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

Friday, March 18, 2005

This Is Not My Country

Abu Aardvark made it simple during the election with this inspired post. Basically, a vote for the incumbent was a vote for torture. While Kerry decided to keep mum about Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and Bagram during the election season (to his detriment), I thought that people would realize that the only way to restore decent American values and principles would be to cast a vote against torture.

Well, I was wrong. And as more revelations come out about extraordinary rendition, CIA kidnappings on foreign soil, 11 year-olds at Abu Ghraib, and prisoner abuse and murder all over the globe, the concerns of our shared loss of humanity have gone right down the crapper. This week a law professor and right-leaning blogger named Eugene Volokh practically ejaculated upon learning about an Iranian technique of capital punishment where the victim's family takes part in the killing of the prisoner in a long, painful and public execution. Now, when the Right finds common cause with Iran, that's news in itself. But that a LAW PROFESSOR would be so thrilled to dispense with cruel and unusual punishment in favor of Hammurabi-era barbarism just lays bare where conservatism is headed in a "reductio ad absurbum" kind of way. "We're at war" makes a very nice shield for bloodthirsty, ends-justify-the-means powermongers who, we now learn, actually delight in the brutal murder of those who transgress their personal codes of behavior. By the way, this is the "pro-life" crowd we're talking about. The "life begins at conception, and ends at conviction" crowd, I call them.

This is also the crowd that yells and screams about liberal bias on campus, and the radical "anti-American" views of certain professors under tenure. As if speaking in favor of Iranian torture techniques currently in violation of the Bill of Rights is not anti-American.

The more I read from the Right, with its eliminationist rhetoric, death to all who oppose, and moral relativism that mandates "any means necessary" for the enemy but shock and outrage for the life of a cell, the more I an tempted to think that this is not my country. A country that twists itself into rationalizations and technical legal loopholes to defend torture is not my country. But I am a believer in America and the American people. Average Americans simply don't know (or, more likely, don't want to know) what's being done in their name. Rush doesn't tell them. Neither does Hannity. Sure, there are the Volokhs of the world that will say "get them before they get us" and "terrorists don't deserve our pity, they deserve our swords" and "you just want them to win, don't you," not even understanding how debased the rhetoric of empty vengeance truly is. They'll hide behind the idea that torture is necessary to get information out about terror attacks, knowing that such information gained that way is almost always inaccurate, and also a smokescreen to belie their visceral need to stomp some terrorist ass. We've lost our way in this country, and the road back will take decades. The obstacles in the path of real freedom, real liberty, real justice, these obstacles have hoods on their heads and electrodes on their genitals. Or they're law professors typing away during office hours, imagining a world where they can sate their sanguinary, primal urges to detroy their enemies.

p.s. At least our elected Representatives get this:

U.S. House acts to stop the practice of 'outsourcing torture'

WASHINGTON (CP) - The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to ban the use of federal money to transfer terror suspects to countries that are believed to torture prisoners, a practice that has drawn fierce criticism of the administration.

The largely symbolic amendment reaffirms a 1994 treaty barring torture of detainees in American custody, whether in the United States or in countries known for human rights violations. The measure was approved 420-2 as part of an $81.4 billion US emergency spending package for combat and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This will almost definitely get stripped out in committee, which is why it enjoyed such enormous support. Democrats Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Edward Markey of Massachusetts (co-sponsors) understand that our standing in the world is in direct proportion to our moral leadership.


Thursday, March 17, 2005

Budget in Flames

Well, we finally got a win in the Senate. Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon built a coalition with a few Republicans and the Democrats and got the Senate to strip out Medicaid cuts from the Bush 2006 budget. This throws the entire budget into turmoil, as the House wants to get those lazy poor people out of our "freedom hospitals":

The Senate action came as the House of Representatives was debating its own version of the budget. House Republican leaders, who have been arguing that the explosive growth of Medicaid must be reined in, had warned that passage of the Smith amendment would create a seemingly unbridgeable chasm between the chambers. House members were deliberating up to $20 billion in Medicaid cuts this afternoon.

If the House and Senate can't come together on a compromise budget, what will probably happen is that Congress will agree to work with last year's budget. Which means that the most odious parts, like drilling in ANWR, would never come into law.

In addition to that happy possibility, it shows the fundamental rift in the Republican Party, between those moderates that still understand the importance of kitchen-table issues and the hardline conservatives that have lumps of coal for hearts. All of them are for unrestrained spending (as shown by yesterday's striking down of PAYGO restrictions); it's just that some of them want the money to go to their constituents to fulfill campaign promises, while others would rather give it to defense contractors to build bunker-buster bombs. Now that the public is reacting negatively to the deep cuts in entitlements (like Social Security), big increases in defense kind of budget favored by Bush and DeLay, more and more moderate conservatives are going to have to distance themselves if they want to keep their jobs. This Smith amendment on Medicaid could be the first step.


CNN: Cable? News? Nah.

I made a statement on a comedy stage at least 7 years ago that CNN was pretty much "like E! with a stock report at this point." How right I was. Look at this from the Liquid List. CNN's top stories bear no relation to news. Robert Blake found not guilty? Scott Peterson moved to San Quentin? "American Idol" makes its first cut?

Hey, producers, guys, look over here at Capitol Hill... seems like the US Senate just passed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge... it's this thing they call news, see... Yeah, I know Jose Canseco isn't involved, but it actually has consequences for all Americans... it's what they call "worthy of being reported"!!!!!

Someone should really report news during the day. It'd be nice.


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Rape the Earth bill passes

Today the Senate, by a bare majority of 51-49, shamed themselves by voting to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. Actually they didn't vote to do it; they voted against stripping it out of the President's budget, a cowardly way of ducking a cloture vote which surely would have failed. This is a major issue that somehow got stuck into the budget, limiting debate and requiring only 51 votes, which is exactly what it got. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska threatened to retire if drilling in ANWR was defeated; now we don't even get to see that happen.

Lorax at Daily Kos has a diary up with action items for next steps. This is not completely over, but it's on severe life support. The NRDC and the Sierra Club need to really rally around this issue to make sure we aren't destroying our precious resources. Check out lorax' agenda.

And of course, this is another issue for us to keep alive in 2006. America should not be for sale to oil interests.


Save Social Security - Raise the Minimum Wage

Yesterday Ben Nelson of Nebraska made a genius move by introducing a "sense of the Senate" bill for vote. It read as follows: "It is the sense of the Senate that Congress should reject any Social Security plan that requires deep benefit cuts or a massive increase in debt." He got Republicans on the record to support benefit cuts and massive debt (all but five of them, that is: Collins, Snowe, Dewine, Specter, and Graham). I expect lots of commercials saying "Sen. (BLANK) voted to cut your Social Security benefits and add massive amounts of deb." That's how the game works.

There's another opportunity for Democrats to beat Republicans over the head with a Social Security vote. It concerns a core Democratic policy, one that Kerry mentioned often on the stump, that has broad public support: raising the minimum wage.

Depending on what you read, either 2.1 million or 1 million workers in Nevada alone or as much as 12 million workers are making the minimum wage or only slightly more. Let's split the difference and say 6 million. It's probably more, but we'll be conservative. Ted Kennedy and others have suggested raising the federal minimum wage by two dollars, from $5.15 an hour to $7.15 an hour. This is sensible legislation which says to America that if you work 40 hours a week, you will not have to live in poverty, you will not have to choose between food and shelter, you will not have to work multiple jobs to survive in the richest country on the planet. Let's see what raising the minimum wage by $2 an hour does to FICA revenue.

Under the current law, a minimum wage worker makes $41.20 a day, of which $5.11 goes into FICA revenue. This represents the 6.2% taken out of the paycheck, and the 6.2% on top of that contributed by the employer. If the minimum wage worker was making $7.15 a hour and therefore $57.20 for an 8-hour day, the FICA revenue would climb to $7.09, an increase of around two dollars per day per worker. With the available, extremely conservative statistics of 6 million workers, that's $12 million in additional revenue per day, $4.38 billion per year, and $175.2 billion over the next 40 years, when the trust fund will supposedly run out. That's not the entire solution, but it's a pretty large component. And like I said, those are conservative estimates. Further, it doesn't take into account everyone making between $5.16 and $7.14 an hour, whose raises would add that much more to FICA revenue.

Raising the minimum wage is not a tax increase, not a benefit cut, and gives everyday workers a bit of humanity. Tying it to Social Security turns the issue into a billy club. If you thought "Senator BLANK voted to cut your Social Security benefits" was bad, how does "Senator BLANK voted against fixing Social Security and lifting poor Americans out of poverty" sound? The Republican counter-argument to raising the minimum wage is always that it will hurt businesses and cost jobs. It's a silly argument, but when you tie it to Social Security, the ball in the batter's box gets huge for Democrats. "Why do the Republicans say no to fixing Social Security? Why are they siding with corporate interests over the people of America? Would they rather see poverty on our streets?"

I would hope Senator Kennedy would introduce the "Fixing Social Security Through A Living Wage" Act today.


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Really Darn Busy Today

I do want to congratulate the judge who ruled against discrimination and paved the way for same-sex marriage to become a reality in California. If you actually read the opinion, he eviscerates every argument against same-sex marriage, invoking the unconstitutionality of "separate but equal" and appeals to basic logic with skill and precision. Bravo.

More later on tonite.


Monday, March 14, 2005

GWB: The Most Trusted Name in Fake News

It's the same old story. Jon Stewart and his gang make a little show for Comedy Central called The Daily Show, and it becomes a hit. And pretty soon everybody comes out of the woodwork and starts jumping on the fake news bandwagon:

Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged TV News

It is the kind of TV news coverage every president covets.

"Thank you, Bush. Thank you, U.S.A.," a jubilant Iraqi-American told a camera crew in Kansas City for a segment about reaction to the fall of Baghdad. A second report told of "another success" in the Bush administration's "drive to strengthen aviation security"; the reporter called it "one of the most remarkable campaigns in aviation history." A third segment, broadcast in January, described the administration's determination to open markets for American farmers.

To a viewer, each report looked like any other 90-second segment on the local news. In fact, the federal government produced all three. The report from Kansas City was made by the State Department. The "reporter" covering airport safety was actually a public relations professional working under a false name for the Transportation Security Administration. The farming segment was done by the Agriculture Department's office of communications.

Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.

People wonder how this can happen. I can tell you from experience that there is no greater center of laziness than the television newsroom. They're cash-strapped, under increasing pressure to drive ratings and come up with daily content, and they will react to a pre-packaged news report with the unaldulterated glee of a debutante at a cotillion.

This story from the New York Times is long, and I urge you to read it. Public relations are a great threat to the idea of a free press. Under the guise of "serving the client," they deliberately manipulate the public. This isn't about the Bush Administration so much as it is the unrestrained environment in which these types of things can happen. This is only slightly illegal, in other words. It's illegal in the sense of the use of government funds to create the fake news stories, and to pay for airtime, which is alleged in the article. And that's definitely not kosher. But most of what the Administration is doing with PR firms is simply an excellent example of working within the system. In fact, they come right out and say it in the article:

What is more, these officials argued, it is the responsibility of television news directors to inform viewers that a segment about the government was in fact written by the government. "Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution," said William A. Pierce, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. "This is not our problem. We can't be held responsible for their actions."

It's the system (i.e. the mass media, particularly broadcast media) that's broken. They are REWARDED for this behavior. And that's where it has to stop.

Democrats in Congress do have a "Stop Propaganda" bill in the mix, but it's doubtful to move out of committee without some real grassroots pressure. Stop Fake News is a new site devoted to this issue. Go there and sign their petitions. And let the Democrats in the legislature know how important this issue is. Without an informed public, just look at what can be done in our name.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

Biden in Two-thousand Never

This was from Saturday's edition of the LA Times, but I didn't have a chance to express my displeasure until today. Joe Biden (D-MBNA) has decided to attack back at those of us sane people who see his vote on the bankruptcy bill as a cynical cash payout to Delaware-based credit card companies. He responded to a week-old Jonathan Chait article called "When Democrats Join the Dark Side," which used Biden and the bankruptcy bill as an example of how Democrats with narrow home-state business constituencies can get peeled off into Republican-backed measures.

Biden's retort is called "Bankruptcy Reform Bill Is A Bipartisan Effort" and it's sure to make you hurl.

In his zeal to attack the bankruptcy reform bill, Jonathan Chait's March 4 commentary, "When Democrats Join the Dark Side," mischaracterizes the legislation. In 2001, a similar bill passed the Senate 82 to 16. The provisions affecting consumer bankruptcy were identical to those Chait criticizes.

So a similar bill passed in 2001, so Chait is not allowed to criticize it in 2005. I see.

The Schumer amendment that killed the bill in previous years, seen as the best attempt to vote down this legislation, passed by 7 votes, 53-46. Does that sound bipartisan to you?

At the outset, I refused to support bankruptcy reform until fundamental changes were made. I fought to establish a "safe harbor" for those below their state's median income. I also insisted on a provision requiring lenders to post a clear warning about the dangers of making minimum monthly payments, one of the worst debt traps for consumers.
This bill establishes unprecedented protections for child support and alimony, making bankruptcy part of the enforcement system for women and children, who now will be at the head of the line, in front of every other creditor. Is this bill perfect? No. But over several congresses it has earned the kind of bipartisan consensus only balanced legislation can achieve.

Biden sidesteps the issue of asset protection trusts (legal in his home state of Delaware), the struck-down amendments safeguarding military personnel and those with catastrophically large medical bills, the predatory lending practices of credit card companies (and their 30%-plus finance charges); in short, everything that Chait criticizes about the bill, in addition to most of us here. This is the textbook definition of obfuscation, of not answering the question posed to you.

Not only is the bill "not perfect," Mr. Biden, it practically reverses bankruptcy protection in this country, and does nothing toward its intended goal, to reduce "abuse" of the system. It's corporate welfare. If you want to go on believing this is "not perfect" but sound, bipartisan legislation, you're welcome to do so. And we're welcome to make sure that you are never elected to higher office.