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

Saturday, June 11, 2005

B-B-But Howard Dean said something mean!

Yesterday the Republican leader of the House Judiciary Committee, James Sensenbrenner, walked out on a committee hearing about the Patriot Act, took the gavel with him, and cut off everybody's mike, WHILE DEMOCRATS WERE TALKING.

I mean, you can still talk about how hurt you were and o-fend-ed by the DNC Chair's comments about Republicans, but when actions like this take place, can I not suggest that they speak louder than words?

The last resort of those who defend the indefensible is to avoid the conversation. Republicans like Sensenbrenner not only view Democrats with contempt, they view democracy with contempt. Shutting down open debate in the Congress is now par for the course. This won't raise a peep inside the Beltway, but you can bet the Sunday talk shows will pull a thousand "Can YOU defend Howard Dean's comments" Gotcha! questions to every Dem on their panel. Nobody will ask a Republican to defend James Sensenbrenner's actions. Here's the reason: Republicans would defend him by saying "Rep. Sensenbrenner is a great American, and he runs the Judiciary Committee with honor, and Democrats don't like him because he's so effective." And try as they might, compromised, mushy-middle Democrats WON'T EVER DO THAT. And because it's fun for Beltway kool kids to make their guests squirm, they will put the tough questions to those with the mushy middle. In short it makes for better television (at least they think so). And afterwards they can all laugh about it. And the status remains quo.


Thursday, June 09, 2005

That Was Easy

Ultra-liberal media outlet The NY Daily News reports that it's game, set and match for private accounts:

WASHINGTON - President Bush has all but conceded his plan for private accounts for Social Security is dead, admitting privatization won't save the federal retirement system.

"You can solve the solvency issue without personal accounts," Bush said in an interview with the Radio-Television News Directors Association.

This actually isn't all that new. Bush has already repositioned the private accounts as simply "a better deal" for younger Americans (because slashed benefits by 40-50%, exorbitent money management fees, a several-trillion dollar addition to the federal debt, and an volatile stock market sounds like such a good deal for retirement insurance). The solvency idea, apparently, is to cut benefits for 70% of the population.

But it's definitely a shift in tactics. Before it was a rush to get the public on the side of private accounts. Now it's a rush to get on the public's side, bask in the warm and fuzzy glow of making Social Security "strong" and "healthy," and then sneak private accounts in through the back door. This won't happen this year; it seems that the interest groups on the right that saw 2005 as an historic moment to destroy Social Security have slunk back into the primordial soup. But they'll be back.

Democrats should loudly and proudly proclaim that they've won this battle, and now it's time to do something for the American people on retirement security and health care. Specifically health care, since Medicare is the crisis that Social Security never was.


Headline Problem

The AP writes a story called "Bush Open to Possibly Closing Gitmo Camp" wherein their only evidence of this new policy is this quote:

"We're exploring all alternatives as to how best to do the main objective, which is to protect America," Bush said when asked in an interview with Fox News Channel's Neil Cavuto if he would close the detention center.

I don't see the connection. But this other quote, further down the story, is what I see as the problem with how cavalier the Administration's attitude is about Guantanamo:

Amnesty International also recently called for Guantanamo's closure, saying the facility is the "the gulag of our time" a characterization Bush dismissed again Wednesday.

"It's just absurd to equate Gitmo and Guantanamo with a Soviet gulag," he said. "Just not even close."

And it SHOULDN'T be close. The fact that you need to make a comparison is bad enough.

Look, nobody (at least not me) is asking you to let all the prisoners at Guantanamo free (though charging them with something instead of holding them indefinitely would be, I don't know, in keeping with Constitutional principles). But the reputation of the camp, and similarly our reputation, has been sullied. It is, as Joe Biden said on "This Week" last Sunday, a major recruitment tool for terrorists. Shut it down and scatter the prisoners to other bases and get this giant stain expunged from our human rights record. Gitmo and Abu Ghraib have turned our moral high ground into a molehill, and I fear we've lost the moderate Muslim as a result, a group whose help and support we badly need against extremists. This is serious business, and it's not an admission of defeat or weakness to simply shut down the camp and move the prisoners offsite. But that's what the above quote says to me. While Bush and others parry characterizations of "gulag," billions see the American rhetoric of spreading freedom and democracy as empty.

We need American ideals to mean something. They can't mean one thing for Americans and another for the rest of the world.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Telling Jokes in America

The only problem I had with Howard Dean becoming DNC Chair was that he had a pre-sold narrative. Establishment media, helped along by the right-wng noise machine, had already tarred him with the brush of an out-of-control wild man with a big mouth. Well, he does have a big mouth (not that that's a sin), and when he opened it, no matter what he said it would be construed in the worst possible way, sticking to the guidelines of the pre-sold narrative. In other words, entire paragraphs of a speech like this get dismissed:

And it wasn't enough for the president to try to wreck the public pension system that we had.  It wasn't enough for him to try to turn over Social Security to the same people who brought us Enron -- his good friends and political contributors -- that wasn't enough.  Now we find out that under this president's watch, private pension plans have been grossly underfunded.  What does this president want?  Don't Americans deserve, after a long life of work, don't they deserve a retirement with dignity and security?  I think that they do.  (Cheers, applause.)  

This week the Labor Department estimated that in 2004 underfunding of pension plans grew to $450 billion.  Sixty percent of companies take advantage of outdated accounting rules to avoid making annual contributions.  The president wants to take away our Social Security, and then he's going to take away the private pension plans too?  What does he think ordinary Americans live on after they get to be 65 years old?  We need a president who understands working people in this country, and we will have one after 2008.  (Cheers, applause.)

However, I said that we were not simply going to criticize the president.  We were going to make some positive suggestions as well. Here's what I think Democrats need to stand up for.  We need to have pension portability so that pensions, as we move from job to job to job, the pensions follow us, they don't stay in the company.  (Cheers, applause.)  That great Democrat Jim Jeffords has been introducing this for 15 years.  (Laughter.)  George Bush has had his chance to fix the pension programs in this country.  He has failed to do it.  We need a new president and a new Congress who will fix the private pension plans.  (Cheers, applause).  

We ought not to allow people like Ken Lay to loot the pension plans of America while their companies are going down.  Pension plans ought not to be controlled by companies.  They ought to be controlled by the people who those pensions belong to, that's the working people of America.  (Cheers, applause).  Enron began around the time the president took office.  Forty thousand Americans lost their pensions; another tens of thousands, just last week when the courts took away    the United Airlines workers' pensions. This is a serious problem.  The president has had his time; he has done nothing.  Let the Democrats try to fix the pension program.  We have a positive plan with portability and independent control outside these corporations who abuse the money.  This is stealing to let pension plans go down.  That money does not belong -- (cheers, applause) -- that money does not belong to these companies who are bailing themselves out of bankruptcies; it belongs to the people who they promised it to in their contract. It has been set aside. We want these pensions in America to be independently run so that they are not looted in the throes of bankruptcy while CEOs make $30 million and $40 million a year.  That is wrong.  (Applause.)  They have had their chance.

And instead, we get "In a speech today, Howard Dean said that Republicans have never worked a day in their life." Soundbite culture (the average bite on the nightly news has decreased from 43 seconds to 8 over the last 35 years) demands that lines get pulled out of their context. Here, if you're interested, is the context:

"I think, frankly, we ought to have voting on -- either make the Tuesday a holiday or else move it to another day where people don't -- (cheers, applause) -- can get out and vote.  You -- (applause continues) -- you know, the idea that you have to wait on line for eight hours to cast your ballot in Florida -- there's something the matter with that.  You think people can work all day and then pick up their kids at child care or wherever, and get home and then have a -- still manage to sandwich in an eight-hour vote?  Well, Republicans, I guess, can do that, because a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives.  (Light applause.) But for ordinary working people, who have to work eight hours a day, they have kids, they got to get home to those kids, the idea of making them stand for eight hours to cast their ballot for democracy is wrong.  We ought to make voting easier to do.  Mail -- Oregon has got it right.  (Applause.)

Republicans are welcome to take offense, but I see a throwaway joke in the midst of a substantive discussion about voting. Working people, actually any people, shouldn't have to wait 8 hours or more in line to vote. The states where this was most prevalent were Ohio and Florida, under Secretaries of State who were also co-chairs for the Bush campaign.

I didn't know you couldn't tell jokes in America anymore. Wasn't this the stated, open strategy of the Republicans in dealing with Kerry? Isn't that how we got 'Purple Heart' Band-Aids and "He looks French" and the windsurfing ad? To think that the GOP used to be the freewheeling party that railed against "political correctness." Actually, I was right there with them at the time. But when somebody attacks them? Waa waa waa, you're being mean!

Republicans are also welcome to think that Dean is the greatest thing to GOP majority dominance since sliced bread. His pre-sold narrative, which lends itself to controversy, certainly helps take the heat off of what has been a disastrous year for the GOP. And having senior Democrats criticize the party chair in public doesn't do anything for the self-image (haven't you heard of a back channel, Joe Biden?). Meanwhile, under the radar, money is going to long-ignored states, more money has come in than any off-year cycle in history, and the 50-state strategy is being pursued at the grassroots.

It's funny, because I remember fellow Dems getting mad that Dean was conspicuously silent during the first quarter of the year, and my thoughts were, "Why should he have to say anything? He's in an infrastructure job." Talk about careful what you wish for. Dean talks tough and there are actually benefits to that, in that it helps draw distinctions between the parties. It's going to be impossible to reverse the pre-sold narrative, however, so a shift in focus (back to the under-the-radar, grassroots, tactical work) would help. Nobody gets to tell me to shut up, however, so I don't get to tell anyone else.


Monday, June 06, 2005

Freedom's on the March

In Lebanon:

BINT JBEIL, Lebanon (AP) - Hezbollah and its Shiite allies claimed a clean sweep in the second stage of national election held Sunday in southern Lebanon, a vote the militant group hopes will prove its strength and send a message of defiance to the United States.

Four hours after polling stations closed, Hezbollah's deputy leader, Sheik Naim Kassem, and election ally Nabih Berri of the Shiite Muslim Amal movement, said they had won all 23 seats in this region bordering Israel.

In Palestine:

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - The Bush administration is showing signs of easing its hard-line approach toward Hamas, in response to the militant group's rising political clout in the Palestinian territories and appeals for flexibility from European allies, officials and diplomats said.

The White House acceded to Hamas running candidates in Palestinian elections, even though the group has refused to disarm and Washington lists it as a major terrorist organization.

The more we imperialize, the more we radicalize. But it's in the name of freedom, so don't worry.

Incidentally, when you look past the fact that terrorist organizations are winning elections in the Muslim world, you understand that Hezbollah and Hamas have achieved whatever popularity they have in their respective countries by providing social services to Lebanese and Palestinian citizens. The way to stagnate terrorism is to end poverty now. It can be done and it will remove the greatest terrorist recruiting tool there is: despair. We have a chance at the G-8 to get this right, and increase targeted foreign aid and debt cancellation in the name of global security.

UPDATE: Step in the right direction. Not all the way there, but a step.


Sorry D-Day Fans

D-Day is a contraction of my name, and this site has nothing to do with the storming of the beaches at Normandy. Google, in their infinite wisdom, has dropped me down off their D-Day search, where until recently I think I was 3rd. To all those looking for WWII-era information, let it be known that I like D-Day and all, but sadly, I've got nothing for ya here. My grandfather was at Midway, maybe I should change the name to that.

However, Wes Clark has a few excellent thoughts on D-Day, and how we disgrace their memory by refusing to provide even basic health coverage to all our soldiers. I suggest that as a good stop along your Internet journey.

Thank you for your time, and feel free to come again!


No Trust in the FDA

Mark McClellan, head of the Medicare program (and brother to press secretary Scott McClellan), has a good idea that shouldn't have to be done:

Medicare head Mark McClellan, a doctor and an economist who once ran the FDA, has proposed a Medicare-based system to track the safety and effectiveness of medications.

McClellan proposes taking billing data from the prescription program, which will begin in January, and combining it with healthcare information already collected when Medicare users submit claims for hospital and doctors' care. By cross-referencing the information, a computer system could spot signs of trouble.

In other words, he wants to turn Medicare into a regulatory agency, on top of its other duties. Because the FDA is flat-out not doing its job:

Whether it's a suspected link between Viagra and rare cases of vision loss or heart attacks among arthritis patients using Vioxx, the FDA's current system of voluntary reporting picks up no more than 10% of serious drug reactions.

I don't know what you expect when you appoint pharmaceutical industry bigwigs into regulatory posts at the FDA, and transform the agency into a rubber stamp for drug companies. It seems like every week there's another revelation about some drug that was pushed to market too quickly without warning consumers of the risks. When you take regulation out of regulatory agencies, that's what you get. Clearly McClellan knows this: he ran the FDA, and he has lost all faith in it.

And it's not just Medicare that's going outside the FDA to take action:

A large private insurer, UnitedHealth Group Inc., is already creating a monitoring system similar to the one McClellan has proposed. The UnitedHealth system could cover as many as 20 million of its patients; the Medicare plan could cover as many as 43 million people, including some of the sickest and most vulnerable, whom drug companies don't usually enroll in clinical trials.

It's a failure of leadership to force private companies to override the system. And similarly, it's proof of how much our health care system is in crisis when parts of the industry feel they have to do government's job for them. Getting industry lobbyists off the FDA advisory panel is a complete no-brainer. It's common sense legislation that will never, ever pass, at least not in the current climate.

The tragedy of not only the FDA, but of the uninsured will only end when big business finally has enough of the soaring costs and leans on the lawmakers to get something done. That's already happening in a lot of circles. Universal health coverage will require the strange bedfellows of labor and management to shout in unison, "This is a right, not a privilege!"