Saturday, April 30, 2005

In Defense of Atheism

This may come back to bite me, which is unfortunate. But I got into rant and rave mode after reading this article on Salon today, an interview with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, finally finding someone who spoke to my own heart about the subject. I find it really hard to speak of my own personal non-religious convictions without feeling like I'm personally offending others, which disheartens me greatly. So I won't talk about it.

What I do want to pose as a serious question though, is can I be "out" as an atheist and go into politics later in life? Everyone else interested in politics gets to be out with their spiritual convictions: Catholic, Jewish, Evangelical, Baptist and on down the line. But would I ever be able to go to meeting on Sunday afternoon and talk about my atheist principles and why I still value life. Religious groups have the priveledge of meeting and talking about their beliefs, values, how they view life, the universe, and everything. I have beliefs and values. I have strong and deep moral convictions that are based in my complete amazement about my priveledge to be in existence right now. But if I were to label myself as an atheist, and have meetings with other atheists to talk about this, and maybe call our group something with the name atheist or anything else that implied non-God believer in the title, I'm going to be blunt here no one in this country would ever vote for me.
Some scientists say that removing religion or God from their life would leave it meaningless, that it's God that gives meaning to life.

"Unweaving the Rainbow" specifically attacks the idea that a materialist, mechanist, naturalistic worldview makes life seem meaningless. Quite the contrary, the scientific worldview is a poetic worldview, it is almost a transcendental worldview. We are amazingly privileged to be born at all and to be granted a few decades -- before we die forever -- in which we can understand, appreciate and enjoy the universe. And those of us fortunate enough to be living today are even more privileged than those of earlier times. We have the benefit of those earlier centuries of scientific exploration. Through no talent of our own, we have the privilege of knowing far more than past centuries. Aristotle would be blown away by what any schoolchild could tell him today. That's the kind of privileged century in which we live. That's what gives my life meaning. And the fact that my life is finite, and that it's the only life I've got, makes me all the more eager to get up each morning and set about the business of understanding more about the world into which I am so privileged to have been born.


I'd never heard of Richard Dawkins before reading this article. And his speech on religion influences me more than his ideas on evolutionary biology. What I decided after reading this is that I want to have a club, and I think it sucks that I can't. Is there a solution to this in our political culture? Or should I crawl back under the covers and hope no one reads this when I'm 30 and thinking about running for office?

P.S. I don't agree with everything Dawkins says, but I do commiserate with many of his ideas. I think its sad that we are not teaching evolution in some schools. The comment on why I can't be "out" - from my PoliSci 2 class last quarter, American Politics, in which the professor showed a poll which said only 46% of the population would ever vote for and Atheist. Compared to the over 79% for EVERY OTHER RELIGION. Mormons have 79%, Atheists 44%. Nothing against mormons, but that's just not fair!! (Source 1998 and 1999 Figures, Public Opinion Quarterly, Winter 1999.)

Senate Representation

The GOP likes to tout the fact that they have a majority in both chambers of Congress. They also like to suggest that this gives them a mandate. But this deserves more scrutiny. As Mario Cuomo reminds us, the GOP claims of a mandate "[S]ounds nearly absurd when you learn that the minority Democrats in the Senate actually represent more Americans than the majority Republicans do."

What if we weight a Senator's vote based on the amount of people they represent. If that's the case, would the GOP really want an up or down vote on ANYTHING they propose? I'd like to see an analysis by someone that goes over some of the more contentious bills and applies a weighting based on representation and see how many votes would have turned out differently.

Bush As Robin Hood?

One of two posts today. (Sorry!)

I read this and was aghast:
Democrats like to portray Mr. Bush as King George or Marie Antoinette. But on Thursday night, when he promised to improve benefits for the poor while limiting them for everyone else, he sounded more like Robin Hood, especially when he rhapsodized about poor people getting a chance to build up assets that they could pass along to their children.
Is he really serious? I mean poverty has increased under Bush's watch. Medicaid is getting slashed, education is getting slashed, more and more people are lacking health insurance. Oh yeah, the free loader estate tax cut and other tax cuts are giving the well off even more. Robin Hood...but in reverse.

In the article Tierney seems to claim that S.S. isn't as good as people say because there are still elderly in poverty. Seems as though reducing elderly poverty by two-thirds isn't really that good.

Has anyone read, "People's History of the United States"? It is filled with examples of the well off pitting the middle class against the poor. That seems exactly what this Tierney guy--and the Administration--seems to be doing. In Bush's scheme, the middle class will get screwed as far as gauranteed benefits. The poor won't really be better off than they are now, however. And if you start indexing on inflation instead of wages, then it's possible that even they won't do as well.

Creative wordsmiths can't obfuscate the facts. The big winners in this scheme will be the well off. I'll save that discussion for another time (but take a look at "Perfectly Legal" by David Cay Johnston).

Friday, April 29, 2005

Bush Just a Diversion

While I was helping draft a response to Bush's little "press" conference ("Can I call you stretch?"), I think I figured out what the point of the little episode was: Distracting from the recently passed budget. It passed the ultraconservative house by only 3 votes and 4 in the Senate. (I'm giving Mr. Joementum the benefit of the doubt and assuming he'd have voted against it.) Here's the first paragraph from the Times:
The House and Senate broke a lengthy impasse over federal spending Thursday night, narrowly adopting a $2.56 trillion federal budget for 2006 that aims to trim the growth of Medicaid by $10 billion over five years, add $106 billion in tax cuts and clear the way for oil drilling in an Alaskan wildlife refuge.

I'll bottle my rage up for the moment...Quoth DeLay:
Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority leader, called the spending plan " the best since the historic Balanced Budget Act of 1997."

"This is the budget the American people voted for when they returned a Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Republican president to the White House last November."

Come now, is this really what the American people wanted:
But because the conference agreement also calls for substantial new tax cuts and increases in funding for defense and international programs, the budget resolution would increase deficits over the next five years by $168 billion, compared with the deficits the Congressional Budget Office estimates would occur if there were no changes in policies.

If you've seen episode 2F22 of The Simpsons, I feel kind of like Milhouse when his Shelbyville doppleganger says "radical", but maybe a little less dramatic. And partly because it's passed my bedtime.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

[Non]Sensenbrenner

It's not nice to make personal attacks. But, via Kevin, this tidbit on GOP rewriting of Democratic amendments to CIANA is pretty absurd:

DEMS: a Nadler amendment to exempt a grandparent or adult sibling from the criminal and civil provisions in the bill (no 12-19)
GOP REWRITE: . Mr. Nadler offered an amendment that would have exempted sexual predators from prosecution under the bill if they were grandparents or adult siblings of a minor. By a roll call vote of 12 yeas to 19 nays, the amendment was defeated.
...
DEMS: a Scott amendment to exempt cab drivers, bus drivers and others in the business transportation profession from the criminal provisions in the bill (no 13-17):
GOP REWRITE. Mr. Scott offered an amendment that would have exempted sexual predators from prosecution if they are taxicab drivers, bus drivers, or others in the business of professional transport. By a roll call vote of 13 yeas to 17 nays, the amendment was defeated.

Here's a little back and forth featuring Rep. James Sensenbrenner:

"Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who authored the panel's report, defended its language, saying the Democratic amendments would not have specifically excluded child molesters from protections.

"Perhaps these amendments were not properly drafted by the authors when they were submitted in the committee," Sensenbrenner told the House. "That's not the fault of the majority, that's the fault of the people who drafted the amendment." "

To which Rep. Nadler replied:

"Under CIANA, a father who rapes and impregnates his own daughter can go and sue the doctor or the grandparent or the clergyman who transported his child across state lines for the purpose of getting an abortion. Maybe that wasn’t exactly the intent of this legislation. But according to the descriptive guidelines now laid out by the majority, it would therefore be fair to call this entire bill the Rapists and Sexual Predators Right to Sue Act."

How wonderful it must be to work in Washington these days.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

A little bit of good news from Washington...

A little victory every now and then for democracy is always encouraging. You've got to love these headlines:

USA Today: "GOP retreats in DeLay dispute"
NY Times: "GOP Will Relent on Ethics Rules"
Washington Post: "Hastert willing to repeal ethics rules"

Soon, pundits across the country will write articles attributing the GOP "flip-flop" to the hard work of some daring tablers and letter writers at Stanford University...

OK, maybe not, but it couldn't have hurt.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

New wave of nativism

Perhaps blame this post on my masochistic habit of routinely watching Fox News and CNN, but I've been noticing a scary trend recently. The past few times I've turned on one of these channels stories about the dangers of "illegals" have jumped out at me. Maybe this has struck a certain chord because my grandmother was a Mexican immigrant. Though she was a "legal", if we are going to use those terms, I'm sure her presence would not be embraced by a large percentage of people in this country (both now and then). The hateful rhetoric that's occurred on these programs has struck a nerve of my heritage not ususally felt. Is this trend of anti-immigration growing in our country, as the population of Latinos in our country is?
What bugs me the most has been the habit of news stations to present illegal immigrants as a burden on our economy, costing our nation millions of dollars. Criminals, tax evader, alcoholic, baby-making, leeches on our society- all sucking away good American tax payer dollars. I would ask people making these accusations what this country (especially this state) would look like without Mexican immigrants (or any other type for that matter). Our economy to a large part is dependent on this cheap labor. In Eric Schlosser's book Reefer Madness he dissects 3 areas of the underground economy in our nation. I don't have the book on me, so I won't quote it, but he brings up the trend in our country of the wealthy to scapegoat the powerless for any economic challenges going on. Can any of these news commentators imagine one day bent over strawberry fields for minimum wages with no job security? They complain of immigrant children receiving an education in our schools. Is this the what the spirit of our American democracy has become?
No lo creo...

Broadening the Debate

I woke up to a treat this morning on Democracy Now as Amy was interviewing Jim Wallis, author of "God's Politics", and one of my new heros. I recommend taking about 20 minutes or so listening to the interview or reading the book. (The interview gives you the gist of the book, which unfortunately could have used a little more editing. Still good though.) By the way, for the John Stewert fans, you can also find Jim Wallis on the Daily Show. (Religious or rabid secularist, you should listen to what Wallis has to say before blowing him off. I've talked to too many liberals who roll their eyes when I mention the title of his book.)

I bring this up because at the Dems meeting last night we seemed to be focused too narrowly on what a culture of life really is. As Wallis points out, the group of religious people at "Justice Sunday" are decrying the filibuster even though it's NEVER mentioned in the [Christian] Bible. What you will find, about 3,000 times, are references to poverty and social justice. Imagine someone telling you that you'll go to hell if you don't help the poor and the sick. Then read Matthew 25 (verse 31-45).

I know people get uncomfortable around religion and that's fine. But there is plenty of "progressive" legislation that Democrats and progressives should be working with religious people on. Take a look at the Jubilee initiatives, the great work done for detained immigrants/refugees at churches like Riverside or groups like Sojourners. Even if these people are Republican, it doesn't mean we shouldn't try to get positive legislation passed in the midst of all the bad stuff going on.

It's silly to push aside allies because they have religious convictions--and I've already encountered that amoung certain people involved in the Democratic Party. Remember the civil rights movement, woman's suffrage, child labor and abolition? Religious people were on the front lines of those struggles along with areligious people--and stuff got done. The biggest ally we had against the invasion of Iraq was the church but Democrats pushed them away. That doesn't mean you have to break down the wall between church and state. As a matter of fact, most serious religious people I know--of all faiths--are strong supporters of that barrier. Dobson, Perkins and Falwell DO NOT speak for all people of faith.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The World I Wish I Didn't Know

This is scary:
At least four of the two dozen or so U.S. delegates selected for the meeting, sources tell TIME, have been bumped by the White House because they supported John Kerry's 2004 campaign.
...
The White House admits as much: "We wanted people who would represent the Administration positively, and--call us nutty--it seemed like those who wanted to kick this Administration out of town last November would have some difficulty doing that," says White House spokesman Trent Duffy.

This made me cry:

Here in impoverished southeast Missouri, nurses at a family health clinic stash drug samples for patients they know won't be able to afford their prescriptions after their coverage is eliminated this summer.
...
Rather than raise costs for minimum-wage clerks, Skaggs suggests increasing insurance premiums for lawmakers who get health coverage through the state. He recently introduced a measure that would have cost the average politician $115 a month — the measure failed on a close vote.

"That made a complete mockery of the idea that leaders sacrifice first," Skaggs said. "Times are tough, but not so tough that we have to sacrifice?"
...
"If they take it away from me, I'll just go downhill," Sevic said. "I won't be here much longer. It's that plain and simple." Eyes weary, she said she thought she deserved better: "If you get out and try, really try to make a living, the government ought to step in and help you."
...
"I've worked all my life," Bostic said. "I've paid my taxes. And now, when I get down and out, they don't want to help me."

I really feel dirty after reading this article. I'm worried about having enough money to go on a vacation while others just want dentures, life saving medication, or medical treatment. The last sentence sums up the antithesis of my view: That's as it should be, lawmaker Stefanick said. "Once you put a benefit out there, reining it in is not easy," she said. "But it is the responsible thing to do."

Is leaving these vulnerable people to fend for themselves really "responsible" or even moral?

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Letter to the editor in the Economist

"The continued focus on the role of intelligence services in Iraq is bordering on the farcical. It is the same as accusing the Third Reich's intelligence services of sexing up the Polish dossier and blaming the second world war on them."
Pedro Santos, Brussels

More cracks in the conservative coalition...

The impending nuclear war on the floor of the Senate is highlighting more rifts in the conservative coalition.

Religious conservatives keep putting the pressure on Bill "2008" Frist to pull through on getting Republicans appointed to federal judgeships (i.e.--threatening to torpedo his bid for the nomination unless he delivers). But business leaders are wary of the spectre of nuclear fallout blocking all progress on THEIR priorities, and as such are either carefully being neutral on the issue, or quietly urging Republican leaders to slow down.
Party officials concede that the tension between business leaders and social conservatives could foreshadow problems for Republican candidates in 2006 and
2008 who, like Bush, will rely on an energized and unified base to win closely fought contests.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Ending The Rubber Stamp With Bolton

We've all read that Colin Powell has misgivings about Bolton and former South Korean ambassadorThomas Hubbard doesn't think Bolton is telling the truth. But now Sen. Lisa Murkowski is apparently having misgivings as well. Throw in Hagel, Chafee, and Voinovich and there is clearly dwindling support.

Who cares? Well, I think this is great evidence for the Democrats to continue fighting Bolton. Furthermore, this can be used by Democrats to fight the nuclear option to directly challenge Bush and Co.'s credibility. They rushed us into war with little debate, rushed in tax cuts that were believed to be dangerous and a whole slew of other things. This is a pattern. They want to rush their agenda on the country without debate. That has gotten us into a lot of trouble. Do we want to trust Bush on anything he tries to rush through? Given the track record, should we?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Filibuster This

I know, I talk too much as it is. But Jim Wallis discusses Bill Frist's latest attempt to push the nuclear option on the country from a spiritual perspective:
Despite the fact that Democrats oppose these judges for their views on a variety of subjects, conservative leaders have singled out abortion and gay marriage as their chief concerns and only want judges who support their agenda. Despite the fact that many Democrats who oppose some of President Bush's nominees are themselves people of faith, Republicans and their religious supporters are questioning the faith and religious integrity of their opponents.

That is an escalation of the religious/political war. And the two together sound like assertions of a Republican theocracy. Behind these activities lies a fundamental assumption by Republican operatives and their conservative religious allies that they own religion in America. They demand that religious people vote only their way. They claim that "values voters" in America belong to them, and they disrespect the faith of those who disagree with their agenda. There are better words for this than just "politically divisive" or "morally irresponsible." For these are not merely political offenses, they are religious ones. And for offenses such as these, theological terms are better - terms such as idolatry and blasphemy.
We should bring our religious convictions about all moral issues to the public square - such as the uplifting of the poor, the protection of the environment, the ethics of war, or the tragic number of abortions in America - without attacking the sincerity of other people's faith, or demanding that we should win because we are religious. We must make moral arguments and mobilize effective movements for social change that can powerfully persuade our fellow citizens, religious or not, on what is best for the common good.

Not all religious people are right-wing fanatics and progressives do a great injustice--and a politically foolish thing--when they lump all of them together. If you are a secularist and hate what's going on with the GOP and "religion", imagine how much more offensive it is to be a spiritual person and have to watch these people exploit religion for personal gain.

Heritage Foundation: Still Tax Exempt?

Positive: Public schools Rock!
---

Oh so much to talk about, but why not point out some more of DeLay's skethy behavior? Over at Stakeholder they point out a connection between Tom DeLay and the right-wing Heritage Foundation.
Frances Hill, director of the graduate tax program at the University of Miami and tax program director at the Campaign Legal Center, said the interconnections revealed by the Malaysia trip raise questions about Heritage's tax-exempt status.

Nonprofits must be careful that their business activities do not compromise that status, she said. "How does this [for-profit] activity advance the exempt purpose of the exempt organization?" Hill said. "The organization has to show what the answer to that is quite rationally."

The House Ways and Means Committee is in the process of evaluating whether the rapidly expanding tax-exempt sector is being exploited for personal enrichment. The committee has scheduled a Wednesday hearing on the broad topic of non-profits. The activities of the Heritage Foundation were not on the published agenda, but a Democratic aide said the minority party "will have an opportunity to ask about this to nonpartisan experts" at the hearing.

While you're at it, check out House of Scandal

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Do we want a rubber stamp government?

First, a great court case that I believe made the country better: Brown v Board of Education. "Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments....We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place."
---
Topic of the day: making sure to win the debate. Kai appropriately points out the importance of framing the S.S. debate. Equally as important is anticipating what the right-wing is going to try to do and beat them to the point. I want draw attention to the role of Congress because there is a Debate we can probably exploit. If you've been paying attention lately, every conservative has been saying that we need to let Bush choose his nominees (judicial, cabinet) with little or no debate and very little consensus (i.e. no Democratic support is needed.) Here's a quote from Condi Rice: "The president deserves to have the person at the U.N. that he thinks best to carry out this job." This is what all all the conservatives are saying.

The big issue I have is whether or not Congress is a rubber stamp for whatever the president wants. I won't consider the fact that Democratic Senators represent more constituents than their GOP collegues--that's a tecnicality. "Conservatives" are even trying to get the judiciary--which has more GOP appointees than Democratic appointees--to be a rubber stamp. Is this a form of Government we truly want? I think Democrats ought to start raising this issue. They are calling it the "arrogant abuse of power" which is true, but I see something much more sinister lurking in their rhetoric of late, regardless of the GOP intention. This is an issue that needs to be confronted and discussed more before it gets out of hand.

I do believe that the President should have a great deal of leeway in chosing his appointments, but our three branch government was designed specifically to have checks and balances. It's only natural that we would question bad candidates--what would have happened had we quickly rubber stamped Bernard Kerik? According to conservatives, we should have immediately allowed him to head up the Dept. of Homeland Security (because the GOP would have most likely rubber stamped him on a party line "up or down" vote).

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

General Motors, Mired in the Past

The New York Times reports that GM is facing a huge loss this quarter and won't even bother to make revenue projections for future quarters.

This just after its shameful retaliation against the LA Times for its great reporting on GM's basket-case corporate decisionmaking. For example:

GM utterly missed the boat on hybrid gas-electric technology and lobbied Congress not to raise fuel-economy standards on the grounds that meeting higher standards would divert funds from critical research in the ultimate propulsion technology, hydrogen fuel cells — an argument that, shall we say, lacks authenticity. Today, GM has no hybrids of consequence on the street, while rivals Toyota and Honda are selling as many as they can build.

As part of a product reorganization, GM announced last month that it would speed up development of new SUVs and trucks in the pipeline and slow-walk development of rear-wheel-drive Zeta car projects. So, let's see: At a time when SUV sales are cliff-diving, GM proposes to speed up big SUV development and 86 the mid-size, rear-drive future products?


It sucks that corporations try to influence major newspapers' reporting on their decisions, but it's not new. Hopefully this will ignite a media firestorm that will show GM and others that this is a bad PR strategy.

And in the meantime, if they're interested in turning around those revenues, how about looking toward the future -- hybrid cars and fuel efficient technologies -- rather than focusing on busting unions, lobbying against the future, and building ever-heavier, less-fuel-efficient cars.

Reframing Social Security

Shyam Ravindran wrote a great article in the latest Stanford Progressive entitiled Reframing the Social Security Debate. Main point: Social Security is an insurance program, not a savings program. Nobody talks about the rate of return you get on your car insurance.

It's fantastic to see some discipline among the congressional Democrats -- we've won on Social Security and it looks like we're winning on the "nuclear option." All it takes is a little discipline on message.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Importance of Positive Government

I thought I'd try to precipitate a series of positive posts. I'll start off by mentioning one of the reasons I proudly consider myself a Democrat: The Civil Rights Act. Here are a couple of snippets:

An Act

To enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States to provide injunctive relief against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the Attorney General to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, and for other purposes.


Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act may be cited as the "Civil Rights Act of 1964".

...

SEC. 201. (a) All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.

...

SEC. 601. No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

...

SEC. 703. (a) It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer--


(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or


(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Cold Dead Hands

The picture and the quote can be found here.

“When a man is in trouble or in a good fight, you want to have your friends around, preferably armed." - Tom DeLay



Ted Nugent urged NRA members to be “hardcore, radical extremists demanding the right to self defense” and to work daily to recruit new members.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Taxes Part II

I was looking up some data on R&D funding in the latest budget and stumbled across some startling numbers at the OMB website. The figure comes from the OMB's budget tables. It shows the projected effect if the Bush Tax Cuts economic stimulus package is made permanent (numbers in billions of dollars, larger image can be viewed here:



Notice the rather large increase from the 2006-2010 totals to the 2010-2015 totals. I'll just highlight a few of the numbers. If you calculate the difference between 2010 and 2015 Dividend tax cuts, you average a loss of $17,000,000,000 each year from 2011-2015. If you do the same for the free loader cut estate tax relief, you get about $50,000,000,000 of lost revenue each year. I won't even touch the "marginal" tax rates, that's easy enough (and it makes up 50% of the total tax revenues that will disappear).

I'm all for fixing problems with tax rates for married people, providing child tax credits, education credits and helping small business, but some of these are insane. Medicare is expecting about a $900 billion shortfall in the next decade. Here's my simple minded proposal: repeal the entire tax cut but double the small business incentive, increase the child tax credit by about 50%, and keep the marriage, education, and children/families credits. That's if we don't fix the Medicare bill to allow negotiations with pharma companies.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

DeLiar

This is blatantly plagarized from dailykos, but I thought it was worth everyone seeing it.
So DeLay did an interview with various Washington Times reporters. He talked about such issues as recent Republican divergence from small government and ethical improprieties Mr. DeLay has engaged in. Despite most of the horrendously misrepresentative drivel that escaped from his mouth one telling line was included. When asked
Mr. Hurt: Have you ever crossed the line of ethical behavior in terms of dealing with lobbyists, your use of government authority or with fundraising?

He responded
Mr. DeLay: Ever is a very strong word.

Um...wrong answer.
This is the man whom the American people are supposed to be trusting to lead the fight for changes in House Ethics. Wow, that sounds like the voice of leadership we can trust and be proud of.

Nuclear Option Update

Word is Republicans are getting worried that they're losing the public relations war over Senate filibusters and are huddling to plan a way to fight back. Harry Reid's PR "War Room" (modeled after the Clinton '92 campaign War Room) has done a great job of defining the issue. Simply his success in getting the media to continually refer to the plan as "the nuclear option" demonstrates that he's made some key inroads in an area Democrats have consistently struggled with--defining the language.

Give 'em hell, Harry.

Taxes and Responsible Government

Ah, tax day is approaching. I personally just sent out my 1040A and 540A along with my 1040ES and 540ES--along with several checks. Every year since I've started filing my taxes, I have a moment or two of reflection and think what my tax dollars are contributing to.

The first thing that comes to my mind is public schooling--I wouldn't be where I am today without it. The military, police and firefighters keep me safe to the point I take my safety for granted and rarely think about it during the course of the day--thanks people. The NIH (which paid me for several years) and NSF push the frontiers of science and technology in a way that private companies never will. Interstates, seaports, airports and air space allow the transfer of goods and keeps the economy going--an often overlooked subsidization to corporate America. The VA and veterans benefits provide our disabled heros with medical care and services--of which my 100% disabled father benefits from every day. Medicare helps my grandmother afford medical care, along with millions of other people.

The list goes on, but I wanted to highlight Social Security. Yes, I have a family member who benefits from survivor payments and am a bit biased. But that's not what I want to highlight here. I'd like to focus on how S.S. contributed to the reduction of elderly poverty. Englehardt and Gruber analyzed the data and came to the following conclusion:

Fourth, we document a major causal role of Social Security in driving these time series patterns. Increases in Social Security generosity over time are strongly negatively associated with changes in poverty.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words:


So as Congress fixes to get rid of the tax on hand-me-down money, I'll still be happy to know that my money, more or less, will contribute a lot to the betterment of society. And to answer the conservatives who ask why I wouldn't want to take control of my own money instead of putting it into Social Security: Because it WORKS! I'm happy to do my part because we are all in this together.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Beating Arnold

Today, Kai mentions five tasks Dems must perform to beat Arnold. First, what I agree with:

  • First, they must make the case against Schwarzenegger.
  • Second, Democrats need to reestablish trust with the taxpayer. (Though I think the failure of Prop. 55 to pass also had a lot to do with Arnold promoting it and the uneven allocation of resources against the measure as opposed to for it. Saying this is a mandate against the trust in Democrats is probably a stronger statement than I would give to it. The propoganda campaign against it was extremely misleading. Many well informed people I knew were unsure about this measure before I had to straighten up some of the misperceptions.)
  • Third, they must make a positive case for government.

I think the first and third should be viewed as the same thing. Schwarzenegger is an anti-Government Republican--or at least a "small government" Republican. Don't forget, Schwarzenegger Republicans are Bush Republicans who call themselves Schwarzenegger Republicans. We need to ask why that is the case. But we must not forget to talk about how positive government can be when it's responsible. Californians are irate because of the failure of Schwarzenegger to stand by Prop. 98--which funds a government program.

OK, the last two I'm not convinced with. Here's why.
Fourth, Democrats must embrace political reform. The current system of gerrymandered districts guarantees a legislative majority, but it’s a toothless majority because the voters don’t trust the Democrats to pass laws. This does not take into account some research that tests the gerrymandering hypothesis:

In general, redistricting had a minor impact on the competitiveness of House districts in each of the last three redistricting cycles. Instead, the most significant changes in the competitiveness of House districts occurred between redistricting cycles. This evidence is consistent with the partisan polarization hypothesis. As a result of population movement, immigration, and ideological realignment within the electorate, Republicans are increasingly surrounded by other Republicans and Democrats by other Democrats. This trend has been evident since the 1970s, but it appears to have accelerated in recent years. Between 1992 and 2004, the number of marginal districts fell from 157 to 112 while the number of safe districts rose from 156 to 208.

I agree that we should get an independent committee to do redistricting, but now's not the time. If we allow people to change the districts between census cycles, that opens the door to allowing governors to do it whenever they want. That's mess and impractical, not to mention the lack of evidence for redistricting having much impact on competition (Steve Poizner was close in a "safe" district because he put in millions of his own money.) Plus, there is even less evidence that the lack of trust in Dems is why things can't get done in Sacramento. The Republicans stall the process to make Democrats look bad--that's politics. Let's tell it like it is and quit being apologists. If you have 5 more GOP Senators and 5 less Dems, the situation won't change--consider how conservative the States' GOP legislators really are.

Fifth, Democrats must be willing to buck organized labor. Labor is an integral piece of the Democratic philosophy. This country owes a great deal to labor unions: helping to end child labor, decent work hours, safer work environments, etc. Labor is making a comeback. If you take a look at recent polling, big business is seen more cynically than labor. Teachers unions have been instrumental in dismantling Schwarzenegger's popularity. (Incidentally, they also helped generate it.)

Having worked on both sides of the labor-management divide, I can say labor unions are great--I had health care and safe working conditions because of them. But they do need extensive reform. The whole keeping a bad teacher anecdote is unfair and disengenious at best. That doesn't mean the union doesn't make things difficult--I'd like to get teacher certified when I finish my PhD, but I can't unless I go to an accredited Education school or go through a lot of red tape; my PhD is pretty worthless for teaching.

Unions need to be more willing to work with management, but management needs to work with and for the workers. A better relationship will make government and the economy better. But building up strong unions in the right way will help lead to a new Democratic majority. We can't afford to "buck" them too easily--nor should we want to. The one class that changed my life forever was a Labor history course. It gave me such a deep appreciation for America's workers that I don't think I can ever abandon.

Incidentally, I think we need to call Schwarzenegger by his last name and NOT his first. Nor should we resort to name calling--I've been as guilty as anyone.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

If you can't take the heat . . .

If you've been close attention to politics recently, you may have noticed a whiff of nostalgia in the air for those heady, revolutionary days of 1994, when the Democrats lost 56 House seats and nine Senate seats, enough to lose both chambers. The President and Congress are both rapidly losing popularity. The ruling party is backing away from an ambitious plan to revamp our social safety net. Congressional leaders are being slammed for being drunk with power and abusing their majority status. There is a distinct, pungent aroma of corruption around powerful members of the House majority. This time, of course, Bill Clinton is Bush, Speaker Tom Foley and Sen. Maj. Leader George Mitchell are Dennis Hastert and Bill Frist, HillaryCare is private accounts, and DeLay is a million different corrupt, venal roles. Hell, as if the deja vu were insufficient as it is, Newt Gingrich seems to be running for President (to which we as a nation are collectively saying "Uh, what?")

So the inheritors of the 1994 revolution, the current GOP leaders, now struggle to keep the revolution from succumbing to its own excesses. What can they do? Do they push DeLay overboard, as Eric mentions below Rep. Shays has tried to start the movement toward? Do they bail on their attack on Social Security? The White House seems to be seriously flirting with both of these options. Whether those would be enough to patch up the holes in the ship remains to be seen.

But, of course, Tom DeLay isn't exactly down with being pushed out. The man holds on to power like a termite refusing to leave a house. Movement conservative leaders have recently started warning that any member who doesn't support DeLay will not enjoy the fullest right-wing support come 2006. So what's his plan for both staying caucus leader and making sure his caucus is the majority? Well, he's back to the old fallback of running against judges, of course (and the liberal media). He's more or less calling for the impeachment of ideologically unacceptable judges. Meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas is saying that terrorism against judges comes from their "activism." Right, John, because it's judicial philosophy that crazed killers care about. The basic question here is how long will the same strategy work? How much do people actually give a damn about "activist judges," and how much do they buy GOP arguments about them in the wake of the Schiavo fight? To mix two of Harry Truman's metaphors, the GOP strategy seems to be "If you can't take the heat, pass the buck." Will it work? What do you think?

Filibustering compromise

I know, I know, it's been awhile. But now I've done two posts in like 5 minutes, so it's all good. I keep having things I want to post, but then either get very distracted or discover someone has already posted about it (which is good :-) ). Also, I've been avoiding talking about Tom DeLay, because I'm kind of hoping he survives long enough for us to beat him in '06. (I'm really a much more cynical person than I might otherwise appear...)

A couple of interesting articles from Ron Brownstein:

First, good news on the filibuster front from the state where it may soon be legal to carry concealed weapons in bars (that's right, it's my home state...ah, Arizona...perhaps more about that latter issue in another post...) . Every Democrat's favorite Republican, Sen. John McCain, who had been wavering on the issue, has decided that he is opposed to the "nuclear option." McCain gets today's award for being a rational, reasonable Republican.

Secondly, Brownstein has an analysis piece that talks about, among other things, the possible impending Senate showdown on the filibuster. But more broadly, Brownstein observes the way in which President Bush has completed flaunted the idea of forming any useful compromise coalition. He observes, accurately, I think, that Bush's perfect margin of victory is 51-49. He has no interest in "uniting," he simply wants to pass as conservative an agenda as is possible. Before, that invariably meant attracting a few Democrats to his proposal. But even then, it wasn't a genuine attempt at bipartisanship--it was simply political reality. Now that Republicans have a solid Senate majority, he has no interest in any more Democratic votes than he needs to break a filibuster. Bush fundamentally DOESN'T care that his approval rating is in the forties, by Brownstein's analysis. But Brownstein seems to subtly imply that this whole strategy might ultimately bite him in the ass. Bush may not care about his approval ratings, but his own party does. It doesn't take a Stanford political science undergrad to know that ruling a one-party government, pushing as far to the right as possible, will inevitably lead to fractures within the GOP. If Bush insists on winning 51-49, then America will continue to be a 51-49 country as more and more moderate Republicans start jumping ship...

Newt '08? If wishing made it so...

There's increasing buzz around the possibility of good ole' Newt Gingrich running for President in '08. Make no mistake, I mean this as GOOD news...

The truth is, Rudolph Guiliani will never win the nomination. Alan Alda's impressive showing on The West Wing notwithstanding, the Republicans will never nominate a pro-choicer. Period. If they did, they'd lose because AT LEAST a good 20% of their base would either stay at home, or would vote for a third party candidate. It'd be a pretty messed up final electoral college map, to be sure, but Guiliani will lose. Similarly, George Pataki will never be nominated, and probably not Mitt Romney either (he's pro-life, but he's from Massachusetts so he's done).

What we're left with is some "moderates" of the John McCain mold (if not McCain himself, maybe Chuck Hagel, etc.) and the Gingrich archconservatives (it took a lot of effort for me to avoid using the word "fascist") . But here's the fundamental problem for the Republicans in '08. The Democrats will have been out of power for 8 years, more or less desperate to get back in and willing to nominate more or less anyone who can win. As much as I (and pinkos like me) might be ambivalent about it, the Democrats will not nominate a Howard Dean, they will nominate a Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, in '08 the Republican party is going to be wondering why the hell they've been in power for 8 years while (hopefully) Roe still stands, the income tax hasn't been repealed, and Washington, DC hasn't been renamed Reganland. So there will be a fight of more or less epic proportions between the Gingriches and the McCains. Ironically, they'll both spend the entire campaign trying to seem more like the other (i.e.--the conservatives will try to seem more mainstream and vice-versa).

Anyway, that article I linked to above quotes several House Republicans very skeptical about the possibility of McCain or Guiliani. They wax poetic about Gingrich's rule: “Apart from Ronald Reagan, there has been no voice more clarion in the conservative movement than Newt Gingrich in the last 25 years.” "He's a visionary and a big thinker."

Perhaps I'm being cocky and overly optimistic. But if there are any Republicans out there reading, please, PLEASE nominate Newt. You know you want to....

Monday, April 11, 2005

Polling Update

An Associated Press poll released today holds more bad news for Bush. His job approval rating has fallen (again), as have his approval ratings in EVERY MAJOR ISSUE both foreign and domestic:

1. Generally speaking, would you say things in this country are heading in the right direction, or are they off on the wrong track?

-Right direction: 38% (40% last month)
-Wrong track: 56% (55% last month)

2. Overall, do you approve, disapprove or have mixed feelings about the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?

-Approve: 44% (47% last month)
-Disapprove: 55% (50% last month)

3. And when it comes to the economy, do you approve or disapprove or have mixed feelings about the way George W. Bush is handling that issue?

-Approve: 41% (48% last month)
-Disapprove: 55% (50% last month)

4. Domestic issues (health care, education, environment, energy):

-Approve: 38% (44% last month)
-Disapprove: 57% (53% last month)

5. Foreign policy issues and the war on terrorism:

-Approve: 49% (52% last month)
-Disapprove: 49% (46% last month)

6. Iraq:

-Approve: 43% (45% last month)
-Disapprove: 56% (53% last month)

7. Social Security:

-Approve: 35% (37% last month)
-Disapprove: 59% (56% last month)

Sunday, April 10, 2005

So it begins....

Rep. Christopher Shays has become the first Republican to demand Tom DeLay's resignation.

LinuxChix and More

I was bored so I stumbled across this. It's about getting more women involved in the Linux community. I found it amusing.

On a more political note, the Washington Post had a couple of op-eds I find to be very important. The first is how we are losing our curiosity. I see this all the time being in biomedical science. There is a strong push to promote "Bench to Bedside" research. That is, making science immediately applicable. That has it's merits, but I'm not sure that putting more money into that research at the expense of basic "curiosity" driven science is a wise long term strategy. All I have to do is look at some of the shoddy drugs being pumped out. Better science will lead to better drugs, IMO.

The second article is an attack on academia. I won't go into the merit's of the argument but just point out that this is typical of how the right-wing attacks the credibility of institutions that will hinder their goals. They had a 30+ year onslaught against the media and it's bias. The "liberal bias" myth is now ubiquitous in conservative and mainstream dialogue. The attack on the Academy is very dangerous. I don't know why the right-wing is so attached to their ideologies that they are happy to risk the future of this country. What are we going to do without a generally independent press and universities/education? Progressives need to make a bigger deal out of this. The right-wing assault on the judiciary is not doing so well. This should be used to further expose the extremism in today's Republican mainstream.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Schwarzenegger Losing Steam

The latest poll has Schwarzenegger's approval ratings below 50%. He's been sliding continuously all year:

For the first time, more than one poll shows his approval rating below 50 percent. According to one survey, 65 percent of Californians were satisfied with the Governor in January. Only 25 percent were dissatisfied. But by mid-March, that same poll showed his numbers dropping to 49 percent approval, and 39 percent dissatisfaction.

The latest survey, taken last weekend, shows him dead-even with 46 percent claiming to be satisfied and another 46 percent unhappy.

Another poll also shows Schwartzenegger’s ratings dangerously dipping below the 50 percent marker. Experts say that can be a big problem for an incumbent seeking reelection.

I haven't decided if I'll be supporting Phil Angelides yet, but cheers to him for being the first Democrat to announce he's running--with Boxer AND Pelosi serving as honorary campaign co-chairs--and being consistent about putting the pressure on Schwarzenegger. No doubt some opportunist Democrats will start announcing soon too.

Of the potential candidates, I think Angelides has the potential to generate the most excitement state-wide. He's sharp in his criticism and yet doesn't come across as too partisan. Some of the others may come across as too opportunist for not challenging the governor until his poll numbers were low. But it's still too early to be certain that we will have a Dem governor after '06.

But I'd like to point out that I have given Schwarzenegger only a 40% chance of getting reelected since last year to the chuckle of many a Dem. As Warren Beatty said, "A Schwarzenegger Republican is a Bush Republican who calls himself a Schwarzenegger Republican." California is now realizing that. And we all know what most Californians think of Bush Republicans.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

A Question for President Bush.....

Like your fathers and grandfathers before you, you have liberated millions from oppression. You've added to the momentum of freedom across the world. You have helped keep America safe. You make us all proud to be Americans, and you have made me proud to be your Commander-in-Chief.
- President Bush to U.S. soldiers, March 18, 2004

Mr. President, what about Sgt. Robert Stout makes him an exception to this praise you lavished upon deserving American soldiers? He served in Iraq, was wounded, and was awarded the Purple Heart. So why doesn't HE make you proud?

The reason I ask, Mr. President, is that you just kicked him out of the army. It's not that he didn't serve bravely, or that he disobeyed orders. No, you kicked him out because he's gay.

President Bush, what happened to supporting the troops?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Know Anyone From Rhode Island?

If you do, have them call Lincoln Chafee's office and tell them to oppose Bolton's nomination to UN ambassador. Via Steve Clemons, the Boston Globe reports pressure on the Rhode Island Senator who could keep the Bolton nomination from passing out of committee:

In recent days, Chafee's Washington office has received about 500 calls and e-mails about Bolton's nomination, and fewer than 10 of them supported Bolton, said Stephen Hourahan, the senator's press secretary.

''We are overwhelmingly hearing from the people of Rhode Island that they are opposed to the Bolton nomination," said Hourahan, who said that Chafee is still undecided about Bolton. But he said that, in the past, Chafee ''has voted mostly with the people of Rhode Island's interests in mind."

I don't have to tell you all about the anti-diplomat that Bolton is and the importance of rejecting him. The GOP may pull out the whipping stick on Chafee on this one, but Chafee is in real danger of getting beaten in his 2006 reelection campaign so his vote on this has to take both into consideration. If you know anyone who lives in Rhode Island or is registered to vote there, have her/him give Chafee's office a call. I'll help you out:

Contact via the web: http://chafee.senate.gov/webform.htm

DC phone number: (202) 224-2921
Providence number: (401) 453-5294
Newport number: (401) 845-0700

More trouble for DeLay....

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for Tom DeLay...

The Washington Post reports that "A six-day trip to Moscow in 1997 by then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) was underwritten by business interests lobbying in support of the Russian government, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the trip arrangements."

AND.....

The New York Times reveals that "the wife and daughter of Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, have been paid more than $500,000 since 2001 by Mr. DeLay's political action and campaign committees."

The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A REAL Tribute to the Pope

By now everyone is probably tired of reading yet another thing on Pope John Paul II. Well, I 'm writing something else anyway. I'd recommend people read up a little on the Pope and hold people who are mourning him accountable to ALL of his views. In particular, the death penalty and global poverty. As Nick Kristof points out, John Paul II was a champion of vulnerable people. As he says:

We pay him no tribute if we lower our flags to half-staff and send a grand presidential delegation to his funeral, when at the same time we avert our eyes as villagers are slaughtered and mutilated in the genocide unfolding in Darfur.

Let's not forget the thousands of children who die every day from hunger or easily preventable causes. A significant chunk of the world's population lacks clean, safe drinking water. The list goes on. I'll honor the pope by heading over to the Millenium Campaign website to see how I can help. You should too. While you're at it, check out Jubilee and start thinking about a Jubilee 2009 campaign. (2009 because Democrats will control all branches of government by then.)

Monday, April 04, 2005

Like the Energizer Bunny The WA Race Keeps Going...and Going

Interesting development(s) in Washington State. First, election reform was finally passed in the legislature. Since it wasn't to their liking, several GOP legislators stormed out in protest. Interesting.

The latest on the Governors race is also interesting. Apparently, several counties that went to the Republican candidate, Dino Rossi, by over 60% found errors with their provisional ballots. Of course, the GOP wants those to be counted the same way as the errors in King County (which Gregoire won with 58%), right? Think again:

Republicans, who would like the proportional analysis applied in Gregoire's stronghold of King County, say the problems with provisional ballots in Eastern Washington can't be compared to those in King County. In any event, they say, the missteps underscore Rossi's contention that the entire election was a mess and a new one should be held.


In King County there are some 660 suspect ballots of which 348 are known, and of those 348, 40 were illegal votes and 50 are yet to be determined. Yeah, that's bad, but here are some from Rossi's counties:

Adams County tallied 108 provisional ballots after matching names and other information with registration lists and rejected 36, McBroom said. Rossi defeated Gregoire there, 68 percent to 30 percent.

Other counties that failed to compare signatures as part of their review of provisional ballots included:


Stevens. Its tally included 560 of 744 provisional ballots. The county gave Rossi 62 percent of its votes.


Walla Walla. Election workers validated 342 of 473 provisional ballots. Rossi carried the county, 63 percent to 35 percent.


Whitman. It counted 783 of 1,002 provisional ballots. Rossi got 53 percent there.

Close races are going to be like this. Good election practices are needed for these cases much more than partisan bickering. There is no signs of deliberate voter fraud, just as there is no real signs of fraud in Ohio (though disenfranchisement is another story). Any attempt to say otherwise is an attempt to discredit the winner and is unfair. However, talking about the errors is "in play" as far as I'm concerned. Our elections shouldn't be so controversial.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

DeLay loses support in district

More bad news for Tom DeLay. A new poll shows his support in his home district collapsing.

Of 501 constituents polled, only 38% would vote to re-elect DeLay, while 45% would vote for someone else.

Similarly, voters in his district overwhelmingly dissapprove of his decision to charge head-first into the Sciavo case. 58% opposed his position/actions on the issue, while only 33% supported him.

Vote like a donkey and live like an elephant

There's a saying which says if you want to live like a Republican than you need to vote Democratic. Michael Kinsley shows just how true that statement actually is. Of course that's if you want less government spending, less inflation, less debt, less unemployment and better economic growth. What's interesting is that Democrats raised the rate on the highest tax bracket and the skies didn't come crashing down like our Governor and President like to scare us into believing.

One can say that this proves that Democrats are worse than Republicans (and I know many a Naderite who will no doubt make that claim). However, there is an important distinction between the justification Democrats, in particular President Clinton, gave. It was not to create smaller government in and of itself. In fact, environmental regulations were incrementally increased, initiatives were put in place to get 100,000 cops on the streets, the earned income tax credit was used to pull thousands out of poverty, college was made more accessible, and the budget for the National Institutes of Health was set on a course to be doubled (and was by 2001).

The end goal for the Democrats was responsible government--remember what Clinton's mantra was?. To be sure, the rich got richer, but so did the less off. We were put on a sound financial track and the money put into education, research and development was there to keep our country competitive. If you haven't thought much about U.S. competetiveness scientifically, you should read Benjamin Wallace-Well's article on it, or read some of the older articles I've been writing at The Stanford Progressive.

Speaking of Progressive articles, take a look at the article Chrissie Coxon writes about debt cancellation. I'll talk more about that another time, but read the article.

BTW, if you have blood to give, go to the Stanford Blood Center. But remember not to drink the entire glass of wine the next day--it makes staying awake for even Bruckner a challenge :o).