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

Saturday, January 24, 2009

PA-Sen: No Rightward Leverage For Specter

Pat Toomey, who nearly defeated Arlen Specter in 2004, won't try a second primary:

Former Lehigh Valley Congressman Pat Toomey has decided against a repeat run for Senate in 2010, turning instead toward a possible bid for governor as he reaches out to Republicans statewide to assess his potential candidacy next year.

Toomey, president of the anti-tax group The Club for Growth, is scheduled to sit down with several influential and deep-pocketed Lehigh Valley Republicans in early February to “discuss his thinking of a possible gubernatorial run,” according to an e-mail invitation sent out Friday on behalf of Arcadia Properties founder Richard Thulin.

He has also put calls out statewide to supporters this week with the aim of raising money to do some preliminary polling.

At the same time, Toomey has dropped consideration of a repeat run for Senate in 2010.

I'm OK with this. I know people think that a tough primary damages an incumbent, but Specter survived Toomey in '04 and then cruised to victory. Plus, this is more substantively better for the Obama agenda than anything. Specter will now have to be more worried of a challenge from a Democrat than a Republican, and presumably he'll vote accordingly. He's already become the only Republican male to vote for the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and as 2010 approaches he'll probably need to cross the aisle more.

Specter is still among the most threatened incumbents in 2010.

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Roads, Rails And Subways, Please

Rep. Peter DeFazio thinks that Barack Obama's getting some bad advice:

There’s a pretty good consensus among members of the House that it should be more. But the dictate from on high in the negotiations with Obama’s advisers — I don’t think the President is there — I think he’s ill-advised by Larry Summers. Larry Summers hates infrastructure, and some of these other economists — who were very much part of creating the problem. Now they’re gonna solve the problem. And they don’t like infrastructure.

They want to have a consumer-driven recovery. We need an investment- and productivity-driven recovery for this country, a long-term recovery.

It's kind of curious that Obama's public statements and YouTube addresses always speak very highly of infrastructure improvements, but there are substantially less funding toward that in the stimulus that you'd expect if you simply read the public PR instead of the actual bill. Although, there has been a general de-emphasis recently, as energy, health care and education spending take prominence.

The reason you want lots of infrastructure spending in the stimulus is because it can both be spent quickly and leave something behind afterwards. That's true of the health care and energy spending as well, but that's not what infrastructure spending appears to be competing with. It's competing with business tax breaks that do not provide nearly the kind of "bang for your buck" that can multiply the effect of fiscal spending. These Chamber-of-Commerce-friendly provisions being put in the Senate package, for example, are appalling.

The Senate bill includes a pro-business tax provision called bonus depreciation, which would allow companies accelerated write-offs of existing equipment and inventory if they make new purchases.

The Senate version also incorporates a complicated but important provision that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are pushing. This measure, which isn't in the House bill, would allow some companies to reduce taxes if they buy down their debt between late 2008 and 2011. The idea is to encourage companies to lower their debts, a process called de-leveraging, and thus get in better shape for an eventual economic recovery.

"We're very encouraged," said Bruce Josten, the vice president of government affairs for the Chamber of Commerce. "The specific purpose . . . is to create an incentive on a very short-term basis to have an orderly process to de-leverage that debt and strengthen their balance sheets."

The other issue here is that Americans interface with their infrastructure to a far greater degree than any other proposed spending (unless you sit on the Internets all day like me, in which case the broadband spending would apply). Therefore they know intuitively that it's crumbling, and they are desperate to see it fixed, and are even WILLING TO PAY FOR IT. Keep in mind that this passage was written by Frank Luntz.

Consider this: A near unanimous 94% of Americans are concerned about our nation's infrastructure. And this concern cuts across all regions of the country and across urban, suburban and rural communities.

Fully 84% of the public wants more money spent by the federal government -- and 83% wants more spent by state governments -- to improve America's infrastructure. And here's the kicker: 81% of Americans are personally prepared to pay 1% more in taxes for the cause. It's not uncommon for people to say they'd pay more to get more, but when you ask them to respond to a specific amount, support evaporates. (That 74% of normally stingy Republicans are on board for the tax increase is, to me, the most significant finding in the survey.)

This isn't "soft" support for infrastructure either. It stretches from Maine to Montana, from California to Connecticut. Democrats (87%) and Republicans (74%) are prepared to, in Barack Obama's words, put skin in the game, which tells you just how wide and deep the support is.

And Americans understand that infrastructure is not just roads, bridges and rails. In fact, they rated fixing energy facilities as their highest priority. Roads and highways scored second, and clean-water treatment facilities third.

You can see a road or a bridge or a new rail line or a better water treatment plant. You will use it every single day. And so the closest thing to a "bailout for Main Street," to employ that overused phrase, is an investment in immediate and long-term infrastructure spending. That can't all be accomplished by the stimulus, nor should it be - we should work for a long-term funding source through something like a National Infrastructure Bank, and we should try to alter the percentage of mass transit and rail spending in the transportation bill (right now it's 80-20 for roads). But clearly, with all the less targeted and less useful corporate tax breaks in there, infrastructure could be prioritized more.

In my mind, the two things progressives should be fighting for in the recovery bill is increased infrastructure spending at the expense of those corporate tax giveaways, particularly the benefit for lowering debt (which has no short-term benefit to the economy at all), and getting the mortgage cram-down provision into the bill, so bankruptcy judges can lower the amount that people upside down in their homes owe. Let's see how much leverage progressives have.

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The Wages Of Delay

The report that Barack Obama's Justice Department was siding with the Bush Administration in the Al Haramain case was a little disconcerting. In Al Haramain, an Islamic charity being tried for alleged funding of terrorism received a transcript of a phone call that the government secretly eavesdropped on - FROM GOVERNMENT LAWYERS. When they counter-sued for illegal wiretapping, they were told that they had no standing because the document they received accidentally was classified. Kafka would be proud. A US District Judge is attempting to get a copy of the document and he reinstated their lawsuit against the government. But as emptywheel notes, saying that the Obama Administration is calling for a stay of the court case pending appeal is a bit wrong:

As al-Haramain complains in its response, the Bush Administration appears to have deliberately held their appeal until "64 minutes before midnight on the last day of the Bush presidency." Two days later, Holder's nomination was held up in a highly unusual move. And the next day, a group of lawyers submit "Obama's" support for Bush's motion for a stay pending appeal. The lawyers defending the case remain largely the same: Douglas Letter, Joseph Hunt, Anthony Coppolino, and Alexander Haas, with only Gregory Katsas and John O'Quinn replaced by Michael Hertz. But Michael Hertz--who is on this motion as the Acting Assistant Attorney General but who was Deputy Assistant Attorney General under Bush--seems to be a loyal Bushie. (Here he is arguing against a bill that would make it easier to sue contractors based on information supplied by government whistleblowers.) In other words, the lawyers making this argument appear to be a team of Bushies.

In fact, to give an idea of the degree to which Obama's participation in this motion is negligable, check out the docket: they originally filed this with Bush's name, and not Obama's, on the docket.

So that raises a giant question: Given that the Republicans are stalling Holder's nomination even as they submit this motion, to what degree is this just the output of dead-enders in Bush's DOJ? Yes, I'm sure if Obama didn't support this in principle, he'd be telling Vaughn Walker about that right now. But it does not appear to be the product of the Obama DOJ because that DOJ simply doesn't exist yet. (Al-Haramain even cites Holder and Dawn Johnsen dismissing Bush's claims to the unitary executive to argue Obama would think differently of Vaughn Walker's ability to require the Administration to hand over the document.) But this was implemented, anyway, by Bushies, not Obama people.

Furthermore, given that Obama just appointed a critic of warrantless wiretapping to be the new head of the national security division at the Justice Department, I don't think we can fully say which way the Administration will go on this particular case. Obama voted for last year's FISA bill, so he certainly needs to be pushed on this issue, but I wouldn't make much of this particular ruling, other than to note that Obama's Justice Department officials need to be confirmed without delay. The beginnings of Administrations have this hybrid approach where remnants of the previous regime are still making policy decisions despite the new regime's installation. I don't know what can really be done about that - I still want Congressional scrutiny of cabinet officials - but it is a problem.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Random Ten

I am bereft of a snappy epithet to kick this off. I will mention that I got this iTunes gift card for the holidays, and I'm stuck in the CD-buying past and have never bought a thing off iTunes. For some reason I feel like I won't own it unless it's committed to a piece of plastic.

Warm Sound - Jill Cunniff
True Dreams Of Wichita - Soul Coughing
Day Old Blues - Kings Of Leon
Une Annee Sans Lumiere - The Arcade Fire
Le Monde - Thievery Corporation
Mr. Ambulance Driver - The Flaming Lips
Noche De Toxinas - Kinky
Wearing A Raincoat - They Might Be Giants
Sober - Tool
Take It Or Leave It - The Strokes (I maintain that the first album was good)

Kind of a list full of B-sides.

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In this economy, I guess the media isn't hiring them:

Reports of a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office, showing that the vast majority of the money in the stimulus package won't be spent until after 2010, have Democrats on the defensive and the GOP calling for a pullback in wasteful spending.

Funny thing is, there is no such report.

"We did not issue any report, any analysis or any study," a CBO aide told the Huffington Post.

Rather, the nonpartisan CBO ran a small portion of an earlier version of the stimulus plan through a computer program that uses a standard formula to determine a score -- how quickly money will be spent. The score only dealt with the part of the stimulus headed for the Appropriations Committee and left out the parts bound for the Ways and Means or Energy and Commerce Committee.

Because it dealt with just a part of the stimulus, it estimated the spending rate for only about $300 billion of the $825 billion plan. Significant changes have been made to the part of the bill the CBO looked at.

This was not only a major part of the GOP pushback on the recovery package the past couple days, it was trumpeted by all the usual suspects on cable news. At first I thought it odd that Republicans gave a damn whether stimulus spending happens quickly, considering they've spent the last several months blocking any stimulus at all. Of course it was just a way to undermine the plan, and the media played happily along. Thing is, the new head of the Office of Management and Budget spent most of the day refuting this report, with numbers and everything, but he wasn't really part of the reports. He said/she said balance would have been an IMPROVEMENT upon this fiasco. But conservatives rule their world.

It's pretty clear that the media has no ability to or interest in understanding this stuff, because then they wouldn't have their precious "conflict". So they regurgitate whatever some GOP staffer feeds them, just to spice things up. Cable news' ratings soared this past year in the midst of an election based on change, but they haven't changed one bit.

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Why "I Won"

Republicans STILL think the fundamentals of our economy are strong.

The way I see it, we really have two separate countries having two separate conversations in America. The difference is that one is based on facts and the other on fantasy. And the fantasy crew is shrinking with each passing day. It's the "recession of lunacy" theory of politics.

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Revenge Of The Indie Rocker

This is a pretty amazing story. David Berman is the lead singer of a rock outfit called Silver Jew. I can't say I've heard much of them until now, but they've been on the fringes of fame for close to 20 years. Now, via my favorite music blog Stereogum, I find out that Silver Jew has called it quits. But not before Berman reveals that his father is the Rick Berman, head of the "Center for Union Facts" and the point man for conservative anti-union actions around the Employee Free Choice Act.

My Father, My Attack Dog

Now that the Joos are over I can tell you my gravest secret. Worse than suicide, worse than crack addiction:

My father.

You might be surprised to know he is famous, for terrible reasons.

My father is a despicable man. My father is a sort of human molestor.

An exploiter. A scoundrel. A world historical motherfucking son of a bitch. (sorry grandma)

You can read about him here.

Berman Exposed is indeed a good source of information, detailing the dozens of industry-funded propaganda outfits that Berman runs, designed to subvert the interests of workers and the public and enrich corporate fat cats. Sadly, Berman is treated as a respectable figure in the media, who constantly run to him for a quote for their stories in the interest of "balance." These groups have lots of money but no grassroots support, and their power comes in many ways from this symbiotic relationship with the media.

His son continues:

A couple of years ago I demanded he stop his work. Close down his company or I would sever our relationship.

He refused. He has just gotten worse. More evil. More powerful. We've been "estranged" for over three years.

Even as a child I disliked him. We were opposites. I wanted to read. He wanted to play games.

He is a union buster.

When I got out of college I joined the Teamsters (the guards were union organized at the Whitney).

I went off to hide in art and academia.

I fled through this art portal for twenty years. In the mean time my Dad started a very very bad company called Berman and Company.

He props up fast food/soda/factory farming/childhood obesity and diabetes/drunk driving/secondhand smoke.

He attacks animal lovers, ecologists, civil action attorneys, scientists, dieticians, doctors, teachers.

His clients include everyone from the makers of Agent Orange to the Tanning Salon Owners of America.

He helped ensure the minimum wage did not move a penny from 1997-2007!

The Rick Bermans of the world exist as fronts for enormous amounts of corporate money and power. They get to hide in the shadows while their funds power anti-worker rhetoric. With exposure, these people lose a lot of their cachet. The media gets forced to note them for who they are. They find a counterpoint in people power.

It sounds like this will be David Berman's crusade:

This winter I decided that the SJs were too small of a force to ever come close to undoing a millionth of all the harm he has caused. To you and everyone you know.

Literally, if you eat food or have a job, he is reaching you [...]

Previously I thought, through songs and poems and drawings I could find and build a refuge away from his world.

But there is the matter of Justice.

And i'll tell you it's not just a metaphor. The desire for it actually burns.

It hurts.

There needs to be something more. I'll see what that might be.

Right on. We can make room for another warrior for justice. Especially against the likes of a Rick Berman. way we all can help is by demanding that Senate Republicans stop slowing the confirmation of Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor. She is more than qualified and her views on the Employee Free Choice Act, which is a legislative fight, are hardly germane as well as well-known. She deserves a vote and not this nonsense. America needs a friend to labor at the Labor Department again.

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News Of The Good: EPA Waiver For California Imminent

It's worthwhile every so often to look for the silver lining in the storm clouds over this state. After all, we do have a new President! That seems to be working out! And his pick for EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, was confirmed last night. Which means that it's probably only a matter of days before California gets its long-sought waiver to regulate tailpipe emissions.

With a new occupant in the White House, California could soon start enforcing its landmark 2002 law requiring a sharp reduction in vehicle emissions.

State leaders and environmentalists are pressing for quick approval of a waiver that would let California and at least 13 other states impose tougher air-quality standards than allowed under federal law. The Bush administration rejected the request a year ago, but that could be reversed by President Barack Obama and his environmental team.

During the presidential campaign, Obama said he backed the California law. Last year, he co-sponsored a bill by Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California to approve the waiver.

"If I'm confirmed, I will immediately revisit the waiver," Lisa Jackson, Obama's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, told Boxer at her confirmation hearing last week.

This would set in motion a program to reduce emissions from vehicles by 30 percent over the next seven years. It would spur alternative transportation development like SUPERTRAINS out of necessity, and force the production of clean-energy vehicles. Industry was not going to innovate on their own; they had 30 years to recognize this problem but they sat on their hands. It's not a question of whether or not we can afford to implement this; given the natural disasters like wildfires that hit the state with increasing frequency, given the melting of the Sierra snowpack which decreases our access to water resources, given the public health effects of dirty air (a recent report showed that clean air increases lifespans by up to three years), given all the ancillary costs of climte change, we can't afford not to.

The Governor and state leaders have been lobbying for the waiver since President Obama's inauguration, and I'm confident that we'll see granting within the next week.

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No Escalation?

With continued criticism in both online and op-ed circles about the proposed escalation in Afghanistan, I'm sensing a bit of pullback from the Obama Administration on the issue. While in other areas he has moved swiftly to implement his campaign promises, on Afghanistan I think there's an approach of listening and questioning. For instance, Bob Gates would not commit to a decision on the matter:

Dreyfuss: During the campaign, President Obama said that he would, when elected, send perhaps two to three additional brigades of troops to Afghanistan. Lately, actually since the election, we've heard talk about as many as 30,000 troops -- significantly more than that -- going to Afghanistan. Have any decisions been actually made, pending this review that the president has talked about, in terms of how many American forces might go to Afghanistan this year?

Gates: No final decision has been made. Part of -- part of what the president made clear was that they intend to look at Iraq and Afghanistan holistically. And so I think part of the -- one of the things that the president will expect before making decisions is what the implications are not just for Iraq, but for Afghanistan. And I expect, as I say that, to be part of those decisions to be forthcoming pretty soon.

Do you want to add anything to that?

Mullen: I -- I really wouldn't add a lot except to say that these are the level of forces that the commander has asked for. So again, we've looked very carefully at how to do that. There have been some recommendations that have been made up the chain of command, but no decisions yet.

And consistent with what I said before, I think a very deliberate process now, but rapid as it can be, to both recommend and have the president make this decision -- these decisions.

I'm much better with that than with the idea of putting 30,000 troops into Afghanistan and THEN figuring out what to do with them. In addition, Obama is reassessing our relationship with the corrupt and ineffective Karzai government.

Barack Obama's arrival in the White House and the wind of change sweeping through Washington could lead to the ousting from power of Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, The Independent has learnt.

International support for Mr Karzai, who was once the darling of the West, has waned spectacularly, amid worsening violence, endemic corruption and weak leadership. But until very recently, diplomats insisted there were no viable alternatives even as fighting has intensified and the Taliban insurgency in the south has grown. But four key figures believed to be challenging Mr Karzai have arrived in Washington for meetings with Obama administration officials this week. There is now talk of a "dream ticket" that would see the main challengers run together to unite the country's various ethnic groups and wrest control away from Mr Karzai.

"The Americans aren't going to determine the outcome of the election, but they could suggest to people they put their differences aside and form a dream ticket," said a senior US analyst in Kabul.

Karzai isn't the only problem in Afghanistan, but clearly he has little power outside of Kabul and has ceded far too much territory to the Taliban, mainly through inefficient distribution of goods and services. I'm assuming Richard Holbrooke, the new envoy for the region, will be able to encourage better leadership.

The more things change, however, the more they will stay the same. Expecting a benevolent leader to solve Afghanistan's problems is not a good bet; they aren't constructed for a strong central government. And the recent deal on supply lines through an alternate route in Central Asia suggests that troops will indeed be on the way. However, the effort to foster an "Afghan Awakening" has hit a snag.

Alarmed by the tightening Taliban grip on huge swaths of Afghan countryside, U.S. strategists last year began quietly pushing the idea of using locally recruited tribesmen to protect their villages against an increasingly lethal insurgency.

But since then, this American-backed and Afghan-administered "public guards" initiative has been hit by disputes and delays, clouding prospects for wider success even before a limited pilot program begins.

Proponents say the public guards could provide much-needed backup for thinly deployed Western and Afghan forces -- who, NATO and U.S. commanders say, will remain overstretched even with the arrival this year of as many as 30,000 additional American troops. President Obama has indicated that the Afghan conflict will be a top priority of his new administration.

But Western diplomats and Afghan officials familiar with planning of the public guards program say fundamental disagreements remain over the mission and makeup of the force. The disputes include such basics as whether its members will be armed and by whom, how they will be vetted and who will command them.

I think we have to be very careful applying techniques from Iraq into Afghanistan and expecting them to work. Afghanis have violent memories of local tribal warlords, so arming the tribes would not be welcomed by the population. Neither will continued airstrikes. A drone plane killed 15 in Pakistan today, and there may be a role for such attacks, but there is also a propensity for them to create collateral damage as well as killing militants, and inflame local populations.

These strikes have had negative consequences for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. They are deeply unpopular in Pakistan and inflame an already volatile domestic political environment. Insurgent groups use these attacks to bolster their anti-U.S. propaganda through arguing that they are fighting Americans who launch attacks on Pakistani territory. The military and the people feel deeply threatened by the strikes and may be more resistant to cooperation with the United States and to reorienting their military toward counterinsurgency. Pakistanis believe that these strikes violate state sovereignty, and their leaders have threatened retaliatory action.

Overall, a mixed bag in this first week of Afghanistan/Pakistan relations.

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It appears that there was only a temporary delay in reversing the global gag rule.

President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order ending the ban on federal funds for international groups that promote or perform abortions, officials told The Associated Press on Friday. [...]

The policy bans U.S. taxpayer money, usually in the form of U.S. Agency for International Development funds, from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion. It is also known as the "global gag rule," because it prohibits taxpayer funding for groups that even talk about abortion if there is an unplanned pregnancy.

Also known as the "Mexico City policy," it has been reinstated and then reversed by Republican and Democratic presidents since GOP President Ronald Reagan established it in 1984. President Bill Clinton ended the ban in 1993, but President George W. Bush re-instituted it in 2001 as one of his first acts in office.

The last several Presidents fiddled with this rule on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, while Obama waited a day. I guess he wanted to play down the symbolism, although putting it the day after doesn't really give you much distance.

Nevertheless, I'm very pleased by this, although the question of abortion access eventually must be addressed. So far, I'm giving Obama pretty high marks for his first week. Not to mention this, which is awesome.

The top congressional leaders from both parties gathered at the White House for a working discussion over the shape and size of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan. The meeting was designed to promote bipartisanship.

But Obama showed that in an ideological debate, he’s not averse to using a jab.

Challenged by one Republican senator over the contents of the package, the new president, according to participants, replied: “I won.”

I think they call that an "accountability moment."

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9.3% and IOUs On The Way

Californians cannot find work anymore.

California's unemployment rate jumped nearly a full percentage point from November to December, settling at 9.3 percent, the highest rate in 15 years.

Only a year earlier, in December 2007, unemployment was 5.9 percent, according to twin surveys by the California Employment Development Department.

My guess would be that double-digit unemployment is on the way by next month, February at the latest. Because the greatest problem with state government is that the tax structure is too closely tied to a boom-and-bust economic cycle, with no stable revenue sources (2/3 just enforces that insanity), less jobs means less income tax revenue, so watch that commonly cited $41.8 billion dollar budget deficit number to expand greatly. So a lot of money from that State Fiscal Stabilization Fund will just fill the hole between assumed revenues and reality. Then people who are trying to count on any money source are going to get an IOU in the mail instead of their tax refund.

We. Are. Screwed.

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Amazingly, Negotiating With Ourselves Didn't Work

I know this is going to floor you, but the GOP is not satisfied with $300 billion in tax cuts in the economic recovery package, and Obama's extended hand of friendship was bitten off.

Just days after taking office vowing to end the political era of "petty grievances," President Obama ran into mounting GOP opposition yesterday to an economic stimulus plan that he had hoped would receive broad bipartisan support.

Republicans accused Democrats of abandoning the new president's pledge, ignoring his call for bipartisan comity and shutting them out of the process by writing the $850 billion legislation. The first drafts of the plan would result in more spending on favored Democratic agenda items, such as federal funding of the arts, they said, but would do little to stimulate the ailing economy.

Yep, the entire bill gives $800 billion to Robert Mapplethorpe, according to the GOP, and also the Dems are trying to beat up on those poor noble bankers (Republicans en masse voted against releasing TARP money to those same bankers, so I don't know how they'll pull off this "protect the bankers from tax-hiking libruls" trick, though consistency isn't their goal):

The House bill also would reverse a controversial change in tax regulations that the Treasury Department made last year at an estimated cost of $140 billion in lost revenue. The change, intended to encourage bank mergers, allows banks to shelter their own profits from taxes based on losses at companies they acquire. Treasury made the switch without public notice or congressional approval.

Here's the very sensible Republican alternative, that would just end taxes for a while and make everyone happy.

As expected, the GOP alternative focuses primarily on tax cuts over increased federal spending. After their meeting with the president, Republicans continued to express concern over the spending in the $825 billion package, even though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Congress would likely meet Obama’s mid-February deadline.

Instead of a tax credit for individuals making $75,000 or less or families making less than $150,000, Republicans would like to reduce the tax rate by 5 percent on those Americans in the lowest tax brackets, from 15 percent to 10 percent and 10 percent to 5 percent [...]

If they had more of a say in the bill, Republicans would also like to allow small businesses to take a tax deduction equal to 20 percent of their earnings to "free up funds for small businesses to retain and hire new employees," according to talking points released after the meeting.

Republicans in the House would also like assurances in the bill that Congress will not raise taxes to pay down the $550 billion in federal spending laid out in the Democrats' bill.

In order to stabilize the housing market, Republicans would also like to grant a $7,500 tax credit to homebuyers who put down 5 percent on the purchase price of their home [...]

Boehner, in remarks on the White House driveway, warned that “government can’t solve this problem.”

I don't want to say that every tax break should be stricken from this package. Expanding eligibility for the child tax credit seems like a good idea, as does the higher education tax credit for tuition and textbooks. Getting money to those who will spend it is the point of a stimulus, and targeting funds at the low end of the income ladder makes some sense.

But when you start out saying that any bill must have 80 votes, OF COURSE the other side isn't going to leap at the first proposal. Going halfway at the beginning of the negotiation is a terrible strategy, not to mention the fact that the Republican caucus is far more conservative and unwilling to do anything but feed more tax cuts to their buddies when that's the worst stimulus multiplier there is.

Obama is still saying the bill will pass by President's Day, so it's possible he's seen the failure of extending the hand of friendship and will now just plow ahead. But we're still stuck with legislation that may be insufficient to get the economy going. Learning this negotiation lesson would be a plus, but it's an awful big price to pay. advice would be to offer the best possible plan that would get the votes needed necessary to pass instead of some fantasy of an 80-vote threshold, banking off the public goodwill with both the President and the concept of funding infrastructure, which even Frank Luntz recognizes the public is demanding and would pay higher taxes for.

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Right Wing And Pentagon Remnants Work Overtime To Fearmonger

This completely unsourced New York Times article is yet another in the drumbeat of warnings to Obama that he can't very well use the rule of law as a guidepost when terrists wanna kill us in our beds and that.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.

The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.

His status was announced in an Internet statement by the militant group and was confirmed by an American counterterrorism official.

“They’re one and the same guy,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity because he was discussing an intelligence analysis. “He returned to Saudi Arabia in 2007, but his movements to Yemen remain unclear.”

Wondering if that counterterrorism official just happens to not be part of the new Obama team. Signs point to yes.

It really doesn't matter if they're in power or out of power, conservatives can plant their stories in the media whenever they choose. Glenn Greenwald links to a bunch of them today. There are hosts of howls from the right that we'll all be killed if we try terror suspects in US courts, shut down gulags and release the innocent.

National Review's Jim Geraghaty spent all day yesterday fantasizing about all the scary things that could happen if we have Al-Qaeda Terrorists in our communities (near nuclear facilities and airports!). Former Bush aide and chief speechwriter Marc Thiessen warned yesterday in The Washington Post that if there is a Terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Americans will blame Obama because he stopped torturing and closed Guantanamo, and Democrats will be "unelectable for a generation." Today, at National Review, Thiessen, citing yesterday's Executive Orders, declared Obama "to be the most dangerous man ever to occupy the Oval Office." And yesterday, of course, The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt echoed the standard claim that our regular federal courts were inadequate to try dangerous Terrorists.

All of this is pure fear-mongering -- the 2009 version of Condoleezza Rice's mushroom cloud and Jay Rockefeller's "we'll-lose-our-eavesdropping-capabilities" cries. Both before and after 9/11, the U.S. has repeatedly and successfully tried alleged high-level Al Qaeda operatives and other accused Islamic Terrorists in our normal federal courts -- in fact, the record is far more successful than the series of debacles that has taken place in the military commissions system at Guantanamo. Moreover, those convicted Terrorists have been housed in U.S. prisons, inside the U.S., for years without a hint of a problem.

Not to mention this zombie lie that I mentioned yesterday, the new "big stat" thrown around by major news organizations, that 61 terrists have "returned to the battlefield" from Guantanamo. Putting aside the difficulty in believing this nonsense - past examinations of Pentagon claims have shown that they're counting people who've never been to Gitmo and people who have written letters to the editor to newspapers - Atrios points out the absurdity:

Without even getting into the actual accuracy of the latest bit of wingnut porn about how 61 released Gitmo detainees supposedly returned to take up arms against the US, can anyone explain how this is supposed to represent a failure of Obama's policies? He didn't let them go. Liberal bloggers didn't let them go. The ACLU didn't let them go.

And if George Bush has "kept us safe," what exactly is it that these terrorists have done?

All this folds in on itself at some point. But the point is to make sure everyone is aware that we can be killed at any moment, to restrict Obama's break from the past and ensure that their little fantasies are not repudiated. I believe we do have to be skeptical of those loopholes, and work on our own side to ensure their removal.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the committee, said that despite the executive orders she still planned to press for legislation mandating a single standard for military and C.I.A. interrogators. Such a law would be harder to reverse than Mr. Obama’s executive order, which he could alter or cancel at any time by issuing a new order.

“I think that ultimately the government is well served by codifying it, by having it in law,” Mrs. Feinstein said.

Some liberal groups, while praising the Obama orders, said they supported legislation like Mrs. Feinstein’s because they were concerned about what his task forces might propose. They also said they would continue to press for a full investigation of detention and interrogation programs under President George W. Bush.

Of course, this isn't totally about legislation for the wingnuts. It's about scaring an electorate for political advantage, hoping to pin whatever terrorism might arise in the next several years on Obama and using that in the next election. the way, this is how you deal with terrorists, through law enforcement and detective work. But there isn't enough crushing of testicles involved, so it's deeply disappointing to the man-childs on the right.

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Enforcers of the Iron Law

It was pretty obvious that the Yacht Party here in California was intellectually bankrupt when they let right-wing radio talk show hosts John and Ken sign on to the official lawsuit against the legislature for trying to pass a work-around budget that increased fees but not taxes. Talk show hosts like John and Ken are the low-level enforcers of conservative dogma in the state, whipping their charges into a frenzy if anyone strays from the party line. They were on a roll yesterday.

"Immediately head to your battle stations," blared John and Ken on their hugely popular Southern California conservative radio show on Thursday.

The conservative duo -- blasting on the powerful KFI station -- had put the Republican lawmakers quoted in The Bee's story about potentially raising taxes in their crosshairs.

Their targets were GOP Assemblymen Anthony Adams, Mike Duvall and Roger Niello. (And, later in the show, Sen. Abel Maldonado, who was quoted in a MediaNews story saying he could potentially vote for tax hikes to balance the budget.)

Pictures and phone numbers for all four lawmakers were posted on their Web site at various points.

"Then start calling these bastards. This is war. War!" John and Ken shouted [...]

"We're going to get these heads on a stick!" John and Ken pledged at one point. "Heads on a stick!"

Two of the lawmakers, Mike Duvall and Anthony Adams, actually showed up later in the show. Duvall claimed he was just describing the state of things in Sacramento, while Adams committed the cardinal sin of trying to use reaason on a radio talk show.

Adams, R-Hesperia, went on to defend the possibility of tax hikes. "I think taxes stink," he said. "They suck."

But Adams said raising taxes may be necessary given the political and economic climate.

"I dare with the full knowledge that this will probably be the end of a political career for me. But the fact of the matter is California is in a place where they need people who are willing to sacrifice their own personal agenda for what's right," Adams said.

He was raked over by the radio hosts for his stance.

Said one host: "You guys always talked a tough game, but you always rolled over for the Democrats when it came down to the final vote, so I don't have any sympathy for you. You guys talked, but you didn't act. You always voted with the Democrats, at least enough of you did every single freaking year. And now you're going to come to us for money?"

"Yes," Adam replied.

"No," said the host, as the other laughed. "How about no."

He added, "You may be right about your career."

John and Ken quite literally live in an alternate universe, one where conservatives are under siege and always capitulating to fearsome Democrats rather than the actual one where they have a working majority inside the legislature. Of course, they make millions, and whatever happens to the budget will never affect them personally. They'll go back to their gated communities and never see the poor person who can't get health care, the teacher who is laid off at the school, the construction worker who can't find work because all the public works projects are shut down.

But it's more insidious than that. John and Ken are well-compensated fronts for the Big Money Boyz who want to keep their taxes low and impede the state from providing any services whatsoever. They are close to the masses and can fix them on a target. They can find the Republicans who step out of line and make sure they end their careers. And they take the heat instead of the powerful interests using them as dupes. It's in the same way that Jon Coupal is paid big money to make the Overton Window-shattering claim that there is no budget crisis; that Jon Fleischman is provided with plenty of wingnut welfare to pen anti-union screeds and the like, which are then passed around at the highest levels, even by the supposedly post-partisan governor. By having all these enforcers out there ranting and raving, conservative lawmakers feel empowered to ask for even more in exchange for modest, regressive tax hikes, more than even the state spending cap (which would lead to the strangling of state government) they've already proposed.

Folks like John and Ken are useful idiots, bodyguards for conservative dogma. They mobilize other useful idiots, and in the background the Big Money Boyz rub their hands together and count their coins.

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Drilled Baby Drilled

You know, the people who said that President Obama said what he had to say during the campaign, feinting to the center and then moving left once in power, is massing a good amount of evidence.

U.S. President Barack Obama may order a hold on a proposal issued in the final days of the Bush administration to expand offshore drilling in previously banned areas, an Interior Department official told Reuters on Wednesday.

Shortly after being sworn in on Tuesday, Obama ordered all federal agencies and departments to halt pending regulations until they can be reviewed by incoming staff.

An Interior official said the department is waiting for clarification from the White House on whether a proposed draft of a five-year plan to lease areas in the Atlantic and Pacific waters for oil and natural gas drilling can go forward.

I think Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar has argued against oil shale exploration in the interior West in the past.

Now, Obama may not be able politically to reinstate the ban, but he could functionally reinstate it through denying expansion proposals. And considering that miniscule amount of oil available in the US, this won't affect supply and is not worth destroying environmental balance in the process.

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New York Blues. Blue Dogs, That Is

It looks very likely that Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand will be chosen to replace Hillary Clinton in the US Senate. Lots of liberals are upset with Gillibrand's less than sterling record in her short stay in the House.

If Mr. Paterson was hoping to quiet the tumult over the selection process by picking Ms. Gillibrand, there were indications that he may not get his wish. Ms. Gillibrand, who has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, is controversial among some of the party’s more liberal leaders downstate.

Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a Long Island Democrat and ardent gun control activist, said Thursday that if Ms. Gillibrand got the job, she was prepared to run against her in a primary in 2010. Ms. McCarthy was elected to Congress after her husband was killed in a gunman’s rampage on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993.

Gilibrand is a proud member of the Blue Dog caucus in the House. She describes her record as "one of the most conservative in the state". Wayne Barrett notes:

She opposes any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, supports renewing the Bush tax cuts for individuals earning up to $1 million annually, and voted for the Bush-backed FISA bill that permits wiretapping of international calls. She was one of four Democratic freshmen in the country, and the only Democrat in the New York delegation, to vote for the Bush administration's bill to extend funding for the Iraq war shortly after she entered congress in 2007. While she now contends that she's always opposed the war and has voted for bills to end it, one upstate paper reported when she first ran for the seat: "She said she supports the war in Iraq." In addition to her vote to extend funding, she also missed a key vote to override a Bush veto of a Democratic bill with Iraq timetables.

Given all this, you would think I would be upset by this turn of events. But really, I'm not. I've been given some back-channel assurances that Gillibrand is more liberal than her conservative upstate district. But even if she isn't, she'll HAVE to vote that way to keep the seat in 2010. New York City contains 55-60% of the Democratic vote. She's going to have to win them over or she'll get a primary. Carolyn McCarthy is already talking about it. Every conservative vote she makes puts a nail in her coffin.

As for losing her district, we have enough Democrats in the House and can easily afford to lose the seat in the short term. After 2010, New York will be redistricted with a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature. That seat could look very different at that point, so this may be a temporary setback. In the short term, this dilutes the amount of Blue Dog Congresscritters in the House, which is fine with me. The power of the Blue Dogs is in their numbers, and now they're sinking even further behind the Progressive caucus.

As for those who want to blame the netroots for smearing Caroline Kennedy and foisting a Blue Dog on the Senate, that's a curious rendering of "a new era of responsibility" - no responsibility for Caroline Kennedy or anyone she associates with for their actions, but FULL responsibility for random people on the Internet.

And I can't finish a post about a Senate appointment without mentioning that there shouldn't be any Senate appointments.

...and the big shift is already on.

Here's another interesting wrinkle from Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-NY) imminent promotion to the Senate: She appears to have switched her position on gay marriage from a standard "safe" Democratic stance, to now being a full supporter.

Empire State Pride Agenda has put out a press release saying that Gillibrand has spoken to them, and they are glad to say that New York will have its first Senator who endorses full marriage equality. This is a big change for Gillibrand, who previously had a conventional Democratic position of endorsing civil unions and non-discrimination laws, but not being for gay marriage.

To be sure, Gillibrand's voting record on gay rights was not anything that could be called bad. There weren't too many votes on gay issues in the last two years, but she did vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, as well as the hate crimes bill.

She wavered on gun control in her press conference too, vowing to work with Carolyn McCarthy on various issues. New York liberals actually have power in this environment, and Gillibrand knows it.

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Actually, The Other Quote Is Crazier

People are getting lotsa laughs from Rod Blagojevich's assertion that his arrest was like the attack on Pearl Harbor. And that is funny, in a "man thinks he's as important as the US naval fleet" kind of way. But I think this is even funnier:

"I'm going to fight this to the very end," he said.

But that fight, Blagojevich said, most likely won't include his appearance at the trial. The governor, along with his lawyers, say the trial rules are unfair because they bar him from calling witnesses who are likely to be called in any criminal trial later.

"I'm not going to be a party to that process," he said. "That would be a violation of my oath of office. That, to me, would be an impeachable offense."

My impeachment trial is an impeachable offense.

It's also hilarious because it's not at all true, as Blagojevich's lawyer is preparing a lawsuit to block the impeachment trial. That's kind of involving himself in the trial, isn't it?

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The time has come to put away childish things...

Nashville, Tennessee voted down a bid to make English the city's official language. Now local government must continue to use alternative languages in official documents. These "English first" laws are cruel and unnecessary and have little effect on forcing immigrants to learn English - they usually do anyway, at least in the next generation. Glad to see a city in solidly Republican Tennessee rejecting it. Immigrant-bashing not only threatens to make the GOP a permanent minority nationally, it's not even successful in their strongholds.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Losing The Climate Spin War

I don't really know what quite went on here, but TPM followed all day this effort to delay President Obama's environmental nominees, terming it "the first shot" in the battle against action on climate change. Elena Schor claimed that an anonymous Senator was holding up Nancy Sutley (for head of the Council on Environmental Quality) and Lisa Jackson (for head of the EPA), with the actual pressure being put on the "climate czar" Carol Browner:

... it's about Carol Browner, the incoming White House climate and energy adviser. As Sen. Jim Inhofe (OK), senior Republican on the environment committee and the leading fly in the climate change ointment, told the Washington Times:

"I'm quite concerned that [Sutley's] role has been diluted by the addition of former EPA Administrator Carol Browner as White House climate and energy czar. The new Senate-confirmed CEQ chair will be expected to have the full authority to represent the White House on all matters before this committee."

By holding up Jackson and Sutley, Senate Republicans are doing more than just signaling their discontent that they won't get to question and vote on Browner -- although Sen. Bob Corker [R-TN] suggests to the Times that Browner be called in for a "quasi-confirmation" hearing. They're previewing their strategy to knock down the climate regulation bill that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), environment committee chairman, will release later this year.

Then Schor claimed that Wyoming Senator Tom Barrasso was behind the delay; then it wasn't him; then the nominees could be cleared by tomorrow; and then, they were confirmed along with several other cabinet heads (I think only Geithner, Solis and Holder are left, though I could be missing one or two, and of course there is no nominee for Commerce Secretary).

Exactly what the hell happened here? Between Schor's over-reporting and Matt Cooper's thousand-word musings about Caroline Kennedy, I'm thinking of turning away from the new TPMDC.

However, it would be silly to ignore that the Republicans will stop at nothing to halt meaningful action on climate change. And, that they're winning. Not because nutcase James Inhofe says so, but because the issue is simply not a tangible enough concern to force it into Washington's power centers:

the latest Pew poll on priorities contains grim news for those of us who think we're rapidly destroying out planet: the public couldn't care less. Global warming, once again, ranks as the lowest priority from a list of 20, and the more general category of "protecting the environment" fell 15 percentage points from last year.

And as if that's not bad enough, Revkin also points to a new Rasmussen poll, which finds that 44% of U.S. voters don't believe humans are the cause of global warming, compared to only 41% who do. That's even worse than last year's results.

In one sense, this is because the economy and jobs have superseded the environment and everything else as the biggest concern. (People should listen to Van Jones more, who solves both of these vexing problems with the promise of green jobs). But the need for action grows larger every year, and yet the willingness to do so wanes. I think part of this is the PR machine being global warming denial. I mean, this memo from the coal industry tells you about everything you need to know:

A Virginia-based public relations firm called the Hawthorn Group sent out a newsletter to their "friends and family" outlining the work they did on behalf of a coal industry lobby group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.The newsletter outlines in quite a bit of detail about how Hawthorn spindoctored coal during the Presidential election.

The newsletter starts:

"We thought the most fixated of the political and communications "junkies" might find interesting some highlights of a recent grassroots campaign Hawthorn created and managed for the American Coalition of Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE)."

Hawthorn celebrates the fact that their coal-is-clean campaign was a success:

"In September 2007, on the key measurement question—Do you support/oppose the use of coal to generate electricity?—we found 46 percent support and 50 percent oppose. In a 2008 year-end survey that result had shifted to 72 percent support and 22 percent oppose. Not only did we see significantly increased support, opposition was cut by more than half. Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain addresses a crowd wearing "Clean Coal hats" in Pennsylvania."

Instead of actually demostrating that somehow coal is clean, Hawthorn used age-old PR tactics to create the image instead:

"Building on our existing 200,000-strong grassroots citizen army, we leveraged the presidential candidates' own supporters, finding advocates for clean coal among the crowd to carry our message. We got these on-the-spot advocates to show strong public support to the candidates and to the media, and enhanced that visibility by integrating online media that created even more of a buzz. We did this by sending "clean coal" branded teams to hundreds of presidential candidate events, carrying a positive message (we can be part of the solution to climate change) which was reinforced by giving away free t-shirts and hats emblazoned with our branding: Clean Coal. Attendees at the candidate events wore these items into the events."

Polluting industries have a huge megaphone and lots of money to deny the problem, deny that anything can be done, warn that job loss and economic contraction would ensue, and on and on. And yet with each passing day, the landscape is charred by the effects of a warming planet. The trees are dying, the ice is melting, the planet still has that fever. And we aren't gaining much traction to get us out of it.

President Obama, if you care about this, it's time for one of those stemwinders of a speech.

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The California Bailout - Not Enough, Won't Help

The economic recovery that is currently being bandied about in Congress, particularly in the House, would deliver $4.5 billion dollars for infrastructure projects to California. That's 10% of overall infrastructure spending, which is in line with our population, but the overall pot for infrastructure is too small nationwide, and that kind of relief is not enough to make a dent in the budget nightmare. The fact that money for tax cuts designed to snare Republican votes is crowding out infrastructure spending and job creation contributes to this, but the other problem is the deteriorating nature of our infrastructure, which could cost half a trillion dollars to fix properly. All that money doesn't have to come from the Feds, but with the bond markets unwilling to deliver for California until a budget solution is made, $4.5 billion over two years is a drop in the bucket, and the problem will grow worse. This shows why floating bonds is a horrible way to fund government.

The report cites California’s dependence on bond financing as a chief reason the state can’t meet its infrastructure financing needs. California has increasingly used borrowing through state general obligation bonds to finance infrastructure projects. But the need for infrastructure investment far exceeds the capacity of these bonds, according to the report, Paying for Infrastructure: California’s Choices. Years of declining investment have left the state with crumbling classrooms, congested roads, and an aging levee network that puts many homes and businesses in harm’s way. Problems in the government bond market are making it more difficult to sell the bonds already authorized, and in the long term, large projected budget shortfalls will limit the state’s ability to rely on these bonds to meet California’s future needs.

We can of course see this right now, and the effects are widespread. With the bond markets frozen, environmental projects all over the state have to be shut down, having a very real impact on the environment and public health. Forget the more innovative projects we'd all like to see strengthened with fiscal investment - like the growth of the solar industry and even wave harvesting, the type of green jobs that can save our economy - we're not even going to be able to clean the ocean this year.

If swimmers in Santa Monica Bay bump into trash or bacteria this summer, one culprit will be California's budget impasse.

Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of voter-approved projects have been halted because of the state's financial problems. That includes $12 million that the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission was counting on to prevent dirty storm water and filthy runoff from draining into the bay.

"People expect to be able to enjoy the beach and not come home sick," said state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), chairwoman of the state Senate Water and Natural Resources Committee.

The money freeze has immobilized construction of new biking trails along the Santa Ana River in San Bernardino and Orange counties. It has stopped plans to tear down the Matilija Dam in Ventura County and restore the sediment-filled Matilija reservoir. It has impeded efforts to boost the populations of salmon and steelhead trout off the coast of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

These are not small inconveniences. A new report from Brigham Young University scientists shows that cleaner air, for example, has a direct effect on increasing the lifespan of a population. There is a cost to bad borrowing. If we can't fund infrastructure, the ports and the oceans don't get cleaned. Smog reduction projects may shutter. The air gets dirtier. And you die three years earlier.

California's delegation needs to push for General Fund relief in the recovery package, as well as federal guarantees for our municipal bonds, which would frankly jump-start projects faster than anything. If it's good enough for the banks, it should be good enough for California.

UPDATE: OK, the CBPP has a more comprehensive report, and the numbers are much more in line with current needs. They predict that California will get $11.1 billion in increased Medi-Cal spending, and $7.8 billion from a new State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, in addition to the infrastructure spending. That approaches $20 billion over the next two fiscal years.

Now THAT'S better. A fiscal stabilization fund in particular is a great idea.

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Fair Pay On The Way

The Senate today passed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would allow women an increased statute of limitations for fighting unequal pay in the courts. The current law was that a woman like Ledbetter would have 180 days from the infraction (which, like most pay discrimination, is carried out in secret) to file a claim.

Ledbetter roamed the Capitol's halls on Thursday, explaining to lawmakers and reporters that she was unaware of the pay disparity during most of the 19 years she worked at Goodyear.

"Pay levels were a big secret," she said, "but an anonymous person left a note in my mailbox at work one day, comparing my pay to that of three male managers — and that's when I knew I'd been the victim of pay discrimination."

She calmly recalled how "I started at a lower salary, and they gave me lower raises, over and over again." She sought help from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission just before she retired in 1998, and the case wound through the courts.

After the Supreme Court ruled against her, three months later the House voted to override the decision, but a Senate filibuster stopped the effort.

The roll call is here. All Democrats voted yes, and five Republicans (Specter, Snowe, Murkowski, Hutchinson and Collins) joined them. Because of some amendments it needs to go back to the House for a reconciliation vote, but once that happens, Ledbetter should be the first major piece of legislation signed by President Obama into law.

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Your Moment Of Zen

Here's your President on the 36th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision:

On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are reminded that this decision not only protects women's health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman's right to choose.

While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services.

On this anniversary, we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons: the chance to attain a world-class education; to have fulfilling careers in any industry; to be treated fairly and paid equally for their work; and to have no limits on their dreams. That is what I want for women everywhere.

To quote Peggy Noonan, let us savor.

Some may quibble with the wording and the emphasis on finding common ground, but on this issue I look at the top line, and the commitment to preserving the right to choose and the right to privacy. This is pretty strong language, and compared to the past eight years, it's yet another sea change. However, he'd better get around to repealing the global gag rule, which didn't happen today. Carrots and sticks.

See also this great piece at Feministing on why Roe isn't enough. We already have a de facto ban on abortion in many states that have limited or eliminated access, and that has to stop.

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We Can't Have The Attorney General Following Laws

As you may know, John Cornyn has led a revolt that would delay the confirmation of Eric Holder in the Senate Judiciary Committee for at least a week, citing the fact that he might actually prosecute people who have committed crimes, which is simply off-limits to Beltway thinking (at least for people of import, he can prosecute all the poor people he wants for shoplifting, but at war crimes Cornyn draws the line):

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, convened the panel Wednesday and asked for an immediate vote to send Holder's nomination to the Senate. Republicans called for a one-week delay, permitted by committee rules.

Holder told the Judiciary Committee last week that waterboarding is "torture" and therefore illegal. Susan J. Crawford, the top Bush administration official overseeing the trials of detainees, told the Washington Post that at least one individual held at the prison center at Guantanamo Bay was "tortured."

The question Republicans want answered before Holder is confirmed: Will you prosecute those who took part in that torture?

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that he would block committee proceedings, scheduled to resume at 2:30 pm on Wednesday, if he did not receive answer from Holder. "I'm not going to allow things to proceed," he said. He added that it was "physically impossible" for Holder to get the answers to him by then, thus assuring a conflict would ensue [...]

"Part of my concern, frankly, relates to some of his statements at the hearing in regard to torture and what his intentions are with regard to intelligence personnel who were operating in good faith based upon their understanding of what the law was," said Cornyn.

Well, at least he didn't bring 9/11 into it in a blatant attempt to scaremonger... I'm sorry, what was that next paragraph?

"There were provisions providing immunity to intelligence officials based up on good faith and what they understood the law to be," said Cornyn. "I want to know if he's going to enforce congressional intent not to second guess those things in a way that could jeopardize those officials but also could cause our intelligence officials to be risk averse -- the very kind of risk aversion...that the 9/11 commission talked about when they talked about what set us up for 9/11."

Ah, Republicans. Proudly using victims of terror as a human shield for going on eight years.

I don't need to recapitulate the arguments made by Tom Ricks, Paul Krugman, Keith Olbermann, the UN special rapporteur on torture, and others. We need a reckoning for torture because if we don't, the successors to this legacy will do far worse in the name of national security; we need to "look back" because it's the basis for jurisprudence and we can't prejudge who or who not to prosecute absent all the facts; we cannot listen to the Beltway insiders who want to protect their friends by saying that ignoring clear crimes is very "appropriate"; etc. I would simply say that Holder would be breaking the law if he DIDN'T prosecute.

1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture. . . .

That's from the Convention Against Torture, and it's pretty unequivocal. We are legally obligated to prosecute acts of torture, and "promising not to" is as much a crime, under this statute, as the torture itself. As to the argument that top Democrats are complicit in these actions and a Democratic Administration and the whole thing would have a look of a show trial if they were forced to admit that they were aware of but didn't object to these abuses, that's what an independent prosecutor would be for. And by the way, one of those top Democrats assumed to have been read in to the torture policy is open to prosecution, kind of blowing that theory out of the water.

The glib and cynical establishment press, desperate to protect their friends and defend THEIR OWN moral complicity in these crimes, may think this is a legitimate stand to take, but it only reveals their own moral hollowness.

To the standard Washington reporter, nothing is more contemptible than those who want to hold political leaders accountable -- and that fact is as potent a reflection of how diseased our political culture is, since journalists, in theory, ought to be those leading the crusade for such accountability, not leading the lynch mob against citizens who are demanding it. Yet since the zombie-like march behind the Leader during the run-up to the attack on Iraq, there hasn't been a more complete, virtually lockstep consensus among our media class than their vehement opposition to investigating the crimes of our political leaders.

Heck, even Lindsay frickin' Graham understands that no Attorney General could vow to rule out prosecution in a blanket fashion absent knowing what has been committed. He still thinks that "criminalizing policy differences" would be bad for the country, which is absurd, but he at least has enough sense to know that ruling out prosecution of a crime is not really an option for the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

All told, the Republicans don't have the votes to stop Holder, so this is a delay tactic at best. Why? Emptywheel has been working on her theory for a while now, and it's starting to make sense:

Two and a half weeks ago, bmaz predicted that the Bush Administration would appeal Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling requiring the Bush Administration to turn over a document that likely proves they violated FISA by wiretapping American citizens. Sure enough, on Friday and Monday, they did so [...]

Between that appeal and Arlen "Scottish Haggis" Specter's highly unusual one-week hold on Eric Holder's nomination yesterday, it sure does look like my theory--that Republicans are trying to delay the time when a Democrat takes over DOJ and starts reviewing Bush Administration actions and considering prosecutions.

In particular, I believe, they are delaying Holder's nomination to shorten the time between the day Holder takes over and the day the statute of limitations on violations of FISA Bush committed on March 11, 2004 start to expire--that is, March 11, 2009, just seven weeks away.

It would certainly be interesting if this was not about torture at all, but the violations of FISA. Especially given the revelation from Russell Tice that the US Government has been monitoring every single communication made by an American for years.

OLBERMANN: Let's start with the review. We heard the remarks from Mr. Bush in 2005, that only Americans who would have been eavesdropped on without a warrant were those who were talking to terrorists overseas. Based on what you know, what you have seen firsthand and what you have encountered in your experience, how much of that statement was true?

TICE: Well, I don't know what our former president knew or didn't know. I'm sort of down in the weeds. But the National Security Agency had access to all Americans' communications, faxes, phone calls, and their computer communications. And that doesn't -- it didn't matter whether you were in Kansas, you know, in the middle of the country, and you never made a communication -- foreign communications at all. They monitored all communications.

OLBERMANN: To what degree is that likely to mean actual eavesdropping and actual inspection? In other words, if not actually read or monitored by the NSA, everything was collected by the NSA, recorded, archived? Do you have any idea to what degree the information was ever looked at, per se?

TICE: Well, it's actually, even for the NSA, it's impossible to literally collect all communications. Americans tend to be a chatty group. We have the best computers at the agency, but certainly not that good.

But what was done was a sort of an ability to look at the meta data, the signaling data for communications, and ferret that information to determine what communications would ultimately be collected. Basically, filtering out sort of like sweeping everything with that meta data, and then cutting down ultimately what you are going to look at and what is going to be collected, and in the long run have an analyst look at, you know, needles in a haystack for what might be of interest.

We have never fully known the extent of this lawlessness, and any delay in Holder's confirmation will keep Americans in the dark that much longer, if he chooses to exercise his prosecutorial discretion at all. If he does not, we may have to rely on lawmakers like Sheldon Whitehouse to offer the reckoning that this nation so desperately needs.

Our new President has said, "America needs to look forward." I agree.

Our new Attorney-General designate has said, we should not criminalize policy differences. I agree.

And I hope we can all agree that summoning young sacrificial lambs to prosecute, as we did after the Abu Ghraib disaster, would be reprehensible.

But consider the pervasive, deliberate, and systematic damage the Bush Administration did to America, to her finest traditions and institutions, to her reputation and integrity.

Read the whole thing.

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Wahhmbulance for Fourthbranch Emeritus

Dick Cheney wants the world to know, through his chief fluffer Stephen Hayes, that Scooter Libby should have received his pardon.

Asked for his reaction to Bush's decision Cheney said: "Scooter Libby is one of the most capable and honorable men I've ever known. He's been an outstanding public servant throughout his career. He was the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice, and I strongly believe that he deserved a presidential pardon. Obviously, I disagree with President Bush's decision."

Emptywheel is the go-to on reactions to this one.

I wonder whether Cheney is worried that his firewall might not hold tight as Libby faces the rest of his life as a felon? Or perhaps Dick is just aghast that Bush--who after all asked Libby to stick his neck in a meat grinder--didn't return the favor by sacrificing a little of his scarce posterity to thank Libby for his work protecting Bush?

In any case, I do hope Cheney's mood about Bush remains contentious and sour. There is little I'd like more than to see Bush and Cheney take each other out during their retirement.

That WOULD be exciting. Of course, Bush is both solicitous of keeping himself clean (pardoning Scooter would have opened him up to public testimony) and unsolicitous of anyone else's feelings or concerns, so that's probably the explanation here.

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Mitchell In As Mid-East Envoy

Despite the calls that he was "too fair" to possibly work for peace, George Mitchell was announced as the main envoy to the Middle East today. Richard Holbrooke has the Pakistan and Afghanistan envoy's job, and if he can pull off something like the Dayton accords there, I can forgive his past trespasses.

I'm getting the feeling that the adults are back in charge. Feels good.

...J Street's Jeremy Ben-Ami has more on Mitchell.

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Media's War On America Continues

I was on this phone call today with Tom Malinowski from Human Rights Watch and others discussing the Obama executive orders on torture, and everyone is guardedly optimistic about what this means for the rule of law. If the gray areas on "other dispositions" besides trying or releasing Gitmo detainees and the wiggle room on extra-legal torture techniques are cleared up, we have a blueprint for restoring the rule of law. We need to be vigilant, however, to close whatever loopholes there may be.

This didn't seem to matter to one reporter on the call, who up front ADMITTED HE HASN'T BEEN FOLLOWING THE ISSUE and asked what would happen if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had to be set free because we waterboarded him. This is someone who has confessed to practically every terrorist act of the last 40 years, wants to be a martyr, and for whom there is enough evidence untainted by torture to progress to trial.

The question was certainly colored, if not outright prompted, by a false report from the Pentagon in the waning days of the Bush tenure, claiming that 61 freed detainees from the prison camp have "returned to the batlefield." Expect to hear a lot about this in the coming days, like from this Kyra Phillips bobblehead report:

Kyra Phillips: It's one of the biggest fears about releasing terror suspects from Gitmo, that they'll go back to their alleged old ways.

New Pentagon figures actually say 61 released detainees have been linked to some kind of terror activity, up from 37 as of March, 2008. About 520 Gitmo prisoners have been freed or transferred to other prisons around the world.

Let's be clear: the Pentagon report itself only cited 18 "confirmed" cases of former detainees returning to the battlefield, and offered NO EVIDENCE on that beyond an assertion. The other 43 are "suspected of participating in terrorist activities." Moazzam Begg is a writer who has led activist efforts to close Guantanamo. I'm willing to bet that he's included in the 61. The three detainees featured in the movie "The Road To Guantanamo" are ALSO included in the 61. In short, anyone who has criticized the United States is part of that number.

But Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall University Law School has represented some of the detainees and says the Pentagon has failed to produce evidence of early claims that former detainees have returned to the battlefield.

"The numbers are wrong about who has returned to the fight; their numbers and names are wrong about who has been in Guantanamo. And, of course, the characterization of 'returned to the fight' is far broader than they would like to admit," said Denbeaux. "What they would like is to be understood to mean as 'return to the battlefield,' but, of course, that hasn't happened. So what they mean by 'return to the fight' is engaging in propaganda battles and criticisms of the United States at home and abroad."

This is a propagandistic lie designed to ensure that those loopholes stay open. And the media is totally complicit in aiding and abetting this. I heard on the radio coming in this morning some talking head yammering about how some detainees are "too dangerous to release, but they haven't committed a crime yet so we can't prosecute them." What is this, Minority Report? All of this nonsense designed to preserve the status quo has to be coming from somewhere. The media is just a conduit.

Given all this, it's a wonder how people have enough information to reject torture and indefinite detention. Maybe it's because, unlike the Christopher Hitchenses and media sycophants of the world, they have a value system.

The media's war on America continues.

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We know the tax cuts in the Obama plan, particularly the corporate tax cuts, are there to grab Republican support. The side effect is that they crowd out needed spending in the transportation sector. Elena Schor has the story from the mouth of Jim Oberstar, Chair of the House transporation panel.

We set forth this $85-billion initiative from our committee. It's been reduced in the final going. We expect that it'll come out somewhere around $63 billion, but $30 billion for highways.

The reason for the reduction in overall funding -- we took money out of Amtrak and out of aviation; we took money out of the Corps of Engineers, reduced the water infrastructure program, the drinking water and the wastewater treatment facilities and sewer lines, reduced that from $14 billion to roughly $9 billion -- was the tax cut initiative that had to be paid for in some way by keeping the entire package in the range of $850 billion.

But I'll say that our portion is the one that really creates the jobs. Our portion of it is the one that's going to put people to work because unlike anything else, these jobs can't be outsourced to Bangalore, India.

This is extremely depressing. Four years from now, 75 votes for the stimulus package will be a distant memory, but we may still have mass transit far behind that of Europe. I ask you which is more important.

Fortunately, some Senators are willing to fight for including more mass transit and rail funding.

First, at a Senate progressive media summit today, Senator Charles Schumer said that he was unhappy about the amount of stimulus money set aside for mass transit and rail. He indicated that several other Senators from highly urbanized states were also unhappy about this portion of the stimulus, and that when the legislation reached the Senate, they would be jointly pushing for an increase in money set aside for mass transit and rail. The current amount for mass transit and rail in the stimulus bill is only $10 billion.

Amy Klobuchar wants to increase the funding for broadband in the stimulus, and that the money would go to public/private partnerships instead of the telecoms who might hoard it. So that's also hopeful.

In one respect, letting Congress have their stamp on the bill by forcing the Obama Administration's hand on these various issues is good in that it reasserts Congressional authority (the fact that the markups have not yet been public is disturbing, however). However, let's be clear that Congress has priorities of their own that may not be in the national interest but in the interest of serving their districts, and this habit of bailing out every sector can have very negative consequences.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin have been “pouring money into a publicity campaign” and stepping up congressional lobbying efforts to maintain funding for the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor.

Their efforts appear to be paying off. 200 members of the House and 44 members of the Senate have signed letters to President Obama urging him to extend the $62 billion F-22 Raptor program. Currently, the Air Force has funds to purchase 183 of the stealth aircraft, “but the letter says, ‘We are convinced that this number is insufficient to meet potential threats.’” The members write further that the jobs at stake make the program, as Matthew Yglesias recently paraphrased, “too big to fail”:

The F-22 program annually provides over $12 billion of economic activity to the national economy. … If this certification is not provided, layoffs will begin as this critical supplier base shuts down. … Over 25,000 Americans work for the 1,000+ suppliers in 44 states that manufacture the F-22. Moreover, it is estimated that another 70,000 additional Americans indirectly owe their jobs to this program.

We don't need the F-22 program, and furthermore, we have to disassociate the desire to renew American manufacturing with the building of weapons of war. There are far more constructive and cost-effective pursuits that the US can be funding. But the F-22 makes lots of Congressional districts very happy, so despite Rahm Emanuel's signal that there will be deep spending cuts in the coming years, in practice that's a much harder sell on Capitol Hill.

Crowding out positive public spending is bad enough, but delaying the needed re-organization of the American economy for parochial reasons is terrible.

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Shorter Yacht Party: We'll Raise Taxes If You Stop Funding Schools

Jim Sanders reports that tax increases are on the table for the Yacht Party, but only with additional long-sought concessions. This actually is a shift because taxes weren't even on the table before, but not much of one.

The GOP caucus realizes a tax hike will be part of any budget pact but could support it only if agreement were reached on permanent program cuts, a hard spending cap and other issues, lawmakers said.

"The reforms have to be there," said Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia.

"(We must be able) to tell constituents, 'Look, we had to raise taxes, we had to go forward, but we've fundamentally altered the way in which Sacramento is going to be budgeted – and we will not have these problems again because of it,'" Adams said.

Obviously the wavering from business groups who are frightened by the prospect of the state's looming insolvency is driving this. But let's take a look at what the Yacht Party wants as an exchange for their support on taxes, which would probably be regressive ones like sales tax hikes instead of the progressive tax solutions needed like eliminating loopholes for businesses and upping the top marginal rates on the wealthy.

They want a spending cap. They've wanted it for some time. In fact, it already EXISTS, and it has for 30 years. But the Yacht Party wants tighter restrictions. The CBP blog has provided a chart showing what they really want.

The chart shows how much state spending would have had to been cut in the past decade to comply with the kind of cap that Republicans have offered in the past.

Our analyses found that such a cap would have limited total state spending in 2008-09 to $39.7 billion below actual budgeted levels. The General Fund’s share of the necessary reductions would be $31.2 billion. What would it take to cut $31.2 billion out of the General Fund budget? Eliminating all General Fund support for higher education; the judiciary; child support services; health care services; resources - including fire protection; and environmental protection. Maybe that’s why the campaign to modify California’s original cap was led by then-Governor George Deukmejian, then California Chamber of Commerce president Kirk West, and then-California Taxpayers Association president Larry McCarthy.

So the price exacted for revenue increases is an end to basically every service California provides. At that point, who needs the revenue increases?

Of course, the Yacht Party would have to get voter approval for a spending cap, so it's a gamble for them. But this movement should not be confused with a serious desire to actually serve the needs of a struggling citizenry.

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