Friday, March 31, 2006

Wilson and Pearce: Ethics Schmethics

Yesterday, House Minority Leader Pelosi introduced HR 746 on the floor:
Resolved, That the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct shall immediately initiate an investigation of the misconduct by Members of Congress and their staff implicated in the scandals associated with Mr. Jack Abramoff's criminal activity.
Immediately, Rep. Bishop from Utah moved to table the bill and the bill was shelved on a party line vote. How did Reps. Heather Wilson (R, NM-1) and Steve Pearce (R, NM-2) vote? Not surprisingly, they voted with Tom DeLay to abandon the bill. Apparently, after Abramoff was sentenced for 70 months, Republicans don't think his role in influencing Congress is worth investigating.

Find out how your Congressperson voted here.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Primary dynamics

Via The Hill newspaper, the Florida legislature is considering a bill that would move the state's primary up, just one week after the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary.
"We're not doing it to offend anyone," Marco Rubio (R) said via speakerphone to reporters assembled for a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. But, he explained, "Florida is a socioeconomic microcosm of the United States, [and it] has very little voice in the selection of the nominees."
Though Rubio claims this move will place more importance on Florida, all it will really do is place more importance on Iowa and New Hampshire. WIth only a week between New Hampshire and Florida, there is no time for any significant changes to take place in the campaign, so the Florida primary will largely be determined by the momentum dynamics emerging from New Hampshire, which will result from the momentum of Iowa. Instead of making the early primaries more representative of the nation at whole, moving the Florida date up does nothing more than place even MORE importance on the unrepresentantive states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

To truly change the dynamics of the primary, and place more emphasis on substantive differences between the candidates rather than the "momentum" game that ended up giving John Kerry the nomination in '04, one of two changes should be made:

1) Make a state like Florida, Michigan, Virginia, etc, the FIRST primary, before Iowa or New Hampshire. This would make candidates appeal to states that are truly representative of the nation, rather than pandering to the ethanol-loving, 99% white Iowa, or the similarly homogenous New Hampshire. Placing one of these states' primaries soon after New Hampshire and Iowa is actually counter-productive, since it will simply be vulnerable to the momentum dynamics of the earlier competitions.

2) If New Hampshire or Iowa refuse to budge, as is likely the case, make a state like Florida the first primary after New Hampshire, but leave some time between them. This would preserve the first-in-the-nation status of Iowa and New Hampshire, give more importance to a diverse, large state like Florida, while at the same time making it more immune to the boomerang effect of New Hampshire and Iowa.

Presidential primaries used to take months, with the contest still up for grabs for a few weeks after Super Tuesday. In '04, the contest was basically over after New Hampshire, and arguable even after Iowa. Kerry came from behind to win Iowa, used the momentum to edge out Dean in New Hampshire, and from then on out was the presumed nominee. Super Tuesday was super in name only; by the time the candidates stepped foot in California Kerry was already pondering his VP candidate.

Proponents of Iowa and New Hampshire's near sacred status as the first contests in Presidential primaries claim that the "retail politics" required in those states assure that a solid campaigned with a likeable personality will emerge as the nominee. This may or may not be true (again, Kerry was not the most affable guy in the world). But if we take for granted that New Hampshire and Iowa have their advantages, we should at least balance them with states that demand broad-based appeals to diverse constituencies. The only way we can do this is moving states like Florida, Michigan or California up in the nomination process, but leave them relatively immune from the momentum-swing coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire. If they are only going to reflect the dynamics of New Hampshire, they will only give MORE importance to that primary, not less.

Second Class Citizen

Tomorrow is the birthday of Cesar Chavez. Chavez is a personal hero and inspiration. Sadly, a large percentage of graduate students I know (in the sciences) have no clue who he is. Looking back, I don't recall learning about him and the migrant worker movement in any classes I took through high school (though I do remember watching his funeral on TV). It wasn't until I took a labor history course as an undergraduate that I really learned about his life and accomplishments. His struggles to provide dignity and basic rights for farmworkers and the downtrodden--the second class citizens--have left a lasting impression on me. The world could use more leaders like him.

I had a long post on how the current immigration debate often makes me, as a Hispanic, feel like a second class citizen, but instead I'll just say that I hope this debate does not boil over into a racial struggle, which it often feels like to me. I do not want another "Southern Strategy" and hope that our leaders don't try to push those buttons.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Close to Home

In an effort to better inform myself (and others) of my home state, New Mexico, I'll be posting a little on the Congressional races going on in '06 as well as some pertinent info on the state. There are four races this year: three House races and one Senate campaign.

Everyone is likely to hear about the First congressional district race featuring Democrat Patricia Madrid. The GOP incumbent, Heather Wilson, is a rubber-stamp Republican who's district voted easily for Kerry. This is a highly targeted race. Last time, the GOP Congressional campaign committee came in and spent heavily toward the end of the campaign and helped Wilson pull off another unlikely victory. (As a disclaimer, in '04 I canvassed well over 1,000 addresses and made a lot of phone calls for this race.)

You probably won't hear much about the New Mexico race that is nearest and dearest to my heart: the Second Congressional District (which includes my hometown, Las Cruces). The Democrat, Albert Kissling is running against the GOP incumbent, Steve Pearce, who won 60%+ of the vote in '04. The DCCC points out that Pearce voted with Tom DeLay 95% of the time. One has to wonder what people back home think about this. Much more on this race later.

The other two races are for NM-3 and a Senate seat. In NM-3, Democratic Rep. Tom Udall is unlikely to face a serious challenge. Similarly, Democratic incumbent, Sen. Jeff Bingaman is expected to win easily.

Jack gave people water

As you may have heard, Jack Abramoff has been asking his friends and associates to send letters to the judge in his case in order to portray him in a sympathetic light. The AP has an article describing some of these letters, which seem either hilarious or pathetic depending on how you read them. Here are some of the gems:
"Jack was the kind of person who would offer his guest a glass of water if a server wasn't around to do so," friend Monty Warner wrote, noting Abramoff always picked up the check as he counseled friends on financial, marital or career problems.
...and later...
No anecdote seemed too small to mention. Dr. Gene Colice told the judge about the time Abramoff tried to "find a lost hamster on a Friday night." And Attorney Laurence Latourette called his racquetball playing partner as someone who "always acts honorably, and will call himself on infractions."
So...Jack Abramoff gives people water, looks for hamsters, and calls himself on his racquetball fouls. I say let him walk.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Tonkin Redux

The New York times reports today on another memo from the British government which stated that Bush was intent on going to war several weeks before the invasion began. While such memos are obviously revealing, I think most careful observers knew at the time that Bush had his mind made up.

What was more interesting (and angering) to me was a plot Bush mentioned to Tony Blair that could possibly provoke Saddam into war.
"The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours," the memo says, attributing the idea to Mr. Bush. "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."
So much for Bush's assertions that "to think I wanted war is just plain wrong."

-------------------

And just for fun, here is a, particularly insightful quote from our Commander-in-Chief on how things are going in Iraq:
"I understand people being disheartened when they turn on their TV screen," Bush said, adding that "nobody likes beheadings" and other grim images.
Really? NOBODY likes beheadings huh? Way to go out there on a limb.

Si, Se Puede

Via Crooks and Liars CNN reports that thousands of students have walked out of class in support of immigrant rights.

Add to that the half-million plus people who rallied this weekend and I'd say that there are a lot of people opposed to the anti-immigration bill written by our friend, James Sensenbrenner. It's been called "unChristian" and even a conservative Catholic bishop is ready to tell people to ignore the bill. It's a pretty rotten bill that shouldn't be passed.

Update: It looks like the Senate passed a much friendlier bill than the House. Hopefully this doesn't get turned around in committee like so many things do.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

More on Boogeymen

Yesterday, I implied that we should be extending the current censure debate beyond Bush to include the philosophies underlying Bush administration practices (wiretaps, torture, etc.). Today, Crooks and Liars has a video of Sen. Pat Roberts showing that this does in fact go beyond Bush:
Roberts: This isn't a Bush issue. This is an issue for the next commander in chief to have the authority--and the one after that--to have the authority to protect the country.
The right is essentially abandoning Bush, but I'm quite sure they want to preserve his policies, and Roberts is essentially saying that.

I don't necessarily think censure is a bad idea or unwarranted, but I do think that we need to put it into a broader context.

Scalia's mind is made up

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. At issue is what rights detainees at Gitmo have for due process and a fair trial.

Justice Scalia, however, has already made up his mind. Newsweek reports that at a judicial conference in Switzerland two weeks ago, Scalia unloaded his opinions on the rights (or lack thereof) that detainees have:
"War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts. Give me a break. If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it's crazy.
It's not so much that Scalia is on a particular side of this issue that upsets me. It's more that one right wing judicial nominee after another has dodged important questions during confirmation hearings by stating that he/she cannot comment on issues that may come before him on the court. Now, merely two weeks before the Hamdan case, one of the most important executive power cases in recent years, is coming before the court, Scalia has basically stated how he is going to rule.

If Scalia wants to be a legal pundit, that's fine. A career on Fox News fits his angry, pugnacious style. But he can't be a Supreme Court justice at the same time.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Boogeymen and Ideas

I recently had an email exchange with an activist friend of mine about taking on specific Republicans (e.g. impeachment, elections) or challenging their ideas (e.g., the "ownership" society). His sort of straw-man argument was that we should let people chose how they want to be involved and it is good to take on specific Republicans. I call this the Boogeyman strategy. This strategy plays nicely into election cycle politics and may be useful and/or necessary.

The other strategy--which I call the Philosophical strategy--is challenging the extreme philosophies of the right (or left) wing. One such philosophy is the so-called "ownership society" which, to me, seems intent to let people fend for themselves. This reminds me of the Hobbesian war of all against all and seems to be a big hurdle to implementing single-payer health care (or at least universal). Another such philosophy is the extreme version of the "unitary executive" theory. This has been a central tenet of Bush Administration practices and has led to the NSA wiretapping, torture, pre-emptive war, rampant cronyism, etc.

Bush is a very unpopular person at this time--and for good reason. It's easy to start taking him on. But future GOP candidates may be more popular even though they espouse the same radical Bush philosophies. Challenging and standing up to these people could prove more difficult if their philosopies are unchallenged beforehand. The right-wing has, for the past half century, been challenging liberal/progressive philosophies and have pushed the "accepted" center more and more to the right. Sure, they demonized their political enemies (can you say Clinton?), but they have done so while also promoting their philosophies and challenging liberal ideas.

Dems can take on the monster under the bed and be successful. But then we'll have to challenge the monster in the closet, out the window, etc. Or we can start challenging the idea that monsters exist and not have to worry about a monster again.

Does Bush deserve censure? Sure seems like it. But his idea of the unitary executive also deserves to be scrutinized as well. If not, the next President (whether Democratic or Republican) may continue to use signing statements to invalidate the Congress.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Gays in Iraq

Rob Anderson writes in the New Republic blog that gay Iraqis are being persecuted, beaten and murdered by Islamic militias.
Hili provided details on several of those killed in Iraq. Ammar, a young gay man of 27, was abducted and shot in back of the head in Baghdad by suspected Badr militias in January 2006. Haydar Faiek, aged 40, a transsexual Iraqi, was beaten and burned to death by Badr militias in the main street in the Al-Karada district of Baghdad in September 2005. Naffeh, aged 45, disappeared in August 2005. His family was informed that he was kidnapped by the Badr organization. His body was found in January 2006. He, too, had been subjected to an execution-style killing.
The recent flare up over the Christian convert in Afghanistan being possibly executed shows how reconciling democracy with Islamic fundamentalism in the middle east is no easy matter, but somehow I suspect that the plight of gays in the middle east will receive nothing near the attention of the singled-out Christian in Afghanistan.

Of course, executions of Christians is no less disturbing than execution of gays, but I fear that the persecution of some of the less sympathetic minorities (i.e. gays) will continue to be an unaddressed problem in the middle east and one that this administration will be unlikely to put any effort into remedying.

Another bit of hipocrisy

This gem was too good to pass up. Rick Santorum is in a tough re-election race with Bob Casey in Pennsylvania. Casey is the son of a popular, former Governor of the state, and Stantorum has begun to imply that Casey is running on his father's name.
I think I'm safe to say that if his name wasn't Bob Casey, he wouldn't be running for the U.S. Senate today, and my name's Rick Santorum and I didn't get to be a U.S. senator cause my name's Rick Santorum
Wow. Just wow. Someone might want to remind Santorum of the family background of that guy in the White House who just perhaps may not be where he is today were it not for his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc. Not to mention such Senatorial nepotists as Lisa Murkowski, Lincoln Chafee and John Sununu.

Being Bold

Kevin Phillips, author of Wealth and Democracy and, more recently, American Theocracy, has been guest posting at TPM Cafe to promote his new book.

His most recent post makes a point that I think all Democrats should take into consideration:
I believe that Democrats and liberals in 2006 stand to have their greatest opportunity since 1992 (which was lost). You will have the substantial support of many lapsed Republicans and doubters of Bush conservatism like myself. But I also have the sense that many Democrats and liberals have an instinct for for the capillaries, not for the jugular. If that leads to failure in 2006, there will be a major price to pay, not just for the United States but in terms of the credibility of your party and movement.
In the past, I've been skeptical of the liberal claims that Democrats need to be "extreme" to be strong. But I tend to agree that Democrats have been too timid (which is not to say too moderate) in opposing the President. Whenever Democrats have seen an opportunity to pick up seats, they tend to take a state by state strategy, failling to offer a bold, national message to define the party. That is the real genesis of the mantra that Democrats don't stand for anything. Democrats have an opportunity in '06 (and '08 for that matter) to present themselves as the party that will protect national security without resorting to secrecy and illegality. It no longer has to be "strong on terrorism" vs. "weak on terrorism." It should be strength and honesty vs. secrecy and manipulation.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Roberts v. Privacy

Bush wanted Supreme Court Justices in the mold of Thomas and Scalia. Looks like Roberts fits the bill. I'm not surprised.

For some reason, after the Alito hearings, I came away with the impression that he would be more moderate than Roberts. Perhaps that's just my usual optimism. We'll soon find out.

Censure him

After first reacting with the media-induced "this is bad for Democrats" response to Feingold's call for censure, I have begun to change my opinion.

First of all, I don't think it's political dynamite for Democrats. A Newsweek poll found that 42% of Americans are in favor of censure. While that's not a majority, it's hardly a tiny, radical fraction of the political spectrum. A respectable portion of the political mainstream thinks it's appropriate. If Democrats are only going to speak out for ideas that receive clear majority support, they're never going to control the debate or make any real change in Washington. As Peter Beinart points out in the New Republic, sometimes you have to take bold positions to begin and redefine what's considered "mainstream." Supporting a position held by 42% of Americans is hardly a deadly risk. Even those Americans who don't favor censure will hardly punish Democrats for formally criticizing a president with a 36% approval rating.

But more importantly, censure is simply the right thing to do. President Bush overreached the bounds of the Constitution, flagrantly ignored statutory law, and then lied about it. If censure is considered too radical a response, then our entire system of checks and balances has fallen to the wayside.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Katherine Harris is Just Weird

About a week ago, when Katherine Harris was considering whether to abandon her pathetic campaign for Senate in Florida, she said that she would
"continue to look to our founding fathers, who pursued their vision with integrity and perseverance, to discern the best course of action for the state of Florida and our nation."
At the time, I thought that statement was a tad melodramatic. A wealthy, country club Republican running for Senate in Florida is hardly analogous to the Revolutionary War and the drafting of the Constitution. Nevertheless, I brushed it off as perhaps the line of some low-level press aide who had written the press release.

Then, it happened again. After deciding that she would stay in the senate race and dedicate her entire $10 million fortune to the effort, she said the following
"I am willing to take this widow's mite, this pearl of great price, and put everything on the line,"
At first I thought she might have been simply drunk when she said this. Then I found out it's from the Bible. The phrase "widow's mite" comes from a passage in the Book of Mark where Jesus commends a widow for donating her last amount of money, or her "widow's mite" to her temple's treasury. Similarly, the "pearl of great price" comes from another statement by Jesus in which he compares living a good life in order to get into heaven to selling all your assets in order on a beautiful pearl (thus giving your all for the ultimate cause).

So Katherine Harris imagines that spending $10 million to try and buy a Senate seat is similar to a poor widow donating all her money to the temple, and believes getting elected to the Senate is analogous to going to heaven.

I think the Botox has seaped into her brain.

John McCain: Lying Liar or Just Ignorant

A couple days ago I mentioned that John McCain hired Terry Nelson, someone that is implicated in Tom DeLay's money problems. Today, TPM Muckraker, one of my new favorite information sources, documents John McCain denying these charges.

The question is: Was John McCain just really ignorant of Mr. Nelson's well documented problems or is he a lying liar? I'd probably give John McCain the Senator the benefit of the doubt. As for John McCain, the man who's been campaigning for president since 1999, I'm not so sure.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Meet the Press

President Bush had his second official press conference of the year today, and his answers made me wish he had just decided to skip it altogether.

When asked if there would ever come a day when no American forces would be in Iraq, Bush responded thusly:
That, of course, is an objective. And that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq
In other words, don't count on it. This is exactly the kind of question that should have been investigated more thoroughly before the war started. Had the American people believed that troops would be in Iraq indefinitely, they never would have approved of the war. I still find myself wondering how the administration got by with breezing over how complex the aftermath of the war would be, and how both the press and the American people became so deluded with fantasis of liberation and weapons of mass destruction that such questions were never satisfactorily asked and answered.

Of course, the arrogance of Bush's response, that "of course that is an objective," is outrageous. But by now I've come to expect that.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Corruption and Cronyism

Eric is right to point out the Bush Administration's incompetence. There are many examples of incompetence: Fiscal recklessness, Katrina, Iraq reconstruction, Iraq intelligence, etc. But part of the incompetence is due to the corruption and cronyism that runs rampant in GOP law making these days. Fiscally, the GOP is serving their donors and Jack Abramoff; Katrina and reconstruction had Michael Brown and Karl Rove leading the effort; Iraq reconstruction had the likes of Custer Battle. The list goes on.

Sadly, corruption seems to cross the Atlantic, as this headline, from the Guardian sums up: Blair created this mess. He cannot clear it up. At least the press there calls it what it is, sleaze:
The government is to make it compulsory for all political parties to disclose any loans they receive, the lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, said today as Labour came under increasing pressure to counter claims of sleaze.
Let's see if the UK can clean house better than the GOP controlled Congress. For their sake, I hope so.

Speaking of cleaning House (pun intended), what is Mr. Clean Government, John McCain, doing? Hiring a DeLay money man. Paul Kiel at TPM Muckraker:
So what gives? Sen. McCain, Mr. Campaign Finance Reform, has just hired a man who (allegedly) played a key role in breaking a campaign finance law to advise him on how to spend his PAC's money. Anything to win in '08?
Guess straight talking has it's limits.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Incompetent

A reccent Pew Poll shows that the one word more Americans use to describe Bush tha any other is now "incompetent." This is the first time in the three years that Pew has asked this question that the answer has not been "honest."

One may by tempted to think this is just a result of the constant barrage of (justified) Democratic criticism of the president, with "incomptency" being a central theme. However, as my personalized Google homepage revealed today, there is in fact every reason for Americans to reach this conclusion independentl. The first two headlines that poppsed up in my "Top News" window symbolized the incredibly disconnect that this administration has with reality.

First, I was presented with a Reuters article with the headline "Cheney says Iraq not in civil war." The very next article was from USA Today and was titled, quite appropriately, "Iraq PM: We are in Civil war." One must wonder who has the more accurate view of the situation, the Washington-bound Vice President, or the Prime Minister of Iraq.

As humorous (and depressing) as this example might be, it is symptomatic of this administration's refusal to acknowledge any realities that conflict with their fantasy that every policy or action they take is destined to succeed. When Bush says "no one anticipated the levees breaking" or, more famously, not being able to recount a single mistake he made in his first term, it is a sign of his complete and total belief in the infallibility of his actions as President. And while for years many Americans say this confidence as being a sign of a "strong leader" or "honest," they are now seeing it for what it really is: incompetence.