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

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Last Laugh

This is a kick in the teeth.

Democratic officials say President-elect Barack Obama has selected retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki to be the next Veterans Affairs secretary.

The officials said Obama will announce his selection Sunday. They spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting the official announcement.

Shinseki is the former Army chief of staff who upset his civilian bosses in 2003 when he testified to Congress that it might take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to control Iraq after the U.S. invasion. He was forced out of his job within months for being "wildly off the mark." But his words proved prophetic after President George W. Bush in early 2007 announced a "surge" of additional troops to Iraq after miscalculating.

No incident has been used by Democratic politicians as a stick to beat the Bush Administration the way the Gen. Shinseki incident has. They didn't appreciate Shinseki's dose of reality, didn't like that he was offering a glimpse of the sacrifice Americans would suffer for an unnecessary invasion, so they fired him, basically. His reinstatement is probably a good choice - I'm making a healthy assumption that a decorated general would have the safety and good treatment of veterans in mind, but what I do know of him gives me the sense that he's honorable and competent - but more than that, it's a SYMBOL. A symbol that the age of cronyism is over. That the age of silencing dissent is over. That George Bush is over.

Nice one, Barack.

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I attended a screening of "Milk" last night put together by the Courage Campaign, and wanted to give some thoughts on it. (Though it's a familiar story, there are some spoilers below.)

The film itself is superb. I wasn't sure if it could reach the heights of the excellent Rob Epstein documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk," winner of the Best Documentary Oscar in 1984, but it got very close. The use of archival footage and the location shooting entirely in San Francisco (they used the exact same storefront to recreate Milk's "Castro Camera" shop that became a hangout/political office at the time) gives it a vérité quality, and the performances are so first-rate and natural. Sean Penn's performance as Milk is ascendant, reflecting all of his persistence and joy as well as his human frailty. Milk was in the closet until he was 40, and that denial of self ("I haven't done one thing that I'm proud of") propelled him to live the rest of his life as a perpetual motion machine, constantly engaged in activism. He pushed those in his orbit to come out, to show up, to claim their rights and take back their democracy, saying "They'll vote for us 2 to 1 if they know one of us." And yet one of the first political acts he undertakes after setting up shop in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood is partnering with the Teamsters to boycott Coors beer for refusing to sign a union contract. Eventually, after a successful boycott, the Teamsters began to hire openly gay truck drivers. Milk was an activist and part of a movement for human rights, but also a pretty shrewd political actor.

Obviously, the headlines of California's passage of Proposition 8 loom heavily on the film. And there are a few things to take away from that. First of all, Milk lost. A lot. He ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1973. He lost. He ran again in 1975. He lost again. He ran for state Assembly against Art Agnos. He lost. Then in 1977, the board of supervisors ran district elections instead of a citywide slate. And then he won. Setbacks just made him more determined to continue the fight, both in the streets and through the political process. He could have given up at any time, for his own sanity and the stability of his love relationship (his partner and erstwhile campaign manager leaves him, not wanting to go through another campaign). And once elected, he immediately sought to pass a gay rights law, trying to bait the religious right to put up a referendum in the city (eventually they offered Prop. 6, the Briggs Amendment, which would have allowed the state to fire teachers for being gay or even TEACHERS WHO SUPPORTED THEIR GAY COLLEAGUES). The point is that you keep showing up and fighting, never settling for the way things are. The setbacks didn't end the movement, they awakened it.

That's a pretty good lesson. So is this. During the Prop. 6 campaign, Milk met with the Democratic Speaker of the Assembly to go over campaign literature. They didn't feature any gay men or women, instead framing the issue as one of human rights. They refused to show the face of the discrimination. Milk raged against the flyers, and was told to keep it down, that the country wasn't ready to accept an issue about gay rights, that the human rights angle would be more palatable.

Does that sound familiar?

Milk didn't buy it, instead offering to debate Sen. John Briggs anywhere, anytime, throughout the state, presenting himself as a gay man arguing against the extreme measure, as the face of someone much like those who would be harmed by it. Prop. 6 lost, 65-35. Thirty years later we never learned this lesson, and the next time marriage equality comes up for a vote that simple fact, that you have to tell people who they'd be voting for and who they'd be voting against, not with abstraction, cannot be overlooked.

Finally, what cannot be forgotten is that the 1978 election which defeated the discriminatory Prop. 6 was the same election that passed Prop. 13, which slashed property taxes and required a 2/3 vote in the legislature to raise any taxes in the state (and for any special taxes in municipalities). This symbol of the tax revolt on the 1980s has caused 30 years of perpetual budget crisis in California, a virtual destruction of state government. This is undiscussed in Milk, but the idea that all of these assaults on functional government and respect for rights are connected, that what impacts seniors and working people and minorities and the LGBT community are in many ways the same, is a part of the movie and of Milk's life. Only by working together on all of the relevant issues, across groups, across ethnic and class boundaries, will we ever be able to withstand this assault and create a more decent society. The next few years of crisis offers a moment to harness the creativity and activism that has expanded over the past few years and unite those marginalized or traditionally shut out of the conversations in Washington, to bring grassroots movements forward. I believe the legacy of Harvey Milk, 30 years later, is still being formed.

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Dumping Charlie Rangel

Progressives do not need to carry water for corrupt officials just because they have a D in front of their name. William Jefferson has been disowned for a while now, even though he keeps running for Congress and winning (he has another runoff race today; he's expected to win easily). Now it's time to toss Charlie Rangel overboard. He preserved a tax loophole through his Chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee for a corporation whose CEO gave $1 million to a favored charity. This comes after earlier problems with not reporting taxes on real estate income abroad. And now he's paying off his own son with campaign money:

Between 2004 and 2007, Rep. Charles Rangel steered nearly $80,000 in campaign cash to an Internet company run by his son — paying lavishly for a pair of political websites so poorly designed an expert estimated one should have cost no more than $100 to create.

The payments are apparently legal under federal law, but their disclosure raises new questions about the Ways and Means Committee chairman as he faces House ethics committee probes into his failure to pay taxes on rental income and his alleged use of House stationery to solicit contributions for a public policy center that bears his name [...]

“This is probably legal but is definitely wrong,” said Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit organization that monitors compliance with electoral law.

“You're in a situation where you were given money for a campaign and it's being used to enrich family members,” she added. “The return argument is they're performing legitimate services. The question that needs to be asked in this case is: Was this a legitimate payment or was this a payoff?”

Rangel is an engaging personality, but I've had it with his obvious corruption. There's too much smoke here. Rangel responded to the New York Times and the Times dispatched with his pathetic alibi within minutes. I can't defend him any longer; actually I never did.

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Wherein I Throw Up

After hearing Bush say yesterday "aw shucks, I guess the automakers won't survive" in truly Neroic fashion, Democrats blinked, accepting all of Bush's terms for an auto company rescue in exchange for... allowing his Treasury Department to steal more money?

Faced with staggering new unemployment figures, Democratic Congressional leaders said on Friday that they were ready to provide a short-term rescue plan for American automakers, and that they expected to hold a vote on the legislation in a special session next week.

Seeking to end a weeks-long stalemate between the Bush administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, senior Congressional aides said that the money would most likely come from $25 billion in federally subsidized loans intended for developing fuel-efficient cars.

By breaking that impasse, the lawmakers could also clear the way for the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., to request the remaining $350 billion of the financial industry bailout fund knowing he will not get bogged down in a fight over aiding Detroit.

Democrats are hoping Mr. Paulson will use some of that money to help individual homeowners avoid foreclosure.

This is ridiculous. I'd be angry, but maybe willing to tap those loans for retooling factories if it meant saving the industry in the short term. Why that would free up one red cent of the additional $350 billion is completely beyond me. I sincerely hope that's speculation on the part of the author. What they could have gotten in exchange is the economic recovery package that passed the House a couple months ago. That would be an actual compromise where both sides get something. This is something for nothing. Again.

When Bush signaled that he'd be perfectly willing to let the automakers die, along with his allies in the Republican caucus, many of them in the South who have non-union foreign auto plants in their states, it was obvious that nothing close to what the Big Three asked for was going to happen. I would have gritted my teeth and gone along with a "kick the can" maneuver that keeps them in business until we get a real President in 44 days. This is not that. It's yet another giveaway, the capstone to one of the most frustrating Congresses in recent memory.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Friday Random Ten

I'm probably shutting it down for today. Going to a screening of "Milk" tonight. I frankly can't see how they'll top Rob Epstein's superlative documentary The Times of Harvey Milk but all the reviews suggest they've done so. Anyway, here's your music:

Outsiders - Franz Ferdinand
Conquest - The White Stripes
Twilight Campfighter - Guided By Voices
The Breaks - Kurtis Blow
Big Brother - Kanye West
American Idiot - Green Day
The Sound of Science - The Beastie Boys
Evil - Interpol
(She Was A) Hotel Detective - They Might Be Giants
Perfect Day - Lou Reed

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The Exodus Of The Governors

With Bill Richardson and Janet Napolitano now ensconced in Barack Obama's cabinet, and with perhaps Kathleen Sebelius perhaps joining them as Secretary of Agriculture (I don't know if that will please the foodies who want a "sustainable choice"), the number of Democratic governors leaving in the middle of their second terms rises to three. That's 3 out of 28 Democratic governors, which seems to me to be a high number. From a party-building standpoint, this doesn't seem to be a great idea, particularly in Arizona, where a Republican Secretary of State will now replace Napolitano as Governor, and Kansas, where there's a conservative Republican legislature and Sebelius vetoed a lot of bad bills. However, as FMguru noted in the comments the other day, this is a bad time to be a governor. Revenues from state taxes and property taxes are way down, and budget gaps are growing. In fact, Arizona has the biggest budget deficit in the nation, at a whopping 24% of total spending. And balanced budget amendments demand that either taxes rise or services get cut. There's no way out of the mess (save for a more generous stimulus package to state and local governments than I expect) and the pain will be deeply felt. These governors are leaving at the right time for their credibility.

The question is whether the Republican governors, who are stuck at their posts, will make good choices or drown the government in the bathtub, which would have catastrophic consequences.

In the wake of a dreary election for Republicans, the quest to find their new leaders is on, and the party's governors think they can fill the void. The problem is their states are heading for budget difficulties that may compel the governors to swallow hard and either propose or accept tax increases.

And there is no better way to alienate the base of the Republican Party than to push for, or acquiesce to, tax increases.

"This is a tremendous opportunity to separate the sheep from the goats," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. "The guys who turn around and say 'I can't rein in spending, I must raise taxes'...are going to have a hard time."

It must be so easy to be a mewling child like Grover Norquist, playing to the selfish fears of his base, acting like a three year-old at the mall. This crisis will hopefully domesticate him, so that he might pee on the furniture a bit, but he won't be much of a problem anymore.

By the way, his Governors aren't listening to him anymore.

Among the states led by Republicans, Florida may have the biggest headache. Gov. Crist faces a $1.7 billion mid-fiscal-year shortfall, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Meanwhile, tax revenue in the state, which doesn't have an income tax, plunged 8.2% in the quarter ended in September from a year earlier as sales took a hit, according to the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. Seeking to balance the budget, Gov. Crist has said he would consider a cigarette-tax increase of 50 cents a pack.

A similar situation is playing out in Mississippi, where Gov. Haley Barbour, widely viewed as a star among Republicans, proposed a 24-cent-a-pack cigarette-tax increase and a host of other tobacco-related fees. The combined fees, if implemented, are projected to create $80 million in revenue for a state with a roughly $24 million midyear shortfall.

It's called reality, and it's hitting governors in the face. The real problem is all the balanced budget amendments, which paralyze states and force cuts at the worst possible time. But poor Grover probably was a cheerleader for them as well, so he's going to have to take the tax hikes like a good little boy.

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The Green Way Out

Scott Gold at the LA Times reports today on a massive solar project that may alleviate some of the pain felt in the Antelope Valley:

The buzz in the Antelope Valley these days is about a company called eSolar, which is putting the finishing touches on a thermal solar energy facility here -- 24,000 mirrors that glitter like diamonds when you approach on Avenue G. There are plans for several more facilities in the area, all larger, the company says.

Local officials are atwitter at the possibilities. Visitors and investors are expected from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. A slew of jobs would be created; there were 225 people working last week on the Avenue G facility alone, most of them locals. Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said the solar plants could be the catalyst to restoring the sort of "intellectual excitement" that existed when aerospace, still a vital industry here, was the only game in town -- when "if it went up, it came out of here," he said.

"Now, we're going to go a long way toward saving this world," the mayor said. "Right here in Lancaster."

I think it's important to classify projects like this as what they are - INFRASTRUCTURE projects. Too often we confine ourselves to thinking about infrastructure as solely referring to fixing roads or building physical structures like bridges. A 21st-century energy creation system is the most important infrastructure improvement we can make, one that will not only create jobs but save billions in public health and environmental degradation costs. Any stimulus from the federal government that includes infrastructure improvements should help incentivize companies like eSolar, as well as laying down high-speed broadband lines throughout the country, building a transferable energy grid, etc.

In the recent past in California, the way a depressed city could revitalize their economy was to bring a prison into town. Now, the potential of green jobs is being realized, making the future (pardon the pun) sunnier:

It's heady talk, and people are listening. Lancaster and the surrounding valley are suffering, even by the standards of a community that long ago acclimated to a boom-and-bust cycle. Many here are living on the edge, and some beyond, with tens of thousands more expected to arrive in coming years.

There is a sense that development cannot come fast enough, not with shops closing, one in five people living in poverty, high unemployment and the highest mortality rate in Los Angeles County. Not with so many houses falling into foreclosure that the city of Lancaster has gone into real estate -- buying and renovating empty homes to slow the decline of neighborhoods.

"It's bad," said William Turner, 21, who got a job installing eSolar mirrors through a temp agency. He is among those vying for one of the full-time positions the company will offer soon; competition will be fierce and many of those hired will be overqualified for their jobs, officials said.

"People around here are really hurting," Turner said. "We need a change."

The new energy economy is California's way out of the economic crisis. Whether it's building solar and wind plants or transferable energy grids or carbon capture and sequestration retrofitting or green building add-ons or the next generation of green cars, the potential for bringing hope to downtrodden communities, creating millions of jobs and protecting the planet is great.

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They've Created A Monster

They've Created A Monster

by dday

Tom Daschle came right out today and said that you can't fix the economy without fixing the health care crisis. Interestingly, health care is one of the only sectors in today's washout of a jobs report where hiring went up. The demand is there, and making the system more equitable, accessible and affordable would not only help every American cope with their bills and move from job to job, but would also make American business more competitive. It's very good that the connection between health care and the broader economy is being made.

"There is no question that the economic health of this country is directly related to our ability to reform our health-care system," Daschle said.

Daschle cited the fact that high health care costs are preventing U.S. businesses from staying competitive and creating jobs. "That's what makes this so urgent and so much a part of the economic recovery process," Daschle said. "I believe that for the first time in American history, health-care reform will be done."

Almost as important as making health care a priority is how Daschle and the transition team is laying the groundwork for getting it done, connecting with the grassroots to push the policy from the bottom up.

Former senator Thomas A. Daschle, Obama's point person on health care, launched an effort to create political momentum yesterday in a conference call with 1,000 invited supporters culled from 10,000 who had expressed interest in health issues, promising it would be the first of many opportunities for Americans to weigh in.

The health-care mobilization taking shape before Obama even takes office will include online videos, blogs and e-mail alerts as well as traditional public forums. Already, several thousand people have posted comments on health on the Obama transition Web site [...]

It is the first attempt by the Obama team to harness its vast and sophisticated grass-roots network to shape public policy. Although the president-elect is a long way from crafting actual legislation, he promised during the campaign to make the twin challenge of controlling health-care costs and expanding coverage a top priority in his first term.

This really looks like they're requesting policy ideas from citizens to work into their overall framework, although you never can tell. But by allowing people to invest in the policy, it certainly gives momentum to any effort to get it through Congress. The transition team is soliciting ideas through online comments and community forums. And health care came up quite a bit in the transition team's meeting with community organizers and activists yesterday. Plus, they're providing open access to all meetings, documents, and position papers from various groups, as well as offering the ability to post comments about them.

The most important thing is that the emphasis on building a grassroots movement on health care is unmatched by any other issue. It's clear they want to make a go at this early in the first term, with the help of their supporters.

And that provides an opportunity. There's been a lot of hand-wringing in the traditional media over "what is Obama going to do with his email list," but I think that has it a bit backward. It's really "what is the list going to do with Obama." Already in California I'm seeing a lot of ideas exchanged, ad hoc groups formed, meetings set up, and initiatives set, both on national and local issues. In essence, Obama doesn't have total control over "harnessing" the grassroots network from the campaign; the grassroots will make the determination about what they want to work on and how. Marshall Ganz, who kind of pioneered Obama's community organizing in the campaign and whose roots in community activism go back to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, had this to say about it:

"Here we have a guy who won who was really propelled into office--I don't want to say that--supported through the creation of a movement. And so, now what? Can he lead it from the presidency? Probably not. There are lots of good reasons why that would be problematic. Or why that would quickly turn into emails from Barack saying 'Please send a letter to X.' Which is just the old form of what we were talking about before, politics as marketing. It could become a network of some kind, it could become an organization. If it became an organization, something like Campaign for a New America, we have to look at questions of finance and governance, as to how to enable something like that to work. But there's a foundation out there that didn't exist before, and it's not going to go away. My colleague Bob Putnam talks about social capital, there's a kind of civic capital that's been created here. It's not going to disappear."

I then asked him where all that social knowledge embedded in the network was going to go--the 23,000 Camp Obama organizers, the super-volunteers, the awareness of all the nodes at the local level. What would it be like to govern with this capacity?

Ganz replied, "I agree. That's what's being debated right now. There's a team of organizers in Chicago right now who are working on this question. The field organizers and a lot of the people who built this thing--not all of them want to go off and have jobs in Washington. A lot of them are committed to an organizing vision here and they fought for it throughout the campaign. That's one reason the campaign adopted much more of an organizing approach than it was inclined to at the beginning....New Hampshire was one of the worst marketing operations that we've seen. And so he lost, and we learned something from that. It was as stereotypically a marketing operation as South Carolina was an organizing operation, or Iowa. The caucuses are interesting because even if you don't believe in organizing, you have to, otherwise you're screwed. You arrive at a lot of organizing elements tactically, not because you necessarily want to create democratic organization." [...]

"People are all so used to thinking, a lot of groups and organizations are sort of saying, 'who's going to get the list? who's going to get the list? They sort of think of 1.5 million names, who's going to get it? You can transfer a list, but you can't transfer people that way. That's what's out there, is people. Over the next few weeks, months, there's going to be some working thru this. It's very important what Obama decides. Whether to try to support some kind of organized effort, that's rooted in the campaign, or not."

I think the way the transition team has approached health care offers an opportunity for grassroots types to "make them do it." Because coming up with something called "reform" would be a waste. Heck, the insurance industry lobby has a reform proposal (their big idea is for the government to subsidize health care to make it affordable while they get to charge the same price for the same kind of crappy care! Brilliant!). Progressives have an opportunity to be in on the conversation for what shape the actual reform will take, and since the Obama Administration is tipping their hand as to how fundamental to success the grasroots will be, progressives have non-trivial leverage over that form. There is a calculation that something as big as reforming the health care industry cannot get done without individuals all over the country playing a part. That process is something new and I would imagine pretty flexible. It's not an actual seat at the table, but it's pretty darn close.

There's a potential to become an active participant in how these issues play out instead of the passive role of commenting and harrumphing after the fact. And yes, the same tools and techniques can be applied when Obama does something many of us don't like. This is going to be a powerful force in the years to come, and it will most certainly not be an adjunct of the President. I don't think it can be fully understood where it will go just yet, but the potential is exciting.

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Schmucks At The Helm

At the rate we're going, we'll be lucky if the White House isn't in the middle of foreclosure by January 20th. Emperor Paulson and his merry band of geniuses are making the same bad bets with taxpayer money as the investment banks did to get us here in the first place.

Stock intended to eventually earn taxpayers a profit as part of the Bush administration's massive bank bailout has lost a third of its value — about $9 billion — in barely one month, according to an Associated Press analysis. Shares in virtually every bank that received federal money have remained below the prices the government negotiated.

Stocks dropped again Friday after the government reported a larger-than-expected number of job losses in November, but a top Treasury Department official told the Mortgage Bankers Association that the tax dollars are being invested in "very high-quality institutions of all sizes."

"We're not day traders, and we're not looking for a return tomorrow" said Neel Kashkari, the director of Treasury's Office of Financial Stability, which oversees the $700 billion financial rescue fund. "Over time, we believe the taxpayers will be protected and have a return on their investment."

That would be more reassuring if I believed you had the first clue what you were doing, Neel (also if your name wasn't "Neel"). I mean, this latest plan to reinflate the housing bubble in a desperate attempt to get out of the Treasury Department alive is completely absurd.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is considering a new plan to reduce mortgage rates in another bid to revive the U.S. housing market, a government official said.

The Treasury, which already has a program to buy mortgage- backed securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, could step up those purchases to drive down interest rates on some loans to 4.5 percent, the official said on condition of anonymity. The plan is preliminary and could change.

Note the words "some loans". Anyone that would qualify for these rates would not need the rate reduction, and there's no indication that those rates would be fixed. What's more, this would not apply to those who are upside down in their homes and looking to restructure their payments. While some homeowners have been able to refinance, in the main that is largely not those homeowners at risk, which is why you're seeing defaults at stratospheric levels, something like 10% of the market. And anyway, this just prolongs the inevitable. Running the US economy on home-buying is unsustainable. Houses are in most cases still overvalued.

(By the way, I'm also very concerned that Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner, who's been in on a lot of the decisions made by Paulson and others, may be trying to force out Sheila Bair, practically the only person in the government who's focusing on the foreclosure side of the equation. The article contains a bit of hearsay, but I hope it's wrong and Bair is retained at the FDIC.)

Thankfully, some members of Congress are figuring out that Paulson and his cadres don't know what the hell they're doing and need to be swiftly separated from any future taxpayer funds:

Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd said he opposes giving the Bush administration the second half of the $700 billion financial rescue plan, joining Republicans upset with how it is being managed.

“I would be a very hard person to convince that this crowd deserves to have their hands on the next $350 billion,” Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, told reporters today in Washington after a hearing on whether automakers should get government aid. “I am through with giving this crowd money to play with.”

Good. There are about 299,999,999 million other people I could think of that would manage this bailout money better. Instead of rebuilding the same failed institutions and putting no new restrictions on them, we need to restore competition to the marketplace, break up the concentrations of financial sector wealth, significantly reduce the leverage that these behemoths take on, and never again get ourselves in a situation where companies are too big to fail. We're in this mess because the financial industry was allowed to play all kinds of games with our collective future. Now the Treasury Department is doing virtually the same thing in restoring them.

We have to break this cycle.

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Guinea Pig

So Mary Beth Buchanan has been drafted to manufacture the first bogus scandal of the Obama Administration.

Mary Beth Buchanan was appointed by President Bush to serve as U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh in Sept. 2001. Buchanan has held several significant posts within the Bush/Ashcroft/Gonzales Justice Department, most notably serving as director the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys.

Just last month, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Buchanan’s reign was expected to end. Indeed, when a new president is elected, U.S. attorneys of both parties generally submit their resignations to make way for the new appointees. But Buchanan has other plans:

Despite a new administration coming into power, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said she plans to stick around.

“It doesn’t serve justice for all the U.S. attorneys to submit their resignations all at one time,” she said yesterday. […]

More than that, she said she would consider working in the Obama administration. She would not discuss what her future might hold beyond the U.S. attorney’s office.

“I am open to considering further service to the United States,” Ms. Buchanan said.

Well, isn't that nice, she's open to it!

Buchanan, by the way, is one of the US Attorneys Bush kept in power because she was doing the bidding that those federal prosecutors who were fired wouldn't do. She has been implicated in politically motivated prosecutions of Pennsylvania Democrats, in particular Cyril Wecht: 2006, Buchanan raised more than a few eyebrows when she went after former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht, indicting him on multiple counts of various federal crimes, including theft from an organization that receives federal funds.

What, exactly, did Wecht do? Apparently, his transgressions included the improper use of the coroner's fax machine for private work. There was no evidence "of a bribe or kickback" and no evidence that Wecht traded on a conflict of interest.

But Wecht's a Democrat, and for a U.S. Attorney anxious to impress her superiors in the Bush administration, apparently that was enough.

This week, a jury mulled over Buchanan's case against Wecht. The case ended, at least in the short term, with a hung jury.

Actually, a judge eliminated more than half of the charges and the trial was stayed indefinitely. The case was criticized by Republican attorney general Dick Thornburgh.

Buchanan has very close ties to the Bush Justice Department - she HIRED Monica Goodling. And so she's going to try and hang on as US Attorney. And Obama will likely fire her in favor of his own selection, and then the right will scream bloody murder. The concept that US Attorneys generally resign at the beginning of a new President's term will be completely forgotten, and instead there will be a false equivalence made between this and the US Attorney purge. It's so patently obvious.

Digby writes:

This is a Republican soldier and if Obama attempts to fire her, she will become a martyr to the cause. And she's not alone. They are all over the Justice Department.

When the US Attorney scandal broke, you'll recall that there was a lot of wingnut chatter saying that because Bill Clinton had asked for the resignations of all US Attorney's at the beginning of his term, Bush had a perfect right to fire US Attorneys who refused to do political dirty work. They set the stage for this at the time. It was entirely predictable that the new administration would be held to a completely new standard --- he would not be allowed to fire any US Attorney who had been appointed by Bush for any reason at all or risk being accused of using the Justice department for partisan gain. It's how they roll.

Digby says that Democrats made this tougher by not pursuing the scandal enough, which I don't agree with up to the point of them not filing inherent contempt and jailing Harriet Miers, Josh Bolten and Karl Rove in the Capitol basement. And not only are they are still seeking investigations inside Congress, but the independent prosecutor probe ordered up by Mukasey looks to actually have some teeth, and just yesterday Main Justice reopened the Don Siegelman trial, responding to a dogged effort by John Conyers.

Siegelman, the Democratic former governor of Alabama, was convicted in 2006 on corruption charges. (He is appealing the conviction). The whistleblower, who works in the US Attorney's office in Alabama, has claimed that, during his trial, there were inappropriate contacts between members of the jury and the prosecution, including messages passed by jurors revealing that some jury members had developed a romantic interest in an FBI agent attached to the prosecution team.

A DOJ investigation of the claims, launched after the whistleblower came forward and carried out by two US Attorneys, concluded that no such contacts had occurred. But in a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey last month, Rep. John Conyers, whose judiciary committee has been looking into the issue, questioned the thoroughness of that probe, noting that investigators had not contacted the jurors themselves, or the federal marshals who allegedly passed notes between the jurors and the prosecution team.

In the recent court filing -- which responds to a filing made previously by Siegelman's defense lawyers in connection with his appeal -- prosecutors referred to that DOJ investigation, then added in a footnote:

"Out of an abundance of caution, the Department of Justice recently reopened the investigation into this matter in response to concerns raised about the completeness of the investigation ... It remains the case that we are not aware of any improper contacts."

In other words, DOJ appears to agree that Conyers' concerns have merit, and has reopened the investigation into whether inappropriate contacts between jurors and the prosecution team did indeed occur. That could be good news for Siegelman as his lawyers seek to have his conviction thrown out on appeal.

So there may be potential consequences at the margins. But what's important right now is that Buchanan will be made a martyr if she's fired. The right wing and talk radio will make her famous. She'll have her own talk show on Fox within a few months. And it will all be based on a lie - a deliberate lie at that.

This is just the beginning of how the right will try to distract and distort right from the beginning of the Obama Administration, at a time of absolute financial crisis. They are still playing a very partisan game - in fact, there's a credible case to be made that they'd favor a deep recession for a variety of reasons. "The good of the country" isn't going to matter to these people. They are in this for the long haul.

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Progressives Near The White House!

This is pretty good news, although I wonder why Bernstein will be part of the Vice President's team.

Given the critical nature of the economic challenges facing America, Vice President-elect Joe Biden announced today the creation of a new position in the Office of the Vice President: Chief Economist and Economic Policy Advisor to the Vice President. The Vice President-elect has selected nationally-prominent economist Jared Bernstein for the post.

"Jared Bernstein is an acclaimed economist, and a proven, passionate advocate for raising the incomes of middle class families. His expertise and background in a wide range of domestic and international economic policies will be an invaluable asset to the Obama-Biden Administration,” said Vice President-elect Joe Biden. "It’s an honor to have him on my team and I look forward to his advice and counsel."

Bernstein is a very solid progressive economist. Why he's not in the White House hierarchy is kind of weird. He'll have a voice, but there's no telling how strong it will be. Hopefully it'll be worth more than a warm bucket of spit.

(as someone through email said to me about Biden, "He went to Jared!")

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Off The Cliff


Skittish employers slashed 533,000 jobs in November, the most in 34 years, catapulting the unemployment rate to 6.7 percent, dramatic proof the country is careening deeper into recession.

As companies throttled back hiring, the unemployment rate bolted from 6.5 percent in October to 6.7 percent last month, a 15-year high.

"These numbers are shocking," said economist Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economics Advisors. "Companies are sharply reacting to the economy's problems and slashing costs. They are not trying to ride it out."

The unemployment rate would have moved even higher if not for the exodus of 422,000 people from the work force. Economists thought many of those people probably abandoned their job searches out of sheer frustration. In November 2007, the jobless rate was at 4.7 percent.

And job losses in September and October were revised downward as well. Basically it's something like 750,000-800,000 less jobs in all. And combine this with the really pathetic retail sales figures in November.

By the way, people holding their breath that the credit crisis is over had better think again. It's not, despite hundreds of billions of dollars pumped into banks. And that's driving the job loss. If small businesses can't receive credit, they're not going to increase payroll or even keep it the same.

I don't know what the President-elect can do about this and I think it's pretty silly to criticize him for, what, not storming the gates of the White House and taking over, but clearly this interregnum period is having disastrous effects. With more Administration meetings on the "Bush legacy project" than the economy, seemingly, there's really nobody at the controls of the ship of state.

"At a time of great crisis with mortgage foreclosures and autos, he says we only have one president at a time," (Barney) Frank said. "I'm afraid that overstates the number of presidents we have. He's got to remedy that situation."

But how? He can start making some calls and leaning on lawmakers, I suppose. But to what end? We're not going to pass a trillion-dollar stimulus while George Bush is still President.

I think people have to get used to the fact that nobody really knows the proper course of action here. This is a very scary time.

UPDATE: Obama statement:

"The 533,000 jobs lost last month, the worst job loss in 34 years, is more than a dramatic reflection of the growing economic crisis we face. Each of those lost jobs represents a personal crisis for a family somewhere in America. Our economy has already lost nearly 2 million jobs during this recession, which is why we need an Economic Recovery Plan that will save or create at least 2.5 million more jobs over two years while we act decisively to maintain the flows of credit on which so many American families and American businesses depend.

"There are no quick or easy fixes to this crisis, which has been many years in the making, and it's likely to get worse before it gets better. But now is the time to respond with urgent resolve to put people back to work and get our economy moving again. At the same time, this painful crisis also provides us with an opportunity to transform our economy to improve the lives of ordinary people by rebuilding roads and modernizing schools for our children, investing in clean energy solutions to break our dependence on imported oil, and making an early down payment on the long-term reforms that will grow and strengthen our economy for all Americans for years to come," said President-elect Obama.

There's been a subtle shift in language. Now we're talking about saving or creating 2.5 million jobs. I think that's a signal that recovery money will go to state and local governments to fill the holes in their budgets. But beyond that, it's a bad sign. Because it means Obama no longer thinks it realistic to create that many jobs. 2009 is going to be awful. And there will be many who blame him.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

World Report

Happy that I appear to have dodged the Blogger problems going around the Internets today, why don't I throw down with a world report?

Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe's wickedness is finally starting to catch up with him. He is in serious trouble because of both a crippling cholera epidemic and a threatened revolt of the internal security forces. Mugabe has run the country into the ground, and sooner or later the runaway inflation and searing poverty was going to impact how Zimbabweans viewed their country. You can only push people so far, even ones who are frightened.

In a clear sign that President Mugabe's hold on his state security machinery is starting to crumble, his once-loyal soldiers ran amok across the capital on Monday after they failed to access their paltry wages in the cash-strapped banks. The unarmed soldiers fought with heavily-armed police and several were arrested.

It was the third outbreak of such violence since last Thursday. The sight of rampaging soldiers was then unprecedented. Army sources said an inquiry had already begun, with dozens facing courts martial. Unconfirmed reports say three of the 12 soldiers who took part in Thursday's riot have been killed.

This is a time when Morgan Tsvangirai should live up to the name of his political party and lead a movement for democratic change.

Thailand: Everyone was wondering what the Thai king would say in reaction to mass protests and the removal of the country's leading political party by the judiciary. Turns out he called in sick. And the caretaker government has cancelled a Parliamentary session to select a new Prime Minister. That would be what you'd call "paralysis."

Israel: This is a hopeful sign that Israelis are finally starting to deal with the irrational right-wing element in their midst:

Israeli soldiers and police stormed a disputed building in the biblical city of Hebron on Thursday, dragging out 250 young settlers in a raid meant to send a warning to Jewish extremists fighting to keep what they see as God-promised land.

But activists responded with a wave of attacks on Israeli forces and Palestinians in the West Bank, even as Israeli politicians and some settler leaders denounced them.

The attacks are troubling, but the united front from the government and law enforcement is great. Sooner or later, Israel is going to have to give Palestinians their own state to live without fear in exchange for peace. It's the only solution, and ridding these extremists is a big step forward.

Iraq: The Iraqi Presidency Council has now approved the security pact calling for withdrawal within three years, which means that there's nobody else in the Iraqi government that needs to approve it. Conservatives can scream all they want that this means they "won the war," which in the face of continued bombings and deaths is laughable (400 civilians still die every month in Iraq, at a minimum), but the need to reconcile and work together toward stability without the crutch of a US presence is going to have to be the long-term goal now. At this point, we owe it to the Iraqi people to leave.

Canada: Everybody get to know the word "prorogue." That's what Stephen Harper did today in a desperate attempt to save his Prime Ministerial position.

Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean has granted a request from Stephen Harper to suspend Parliament until late next month, a move that avoids a confidence vote set for Monday that could have toppled his minority government.

"Following my advice, the Governor General has agreed to prorogue Parliament," Harper said outside Rideau Hall after a 2½-hour meeting with Jean.

Harper would not reveal the content of the discussion, citing constitutional traditions, but he said the first order of business when Parliament resumes on Jan. 26 will be the presentation of the federal budget, to be delivered the following day.

"The economy is the priority now, and the public is very frustrated with the situation in Parliament. We're all responsible for that," Harper said in French.

Monday's no-confidence vote could have precipitated the rise of a proposed Liberal-NDP coalition, supported by the Bloc Québécois, or could have resulted in another election, depending on the Governor General's response.

So there's no government in Canada until January, buying Harper time to wage a PR campaign to keep his job. There isn't much of a precedent for this since the 1600s. Jeffrey Feldman has a pretty good explainer. The upside for the center-left coalition is that Harper's spending cuts, anti-union measures and elimination of public financing will be shelved along with the government.

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The Alarm Will Sound Monday Around 3:00

This could be just to get the freshman members of the legislature up to speed, but it sounds rather... serious.

The entire Legislature will meet in a joint session Monday in the Assembly chambers to discuss the state's cash situation and overall budget dynamics with state fiscal leaders, according to Jim Evans, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

In a rare Budget 101 session, Treasurer Bill Lockyer, Controller John Chiang, Department of Finance Director Mike Genest and Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor will describe the consequences of delaying a compromise over the budget. They're likely to discuss the possibility of issuing IOUs to state vendors and state workers, as well as layoff scenarios and other consequences.

If I had to guess, this will be one of those meetings where everyone is sat down and told that this is what they have to do or the state will fall into the ocean. They should get some veterans from Scared Straight to run it. Put the fear of God into these lawmakers.

Although, I can't say whether or not it'll be successful. I mean, the Governor has already called a state of emergency and that didn't shake anybody up. Mike Villines is still sounding like a Yacht Party regular on budget issues:

Republican Assembly Leader Mike Villines (R-Clovis) took a dim view of a Democratic proposal to take reducing the threshold to pass a state budget to the voters.

Calling the proposed bill, which would ask voters to make a simple majority all that's necessary for passing a budget, a Democratic power grab, Villines said doing so was a duck on responsibly addressing the state's budget woes.

"Shutting Republicans out of the budget process will just make it easier for Democrats to pass more of the same reckless spending measures that have resulted in our current fiscal crisis." Villines said in a statement released late Wednesday."This will do nothing to improve our long-term budget picture, and will actually make things much worse."

He still wants a spending cap, of course.

But Lockyer and Chiang have plenty of ammunition to throw around. Failing a bailout from the Feds (which I think is a better bet at this point), state workers are about to be laid off or have their salaries frozen, and cuts to popular professions like teachers and nurses and cops and firefighters would be on the horizon in a protracted delay. Whether or not this threat of potentially hundreds of thousands of angry Californians and their families marching in the streets (Lockyer and Chiang need to have a flair for DRAMA in this speech) is enough to overrule the Iron Law of Institutions remains to be seen.

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The Death Of Information

One really harrowing consequence of the economic shock is what it's doing to newsgathering organizations. CNN just fired its entire science and technology team (hey, unlike MSNBC and Fox News, at least they had one to begin with). This includes the environmental unit that has produced the "Planet in Peril" specials, which at least treat the climate crisis in the context of providing information instead of as a political football. We can't just have political coverage on broadcast television and cable news - there has to be some factual basis for their stories.

In addition, multiple newspapers are likely to fail:

Newspaper and newspaper groups are likely to default on their debt and go out of business next year -- leaving "several cities" with no daily newspaper at all, Fitch Ratings says in a report on media released Wednesday.

"Fitch believes more newspapers and newspaper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010," the Chicago-based credit ratings firm said in a report on the outlook for U.S. media and entertainment [...]

Fitch rates the debt of two newspaper companies, The McClatchy Co. and Tribune Co. as junk, with serious possibilities of default. It also assigns a negative outlook to both the companies and the newspaper sector, meaning their credit ratings are likely to deteriorate further.

As the Internet democratizes information, it also leaves gaping holes in investigative journalism, particularly local coverage. Having entire cities without newspapers is just demoralizing, not to mention the fact that McClatchy is an excellent outfit who frequently turns out great journalism. I don't know who's supposed to cover local stories anymore. Bloggers aren't profitable, though they do a bit of work. Newspapers are dying. Even public access cable is feeling the sting of the economic downturn, and that looks like it costs 4 bucks a day. But it's an important source of City Council and Board of Supervisors meetings, among other things.

We are beginning to live in a post-information society, where there's a lot of data but too much of it overlapping, and there are enormous gaps in what most busy people need to understand their neighborhood and the world. We can't have a functioning democracy without a vibrant fourth estate. It's terrifying to think that it's completely fading away.

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Feel The American Pride, Pt. II

Conservative dogma states that private enterprise and contractors accomplish basic services more efficiently and professionally than nasty ol' big government. This happens through crackerjack tactics like holding workers like slaves in windowless warehouses.

Najlaa International Catering Services, a subcontractor to KBR, an engineering, construction and services company, hired the men, who're from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. On Tuesday, they staged a march outside their compound to protest their living conditions.

"It's really dirty," a Sri Lankan man told McClatchy, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he still wants to work for Najlaa. "For all of us, there are about 12 toilets and about 10 bathrooms. The food — it's three half-liter (one pint) bottles of water a day. Bread, cheese and jam for breakfast. Lunch is a small piece of meat, potato and rice. Dinner is rice and dal, but it's not dal," he said, referring to the Indian lentil dish.

After McClatchy began asking questions about the men on Tuesday, the Kuwaiti contractor announced that it would return them to their home countries and pay them back salaries. Najlaa officials contended that they've cared for the men's basic needs while the company has tried to find them jobs in Iraq.

Now sure, you could say that slavery is just the price we pay for efficiency and the best in service and quality. And you would be right. Because without keeping costs down by enslaving workers, contractors wouldn't be able to provide ice with human remains in it to the troops so quickly and crisply.

The lawsuit also accuses KBR of shipping ice in mortuary trucks that “still had traces of body fluids and putrefied remains in them when they were loaded with ice. This ice was served to U.S. forces.”

Eller also accuses KBR of failing to maintain a medical incinerator at Joint Base Balad, which has been confirmed by two surgeons in interviews with Military Times about the Balad burn pit. Instead, according to the lawsuit and the physicians, medical waste, such as needles, amputated body parts and bloody bandages were burned in the open-air pit.

“Wild dogs in the area raided the burn pit and carried off human remains,” the lawsuit states. “The wild dogs could be seen roaming the base with body parts in their mouths, to the great distress of the U.S. forces.”

I suppose you could provide bodily-fluid free ice to US forces, if you wanted to increase the size of government to outrageous degrees. Or you could believe in the shining glory that is private enterprise and the free market.

Here endeth the lesson.

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Welcome Back, World

This strikes me as an extremely good idea.

President-elect Barack Obama’s aides say he is considering making a major foreign policy speech from an Islamic capital during his first 100 days in office.

The reporting in the article seems to think that this would take place in Cairo, although I think on the steps of his former school in the world's most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, is a possibility.

Anyway, the symbolic significance would be pretty powerful. Not to mention the opportunities for exploding heads on the right.

(and yes, since we are a Muslim nation now "Washington" would suffice as an Islamic capital.)

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What The Hell Are We Going To Do About The Economy?

Paul Krugman is concerned, and when he gets concerned, I start to get concerned. After opening the week by stating that the economy looks to be falling off a cliff, now he appears doubtful that even a major investment in infrastructure will do the trick:

Two points:

1. The economy is falling fast. We’ll see what tomorrow’s employment report says, but we could well be losing jobs at a rate of 450,000 or 500,000 a month.

2. Infrastructure spending will take time to get going — a new Goldman Sachs report suggests that projects that are “shovel-ready” are probably only a few tens of billions worth, and that a larger effort would take much of a year to get going. Meanwhile, it’s very questionable how much effect tax rebates will have on consumer demand. So it may be hard for stimulus to get much traction until late 2009 — and that’s even if Congress goes along, which may be a problem given all the bad analysis and disinformation out there.

He wonders if we're not headed for double-digit job loss before things right themselves.

And we may be. But we certainly WILL be if we don't use a substantial amount of stimulus money on aiding state and local governments. They're basically going to have to cut their way out of all this loss of tax revenue from the early unemployment and property value losses, and that will mean less state employees, cops, firefighters, teachers and nurses. Keeping them up and running will at least staunch the bleeding and keep the cycle from spinning downward (less state revenue means more cuts means more unemployment means less state revenue means more cuts). In addition, as Ed Kilgore says:

I'd go further than Matt on this subject and observe that states have significant control over some of the "automatic stabilizers" that he's attributing to the federal government (e.g., Medicaid, SCHIP and transportation programs); without some new assistance, states may not only counter-act the "automatic stabilizers" but could actually subvert them. That's clearly what some Republican governors like Mark Sanford have in mind when they call for abolition of federal "mandates" rather than federal assistance: let us completely decimate Medicaid beyond what we are already allowed to do, and we'll be fine!

So an effective stimulus package must not only provide heavy assistance to state and local governments; it must also be sufficiently conditional to ensure that the Mark Sanfords of the world don't use the money to cut taxes as well as services.

Absolutely. The other part of this is that the states are obviously much closer to knowing what infrastructure projects are ready to go, and any money left over from fixing their budget holes could be easily directed to those spending projects. Obama appears favorable to this idea.

It's not a handout or a bailout, insisted the host of the economic forum, Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, president of the National Governors Association. Rather, it's the "best remedy for getting America back to work," Rendell said.

"We think that we can create literally millions of new jobs and at the same time lots of orders for concrete and steel companies and asphalt companies and lumber companies and the like," Rendell said [...]

Obama on Tuesday pledged to move as quickly as possible on a stimulus package that could hasten an economic turnaround, beginning at the state level.

"I recognize that every single one of you is struggling to come up with a budget at a time when you're facing great and growing needs," said Obama, who asked the governors for the meeting. "More and more people are turning to you for help for health care, for affordable housing, to prevent foreclosures even as the credit markets are tightening and tax revenues are making it more difficult to provide that help."

Just as a corollary, I want to add that just because we're focusing on the spending side of the equation for now (and the neo-Hooverists who want to balance the budget in the midst of a deep recession are insane), that doesn't mean we can't look toward the future and come up with some revenue streams and sensible cutbacks as well. Scrutinizing federal agencies with an eye toward streamlining makes some sense, but that's not going to really have much of an impact beyond the margins. There are some other options:

• If we're not going to institute a windfall profits tax on the oil companies, we can at least roll back the subsidies that they clearly don't need, even when oil is below $50 a barrel. This savings can be plowed into the green jobs aspects of the stimulus.

• Let's come up with a legitimate way to deal with offshore tax cheats. I hate the idea of amnesty, but if losing a little in penalties and maybe a bit of the tax owed means that the government's coffers get replenished, I say we go for it. This actually worked fairly well in California with a similar type of program. We're talking about $30-40 billion annually.

• As Joseph Cirincione makes clear, there's a major budget cutback that would be simple and have pretty much no side effects - cut the nuclear weapons budget and reduce stockpiles to the level where we can only destroy the planet 100 times over instead of 1,000.

We must, of course, spend what we need to defend the country. But a good part of the military budget is still devoted to programs designed for the Cold War, which ended almost 20 years ago. This is particularly true of the $31 billion spent each year to maintain and secure a nuclear arsenal of almost 5,400 nuclear weapons, with 1,500 still deployed on missiles ready to launch within 15 minutes.

We can safely reduce to 1,000 total weapons, as recommended by Senator John Kerry and other nuclear experts. That reduction would save over $20 billion a year, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

We're in bad shape, but we do have options.

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Yes, Having A Democrat Running A Democratic Committee Would Be A Catastrophe

Howie Klein notes that the next in line for the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, should Charlie Rangel succumb to his ethical struggles, is progressive Pete Stark. This has many on Capitol Hill in a tizzy: including those who should have the loudest voice in determining Democratic chairmanships, anonymous operatives and industry lobbyists.

Next in seniority to Rangel is Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Fortney (Pete) Stark, D-Calif., who is given virtually no chance. "The conventional wisdom is he would have a tough time getting elected chairman," said a Democrat close to leadership. From suggesting Republicans were sending troops to Iraq to die "for the president's amusement" to referring to a former GOP lawmaker as a "little fruitcake," Stark is prone to gaffes, sources said. "The guy behind [Rangel] is just not tenable. Republicans would have a field day," an industry lobbyist said, while noting the business community would "go nuclear. It would just be open warfare." A more viable pick might be Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Sander Levin, D-Mich., who is next in seniority, although sources cautioned the cerebral Levin may be too deliberate for the high-profile job. Levin also appears to relish his duties at the helm of the trade panel. He is also seen as very much in tune with the labor movement, although industry sources said Levin was someone they could work with, as opposed to Stark. Also, the Democratic Caucus still largely respects the seniority system, the Democratic strategist said. "If you make the decision that Stark is too out there, then I don't see how you go over Sandy," he said. "He's been a loyal member, and nobody would doubt he's got the intellectual and legislative expertise for the job."

As Matt Stoller notes, there are NINE anonymous sources in this article. You'd think the people who presume to control Congress and who gets selected for particular committees wouldn't be so cowardly, would you? But of course, they just want to be behind the curtain, impervious to political pressure.

As a contrast, Pete Stark is open and honest about his views. He has paid his dues and he's next in line for the job. His "radical" policy ideas include making health care accessible and affordable for every American and opposing a giveaway to the financial services industry.

Howie explains the double standard at work here:

Do you recall any of the Inside the Beltway types viewing a Republican appointee to any job thru the lenses of how that person might be accepted by working families or by organized labor? Or did I miss the issue where CongressDaily suggested that Elaine Chao might be the world's absolute worst Labor Secretary because she loathes working people and doesn't recognize their aspirations as legitimate or worthy of her attention?

Did anyone ever question whether one of Congress' biggest corporate shills on environmental issues, Dirty Dick Pombo, would be unqualified to be Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee because he was unanimously loathed by every single environmental group in the country? And what about that issue of CongressDaily-- or any other daily-- that pointed out that maybe Joe Barton (R-TX) shouldn't be chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce because the $1,315,660 in legalized reported bribes he's taken from Big Oil over the years is far more than any other member of the House, more even than notorious Big Oil puppets like Don Young (R-AK- $964,763), Steve Pearce (R-NM- $804,815), Tom Delay (R-TX- $688,840), and Pete Sessions (R-TX- $582,264), and that all the green energy groups feel that Barton is an integral part of the energy problem in our country and decidedly not part of the solution? No, I must have missed it too.

Indeed. This might be a good time to contact the Speaker and tell her that Democrats up for Democratic committee chairs shouldn't be subject to a veto by industry.

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No Tweety.

Politico writes about Chris Matthews' rumblings about running for US Senate in Pennsylvania. NBC News execs think it's a ploy to get a better deal with his contract (which would be hilarious), but it looks to be pretty serious.

The garrulous host of the show "Hardball with Chris Matthews" has already picked out a home in Philadelphia to establish residency in the state, according to a Democratic operative in discussions with him about a potential candidacy. Over Thanksgiving weekend, at his vacation house in Nantucket, Matthews’ family members gave him their full backing.

As speculation surrounding his potential candidacy heats up, Matthews has also been asking advisers whether to step down from his MSNBC post well before his contract expires in June. At one recent meeting, he was advised that if he truly intends to run, he should resign from the network as soon as possible.

“We talked about the value of doing this now and six months from now. I advocated that he do this as soon as possible,” the operative said. “It’s the MSNBC stuff that’s going to jam him up. I said, 'If you want to be a U.S. senator, step up and get into the race.'”

It's kind of painfully obvious, if you ask me. He's started airing lots of his shows from Philly for no discernible reason. He just hosted a hospital fundraiser in Camden. He had Open Left blogger and Philadelphia ward committeeperson Chris Bowers on his show the other day. And a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party is on the record about discussions.

So how exactly do Pennsylvania Democrats feel about the possibility of Chris Matthews running for Senate?

Abe Amoros, the communications director for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, confirmed to Election Central that Matthews has been talking to Democrats in the state about a run, and says Dems think Matthews could have a real shot.

"It's in its infancy right now," Amoros said. "He's just talking to people. Conversations are going on, obviously. We will know whether or not he's a serious candidate some time early next year."

There's even a poll out there showing Matthews within 3 points of Arlen Specter at 46%-43% in a head-to-head matchup.

Let me be clear: THIS CAN'T HAPPEN. Matthews is a court jester to power and nothing more. When George Bush was riding high he was completely enamored of him, when Obama was the latest flavor a thrill was running up his leg. He has no principles other than what the Village tells him, and the knee-jerk reaction is to punch the hippies. "Everybody sort of likes the President (Bush), except those whack jobs on the left" is a pretty good example.

Digby says it so I don't have to.

Perhaps the" real "Chris Matthews has emerged now that MSNBC has been made safe for progressives. Or, conversely, maybe the real Chris Matthews is actually an opportunistic, hypocritical jackass who should be shunned from any kind of Democratic politics for as long as he lives. Your mileage may vary depending upon whether you think enthusiastically sucking up to the GOP on television for the past decade is something that should be forgotten.

I won't bother to write the book on Matthews again, but as one who has been chronicling his televised rhetorical atrocities for years, let's just say his record speaks for itself. The amount of damage he did, going all the way back to the Clinton years and up until just about five minutes ago is considerable. He is as unacceptable as a Democratic high official as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, perhaps less so because of the fact that he is, by all accounts, a whore who has made millions of dollars a year destroying Democrats, while privately assuring his friends and associates that he doesn't really mean it. At least Rush plays for his own team with everything he's got.

Seriously, this guy is a clown who will make the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania into a laughing stock. Darrell Hammond alone will kill him if Youtube doesn't. It's an insane idea. If you like liberals like Joe Lieberman, you'll love Chris Matthews.

The fact that this is being discussed seriously makes me wonder if there's anybody who has repeatedly and enthusiastically fucked the Democratic party over the past 20 years or so to whom the party leadership aren't giving political amnesty? It would be nice to know so that I don't waste my breath defending them anymore only to be made a fool of when their tormentors are welcomed into the party as if it never happened.

Pennsylvania's a big state with a lot of talented young politicians. Patrick Murphy and Joe Sestak spring to mind. I don't even love all of their politics, but they'd be a damn sight better than a fool like Tweety.

Philadelphia is one of the hubs of the national blogosphere, but I'm not sure about the local blogging scene. Hopefully someone will lead the charge against this lunacy.

UPDATE: What David Sirota said. It's not excerptable. Go read it.

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Keeping Up With The Jones

Let's continue my look at various cabinet and White House staff appointments by taking a look at the new national security advisor, James Jones. By all accounts Jones, a former Marine general, is fairly apolitical, although he supported John McCain in the election and has been tapped to head at least a couple studies by the Bush Administration. He has commanded NATO forces in the past and has a keen understanding of both military and diplomatic issues. By all accounts, he's a smart, committed public servant, and his views on some major issues have been decent, particularly on Afghanistan, where he is an advocate for improving both reconstruction and diplomatic efforts.

Many are justifiably concerned about Jones' most recent job at the US Chamber of Commerce, advising on energy issues. Energy is absolutely a national security concern, so his new position will be at least tangential to that issue. And the Chamber's energy policy, in a word, sucks.

Jones sits on the board of Chevron Corp., and since March 2007 has been president and chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy, which has been criticized by environmental groups.

"They have a reprehensible record," said Frank O'Donnell, the outspoken leader of Clean Air Watch, of the institute led by Jones.

The institute calls for the immediate expansion of domestic oil and gas production, nuclear energy and clean-coal technology, in addition to investment in renewable and alternative energy sources.

O'Donnell criticized institute reports under Jones that challenged the use of the Clean Air Act to combat global warming and the right of states, such as California, to impose environmental standards that go beyond those set by the federal government.

"Since global warming is a security threat, this selection raises a real eyebrow," O'Donnell said in an e-mail. "Will Jones be predisposed to compromise the new administration's environmental agenda, both at home and in the international arena? . . . Stay tuned."

We cannot think in the mindset of the past, where we use the military to provide safe passage for oil and fight resource wars. The future of energy has nothing to do with "Drill baby drill" or clean coal, which doesn't exist. Hopefully Jones' views on this subject will be taken with massive amounts of grains of salt. At this point, the jobs of Energy Secretary and EPA Administrator had better be far to the left of Jones to balance this out.

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They Work Hard For The Money

So after driving to Capitol Hill this time, the heads of the Big 3 auto companies are due for their ritual stoning in front of Congress today, as they continue to prostate themselves and beg for funding to keep them alive. This time, they came prepared with plans for viability, and the promises are wide and deep. The three top executives will lower their salary to $1. They'll cut product lines and consolidate operations. They'll work on comprehensive health care reform, fair trade and even producing more fuel efficient cars, though many like Robert Reich are skeptical about that last offer, especially considering that gas has fallen back to under $2 a gallon and demand for bigger vehicles and SUVs may be creeping back up. I've read that getting the real junkers off the road and replacing them with even moderately efficient cars saves a lot more gas than getting everyone in an economical car into a Prius, so incentives for trading in those cars on the low end would actually be the best policy, and Ford has suggested that as well.

Even the UAW is offering concessions in return for the loans, which flies in the face of conservative propaganda about fat-cat unions destroying the industry (which makes sense, because, you know, without the industry, there is no union):

The United Auto Workers said Wednesday it is willing to change its contracts with U.S. automakers and accept delayed payments of billions of dollars to a union-run health care trust to do its part to help the struggling companies secure $34 billion in government loans.

United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger said the union will suspend the jobs bank, in which laid-off workers are paid up to 95 percent of their salaries while not working, but he did not give specifics or a timetable of when the program will end.

"We're going to sit down and work out the mechanics," Gettelfinger said at a news conference after meeting with local union officials. "We're a little unclear on some of the issues."

In truth, the union contracts are not a problem, it's the fact that a country without high wages and benefits and free healthcare is competing with a bunch of countries that have all that, and hopefully we'll see people finally understand that fact. And by the way, this is on top of UAW restructuring from 2007 that lowered the wage structure under even nonunion auto plants in the South and transfered responsibility for the pension plan to the union as well. So this is not the first time the UAW has lent a hand.

GM and Chrysler are even considering a pre-arranged bankruptcy in exchange for bailout money, to reorganize the entire sector.

My point is that the auto companies are bending over backwards for an accommodation with Congress, all for a mere fraction of what Emperor Paulson has spent on the TARP program, without hardly any oversight at all. And yet the votes still aren't there, at the moment.

One day after the auto companies sent survival plans to Capitol Hill in an urgent plea for bailout billions from the fund, Sen. Harry Reid told The Associated Press in an interview, "I just don't think we have the votes to do that now."

I don't think the automakers are saints or anything. They're still spending a fortune on lobbying and campaign contributions. And Ford wants Congress to block California's plan to regulate tailpipe emissions, saying that there ought to be one national standard (and it should be California's - 16 states have signaled they would adopt it, and it is completely in government's interest and mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions). But this really shows how completely in bed Congress is with the financial industry. The CEO of Citigroup didn't have to agree to take $1 in salary. The head of Goldman Sachs didn't have to drive to Washington. Nobody on Wall Street had to agree to major reregulation as a precondition for a bailout.

An auto industry bailout is unpopular but so was the financial bailout. But that didn't stop lawmakers from taking seriously the threats of depression if the banks didn't get practically no-strings-attached money. Automakers are also playing up fears of serious economic collapse but lawmakers seem less concerned.

I think one difference here is that Congress actually understands how auto companies make money, while they can't fathom the financial industry's complex arrangements, and tend to just trust the "very serious people" that the banks need hundreds of billions to survive. Also, if Detroit contributes to campaigns, Wall Street bankrolls them. And there's the skillful PR campaign from the right that the carmakers' struggles are all the fault of the unions, when that doesn't come into play with the financial industry.

It's still pretty shameful that an industry that pushes paper back and forth and pretends to create wealth can ask for and receive hundreds of billions of dollars by snapping their fingers, while companies representing working people that make things for a living have to grovel and beg. A deindustrialized America is an America that will not function as a first-rate power in the future.

CAP has a good report on the way forward for the auto industry - they call it a "bridge loan to the 21st century."

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D-Day Asks, The Environmental Coalition Offers

Wow, when I wrote this brief yesterday about the dangers of clean coal, I honestly had no idea that an entire campaign was being readied by Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection, the Sierra Club, The League of Conservation Voters, the NRDC and several other enviro groups, in a coalition they call The Reality Campaign. Their first TV ad is sharp and to the point.

There are some solid quotes in their press release:

"The reality is that there's not a single home or business in America today powered by clean coal," said Brian Hardwick of the Alliance for Climate Protection. "If coal really wants to be part of America's energy future, the industry can start by making a real commitment to eliminating their pollution that is a leading cause of global warming."

Hardwick continued: "It is high time for the coal industry to come clean and admit to the American people that today clean coal is not a reality. No matter how much they say it in their advertising, coal can't truly be clean until the plants can capture global warming pollution. With so much at stake, we can't afford to hang our hats on an illusion."

While the single-issue enviro groups haven't been entirely effective, on coal they have started to get it, with the Sierra Club's legal team winning a major recent ruling at the EPA making it virtually impossible for them to approve new coal-fired power plants. This ad campaign goes after the court of public opinion, and pushes back on the pervasive use of "clean coal." The coal industry sponsored every single debate on CNN this election season. We can no longer allow these poisonous, PR-friendly phrases to be injected into the discourse without serious pushback.

You can sign up to help The Reality Campaign at their website.

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CA-31: Becerra Out, Garcetti In?

Xavier Becerra, a Congressman from Hollywood, is at the least being strongly considered for the post of US Trade Representative and may have already accepted the job. Becerra is in the House leadership as Vice President of the Democratic caucus, and while he voted for NAFTA he has since regretted doing so, and he led the fight against CAFTA and other trade agreements which he felt did not have the proper safeguards, or labor and environmental standards. And channeling my inner David Sirota, the fact that pro-business conservatives are worried about the direction Becerra will take US trade policy confirms that he would be an excellent choice:

And now Business Week reports on some rumblings of opposition from the pro-business and free-trade camp:

Philip Levy, who's now with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told the mag that the choice is "troubling," arguing that "to oppose Nafta is in many ways to lash out symbolically against trade." A business lobbyist added to the mag that he and his colleagues are "pretty concerned."

Well, I'm sold.

If Obama brushes off the concerns of the American Enterprise Institute (and really, everyone should) and Becerra gets the job, a very safe Democratic seat in the heart of Los Angeles would be up for grabs. Considering the density of the city it's actually a pretty large district (with lots of it in rapidly gentrifying Hollywood), and has a good deal of Latino voters. However, this would be up for grabs in a special election, and the universe of special election voters is probably a smaller Hispanic universe than on a normal Election Day, so I wouldn't say that only a Latino candidate could win here. In fact, LA City Council President Eric Garcetti represents a good portion of the district on the council.

Garcetti would be a progressive leader in the Congress and a major upgrade. Becerra is a member of the Progressive Caucus and generally solid on the issues, but he's not particularly outspoken, and as part of the leadership team, wouldn't stray too much from the party line. On the other hand, Garcetti is a smart, committed young leader, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and a graduate of the London School of Economics who has led on so many progressive issues in the city it's hard to even count them all. It would be great to have someone in the Congress with the background of dealing with key urban issues from graffiti to housing to development, while at the same time having led on important national initiatives like clean money, the war in Iraq (the LA City Council was among the first to pass a resolution opposing it) and renewable energy. Garcetti jumped aboard the Barack Obama campaign from almost the very beginning as a California chairperson, so he would be able to tap that network of organizers pretty easily. He would make a fantastic member of Congress, among the best in the nation in my view. Rep. Becerra would get to set trade policy, and Los Angeles would experience no dropoff in leadership. Everybody wins!

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Feel The American Pride

Yesterday 100 nations, including Afghanistan, signed a treaty banning the grisly practice of cluster bombs, which have the tendency to kill innocent civilians who step on the unexploded ordnance. The United States didn't join the other signatories. It would hurt security, you see, to not have the option of killing civilians by deploying thousands of bombs scattered over an area that mainly hit civilians. Or at least, that's the best answer anyone could get out of Dana Perino:

THOMAS: Is the President going to sign the anti-cluster bomb treaty? Apparently this is –

PERINO: Right, this is a treaty that was passed out of the U.N. Security Council several months ago. We said then that, no, we would not be signing on to it. And so I think that the signing is actually — we did not participate in the passage of it, and therefore we’re not going to sign it either.

THOMAS: Why not?

PERINO: What I have forgotten is all the reasons why, and so I’ll get it for you. (Laughter.)

We're the greatest country the Earth has ever known, of course, so we don't need to explain why we'll continue to cause humanitarian catastrophes.

Hey, President-elect Obama? Want to show the world that it's a new dawn for American foreign policy? Sign the ban on this barbaric weapon.

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Tofu For Planetary Survival

Remember when the Bush Adminstration boasted about how they reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 1% in 2006? Remember how this showed that they were on the right path to solving the climate crisis? Yeah, well, that's no longer operative.

According to a new release from the Energy Information Administration, “U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2007 were 1.4 percent above the 2006 total.” This increase erases the 1% drop in emissions in 2006, for which Bush claimed credit (even though the decrease was due to an unusually warm winter and high fuel prices).

So, if warm winters have the effect of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, then maybe global warming is the only way to stop global warming! Ever think of that, Al Gore?

Still, this kind of puzzles me. Gas prices were high in 2006, but they hit a record high in 2007, and were consistently higher than the previous year. It doesn't make a lot of sense, outside of just general increases in demand, to see emissions rise. Unless, you know, this is all about the cows rather than the cars.

When Rajendra Pachauri, who runs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), made a suggestion that could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 18 percent, he was excoriated. Why was his proposal so unpalatable? Because he suggested eating less meat would be the easiest way people could reduce their carbon footprint, with one meat-free day per week as a first step [...] Boris Johnson, London's outspoken mayor, posted a long screed on his blog, declaring, "The whole proposition is so irritating that I am almost minded to eat more meat in response."

Johnson may not appreciate the environmental value of replacing his steak and kidney pie with a tofu scramble, but the benefits would be quite real. Animal agriculture is responsible for local pollution from animal waste and chemical use and for greenhouse gas emissions from the energy-intensive process of growing feed and raising livestock, plus the, ahem, byproducts of animal digestion. It would be much easier -- and cheaper -- to give up meat than to, say, convert an entire country's electrical grid to using solar, wind, or nuclear energy. A rural Montanan might have no choice but to drive to work, but he can certainly switch out his pork chop for pinto beans. While Pachauri was correct to note that one need not go vegan to help the environment -- simply eating less meat would help -- he could have also emphasized the more politically appealing point that one can be a carnivore and still reduce one's impact by choosing different meats. Even limiting one's meat consumption to chicken yields major environmental benefits -- not to mention health and financial benefits [...]

Now should be environmental vegetarianism's big moment. Global warming is the single biggest threat to the health of the planet, and meat consumption plays a bigger role in greenhouse gas emissions than even many environmentalists realize. The production and transportation of meat and dairy, particularly if you include the grains that are fed to livestock, is much more energy-intensive than it is for plants. Animals, especially cattle, also release gases like methane and nitrous oxide that, pound for pound, are up to 30 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. Internationally there is an additional cost to animal agriculture: massive deforestation to make land available for grazing, which releases greenhouse gases as the trees are burned and removes valuable foliage that absorbs carbon dioxide. As a result, according to a 2006 United Nations report, internationally the livestock sector accounts for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions -- more than the transportation sector.

While typing this, I recognized that I had a meat-free day yesterday: grapefruit for breakfast, meatless chicken nuggets (quite tasty!) for lunch, and my world-famous bean and cheese quesadillas for dinner. Getting the whole country on board with this might be even harder than making every car a Prius, but it'd be good to see at least some emphasis on the role of food consumption in energy and carbon policy.

There are so many systems that rely on burning carbon that it's going to be extremely difficult to get them all in order without a comprehensive strategy. And that includes meat-eating.

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