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

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Join The Impact - A Roundup

People are still filing out of what I imagine to be very congested spaces and rallies across the country, but I thought I'd go around the Web and find some reports.


Gay rights supporters waving rainbow colors marched, chanted and danced in cities coast to coast Saturday to protest the California vote that banned gay marriage there and urge supporters not to quit the fight for the right to wed.

Many cast it as a civil rights issue.

Crowds gathered near public buildings in small communities and major cities including New York, San Francisco and Chicago to vent their frustrations, celebrate gay relationships and renew calls for change.

"Civil marriages are a civil right, and we're going to keep fighting until we get the rights we deserve as American citizens," Karen Amico said in Philadelphia, holding up a sign reading "Don't Spread H8".

"We are the American family, we live next door to you, we teach your children, we take care of your elderly," said Heather Baker a special education teacher from Boston who addressed the crowd at Boston's City Hall Plaza. "We need equal rights across the country."

Here's a diary on the NYC event from Daily Kos diarist bria:

Democracy is not a one-shot deal. People can't just vote every 4 years (or 2, or more often) and think that the work is done. We still need to make our voices heard, to hold our elected officials responsible, to advocate for the causes we believe in. Very rarely do we see a direct and immediate change from any act of public assembly or civil disobedience, but each of us is still one. And the more of us there are, the harder we are to ignore.

Greater public awareness + greater media coverage = greater political awareness = a better shot at change that matters.

Great pictures in that one.

Daily Kos diarist jpmassar from San Francisco:

It was a beautiful sunny morning as thousands of people converged on Civic Center Square (just across the street from where Obama rallied the Bay Area twice, more than a year ago now).

One of the most stirring speeches was given by an African American Baptist preacher, a man who was introduced as having been taught by Martin Luther King. His ringing oratory, as evinced by the title of this diary, brought the crowd to its highest pitch of enthusiasm; I could imagine being at a rally in the 60's and hearing King exhort his followers for civil rights. (Sorry, I did not get his name).

Apparently Mark Leno and Carole Migden spoke at the SF rally.

The LA Times:

In Los Angeles, protesters clustered shoulder to shoulder near City Hall before setting off on a downtown march, chanting and carrying rainbow-colored flags and signs bearing messages such as "No More Mr. Nice Gay" and "No on Hate." [...]

The Los Angeles Police Department estimated that 40,000 people would attend the march, which officials expected to be peaceful.

Across the state, the rallies took on a carnival-like atmosphere in heat-wave conditions.

The Houston Press, Houston, TX:

Hundreds of people gathered on the steps of Houston City Hall this afternoon to protest the passing of Proposition 8, California's constitutional amendment taking away the right to marry for same-sex couples. Along with the passing of other anti-gay measures across the nation, Prop. 8 made November 4 a day of mixed emotions for many of the progressives in attendance, who say they went to bed ecstatic about the election of Barack Obama but woke up the next morning to find out not everything had changed for the better.

San Diego U-T:

SAN DIEGO – A crowd estimated at 10,000 by police and 15,000 by organizers marched downtown Saturday to protest the passage of Proposition 8, with one arrest of a counter-protester reported during the otherwise peaceful event.

A man identified by police as a member of the anti-illegal immigration group San Diego Minutemen was arrested about 12:30 p.m. at Sixth Avenue and Ash Street following a fight, said San Diego police Capt. C.J. Ball.

500 in Santa Cruz. "Several hundred" in Portland. And more in Indianapolis. And St. Paul, MN. 200 in Fargo, ND. And Greensboro, NC.

Today feels like a movement. Over at Calitics we're expecting site reports to continue to file in throughout the day.

...Pam's House Blend has a very cool Flickr stream:

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Random Ten

I'll be running around this weekend so posting will probably be light.

Nicotine & Gravy - Beck
Madeleine And Nine - Mike Doughty
Dream Girl - The Baldwin Brothers
Ex-Supermodel - Guided By Voices
The Shape I'm In - The Band
Rabid Child - They Might Be Giants
Like A Stone - Audioslave
Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn - The White Stripes
80's Life - The Good, The Bad & The Queen
Mi Vida - Manu Chao

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CA Election Update: Now Behind In All Close Race Counts

As TINS posted yesterday, Hannah-Beth Jackson has now fallen behind in the latest count of her race in SD-19, and according to local reports the remaining votes to be counted are mainly in Strickland-friendly areas. This one looks grim. At this hour Strickland leads by 1,560 votes, and it's actually outside of the 1/2 of 1% required for a partial recount.

Hannah-Beth Jackson (Dem) 186,071 49.7%
Tony Strickland (Rep) 187,631 50.3%

The other two races we're monitoring are actually in better shape than Hannah-Beth's. In AD-10, the latest numbers from the Secretary of State show Jack Sieglock leading Alyson Huber by just 506 votes.

Alyson L. Huber (Dem) 80,507 46.4%
Jack Sieglock (Rep) 81,013 46.8%

This is currently inside recount territory. According to Randy Bayne, the remaining ballots left to count are mainly in Sacramento and San Joaquin Counties. The ballot count is done in Amador County and mostly done in El Dorado County. With some luck, the Sacramento County ballots will swing for Huber; she beat Sieglock 52-41 there. Sieglock won San Joaquin County 51-42.

In CA-04, Charlie Brown is within 569 votes of Tom McClintock.

Charlie Brown (Dem) 168,378 49.9%
Tom McClintock (Rep) 168,947 50.1%

The question is how many ballots are left in Nevada County, where Brown won big. According to the unprocessed ballot report, there are still 10,000 left up there, but I think that's outdated information. It's probably more like 5,000, if not less. Still, we are well within the .5% required for a partial recount. So that's where that's likely to be headed regardless of what happens with the final numbers.

Again, counts and recounts cost money, so if you can chip in a couple bucks for these Democrats at the Calitics ActBlue page, I'm sure they'd be grateful.

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The Paranoia Industry

I know that everyone is scratching their heads over why every conservative and their brother is freaking out over how Barack Obama is going to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine and kick Rush and Sean off the air, even though that was never part of his platform, no bill has been introduced in Congress to that effect since the Democrats got the majority, and the sum total of the "evidence" for this nefarious scheme is a couple off-hand comments made by two Democratic Senators. James Rainey writes about it today.

Now, you can argue out whether or not there should be a Fairness Doctrine. But the answer to why conservative hucksters keep harping on it, of course, is that this is how the conservative movement keeps flush with direct-mail cash during their years in the wilderness. During the Clinton Administration there were all sorts of crackpot delusions about what Bill Clinton was preparing to do to stick it to conservatives and bring about the second coming of Armageddon. But you always have to read to the end of these missives, when they ask for "just $5 or $10" to save the Republic and fight the efforts to silence their voices. Conservatives understood the sense of engagement that comes with small-dollar donations long before Democrats caught up to them. The difference is that conservatives basically use it as a con game, stirring up emotional furies to part unwitting folks from their money. Rick Perlstein has a phrase for this: Conservatives treat their constituents like suckers.

It's exactly the same with this run on gun sales. While the actual evidence of an increase in gun sales since the election is somewhat thin (although FBI requests for background checks are way up), it is clear that gun sellers are using the spectre of Obama taking away Second Amendment rights to hawk their wares.

Some gun sellers like Wild West Guns in Anchorage, AK are holding “Obama Sale” events to take advantage of their customers’ misinformed fears and news outlets from NPR to Fox News have produced reports documenting the gun buying binge [...]

What the major media outlets overlook is that the Obama gun sale boom appears to be the result of a multimillion dollar effort launched by the National Rifle Association last summer to misinform voters about Obama’s gun policy proposals. As Politico reported in June:

The National Rifle Association plans to spend about $40 million on this year’s campaign, with $15 million of that devoted to portraying Barack Obama as a threat to the Second Amendment rights. … This fall, NRA members will get automated phone calls, mail pieces and pre-election editions of the group’s three magazines making the case against Obama.

So the NRA whips up fear about the imminent loss of gun rights, leading to a run on gun sales that benefits gun stores and manufacturers. Quid, pro, quo.

Fortunately for them, there's a conservative born every minute. (though hopefully more liberals!)

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Cracks In The Facade

I guess not EVERYONE is enamored of comity and bipartisanship as a cover for backstabbing and despicable behavior. First, Patrick Leahy announced his opposition to Joe Lieberman keeping his committee chairmanship.

Money quote #1: "I’m one who does not feel somebody should be rewarded with a major chairmanship after doing what he did.."

Money quote #2: But I felt that some of the attacks that he was involved in against Senator Obama .... I thought they went way beyond the pale, that they were not fair, that they were not legitimate, that they perpetuated some of these horrible myths that were run about Senator Obama

Money quote #3: I would feel that had I done something similar that I would not be Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next Congress.

That's the key. You can look at the committee assignments as basically the spoils for the victor. Lieberman lost. He ran against the nominee of the party and some of its Senate candidates. And yet somehow, people want to reward him for that behavior with a committee chair.

Not Leahy. And not Bernie Sanders either.

"To reward Senator Lieberman with a major committee chairmanship would be a slap in the face of millions of Americans who worked tirelessly for Barack Obama and who want to see real change in our country," Sanders in the statement sent our way by his office.

"Appointing someone to a major post who led the opposition to everything we are fighting for is not 'change we can believe in,'" Sanders continued. "I very much hope that Senator Lieberman stays in the Democratic caucus and is successful in regaining the confidence of those whom he has disappointed. This is not a time, however, in which he should be rewarded with a major committee chairmanship."

Joe Lieberman is an unpopular figure in Connecticut, too, not just among Vermont Senators. His re-elect number is only 35. Ned Lamont would crush him if the election were held today. What Markos said:

So Lieberman can threaten all he wants to caucus with Republicans if he doesn't get everything he wants. Fact is, he's in shaky electoral territory, and it would only get worse if he decided to become a Republican.

Call his bluff. Give him another committee chairmanship in an area where his ideology matches up with the Democratic Party. He won't leave the Democratic caucus. It would be career suicide.

No one likes Joe except for Republicans, yet there are the Senate Dems, once again ready to capitulate. Apparently, old habits die hard.

But maybe they'll prove us wrong and do the right thing.

At least two of them will.

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Waxman Fight For Energy Committee Looking Grim

That's if you believe Tim Fernholz, who talked to a couple people in the know.

2. At least two people who would know (blind quotes suck but that's the way of the world) don't expect the Waxman challenge to Dingell at the Energy committee to get anywhere, in part because the last two classes of new representatives are more conservative on the whole than other members and will support the incumbent. The leadership hopes that it won't come to a vote, because Waxman, who is more closely identified with Pelosi (who isn't taking a position on the challenge) will drop out when he realizes he doesn't have the votes.

I want to push back on the idea that the most recent classes of Reps. are all conservative, because while that is ossified conventional wisdom inside the Beltway it's simply not true. Alan Grayson is not conservative. Tom Perriello is not conservative. Larry Kissell is not conservative. In fact, in this cycle the four Democrats who lost Congressional elections were all deeply conservative - Tim Mahoney, Nick Lampson, Don Cazayoux and Nancy Boyda.

This isn't totally about right-left, it's about those in the status quo who want to protect the seniority system in the event that they stick around Congress look enough to secure a plum post. That's why you have liberals in the Congressional Black Caucus like John Lewis pushing for Dingell to stay in his chairmanship. Dingell is trying to sucker new members by saying he is good on health care, but of course that's not totally true.

But Dingell is good on health care. Well, by good, I mean he has pushed 'single-payer' for literally decades, while preventing action on drug prices and appointing most of the members of the Energy and Commerce Committee that killed Clinton's health care plan, because they were reliable pro-auto industry votes on other issues Dingell prioritized (there aren't a lot of single payer pro-polluting members out there). But health care is all Dingell has, so he's emphasizing his willingness to work on health care with Obama in return for keeping his chairmanship of the enormously powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

With the Senate appearing to take the lead on health care anyway, and Waxman just as solid on the issue, this is an irrelevant argument. What should be far more central to the debate is this:

The California economy loses about $28 billion annually due to premature deaths and illnesses linked to ozone and particulates spewed from hundreds of locations in the South Coast and San Joaquin air basins, according to findings released Wednesday by a Cal State Fullerton research team.

Most of those costs, about $25 billion, are connected to roughly 3,000 smog-related deaths each year, but additional factors include work and school absences, emergency room visits, and asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses, said team leader Jane Hall, a professor of economics and co-director of the university's Institute for Economics and Environment Studies.

The decades of shameless defense of a heavily polluting auto industry should be grounds for Dingell's resignation, not just for booting him from this key committee (especially because it's resulted in the car companies being broke and looking for a government handout). But it's awful hard to impact an insider caucus battle with anything resembling reason.

However, we must keep trying. Call Congress and tell them you'd rather have someone concerned about catastrophic climate change in charge of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, instead of someone who uses it as a pretext to keep his failing auto industry executive buddies happy.

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A Modest Proposal

Please sign and return.

To: Governor Sarah Palin

Dear Governor Palin,

We the undersigned implore you to remain in Alaska (where your national security credentials are required to repel a Soviet invasion) and stop giving media interviews and press conferences.

Maybe you missed what was going outside your small circle of adoring fans but you and your team were soundly defeated in the 2008 election. Sensible citizens rejected your fear mongering, divisiveness, guilt by association and rambling incoherence in favor of an articulate leader whose vision has brought millions of people together from all walks of life.

Governor Palin, you had your 15 minutes of fame, and now they’re thankfully over. America has far more important things to do than listen to you right now. If, in the future, the war against terror or another political, economic, social or environmental meltdown demands the best mooseburger recipe, rest assured we will call you at 3:00 am (EST).

Until then, however, the best way to serve this nation you love so well is to just shut up. Enough already.

The Undersigned

Actually, the petition should go to the media which can't stop broadcasting her gibberish. Maybe we can cc them a copy.

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Hugging The Panda

This Bill O'Reilly interview on Jon Stewart last night wasn't necessarily significant for Billo's typical dross about how Stewart would be "stoned to death" if he ever visited Alabama (because, as you know, Bill does his show four nights a week from Tuscaloosa) or how this is a center-right nation based on traditionalism (though Stewart's retort about how the tradition of America is the pursuit of individual freedom and gay marriage is the next logical step was pretty good) and how "we're the noble nation" (submitted without comment). No, the best, most revealing part came at the end. Stewart kicked off the segment by showing a bunch of quotes about how nervous and scared Billo is with the prospect of an Obama Presidency, and then he pulled out the cocoa and marshmallows and a snuggly teddy bear and tried to make him feel more comfortable. Late in the interview, a propos of nothing, O'Reilly starts talking about the bear. I'm putting this moment on the couch. It starts around 5:30.

O'REILLY: As long as I can have the panda, I'm fine.

STEWART: That's not a panda!

O'REILLY: Sure it is! This is a panda! What do you think it is?

STEWART: You've gotta get out of your "luxury Long Island life" and get around and start seeing animals.

It's really not that he got the name of the animal wrong. It's that he was so sure of it, and immediately when told he was wrong, he clung to it. That's not only his knee-jerk reaction, but the entire conservative movement. Their version of what's right is whatever their opponents say is wrong. Facts are tangential.

I didn't think we'd ever get such a clear "2+2=5" moment, on national television no less. Maybe I shouldn't make so much out of it, but I'm instituting this feature into my writing: any time a conservative delivers obvious misinformation, they will be heretofore described as "hugging the panda." And when you're in an argument with one of them, over whether this is a center-right nation or whether tax cuts increase revenue or whether the social safety net hurts poor people, remember that these are the kind of people who not only think a teddy bear is a panda, but who insist it even when they are told they are wrong.

I'm a tree-hugger? You're a panda-hugger.

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Summers' Balloon Bursting?

One thing I noticed during the primaries was that Obama was always willing to listen to criticism before charting a course. He may not have always changed that course, but he often did. That may be the case with the choice of Larry Summers as the Treasury Secretary.

Intense backlash from women’s groups may have pushed former Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers off the short-list to lead Treasury for President-elect Barack Obama, according to widespread reports circulating in Democratic circles.

The women’s opposition to a possible Summers’ appointment was the explanation some Democratic sources are hearing for why the Obama transition team has crossed Summers off their list. The Obama team doesn’t want to kick off its administration with a controversy nor go head-to-head with an important constituency when there are other qualified candidates, political operatives speculate.

Reports that Summers is no longer in the running are widespread, but not everyone agrees that his problems with women have sealed his fate.

I don't think this is just about those comments about women and math, although it seemed insane for "No Drama Obama" to immediately cause a controversy with his first cabinet selection. The cable nets and talk radio would have had a field day with it.

But I think the intense reaction by liberals against bringing back the guy who ushered in a lot of deregulation in the 1990s had at least something to do with it.

So far, our petition has around 6000 names on it, and several Facebook groups have emerged to protest his possible selection. Women's groups have released a list of names for good candidates.

For Treasury secretary, Gandy said she suggested Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairwoman Shelia Bair; Alice Rivlin, the first director of the Congressional Budget Office and expert on urban issues as well as fiscal, monetary and social policy; former Commodity Futures Trading Commission chairwoman Brooksley Born, who tried to regulate credit default swaps but was blocked by Summers, former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.

The name that pops out is Sheila Bair. She happens to be a Republican, but she's a regulator, which seems right for the historical moment. She has support among progressive economists, and she has released one of the better plans for dealing with the mortgage crisis, by using a portion of the bailout money to allow homeowners to restructure their payments. She was pretty good on NPR on this today, in the face of Steve Inskeep going on and on about those luckie duckie homeowners who would be bailed out when their neighbors get stuck with the bill. It's the common way that the forces of the status quo have been arguing against rescue for those facing foreclosure, by pitting homeowners against one another while the bankers take the lion's share of the cash. Bair had an excellent response.

While the program may help some people who knowingly took out mortgages they couldn't afford, Bair says, "Why take a punitive step of forcing them into foreclosure? You're going to have another empty house sitting on the neighborhood for over a year. Who does that help? I don't think that helps anyone."

As for the people who were careful not to get in over their heads and would have to watch while their neighbors get help with their payments, Bair says, "I think that I would say to those neighbors … I want my neighbor's mortgage fixed because, yes, I do have some compassion for that person, but I also realize that it's in my economic self-interest to get this situation stabilized. This relentless procession of foreclosures is creating havoc with our housing market and we need to get it stabilized."

That is exactly correct, and exactly the attitude we need in the next Treasury Secretary. And I have to admit that it would be excellent to have a woman in this position, particularly in the male-dominated world of high finance.

By the way, as Digby noted, these trial balloons are very common in politics, and in this case, it appears that the system may be working. A name is thrown out, the reaction is noted, and the information taken into account. It's not only the norm for politics, it's the norm for the OBAMA CAMPAIGN when it comes to appointments like this. I certainly remember the leaks that Tim Kaine was going to be VP, then Evan Bayh, and then Joe Biden. So I'm glad people are weighing in on these options.

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Everyone Will Be Doing This Joke Today, So...

I might as well get to it.

Roger Ailes:

“I stand up for what I believe. I don’t back off. I’ve been that way for 40 years. That’s the secret to my success. I have thick skin. I don’t care what people say about me,” he said.

“I defend the United States, Israel and the Constitution. That’s when I get my death threats,” he said.

In what order, sir?

(h/t Matt Duss, who made the same joke, which I said allowed as I read the quote only to find it already written there.)

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Demand-Side Economics

Robert Reich, who I'm glad to have in the room advising President-Elect Obama during the transition, has written a piece about what he calls the "Mini-Depression" and how we can best undo it. The first thing is to understand the nature of the problem.

First, understand that the main problem right now is not the supply of credit. Yes, Wall Street is paralyzed at the moment because the bursting of the housing and other asset bubbles means that lenders are fearful that creditors won't repay loans. But even if credit were flowing, those loans wouldn't save jobs. Businesses want to borrow now only to remain solvent and keep their creditors at bay. If they fail to do so, and creditors push them into reorganization under bankruptcy, they'll cut their payrolls, to be sure. But they're already cutting their payrolls. It's far from clear they'd cut more jobs under bankruptcy reorganization than they're already cutting under pressure to avoid bankruptcy and remain solvent.

This means bailing out Wall Street or the auto industry or the insurance industry or the housing industry may at most help satisfy creditors for a time and put off the day of reckoning, but industry bailouts won't reverse the downward cycle of job losses.

The real problem is on the demand side of the economy.

Consumers won't or can't borrow because they're at the end of their ropes. Their incomes are dropping (one of the most sobering statistics in Friday's jobs report was the continued erosion of real median earnings), they're deeply in debt, and they're afraid of losing their jobs.

Introductory economic courses explain that aggregate demand is made up of four things, expressed as C+I+G+exports. C is consumers. Consumers are cutting back on everything other than necessities. Because their spending accounts for 70 percent of the nation's economic activity and is the flywheel for the rest of the economy, the precipitous drop in consumer spending is causing the rest of the economy to shut down.

I is investment. Absent consumer spending, businesses are not going to invest.

Exports won't help much because the of the rest of the world is sliding into deep recession, too. (And as foreigners -- as well as Americans -- put their savings in dollars for safe keeping, the value of the dollar will likely continue to rise relative to other currencies. That, in turn, makes everything we might sell to the rest of the world more expensive.)

That leaves G, which, of course, is government. Government is the spender of last resort. Government spending lifted America out of the Great Depression. It may be the only instrument we have for lifting America out of the Mini Depression. Even Fed Chair Ben Bernanke is now calling for a sizable government stimulus. He knows that monetary policy won't work if there's inadequate demand.

This doesn't mean we don't bail out the auto companies, but that we focus our efforts on the demand side of the equation for once. If we can use government to create jobs and raise income, consumer spending will rise, and then investment will rise, etc. Now, saving the auto industry might be part of that - after all, the carmakers and their parallel industries employ 3 million people. But to meet the scope of the problem we're going to have to do much more - probably spending up to 4% of GDP. And paradoxically, we're going to have to spend on things that work at cross purposes with selling more inefficient automobiles; things like transportation infrastructure.

The answer to the second question is mostly "infrastructure" -- repairing roads and bridges, levees and ports; investing in light rail, electrical grids, new sources of energy, more energy conservation. Even conservative economists like Harvard's Martin Feldstein are calling for government to stimulate the economy through infrastructure spending. Infrastructure projects like these pack a double-whammy: they create lots of jobs, and they make the economy work better in the future. (Important qualification: To do this correctly and avoid pork, the federal government will need to have a capital budget that lists infrastructure projects in order of priority of public need.)

Government should also spend on health care and child care. These expenditures are also double whammies: they, too, create lots of jobs, and they fulfill vital public needs.

Which is why an auto industry bailout must be tied to fuel economy, because otherwise, you're funding new, fast, efficient means of transport that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions AND the old model of 20 mpg and under gas guzzlers. Chris Dodd said yesterday that the votes aren't there for an auto industry bailout in the lame duck session of Congress. If the guarantees on efficiency are made, I think the votes could be there in January.

But the big emphasis here is on the new energy economy. There can't be a better way to reindustrialize America with jobs that can't be shipped away. I know that some believe industrial output has been rising due to productivity, but if you go into the numbers that only holds among a couple sectors - basically, if it wasn't for the computer we would hardly have any industrial output at all. And so building out a new energy grid that can transmit wind and solar power to anywhere in the United States, building high speed rail that runs on clean electricity, building new renewable facilities, all of these will create jobs that spur demand, and raise wages by giving job-seekers an option outside of the dead-end service sector. The fact that the EPA rightly blocked the new production of coal-fired power plants makes this a practical necessity.

And yes, health care is a part of this. There was hastily dismissed talk of adding health care to the stimulus package yesterday. As Reich says, it's a double whammy - you create jobs, and fulfill public needs.

Reich finishes by pre-empting the neo-Hooverist argument:

Expect two sorts of arguments against this. The first will come from fiscal hawks who claim that the government is already spending way too much. Even without a new stimulus package, next year's budget deficit could run over a trillion dollars, given the amounts to be spent bailing out Wall Street and perhaps the auto industry, and providing extended unemployment insurance and other measures to help those in direct need. The hawks will argue that the nation can't afford giant deficits, especially when baby boomers are only a few years away from retiring and claiming Social Security and Medicare.

They're wrong. Government spending that puts people back to work and invests in the future productivity of the nation is exactly what the economy needs right now. Deficit numbers themselves have no significance. The pertinent issue is how much underutilized capacity exists in the economy. When there's lots of idle capacity, deficit spending is entirely appropriate, as John Maynard Keynes taught us. Moving the economy to fuller capacity will of itself shrink future deficits.

The second argument will come from conservative supply-siders who will call for income-tax cuts rather than spending increases. They'll claim that individuals with more money in their pockets will get the economy moving again more readily than can government. They're wrong, for three reasons. First, income-tax cuts go mainly to upper-income people who tend to save rather than spend. Most Americans pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes. Second, even if a rebate could be fashioned, people tend to use those extra dollars to pay off their debts rather than buy new goods and services, as we witnessed a few months ago when the government sent out rebate checks. Third, even when individuals purchase goods and services, those purchases tend not to generate as many American jobs as government spending on the same total scale because much of what consumers buy comes from abroad.

We have had 28 years of supply-side economics, and it has gotten us precisely to this crisis. Shifting this to job creation and wage increases, demand-side economics, would be maybe a quiet revolution for the cable news gasbags who focus on personality, but a revolution nonetheless. And to quote Dick Cheney, not a noted economic scholar but in this case appropriate, "This is our due."

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I Allow Myself To Be Optimistic For A Paragraph

As I remember, right around the same time as Katrina there was this horrible bridge collapse in southern Baghdad that killed upwards of 900 people. It wasn't from a bombing, just a rumor of a suicide attack that caused a stampede. Three years later, in the middle of a war zone, that bridge has been reopened as a source of hope for the remaining residents.

It's not much, but when there's so much bleakness in Iraq, it's comforting to see Sunnis and Shiites walking together.

(Has the Lower 9th Ward been reopened yet?)

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I Don't Care

The Hillary-Obama spat that consumed everyone during the primaries always left me cold. It's this overblown soap opera that the media is drawn to like flies to a lamppost. Apparently Obama offered her the Secretary of State job. MAYBE. It seems like yet another trial balloon, thrown out there to gauge public opinion and set the media tongues a-waggin'.

Who gives a crap about this? It's idle speculation at best, and besides she's perfectly qualified for the position. Anyway, Obama is confident enough in his abilities that his perspective is going to be what drives the agenda. There are a lot of Clinton-era officials in the transition team so far because the only Democrats with any executive experience are Clinton-era officials. Susan Rice worked in the Clinton Administration but she was against the Iraq war, as have been most of the Obama foreign policy team. Do they deserve to be tarred with the brush of being "Clinton-era officials"? John Podesta is the founder of the Center for American Progress and a very liberal guy. He was Clinton's Chief of Staff at one point. Is he dead to everyone, then? It's ridiculous.

I mean, stuff like this is absurd.

The pick of the former presidential contender and Senate Armed Services Committee member would go a long way toward healing any remaining divisions within the Democratic Party after the divisive primaries.

What divisions? Obama got 89% of Democrats on Election Day and has a 70% approval rating.

As Eric Boehlert said:

What is clear is that Obama and Clinton are conducting themselves as adults trying to help lead the country, while the portions of the press corps (sadly, it's the so-called 'elite' portions) continue to behave like juveniles.

If something actually happens on this, call me. Until then, I really couldn't care less.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Of Course You Know, This Means War Crimes

I read with interest Digby's post about potential Congressional inquiries into Bush Administration abuses, as well as Bush's own efforts to pre-emptively pardon his whole team and use executive privilege even after leaving the White House. I agree that this is an unlikely course of action for a President-elect already sounding notes of bipartisanship and unity, as well as a Congress which hasn't mustered the courage to challenge Bush on much of anything during his reign. Obama's as much as said this:

In addition, Mr. Obama has expressed worries about too many investigations. In April, he told The Philadelphia Daily News that people needed to distinguish “between really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity.”

“If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated,” Mr. Obama said, but added, “I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we’ve got too many problems we’ve got to solve.”

You'd have to basically play dumb not to assert that crimes have been committed. Based on what we already know, before launching the first investigation, we have a clear sense of what to call the abuses that have taken place. They are war crimes.

There are bound to be casualties when any nation veers from its domestic and international obligations to uphold human rights and international humanitarian law. Those casualties are etched on the minds and bodies of many of the 62 former detainees interviewed for this report, many of whom suffered infinite variations on physical and mental abuse, including intimidation, stress positions, enforced nudity, sexual humiliation, and interference with religious practices. Indeed, I was struck by
the similarity between the abuse they suffered and the abuse we found inflicted upon Bosnian Muslim prisoners in Serbian camps when I sat as a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, a U.N. court fully supported by the United States. The officials and guards in charge of those prison camps and the civilian leaders who sanctioned their establishment were prosecuted—often by former U.S. government and military lawyers serving with the tribunal— for war crimes, crimes against humanity and, in extreme cases, genocide.

Patricia M. Wald, the writer of that foreward, served on the DC Court of Appeals and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. She was also appointed by the Bush Administration to serve on the President’s Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the U.S. Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. This is not a DFH. This is a jurist who has examined the evidence.

So when people like Robert Litt seek to excuse these actions by the executive, it's very clear what they are excusing - war crimes.

Obama will have to do a careful balancing act. At a conference in Washington this week, former department criminal division chief Robert S. Litt asked that the new administration avoid fighting old battles that could be perceived as vindictive, such as seeking to prosecute government officials involved in decisions about interrogation and the gathering of domestic intelligence. Human rights groups have called for such investigations, as has House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.).

"It would not be beneficial to spend a lot of time calling people up to Congress or in front of grand juries," Litt said. "It would really spend a lot of the bipartisan capital Obama managed to build up."

If you're arguing that Bush Administration officials should be shielded and protected from prosecution in the name of comity and bipartisanship, you are saying that war crimes aren't actionable if the President or his staff commits them. Which is fine if you're Richard Nixon. But that's not the model people had in mind on Election Day, I gather.

Despite the persistent belief that partisanship is corroding the body politic, actually it's quite the opposite. It's "bipartisanship" - or at least the phony rhetoric of it, which is always practiced against progressive change and for the status quo - that has destroyed the rule of law in this country. As Glenn Greenwald notes:

This brazen defense of lawlessness articulated by Litt is now as close to a unanimous, bipartisan consensus across the political establishment as it gets. This is what has been advocated by everyone from David Broder to top Obama adviser Cass Sunstein. There are few things more difficult than finding someone of prominence in the establishment that disagrees with this view. Our political class has decided that high political officials -- particularly the President and those closest to him -- are literally exempt from the rule of law.

Nobody believes that "policy differences" should be criminalized. That's a strawman -- an obfuscating term -- erected by those who are defending presidential lawbreaking license without having the intellectual honesty to admit they're doing that. This is about having laws in place that clearly and explicitly say that "X shall be a felony," only to then watch as the President does X, and thereafter have our political establishment announce that it's more important to avoid partisan anger than it is to hold high political officials accountable under the rule of law.

Here, X = "eavesdropping on Americans with no warrants," and "torturing detainees," and "destroying evidence relating to investigations," and "interfering in criminal prosecutions for political purposes." Those are crimes -- felonies -- in every sense of the word, not policy differences. And they are all actions in which Bush officials have clearly engaged [...]

As political scientists have documented, one hallmark of tin-pot tyrannies is the belief that political leaders should be liberated from the constraints of law as long as that helps to achieve good results. That's the defining mentality of those who crave benevolent tyrants -- our Leaders have so many Good and Important Things to do for us that they can't be distracted and weighed down by abstract luxuries like upholding the rule of law. That's now clearly the prevailing consensus of our political establishment.

Again, I don't expect much movement against Bush Administration abuses. The moles inside the Justice Department would probably obfuscate and leak and embarrass if anything was attempted, and by the way key Democrats are implicated in the abuses through their complicit silence. In fact, this Robert Litt character himself is defending intelligence officials in ongoing lawsuits and may seek to benefit from a lack of prosecution against his own clients. But it would be nice if anyone owned up to the truth - that "moving on" and "healing the divisions" of the previous eight years is tantamount to a get out of jail free card for war crimes.

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Probably before being impeached! (snort, giggle)

No, actually, Barack Obama's just resigning from the Senate to focus on the transition.

"It has been one of the highest honors and privileges of my life to have served the people of Illinois in the United States Senate. In a state that represents the crossroads of a nation, I have met so many men and women who've taken different journeys, but hold common hopes for their children's future. It is these Illinois families and their stories that will stay with me as I leave the United States Senate and begin the hard task of fulfilling the simple hopes and common dreams of all Americans as our nation's next President," said President-elect Barack Obama.

This means, I guess, he won't have a vote in the Lieberman business, among other things. It also means that there will be the option for a Democrat who will actually be present during the lame-duck session to cast votes on stimulus, etc. Rod Blagojevich, the Governor of Illinois, needs to not wait until Christmas for a successor. We need that vote now.

(Blagojevich is, by all accounts, a scumbag, and I don't hold much high hopes for a good choice. My guess is he punts and puts in a caretaker like Emil Jones, the head of the State Senate who's retiring and wouldn't run in 2010. But there is the possibility that he chooses a crony.)

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Senate Elections Update

The Alaska race still has enough votes left to count that the outcome is in doubt. But with Mark Begich taking the lead yesterday, and practically all the votes left to be counted in areas that Begich won on Election Day, I would have to agree that Begich is now the overwhelming favorite to win that seat.

This gets Democrats to 57 votes in the Senate (I'm basically done with counting Lieberman). And there are two races outstanding.

First we have the Minnesota recount. Boy if this doesn't feel like Florida 2000 all over again. The spread is even thinner; Al Franken trails Norm Coleman by just 206 votes. The recount doesn't start until next week, but the Republicans are framing the debate.

The recount in the Minnesota Senate race hasn't even begun yet, but already the GOP is working to delegitimize it in advance, by smearing the man who will run it as a partisan Democrat.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has been distributing to reporters a three-page "backgrounder" that attacks Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat, for having spoken at the Democratic convention this summer, and for having "led a voter registration coalition that included ACORN," among other alleged sins.

Not only that, but he's a KKKommunist with ties to!!!!1!!

I trust Minnesota's election officials will have the integrity to perform a legitimate recount, but if you start seeing masses in Brooks Brothers suits mulling around registrar's offices, worry. And I'm sure Coleman is getting some good advice - remember, he was Karl Rove's handpicked candidate to defeat the late Paul Wellstone. They've already got the online component to their work-the-refs campaign up.

Then there's the Georgia runoff. Markos has a poll showing the race at 49-46, Saxby Chambliss over Jim Martin, which is where the race ended up on Election Day. However, Nate Silver is right that it's going to be very hard to gauge turnout. The bottom line is that whoever mobilizes more of their supporters is going to win. And given that Obama has sent substantial field resources into the state to help Martin, he has at least an even-money chance to win. The DSCC is running ads and also highlighting John McCain's hypocrisy in campaigning with the man he called "disgraceful" during his last election.

Meanwhile, Chambliss' latest ad is completely slimy, suggesting that Martin supports child molestation. Seriously.

Obviously, Martin is going to need resources to beat back these lies. You can contribute here.

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Evan Bayh: Dupe

I actually watched this last night, and it was pathetic:

BAYH: I don't think this is about Joe Lieberman, Rachel. I think this is about maximizing our chances of making the changes that we need in America, maximizing the chances that President-elect Obama will meet those expectations you referred to by addressing the challenges that we face that you also reported on just a few moments ago.

And let me explain to you what I mean. If this was just about Joe Lieberman and the things he said in the campaign, well, I'd say we'll let it go. I mean, if people want to settle scores, fine. I mean, he's a big guy, he can live with the consequences of his actions.

But one of two things will be likely to happen if we were to kick him out of his chairmanship. No. 1, he might very well decide to just resign from the Senate. You know, he probably would not want to be a person without a home, wandering the hallways without any influence of any kind. And Connecticut has a Republican governor, who would appoint a pure Republican to that seat, who would vote against the wishes of the president-elect and the Democratic caucus, you know, the vast, vast majority of the time. That's No. 1.

No. 2, Lieberman, Joe Lieberman might decide to stay and be embittered. And what would happen there would be from time to time, we have close votes. You've been reporting on the Alaska race and the Minnesota race and the Georgia race. We could be at 58, 59, maybe even 60 votes. Every two or three or four months, there's going to be a critically important vote, very close, every vote will count. And it might come down to one vote.

Now, if Senator Lieberman has a strong view, he'll vote his conscience, but if he's conflicted, frankly, you know, doesn't really
know what to do, and we've exacted revenge on him, I suspect we could probably expect the same in return. That's really not where we want to go. Let's see if we can move this in a better direction.

And the final thing I'd say is, if he does retain his chairmanship, we still exert oversight over him and control over him. He doesn't have the ability to just do whatever he wants. The caucus still has the right to remove him from that position at any time if he starts going off on some kind of tangent.

Shorter Evan Bayh: we're a-feared of Droopy Dog!

If Senate Dems can't defend themselves, I really don't see why I should expend any effort helping to defend them. The danger of Lieberman at Homeland Security, as I see it, is that he'll play "fun with subpoenas" on the Obama Administration. Well, let him. Obama doesn't seem too concerned with it, so why should I be? And under no circumstances should Lieberman be tossed after given the gavel if he does anything untoward. Senate Dems will have had their chance, and stifling Joe after the fact would just be the same instance of using the Congress as a human shield for executive power, much as the Hastert/Frist Congress did from 2001-2006. In fact there's a Constitutional argument to be made that at least a confrontational Joe would be a check on the executive. It'll all be frivolous and based on faulty logic, but at this point any check might be beneficial.

As for appeasing him (Neville Chamberlains!) because he might go ahead and vote against the party, if I'm a sanctimonious windbag like Joe Lieberman I'm probably already embittered by having to fight for my chairmanship, so whether I get to keep it or not I'm going to be a thorn in the side of the Democrats. After all, it's in my nature. And furthermore, important legislation rarely hangs on one vote, and each victory in these remaining races makes Joe that much more irrelevant.

I could tell you to call your Senators but I'm not really interested in helping dupes.

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Magnificent Disaster

As Emperor Paulson dithers and shuffles papers pretending to look busy implementing the bailout, the lobbyists are lining up for their piece of the bailout cash, and apparently, nobody is keeping tabs on them:

In the six weeks since lawmakers approved the Treasury's massive bailout of financial firms, the government has poured money into the country's largest banks, recruited smaller banks into the program and repeatedly widened its scope to cover yet other types of businesses, from insurers to consumer lenders.

Along the way, the Bush administration has committed $290 billion of the $700 billion rescue package.

Yet for all this activity, no formal action has been taken to fill the independent oversight posts established by Congress when it approved the bailout to prevent corruption and government waste. Nor has the first monitoring report required by lawmakers been completed, though the initial deadline has passed.

"It's a mess," said Eric M. Thorson, the Treasury Department's inspector general, who has been working to oversee the bailout program until the newly created position of special inspector general is filled. "I don't think anyone understands right now how we're going to do proper oversight of this thing."

Considering that the Treasury Secretary can hold press conferences pledging to do the exact opposite of what he initially asked for in the bill, considering that his department can change the tax code to provide a huge windfall to banks, telling me there's "no oversight" seems a bit self-evident.

In fact, the bailout plan itself appears to be working just as the Bush Administration hoped - as a "free-fraud zone" for moneyed interests to get paid off during an economic collapse. They even staffed it with one of the same guys that handed out bricks of cash to contractors in Iraq, before deciding that was too on the nose.

Under cover of an emergency, Treasury is rapidly turning into an economic Green Zone, overrun with private companies collecting lucrative contracts. Fittingly, one of the first to line up at the new trough was none other than the law firm of Bracewell & Giuliani — yes, that Giuliani. The firm's chairman, Patrick Oxford, could scarcely conceal his glee over the prospect of cashing in on the bailout. "This one," he told reporters, "is very, very big." At least four times bigger, in fact, than the post-9/11 homeland-security bubble, from which Giuliani and his various outfits have profited so extravagantly. Even bigger, potentially, than the price tag for the Iraq War itself.

See if any of this sounds familiar: As soon as the bailout was announced, it became clear that Treasury officials would hire outsiders to perform their jobs for them — at a profit. Private companies wanting to help manage the bailout were given just two days to apply for massive, multiyear contracts. Since it was such a mad rush — after all, the entire economy was about to implode — there was no time for an open bidding process. Nor was there time to draft rigorous rules to make sure that those applying don't have serious conflicts of interest. Instead, applicants were asked to disclose their conflicts and to explain — and this is not a joke — their "philosophy in fulfilling your duty to the Treasury and the U.S. taxpayer in light of your proprietary interests and those of other clients." In other words, an open invitation to bullshit about how much they love their country and how they can be trusted to regulate themselves.

I guess there's one positive - at least Treasury is hiring!

Meanwhile, Bush is headed to a meeting of world leaders to tell them they'd better not get any funny ideas about fixing his mess.

Nov. 13 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush today will urge leaders of the world's biggest industrial and developing economies not to abandon principles of free-market capitalism as they seek an escape from the international financial crisis, calling it the "best system'' for delivering growth.

In a speech in New York before weekend talks among leaders from the Group of 20 nations, Bush will say policy makers "should fix the problems we have rather than dismantle a system that has improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world,'' according to a statement released by the White House [...]

For all his defense of markets, Bush this year extended the reach of government by backing bailouts of American International Group Inc., Bear Stearns Cos., Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. His administration is also implementing a $700 billion financial rescue program which U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson yesterday shifted toward relieving pressure on consumer credit, scrapping an effort to buy devalued mortgage assets.

Of course, corporate welfare and socialism for the rich IS the "free-market system" that Bush is defending. It's the only type of economy he has ever known.

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Marriage Equality: A Movement In Search Of A Campaign

The numerous issues inside the No on 8 campaign, and their disappointing mismanagement, has finally bubbled up into the traditional media (we were talking about it a week ago). The SacBee writes about the trouble at the top:

Key staff members – including the campaign manager – were replaced in the final weeks as polls turned dramatically against the No side. Their replacements say they found an effort that was too timid, slow to react, without a radio campaign or a strategy to reach out to African Americans, a group that ultimately supported the measure by more than 2 to 1.

Gay marriage supporters are looking to the courts to overturn the decision. But if another political campaign is waged, said Dennis Mangers, co-chairman of the No on 8 Northern California Committee, "we'll have to do better."

No on 8 campaign manager Steve Smith was shoved aside three weeks before Election Day, after he was slow to counter TV ads in which the measure's supporters claimed that same-sex marriage would be promoted in schools if the measure failed.

And Smith was replaced by a committee - half the consultant class in Sacramento went through the revolving door of that campaign. And they set about to answer unchallenged ads from the Yes campaign and get on radio. But the message remained somewhat timid, and the campaign didn't put much effort into minority outreach or field operations. Late volunteers were told to go out on a street corner and wave signs.

What's remarkable is that the best activism and creativity I've seen from the LGBT community in years has come in the immediate AFTERMATH of this vote. The talent was out there, but wasn't channeled during the campaign. Activists are using wiki-based technology to set up a national day of action on November 15 called The Impact. A comedy troup in LA used the Yes campaign's own words to "advocate" for prohibiting divorce.

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

And Utah lawmakers are turning the tables on the Mormon church by using their alleged tolerance to make major advances for gay rights in the Beehive State:

Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have said they do not object to rights for same-sex couples, as long as those rights do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family.

Now, gay-rights activists and at least five Utah legislators are asking the Church to demonstrate its conviction.

The group Equality Utah says the Church made the invitation, and they're accepting it. "The LDS Church says it does not oppose same-sex couples receiving such rights as hospitalization and medical care, fair housing rights or probate rights," said Mike Thompson, executive director of Equality Utah.

These actions are useful to the future of marriage equality nationwide, and could be the backbone of a smarter, more grassroots movement. Why were they not tapped at all for the No on 8 campaign?

Yesterday, Connecticut granted marriage equality to all its citizens, offering a glimmer of hope. I am convinced that justice will eventually prevail. But you have to treat the campaign like a campaign, and use the assets at your disposal.

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85,000 American families lost their homes last month. That's a 25 percent increase year-over-year. While everyone on Capitol Hill is freaking out about about struggling industries and wanting to bail them out, if you look collectively at the impact of 85,000 foreclosures, the numbers are just as high. The conservative estimate is that every foreclosure costs $250,000 to the greater economy. So that's $21 BILLION dollars of economic impact in just the last month. Spread it over a year and you've got as much money as has been handed out thus far in the TARP program.

And this won't end by itself. 1 out of every 452 homes in the country received a foreclosure filing in the last month. So something must be done. This past week, HUD announced a new program to help homeowners, or actually an old program for which more people can qualify, but critics contend that it's not enough:

The plan announced Tuesday by federal officials and mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac sounds sweeping in its approach: Borrowers would get reduced interest rates or longer loan terms to make their payments more affordable.

But there's a catch. The plan focuses on loans Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee. They are the dominant players in the U.S. mortgage market but represent only 20 percent of delinquent loans.

Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., said the plan "falls short of what is needed to achieve wide-scale modifications of distressed mortgages."

With the government spending billions to aid distressed banks, "we must also devote some of that money to fixing the front-end problem: too many unaffordable home loans," Bair said in a statement.

Sheila Bair is absolutely right. And if foreclosures go unchecked, it will put a hole in the economy that no amount of stimulus can fix. Both states and big banks are either talking about or instituting foreclosure moratoriums. We need one at the federal level.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ramming Convoys

One of these days this kind of suicide attack is going to strike its target more directly, and more than 1 US soldier will die. The Marine barracks in Beirut is essentially the parallel. How many more chances are we going to take?

A U.S. military spokesman says that a suicide car attack on a U.S. military convoy in Afghanistan has killed 20 civilians and a coalition soldier.

Lt. Cmdr. Walter Matthews says the bomber attacked the convoy Thursday in the Bati Kot district of the eastern Nangarhar province.

Ajmal Pardes, an Afghan health official, says 74 civilians have been wounded in the attack.

The attack happened as the convoy was passing through a crowded market.

And our solution, for some reason, is to send more targets troops into the war zone.

I should also remind everyone that there was no history of suicide attacks in Afghanistan until the war in Iraq, which was basically insurgent college.

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AK-Sen: Every Vote Counts

We've been following the Ted Stevens/Mark Begich race in Alaska, which initially seemed to be more than a little strange, what with its low turnout despite the first Alaskan on a major-party Presidential ticket in history. Well, they kept finding extra votes, not a few at a time but thousands and thousands of them, so that the turnout is relatively in line with expectations, though still low (of course, the Presidential race was essentially called at 4pm local time, so some drop-off can be expected). And they've started to count those votes. And based on the latest tally, Begich leads by three.

Not three points. Three votes.

I don't know if that includes Track, Bristol, Willow, Trig, Twig, Salad Spinner, Lipitor or Stag Tunnel Palin, who is the crucial swing vote.

There are still about 40,000 votes left to count, and they apparently favor Begich.

Anything that keeps Sarah Palin out of the US Senate and all over cable news where she apparently belongs is a good thing.

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Fuzzy Math

Leave it to the Bush Administration to screw up the numbers:

Congressional Democrats are eyeing a little-known, Clinton-era law as a way to reverse Bush administration midnight regulations — even ones that have already taken effect.

It’s a move that would undermine the White House’s attempt to finalize its energy and environmental regulations by November so that Barack Obama couldn’t undo them after he’s sworn in as the 44th president on Jan. 20.

“Fortunately, [the White House] made a mistake,” said a top Senate Democratic aide [...]

The law contains a clause determining that any regulation finalized within 60 days of congressional adjournment — Oct. 3, in this case — is considered to have been legally finalized on Jan. 15, 2009. The new Congress then has 60 days to review it and reverse it with a joint resolution that can’t be filibustered in the Senate.

In other words, any regulation finalized in the last half-year of the Bush administration could be wiped out with a simple party-line vote in the Democrat-controlled Congress.

The White House interpreted the rule as meaning 60 days from the end of Bush's term.

They interpreted wrong.

Fortunately, you can always count on the incompetence of the Bush Administration.

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Echoes Of Failure: Feedback

I received a lot of feedback on my piece about the disappointing California election results and I want to thank everyone who participated. A few points:

• The CDP has a version of Neighbor-to-Neighbor called Neighborhood Leader. The program asks for a commitment from the activist to talk with 25 friends on multiple occasions throughout the year. I don't have metrics on it, which would be nice to know, but my suspicion is it needs to be expanded.

• There is a lot of back and forth about the extent of the ground game here in California. Many have written in to talk about the field operation in key districts and field offices throughout the state. Some have said that I overlooked this element, including all the doorhangers and phone calls made inside the state. Others have told me that the calls tried to shoehorn too many messages into one (I did have experiences calling for multiple propositions and a candidate at the same time, which ends up shortchanging all of them) and that the results on the ground in general were unfocused. And the insistence from some to talk about field elides the point. Even if I grant that every targeted legislative campaign had the most aggressive and far-reaching field program in American history, the facts are that most of these campaigns lost, and so it's time to come to terms with the fact that the type of organizing done in the state isn't working.

• Some have suggested that Democrats, in fact, did not underperform the Presidential ticket in House races, but I think a lot of this is fun with statistics. Yes, House Democrats in California may have done better than Barack Obama, but that would be because a substantial number of them had token or no competition. Like 30 out of 53. While on the chart at the link, it appears that California exceeded the Presidential numbers, the proof is in the lack of pickups despite a 24-point blowout at the top of the ticket.

• Other local organizers have the right idea. I'm going to reprint this comment in full:

We ran a very intensive and very grassroots effort in Monterey County with more than 1000 volunteers (5 fold increase over 2004) that was by and large successful, got some newcomers into office and saved some progressive incumbents from conservative challengers.

We did all of this without CDP help.

We were offered use of the CDP voter database which in many ways was quite inadequate when it came to mapping and would have costed us money. We were also offered 1000 doorhangers on Thursday before the election (we have 80,000 Democrats in Monterey County).

Instead we commissioned our own slate mailers and door hangers and mailed and hung 80,0000 and 30,000 respectively in conjunction with the local unions. We used the VAN through CAVoterConnect for free with great results for us. We were able to manage our volunteers with it and we used it for all of our phone banking and Neighbor-to-Neighbor activities.

Here is what the CDP could have done - and can still do for future campaigns:
Support the VAN and help all local parties get access. Help integrate State VAN with Obama VAN.
Conduct more capacity building, especially in how to run county-based campaigns, along the lines of Camp Obama but applied to state and local races.
Provide a template for door hangers that local parties can buy into instead of having to go out and design their own.
Work toward a more modular - bottom-up campaign.

Vinz Koller/ Chair/ Monterey County Democratic Party

I particularly want to emphasize the VAN, the California VAN is for some reason not integrated with the DNC's Votebuilder program, which doesn't make much sense to me. There ought to be an effort to clean up all that idea in the off-year to get it ready for 2010. Votebuilder is simply easier to work with and can be managed by volunteers. And since there will be off-year elections this year, it can be test run.

• I don't think I ever blamed the Obama campaign for draining the state of resources, but let me say again that I don't. In addition to many of the best volunteers leaving the state, many of the top organizers, including most of labor, left as well. And Obama's election was crucially important for a variety of reasons so you can't blame them.

• Therefore, the biggest thing California Democrats can do to reverse this disturbing trend of the "political trade deficit," sending money and organization elsewhere and never importing anything, is to argue for and pass the National Popular Vote plan, which would force locals to organize their own communities in a Presidential election. If the Electoral College were offered as a system today, it would be found to be an unconstitutional violation of the principle of "one person, one vote" as determined by the 14th Amendment. It shrinks the pool of competitive states down to a geographically significant battleground, and has made California irrelevant - again - as it has been for Presidential races for a generation. A disruptive change like the National Popular Vote would go a long way to changing how campaigns are conducted in Presidential years in California.

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Another World Is Possible

The Yes Men pulled off another great prank today, handing out over a million copies of a fake New York Times dated July 4, 2009, imagining a Bizarro world where the US takes responsibility for its actions and doesn't start unnecessary wars without provocation. Here's their statement.

Early this morning, commuters nationwide were delighted to find out that while they were sleeping, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had come to an end.

If, that is, they happened to read a "special edition" of today's New York Times.

In an elaborate operation six months in the planning, 1.2 million papers were printed at six different presses and driven to prearranged pickup locations, where thousands of volunteers stood ready to pass them out on the street.

Articles in the paper announce dozens of new initiatives including the establishment of national health care, the abolition of corporate lobbying, a maximum wage for C.E.O.s, and, of course, the end of the war.

They're being modest because they didn't even mention the best article in the paper, the Tom Friedman column, where he muses if experts like him who got the Iraq War completely wrong should be allowed to keep writing.

If only.

The paper has a companion website (which is down at the moment) with links to all of the stories, including this indicia explaining how the project is aspirational, seeking to present what's possible if the world works to create rather than destroy. Dozens of progressive organizations are linked on that page. Find one of them, join it, and help make this more than an amusing parody.

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Speaking For Me Only

John Cole offers the definitive smackdown of Talk Left's Big Tent Democrat, to which in response BTD calls everyone who doesn't agree with him a cult member. I actually don't disagree with him that we need to push Obama on substantive issues, but his blanket condemnation of every liberal blog for shielding Obama from criticism is stupid and unnecessary, and his ego can hardly fit in the blogosphere so this is richly deserved.


And also.

(This is hopefully the last time I ever read anything about "Obama can't win the big states Democrats need to win in November!" You know, like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.)

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Baucus' Move

There's been a lot of ink spilled about the failure of Clinton-era health care reform, but certainly legislators inside the Democratic caucus, particularly Blue Dogs and moderates, had a hand in sinking the proposal. Maybe it was because they felt cut out of the negotiations, or because they just didn't believe in the scope of the problem. Well, the best indication that 2008 is different is that Max Baucus, not a progressive, has boldly sketched out a universal coverage plan just a week after Barack Obama's election. There is good reason to be skeptical, however.

Here's the birds-eye view of Baucus' plan:

Without waiting for President-elect Barack Obama, Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the Finance Committee, will unveil a detailed blueprint on Wednesday to guarantee health insurance for all Americans by facilitating sales of private insurance, expanding Medicaid and Medicare, and requiring most employers to provide or pay for health benefits [...]

The proposals are all broadly compatible with Mr. Obama’s campaign promises. But Mr. Baucus’s 35,000-word plan would go further than Mr. Obama’s in one respect, eventually requiring all people — not just children — to have coverage.

“Every American has a right to affordable, high-quality health care,” Mr. Baucus said. “Americans cannot wait any longer.” Far from being a distraction from efforts to revive the economy, he said, “health reform is an essential part of restoring America’s economy and maintaining our competitiveness.”

Mr. Baucus would create a nationwide marketplace, a “health insurance exchange,” where people could compare and buy insurance policies. The options would include private insurance policies and a new public plan similar to Medicare. Insurers could no longer deny coverage to people who had been sick. Congress would also limit insurers’ ability to charge higher premiums because of a person’s age or prior illness.

People would have a duty to obtain coverage when affordable options were available to all through employers or through the insurance exchange. This obligation “would be enforced, possibly through the tax system,” the plan says [...]

In his plan, Mr. Baucus makes these proposals:

¶People age 55 to 64 should be able to buy Medicare coverage if they do not have access to a public insurance program or a group health plan. More than four million people in this age group are uninsured.

¶Medicaid would be available to everyone below the poverty level, providing at least seven million more people with access to the program. In many states, adults with incomes well below the poverty level — $17,600 for a family of three — are ineligible for Medicaid.

¶The State Children’s Health Insurance Program would be expanded to cover all uninsured youngsters in families with incomes at or below 250 percent of the poverty level ($44,000 for a family of three). This would raise the income limit in about half the states.

You can read the white paper here. This is basically the generic Democratic health care plan, not much different from what Obama campaigned on. Obviously, the big difference here is that the plan would include an individual mandate to buy health care, which was part of Hillary Clinton's plan during the primary but not Obama's. I don't think Obama is unaware of that fact - his chief of staff during the general election campaign, James Messina, held the same position for Baucus. And Obama has said that Congress should take the lead on this issue.

And there would be a public option to compete with the insurance companies. Jon Cohn has this:

It look a lot like the plan Barack Obama touted on the campaign trail: Expanded Medicaid and S-CHIP for the poor; a pooling mechanism that allows individuals and the uninsured to buy coverage at group rates; a new public insurance plan, modeled vaguely on Medicare, that would be available to people buying coverage through the new pool; subsidies to offset the cost of insurance coupled with efforts to restrain the cost of medicine in the long term; and regulations that force insurers to sell to everybody, regardless of pre-existing condition.

I think a lot of this may be a matter of jurisdiction. If Baucus comes out first with a big proposal, it becomes the spine for the eventual legislation. The Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions would presumably have some control over this as well, and right now that's chaired by Ted Kennedy. The good news is that Kennedy has come out with praise for Baucus' effort. But we have no idea what's going on behind the scenes, where it matters.

These sorts of jurisdictional battles can be damaging. And they have real effects. HELP is a liberal committee that could pass a fairly pure bill that might have problems on the floor. Finance has a moderate, bipartisan history and would probably pass a heavy, consensus-oriented bill that will be built to smoothly pass once brought to the floor. I've heard talk, in the past, of setting up a special Committee of some sort that would include members of HELP and Finance (and probably Clinton and some others) to build health reform, but so far as I know, that's not gone anywhere. Then there's the wild card of Kennedy's health. WIthout Kennedy, HELP has nothing.

I'm not sure we should all cheer Baucus' outline, although the addition of universality and the recognition that we need reform is very important. First, the good. Fixing health care is the fiscally conservative thing to do. The only entitlement program with the potential to bust the federal budget is Medicare, and that's directly attributable to out-of-control costs. We currently spend more than any country in the industrialized world per capita on health care and achieve less results. The insurance and pharmaceutical industries have gamed this system for decades and the horror stories are legion. What's more, business is coming to the realization that they can't compete without government relieving the health care burden that makes it impossible for them to succeed. Despite the neo-Hooverist cant that Obama has to go slow on things like health care until the economy is sound, the fact is that expanding health care would provide an immediate stimulus for individuals and business. In addition, the unions are in full support of the measure and willing to spend on crafting public opinion. Politically speaking, those are a lot of allies in our corner. And by attacking this early, you get the sense of a "liberal shock doctrine," with progressive ideas used to combat a looming crisis.

Now, the bad. Mandates can be a forced market for insurance companies - in fact, they favor it in exchange for health care reform. Baucus' proposal is not a single-payer system. He came right out and said today that "I don't think a single payer health care system makes sense in this country, we are America, we will come up with a uniquely American health care system that's a combination of public and private." That kind of exceptionalism just makes no sense against economic reality. If the insurance industry can pawn off the sick onto the public plans, those costs will rise while insurers take in record profits. There is a clause in the proposal that "Private insurers offering coverage through the (Health Insurance) Exchange would
be precluded from discrimination based on pre-existing conditions," which is great, but insurers have used other means, like recsission (retroactively kicking people off the insurance rolls when they file a claim because they "lied on their forms"), to get out of paying for treatment. There also doesn't appear to be any language that insurers must spend a significant portion of their premiums of actual care. As for the cost controls, there's this clause, "The plan also considers careful reforms of medical malpractice laws that
could lower administrative costs and health spending throughout the system, while ensuring that injured patients are compensated fairly for their losses," which sounds like another round of tort reform to me.

It's hard to fully trust Baucus. He wrote the first Bush tax cut and he helped shepherd the Medicare Part D prescription drug bill which was a giveaway to industry. But Baucus also helped stop the Social Security privatization scheme and outflanked Republicans to get a Medicare fix passed this summer. His record is mixed at best, and that's not the greatest profile to have when you're the point man on universal health care:

His appetite for pork -- and his skill at wresting it for his state -- is so legendary that The Washington Post branded him a "High Plains grifter." As one former Baucus staffer put it to me, "He's like the city councilman for the state of Montana." And, he's well known for his tendency to break with the Democratic Party. In 2001, he was so instrumental in passing Bush's tax cut that he stood behind the president at the bill-signing ceremony, a visual that featured prominently in his 2002 campaign ads. (In 2003, however, Baucus voted against the second round of tax cuts.) He voted to repeal the estate tax and earned a 70 percent approval rating from the Chamber of Commerce.

Also helpful is the fact that Baucus never enters an election underfunded. "One of the rewards I was told about before I selected the committee," says Durenberger, "was someone said, 'You have to run for re-election. This is the best place to raise money.'" Much of Baucus' cash comes from the industries most affected by his committee's legislation. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, this cycle has seen Baucus raise almost $800,000 from securities and investment firms, $565,000 from the insurance industry, and $462,000 from the pharmaceutical industry. Ninety percent of his funds have come from out of state. In total, he's raised more than $10 million. (Some of which has gone to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee; Baucus bragged to me that he had more than doubled the target contribution set by Sen. Chuck Schumer.) [...]

When I meet with Baucus at the City Grille in Denver, he is eager to emphasize this chapter in his story. "When Reid put me in charge of stopping the privatization of Social Security, man that was fun. That was the right thing to do," he says. "I remember President Bush came to Great Falls, Montana, and I set up a meeting with seniors at the same time, just across town, just right in his face. I relished the opportunity just to beat down privatization flatly and squarely." His message is clear: I can fight.

Unbidden, Baucus then launches into a retelling of his fight in July to block the 10.6 percent cut in Medicare physician reimbursement. Here too, the message is clear. "I walked away from Senator Grassley," he says. "I tend to work with Senator Grassley. But there comes a time when you just gotta say, 'Sorry.' These things get watered down too much, it's just not right, so I just broke with him on that and pushed through a Medicare bill that finally got 60 votes. We had to work hard to get those 60, because Grassley didn't agree, but that was the right thing to do. So when Ted Kennedy walked on the floor to cast the 60th vote, that's a moment I'll always treasure."

I'll take Baucus at his word that he is serious about the health care crisis. But a new reform must be the right kind of reform - it can't be a watered-down giveaway to industry that keeps them alive for no significant reason. I recognize that conservatives have bashed "socialized medicine" for so long that there needs to be a lot of education around the issue before you frontally assault it. But if you waste this moment once again, and create a system that rewards insurers more than people, all of the trust built up in this historic campaign will fade away.

It's crucial that we make perfectly clear that health care should be at the top of the agenda for the incoming Democratic majority. But it's not enough to demand its presence - we have to actively shape the reform itself as well. This legislation is by no means final - in most areas it's deliberately vague. Sen. Baucus is trying to control the pathway through which health care must travel. We the public must get a tollway on that path as well.

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