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

Saturday, January 13, 2007

My Campaign Speech


To Mr. Salladay

Since you're a reader, obviously, I'll address you by name. I saw your update today, and I thought I'd address it.

You write:

The Sacramento Bee has more on the progressive political bloggers seeking to infiltrate the California Democratic Party through elections today. "The state party is largely composed of old buddies who get together to socialize every once in a while, with most meetings being poorly attended and little business getting done in them," says one 18-year-old high school student who is running. That's the point this blog made Thursday, but a few earnest types totally freaked out! Also: I'm a blogger too, so I can make light-hearted fun of bloggers. It's in the rules.

First, I wouldn't characterize it as "seeking to infiltrate." It's seeking to participate, and what irked everyone about your initial statement is the dismissiveness of anyone who would deign to involve themselves in participatory democracy. The point you made Thursday is that it's pointless to participate, that it won't change anything. Also: I'm a blogger too, and not paid to be one, so I can make fun of your making fun of me. And do it better.

Then there's this:

UPDATE: Dan Ancona says the Democratic party is getting energized: "The almost entirely unchecked power of special interests, the noise of capitalist society, and snarky disaffected despair like Mr Salladay all work against them. But large and growing numbers of people are making the choice to rebuild the American democracy anyway."

I happily come from a leftist-hippy family (see photo of my wood-fired hot tub - it's semi-liberal), so I know from where progressives are speaking. But I am struck by how progressives feel the California Democratic Party establishment doesn't represent their views. Universal health care? State Democrats did it. Same-sex marriage? Done. Raise the minimum wage? Multiple times. Global warming? Toughest standards in the nation. Challenge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and protect unions? They destroyed Schwarzenegger in 2005. For the most part, the problem has been Schwarzenegger's vetoes, not Art Torres.

Take a look at my campaign speech:

"My name is David Dayen. I am a proud progressive. I come from the grassroots, and I'm a blogger, so i come from the netroots. The reason I am running is that I think we have a tremendous opportunity in California. The Republican brand is shot, they can't get elected unless they act like Democrats for six months. But we're not going to get anywhere without a strong and vibrant party of our own. As your delegate, I will work to make the CDP more responsive to the grassroots and to the concerns of everyday Californians, more effective, by reaching out to every Assembly District, to every county, and more relevant, not just for 2 weeks every two years, but every day, every week, telling voters who we are and what we stand for. That's why I'm here, that's why I'm asking for your vote, because I want everyone in this state to be as excited about participating in their democracy as everyone in this room is. Thank you."

I ask you, do you see anything about ideology in there? About issues? I don't think the CDP is effective enough. If they were, they wouldn't have had so few pickups the last several years. They wouldn't be in a state with Republican governors 13 of the past 18 years (actually something like 80 of the past 100 years). They wouldn't have been one of the only states in the country where Democratic party ID didn't rise in the 2006 elections.

Furthermore, you don't address the major issue that upset progressives in 2006: the CDP's refusal to endorse the Clean Money initiative, Prop. 89. Because Angelides supported it they took no stance, but they were VERY ready to betray practically every grassroots Democratic group in the state by not endorsing it. This is an important point. The amount of money in our democracy is nothing short of corrosive. The leaders in Sacramento take lots of that money. And they weren't about to suspend that pay-to-play system, which would be the greatest thing we could do to reclaim democracy from special interests in this state. The fact that you don't address that, or don't know it, shows that you're fairly clueless about the concerns of progressives here.

And another thing: this is not just about bloggers. It's about working together with the grassroots. Nobody on my slate except for me is a blogger. My colleagues have spent decades and decades in the grassroots, in Democratic clubs, in activist organizations of every stripe. We are going to work as hard as we can to give this state a Democratic Party that means something, that is true to its principles, and that reaches out to everybody, in every district, in every county.

Are those the thoughts of a sallow depressive? I don't think so.

(Also, the unions challenged Schwarzenegger and protected unions, they did it with millions of dollars and millions of hours of hard work)

PS It's also funny that, by Salladay's logic, I'm not supposed to "expect a leftward shift from the party" but at the same time, the party supports leftward causes and is pretty progressive. I guess he'll argue every side of an issue, as long as he can seem right, ay?


You will refer to me as "delegate dday," sirs and madames.

Short answer: I won.

We had our CDP (California Democratic Party) elections this morning, and I am proud to report that I and all 12 members of our Progressive Slate were overwhelmingly victorious. In what was a relatively high turnout for elections of this type, I garnered 88 votes out of 134 ballots, or 65.7%. I am now going to do a precinct-by-precinct breakdown of voting... OK, no, but I do want to tell you about what was a tremendous experience. I also have video which I'll get up on YouTube later.

The caucus was scheduled for 10:00 this morning at the Malibu Public Library, which is about the midway point in the district between Santa Monica and Oxnard (actually, it's probably a little closer to Santa Monica). I got there a little early and stayed in my car until the library opened up (it was literally the coldest morning of the winter). All the members of our slate were armed with flyers and ready to greet the voters. I was fairly confident, because our slate included Marcy Winograd, progressive champion and former Congressional primary candidate against Jane Harman in 2006. But there was also a competing slate, composed of a grassroots group from the San Fernando Valley. This included the convener of the meeting and 2005-06 Executive Board representative for the AD. So this wasn't going to be easy.
People had about an hour to come in and register themselves for the election, pay the fee (or poll tax, whatever you want to call it), and get their ballot. This was basically an hour of full politicking, handing out flyers, talking to people, making your case. Retail politics at its finest.

I want to tell anyone reading this who is running tomorrow to look for a few pitfalls that really impacted my meeting, which was far more of a free-for-all than it needed to be.

• Make sure the person running the meeting has control over the ballot distribution. There were people handing out ballots all over the place. In the end, this wasn't a major factor, but there ended up being 134 ballots and only 133 people who registered for the caucus. In my view, this could have been far worse but for the honesty of the people in the room.

Ballots should at the very least have a number on them which corresponds to each voter, or something. This was a nightmare waiting to happen.

• Please note that registration CLOSES one hour from the scheduled time of the meeting. If voters are in line for registration at that time, they can participate. If not, they're out of luck. This was a MAJOR point of contention in our meeting because it was not really information that was distributed to anyone prior. There were a couple people who were a couple minutes late who they tried to turn away, and the room just erupted, the voter started yelling the he was disenfranchised, people were walking out of the room in protest, it was CHAOS. You know, just another Democratic meeting.

I would say that all candidates should make very clear that their voters must be there within an hour of the meeting schedule.

• The rules for counting the votes are at the complete discretion of the organizer of the meeting. We ended up with a process where supporters of the two competing slates (not candidates) could observe the counting, and people unaffiliated with the slates were the counters. But this should be worked out beforehand, or it could descend into more squabbling (especially if there are competing slates).

OK, that procedural stuff's out of the way, so let me tell you how it went. I spent an hour talking to people, meeting with my fellow slate members, and watching the craziness that surrounded the caucus. There were friends of mine who came out to vote for me. There were people I met at MoveOn meetings and people who read about me online. It was an inspiring hour where I got to tell my story to people, and have them understand why I should be sent to the CDP convention. Eventually, we got around to candidate statements. You had one minute to give a speech about your candidacy. Being that they went by alphabetical order, I actually was second. I have video of this speech which I'll be putting up on YouTube later. I didn't go off notes, but here's a paraphrase:

"My name is David Dayen. I am a proud progressive. I come from the grassroots, and I'm a blogger, so i come from the netroots. The reason I am running is that I think we have a tremendous opportunity in California. The Republican brand is shot, they can't get elected unless they act like Democrats for six months. But we're not going to get anywhere without a strong and vibrant party of our own. As your delegate, I will work to make the CDP more responsive to the grassroots and to the concerns of everyday Californians, more effective, by reaching out to every Assembly District, to every county, and more relevant, not just for 2 weeks every two years, but every day, every week, telling voters who we are and what we stand for. That's why I'm here, that's why I'm asking for your vote, because I want everyone in this state to be as excited about participating in their democracy as everyone in this room is. Thank you."

0 minutes, 59 seconds. It felt good, I haven't looked at the video yet.

Anyway, everybody got through their statements (there were about 35-40 candidates), and then final balloting was completed. (that's another thing, candidates, you can vote at any time during the meeting, before anyone makes their statement even. Quite a few people voted and left. I don't know who that benefits, but it should be known.

Vote-counting took TWO HOURS. They counted the number of ballots, made sure every ballot counted no more than 12 people (a few people over-voted, and their votes were then discarded), counted once, and I think counted twice before arriving at a decision. My friend ended up getting chosen to help count, so what he probably thought would be a five-minute ordeal turned into 4 hours!

So we all waited on pins and needles for the results. And finally, they finished. The organizer put up the entire results for all candidates, and circled the winners. And sure enough, our ENTIRE slate, 6 men and 6 women, was elected. We all turned out our voters, and defeated the other slate by a wide margin. Marcy Winograd was then elected by unanimous consent as our executive board representative.

It was exhilirating to really participate and get involved in the political process at the local level. I was really inspired by seeing some of the other candidates there. There was a mother-daughter tandem, with the daughter in her early 20s. There was a Hispanic lady from Oxnard who was only naturalized as a citizen a couple years ago. She spoke about the importance of getting involved. Seeing the energy at the local level bodes extremely well for my party. And now I can truly say that it's MY party: I'm an elected official!

GET INVOLVED in your state parties. It's so rewarding and vital. Movements like this start from the bottom up. It's the only way real change ever happens in America.

Thanks to everyone who gave me their support and good wishes this week. I also have a word for Robert Salladay of the LA Times, who attacked me, and the very notion of participatory democracy earlier this week... this "sallow depressive" is an elected sallow depressive, sir.


Friday, January 12, 2007


It's 1979 in reverse.

The enormity of what happened in Irbil yesterday is just starting to become clear. To recap, U.S. forces raided the Iranian liaison office in Irbil -- apparently it's not an actual consulate -- seized a number of computers and other documents, and took six Iranian nationals into custody. The six are accused of involvement in attacks on U.S. forces. What will happen to them? Here's Eli Lake in today's New York Sun:

Another administration source yesterday said the White House and State Department do not consider the Iranians arrested yesterday to have diplomatic immunity because the building that was raided was not a consulate. This means that unlike senior Iranian officials arrested last month, those detained yesterday will likely not be returned to Iran.

Forgive me my daily shrillness, but ... have we just taken Iranian hostages? Practically everyone who's not part of the Bush administration has condemned the raid: the Kurdish warlord faction that controls Irbil, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, has denounced it furiously. The BBC quoted Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari as saying that all six have been working "under the approval of the (Iraqi) government."

What the hell is going on here? Are we daring the Iranians to try and rescue the hostages? Is this like the bully who kicks sand in the kid's eyes until he retaliates, then complains "well, he started it!" Only of course, sand isn't the weapon of choice.

Thank goodness for Jim Webb for asking what needs to be asked at this time, when the Administration is clearly trying to pick a fight and provoke a wider war.'s good to see him in particular asking the Secretary of State the question of the day: "Is it the position of this administration that it possesses the authority to take unilateral action against Iran in the absence of a direct threat without congressional approval?" Rice's reply:

Senator, I'm really loathe to get into questions of the president's authorities without a rather more clear understanding of what we are actually talking about. So let me answer you, in fact, in writing. I think that would be the best thing to do.

In other words, "let me spend a few days with my lawyers coming up with something slippery enough for me and my husband President to wriggle out of."

Chris Matthews isn't going to let go of this, he's been out there questioning the Iran policy ever since the President's speech. It's vital that nobody stops looking at this issue. It's a prelude to madness.


Understanding the GOP Shitstorm Over American Samoa

While I was quite amused by Barney Frank's takedown of Patrick McHenry on the House floor, I was left wondering what the hell it was all about. McHenry, the designated Republican attack dog and the heir apparent to Gingrich and DeLay, was attempting to ask a question about whether American Samoa was exempted from the stem cell research bill that passed the House yesterday. McHenry is apparently completely ignorant of parliamentary procedure, or perhaps he just wanted to get the words "American Samoa" on C-SPAN. Because there's a growing shitstorm over a similar "exemption" for American Samoa in the recently passed minimum wage bill. From the fair and balanced Washington Times:

House Republicans yesterday declared "something fishy" about the major tuna company in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco district being exempted from the minimum-wage increase that Democrats approved this week.

"I am shocked," said Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican and his party's chief deputy whip, noting that Mrs. Pelosi campaigned heavily on promises of honest government. "Now we find out that she is exempting hometown companies from minimum wage. This is exactly the hypocrisy and double talk that we have come to expect from the Democrats."

On Wednesday, the House voted to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour.

The bill also extends for the first time the federal minimum wage to the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands. However, it exempts American Samoa, another Pacific island territory that would become the only U.S. territory not subject to federal minimum-wage laws.

One of the biggest opponents of the federal minimum wage in Samoa is StarKist Tuna, which owns one of the two packing plants that together employ more than 5,000 Samoans, or nearly 75 percent of the island's work force. StarKist's parent company, Del Monte Corp., has headquarters in San Francisco, which is represented by Mrs. Pelosi. The other plant belongs to California-based Chicken of the Sea.

"There's something fishy going on here," said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, North Carolina Republican.

There's a lot going on here. First of all, the sudden concern in the Republican delegation for the people of American Samoa is touching (If only they could locate the territory on a map). It's certainly not a concern they shared for the millions of Americans who they denied the minimum wage for nine years. It's not a concern they shared for the workers of the Marianas Islands, where forced abortions, sexual slavery and other predations characterized a work environment that the Republican majority never saw fit to overturn (maybe because Jack Abramoff was their chief lobbyist). And, it's interesting, to say the least, that this concern came out AFTER the vote rather than before it, even though this time, unlike under Republican control, legislators had ample time to read the bill.

However, there is a grain of truth here, and progressives would do well to address it. I don't subscribe to the "everybody does it" defense of corruption the way many conservative apologists do. Corruption is not a partisan issue, and I refuse to defend those who betray the public trust. My belief is, instead of "everybody does it" and leaving it alone, is to say "Yeah, and when WE do it, we act swiftly and ethically; you try to sweep it under the rug." To that end, I think it's necessary and vital to try and understand exactly what's going on with this charge.

First of all, it's important to note that the substance of the Republican argument, that the minimum wage bill specifically exempts American Samoa from federal minimum wage laws, is factually incorrect. American Samoa has ALREADY been exempt from those laws for some time, including for 12 years under a Republican majority. Currently wage floors in American Samoa are set by the US Department of Labor.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), applies generally to employment within American Samoa as it does to employment within the United States. The minimum wage rates for American Samoa are set by a special industry committee (29 U.S.C. 205, 29 C.F.R. Part 511) appointed by the U.S. Department of Labor, as required by the Act. The rates are set for particular industries, not for an employee's particular occupation. The rates are minimum rates (29 U.S.C. 206(a)(3)); an employer may choose to pay an employee at a rate higher than the rate(s) for its industry.

The Act contains a number of additional requirements, including the payment of premium rates to certain covered employees who work more than 40 hours in a workweek (29 U.S.C. 207), limitations on the employment of minors, and provisions relating to the Act's coverage and exceptions to and exemptions from some of the Act's general requirements.

Here is a list (PDF) of the specific wage floors for various industries in the territory.

Unlike the CNMI, which was abusing labor practices, American Samoa is subject to most all of the labor standards of the United States with the exception of the minimum wage. Because of the revelations of abuse, Democrats sought to remove the CNMI's exemption: it could fairly be seen as punishment. So, the bill did not specifically exempt American Samoa from the US minimum wage; instead it did not lift an exemption that is current US law. This may sound semantic to the skeptical, but it most certainly is not. Refusing to lift an exemption that was instituted under another set of lawmakers is a far cry from specifically finding a particular territory to reward with a chit.

The other part of this charge is that Nancy Pelosi is somehow rewarding Del Monte, a constituent business, by leaving low wages in place in a part of the world where Starkist Tuna operates (their parent company is Del Monte). The implication is that Pelosi is corrupt for handing out a favor to a business with interests in her district. But that could only be true if Pelosi wrote the bill or made the decision to leave the exemption on American Samoa in place, and the Washington Post reports that it was not her call.

Ever since Abramoff's lobbying scandal broke, top Democrats have been eager to highlight the labor-rights records of the Northern Mariana Islands...

But Samoa has escaped such notoriety, and its low-wage canneries have a protector of a different political stripe, Democratic delegate Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, whose campaign coffers have been well stocked by the tuna industry that virtually runs his island's economy.

Faleomavaega has said he does not believe his island's economy could handle the federal minimum wage, issuing statements of sympathy for a Samoan tuna industry competing with South American and Asian canneries paying workers as little as 66 cents an hour. The message got through to House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the minimum-wage bill that included the Marianas but not Samoa, according to committee aides. The aides said the Samoan economy does not have the diversity and vibrancy to handle the mainland's minimum wage, nor does the island have anything like the labor rights abuses Miller found in the Marianas.

You can debate whether or not the Samoan representative's argument holds water, and I will in a minute. But the point is that George Miller wrote the bill, not Nancy Pelosi. Republicans are showing a slight ignorance of how government works here. The Speaker may have had a hand in legislation; it's certainly possible. But Miller appears to have made this decision on his own. And furthermore, this item from CNS News, which is not well-sourced, suggests that Pelosi made a point of involving herself today.

Republicans say she tried to. But on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear that the new federal minimum wage would apply to all U.S. territories, including American Samoa. This happened after Republicans accused Pelosi of doing a favor for a hometown company - the San Francisco-based Del Monte.

Now, all that said, do I think it's fair for American Samoa to be exempted from the minimum wage in the first place? Probably not. From WaPo, here's essentially the crux of the argument:

But in American Samoa, it is the tuna industry that rules the roost. Canneries employ nearly 5,000 workers on the island, or 40 percent of the workforce, paying $3.60 an hour on average, compared with $7.99 an hour for Samoan government employees. Samoan minimum-wage rates are set by federal industry committees, which visit the island every two years.

Faleomavaega's aides said yesterday that the delegate was in American Samoa for the opening session of the island's government and would not comment. But he is no stranger to the minimum-wage issue. When StarKist lobbied in the past to prevent small minimum-wage hikes, Faleomavaega denounced the efforts.

"StarKist is a billion-dollar-a-year company," he said after a 2003 meeting with executives from StarKist and parent company Del Monte Foods. "It is not fair to pay a corporate executive $65 million a year while a cannery worker only makes $3.60 per hour."

But after the same meeting, Faleomavaega also said he understood that the Samoan canneries were facing severe wage competition from South American and Asian competitors. Democratic aides familiar with the issue said Faleomavaega is not about to allow the federal minimum wage to reach Samoa -- and perhaps for good reason.

Department of Interior testimony last year before the Senate noted that canneries in Thailand and the Philippines were paying their workers about 67 cents an hour. If the canneries left American Samoa en masse, the impact would be devastating, leaving Samoans as wards of the federal welfare state, warned David B. Cohen, deputy assistant secretary of the interior for insular affairs.

While Samoa is certainly nowhere near as corrupt as the Marianas Islands, they're not exactly clean. The Post report adds that a Korean sweatshop owner's conviction for holding 17 garment workers in involuntary servitude was recently upheld in US District Court. And the other thing is that American Samoa is actually a comparatively expensive place to live. It's hard to find exact cost of living statistics for the territory, but this report (PDF) claims it's gone up by about 3.8% annually since 1982.

Coupled with low-income levels is the ever-increasing cost of living. .Since 1982, the current index registered at 153.8 index points as of the fourth quarter of 1996. This means that the cost of living has increased by close to 54 percent, or an annual average of about 3.8 percent. A single household in American Samoa spent an average of about $18,318 in 1988 compared to $12,235 in 1982. More than 50 percent of average spending went to food and housing. Special expenditures such as church donations, customary gifts, and fa’alavelave (family affairs, such as funerals, weddings and title investitures) remained a significant portion of Samoan household spending.

A significant source of spending associated with fa’alavelave is the necessity for uniforms. Uniforms are needed for many occasions, ranging from church functions to civic organizations, as well as primary and secondary school uniforms. The uniforms cost from $10.00 to $30.00 at local sewing shops, not including the fabric and notions. For low-income families, these costs can be difficult to manage. The ability to sew can save the average family hundreds of dollars in sewing costs per year.

Unemployment in American Samoa is estimated at about 5.2%. There are few economic opportunities outside of the local government and the tuna canneries. Emigration to the mainland in search of jobs is common; for those left behind, there is a great need to offer ways to supplement family income.

I think it's wrong to force people on American protectorates to supplement their income when so many of them are working for a multinational business. It was wrong what it occurred under Republican control for 12 years, and it's wrong that it was not remedied by this Democratic Congress. I understand the counter-arguments, and agree that it's a tough call: making an entire country into a welfare state wouldn't exactly please Republicans either, and the wage pressure in the region is certainly not made-up. This is why I support global labor and environmental standards to increase US competitiveness, using the lure of our market as a means to level the playing field. It's a close call, but I will stand with the people of American Samoa. Starkist will go where the tuna are, no?

My point in writing all of this is that we, the people, have a responsibility to understand the totality of arguments and not just the bullet-point spin, and to make our own determinations, and then to advocate them to our representatives in the government. We have to go digging for it, because typically the media will not provide the proper context. That's one of the goals of ours as well. But I refuse to accept the stance of always defending my party and putting it above the greater principles of fairness and trust. It's very important to keep this in mind and not make knee-jerk reactions to criticisms. They may be flawed, but the truth will eventually out, and I'd rather be right than an apologist, which would make me no different than those on the other side of the aisle.


Some Good, Some Bad, Some Vital

The House and Senate are rolling along implementing the 100-hour agenda, with mostly victories, a couple setbacks, and the 800-pound elephant in the room (Iraq) impinging upon the whole thing.

It's welcome news that the Senate passed an amendment into their ethics bill which would strip lawmakers who commit serious crimes while in office of their taxpayer-funded pensions. And they did it with UNANIMOUS support, on a vote of 87-0. This self-evident legislation, authored by John Kerry, would take the American people off the hook for financing criminals who betray the public trust. It wouldn't retroactively apply to Duke Cunningham, but it will be his legacy.

On the House side, their next item on the agenda is prescription drug prices. And sadly, it looks like the Democrats are caving to the pharmaceutical lobby on this one, though it's not as bad as this Washington Post article makes it out to be.

Before taking control of the House last week, Democratic leaders briefly considered proposing a new government-run prescription drug program as a way to reduce seniors' drug costs, according to Democratic aides and lawmakers involved in the deliberations.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her allies chose a far less ambitious plan -- to require the government to negotiate for lower Medicare drug prices -- that will come to a vote today. They stepped back largely out of concern that the pharmaceutical industry would stall a complex change, denying them a quick victory on a top consumer-oriented priority, aides say [...]

The industry worked closely with the Republican Congress to shape the Medicare prescription drug program, which included a provision barring the government from negotiating with the pharmaceutical industry for lower prices. In the three-year run-up to passage, industry lobbyists poured more than $6 million into both Republican and Democratic campaign coffers, dispatched an army of more than 800 lobbyists to Capitol Hill and quietly funded seniors organizations and patient advocacy groups that opposed Democratic alternatives.

Democrats opposed the legislation, but now that they have a chance to rewrite the law, they are pressing for what party leaders concede is only a minor alteration. "This is a first step," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The House proposal would require the government to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry for lower prices on behalf of the private insurers that run the drug benefit program. The impact on prices could be small, however, since the government does not buy drugs directly for Medicare and manufacturers could ignore federal pressure to lower prices without consequence.

The bill passed 255-170. I would have hoped for a bolder plan (like importation of cheap drugs from Canada). But this is essentially what the Democrats ran on: to allow Medicare to negotiate on prescription drug prices. They decided not to use a formulary (in other words, to threaten to pull drugs off the plan, based on pricing), but they'll still have negotiating power. This is a net loss, and I wish they would do a better job to fight the Big Pharma lobby, which they decry in election speeches but not in the halls of Congress:

To strengthen their position, drug firms and their trade groups have been transforming their Washington operations by hiring top Democratic lobbyists to gain access to new committee chairmen, bolstering Democratic political donations and spending millions on public relations campaigns to overcome an image, indicated in recent surveys, that the industry puts profits ahead of patients.

Drug companies spent more on lobbying than any other industry between 1998 and 2005 -- $900 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. They donated a total of $89.9 million in the same period to federal candidates and party committees, nearly three-quarters of it to Republicans.

This is a major barrier to any effort to reform the broken health care system. Democrats need to be empowered by the grassroots to counteract it.

But of course, the Iraq policy is the most vexing for Democrats. How best to deal with the escalation proposal? While the Senate is apparently going for a symbolic, nonbinding resolution, one which Mitch McConnell is threatening to filibuster (go for it, pal, place your whole party on the other side of the American people). The House, meanwhile, will try to fence the money.

Senior House Democrats said yesterday that they will attempt to derail funding for President Bush's proposal to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq, setting up what could become the most significant confrontation between the White House and Congress over military policy since the Vietnam War.

The bold plans reflect the Democrats' belief that the public has abandoned Bush on the war and that the American people will have little patience for an escalation of the U.S. military presence in Iraq. But the moves carry clear risks for a party that suffered politically for pushing to end an unpopular war in Vietnam three decades ago, and Democratic leaders hope to avoid a similar fate over the conflict in Iraq.

The striking new approach took shape yesterday morning during a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic Caucus, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), invoked Martin Luther King Jr. as she urged her members against timidity, members who were there said. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), a quiet, hawkish supporter of the war, stunned many of his colleagues when he came out strenuously against Bush's proposal and suggested the war is no longer militarily winnable.

Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense and the party's leading voice for withdrawing troops, is to report back to Appropriations Committee members today on hearings and legislative language that could stop an escalation of troops, said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of Murtha's subcommittee.

Those plans could attach so many conditions and benchmarks to the funds that it would be all but impossible to spend the money without running afoul of the Congress. "Twenty-one thousand five hundred troops ought to have 21,500 strings attached to them," said House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Mitch McConnell threatened to filibuster any attempt to stop funding for escalation as well, to which I echo AmericaBlog: bring it on. McConnell must not understand how legislation works. The President needs money to fund his escalation plan. He has to go to Congress for it. If McConnell filibusters amendments to appropriations that would put conditions on the money Bush needs, he CAN'T GET THE MONEY. Bush needs an appropriation of funds, and a filibuster would kill that. Furthermore, if Bush vetoes legislation that would put conditions on the money, he denies himself the funds he needs. HE would be responsible for denying troops in the field the money they need, NOT the Democrats. So, bring it on.

(This is where I might lose people, and some would say it's gratutitous and unseemly, but you know what I think should happen? Cloture should be decided by voice vote. Sen. Tim Johnson is beginning to speak again. How great would it be to see the Senator wheeled into the Senate floor to cast the deciding ballot, straight from a hospital bed, to say "No" to the Bush escalation agenda? Talk about symbolism. Talk about bravery. Talk about something that isn't going to happen.)

The Democrats are being strong-willed on this policy, and putting themselves on the same side as the American people, the overwhelming majority of which do not support escalation. A bunch of Republicans are lining up on the same side. But they have the Bush anchor around their necks. Congress must act to do whatever is in their power to stop this insane policy. I really believe they're going to go for it.


John McCain

John McCain, John McCain, John McCain, Senator John McCain, McCain 2008, John McCain.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.



You Can Count On Joe

Joe Lieberman, the Republican chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is continuing in the stonewalling tradition of the 109th Congress where his Republican allies were in the majority.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, the only Democrat to endorse President Bush’s new plan for Iraq, has quietly backed away from his pre-election demands that the White House turn over potentially embarrassing documents relating to its handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans.

Lieberman’s reversal underscores the new role that he is seeking to play in the Senate as the leading apostle of bipartisanship, especially on national-security issues. On Wednesday night, Bush conspicuously cited Lieberman’s advice as being the inspiration for creating a new “bipartisan working group” on Capitol Hill that he said will “help us come together across party lines to win the war on terror.”

But the decision by Lieberman, the new chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, to back away from the committee's Katrina probe is already dismaying public-interest groups and others who hoped the Democratic victory in November would lead to more aggressive investigations of one of the White House’s most spectacular foul-ups.

Last year, when he was running for re-election in Connecticut, Lieberman was a vocal critic of the administration’s handling of Katrina. He was especially dismayed by its failure to turn over key records that could have shed light on internal White House deliberations about the hurricane, including those involving President Bush.

And now he doesn't care, because the President mentioned him in his super-duper escalation speech and his heart went all a-flutter.

This is the second major campaign promise that Lieberman has reneged on and it's only January. He ran on finding an end to the Iraq war and then supported additional troops. He ran on getting to the bottom of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and then dropped any semblance of oversight. He lied consistently in order to retain the Senate seat he considers his birthright. He's about as scummy a politician as exists in this country.

Henry Waxman, when he gets around to it, will probably subpoena these documents for investigations of his own. But this was the one thing Lieberman got right over the past year. It's clear that the devil's bargain here was support from conservative Republicans in exchange for rolling over like a puppy in the chairmanship of the key Senate oversight committee. Democrats need to work as hard as possible to make the fragile majority in the Senate in 2008, so we can give Lieberman a smile and a "Fuck You" and kick him off these committees. In fact, I almost wouldn't mind if they did it right now.


Our Secretary of Defense

"I would confess I'm no expert on military matters."

Just shoot me now and get it over with.

(He also said he was no expert on Iraq, after serving on the Iraq Stuy Group for 8 months)


The Salladay Imbroglio

Day-um, I was up until about 7:00am last night working, or I would have known that SusanG picked up the Robert Salladay story from yesterday.

No, my beef is with Salladay's denigration of the office itself for which these bloggers are running, an in-your-face putdown that begins with the headline, "Jobs for the Sickly," and speeds straight downhill from there:

"For both parties, the honor of delegate status normally attracts sallow depressives who enjoy debating meaningless bylaws more than, say, interacting with human beings."

Well, sheesh. There's nothing more inviting to an ordinary citizen than having a desire to get involved in local politics come with a ready-made diagnosis as a social misfit straight from the DSM-IV (and a "sallow" one, no less). What's next in this ongoing citizen participation series? Only unemployed losers with nothing better to do on Tuesdays bother to cast a vote?

Now I've been blogging for a while. I understand the temptation to succumb to a combination of cynicism, infatuation with one's own striking phrases and stabs at in-the-know bleak humor. Many times, I've given in. But never about people's dedication to becoming more active in the political process or their willingness to make a real sacrifice of personal time for a thankless and dry job such as our bloggers are competing to perform.

Perhaps that's just a symptom of my own naiveté; after all, although I was a professional working journalist for years, I admit up front I don't measure up to the extensive c.v. Mr. Salladay posts at the Los Angeles Times blog - longer than your average "Breaking!" diary here at Daily Kos. Indeed, his resume is so deep that it makes it clear that although he's mucking around in the bloggy swamp with the "little people," he's obviously far, far less little than the rest of us. Not that we're supposed to be cowed by this Voice of Authority, or anything. No, not us.

I think the funniest thing about this is how ignorant of history Salladay is. The only times we had vibrant, relevant political parties in this state are when the grassroots got involved in the mechanics of the party, particularly duirng the rise of Democratic Clubs in the 1950s, led by Allan Cranston and leading to the election of Pat Brown. This more than anything moved California, which has had a Democratic governor for only 20 of the last 100 years, on the path to being what is known today as a blue state.

Salladay earns his bread and butter by being smug and dismissive. But the potential of people-powered movements to effect change are really the ONLY movements that ever get anywhere. And those movements are all about interacting with human beings, almost to the exclusion of all else.

There's a myth that California is becoming "post-partisan" and it's evidenced by the rise in decline to state voters. I think that's not because the whole state has suddenly become wholly non-ideological, but because they all have the choice between two really crappy parties. A CDP that's relevant, that's effective, that reaches out to everyone, that lets people know they understand their concerns and will work in their favor, will actually attract plenty of voters. That's why I'm running.

Let's continue this movement, now three years in the making, comprised of netroots, grassroots, people from all walks of life coming together who want to see a party that works. Vote this weekend for me or the other great progressives who are running.

David "Sallow Progressive" Dayen
41st AD
1/13/07 at 10:00am
Malibu Public Library
23519 W. Civic Center Wy., Malibu


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Quick Hits

I am likely to be awake until 6:30 this morning.

• Two people who won't be President are running for President: Sen. Christopher Dodd on the Democratic side, Rep. Ron Paul on the Republican side. I actually like Chris Dodd, he's a solid liberal. He was wrong on the war, but he's also taken the lead on major issues like torture and credit card company predation. And his rhetorical style has always been somewhat inspiring to me. But he's not Presidential material, a loyal party member but not its standard-bearer.

• I really like the choice of Denver as the site of the 2008 DNC. Colorado is trending blue, and while conventions don't mean a whole lot in the country at large, they do generate a good deal of positive local coverage. And symbolically, it shows the Democrats' commitment to the Mountain West. I'm glad the issues (unions, mainly) were ironed out, and hopefully they can end up being a win-win, with more hotels in Denver unionized and this major event for the hotels themselves.

Howie Klein has a good rundown of Republican reactions to the Bush escalation plan, as well as Condi Rice's embarrassing performance in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She had the gaul to try and call it an augmentation, not a surge (guess that word's poison now, too). And then this:

"It's bad policy to speculate on what you'll do if a plan fails when you're trying to make a plan work."

The Bush Administration: No Contingency Too Unimportant. No Stone Left Turned.

• The President is apparently going into negotiations over Social Security insisting that privatization be a part of any plan, despite it being rejected by just about everybody in 2005. Just in case you thought that he was only deluded about Iraq and not everything else.

Great story in the New York Times about the practical application of the minimum wage debate, taking a look at two small towns on the Idaho/Washington border, one in a state where the minimum wage is the highest in the nation (WA), the other where the federal floor is still in effect (ID). Far from causing a mass migration of business, the little town in Washington is booming, as Idahoans are crossing the border in search of higher-paying jobs, forcing the little town in Idaho to raise wages. AND...

In fact, as a significant increase in the national minimum wage heads toward law, businesses here at the dividing line between two economies — a real-life laboratory for the debate — have found that raising prices to compensate for higher wages does not necessarily lead to losses in jobs and profits.

How many times does this have to be proven?

• Senators Boxer and Feinstein will present legislation allowing more farmworkers into the country under a kind of guest worker program. I suspect this will be met with quite a bit of resistance in the more Minutemen-influenced areas of this state, but the fact is that we lost a lot of crops this year because there was simply nobody to pick them. Just because Americans will do the jobs that many say they don't want to do, doesn't mean they're jumping at the chance.

• Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega, two banes of the right's existence were sworn in on the same day as leaders of their respective countries. Chavez, for his part, appears to be implementing a Castro-like socialist system, with fully nationalized industry and an elimination of many impediments to his being a ruler for life (media, term limits), something that Chavez supporters in this country often conveniently leave out of their hosannas.

• The stem cell research bill passed the House, but with far fewer votes than needed to override an expected second veto. House and Senate leaders say they have a plan to eventually get this passed. I was surprised that less Republicans crossed over to vote for this than did to vote for the minimum wage increase. Far less.

• Finally, I've been following this story about Spocko, a liberal blogger, and his battle with mighty Disney and their right-wing KSFO affiliate in the Bay Area. KSFO has been taking a ton of heat in the papers, and they decided to run a "mea culpa" show apologizing for past statements. Turns out that the host was caught astroturfing her own show.

Melanie Morgan has been caught red-handed astro-turfing her own mea culpa show. She sent an email to a list of sycophants asking them to call her show in support. (please click the link. Id've simply posted the text, but it wasn't forwarded to me - the person with the scoop deserves the traffic)

If my instincts are correct, KSFO is pre-empting their nationally syndicated show tomorrow to provide a time in which they can speak to their audience and advertisers in an ostensibly honest way. For Morgan to pull a stunt like this is a complete betrayal of the trust relationship she should have with her advertisers.



Robert Salladay on Bastille Day

"Don't expect a revolution or a populist shift for France. The monarchy is too organized to let that happen."

Robert Salladay on the civil rights movement: "Don't expect a revolution or a massive social shift for black people. Racists are too organized to let that happen."

I could pretty much do this all day...

...adding, I'm not comparing myself to someone storming the Bastille or sitting at a restricted lunch counter. Just that Salladay has a crucial misunderstanding of the potential of people-powered movements.


Onward To Iran

The two big stories today are:

(1) GOP Senators and Congresscritters are running for the door on Iraq policy, with dozens voicing their concern over the McCain Doctrine strategy of escalation, including a few I mentioned earlier. They can't understand how a policy which will surely cause more American deaths, which is supposed to put Iraqis in the lead, to put the lives of Americans at the mercy of a shaky and unstable military force, to put too few forces in to impact the increasingly bloody scene while too many to risk to certain death and dismemberment, for no other reason than to save a President's ego, with no suggestion of whether or not it will work other than the idea that it has to work, is foolish to the extreme. This is no longer a partisan issue, but as Barack Obama said last night, an issue between realists and fantasists. And the realists in the GOP (as well as those Senators up for re-election in 2008 who don't want to go down with the ship) are running as far away from the President as possible.

(2) Everyone has unequivocally seen the implicit danger in the speech, of presaging a coming war with Iran (and to a lesser extent, Syria), to be achieved in an off-the-books, extra-Constitutional way. Already, even before the speech ended, this happened in Irbil:

U.S. forces in Iraq raided Iran's consulate in the northern city of Arbil and detained five staff members, a state-run Iranian news service said.

The U.S. soldiers disarmed guards and broke open the consulate's gate before seizing documents and computers during the operation, which took place today at about 5 a.m. local time, the Islamic Republic News Agency said. There was no immediate information on whether any of those detained are diplomats.

The raid follows a warning yesterday to Iran and Syria from President George W. Bush in his address to the American people on a new strategy for Iraq. Bush accused Iran and Syria of aiding the movement of "terrorists and insurgents'' in and out of Iraq and said the U.S. will "seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies.''

NOBODY missed this today. It is extremely clear that the Bush Administration is doubling down on Iraq by threatening Iran. Already we've seen the movement of carrier groups and Patriot missiles into the region, where they'll have no effect on anyone but Iran. The idea may be to instigate Iran, through placement of weapons, through events like today's in Irbil, into actually attacking US troops somewhere, at which point the President can counterattack without a declaration of war. This was one aspect to the prewar Iraq strategy: remember when Bush wanted to paint a US plane in UN colors to try and provoke Saddam into striking it?

Most important, the Democrats in Congress didn't miss this rhetoric. Biden warned Condi Rice in hearings today in the Foreign Relations Committee that any attempt to expand the war across the borders of Iraq will be met with a "Constitutional confrontation." The media was similiarly clear-eyed on this obvious provocation.

MATTHEWS: Well, he did say we’re gonna disrupt the attacks on our forces. “We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran.” Does that mean stopping at the Iranian border or going into Iran?

SNOW: Well, again, I think what the president’s talking about is the war in Iraq, Chris.

MATTHEWS: So he will seek congressional approval before any action against Iran?

SNOW: You are talking about something we are not even discussing.

MATTHEWS: Yeah, but you are, Tony, because look at this. “I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region.” Isn’t that about Iran?

SNOW: It, it — yeah, it is, in part, and what it is is it’s saying, look, we are going to make sure that anybody who tries to take aggressive action — but when Bill Clinton sent a carrier task force into the South China Sea after the North Koreans fired a missile over Japan, that was not as a prelude to war against North Korea. You know how it works [...]

MATTHEWS: My concern is we’re gonna see a ginning up situation whereby we fall in hot pursuit any effort by the Iranians to interfere with Iraq. We take a couple shots at them, they react, then we bomb the hell out of them and hit their nuclear installations without any without any action by Congress. That’s the scenario I fear, an extra-constitutional war is what I’m worried about.

SNOW: Well, you have been watching too many old movies —

MATTHEWS: No, I’ve been watching the war in Iraq, is what I’ve been watching. As long as you say to me before we leave tonight that the president has to get approval from Congress before making war on Iran.

SNOW: Let me put it this way. The president understands you got to have public support for whatever you do. The reason we are talking to the American public about the high takes in Iraq and why it is absolutely vital to succeed is you’ve got to have public support, and the president certainly, whenever he’s taken major actions, he has gone before Congress.

And the President is so concerned about winning public support that he just sent 21,500 troops to Iraq against the wishes of 88% of the American public. And he may have done this:

Washington intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are abuzz today with speculation that the President, yesterday or in recent days, sent a secret Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and Iran.

The President may have started a new secret, informal war against Syria and Iran without the consent of Congress or any broad discussion with the country [...]

Some are suggesting that the Consulate raid may have been designed to try and prompt a military response from Iran -- to generate a casus belli for further American action.

If this is the case, the debate about adding four brigades to Iraq is pathetic. The situation will get even hotter than it now is, worsening the American position and exposing the fact that to fight Iran both within the borders of Iraq and into Iranian territory, there are not enough troops in the theatre.

Bush may really have pushed the escalation pedal more than any of us realize.

Just as a note, Steve Clemons, the author of that piece, is extremely connected, not a bomb-thrower or far-left figure, and someone who has lots of information. If he's hearing this, you have to believe it's at least plausible.

This is a really scary moment. There's no doubt that a significant wing in the White House is urging for another war, and they probably have been for months, if not years. That the threat would be this explicit and this defined, within a speech about how to salvage a failed war in a neighboring country, is very interesting. Everyone knows how the case was built for Iraq, one war drum at a time. This is no different.


Lordy, Help Us From The Cynicism of Robert Salladay

LA Times journo Robert Salladay picks up the story of progressive bloggers running for CDP elections, in particular me, and says "Lordy, help us."

And then this:

Don't expect a revolution or a leftward shift for the party. The establishment is too organized to let that happen.

I'm sure that's what the CDP thinks as well. Of course, the only way movements begin and catch fire is from the bottom up. You don't just get to be party chair first.

Kind of hilarious, all the tut-tutting from the establishment (and media figures like this are a part of it). All I have to say is "we'll see." By the way, check the Secretary of State's office is you don't think a leftward shift is possible.

UPDATE: Salladay updates:

Dday thinks I'm a bit cynical. OK, maybe a tad. But only about the dying party system!

The dying party system. You know that system that is controlled by an establishment that "is too organized" to the point of being impenetrable. It's so "dying" that it's ascendant! And monolithic and impossible to change and destined to remain in power forevah! And they throw great cocktail parties too!


Insane Lie of the Week

This award must be bestowed to John McCain, who needed to find a way to reconcile his current pose of "I always had problems with the execution of the war" with his earlier statements that "success in Iraq will be fairly easy." Here's what he came up with:

RUSSERT: Go back, Senator, to 2002. The administration saying we would be greeted as liberators. John McCain saying you thought success would be fairly easy.

MCCAIN: It was.

RUSSERT: In all honesty…

MCCAIN: It was easy, it was easy. I said the military operation would be easy. It was easy. We were greeting as liberators. Look at the films of when we rolled into Baghdad.

Yeah, it was so easy that the US Army had to invent the fall of the Saddam statue as a massive psy-ops event! Weren't people too busy looting the moment the government fell to be greeting anybody? This is an absolute whitewash of history, the kind of talk I expect from people who send me breathless articles that Iran is going to set off a nuke because of numerology. John McCain is delusional, and he deserves the barrage of negative ads he's going to get because of his willingness to see Americans die to try and defend his warmongering position, rather than defend the country. I think McCain is completely finished in 2008, even though the media water-carriers are trying to spin that his position on Iraq is noble because it isn't politically popular. I would rather be... well, anything, except for courageous but wrong and dangerous. It's manipulative of people's patriotic emotions, and they have grown too cynical for such agitprop in the context of Iraq.

Honorable mention, by the way, goes to Tony Snow for claiming that Bush said "the opposite" of Mission Accomplished on the deck of the USS Lincoln, when he was speaking behind the banner that said, um, "Mission Accomplished." Yeah, try to finesse that one, Tony. He said "In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” How exactly does that represent the opposite?

And the unintentional irony award goes to the President himself, for saying this last night:

Victory [in Iraq] will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship.

Probably because they've already tried that and it didn't work. Even though he said "the opposite."


Notes On An Escalation - Other People Edition

I'm very weary-eyed, but I've read a good deal of the various reactions to the President's speech on Iraq. Yesterday I mentioned that someone so wrong - who thought that elections with an unequivocal sectarian cast would bring Iraqis together shouldn't possibly be trusted to get it right. The fact that practically every member of the media's Gang of 500 was brought in for a high-level meeting with the President before the speech shows that this strategy is not geared to a solution, but to marketing. And the fact that Iran and Syria were singled out for threatening rhetoric suggests that the President is looking past this war to the next one, by bringing up the impossible theory that war with Iran and Syria is the pathway to peace in Iraq.

I have plenty of other thoughts, but first, I want to bring you a sampling of the best reactions I've found, online and off:

Juan Cole: "To listen to Bush's speech on Wednesday, you would imagine that al-Qaeda has occupied large swathes of Iraq with the help of Syria and Iran and is brandishing missiles at the US mainland. That the president of the United States can come out after nearly four years of such lies and try to put this fantasy over on the American people is shameful." (Cole's whole take is great)

William Arkin: "If there's anything in the President Bush's remarks tonight that we didn't already know or didn't anticipate him saying militarily about Iraq, it is his evident willingness to go to war with Syria and Iran to seek peace.

Speaking about the two countries tonight, the president said that the United States wiill "seek out and destroy" those who are providing material support to our enemies.

It is only a threat. But it is a far cry from the diplomatic proposals floated just last month for making Syria and Iran part of the solution. Can the president really be saying that we are willing to risk war with the two countries, and even attack elements inside them, to achieve peace in Iraq?"

Keith Olbermann: "Before Mr. Bush was elected, he said he was no nation-builder; nation-building was wrong for America. Now, he says it is vital for America. He said he would never put U.S. troops under foreign control. Today, U.S. troops observe Iraqi restrictions. He told us about WMDs. Mobile labs. Secret sources. Aluminum tubing. Yellow-cake. He has told us the war is necessary…Because Saddam was a threat; Because of 9/11; Osama bin Laden; al Qaeda; Because of terrorism in general; To liberate Iraq; To spread freedom; To spread democracy; To keep the oil out of the hands of terrorist-controlled states; Because this was a guy who tried to kill his dad.

In pushing for and prosecuting this war, he passed on chances to get Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Muqtada al-Sadr, Osama bin Laden. He sent in fewer troops than recommended. He disbanded the Iraqi Army, and "de-Baathified" the government. He short-changed Iraqi training. He did not plan for widespread looting, nor the explosion of sectarian violence. He sent in troops without life-saving equipment. Gave jobs to foreign contractors, not the Iraqis. Staffed U-S positions there, based on partisanship, not professionalism." (and that's only the half of it)

The Cunning Realist: "It's an inescapable irony that the greater the President's stridency in describing what's at stake in Iraq, the more obvious the "resource gap" becomes. If astronomers warned that a planet-killing asteroid was sure to collide with Earth next year, I don't doubt that Bush's deflection strategy would entail launching an impressive array of bottle rockets from the White House roof. (If there are any cartoonists out there, you have your next project; send it to me and I'll post it). Purely in terms of our force level and its relation to his own rhetoric, Bush has done the equivalent of sending the Capitol Hill police to take Normandy in 1944. Nothing he said tonight changed that -- on the contrary, it just became more obvious."

Chuck Hagel (R-NE): "Some of us remember 1970, Madam Secretary. And that was Cambodia. And when our government lied to the American people and said, We didn’t cross the border going into Cambodia, in fact we did. I happen to know something about that, as do some on this committee.

So, Madam Secretary, when you set in motion the kind of policy that the president is talking about here, it’s very, very dangerous. As a matter of fact, I have to say, Madam Secretary, that I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam — if it’s carried out. I will resist it."

• Gordon Smith (R-OR): "It is time for Congress to reassert itself, and try and more narrowly focus our efforts - the American efforts in the war on terror." (just now on Hardball, though he tried to worm his way through the rest of the interview)

Russ Feingold (D-WI): "As the president made clear Wednesday night, he has no intention of redeploying our troops from Iraq. Congress cannot continue to accept this. Congress can, by restricting funding for this misguided war, do what the president refuses to do - redeploy from Iraq to refocus on defeating global terrorist networks.

Some will claim that cutting off funding for the war would endanger our brave troops on the ground. Not true. The safety of our service men and women in Iraq is paramount, and we can and should end funding for the war without putting our troops in further danger."

Rudy Guiliani (R-Guiliani Partners): "It reminds me a little of the problem I faced in reducing crime in New York."

I'd give you Joementum's take, but I don't want to induce vomiting.

I honestly believe that the Democrats almost don't have to compete for votes in 2008. Bush has sunk his party for the next decade with this move. The above quotes give you a flavor as to why. I'll give my notable quotables later.


Bungling Into Somalia

Before I wade into the Iraq mess and more on the President's speech last night, I want to address the other war we're fighting. No, not that one. I mean Somalia, where we've decided to forget about putting an Ethiopian face on the war and get to bombing ourselves. Incidentally, anyone who thinks "Iraqis will be in the lead" of operations in taking Baghdad needs to remember the Somalia situation as exhibit A.

There are conflicting reports as to the success of air strikes against suspected Al-Qaeda targets in the south of the country. The Independent (UK) has the story that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, architect of the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Africa, was killed in the raid. But they add this:

Local Somali aid agencies said that the bombing was indiscriminate. They reported that groups of pastoralists wandering across southern Somalia's barren terrain searching for water supplies had been attacked during the day. At night, those that lit fires were targeted. Analysts in the region said the attacks could destabilise the Horn of Africa further. A Somalia expert in Nairobi said: "Trying to find a few individuals in Somalia when military intelligence is so weak is like looking for a needle in a haystack. It seems they cannot distinguish between Islamic Courts fighters and pastoralists watering their animals."

And The Financial Times reports that all that collateral damage was actually to little good end.

The controversial US air strike in southern Somalia missed all three top al-Qaeda members Washington alleges are hiding out in the country, a senior US official said on Thursday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said eight to 10 “al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists” were killed in Monday’s attack, but gave no details [...]

The strike was criticised by the European Commission, as well as the Arab League which claimed it had killed “many innocent victims” and demanded that Washington refrain from further attacks. There were no accurate casualty figures.

So, while we can debate the relative success of the mission (and it's highly debatable), we know that the blowback is a bitch.

A messy, low-level battle for control of the battered streets of Mogadishu continued Wednesday, as a fighter shot a rocket-propelled grenade at a convoy of Ethiopian trucks passing through the combustible Somali capital.

The situation is so confused and the city so fractured and armed that the attacks, recounted by witnesses, could have come from any number of groups frustrated with the presence of Ethiopian troops, who last month swept a popular Islamic movement from power on behalf of the weak, U.S.-backed transitional government that is now struggling to assert control.

Former fighters loyal to the ousted Islamic Courts movement are hiding in the city's byzantine tin-patch neighborhoods. Sub-clans and sub-sub-clans are angry with Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, who they say is favoring his own people as he doles out power and who has announced intentions to forcibly disarm an insecure city fortified with guns.

And many Somalis are enraged over the U.S. airstrike in the southern tip of the country early Monday, which was aimed at suspects in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania who are thought to be among the ousted Islamic leaders on the run along the marshy coast near the Kenyan border.

"We are afraid of a long war," said businessman Abdulahi Mohamed Mohamud, 31, speaking by telephone from Mogadishu. "And people are angry at the Ethiopian troops."

More here and here.

Don't the Somalis know that they're supposed to wait a couple years before descending into civil war? This is Iraq on steroids. And there's a very good reason for that: decades upon decades of Western intervention in the country, causing hatred toward the West that the air strikes in the south just recollected.

Until yesterday's bombing, the last time America cared about Somalia was October 3, 1993, when 19 Americans were killed while trying to arrest local warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

I saw the movie "Black Hawk Down" and really liked it. The realistic battle scene, the bravery of the American troops. It even had an almost happy ending.

What it didn't have was a motivation for the Somalis who fought those brave American soldiers. Between the movie, the political rhetoric, and the MSM, all you can tell is that the Somalis hated us for no particular reason.

In other words - they are acting like primitive savages. You don't have to understand them.

For those of us who actually look for reasons and motivations, you might want to check the news from September 10th, 1993, just three weeks before "Black Hawk Down".

In the latest incident, at least 200 Somalis -- mainly women and children -- were killed when a US Cobra helicopter gunship opened fire on a crowd in Mogadishu on September 10. (Cobras have not been used in inner city combat since the Vietnam War.)

In a grotesque attempt to justify the slaughter, UN military spokesperson Major David Stockwell told reporters that "the women and children were combatants'' and that they posed "an imminent threat against our soldiers''.

The massacre began as a bulldozer accompanied by three tanks, four armoured personnel carriers and 100 ground troops started removing barricades in south Mogadishu. Armed resistance to the attack was followed by tank reinforcements. But when barricades were re-erected, largely by Somali children, the Cobra cannon attack started. According to Stockwell, the decision to fire on the Somalis was "regrettable but a last resort''. One UN soldier was killed, bringing the UN death toll to 48 since May.

A day earlier, hundreds of patients, doctors and nurses were forced out of one of Mogadishu's main hospitals as UN Cobra and Black Hawk helicopter gunships attacked.

While the 19 American soldiers had their deaths made into a movie, the 200 dead Somali woman and children are completely forgotten in the western world. No wonder we don't understand their motivations - we never cared enough to look for them.

I urge you to read the whole thing, it's an amazing account of the simmering hatred that demands that we do not enter that country as an aggressive force. Somalis have spent 15 years as a failed state in relative anarchy, but on two things they are united: they hate Ethiopia and they hate the United States. All we did is multiply that hatred, and severely damage the transitional government's chances of success. They tried disarming the clans and warlords and it didn't work. The public is completely skeptical of their motives and whether or not they want to set up an Ethiopian client state. We have another war that we are on the verge of being able to add to the increasing ledger of Bush Administration failures.


I gave the first campaign speech of my life last night

Let's get the particulars out of the way. I'm dday, in the real world I answer to Dave Dayen, and I, like hekebolos, am running for CDP (California Democratic Party) delegate this weekend. In fact, there are over 20 progressive bloggers running for CDP delegate slots all across the state. My district, AD 41 (the fightin' 41st), stretches along the coast from Santa Monica all the way up to Oxnard. There's a map here. The 41st AD caucus meeting is on Saturday, January 13th at 10 a.m., at the Malibu Library, located at 23519 Civic Center Way (Mapquest it). If you or someone you know is a registered Democrat in my district, I'd be honored to have you (or them) vote for me and the entire Progressive Slate. The full details are at this DFA link.

But what I want to tell you about is my experience last night, where I gave the first campaign speech of my entire life, and how I have this community to thank for the results.

So is doing this "Mandate for Change" campaign, where members get people in their community to sign "photo petitions". Instead of just signing a petition asking for bold leadership on major issues (Iraq, health care, clean energy, restoring democracy through election reform) and sending it to your Congresscritter, in this campaign people are asked to take a picture holding up a personal message for their Congresscritter. Then we'll hold personal meetings with the Congresscritters or their staffs and hand-deliver the photos of their constituents asking them for change. It's a nice little idea. Here's a flickr photo set of hundreds of these photo petitions.

My local MoveOn chapter (yes, they have chapters now) held a meeting yesterday to discuss the photo petition project. I've been fairly active in this campaign and with this particular chapter, so I attended. I also printed up a bunch of flyers about my election on Saturday to distribute to the group. We ended up having about 35 people at the meeting.

I actually had a separate role to play at the meeting, to lead the discussion about the latest part of the Mandate for Change campaign, which is a drive to write letters to the editor (not astroturfing, but ACTUAL grassroots action!). So I went ahead and discussed that, and gave my thoughts on how to get a good LTE published (key point: less use of the phrase "ignorant MSM fuckhead" increases chances of publication). And right after that, the meeting organizer said, "And Dave also has something exciting that you can get involved in this weekend, and that's his election for CDP delegate. Care to tell us about that?"

This wasn't totally unexpected, but also not expected to the extent that I prepared anything. But in a way, I've been preparing since roughly 2002. This community and the progressive blogosphere is an incubator for ideas and framing and ways to relate your message. I knew why I was running (in fact, I wrote about it right here). The California Democratic Party is an invisible institution that comes around for two weeks every two years and places election ads. Other than that, they're a nonentity. Here's what I wrote then:

I've lived in California for the last eight years. I'm a fairly active and engaged citizen, one who has attended plenty of Democratic Club meetings, who has lived in the most heavily Democratic areas of the state in both the North and South, who has volunteered and aided the CDP and Democratic candidates from California during election time, who (you would think) would be the most likely candidate for outreach from that party to help them in their efforts to build a lasting majority. But in actuality, the California Democratic Party means absolutely nothing to me. Neither do its endorsements. The amount of people who aren't online and aren't in grassroots meetings everyday who share this feeling, I'd peg at about 95% of the electorate.

I mean, I'm a part of both those worlds, and I have no connection to the state party. I should be someone that the CDP is reaching out to get involved. They don't. The only time I ever know that the CDP exists is three weeks before the election when they pay for a bunch of ads. The other 23 months of the year they are a nonentity to the vast majority of the populace.

And this has a tremendous impact. The state of California is hardly deep blue. It's had Republican governors for 80 out of the past 100 years. The last time the Democratic Party meant anything to California's citizens was in the time of Alan Cranston and Pat Brown in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Democratic Club movement began, and when the state party was most involved with the grassroots. At the time, the party was committed to progressive values and offered a real politics of contrast to move the Democratic brand in the state forward. This has receded in the past 30 years.

But it's actually worse than all that. The Republican Governor of this state is getting a lot of publicity this week for submitting a universal health care proposal that essentially says: "I won't rest until everybody in this state is paying for really crappy coverage!" The plan doesn't go far enough in addressing cost containment, forces people to buy insurance without defining what "basic coverage" is, provides a cheap opt-out of providing coverage for employers, and basically maintains the same system where greedy insurers get rich off the backs of the citizens of this state. Most solid progressives, like my state senator Sheila Kuehl, understand this. There are only two figures statewide who have had nothing but good things to say about the governor's proposal. They are Don Perata, Democratic leader in the Senate, and Fabian Nuñez, Democratic leader in the Assembly. It's a curious way to negotiate.

That's because the state party and its top officials are primarily interested in maintaining the status quo. They have incumbency protection through redistricting, are slathered with special interest money by being in the majority, and have no desire to upset that apple cart. This is EXACTLY why membership in the CDP is slipping. They work around the margins and do generally a decent job, but they have no leadership on the big issues, and no connection to the grassroots progressive movement that attracts ordinary citizens and lets them know that the Democratic Party is working in their interests.

So it's with this as background, that I began to say a few words about the election. And it became entirely clear to me that I was actually making a campaign speech. I was talking about the need to build a movement from the bottom up and not the top-down. I was talking about how the national agenda is important, but what happens in your own backyard really matters, especially in a state like California, which oftentimes sets the agenda for the rest of the nation to follow. I was talking about the need for bold, progressive leadership, to make the CDP more responsive, more effective, and more relevant. I was talking about the Governor's health care proposal and how we need a credible alternative. I was talking about how we had to wrest the party away from the narrow-cast, special interest-driven agenda of the current leadership and return it back to the people, about how we have to compete everywhere in the state and not just where we have large majorities.

And I realized that I have written about all of these things at one point or another. I've internalized the concepts and sharpened my dialectic to a knife's edge. I've tried arguments, seen them rise or fall, seen people agree or disagree, and tried them again. I've been running this speech through in my head since I first discovered blogs in 2002. It came out so naturally and easily, that I have to conclude that the blogosphere is the greatest primary campaign that any candidate has ever experienced.

Now, this was a friendly audience made up of MoveOn members. But I'm fairly certain that a bunch of them had about as much of a relationship to the CDP as most of the rest of the state, which is to say none, before that speech. But before I even got around to saying "I'd like your vote, and I have some flyers here with all the information," one of them asked, "How can I get involved?" Then another. They were really interested in the process and surprised that they didn't know about the election at all. I sent around the flyers and got commitments from a bunch of people to come out and vote.

(I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that one of the people at the meeting was a fellow colleague on the Progressive Slate, Ellis Perlman, a retired political science professor with an incredible array of knowledge about state politics, and a desire to see change. He spoke as well and he was fantastic on giving the history of grassroots movements in the state, and the need to check runaway executive power - sound familiar? - with a robust legislature committed to offering real alternatives.)

Upon leaving to go to the crappy night job I have this week (I didn't get home until 5:30AM last night, so forgive me if this is rambling), I reflected on how this speech and this moment changed me. In a way it was both a culmination and a beginning. If we're ever going to change America, all of us need to understand that democracy demands participation. Online activism of the "I did something for the movement! I clicked SEND!" variety is nice and all, but it's ultimately insufficient. I'm comfortable with public speaking but not necessarily with being a leader. But what I took away is that we all have the capacity to lead, to call for change, to be a part of this progressive movement all across the country. All it takes to do so is the will. You can create the opportunity.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Quick Hits, Everything But Iraq Edition

We were quite Iraq-heavy today, and I suspect we will be tomorrow, so I want to clear the decks of a few things that have piqued my interest.

• Paul Hackett gives new meaning to the term "Fighting Dems":

Indian Hill lawyer and former congressional candidate Paul Hackett - armed with a loaded assault rifle - chased down three men in a car after it crashed into a fence at his home in the early morning hours of Nov. 19.

The driver was charged with failure to maintain reasonable control, driving under suspension and carrying a concealed weapon - a pair of brass knuckles found in his pocket - according to the Indian Hill police [...]

Hackett told police Nov. 30 that he was carrying an AR-15. He said one round was in the chamber and that he usually has 28 rounds in the magazine. He also told police that he did not point the weapon at the three men, the safety was on and he never put his finger on the trigger.

Hackett said he had followed a trail of fluid left by the car, and the vehicle stopped in a driveway. Hackett told police that he hopped out of his truck and that he was armed.

"He told the boys to 'Get the ---- out of the car and get on the ground.' ... He said he did not touch the vehicle with the rifle and maintained his distance. 'I knew they saw I was armed,' he said. He said he had done this about 200 times in Iraq, but this time there was not a translation problem," the Indian Hill police report said.

Moore said Hackett was woken up by "criminal activity" and "took affirmative action to protect his wife and family from an unknown disturbance at his house." He then "attempted to bring the perpetrators to justice who had fled from the scene," according to Moore.

They messed with the wrong Marine. I'm not one for vigilante justice, and maybe this was excessive, we'll have to see the result of the investigation. But it's hard to paint Democrats with that "feel-good liberal" label with guys like this around, no?

• A couple days ago, the Army had to apologize because they sent letters to dead soldiers urging them to re-enlist. It was a clerical error, but one that highlights how these brave men and women are nothing but sausage to the Pentagon brass.

• Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) has been upgraded to fair condition and I think that's great news.

• Mitt Romney, despite the flip-flopping and the hiding of his former self, can still raise money like a machine. $6.5 million in a day is nothing to sneeze at. He thinks he can still win the nomination, obviously. Dick Morris had a funny line that, of the four top contenders for the GOP (McCain, Guiliani, Gingrich and Romney), the only one without multiple wives is the Mormon.

• ABC, in their continuing post-"Path to 9-11" slide toward Foxification, hired Glenn Beck to be a commentator for Good Morning America. After this hire, ABC should prove to me that they're not working for our enemies.

• There's another surge going on in the war on terror, over in Afghanistan. Only it's the Taliban that's surging. These quotes are extremely disheartening.

A US Army battalion fighting in a critical area of eastern Afghanistan is due to be withdrawn within weeks to deploy to Iraq.

Army Brigadier General Anthony J. Tata and other US commanders say that will happen as the Taliban is expected to unleash a campaign to cut the vital road between Kabul and Kandahar.

The official said the Taliban intend to seize Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city, where the group was organized in the 1990s. With NATO unable or unwilling to stem the rising violence, the Taliban are pressing their advantage.

Rather than withdrawing to regroup over the winter, intelligence officials and combat commanders said, the Taliban forces — clad in new cold-weather boots and fleece jackets — are fighting through the bitter cold months.

"It is bleak," said Colonel Chris Haas, commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan.

Conway said US commanders understand that the Afghan war is an "economy of force" operation, a military term for a mission that is given minimal resources because it is a secondary priority, in this case behind Iraq.

• CA-11: The 2008 election has already begun for Jerry McNerney. They're sending out hit pieces in the mail to his constituents. In January 2007. Progressives in CA-11 have to have Jerry's back, unless Pombo wins the nomination that'll be a very tough fight.

• I'm both surprised and happy that Dianne Feinstein wants a Congressional probe into the events surrounding my friend James Kim's death. BLM might be at fault for not locking the gate to the logging road where the Kims got stuck. James' father wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post on the subject this past weekend. I hope some good comes out of that senseless tragedy.

• Refreshing to see all these editorial boards coming out against the Bush Administration's belief that they have the right to open American's mail without a warrant. Now if the media will only lift the self-imposed gag order on printing the uncomfortable images of war from Iraq. This All-Spin Zone piece is a must-read. There are pictures out there from the massacre in Haditha that the Washington Post has decided are too gruesome from our fragile little eyes. The only consequences of hiding the true cost of war is more war. Americans deserve to see the reality of what their tax dollars finance.

• Finally, on a more bizarre note, James Brown's body is still not buried. His heirs are bickering over his estate and the burial site. Even in death, The Godfather of Soul is making multiple encores.

See you tomorrow.