Saturday, July 14, 2007

Quote of the Day~Drinking and Driving Edition

"Note to America: Next time you feel like voting for the guy you'd rather drink beer with, do us all a favor and write in the name of the guy you actually drink beer with." ~The Freeway Blogger

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Watching Edwards

The other day I posted a link to a speech that Edwards made in which he criticized trade deals such as NAFTA with some comments on the treatment that Edwards has been receiving for his $400 haircuts. This post led to a good discussion with someone who left a comment on this post about the sincerity of Edwards' populist message. I certainly understand people's skepticism and I believe it's a good thing. We need to pay attention, not only to what candidates say, but to what they do and the specific policies that they propose.

Although I will vote for whatever candidate receives the Democratic nomination for president, even Hillary (god forbid!) because I will not vote for any of the GOP candidates for the simple reason that we need to go in a different direction in this country (and I will not abstain from voting). But Edwards is my first pick for the Dem nomination thus far, and I'm quite impressed with a lot of his platforms. That being said, learning more about the candidates is important so I want to post a link to this diary by David Mizner at DailyKos. Although from an Edwards supporter, this diary provides a good summary of why Edwards is receiving a lot of support from progressives and provides some good links to more info on Edwards, his campaign and his policy proposals.

Mizner also points out that even if Edwards is facing a very uphill battle to receive the Dem nomination, the fact that he is running on such a strong progressive and populist platform and taking unpopular and strong stances on important issues is in itself a good thing:

But we like where Edwards is. Liberated, he'll force Clinton and Obama to take positions they wouldn't have otherwise (He already has.) And he'll take positions the other two won't dare take. He'll lose the right way, or win the right way. He'll do himself proud. He'll scare the hell out of the other candidates.

To me this is one of the most important things about Edwards' campaign and the influence that it has had and will have on the other candidates and whoever wins the nomination. Even if he loses the nomination, if he gives the other candidates a good fight, his strong progressive message and the support that he is receiving can also help to build influence and pressure for any Dem candidate if that candidate is elected in 2008.

It's Easy to Accuse Your Opposition of Not Supporting the Troops, but Actually Supporting the Troops is Much More Difficult

Yesterday, Americablog posted the full statement by Virginia Senator Jim Webb in response to GOP Senators fillibustering of a bill that he introdued to address the extended deployments and rotations of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Senator Webb said in his statement:

Americans....are tired of the procedural strategies designed to protect politicians from accountability, and to protect this Administration from judgment. They are looking for concrete actions that will protect the well-being of our men and women in uniform.

The question on this amendment is not whether you support this war or whether you do not. It is not whether you want to wait until July or September to see where one particular set of benchmarks or summaries might be taking us. The question is this: more than four years into ground operations in Iraq, we owe stability, and a reasonable cycle of deployment, to the men and women who are carrying our nation’s burden. That is the question. And that is the purpose of this amendment.

(Emphasis mine). Americablog also posted links to Webb's bill and a fact sheet that explains the legislation. The fact sheet includes statements from many articles on the effects of this extended and repeated deployment, which the bill aims to address including:

  • Troop deployments have been extended from 12 to 15 months, resulting in less time at home with families

  • The increased risk of psychological problems from combat stress

  • The impact on the families of the troops who are not getting adequate and standard time between deployments to spend with them

  • The increasing levels of troops leaving the military

  • The negative impact on military training, manpower and readiness and the ability of the National Guard to respond to disasters at home

Senator Webb comes from a long family tradition of military service, was a marine who served in Vietnam and was also Secretary of the Navy. He knows what he is talking about when it comes to the subject of the military and what is best for the tropps, which is probably why his bill has been endorsed by the Military Officers' Association of America, Veterans for America, and This is an egregious example of continued Republican obstruction and is completely inexcusable. (See posts here and here.)The biggest thing we should be concerned about regarding the war in Iraq is the impact that it is having on the troops and doing whatever we can to actually support them.

It's easy to put a yellow sticker on your car, and I don't criticize anyone for doing this. But we need to do more. Americans have shown their support for the troops in many other ways but we need to be more aware of politicians who tell us to support the troops but who in fact don't support the troops.

News Hounds Outrageous Quote of the Week

Avedon pointed out a mistake that I made in my post "More Quotes~"Health Care Terror and the Greatest Threat to Capitalism Since the Cold War." The Ann quote won the contest last week. The quote from NewsHounds that I posted is up for a vote this week. So, I went over and voted for it. If anyone else is interested in voting here is the link again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

This is a post that I started on last Friday but didn't get around to finishing. So, I'm posting it now, with a couple of updates.

As support among Americans to begin some type of withdraw from Iraq continues to build, it is hard to understand just how Bush, his loyalists and his enablers can so willfully ignore the situation and the mounting anger and frustruation of the American people. Americablog reported Friday that a bipartisan group of senators is attempting to do Bush's bidding, trying to keep us in Iraq for, oh say, the next 100 years or so and introducing their legislation as an attempt to get us out of Iraq:

A bipartisan group of Senators has prepared legislation that they want to offer in the next few weeks that would keep US troops in Iraq indefinitely. What's worse, they're claiming that the legislation implements the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Studgy Group, when in fact, the legislation codifies George Bush's current failed policies in Iraq....

Specifically, the legislation buries a little nugget on page 18 of the bill. In a section entitled "Sense of Congress on Redeployment of United States Forces from Iraq," the legislation spells out the following preconditions to withdrawing US troops:

1. A massive list of suggested policies need to first be accomplished before the US withdraws. These include transferring the Iraqi National Police to the Ministry of Defense, reorganizing the Iraqi security forces, upgrading Iraq's police communications equipment, establishing courts, training judges, prosecutors and investigators, drafting oil legislation, implementing metering at the oil pipelines, reorganizing the entire Iraqi oil industry, and more. But that's not all that has to happen before our troops are permitted to withdraw from Iraq. Oh no. Read on.

2. Additional Iraqi brigades need to deployed. Meaning, the exact same policy we have now under George Bush. No withdraw until the Iraqi security forces are up to par. And our military people on the ground in Iraq say this could take 40 to 50 years, if ever.

3. The eventual withdrawal of US forces is "subject to unexpected development in the security situation on the ground." Meaning, if things don't get better, we don't leave. That's the current policy. And things aren't getting better.

At least they are trying to mislead the American public that this is some kind of plan for withdrawal when it clearly is an attempt to get congress to pass a law requiring troops to stay in Iraq indefinitely. And meanwhile, the situation in Iraq is worsening by the day, as evident in just these few stories reported in the last week, and the American people know it.

First,Wired blog reported on the projected cost of the war and it is astounding:

Additional war costs for the next 10 years could total about $472 billion if troop levels fall to 30,000 by 2010, or $919 billion if troop levels fall to 70,000 by about 2013. If these estimates are added to already appropriated amounts, total funding about $980 billion to $1.4 trillion by 2017.

Costs for the war have been spiralling out of control. The Bush Administration has been handing out no-bid cotracts to private companies and compaines with close ties to the Bush Administration have been raking in billions. This is all old news, of course. But this is the kind of thing we get for that money:

Thursday the Washington Post reported:

U.S. diplomats in Iraq, increasingly fearful over their personal safety after recent mortar attacks inside the Green Zone, are pointing to new delays and mistakes in the U.S. Embassy construction project in Baghdad as signs that their vulnerability could grow in the months ahead.

A toughly worded cable sent from the embassy to State Department headquarters on May 29 highlights a cascade of building and safety blunders in a new facility to house the security guards protecting the embassy. The guards' base, which remains unopened today, is just a small part of a $592 million project to build the largest U.S. embassy in the world....

The first signs of trouble, according to the cable, emerged when the kitchen staff tried to cook the inaugural meal in the new guard base on May 15....

But according to the cable, the electrical meltdown was just the first problem in a series of construction mistakes that soon left the base uninhabitable, including wiring problems, fuel leaks and noxious fumes in the sleeping trailers....

Such challenges with construction contracts inside the fortified enclave known as the Green Zone reflect the broader problems that have thwarted reconstruction efforts throughout war-torn Iraq.

This is FEMA in Iraq. As the Bush Administration's love affair with privitization continues to sour (for all but Bush anyway and his fellow free market idealogues), The Iraqi government, according to recent reports, is in terrible shape and may be falling apart as we speak.

Also reported Thursday in the Washington Post, sectarian strife continues unabated and greater numbers of people are being killed:

During the month of June, 453 unidentified corpses, some bound, blindfolded, and bearing signs of torture, were found in Baghdad, according to morgue data provided by a Health Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

In January, 321 corpses were discovered in the capital, a total that fell steadily until April but then rose sharply over the last two months, the statistics show.

Overall, the level of violent civilian deaths in Iraq is declining, according to the U.S. military and Health Ministry statistics, and there has been a steady drop in fatalities from mass-casualty bombings that have torn through outdoor markets, university bus stops and crowds assembled to collect food rations.

But the number of unidentified bodies found on the streets is considered a key indicator of the malignancy of sectarian strife. While the declining number of bombing victims suggests that efforts to control violence are showing some success, the daily slayings of individuals, in aggregate, speak to an enduring level of aggression.
"That's the cancer that keeps eating the neighborhoods,"
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, said at a meeting with reporters Saturday. "It never stops. It's a tit for tat. It's a cycle of violence that has to be broken."

To make matters worse for Bush he continues to lose support from key allies in his own party:

New Mexico's Republican Senator, Pete Domenici, publicly broke with George Bush over Iraq today. He wants a new strategy immediately. Like Dick Lugar who broke with Bush last week, Domenici is one of the Republican old-timers.

Americablog also reported Thursday that General Odom, former Director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Regan, recently wrote an essay in which he argued that we needed to start withdrawing troops from Iraq. Americablog points out that "this guy's credentials are beyond stellar."

Bush reminded us this Independence Day, yet again, that we cannot leave Iraq becuase he just doesn't want us to. I think it was Colin Powell that warned Bush that if we invaded Iraq we would own it. He was right. We are occupying that country unless things change really soon. Bush is going to leave office in 2008 and leave it to the next guy, hopefully a Democrat, to clean up his mess. And when Bush hands over his mess, he and his cronies will walk away being richer than ever and the American people and our troops will be left paying for this war in ways we can scarcely imagine even as we contemplate the horrors already apparent from this occupation and the projected $1.4 trillion price tag. Not to mention the cost in lives lost, lives shattered, and the psychological toll that this war will have on the troops who are lucky enough to come home.

And one more update, this is what we get despite all that money that has been given to contractors:

At least 20 mortar rounds and Katyusha rockets struck the fortified Green Zone on Tuesday afternoon, killing an American service member and two other people in an attack on the heart of U.S. and Iraqi government facilities in the capital.Those killed included an Iraqi and a person whose nationality was unknown, according to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy. About 18 people were injured, including two U.S. military personnel and three American contract employees, the statement said.

The Democrats need to stop caving to Bush and find a way to get us out. And Bush and Cheney need to be impeached.

Thank God For the Kennedy's

Via Democratic Underground, a speech by RFK Jr. at Live Earth:

Now we've all heard the oil industry and the coal industry and their indentured servants in the political process telling us that global climate stability is a luxury that we can't afford. That we have to choose now between economic prosperity on the one hand and environmental protection on the other. And that is a false choice.

In 100% of the situations, good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy --- if we want to measure our economy, and this is how we ought to be measuring it, based upon how it produces jobs and the dignity of jobs over the generations, how it preserves the values of the assets of our community and how it averts the catastrophe of global warming.

If, on the other hand, we want to do what they've been urging us to do on Capitol Hill which is to treat the planet as if it were a business in liquidation, convert our natural resources to cash as quickly as possible, have a few years of pollution based prosperity, we can generate an instantaneous cash flow and the illusion of a prosperous economy. But our children are going to pay for our joyride with denuded landscapes, with poor health, with huge cleanup costs and with climate chaos which is going to amplify over time and that they will never be able to pay.

Environmental injury is deficit spending. It is a way of loading the costs of our generation's prosperity on to the backs of our children. Climate change is upon us. Its impacts are going to be catastrophic and we are causing it. The good news is, we have the scientific and technological capacity to avert its most catastrophic impacts. We only need the political will.

If we raise fuel economy standards in our automobiles by one mile --- we generate twice the amount of oil that is in the Arctic National Wildlife Refugee. If we raise fuel economy standards by 7.6 miles per gallon we yield more oil than we now import from the Persian Gulf. We can eliminate 100% of Persian Gulf oil.

Think about what that would do for our economy, for our foreign policy, for our global leadership, it would dramatically improve our balance of payments, reduce our national debt and make all of us more prosperous and more independent and spare us from wars in the Mid-East that are costing us, already, a trillion dollars and from entanglements with Mid-Eastern dictators who despise democracy and are hated by their own people.

Now you've heard today a lot of people say that there are many little things that you all can do today to avert climate change on your own. But I will tell you this, it is more important than buying compact flourescent light bulbs or than buying a fuel efficient automobile. The most important thing you can do is to get involved in the political process and get rid of all of these rotten politicians that we have in Washington D.C. --

Who are nothing more than corporate toadies for companies like Exxon and Southern Company, these villainous companies that consistently put their private financial interest ahead of American interest and ahead of the interest of all of humanity. This is treason and we need to start treating them now as traitors.And they have their slick public relations firms and their phony think tanks in Washington D.C. and their crooked scientists who are lying to the American people day after day after day.

And we have a press that has completely let down American Democracy. That's giving us Ana Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton instead of the issues that we need to understand to make rational decisions in a democracy - like global warming.

And so I am going to tell you this, that the next time you see John Stossel or Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity --- these flat-earthers, these corporate toadies, lying to you, lying to the American public, and telling you that global warming doesn't exist --- you send an email to their advertisers and tell them that you are not going to buy their products anymore.

And I want you to remember this, that we are not protecting the environment for the sake of the fishes and the birds, we are protecting it because nature is the infrastructure of our communities. And if we want to meet our obligation as a generation, as a civilization, as a nation, which is to create communities for our children that provide them with the same opportunities for dignity, and enrichment, and good health, and prosperity, and stability as the communities that our parents gave us, we've got to start by protecting our environmental infrastructure.

The air we breathe, the water we drink, the wildlife, the public lands, the things that connect us to our past to our history that provide context to our communities and that are the source, ultimately, of our values and our virtues and our character as a people and the future of our children.

And I will see all of you on the barricades.

More Quotes~"Health Care Terror" and The Greatest Threat to Capitalism Since the Cold War

Via The Sideshow, News Hounds has "The Outrageous Quote of the Week @ July 7, 2007." Their readers apparently chose Ann Coulter for what she spewed in her latest bout of head spinning. You can check it out if you want, but personally, I think it would be worthy of note if Ann had said something that wasn't outrageous.

Personally, had I voted, my pick would have been this one:

"I think this election poses the greatest threat to capitalism that this country has seen in a long - since the Cold War. I'm really serious. You know, we have candidates on the Democratic side that are saying they're anti-ownership society, they want to raise taxes. I am afraid of what could happen to corporate America, particularly at a time when the rest of the world is much more competitive." - Charles Payne, discussing whether or not a "President" Fred Thompson would be good for stocks. Cavuto on Business, 7/7/07

(Emphasis mine). A few days ago I did a post on Fox News picking up the insane ranting of a conservative blogger and turning his ravings into a discussion that universal healthcare would make us more vulnerable to terrorism. Then I pointed out:

for a lesson in how the insane elements on the right so often influence the news cycle and the debate with their deranged fear-mongering, MSNBC later took the scare tactics and ran with them and, jumping on the bandwagon as well was, not surprisingly, The New York Sun.

I now submit that the above quote from Charles Payne is the real "threat" from Micheal More's new film, the overwhelmingly positive reactions that it has been evoking, and the debate that it is instrumental in furthering. Conservatives, the healthcare industry, and the free market ideologues are freaking out over a threat, yes, but it is to their ideology.

This diary at Daily Kos sums up the tactics employed by CNN's medical expert in a segment prior to Moore's recent appearance on CNN with Wolf Blitzer. This diarist points out that CNN's medical expert falsely accused Moore of omitting facts that are plainly and conspicuoulsy included in Moore's film, tried to twist Moore's arguements by citing only part of the facts, and just plain lied. Moore didn't put up with any of it. Not only did he call out CNN and its expert and correct their errors and misrepresentations, he also immediately followed up with a fact check of CNN's claims including the following:

CNN: Americans have shorter wait times than everyone but Germans when seeking non-emergency elective procedures, like hip replacement, cataract surgery, or knee repair.


This isn't the whole truth. CNN pulled out a statistic about elective procedures. Of the six countries surveyed in that study (United States, Canada, New Zealand, UK, Germany, Australia) only Canada had longer waiting times than America for sick adults waiting to schedule a doctor's appointment for a medical problem. 81% of patients in New Zealand got a same or next-day appointment for a non-routine visit, 71% in Britain, 69% in Germany, 66% in Australia, 47% in the U.S., and 36% in Canada. (The Doc's in, but It'll be AWhile. Catherine Arnst, Business Week. June 22, 2007


One way America is able to achieve decent waiting times is that it leaves 47 million people out of the health care system entirely, unlike any other Western country. When you remove 47 million people from the line, your wait should be shorter. So why is the U.S. second to last in wait times?

For a little more context, Moore also posted an internal, confidential memo sent to him by an employee who works at Capital BlueCross that discusses how to deal with the impact that "Sicko" is going to have. Moore points out some interesting things that the VP of Corporate Communications, Barclay Fitzpatrick stated in the memo:

He then assesses the film's impact: "[T]he impact on small business decision makers, our members, the community, and our employees could be significant. Ignoring its impact might be a successful strategy only if it flops, but that has not been the history of Moore's films ... If popular, the movie will have a negative impact on our image in this community."


BlueCross V.P. Fitzpatrick seems downright depressed about the movie he just saw. "You would have to be dead to be unaffected by Moore's movie," he writes. "Sicko" leaves audiences feeling "ashamed to be...a capitalist, and part of a 'me' society instead of a 'we' society."

(Emphasis mine). Here Fitzpatrick is expressing the real "threat" and the source for anxiety behind what we see when the corporate media runs with right-wing ravings, distorts the facts and plays the fear card by trying to associate universal healthcare with terrorism.

In a column yesterday, aptly entitled "Health Care Terror," Paul Krugman sums up perfectly what has been happening:

These days terrorism is the first refuge of scoundrels. So when British authorities announced that a ring of Muslim doctors working for the National Health Service was behind the recent failed bomb plot, we should have known what was coming.

“National healthcare: Breeding ground for terror?” read the on-screen headline, as the Fox News host Neil Cavuto and the commentator Jerry Bowyer solemnly discussed how universal health care promotes terrorism.

While this was crass even by the standards of Bush-era political discourse, Fox was following in a long tradition. For more than 60 years, the medical-industrial complex and its political allies have used scare tactics to prevent America from following its conscience and making access to health care a right for all its citizens....

What outrages people who see “Sicko” is the sheer cruelty and injustice of the American health care system — sick people who can’t pay their hospital bills literally dumped on the sidewalk, a child who dies because an emergency room that isn’t a participant in her mother’s health plan won’t treat her, hard-working Americans driven into humiliating poverty by medical bills.

“Sicko” is a powerful call to action — but don’t count the defenders of the status quo out. History shows that they’re very good at fending off reform by finding new ways to scare us.
These scare tactics have often included over-the-top claims about the dangers of government insurance.

“Sicko” plays part of a recording Ronald Reagan once made for the American Medical Association, warning that a proposed program of health insurance for the elderly — the program now known as Medicare — would lead to totalitarianism.

Right now, by the way, Medicare — which did enormous good, without leading to a dictatorship — is being undermined by privatization.

Mainly, though, the big-money interests with a stake in the present system want you to believe that universal health care would lead to a crushing tax burden and lousy medical care.

Now, every wealthy country except the United States already has some form of universal care. Citizens of these countries pay extra taxes as a result — but they make up for that through savings on insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical costs. The overall cost of health care in countries with universal coverage is much lower than it is here.

(Emphasis mine). Apparently, somewhere between Regan and the current fear-mongering about terrorism, conservatives dropped the ball. Now they have to find a way to connect the terror threat to what corporate interests and conservatives see as the real threat--the threat to their version of capitalism, which should more accuratley be called corporatism.

CNN had previously fact-checked Moore's film and found "surprisingly few inaccuracies in the film" and informed us that "In fact, most pundits or health-care experts we spoke to spent more time on errors of omission rather than disputing the actual claims in the film." Despite what the corporate interests, the corporate media and conservatives would like us to believe, this is not an ideological debate (unless they can succeed in scaring us into making it one). The facts are clearly on Moore's side and some kind of universal healthcare is a commen sense reform and, as Krugman points out, a moral issue.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Quote of the Day~The Fifth Grade Class at the New York Times

From a post by Scats on a recent Op-Ed in the NY Times entitled "The Road Home" that makes the stunning observation that Bush is absolutely not going to call for or agree to a withdrawal from Iraq:

Now we know the real plan! Now we're all scrubbed and shiny and ready to gradumate to the the fifth fucking grade! Now we know there's a difference between what the Preznit says, and what's in the world outside my cocktail party! And the truth is: he ain't leavin'!Well, you know what that means?

Let's write two whole single-spaced pages on construction paper for our show-and-tell project DEMANDING THAT HE DO WHAT WE'VE JUST REALIZED HE HAS NO INTENTION OF DOING!!!!!

Eric also brought up a some good points with regard to my second post from Saturday, my latest "Fuck You King George" rant, that need further discussion. He points out:

What I find interesting is that when the Democrats were in the minority, their supporters claimed that there was nothing that they could do to stop the Republicans because they were the minority, but now that the roles are reversed, the Dems say that the Repub. minority has the ability to stop the majority.By the way, I am not a Repub or Dem. I find both disasteful.

Some of this has to do with which party controls which house, on how those numbers break down, and on the amount of influence that certain sections within each party have over the party as a whole and its leadership. So, when comparing the specific maneuvering of each party while in the minority on specific legislative initiatives etc., the situation gets much more complicated. And each party will of course try to use whatever power and influence they can to block or weaken certain legislation proposed by the majority. That's not a bad thing in itself; it just means there is an opposition, which is good. But, ideally, opposition is a good thing because it should, in most cases, lead to compromise, especially on popular legislation.

I'm afraid I would do a poor a job in doing a comparison on that level of the previous Democratic and Republican minorities in congress because something that extensive would be better handled by an expert, or at least someone with more extensive knowledge, on congressional politics. I do want to bring up, however, this article by Matt Taibbi in which Taibbi does some in depth research and analysis of the previous Republican dominated congress. Taibbi starts out his article by pointing out:

To be sure, Congress has always been a kind of muddy ideological cemetery, a place where good ideas go to die in a maelstrom of bureaucratic hedging and rank favor-trading. Its whole history is one long love letter to sleaze, idiocy and pigheaded, glacial conservatism. That Congress exists mainly to misspend our money and snore its way through even the direst political crises is something we Americans understand instinctively. "There is no native criminal class except Congress," Mark Twain said -- a joke that still provokes a laugh of recognition a hundred years later.

This blanket criticism applies, of course, to congress in general and thus to whoever is occupying the majority or minority positions. However, the recent 109th congress, dominated by Republicans while their party also controlled the White House, was something altogether different:

But the 109th Congress is no mild departure from the norm, no slight deviation in an already-underwhelming history. No, this is nothing less than a historic shift in how our democracy is run. The Republicans who control this Congress are revolutionaries, and they have brought their revolutionary vision for the House and Senate quite unpleasantly to fruition. In the past six years they have castrated the political minority, abdicated their oversight responsibilities mandated by the Constitution, enacted a conscious policy of massive borrowing and unrestrained spending, and installed a host of semipermanent mechanisms for transferring legislative power to commercial interests. They aimed far lower than any other Congress has ever aimed, and they nailed their target.

"The 109th Congress is so bad that it makes you wonder if democracy is a failed experiment," says Jonathan Turley, a noted constitutional scholar and the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington Law School. "I think that if the Framers went to Capitol Hill today, it would shake their confidence in the system they created. Congress has become an exercise of raw power with no principles -- and in that environment corruption has flourished. The Republicans in Congress decided from the outset that their future would be inextricably tied to George Bush and his policies. It has become this sad session of members sitting down and drinking Kool-Aid delivered by Karl Rove. Congress became a mere extension of the White House."

Taibbi goes on to provide a lengthy examination of how the Republicans, not only abdicated their oversight responsibilities, but actively did everything they could to limit the role of the opposition (which under what had been the overall historical normal run of things in congress should have produced some meaningful compromise and went some way toward performing congress' overall function), and showed nothing but contempt for and often outright violated normal congressional procedure to an extent that has little precedent in congress' history:

It is no big scoop that the majority party in Congress has always found ways of giving the shaft to the minority. But there is a marked difference in the size and the length of the shaft the Republicans have given the Democrats in the past six years. There has been a systematic effort not only to deny the Democrats any kind of power-sharing role in creating or refining legislation but to humiliate them publicly, show them up, pee in their faces. Washington was once a chummy fraternity in which members of both parties golfed together, played in the same pickup basketball games, probably even shared the same mistresses. Now it is a one-party town -- and congressional business is conducted accordingly, as though the half of the country that the Democrats represent simply does not exist.

American government was not designed for one-party rule but for rule by consensus -- so this current batch of Republicans has found a way to work around that product design. They have scuttled both the spirit and the letter of congressional procedure, turning the lawmaking process into a backroom deal, with power concentrated in the hands of a few chiefs behind the scenes. This reduces the legislature to a Belarus-style rubber stamp, where the opposition is just there for show, human pieces of stagecraft -- a fact the Republicans don't even bother to conceal....

Although cooperation between the two parties has ebbed and flowed over the years, historians note that Congress has taken strong bipartisan action in virtually every administration. It was Sen. Harry Truman who instigated investigations of wartime profiteering under FDR, and Republicans Howard Baker and Lowell Weicker Jr. played pivotal roles on the Senate Watergate Committee that nearly led to Nixon's impeachment.

But those days are gone. "We haven't seen any congressional investigations like this during the last six years," says David Mayhew, a professor of political science at Yale who has studied Congress for four decades. "These days, Congress doesn't seem to be capable of doing this sort of thing. Too much nasty partisanship."
One of the most depressing examples of one-party rule is the Patriot Act. The measure was originally crafted in classic bipartisan fashion in the Judiciary Committee, where it passed by a vote of thirty-six to zero, with famed liberals like Barney Frank and Jerrold Nadler saying aye. But when the bill was sent to the Rules Committee, the Republicans simply chucked the approved bill and replaced it with a new, far more repressive version, apparently written at the direction of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.

"They just rewrote the whole bill," says Rep. James McGovern, a minority member of the Rules Committee. "All that committee work was just for show."

To ensure that Democrats can't alter any of the last-minute changes, Republicans have overseen a monstrous increase in the number of "closed" rules -- bills that go to the floor for a vote without any possibility of amendment. This tactic undercuts the very essence of democracy: In a bicameral system, allowing bills to be debated openly is the only way that the minority can have a real impact, by offering amendments to legislation drafted by the majority.

In 1977, when Democrats held a majority in the House, eighty-five percent of all bills were open to amendment. But by 1994, the last year Democrats ran the House, that number had dropped to thirty percent -- and Republicans were seriously pissed. "You know what the closed rule means," Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida thundered on the House floor. "It means no discussion, no amendments. That is profoundly undemocratic." When Republicans took control of the House, they vowed to throw off the gag rules imposed by Democrats. On opening day of the 104th Congress, then-Rules Committee chairman Gerald Solomon announced his intention to institute free debate on the floor. "Instead of having seventy percent closed rules," he declared, "we are going to have seventy percent open and unrestricted rules."

How has Solomon fared? Of the 111 rules introduced in the first session of this Congress, only twelve were open. Of those, eleven were appropriations bills, which are traditionally open. That left just one open vote -- H. Res. 255, the Federal Deposit Insurance Reform Act of 2005.

In the second session of this Congress? Not a single open rule, outside of appropriation votes. Under the Republicans, amendable bills have been a genuine Washington rarity, the upside-down eight-leafed clover of legislative politics.

(Emphasis mine). This is just a small excerpt from Taibbi's article, but the whole thing is worth reading for a much more in-depth analysis and for the profiles of the Republican congressmen that were voted out in 2006. In his article he makes a good argument that it has not been business as usual in congress (or in our government overall) since Bush has been in office and since the Republican party has largely been in charge.

Thus, the Republicans' continued obstruction is even worse. The post that I pointed to for further explanation in my original post makes the key point that Republicans are obstructing for the sake obstructing as evidenced by the many legislative initiatives they have held up that are immensely popular across the political spectrum and much needed by any objective and even centrist point of view. Furthermore, Republicans have been obstructing meaningful, popular, and much needed legislation as a political strategy and then bragging that their strategy of obstruction is having the purely political effect that they want. There is simply no excuse for this other than putting party and ideology above what's good for the whole country for no good reason and at a time when these reforms are very much needed. This is the kind of thing that makes the Republican party unique these days.

It is also true that the excuse has been made by Dem supporters that the Democrats were limited in what they could do while in the minority. Progressives and Democratic supporters have lamented the fact that we did not have enough numbers to easily block things in the recent past, such as Bush's nominees to the Supreme Court, Roberts and Alito. This is probably the type of criticism that has often been given as a means of explanation by many of the Dem strategists and pundits on a lot of cable news commentary. However, this type of commentary may be a bit misrepresentative of a good deal of criticsim that that has been leveled at the Democrats by their base in recent years. Thus, while I can't really dispute that this kind of explanation is given as to why Democrats have been unable to provide a more meaningful opposition, I want to point out that the majority of the really strident criticism of the Dem's performance prior to 2006 and currently from the progressive base, which I believe is increasingly representative of the views of many Dem supporters across the country (and which is starting to have some real impact on the Democrats), is that the Dems didn't fight hard enough while in the minority (with the Roberts and Alito confirmations, the Patriot Act, and other legislation) to provide a tough and meaningful opposition, even if their efforts would have ended up failing, and that they aren't fighting hard enough even in the majority.

And despite whatever failures the Democrats should be rightly criticized for, any such criticism coming from the Republican party (with very, very few exceptions), especially from Bush given his and the Republican party's performance as a whole since he has been in office, is nothing short of transparently blatant hypocrisy. Bush and the Republican party have ensured that it hasn't been business as usual in our country for long time now, so for Bush to engage in the usual tactics of accusing the majority of not getting things done because they face stiff opposition at this point in the game is bordering on the absurd.

Monday, July 9, 2007

I want to respond to comments left on my previous two posts becuase both comments bring up some valid points.

In response to the first post, "On $400 and Haircuts and Mill Workers" Eric writes:

While I think the media is overplaying Mr. Edward's haircuts, it does seem to point to a potential disconnect between his populous message. When he rails against the fat cats, it is difficult not to see him as one of them. I personally don't care the gentleman spends to have his hair cared for, it is his hair and his money. He has every right to spend it as he sees fit. There are a lot of rich folks that were born 'poor' and worked there way into money, and here is the shocker, they are on both sides of the aisle.

I have to agree with Eric on not caring how Edwards, or any Republican for that matter, spends their money and whether or not they get expensive haircuts. And he is right to point out that there are examples on both sides of the aisle of individuals who came from modest backgrounds and ended up wealthy. I don't have a problem with that either. There are also individuals on both sides of the aisle that were born into money.

Eric also wrote:

when the Republicans get blasted for being the lackeys for Big Business, I find it funny that no one seems to notice that most of the same Big Business folks donate to the other side and often fund their parties.It is extremely naive to believe that politicians on either side actually care for the poor or the working class.

This is also a legitimate point. It's true that a lot of corporate cash flows to both sides. As we saw with the recent K-street incidents and scandals, however, there is a slightly higher amount of money, especially from certain industries, that goes to Republicans (the K-street fiasco was a pretty telling case of how Repubicans were using their ties to big business specifically to keep their party on top and trying to run K-street as a Republican operation using their connections). But the Democrats are also beholden to corporate interests and receive huge amounts of money from big business. That is an issue that is starting to be addressed by many Democrats in congress and one that has been of significant importance to the progressive movement. That is part of the reason that I wanted to highlight Edwards' speech criticizing NAFTA and other Free Trade Deals. Edwards is in the Democratic estabishment, but he is starting to talk seriously about things that need to change, things that, if followed through on by the Democrats in congress and the next president if he or she is a Democrat, would actually help the middle and working classes.

Both parties have been guilty in recent years for doing the bidding of corporate America. We saw this under Bill Clinton and one of the best examples is what Edwards was criticizing--NAFTA. However, there is a movement within the Democratic party and the Democrats in congress to challenge this and make serious reforms. No Republican candidate that I am aware of has made any serious criticisms about corporate money and influence. We are only really beginning to see that on the Democratic side of the aisle.

I pointed out Edwards' recent speech and the field day that the media have been having with his haircut to prove a point. The media doesn't engage in such tactics with respect to Repubicans and yet, not only are none of the Republican candidates proposing any serious reforms vis-a-vis corporate influence, the conservative movement is and always has been about corporate interests, whereas there is a genuine tradition of real populist reforms in the Deomcratic party (FDR being the biggest example). Republicans have also enganged in their own phony populism in the past, and yet, the media seems incapable of challenging the populist image that Republicans have tried to cultivate with the ferocity that they reserve for Democrats. Thus, I don't necessarily agree with Eric's comment that "Mr. Edward's haircuts,...[do] seem to point to a potential disconnect between his populous message." I think the media would like for people to see it that way. But it doesn't matter how much money any candidate has or what they spend on themselves personally, if that candidate is proposing the right reforms and addressing serious economic issues that affect the middle and working classes and if he or she works with the movement for change in these areas that is starting to take shape and influence the Democratic party.

I more or less agree with Eric's comment that "It is extremely naive to believe that politicians on either side actually care for the poor or the working class." Thre is reason to be skeptical of a populist message coming from any source. The Democrats have certainly sold out the working and middle classes in recent decades, so we do have to be careful and increase the pressure on them to match their actions with their words.

However, I pointed out the treatment that Edwards has been receiving to point out that the media wants people to believe that no politician is or can ever be sincere about serious economic reforms. This is self-defeating if we buy into it and it happens again and again with Democrats precisely because, if any serious economic reforms are going to be made, they are going to made by the Democrats and the progressive movment and as a result of the pressure that that movement is putting on the Democrats.

This latest Edwards incident is yet one more example of the media's penchant for going after Democrats in ways they do not go after Republicans, especially when it comes to issues related to economic reforms and to class. Paperwight's Fair Shot describes exactly what is happening here with Edwards and the media in the following post, discussing what is often referred to as the "class traitor" phenomenon, as it has been exemplified in situations involving other Democrats:

According to No More Mister Nice Blog, some wingnuts are now whining about how rich Barack Obama is. I noticed that they did this with Kerry and Edwards, and George Soros, and are doing it with Nancy Pelosi. I continue to be fascinated that they don't whine about how rich the Bushes are, or how rich all of the funders of the Right Wing Noise Machine are, or the eighteen wealthy families who spent millions on tearing down the estate tax to save themselves billions. But I think I understand it: wealthy liberals are class traitors.

See, one has to understand that one of the key characteristics of wingnuttery (and I'm beginning to believe, conservatism in general) is an absolute lack of empathy. So, all of the wingnuts are all cool with the super-rich acting in the most venal and self-interested ways, because that's what all the wingnuts would do....

When someone has a fair bit of money* but actually looks beyond themselves, and worse, might actually engage in some structural change that allows regular people to have decent lives without prostrating themselves before the ruling classes (see, e.g., wingnut welfare), well, those people must be destroyed. They undermine the wingnut worldview of unalloyed 24 carat selfishness as the primary human condition.

They are class traitors.

(Emphasis mine) That pretty much sums up, in my opinion, the central difference between the Democratic party and the progressive movement on one hand and the Republican party and the conservative movement on the other and the respective treatment that candidates in each party receive with regard to the class they belong to and the images the media helps to create v. their actual positions on specific issues. So, while I do agree with Eric that it is niave to believe either party really cares about the middle and working classes (we shouldn't just take the Democrats, or the Republicans for that matter, on their word), but that doesn't mean that we should not believe that there are politicians out there who will, especially if given support and pressured, live up to many of the reforms that are part of that populist message. That's why we have to pay attention to what candidates are saying with regard to specific issues such as Free Trade and, if we vote them into office, hold them accountable if they do not live up to what they say. This is also why we should see the media's obsession with Edwards' haircut and the "elistist" image of the Democrats, an image that the media is always more than happy to reinforce and never question against an examination of the specific issues, for what it is.