at hand" must necessarily be viewed with a grain of salt, when coming from the same people who say "We aren't leaving so long as I'm the President."

This war widow's conversation last week with the President is honorable, but ultimately will do little good, I fear.

"We literally sat knee to knee...I looked deep into his eyes and talked to him about love and losing people and that he was responsible for this. I said, 'I didn't vote for you, but you are my President. And you're not serving me.'"

"I said I believed it was time to put an end to this. His job is to find solutions. I said, 'You yourself have said you had erroneous information going into this.'"

She continued: "I said, 'As a Christian man, you realize that when you've made a mistake it's your responsiblity to end this. And it's time to end the bleeding and it's time to end the war.'"

"I said, 'what would truly bring healing is to start working on changing your policy towards the Middle President, you're here to serve the people. And the people are not being served with this war.'"

She added: "I told him, 'It's time as a Christian to put our pride behind us."

Halley said that the President appeared moved by what she'd said, but that she doubted it would bring about any real change. "He cried with me," she recounted. "I feel he responded to me emotionally. I don't know if that's going to change policy. It probably won't. But I hope it makes him think a little bit further."

Notice he appeared not to say a word throughout that, mentally checking his watch, I'd gather. Decisions on this policy have been made long ago. Leaving equals losing, and the President will simply not allow what he perceives as losing. So despite these timetables (I thought timetables would embolden the enemy, by the way), the die has already been cast, and the illogic the War Cabinet is trying the difficult dance of assuring the public we're leaving without ever leaving.


Go Tell It On The Mountain

So when you call 61% of the American public "appeasers of fascism," you;d better expect a difference of opinion, Mr. Rumsfeld. And expect it to be eloquent and to leave you ashamed. A sampling:

That, about which Mr. Rumsfeld is confused is simply this: This is a Democracy. Still. Sometimes just barely.

And, as such, all voices count -- not just his.

Had he or his president perhaps proven any of their prior claims of omniscience -- about Osama Bin Laden's plans five years ago, about Saddam Hussein's weapons four years ago, about Hurricane Katrina's impact one year ago -- we all might be able to swallow hard, and accept their "omniscience" as a bearable, even useful recipe, of fact, plus ego.

But, to date, this government has proved little besides its own arrogance, and its own hubris.

Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his own standing in this matter. From Iraq to Katrina, to the entire "Fog of Fear" which continues to envelop this nation, he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their cronies have -- inadvertently or intentionally -- profited and benefited, both personally, and politically.

And yet he can stand up, in public, and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just for the receipt for the Emperor's New Clothes?

In what country was Mr. Rumsfeld raised? As a child, of whose heroism did he read? On what side of the battle for freedom did he dream one day to fight? With what country has he confused the United States of America?

Video here. Or below:

This is not 2002 and we're not going to be pushed around anymore. Go back to your office, Mr. Rumsfeld, old man, and don't darken our door with talk of fascism again. Unless you're willing to discuss your own.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Anniversary Ends, The Pain Continues.

The speed with which news organizations high-tailed it out of the Gulf Coast after yesterday's 1-year anniversary of the levee failure that doomed New Orleans suggests that maybe the CNN line producer should be in charge of future evacuation efforts. The 8/29 milestone was handled, not as if it were an ongoing event, but as a marker fitting of a memorial service and a day's worth of scrutiny in the news cycle, only to move on to a guy in a Reagan mask robbing a bank and other important issues affecting out nation. The accidental catching of Kyra Phillips on mike in the bathroom during the President's speech was not emblematic of journalistic incompetence, but of exactly how worthy they thought the Katrina anniversary was, that they could take bathroom breaks while it was occurring.

Not only was I disturbed by this, but Tom D'Antoni, a writer based in Portland, Oregon, caught it as well. He blogs for the Huffington Post:

Any American touched by New Orleans prior to the failure of the Army Corps of Engineers and the subsequent flood, and who has re-visited or even keeps in touch with things there, knows how bad things are [...]

This is about the emotions those of us who have a New Orleans connection are feeling. The emotions that come through the psychic air 3500 miles away here in Portland, Oregon...the despair, the anger, the sense of living in a daily nightmare that just won't seem to go away. The sense of loss. Loss and abandonment. Is anyone surprised that the suicide rate in New Orleans has tripled in the past year?

Can you feel it?

How dare Bush show his face? The shame of the conditions in New Orleans is on him. It should eat him alive at night...that and the tens of thousands of dead and maimed Americans and Iraqis from his own personal boutique war.

Maybe that's why Bush only showed his face briefly (and how dare he say that "we delivered" for the people of the region). This "anniversary party" was an insult to the struggles of everyone in the Gulf Coast area, a ginned-up excuse to run human interest stories and surface-level accounts of disaster (most of which sloppily neglected the plain fact that failed levees caused the disaster in New Orleans, not the hurricane itself). The fact that a year later:

300,000 survivors remain separated from their homes in a kind of diaspora;

120,000 have applied for federal grants to rebuild their homes, and under 100 have seen a dime (a symptom of the $65 billion in appropriated but unspent money);

only 41% of the gas lines have been restored, and 60% of the electricity service;

17% of the buses are running;

there is 23% unemployment among survivors who are still displaced by the storm;

The health care system has almost completely collapsed;

The criminal justice system is a bigger mess and actually a constitutional crisis, with people held for minor offenses without trial for a year, others wrongfully imprisoned, and hardened criminals set free; a national disgrace to us all.

We don't need a one-day anniversary. We don't need the tolling of bells and moving on. We need a substantive discussion about the waste, fraud and abuse that tragically had us basically lose a year on the restoration of New Orleans and the Gulf, and a real debate about how to move forward. One person who gets this is Stephanie Grace of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, who wrote this last week:

Yet if Aug. 29 is just a date, it will also mark the end of the first chapter of this story.

The networks and national newspapers will be here to take measure of the recovery, or lack thereof, as they have at every key milestone since Katrina made landfall. The politicians, including both Bush and the Democrats who hope to capitalize on his missteps, will be here too.

When it's over, they'll leave, unlikely to check back nearly as often.

And they won't be the only ones to turn their attention elsewhere. Just the other day, a new survey disclosed that just seven percent of foundations and philanthropies planned to be involved in recovery past September.

If those struggling to remake their lives feel forgotten now, just wait 'til next year.

That's astonishing that the city and the region will be essentially abandoned in a month. Similarly, rental subsidies for displaced survivors end in a couple weeks. People who are scraping by today will have less of a chance to do so tomorrow. It's past time to wonder whether the federal government, or the state, is going to step in to help. They'll talk about it on anniversaries, but really this is now down to we the people to band together and help our fellow man. It's the core of progressivism to seek the common good, to share in the sorrows and troubles of the less fortunate, and to offer them the opportunity to experience the American dream.

There are a wide range of charitable organizations who are providing relief, but as the above article says, there's no guarantee they'll be there in a month. So I'm going to do some more research and come up with a better way. We cannot turn away from this until next year.


What's Obscene About 9/11 Is The LANGUAGE

The 9/11 conservatives that went all wobbly and got into bed with the Republican party to combat Islamofascomuslokillerism ought to understand just what kind of people they're now committed to supporting:

The Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association has urged members to protest against CBS's decision to air an updated version of its 9/11 documentary in which firemen and other emergency workers are seen swearing. Although the program had aired previously without challenge from the FCC, the commission has since ruled that similar language used by blues musicians in a PBS documentary was indecent. In its letter the AFA urged members to send complaints to the FCC and their local CBS affiliates. CBS said in a statement: "In order to ensure that viewers are aware of the language, we will include warnings in the broadcast, and Robert De Niro, who will again serve as host in a newly taped introduction to the program, will also alert viewers to the graphic language. This will allow ample notice for viewers to seek other programming if they feel this broadcast is not appropriate for their household.

Remember these are the same folks who wanted Saving Private Ryan censored because of the language.

The same people don't want you to see a documentary on the biggest terrorist attack on American soil because a couple firefighters will so uncouth as to swear when they saw bodies falling from the sky.

That's the serious group of folks that populate the conservative movement.


This Is How They Do It

I've shown today how the progressive movement is trying to attain electoral success, by demanding accountability and using grassroots action in the primary process. Here are a couple stories about how the conservative movement is trying to keep a toehold on power.

In Texas, Tom DeLay resigned his seat back in June, leading to a ballot fight which ended with him being forced to stay on the ballot (he tried to weasel out of his primary win and choose a handpicked successor), and led Republicans to have to resort to a write-in campaign to defeat Nick Lampson. So now, Texas Republicans, led by their governor, have fought back, calling for a special election to fill DeLay's seat for all of two months, most of which would not see that lame-duck Congress in session anyway.

As if the race for Tom DeLay's old seat weren't confusing enough already, what with a hyphenated Republican write-in candidate, now voters will also have the opportunity to elect a temporary representative to fill the empty seat from November through January. The elections (general and special) will take place the same day.

As a benefit of Gov. Rick Perry's move, voters will now see at least one ballot with the name of the official GOP candidate. Perry's spokesperson says they waited this long because of DeLay's legal wranglings.

This is a round of "Let's make the election as confusing as we can in the hopes that we can win the seat." There is no reason to hold a special election for two months except to increase name recognition of the preferred Republican candidate, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs. So the governor is using the election process to favor one candidate over another.

In Ohio, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is getting his brains beaten in by Rep. Ted Strickland in their race for governor. Some Blackwell supporters thought it would be helpful to their cause to do an elaborate bit of astroturfing:

On August 20th, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that a Republican named Nathan Estruth showed up at a Clermont County Democratic rally to give Ted a chance to persuade him.


In a county that proudly paints itself political red, where about 70 percent of voters backed President Bush in 2004, Nathan Estruth showed up at a park Saturday morning to hear the blue people.

In particular, he wanted to listen to Ted Strickland, the Democratic candidate for governor who, with U.S. Senate candidate Sherrod Brown, was headlining a three-day bus tour promoting the party's statewide ticket in some of Ohio's most Republican counties.

Estruth, a father of four who typically votes Republican, milled in the back of a partisan crowd of about 100, one of just a handful of people not wearing a shirt promoting a Democratic candidate. At the urging of a friend, he came to give the Democrats, who have been out of power in Ohio for more than a decade, a chance to win his vote.

"It's just common sense that we need change," Estruth said at Veterans Memorial Park in Union Township. "Frankly, it's about change for change's sake."


After the 40-minute rally, Estruth said he was not ready to vote Democratic. He was put off, he said, by their harsh rhetoric.

"I wanted to see if he was an executive with clear plans for fixing the state," he said about Strickland. "What I got was partisan talk. He confirmed my worst fears."

However, there might be another reason that Mr. Estruth wasn’t ready to vote Democratic. Via Buckeye State Blog, we learn that he happens to be the president of Common Sense Ohio, a Blackwell-supporting group that’s been running hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising across that state attacking Ted.

So, to sum up, the Democratic way: grassroots action and holding legislators accountable. The Republican way? Busting into election battles in partisan ways, and faking open-mindedness to fit media narratives.


Reform Versus Status Quo

So Barack Obama and Tom Coburn, two of the unlikeliest allies in the Senate who share little in common but their freshman status, and as such an ability to look on the outside of the system and see the need for reform, pushed a bill that would seek public disclosure for all receipients of federal funding through a Google-like database.

The federal government awards roughly $300 billion in grants annually to 30,000 different organizations across the United States, according to the General Services Administration. This bill would require the Office of Management and Budget to establish and maintain a single public Web site that lists all entities receiving federal funds, including the name of each entity, the amount of federal funds the entity has received annually by program, and the location of the entity. All federal assistance must be posted within 30 days of such funding being awarded to an organization.

"At the very least, taxpayers deserve to know where their money is being spent," Senator Obama said. "This common-sense legislation would shine a bright light on all federal spending to help prevent tax dollars from being wasted. If government spending can't withstand public scrutiny, then the money shouldn't be spent."

This bill was all set to pass, it had cleared committee and was readied for a full vote in the Senate. Then an unidentified Senator dropped a secret hold on the bill, stopping its progress. It's somehow fitting that a bill that would increase public oversight was stopped in its tracks secretly.

But the supporters of the bill wanted to do something about it. And in a rare show of bipartisanship, the left and the right sides of the blogosphere engaged in a grassroots action, led by Porkbusters and TPM Muckraker, to call every member of the US Senate to determine who placed the secret hold. They were down to the final five when someone noticed a little-seen quote in a small-town newspaper revealing the holder.

One of the senators most criticized for his personal projects, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has a hold of his own on Coburn's bill to make public the spending patterns of the government. Called the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, the legislation calls for the creation of a database open to the public where citizens can track government spending.

"He's the only senator blocking it," Coburn said of Stevens.

Yes, Senator Stevens, the guy who thinks the Internets are a series of tubes, the President Pro Tem of the Senate, the man who's been there longer than anyone else, he's the one that doesn't want the people to know what their government is doing. Fitting.

The rise of the blogosphere has increased partisanship in some ways, but that was happening long before there was an Internet - just check out 1994. What the blogs have done is to set the debate between the reform and the status quo. Reformers on both sides want to change government from the exclusive, inside-the-Beltway resort it is today to an inclusive, participatory process. They certainly have different ideas about how best to serve citizens once they get there. But I support all efforts to take back government and promote participatory democracy. There are allies on both sides of the aisle for that.

UPDATE: Stevens admits it. So do I get to gloat a little because it's a Republican? We can't have TOO MUCH bipartisanship, after all...


What They're Getting In The Sticks

Watch this little travesty for a sampling of the content-free fearmongering cable news is selling on Iran. It's clear they're not giving even a piece of the full picture. The only good news here is that nobody's really watching Fox News anymore.


Matthew Yglesias Lets Them Have It

I don't always agree with Matthew Yglesias, but he's a really good writer. He always strives to look at all sides of the equation and try to challenge asumptions. Therefore it gives it all the more weight we he comes out so vociferously on one side of a given topic, in this case the debate over Iran. This has so clearly been overhyped, distorted, and overblown that it takes someone like Yglesias to simply demolish the subject:

David Ignatius is in Iran and reports that though "you might expect that Tehran would feel like a garrison town" it's actually surprisingly relaxed. But why might you expect that Teheran would feel like a garrison town? Well, you would if you've been following the media's dubious, highly-spun coverage of the issue. But you wouldn't if you asked yourself some basic questions. For example, if Iran is preparing to mount a Hitler-style bid for world domination they must be engaged in a big military build-up, right? But there is no such build up. Maybe there's no need for a build-up because the Iranian military is already so vast and mighty? Well, no. Iran has a defense budget of about $6 billion a year.

The United States spends over 50 times more than that. But perhaps comparisons to the USA are misleading. Lets compare our would-be regional hegemon to its neighbors. Well, Israel spends $9.6 billion and Saudi Arabia spends $25.2 billion. Pakistan, immediately adjacent to Iran and nuclear armed, actually has engaged in a recent defense buildup. What kind of quest for hegemony is Iran supposed to be on? Ignorant American pundits and television personalities may be unaware of these facts, but surely Iranian military and intelligence officials have noticed that Iran has no capacity whatsoever to conquer the region.

Meanwhile, the freaky and unpredictable Iranian regime has actually been in power for a very long time. Since before I was born. The regime is not only long-entrenched, but quite corrupt. Mightn't this lead you think it's being run by reasonably comfortable men who enjoy the fruits of power, intend to stay in power, and know a thing or two about maintaining their power rather than by irrational lunatics who've been waiting in the wings for 27 years preparing to spring their bid for world domination upon us without first having acquired so much as a single modern tank?

The neocons who build up Iran to be the Third Reich and Ahmadinejad to be Hitler (even though he doesn't control the armed forces) EXPECT their audience to be ignorant. Sadly, their audience also includes the pliant media who is willing to take their talking points from fax machine to the air in 10 seconds flat. Simply put there is not a military buildup of any substance happening in Iran, and their desire for nuclear armaments (which is in its infancy) comes out of learned behavior. Iraq didn't have WMD and they were attacked. North Korea gained WMD and they were not. The Bush Administration isn't exactly genius at hiding their strategy.

Nobody wants Iran to have the bomb but nobody with an ounce of sanity thinks that a full-scale military attack would do anything but irreparable harm. We have leverage over Iran that we refuse to use. Despite their growth in stature due to us taking out their known enemies in the region, they are still at a military disadvantage and are not economically strong. They've offered a comprehensive peace agreement that acceeded to pretty much all American demands as recently as three years ago. The people in power right now don't want such a peace agreement. It would ruin the prospects of war.

It's important to have some context to this Iranian debate. There are not one, but TWO SIDES who are being dishonest about their goals in the region. I heard Ahmadinejad challenged Bush to a debate yesterday. The smart approach would be to ignore him; he's not the head of the government but a rabble-rouser who wants attention so he can solidify his grip and expand his miniscule power in the country. We instead respond, because having a boogeyman is central to hyping a potential conflict. They believe that he is being dishonest, and shouldn't be taken seriously, when he says that Iran's nuclear program is being used for civilian purposes. But they believe that he is being honest, and should be taken very seriously, when he threatens the Western world. They fall into this trap because it's convenient for all sides of the conflict, as everyone gets to centralize power and throw into action the war machine.

The question is, will Democrats fall for this nonsense again?


Progressive Movement Cutting Through Traditional Media Ice

The most establishment paper in America, the Washington Post, today endorsed progressive Donna Edwards in her primary challenge to incumbent Democrat Albert Wynn in Maryland. It's significant because it signals that establishment editorial boards are finally understanding the nature of the progressive movement and why it's committed to reforming the Democratic Party.

As we've noted in the past, Mr. Wynn has often seemed more involved in playing the role of a kingmaker in Prince George's than in his duties in Congress. On key federal issues, he has cast himself as the most bipartisan member of Maryland's congressional delegation. That's great in theory, but too often his votes have been at odds with good government and the interests of his constituents. He has backed the estate tax repeal, a measure that benefits the richest Americans at the expense of the poor and middle class. He supported the Bush administration's energy bill in 2003, offering subsidies to oil and gas companies even as they were headed toward record profits. He has flip-flopped on fuel efficiency standards and opposed campaign finance reform. And he has tried to clear the way for casino gambling in Prince George's. All in all, it is a lackluster record.

What really struck me in their endorsement was this passage:

On the war in Iraq, Ms. Edwards has scored points by attacking Mr. Wynn as Maryland's Joseph I. Lieberman -- a supporter of the war portrayed as too close to the Bush administration. Mr. Wynn backed the war at the outset, but he has since recanted, saying he was misled by bad intelligence. More to the point of today's debate, both candidates are calling for a U.S. withdrawal, a scenario that we believe would leave chaos in its wake.

Aside from the Post clinging to the "forget the chaos happening now, there'll be real chaos if we LEAVE!" line of reasoning, what's notable is that the WaPo gets that this primary fight is not about the war. It's about a Democrat who has voted against the interests of his constituents, and against the core values of the Democratic Party, and about a woman who's decided to offer a choice through the primary process, which is how things get done in today's politics. Of course this is completely analagous to the Lamont-Lieberman battle, though it was framed as a single-issue inquisition by "angry antiwar liberals" (practically the only time liberals ever get mentioned in the press is when they're characterized as antiwar, which I feel is a deliberate strategy to equate liberalism with weakness. Seriously, do you hear about packs of antipoverty liberals, or anticorruption liberals?). Offering a primary candidate who is a true progressive is a natural response to a Democrat that votes against his party on key issues. This is what the progressive movement will continue to do throughout the country, and win or lose it will put pressure on those who take the name Democrat but not its principles.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Same Economy, Different Day

The US Census came out with their annual report today, and it confirmed that economic growth in the Bush era is a mile wide but an inch deep, a boon for investors and CEOs and corporate board sitters but a nightmare for those struggling to get by with less.

Real median income actually rose in the US for the first time since 1999. But for full-time, year-round workers, that number goes down. And, that said, the median hourly wage remains stagnant over the last four years, despite a rise in productivity. Somehow, employers have managed to reap the benefits of increased labor output without having to reward that labor. This is the first period of economic expansion since WORLD WAR TWO to exhibit those characteristics.

That's because it's a fake expansion. The fact that it relies entirely upon consumer spending is one reason. The fact that raises at the top of the income spectrum have continued to increase while lowering for lower-income workers, increasing the gap between rich and poor, is another. This so-called expansion has been built on mindless consumerism, which in an age of soaring gas and healthcare prices has cratered, and the housing boom, which is pretty much over. That as much as anything presages a recession next year. And if the presumed rising tide didn't lift low-income boats on the way up, you can bet it'll pummel them on the way down.

There are 37 million Americans in poverty, roughly the same as last year. 46.6 million Americans lack health insurance, or one out of every seven. This is Bushonomics: good for the boardroom, bad for the living room. Thomas Frank takes apart conservative economic ideology in an editorial for the New York Times:

government is corruption, a vile profaning of the market-most-holy in which some groups contrive to swipe the property of other groups via taxation and regulation. Politicians use the threat of legislation to extort bribes from industry, and even federal quality standards — pure food and so on — are tantamount to theft, since by certifying that any product in a given field won’t kill you, they nullify the reputations for quality and goodness that individual companies in the field have built up at great expense over the years.

The ideas I am describing are basic building blocks of the conservative faith. You can find their traces throughout the movement’s literature. You can hear their echoes in chambers of commerce across the land. But what happens when you elevate to high public office people who actually believe these things — who think that “the public interest” is a joke, that “reform” is a canard, and that every regulatory push is either a quest for monopoly by some company or a quest for bribes by some politician? What happens when the machinery of the state falls into the hands of people who laugh at the function for which it was designed?

The obvious answer is an auctioning-off of public policy in a manner we have not seen since the last full-blown antigovernment regime held office, in the 1920’s. Agencies and commissions are brazenly turned over to campaign contributors; high-ranking officers of Congress throw grander and gaudier fund-raisers even after being arraigned; well-connected middlemen sell access for unprecedented amounts.

When the cost of doing business suddenly vanishes, when regulation becomes a thing of the past, when that new-found money no longer has to be funneled to the workers, what you have is a new Gilded Age, where government exists only in service to plutocrats. This may not catch up to the Republicans right away, as Matthew Yglesias explains in discussing the aspirational class:

A lot of surveys indicate that, to a surprising degree, political beliefs are mediated by attitudes toward the future rather than assessments of present circumstances. People with a strong sense of personal efficacy, who believe that their future prosperity lies largely in their own hands, tend to adopt more right-wing economic views. The "new economy" era featured, for a lot of people, an almost limitless sense of possibility -- a sense that was then rapidly betrayed. The run-up in housing prices in recent years has had similar macroeconomic effects to the stock boom, but different psychological ones because home price appreciation doesn't encourage you to identify your interests with those of corporate managers in the way that stock price appreciation does. What's more, while the "new economy" seemed to open up especially awesome possibilities for young people (who are disproportionately well-educated and tend to form a disproportionately large share of upscale left-wingers), rising home prices have had the reverse impact on those who didn't buy a house before the market took off.

So the coming housing crash, followed by economic slowdown, could deflate those who think that NOW the cards are stacked against them. But conservative ideology always has a way of coming up with more yarns to spin, more ways to make people believe they can make it. In this case, however, the numbers are in stark contrast.


Does He Still Have a Job?

Don Rumsfeld went on the teevee today and basically called America gutless:

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday accused critics of the Bush administration's Iraq and counterterrorism policies of lacking the courage to fight terror.

In unusually explicit terms, Rumsfeld portrayed the administration's critics as suffering from "moral and intellectual confusion" about what threatens the nation's security.

Addressing several thousand veterans at the American Legion's national convention, Rumsfeld recited what he called the lessons of history, including the failed efforts to appease the Adolf Hitler regime in the 1930s.

"I recount this history because once again we face the same kind of challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism" he said.

Here with go again with the canard that any criticism of policy equals "you want the terrorists to win." Americans have made up their minds about this war in the face of cold, hard logic. They see fighting in the streets of Iraq and know that we've brought civil war and a terrorist haven to the Middle East. They see one by one people who've seen the facts on the ground in Iraq come around to the idea that it was not connected to the war on terror, that it was instead the greatest foreign policy blunder foisted upon this nation in a century. They're seeing Republican after Republican running for cover and calling for withdrawal. They're seeing 65% of the public agree that the war was a mistake. It's not a question of moral confusion. It's not a question of willpower:

As you may know, the Green Lantern Corps is a sort of interstellar peacekeeping force set up by the Guardians of Oa to maintain the peace and defend justice. It recruits members from all sorts of different species and equips them with the most powerful weapon in the universe, the power ring.

The ring is a bit goofy. Basically, it lets its bearer generate streams of green energy that can take on all kinds of shapes. The important point is that, when fully charged what the ring can do is limited only by the stipulation that it create green stuff and by the user's combination of will and imagination. Consequently, the main criterion for becoming a Green Lantern is that you need to be a person capable of "overcoming fear" which allows you to unleash the ring's full capacities. It used to be the case that the rings wouldn't function against yellow objects, but this is now understood to be a consequence of the "Parallax fear anomaly" which, along with all the ring's other limits, can be overcome with sufficient willpower.

Suffice it to say that I think all this makes an okay premise for a comic book. But a lot of people seem to think that American military might is like one of these power rings. They seem to think that, roughly speaking, we can accomplish absolutely anything in the world through the application of sufficient military force. The only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower.

It's faith-based defense strategy, and arguing against someone who believes that military force can literally do anything is no different than arguing about faith with a believer. Rummy and his boys have locked themselves into airtight chambers devoid of logic. And it's the perfect place to spring more and more attacks, lining the pockets of more and more defense contractors, for less and less gain to our security and stability.

Rumsfeld also has decided that the media is to blame:

FALLON NAVAL AIR STATION, Nev. -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday he is deeply troubled by the success of terrorist groups in "manipulating the media" to influence Westerners.

"That's the thing that keeps me up at night," he said during a question-and-answer session with about 200 naval aviators and other Navy personnel at this flight training base for Navy and Marine pilots.

"What bothers me the most is how clever the enemy is," he continued, launching an extensive broadside at Islamic extremist groups which he said are trying to undermine Western support for the war on terror.

"They are actively manipulating the media in this country" by, for example, falsely blaming U.S. troops for civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

"They can lie with impunity," he said, while U.S. troops are held to a high standard of conduct.

Yes, those wedding parties were holograms! The murdered detainees (which have resulted in convictions for US personnel) were unicorns! The 50,000 dead Iraqi civilians mirages! Look, if this is the most powerful country on Earth, you disgrace yourself by whining that the other side is lying and we're somehow powerless to tell the truth. Your blatant disregard for the deaths of civilians shows your own contempt for the truth. This is a charge for the books.

No Democrat should shrink from these attacks. They're DESIGNED to throw Democrats off balance and come from no coherent logic. They're simply to make Dems go wobbly. As Digby writes:

This is terribly important for everyone to understand. This is not a real critique. It's a psych-out designed purely to make the Democrats go wobbly and to get the media to portray them that way. It's about optics, heuristics and image. If the Democratic Party falls for it, it will be a crime. There is no substance to what they are saying and there is no reason for Dems to even flinch from such empty intimidation. Indeed, they should snarl right back in their faces.

Harry Reid is not falling for it.

Secretary Rumsfeld’s reckless comments show why America is not as safe as it can or should be five years after 9/11. The Bush White House is more interested in lashing out at its political enemies and distracting from its failures than it is in winning the War on Terror and in bringing an end to the war in Iraq. If there's one person who has failed to learn the lessons of history it's Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld ignored military experts when he rushed to war without enough troops, without sufficient body armor, and without a plan to succeed. Under this Administration's watch, terror attacks have increased, Iraq has fallen into civil war, and our military has been stretched thin. We have a choice to make today. Do we trust Secretary Rumsfeld to make the right decisions to keep us safe after he has been so consistently wrong since the start of the Iraq War? Or, do we change course in Iraq and put in place new leadership that will put the safety of the American people ahead of partisan games? For the sake of the safety of this country, it is time to make a change.

Now I'd like to see somebody say, "Hasn't Rumsfeld resigned yet? Is he still even in charge anymore? Who cares what he thinks?"


Erase Kenya, Replace With America

Sen. Barack Obama urged Kenyans to take control of their country's destiny by opposing corruption and ethnic divisions in government during a speech Monday in Nairobi.

Kenya and other African nations will never thrive if their citizens cannot count on government to deliver services fairly, regardless of their tribal background or ability to pay bribes, the Illinois Democrat told about 600 people at the state-run University of Nairobi.

"In the end, if the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists -- to protect them and to promote their common welfare -- all else is lost," he said.

We the people of the United States of America need to take heed of Obama's speech. Except he's not directing it at us. American exceptionalism dictates that we cannot possibly have these kinds of problems. Graft? Corruption? Inability to deliver basic services? Lack of homeland security? That's for the Third World, right?

Greed? Check:

The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s. UBS, the investment bank, recently described the current period as “the golden era of profitability.”

Bribery? Check:

A State Department official accepted free flights to Las Vegas with exotic dancers, expensive meals, hotel rooms in New York and other bribes to speed up the visa process for a jewelry company, federal prosecutors said Friday.

Michael John O'Keefe, the deputy nonimmigrant visa chief at the U.S. Consulate in Toronto, was indicted on bribery and conspiracy charges Friday. Sunil Agrawal, the chief executive of New York-based STS Jewels, was also charged.

Inability to provide for citizens? Check:

Former FEMA Director Michael Brown, who lost his job because of Hurricane Katrina, said Tuesday his biggest regret a year later is that he wasn't candid enough about the lack of a coherent federal response plan.

"There was no plan. ... Three years ago, we should have done catastrophic planning," Brown said, charging that the Bush administration and his department head, Michael Chertoff, "would not give me the money to do that kind of planning."

As levees broke down at Katrina's strike against New Orleans and people were forced from their homes, Brown said he sought futilely to get the 82nd Airborne Division into the city quickly.

Appearing on NBC's Today show, he was asked about positive statements he had made at the time about how Washington would come through for the storm victims, rather than leveling with the country about how bad the situation actually was.

"Those were White House talking points," Brown replied. "And to this day, I think that was my biggest mistake."

Brown said that at many intervals during the week the storm hit, he found himself asking, "Where in the hell is the help?"

"I have to confess ... you want to protect the president when you're a political appointee," he said, "so you're torn between telling the absolute truth and relying on those talking points. To this day, that is my biggest regret. "

Money influencing our security? Check:

This week, just as Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata put on hold an eight-bill package of flood-protection legislation, one of his political committees received a $500,000 donation from the California Building Industry Association (CBIA), one of the package's biggest opponents.

The donation is the single largest that a Perata committee has received since he became Senate leader in 2004 [...]

"This is about good policy, not politics, and that's what we need to focus on," (Assemblywoman Lois Wolk) said. "We have less flood protection than they had in New Orleans. Sacramento is really not protected and the thousands of people who live here are at risk."

There are probably about 4,000 examples of this, I just picked the few I could find quickly. Put your own in the comments.

Sen. Obama is noble for speaking out against the ruling elite of a foreign country that invited him there; I wish he would be as forthright with the American people. We are experiencing every last one of these difficulties, which necessarily arise when government becomes detached from the people it serves. The brave ones trying to take the country back, and those who wish it could be so, would benefit so much from hearing this kind of tough talk directed at our country.

But no, I guess we're just fine. Except for the culture of corruption that's taken over Washington. Except for the creeping influence of Big Money, which writes legislation, lobbies for its passage, and amends it if it's not to their liking. Except for the tragic neglect in the Gulf Coast. Except for the Republican theory of government, which asserts proudly that citizens are on their own, good night and good luck.

We need this speech. We need it right here. All of us could learn a lot from it.


A Moment of Silence

For the 1,836 Americans who lost their lives in the man-made disaster that unfolded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. And the hundreds of thousands of other who died, were left homeless, and otherwise distressed along the Gulf Coast.

That we have moved so pitifully in reconstruction and relief efforts in the year since the storm is revolting. Yesterday The Yes Men had to shame the nation by pulling a stunt that highlighted just how damaged our government really is, if this is thought of as "obscene":

A prankster posing as a federal housing official took centre stage at a New Orleans event with the city mayor and the governor of Louisiana, controversially promising to throw open closed public housing to thousands of poor former city residents.

The stunt, which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development called a "cruel hoax," was the latest by an activist group known as "The Yes Men" who have previously masqueraded as World Trade Organisation officials announcing they were disbanding the body.

Activist Andy Bichlbaum, pretending to be HUD "Assistant Deputy Secretary Rene Oswin," told hundreds of businesspeople at a forum the agency would reverse policy and reopen housing units now targeted for replacement by mixed-income development.

He promised to "fix New Orleans, not just for the benefit of a few but for everyone."


A fake release from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson announced the purported change.

"Today, it is my great pleasure to announce to you that HUD is reversing our policy. From now on, and beginning at all Orleans parish housing communities, our policy will no longer be to destroy much-needed housing, but to do all in our power to make it work," said the statement.

Later, the group provided barbecued chicken and ribs to contractors at an open public housing development while a brass band belted out New Orleans jazz.

One contractor lured to the event told Bichlbaum he thought the buildings could be fixed for less than half the cost of new construction. "The main thing is to get in here and get it done," said Jeff Perryman of B3 Construction.

Mike Bonanno, the second "Yes Man," told Reuters the hoax was a bittersweet achievement. "It's helped us to become the people we wish we could be to correct the problems," he said.

It's considered a sick joke to offer New Orleanians a ray of hope and a means to rebuild their shattered lives. That's how up-is-down we've gotten in this country.

As the President brings his travelling road show to the region this week, to try and, in the words of Frank Rich, "make us forget the first anniversary of the downfall of his presidency," we really should collectively be reminded of the fact that there's still a lot of suffering down there, a lot of people who need help. It's an open question whether or not this Administration, which focuses entirely on politics in virtually every other aspect, even WANTS to provide help there:

Douglas Brinkley, the Tulane University historian who wrote the best-selling account of Katrina, “The Great Deluge,” is worried that even now the White House is escaping questioning about what it is up to (and not) in the Gulf. “I don’t think anybody’s getting the Bush strategy,” he said when we talked last week. “The crucial point is that the inaction is deliberate — the inaction is the action.” As he sees it, the administration, tacitly abetted by New Orleans’s opportunistic mayor, Ray Nagin, is encouraging selective inertia, whether in the rebuilding of the levees (“Only Band-Aids have been put on them”), the rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward or the restoration of the wetlands. The destination: a smaller city, with a large portion of its former black population permanently dispersed. “Out of the Katrina debacle, Bush is making political gains,” Mr. Brinkley says incredulously. “The last blue state in the Old South is turning into a red state.”

We can band together as Americans always do in times of trouble. The donations by schoolchildren to the Gulf Coast region have outpaced the donations by all but 10 American corporations. We the people are all that's left to get this done, just like we the people are the last hope to vote out the corprocrats and get some sanity into our government. This is a very nice thing MoveOn is doing to raise continuous awareness of the struggle in the region, and to get some much-needed funds down there. Most Katrina survivors have not seen a check cut for their housing. They're being fought tooth and nail by the insurance industry. But placed 30,000 survivors into a place to live in a matter of days.

They wrote a book about it, It Takes a Nation, and a $20 donation to ongoing relief efforts will net you it. I plan to give. Do you?

UPDATE: Think Progress has a very helpful factual timeline of the events of Katrina that could put some of the spin to rest.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Money Money Money

It's a sad fact that money continues to be a driver in American politics. Hopefully the passage of Prop. 89 mandating public financing of statewide elections, endorsed by Phil Angelides, will change all that in California. But for now, the current election laws rule the roost, and Arnold Schwarzenegger can accept millions in special interest contributions to finance his campaign. We learned today that that the special interest money buys something very concrete and specfic:

At least 13 of Schwarzenegger's appointees, their spouses and their companies have contributed more than $1.4 million to his campaigns, according to campaign disclosure forms and a review by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has received sizable campaign contributions from people he has appointed to the Del Mar Fair Board. Contributions include money given by the board member, spouse and businesses owned by either.

President, Douglas E. Barnhart Inc. construction firm
Appointed: 2004
Contributions: $140,900

CEO/chairman, Price Self Storage
Appointed: 2005
Contributions: $142,000

Community activist and wife of attorney John Davies, judicial adviser for Schwarzenegger
Appointed: 2006
Contributions: $16,150

Community activist and wife of Republican leader and developer Sam Hardage
Appointed: 2005
Contributions: $36,200

Head of ADCS Inc.
Appointed: 2004 (resigned in 2005)
Contributions: $77,400

SOURCES: state disclosure forms; Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights

Now, the Del Mar board is kind of a prestige appointment, one that is unpaid but gets you access to prime seats and club at the Del Mar Fairgrounds near San Diego. And the surfacing of the name Brent Wilkes is kind of interesting. You may know that Wilkes, a disgraced defense contractor with ADCS, is listed as a co-conspirator in the Duke Cunningham investigation (he was one of the bribers). Wilkes' recent history intersects with Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, the now-closed Alexander Strategy Group (he gave them $170,000 last year for lobbying), potential indictee and Redlands Congressman Jerry Lewis (who Wilkes described as a partner in what amounts to an extortion racket in a recent article in The New York Times), Dusty Foggo and "Hookergate" (Wilkes threw the now-infamous "poker parties" which featured Congressmen and prostitutes).

And this is a Schwarzenegger appointee. You recall he campaigned against EXACTLY this kind of "peerage for money" scheme in the recall election of 2003:

Schwarzenegger, even though he didn't mention appointments specifically, promised a different approach to state government during the campaign.

“Here's how it works,” he said in one television ad. “Money goes in. Favors go out. The people lose. We need to send a message. Game over.”

Game started. Again.

So clearly, Schwarzenegger's campaign has raked in millions. I mean, the guy rewards his friends. And heck, he had no problem breaking California election law by not reporting millions he received during last year's special election. And money still matters in this state. It's very expensive to buy ads in the many large media markets. And the size of the state means that most voters will interface with your campaign through that advertising.

That's why Phil Angelides needs our financial support. Governor Phil, the site I've been writing for on occasion, has an ActBlue donation page. I'm moving it to the front page in the hopes that we can give the State Treasurer a little financial parity as we head into the thick of this race. Money donated now stretches much further than money donated at the end of the election.

If you can, please give. Let's try to get 100 donors this week.