Sunday, April 30, 2006

Well, that was a mistake

I just got back from the California Democratic Convention, where the party officially endorsed Phil Angelides for Governor. All I can say is, what a mistake.

I should say that I was at the convention volunteering for Westly, so my point of view is hardly unbiased. But as I was talking to delegates about whom they were supporting, almost all of those who were for Phil mentioned one of the following reasons: a)Westly was too cozy with Arnold, b) it's Phil's "turn," or c) Westly is too centrist. All of these are patently absurd. First of all, Westly supported Arnold on Proposition 57 and 58, and that is all. Nothing more. And may I mention that Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, the AFL-CIO, the California Teacher's Association and, oh yes, the CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATIC PARTY, all endorsed Propositions 57 and 58 as well.

Secondly, since when do we nominate someone because it's "their turn?" Isn't that what Republicans do, annoint a nominee and clear the field? Democrats fight it out and let the strongest candidate emerge. And as for who's the strongest candidate, there's hardly a question. ALA Times poll that was released on Saturday showed Westly leading Angelides by 13 points in the primary and beating Arnold by 9 points in a head-to-head matchup. Angelides, on the other hand, only tied Arnold.

And finally, let me dispel once and for all (hopefully) this ridiculous assertion that Westly isn't a progressive. Steve Westly was the first statewide official to support gay marriage. He vigorously opposed every one of Arnold's special election intitatives, ESPECIALLY Prop 73, the parental-notification initiative. He once refused an order from the governor to cut education funding and told Arnold he'd have to sue him to force him to comply. And since he felt that the environmentally-liberal California government wasn't going enough to combat global warming, he put together a private organization to pressure auto makers to raise fuel efficiency standards and helped to pass a shareholders' resolution to that end.

I don't think this endorsement is going to matter. The last time the party endorsed a gubernatorial candidate was in 1990, when they picked the liberal John Van de Kamp over the more moderate Dianne Feinstein in 1990. Feinstein went on to win the primary anyway (but lost the election.) Westly's got the money, the message and the skill to win this primary anyway.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Supporting The Troops, GOP Style

Or should I say, F* the troops, GOP style. Two recent examples of how the GOP is screwing the troops. The LA Times reports on a letter by Dems on the House Veterans Affairs Committee to check into shady dealings by former secretary of the VA.:
The Times reported Sunday that data compiled by a consulting firm in 1999 estimated that the cost of the QTC exams was as much as 400% higher than in-house exams. The consultants recommended that the VA do a follow-up study to get more precise cost data on the in-house costs. It was never conducted.
Not to be outdone, Bush proposes to give the troops the lowest pay increase in a long time:
With the Administration no longer required by law to plan for a larger military pay raise, President Bush for the first time has proposed identical across-the-board increases for military and federal civilians.

Michael B. Styles, president of the Federal Managers Association, called it “a bittersweet victory after years of fighting for pay parity.” Civilian workers were “finally able to garner support from the President to recognize the contributions of all federal managers and employees, but now we’re faced with the lowest pay raise in almost two decades.”

A 2.2 percent raise, added Styles, “doesn’t strike me as adequate recognition.”
If the GOP is going to use the troops and their well being as a political tool, then the least they can do is make damn sure they treat the troops right! I'm sure those few people who might have to pay an estate tax for inherited wealth need the money more than our troops.

Why the hell do the poor, middle class and the troops have to sacrifice more than the "hyper wealthy" to fight the war on terror?

Conflicting values

With gas prices rising at an increasingly rapid pace, I've found myself torn between competing values. On the one hand, I feel that rising gas prices hit low income and working class Americans the hardest, and thus represent a grave threat to a strong, stable middle class. On the other hand, I also feel strongly that only high gas prices can force us to re-evaluate our dependence on oil and the inevitable hard that we are doing to the environment. So do I wish for continued high gas prices in hopes of remedying our environmental harms, or do I hope for lower prices to alleviate the pressure on working Americans?

Progressives must confront this dichotomy when considering proposals like a "gas tax holiday," which Republicans are now proposing. My first reaction to such a proposal was opposition: if Americans are ever going to kick our oil addiction, we have to feel some pain first. But then my progressive economic side kicked in, and I sympathized with those Americans which, to use the standard liberal tear-jerker, have to choose between putting food on the table or gas in the tank.

So what is a progressive to do? How does one balance a concern for the environment with a concern for the well-being of American workers?

I don't know yet. Do you?

The Party of Values

This is just too much:
Federal prosecutors are investigating whether two contractors implicated in the bribery of former Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham supplied him with prostitutes and free use of a limousine and hotel suites, pursuing evidence that could broaden their long-running inquiry.
For a party who claims to win on "values" issues and generally looks down on sex, you wouldn't expect GOP members to be with prostitutes.

Maybe this is why there hasn't been much outrage over Iraqi women and girls being kidnapped into sex slavery. OK, that was snarky. But can we do something about these poor women and children? I hate it when a party gets up in arms over consensual sex, but lacks the same vigor and outrage over nonconsensual sex! Grrr!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Snow gets the gig

Tony Snow was officially hired today as White House Press Secretary. I'm actually a bit excited about this appointment. After years of Fleisher and McClellan's robotic and rigid performances behind the podium, it will be refreshing to see someone with a bit of a personality shilling for the President.

However, appointing someone charismatic and independent-minded has obvious downsides for the White House. It will be all the more obvious when Snow is dodging, spinning or flat out lying. When Snow feels comfortable with what he's saying, he will likely be his charismatic self. But when he is spewing talking points which, all Fox News jokes aside, he is not used to doing on a normal basis, it will probably be hard for him to maintain an at-ease style. Of course, this is just a hypothesis. He may be a more talented liar than I give him credit for.

Monday, April 24, 2006

When it rains in Snows

CNN says Tony Snow is likely to get the Press Secretary job.
Sources close to the White House said Monday that Fox anchor Tony Snow is likely to accept the job as White House press secretary, succeeding Scott McClellan.

The sources said they expect him to announce his decision within the next few days.
This is perhaps a mix of wishful thinking and expectation, but it doesn't seem entirely unreasonable that by appointing someone who has written so many thousands of columns over the years and made so many remarks on TV and on his radio show, the White House is risking a blogosphere-led insurgency against Snow. I wouldn't be surprised if a controversial column or two pops up once Snow is appointed, forcing the administration to defend him before he even gets moved into his office.

Increasing Fuel Efficiency

I'm convinced that in the next three years or so, some serious long term investment in alternative fuels is going to happen. However, that still leaves us with years before we can start switching over and breathing a little fresh air. The question is, what do we do in the interim. Hopefully others will chime in, but here is a simple list I came up with:

  • Immediate increase in cafe standards with a graduated increase every few years. This should decrease emissions and increase investment in efficient transprotation
  • More tax incentives to buy hybrid or alternative fuel cars
  • Some sort of government loans/subsidies to get low-income folks a chance to buy hybrid/AF vehicles
  • Decrease the federal speed limit. Perhaps have some sort of "use tax" associated with different types of vehicles who are ticketed. That is, an SUV gets fined more than a Prius, etc. Don't know if that will fly though
  • "Fuel use" tax on NEW vehicles below a certain standard (e.g. Hummers, Excursions, etc.)

What would you do?

Postscript: The National Academy of Sciences did some research on CAFE standards back in 2001.

32%

President Bush's approval is now at 32% according to CNN. Who wants to make bets on when it will hit the 20's?

Only "a lot?"

President Bush spoke in Orange County today. This line speaks for itself:
"I base a lot of my foreign policy decisions on things I think are true."
Let's see what Jon Stewart will do with that one.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Don't Quit Your Day Job

For those interested in why my day (and night) job is, here's some info. (Don't go to the lab website for a while, it was butchered recently.)

This wasn't supposed to be a shameless self promotion post, though. I received an email from an activist friend who said he would like to see gas go up to $20/gallon. Although Kevin's analysis isn't perfect, he provides food for thought:
There's a substantial segment of the population that spends a very big chunk of their income on gasoline, and in the past 12 months they've seen gasoline prices increase by 50% — and that's at a time when household income has been decreasing for five years running and household debt is already sky high.
This doesn't even consider secondary costs due to high gas prices. That is, how much the price of food and other products increase due to increased transportation costs.

At $20/gallon for gas, how many people would have to quit their job because that the price wouldn't make it worthwhile to go to work? Take someone who makes $8/hour who lives 25 miles from work and has an old car that gets 25 mpg. The round trip of 50 miles means that they would need to spend $40 a day on gas. At $8/hour ($64/day for a 40 hour week), that is 62.5% of their daily income spent on gas! God forbid they have to drive any considerable distance to get groceries or other necessities, which they probably couldn't afford anyway.

I understand that the environment needs to be taken care of, but letting gas hit $20/gallon would be devestating for millions of people.

A golden opportunity

It seems clear from a flurry of news stories in the past few weeks that Democrats plan to make the government failures in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina a central plank in their 2006 campaign platform. One such story in the WashPost serves as a fitting example.
The Democrats came to New Orleans this week to highlight what they want the midterm elections to be about: a referendum on Bush's leadership and competence. Just as Iraq symbolizes Americans' disenchantment with Bush's foreign policy, New Orleans stands as a poignant reminder of the breakdown of government after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Democrats intend to use that imagery as a partisan weapon between now and November to argue that Bush has failed the American people on multiple fronts.
Fine, but not enough. For one, the government failures after Katrina were maddening to most Americans, but the details are really only important to Gulf Coast citizens. Voters in the rest of the country, who don't live in hurricane territory, are probably not going to cast their ballots based on the intricacies of FEMA bureaucracy.

What Democrats have to (and get to) do is turn Katrina into an analogy for the differences between the parties. Don't turn the issue into competence, turn it into the role of government. For once, Democrats have a perfect opportunity to champion the role that the federal government can and must play in helping its citizens. Most obviously, a more active federal government could have responded more quickly and adequately to the hurricane via FEMA, DHS, etc. But also, a more active federal government could help alleviate the poverty than turned Katrina from a disaster into a tragedy. No Americans should be so poor that they cannot afford to leave their homes when a Category 5 hurricane is imminent. There is no better example than Katrina to demonstrate the injustice and unfairness of the right's "every man for himself" mentality. Rarely will the issue of poverty resonate with the public at large. But this is one such time, and Democrats shouldn't let it pass them by.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Another Protest

If you hadn't noticed by now, I've grown tired of ye ol' protest methods. There are many ways to send signals, garner media attention and get people talking. Two ways to send a message: Buy the Dixie Chicks new album and/or buy Pink's new album.

I've already talked about the Dixie Chicks before and even mentioned Pink. You can listen to the Chicks' new song and watch their video at their website. You can see Pink sing her song, "Dear Mr. President", over at C&L. I've always liked the Chicks' music and Pink's voice (even if I wasn't always fond of her radio play songs). Natalie Maines has a great country voice and you just gotta love a group that uses the banjo. Their latest, is interesting and different--much darker than I'm accustomed to. Unfortunately, Pink's bluesy voice is on display more in some of her less popular songs, but it's highlighted in "Dear Mr. President".

But I digress. Many stations have taken the Chicks' new song off their playlists and if they can sell a lot of records you can bet the media will make note. Any mention of Pink success will no doubt have to talk about "Dear Mr. President". Buying their albums is a great way to protest without having to do much.

Cracking up

Craig Shirley, a right-wing activist and lobbyist, has an op-ed in today's WaPo arguing that the GOP is breaking down. He sees the immigration debate as splitting the "business elite" with the Reaganite Populists.
The two camps are deeply divided. The business elites are interested in a large supply of cheap labor and support unfettered immigration and open borders. The populist base supports legal immigration but is concerned about lawlessness on our border, national sovereignty and the real security threat posed by porous borders.
It would be nice to think that Republicans are finally feeling the frailty of a glued-together political coalition like Democrats have for so long with labor, environmentalists, minorities, etc. However, I think Shirley's argument is a bit self-serving, considering he is squarely in the corner of the culturally conservative, populist Republican wing.
It was the populists under Reagan, and later under Newt Gingrich, who energized the party, gave voice to a maturing conservative ideology and swept Republicans into power. We would be imprudent and forgetful to disregard this. But it may be too late, because conservatives don't want to be part of the looming train wreck. They know that this is no longer Ronald Reagan's party.
Though Shirley is obviously arguing for the supremacy of his own version of conservatism rather than doing truly objective analysis, he has a fairly cogent thesis. Case in point: Frist and Hastert call on Bush to probe oil company profits to make sure there is no price gouging. When the Republican Congress, who have constituents/voters to please, is taking on a lame-duck President who will never again face the voters over a populist issue like gasoline prices, you can bet that there is a divergence of ideology and reality within Republican circles.

Friday, April 21, 2006

If elections were popularity contests....

SurveyUSA has come out with a new 50 state tracking poll measuring the popularity of each of the 100 U.S. Senators. Who is the least popular in the country? Rick Santorum, with a 39% approval rating. Who's 49th? Conrad Burns.

By the way, I previously noted the strange paradox that Republican governors in blue states and Democratic governors in red states are more popular than ideologically consistent state governors (i.e. Dem governors in blue states).

However, no such trend exists with senators it seems. I did a similar analysis and found that "cross-party" senators (i.e. Republican senators in blue states) have a net approval of 14%, but "same-party" senators have a net approval of 18%.

Truth on Private Schools

A recent study sheds some light on the debate over private vs. public schools and, thus, vouchers.

The study found that, as is commonly stated, students at private schools outperform their public school counterparts on standardized tests. However, when controlled for socioeconomic background, not only did that advantage dissappear, but it reversed itself. Public school students did BETTER than private school students when the economic and racial categories are controlled.
Our findings suggest that it is time for a critical reexamination of common assumptions regarding the effectiveness of public and private schools. As market-style reforms change the public school landscape, prompting many to call for various forms of privatization of schooling options, it is important to examine the evidence regarding whether private schools are, indeed, more effective than public schools. In our study, once we accounted for the fact that private schools tend to have higher-SES (socioeconomic status) students than public schools, we actually found just the opposite of what was expected: public schools outperformed private schools within each SES quartile.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Time For A Haircut

A rhetorical haircut that is:
Repeated protests make it harder and harder to ignore. However, the left must also be responsible, savvy, pragmatic, and know that they will be portrayed in the worst possible light...

...If the goal is convincing the public and the administration that war is an ineffective solution, that our foreign policy is shortsighted and inflammatory, (and so is our domestic policy) then concentrate on what's effective to get there. Tie dyes and getting stoned, Marx, and Revolution talk all has its place, but it's not effective as a central thrust or public persona. It's bad marketing and neither inviting nor appealing to the majority of America. And that's the real bottom line for the PEACE movement of the 21st century. Appeal to the real masses, not the theoretical"proletariat."

The right has learned to use modern tools, like the wheel. Or, less sarcastically, the media. The left, apparently, has not. We desperately need to if we are to achieve the world we envision.
I'm no stranger to protests (Note: Link will not be active for much longer with the website update and all.) However, I think the article above brings up important points. The same old protests were shown to be ineffective in the run up to the war. I think it's time for more creative and inclusive ways to go about protesting. Most of my friends would not go to a rally, but are more than willing to do other things. That is why I proposed to do something different.

A true shift in policy means reaching out to more than the "hard core". I was recently at a meeting where someone said that numbers don't matter, it's how loud we are that matters. Well, in elections numbers do matter. It's more than elections, though.

I'm going to wear black on Friday, not just because Bush is in town and I disagree with his policies. I'm wearing black because there are a lot of things that could be better. Take a look at the words in the song. Sure, Iraq is bad. Few disagree with that these days. But Bush's inaction in Darfur means more people are dying every day. Failure to agressively act to provide aid to Africa results in thousands of deaths every day from malnutrition and lack of relatively cheap vaccines. More and more Americans are in poverty and facing health difficulties due to rising medical costs. I'm wearing black for the troops who have given their lives; for the innocent Iraqi civilians who have died; for the persecuted in Darfur; for the children--and adults--in Africa and other third world countries; for the poor; etc. It's not about Bush for me. It's about the people.

During the middle of the day, not everyone has the luxury of taking time off to protest. Why not be more inclusive? That doesn't mean people shouldn't go to a rally if they choose. But that's been done before. Why not try something new? Something more people are willing to do?

Don't Forget About Black Friday

I've passed on the word about "Black Friday" to a few dozen friends and most are on board. It's simple and quick.

33%

Bush's approval rating is now lower than any other President since Richard Nixon. Only 33% of Americans think he's doing a job.

The unfortunate truth

Today's Washington Post sums up the unfortunate but obvious truth about the White House staff changes:
"They needed to have the optics that there's going to be a change -- a message-delivery change and a different approach to policy, particularly domestic policy," the Republican [source] said. "That's all it is. There's not going to be any change in policy. It gets Washington talking about different things."
We'll see if the mainstream media takes the bait to talk about process instead of policy or if they resist and continue to ask the important questions about this administrations policy failures.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"Iraq II or a Nuclear Iran?"

In a blistering column in today's New York Times, Thomas Friedman, a fairly non-partisan and erudite foreign affairs expert, unleashes on the Bush foreign policy and military apparatus.
"If these are our only choices, which would you rather have: a nuclear-armed Iran or an attack on Iran's nuclear sites that is carried out and sold to the world by the Bush national security team, with Don Rumsfeld at the Pentagon's helm?

I'd rather live with a nuclear Iran....I have zero confidence in this administration's ability to manage a complex military strike against Iran, let alone the military and diplomatic aftershocks."
Ouch. This from someone who favored (albeit reluctantly) the Iraq war.

And then there's my favorite part:
"I look at the Bush national security officials much the way I look at drunken drivers. I just want to take away their foreign policy driver's licneses for the next three years."

Taxing the Poor

There's this oft repeated sentiment that we can't overtax the wealthy. I agree whole-heartedly with that. But are we, in fact, overtaxing the wealthy? What about wage growth, is it uniform?

First, taxation. The California Budget Project has a new report out. They note an interesting, though pretty well known fact for those who follow this issue:
Measured as a share of family income, California’s poorest families pay the most in taxes. The poorest fifth of the state’s non-elderly families, with an average income of $11,100, spent 11.3 percent of their income on state taxes in 2002. In comparison, the wealthiest 1 percent, with an average income of $1.6 million, spent 7.2 percent of their income on state taxes.
A reason for this is that state taxes on food, clothes or whatever are very regressive taxes that disproportionately burden the poor. But no one is complaining about that (well, there are some people). Another important, but again, unsurprising factoid:
In 2003, the most recent year for which data are available, 380,075 taxpayers reported incomes of $200,000 or more. However, 1,659 of these households paid no California personal income tax.
Darn those class warfare types who want to tax the wealthy, right?

What about incomes? Well, Kevin has a nice run down:
The reason for this is obvious: our economy has grown 52%, but that doesn't mean everyone's income has grown 52%. It means that the incomes of the super-rich have grown 100% while the incomes of average schmoes have grown only 25%. And average schmoe incomes haven't risen a penny since George Bush took office.

In other words, the rich are taking most of the money and leaving little behind for anyone else. And then, to add insult to injury, they whine about having to pay taxes on that vastly increased income.
If you read Perfectly Legal by David Cay Johnston, you can find out many more interesting facts about the tax system. I like to consider myself analytically inclined, but even I get lost in all the intricate ways in which creative tax attorneys get the wealthy out of paying much in taxes.

Postscript: I realized this post probably comes off as dismissive of many people who don't follow tax issues. That's not what I intended. Rather, I wanted to emphasize that these issues have been reported before but are often minimized or ignored. Reagan, despite his anti-tax reputation actually raised taxes after he initially cut them because he realized government was not sustainable without those revenues. People like Grover Norquist want us to build massive deficits (or have bond debts) so that we have no other choice but to end social services. Not only is that morally disgusting, it also won't happen without an ugly fight. To secure services in the future we have to think long term and deal with a little hurt now instead of massive hurt in the future. A visionary leader will have to realize this and adequately convey this to the people. There is little way around this.

Endorsements enshmorsements

Though Gilbert rightly points out that Phil has the backing of most of the Democratic establishment in California, that really doesn't reflect the quality of his candidacy. Endorsements are strictly an insider's game, reflective more of one's connections, fundraising, and past "back-scratching." Phil announced first, put together his campaign earlier, and looked to be the default nominee against Schwarzenegger. As Marie put it yesterday in a coment, it was assumed that Angelides' nomination was a foregone conclusion.

But Westly's outsider candidacy has been gaining ground since day one, and if endorsements were starting today I think it's safe to assume that many of those big-wigs on Angelides' side would be supporting Westly.

But I'd also to talk about policy a little. The greatest weakness in Angelides campaign is his over-reliance on tax increases. Anglides has proposed to close the state budget deficit, decrease college tuition and fully fund schools by raising taxes on the wealthiest Californians. That sounds all well and good until you consider this fact: the wealthiest Californians are already taxed extra for mental health services, and, if Proposition 82 passes next fall, will be taxed additionally for universal preschool. We simply cannot solve all our state's problems by taxing the wealthy over and over again, even if they can afford it. It's just not a sustainable policy.

Furthermore, such tax increases are simply not going to pass the legislature with a two-third's majority, as state law requires. As Dan Weintraub notes:
One problem with the treasurer's plan is that to enact it, he would need to get Republican votes in the Legislature to achieve the two-thirds majority required to raise taxes. And Republican lawmakers in recent years have been nearly unanimous in their opposition to tax increases.
So what has Westly proposed to do? As I noted before, as Controller, Westly collected unpaid taxes from the wealthy and corporations in an effort that netted $4 billion. With the budget deficit currently standing at $5 billion, another such effort, which Westly has proposed, would get us much closer to fiscal solvency. Other measures, such as revamping the lottery and negotiating better deals on state purchases constitute the rest Westly's budget reduction plan. Nothing sexy, but it's all workable and passable.

And though I believe, like Gilbert, that Californians are caring, I do not think that basing one's candidacy on raising taxes over $9 billion, as Angelides would have to do to implemented all his proposals, is the best way to get elected. Just ask Walter Mondale.

Don't Take My Word

Personally, I'd like a candidate who runs on much more than "electability". While I believe we need to win elections to get things done, the special election of '05 demonstrated that Shwarzenegger's agenda is rejected by the people of California. It's not a stretch to think that the Democratic message will prevail against Schwarzenegger's "me first" strict libertarian philosophy. Californians are a caring people who like bold and innovative leaders.

I've already mentioned bold, innovative and effective initiatives that Phil Angelides has implemented as State Treasurer. But I'm not the only one who thinks Phil is a strong, principled and proven leader. Just ask the numerous state leaders who have endorsed him already: Barbara Boxer (who recieved the most votes in CA last time), Diane Feinstein (one of CA's most popular political leaders), Nancy Pelosi (the fiery future House Speaker), the well respected Fabian Nunez (speaker of the Assembly). But Phil appeals to more than politicians.

During the special election, the Alliance for a Better California, a group of labor organizations, was instrumental in the defeat and rejection of Schwarzenegger's bad policies. Several of these organizations have already endorsed Phil. The demonstrated leadership I've mentioned above are reasons why the hard working Californians and political leaders have endorsed Phil.

But don't take my word for it. I think the recent endorsement letter of California's education community (including George Miller, ranking member of US House Education and Workforce Committee) sums it up nicely (my emphasis):
Phil has a proven track record as a courageous and thoughtful advocate for schools, teachers and students. He was the first statewide elected official in 2002 to call for a $25 billion school bond package. In 2003, he was alone among statewide elected officials to criticize the deep cuts proposed in education, becoming, the Sacramento Bee wrote, “the first statewide officer to question the prevailing assumption that California’s budget crisis means the schools must suffer.” When Governor Schwarzenegger tried to turn away 25,000 students who had done all the work and made all the grades from UC and CSU, Phil stood up for the students while others stood with the Governor. He launched a tax-advantaged savings plan that is now helping over 140,000 California families save for college. He created a new program that has provided down-payment assistance and low-interest loans to help over 1,200 teachers, school employees, and administrators who commit to working in a low-performing school buy their first home. Phil made education the subject of his first major campaign proposal this year, “College Opportunity for All,” which sets sweeping goals to help more young Californians, not fewer, get the higher education they need.

Phil has the vision, courage, and experience to lead our state. Please join us and hundreds of California elected officials, as well as labor, environmental, business, and civic leaders from across the state, in endorsing Phil Angelides’ candidacy. California’s children, parents and educators deserve a Governor who will advance the values of fairness, opportunity, and education for all Californians; Phil embodies these beliefs and will uphold California as a land of limitless possibilities and big dreams.

Momentum

Today's story in the LA Times about the governor's race reads very much like a mainstream-media confirmation that Steve Westly is now the frontrunner.
Once considered a longshot in the governor's race, state Controller Steve Westly looked every bit the Democratic front-runner Tuesday as he laid out his approach for challenging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in the November election.
More important, however, is the response that Schwarzenegger's spokesman gives to Westly's speech.
Matt David, a Schwarzenegger campaign spokesman, replied in an interview: "It's unfortunate that Steve Westly would recycle tired attacks to pander to the left-wing base."

"Today's PowerPoints and pie charts," David said, "can't conceal the fact that Westly's numbers just don't add up."
When a sitting governor's staff goes after a potential challenger by name, it represents an acknowledgement that he is the most likely challenger. Lines like "Westly's numbers just don't add up" aren't used for political gadfly's who you have no expectation of ever facing.

And then there's this:
At one time the underdog, Westly is now perceived by political analysts to have a good shot at not just knocking off Angelides, who has less campaign money and more prominent Democratic endorsements, but also at mounting a strong campaign against the governor.

"Schwarzenegger has some pretty high negatives — not so much on his personality as his policies," said Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State University. "All Westly has to do is say, 'I'm different. I'm the new kid. I don't have the baggage he has.' "

Westly, he said, is "personable, likable, and has a great smile — he's pretty telegenic himself. The only difference between the two is a little bodybuilding."
Well, more than a LITTLE bodybuilding.

Why not?

Rumor has it that Fox News's Tony Snow might replace Scott McClellan as White House Press Secretary, thus getting the official title for the job he basically already holds (i.e. spewing the White House's talking points.)

Torie Clark, former Pentagon spokesman, and Dan Senor, former Republican hack and Communications Director for the Colaition Provisional Authority in Iraq, are also being considered. I would suggest Clark, who has more credibility, respect and, to be honest, skill, than any other prospective candidate (and McClellan, for that matter). But something tells me the White House is too politically inept right now to pick her (or she might be too smart to take the job).

McClellan out; Rove demoted

Scott McClellan is out as Press Secretary, and Karl Rove will no longer work on policy.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Man In Black

Rumor has it that President Bush will be flying to the Peninsula and will have a stop at Stanford. I won't go into any of the details I've heard because I think a protest/rally is pretty pointless. Instead, I'll be showing my frustration by wearing all black since Bush's actions--and inaction--have resulted in the deaths of many, many people. Iraq is obvious. But he has been slow to deliver quality aid to Africa that could save lives. He hasn't taken a leadership role in Darfur and thousands have died. His lack of an accountable cabinet, specifically the DHS, resulted in many deaths after Katrina.

No, I won't make a nuisance out of myself, but I hope you join me in black:
I wear the black in morning for the lives that could have been
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men
And I wear it for the thousands who have died
Believin' that the Lord was on their side
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died
Believin' that we all were on their side
Well there's things that never will be right I know
And things need changin' everywhere you go
But till we start to make a move to make a few things right
You'll never see me wear a suit of white
Oh I'd love to wear a rainbow every day and tell the world that everything's okay
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back
Till things're brighter I'm the man in black

Monday, April 17, 2006

Stronger Candidate

To add a little to the discussion of who the "stronger candidate" is against Schwarzenegger, I've pulled up this column by Dan Weintraub, the political columnist for the Sacramento Bee.
In hypothetical matchups for the fall election, Schwarzenegger beat both Democrats, though his edge over Westly was smaller.

Among likely voters, 41 percent said they would vote for Schwarzenegger and 29 percent said they would choose Angelides, with 30 percent undecided. The governor had the support of 39 percent of likely voters against Westly, while the controller had 31 percent, and 30 percent were undecided.

The key difference in the matchups was that Schwarzenegger beat Angelides among independents by a margin of 32 percent to 24 percent but lost to Westly among that group by a margin of 29 percent to 26 percent. That matches the conventional wisdom among insiders who believe that Westly might be the stronger Democratic candidate against the governor.
These results dispute the idea that either Angelides or Westly will have a relatively easy time beating Arnold. In fact, both trail him in this poll. But Westly trails by less, is stronger with independents, and, as Weintraub notes, is the candidate perceived to be stronger by analysts.

And while you may attribute this to Westly's warchest, it's an inevitable fact of campaigns that money is part of the political system as of now. While having a lot of money doesn't make someone qualified to govern, it does allow a strong candidate to get his or her message out, which is what we need in this campaign.

The Double Bottom-Line

Nathan Newman over at TMPCafe, highlights some state initiatives for job creation. One of the initiatives was spurred on by none other than Phil Angelides:
Back in 2000, California State Treasurer Phil Angelides laid out the philosophy that undergirds the new wave of tough-minded investment in "The Double Bottom-Line: Investing in California's Emerging Markets."

...One study found that eight large public pension funds have more than $3 billion invested in urban development projects – and have helped leverage private equity partners that have validated their economic returns.

This state government and public pension investment is part of a broader trend of expanding investments in a range of community-based investment vehicles, from Community Development Banks to Community Venture Capital Funds, all designed to increase capital access in communities often starved of the financial capital needed to revive local businesses.
From the letter attached to the above referenced article:
The widening disparity of economic opportunity across the State threatens our sustained success. There is a correlation between the breadth of economic opportunity and long-term economic progress. In the end, if communities are left to languish and if there is a large and growing underclass outside the mainstream of hope, future economic prospects will be dimmed.
I mention this, because it's smart, effective policy but also because it shows how Angelides has used his leaderhip position to influence Domestic Investment but also, as I mentioned yesterday, divestment.

While the rest of the country wasn't paying attention to offshoring, Phil Angelides was pushing for investment in state communities. While the rest of the world watches as atrocities are occuring in Darfur, Phil Angelides is pushing to hurt that regime financially. I find this innovative and bold leadership refreshing. That is part of the reason why I have been a "stooge" for a while now.

NOTE: Hope the formatting is OK, I don't seem to have the "preview" option available.

Steve Westly for Governor

The biggest "knock" on Steve Westly, which Gilbert hints at in his previous post, is that he was unwilling to stand up to Schwarzenegger. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, Westly supported Proposition 57 and 58, measures to help relieve the state's structural deficit problems. But so did the Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and the California Teacher's Association.

So now that we've basically covered the one area in which Westly has supported Arnold, let's see where he's opposed him. Westly was the first statewide official to oppose Arnold's shortchanging of schools via Prop 98. When the Governor issued an executive order to cut funding to higher education, Westly disregarded it, sent the money to colleges anyway, and challeneged Arnold to sue him. Arnold did not. Opposition doesn't get much bolder than that.

When Democrats in Sacramento said that raising taxes was the only way out of our fiscal problems, and when Republicans demanded that we cut spending, Westly implemented a tax amnesty program that allowed businesses and individuals to pay unpaid taxes without penalty. It brought in over $4 billion.

And finally, all of our favorite quality in a candidate: electability. Poll after poll show that Westly is the stronger candidate against Arnold. We can't risk this opportunity to unseat Arnold and take back the governorship in one of the most Democratic states in the country.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Phil Angelides For Governor

I know at least one other poster who supports Steve Westly for governor so I figured I would try to start a dialogue on the two major Democratic candidates. Hopefully this remains constructive...

When Schwarzenegger was first elected and was rather popular, Democrats across the state went out of their way to cozy up to the popular governor. It was probably a smart political move and no one really knew what Schwarzenegger would do. It didn't take too long for the new governor to start pushing his Bush agenda in California. Initially, few were willing to challenge Schwarzenegger's efforts to take away money from schools. There were three big opponents who earned the title of "three stooges" from Schwarzenegger: Bill Lockyear, Jack O'Connell, and Phil Angelides.

The "three stooges" continued to vocally and emphatically challenge Schwarzenegger's policies on education. Lockyear and Angelides challenged Schwarzenegger on many other policies. During the 2005 special election, Phil Angelides was intimately involved in the campaigns against Schwarzeneggers anti-union policies and against Prop. 73. Once Schwarzenegger lost popularity and was humiliated in the special election, it became easy to stand up to Schwarzenegger. But Phil Angelides was standing up to Schwarzenegger before it was easy and I find that refreshing.

That aside, I think Angelides' stance on some issues is pretty brave and smart. Angelides has been a vocal leader in support of divestment from Sudan. As a CalSTRS trustee, Angelides pushed for a divestment motion:
Nine trustees supported a divestiture motion introduced by Treasurer Phil Angelides. Nobody opposed it.

The vote came less than a month after students persuaded the University of California Board of Regents to pull millions of its investment dollars out of Sudan because of ongoing killings by that country's government.

Angelides, himself a CalSTRS trustee, praised fellow trustees for highlighting an important moral issue.

"CalSTRS did the right thing today," Angelides said moments after the vote. "This is a huge step forward for the divestiture movement, and it sends a very powerful message. The students who came here today touched the heart of the board.

"The board saw the moral clarity of the issue. They understood that we can find equally lucrative alternative investments."

The treasurer's Democratic gubernatorial campaign subsidized the costs for the students to travel from universities across the state to the CalSTRS headquarters and provided them water and snacks after their rally, said Mike Roth, an Angelides spokesman.
The divestment movement is pretty big on campus and is the morally right thing to do.

On a personal note, I was happy to see Angelides propose to double the number of public school counselors. To me it's important to make sure students are informed of their opportunities and helped to prepare to pursue a college education--I've witnessed first hand an overworked counselor. Teachers are very important in this, but so are counselors and it's great to see leaders realizing this.

Red State, Blue State

SurveyUSA has released a list of approval polls for all 50 governors.

Interestingly enough, they noted next to each governor's name not only his or her party, but also which Presidential candidate their state voted for in 2004. After noting some pretty hefty approval ratings for Republican governors in Kerry states and Democratic governors in Bush states, I started to wonder (i.e. had nothing else to do but figure out) whether such types of governors had higher approval ratings than governors in states whose voters stayed with the same party.

So, 10 minutes and one excel spreadsheet later, I found my results: In states where the governor is from a different party than that of the Presidential candidate for whom the state voted in 2004, the average net approval is +19 (i.e. 59 approve and 40 dissapprove). In states where the governor is from the SAME party as the Presidential candidate that state voted for in 2004, the average net approval rating is only +4 (i.e. 52 approve and 48 dissapprove).

I've yet to formulate a coherent thesis as to why this is, but it's obviously interesting

The List

Time magazine has set forth a list of the 10 Best Senators in the country, as well as the 5 worst. The criteria seem to mainly be efficacy and power.

TEN BEST (in alphabetical order):
-Thad Cochran (R-MS)
-Kent Conrad (D-ND)
-Dick Durbin (D-IL)
-Ted Kennedy (D-MA)
-Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
-Carl Levin (D-MI)
-Richard Lugar (R-IN)
-John McCain (R-AZ)
-Olympia Snowe (R-ME)
-Arlen Specter (R-PA)

FIVE WORST (alphabetical again):
-Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
-Wayhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.bold.gif
insert bold tagsne Allard (R-CO)
-Jim Bunning (R-KY)
-Conrad Burns (R-MT)
-Mark Dayton (D-MN)

None of the governors from the 10 Best list are in tough re-election races in 2006, but Conrad Burns, one of the "5 worst" is. Here's what Time has to say about the Montana Republican:

CHARACTER
For starters, he is serially offensive. In the last campaign, Burns called Arabs "ragheads" and had to apologize. In 1994 he played along when a rancher made a demeaning comment about African Americans. Last month he told a woman, within earshot of the media, that he was looking forward to getting "knee-walking drunk."
ACCOMPLISHMENTS
As for legislating, the former farm-radio broadcaster's record over three terms are meager: Asked what his greatest successes over two decades were, aides touted a cell-phone measure that requires providers to route emergency calls to the closest hospital and another that opens the satellite spectrum to public auction.
ABRAMOFF
Federal investigators are looking into his ties to Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who has admitted bribing lawmakers. In 2003 Burns got the Interior Department to make a $3 million grant to a rich, Michigan-based tribal client of Abramoff's; Burns also received $150,000 in contributions from Abramoff, his co-workers and his clients over the past five years. (Burns has since given those funds to charity.) In an April article in Vanity Fair, Abramoff said, "Every appropriation we wanted [from Burns' committee], we got ... I mean, it's a little difficult for him to run from that record."
Yes Jack, it sure is.

And the walls come crumbling down

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has some bad news for his Republican colleagues.
U-S Senator Tom Coburn isn't naming names, but he expects six congressmen and a fellow senator will go to jail.
That's because he thinks they'll be facing corruption charges following investigations involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff and others.

Speaking at a town hall meeting in Wagoner last night, Coburn said that "if you've been keeping up with things, you've got a pretty good idea" of who the seven lawmakers are.

-WTEN News, Oklahoma
Anyone want to start taking guesses?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Right Wing Press

This is a little like shooting ducks in a barrel, but I'd like to take this opportunity to fire off a few well deserved pot shots at the Washington Times.

Robert Stacy McCain is their Assistant Naitonal Editor. Here are a few eloquent pieces of his writings (posted under pseudonyms):
"[T]he media now force interracial images into the public mind and a number of perfectly rational people react to these images with an altogether natural revulsion," McCain wrote. "The white person who does not mind transacting business with a black bank clerk may yet be averse to accepting the clerk as his sister-in-law, and THIS IS NOT RACISM, no matter what Madison Avenue, Hollywood and Washington tell us."
Yes, people like this still exist. And yes, they work for the Washington Times.

Guns, Gods and Gays

In a sign of desperation, the GOP is planning to set forth a socially divisive campaign platform based on gay marriage, flag burning and abortion for the midterm elections.
"Between now and the November elections, Republicans are penciling in plans to take action on social issues important to religious conservatives, the foundation of the GOP base, as they defend their congressional majority."
-Associated Press
This is good news and bad news for Democrats. First, it shows that Republicans realize that if the midterms are about the big issues facing the country - war, the economy, healthcare, etc - they're in big trouble. But it's bad news because it demonstrates that Republicans are reverting to their time-tested strategy: when the going gets tough, divide the country. Get ready for a campaign of gay-bashing, "baby-killing" and assertions of the anti-Americanism of liberals who love to burn flags. It's the 21st century version of the "southern strategy."

But as disillusioned as I was with the American people for re-electing Bush, somehow I believe that they will realize in November that the primary issues facing this country do not include a hippie burning a flag in Berkeley.

EDIT: The New York Times carried a similar story today. But they argued, perhaps in wishful thinking, that the strategy may not be as effective as it was in 2004.
"Gay marriage is not the magic bullet to get us out of our situation," said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina.
Sort of a selective quote if you ask me. Graham is a bit of a maverick who would rather focus on bigger issues like the deficit and earmarks. His reluctance to embrace the socially-divisive platform is not a sign that it won't work, but instead that it doesn't fit his agenda.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Battle of Ideas--Again

With ideas like this, no wonder the country trusts Democrats more than Republicans on immigration:
The College Republicans at Penn State University wanted to enter the debate about the nation's borders by playing a "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Game."

People would be invited to "catch" group members wearing orange shirts symbolizing illegal aliens.
It's unfortunate that absurdity isn't skipping a generation.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Another one

Another general calls for Rumsfeld's head.

EDIT: AND TWO MORE

Been There, Done That

There's been a recent interest in the Dixie Chicks in the blogosphere. Of course, I did start talking about them before the marketing campaign for their new album.

I did own their other albums before the whole imbroglio that took place a few years ago so I feel I can promote them without being criticized for doing it just because I "hate Bush". (Note the quotes.) I do hope their record sales increase because I like the group. If they get a boost from anti-Bush sentiment, well, I'm OK with that.

Generals vs. Rumsfeld

Retired Gen. John Batiste, who headed the Army 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, didn't wait long after retiring to blast Rumsfeld.

You really need to read the whole article, because select passages wouldn't do justice to how devestating it is to the Pentagon, but here are a few gems:
"We need leadership up there that respects the military as they expect the military to respect them. And that leadership needs to understand teamwork."
....AND...
It is widely known there that he was offered a promotion to three-star rank to return to Iraq and be the No. 2 U.S. military officer there but he declined because he no longer wished to serve under Rumsfeld.
....AND FINALLY....
Batiste said he believes that the administration's handling of the Iraq war has violated fundamental military principles, such as unity of command and unity of effort. In other interviews, Batiste has said he thinks the violation of another military principle -- ensuring there are enough forces -- helped create the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal by putting too much responsibility on incompetent officers and undertrained troops.

-The Washington Post

Who is this guy?

A Democratic candidate for President has become the first to officially announce his candidacy. And it is....Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel...? Huh? Who the hell is this guy?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

God's Politics

Garry Wills has a great op-ed in the Times.

It's actually pretty close to my take on things so I won't preach. What I think is important is that Democrats don't run to religion on false pretenses as many of my atheist friends suggest. That's obvious to spot. Rather Democrats should engage the religious community and work with them to get real policy changes to happen. This means being in active discussions with them. Do we expect an evangelical leader to refuse to be part of a coalition to combat poverty? (Pat Robertson's excluded, though I'd use his support on the issue.)

Et tu, Powell?

You know things have gotten bad for the President when Colin Powell, the epitome of loyalty (i.e. making dubious claims at the U.N. and sacrificing your reputation for your President) comes out with even the slightest bit of criticism. But now Powell has done much more than that. He tells Robert Scheer at The Nation:
"The CIA was pushing the aluminum tube argument heavily and Cheney went with that instead of what our guys wrote," Powell said. And the Niger reference in Bush's State of the Union speech? "That was a big mistake," he said. "It should never have been in the speech. I didn't need Wilson to tell me that there wasn't a Niger connection. He didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. I never believed it."

When I pressed further as to why the President played up the Iraq nuclear threat, Powell said it wasn't the President: "That was all Cheney."
Let's see the administration try to discredit the most respected (though retired) military officer in the country.

Bad news from CA-50

In the special election yesterday to replace Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Francine Busby received 44% of the vote. Though she was by far the highest vote getter, that merely represents that while there were only 2 Democrats, there were 14 Repulbicans on the ballot. Since she failed to get a majority, she will now have to face Republican Brian Bilbray in a one-on-one runoff in June.

If one wants to look at CA-50 as a bellweather for the pending mid-terms, things don't look that promising. After all, the two Democrats in the race got a total of 45% of the vote, while Kerry garnered 44% in the district against Bush in 2004. So if you're looking for signs of change, don't look to CA-50.

EDIT: Good news (for Democrats) about Bilbray's weakness as a candidate. From TPM Muckracker:
As a congressman, Bilbray traveled to the Marianas Islands on a junket arranged by disgraced GOP superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. The island government, controlled by a handful of wealthy manufacturers, was pressing to keep the U.S. from imposing wage and labor laws on their factories.

Bilbray took up the Marianas' cause with aplomb, although he has denied knowing Abramoff. "I assume I've run into him during the process," he said. "But when I see him on TV, it's not someone I recognize."

Bilbray lost re-election to Congress in 2000; he immediately declared himself a lobbyist. Congress prohibits former members from lobbying their former colleagues for one year, so Bilbray lobbied the State Department and the White House until he was allowed back in the Capitol. (More on that soon.)

Once there, folks have said he had trouble keeping to the rules. "Several sources, including one GOP lawmaker, said [Bilbray] uses his floor privilege to lobby in the House chamber," which is not permitted, the Hill newspaper reported last June. Bilbray denied the charge: "I've never done that. That's not right."

Also as a lobbyist, he once testified before Congress about a water treatment project, but failed to reveal he was paid to lobby for the group whose project was being discussed.
Just about the worst possible candidate for Republicans to run in Cunningham's district.

Lies and Lying Liars

This Washington Post piece speaks for itself:
On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile "biological laboratories." He declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.

A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq -- not made public until now -- had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president's statement.

Got Drugs?

Since I have no time, this is noted without comment. (For now at least.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

If At First You Don't Succeed...

try, try again. Unless of course you share Homer Simpson's philosophy that trying is the first step toward failure. But I digress...

I had to dig up an old paper for work and came across an article in the same issue of Nature on Evolution/Darwinism (from 1981). It made a reference to the old California court case Segraves v California Board of Education. Basically, this was an attempt over 25 years ago to do what Pennsylvania tried to do and other places like Kansas are doing. Back then, scientists came out to publicize the science behind evolution. Since some may not have access to the journal links above, I cut out one of the more important pieces:
Today, similar people are trying to promote their agenda through similar means. I'm all for giving people that chance to push their agenda, but the "theory" of evolution is based on some pretty extensive testing that they tend to overlook. There is evidence supporting evolution surfacing all the time. As the article points out, it really is quite astonishing.

I tend to put a large part of the blame for the misunderstanding of evolution on scientists, myself included. Often scientists have a hard time condensing over a centuries worth of data and testing into short, concise and understandable language. That's our fault. But politicians shouldn't use this to stir up resentments and hostility toward science and education. Evolutionary concepts are a necessary part of current biomedical science. Understanding of these concepts will be needed if we are to remain competitive in biological research and development.

Update: I forgot about this wonderful description about human evolution "from" apes. Actually, we didn't really evolve from apes. Read the article to find out more.

Tough truth on immigration

I'm embarrassed to say that I just found out some pretty troubling facts on Mexican immigration law. For example:

-It is a felony to be an illegal immigrant in Mexico, the same policy that is being deplored (by myself and others) here in the U.S.
-If you are not a Meixcan citizen, you are forbidden from partaking in any political activity, including protest. So, if the protests and marches that are taking place here were taking place in Mexico, all the undocumented immigrants would be arrested.
-Mexico has its military on both borders, though it firmly opposes the U.S. doing the same
-Mexico deports more illegal immigrants than the U.S.

None of this changes my mind on the current immigration debate in the U.S., but Mexico should either change its draconian laws or simply get out of the U.S. immigration debate until it remedies its hipocritical policies.

Another "Cut and Run" wimp?

QUESTION: Who is this weak-kneed, pussy foot, cowardly cut and run liberal?
"[He] told students and faculty at the University of South Dakota Monday that the United States should pull out of Iraq and leave a small force there, just as it did post-war in Korea and Germany.

'It was an enormous mistake for us to try to occupy that country after June of 2003," [he] said during a question-and-answer session at the school. "We have to pull back, and we have to recognize it.'"

-Argus Leader
ANSWER: Newt Gringich, speaking to students at the University of South Dakota

435th

Republicans for Environmental Protection (sounds like an oxy-moron, I know) just issued their first annual Congressional scorecard. Guess who came in dead last in the House? Richard Pombo.

Election Day

It's election day in the California 50th. Vying to replace disgraced Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham are 18 candidates, including Democrat Francine Busby, the frontrunner. She has to get over 50% to avoid a runoff election in June, and in a conservative Southern California district that's no easy task. But polls show her running at about 40%, and depending on turnout, she could end up with a majority.
Political scientists predict a light turnout because the congressional race is the only issue on the ballot. That means a small number of votes could make the difference between going to Congress and staying home.

-San Diego Union-Tribune
In a conservative Republican district, light turnout is good news for Democrats. Only the intense will vote, and there are a lot of Democrats who see a great opportunity to pick up a seat in the heart of Republican country.

We could be one seat closer to taking back the House by the end of the day.

Out of the Abundance of the Heart...

...the mouth speaks.

Many people are quoting from the recent WaPo article on immigration:
House Republican leaders rushed members back to Washington last year for a rare December session, convinced that a measure to get tough on illegal immigration would help the party battle back against the resurgent Democrats.

But in the new Post-ABC News poll, completed Sunday, 50 percent of respondents said they trusted the Democrats to better handle the immigration issue, while 38 percent trusted Republicans...

Three-quarters of those responding said the United States is not doing enough to secure its borders, but they appeared to have rejected the argument that immigrants are an economic threat. About 68 percent said illegal immigrants are filling jobs Americans do not want, compared with 29 percent who believe they are taking jobs from Americans.
That's all well and good, but not entirely unexpected. Nearly everyone these days has interaction with immigrants and few are as scared of them as the GOP and it's hatemongering pundits want us to believe.

I was most struck, however, by the comments of Rep. Pete Sessions:
"This administration and the president's decision has had an enormous impact on the number of Hispanics who have committed crimes in this state."
I did a double take when I read that. Bush supports a more humane immigration reform and that is supposed to be having an impact on Hispanics committing crimes? Is he referring to illegal immigrants of Hispanic origin or Hispanics in general--including citizens who's families have been here for generations (such as myself)? OK, so I do think it is a crime to be as amazing as I am, but I don't think that is what Sessions is saying.

I mentioned before how ugly this debate is becoming. Statements like Sessions' are irresponsible, ignorant, and dangerous. Perhaps he doesn't dislike all Hispanics, but his stupid comment borderlines on that sentiment. Some may call it a Freudian slip, but the Bible says it well also.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Handouts for felons

The Houston Chronicle reports that when Tom DeLay officially resigns, he will immediately begin receiving his Congressional pension. EVEN if he's convicted.
The Sugar Land Republican, who will turn 59 on Saturday, would get a total of about $1.3 million in pension payouts in the next 20 years alone. DeLay also will be eligible to participate in the health plan available to all federal retirees.

His pension would be unaffected by any conviction on the campaign finance charges he faces in Travis County or any charges rising from the congressional lobbying scandal in which two of his former aides, and former ally and lobbyist Jack Abramoff, have pleaded guilty.
Question for Congressional Republicans: what's more morally reprehensible: a poor, undocumented farmworker sending his kid to a taxpayer-funded school, or an ex-Congressman who has been convicted of a felony getting a pension from the institution he tried to corrupt?

It's official

The Associated Press reports:
Key figures in a phone-jamming scheme designed to keep New Hampshire Democrats from voting in 2002 had regular contact with the White House and Republican Party as the plan was unfolding, phone records introduced in criminal court show.

The records show that Bush campaign operative James Tobin, who recently was convicted in the case, made two dozen calls to the White House within a three-day period around Election Day 2002 — as the phone jamming operation was finalized, carried out and then abruptly shut down.

Another reminder

Linda Feldmann writes in the Christian Science Monirot why the leaking revelation will hurt the President politically, even though it was sound legally. To quote Feldmann quoting political analyst Larry Sabato:
"'Here's why this hurts: It reminds people again that the intelligence was bad and we're in Iraq without end for some of the wrong reasons, and that's at the heart of his 36 percent,' says Larry Sabato, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, referring to Bush's job approval rating in recent polls."
That just about sums it up in my opinion. We wouldn't be talking about the outrageousness of Bush leaking classified material to build the case for war if it hadn't aready been established that the intelligence was wrong and, more importantly, the administration knew it was wrong (or at the very least flawed and unconfirmed).

"We have been fooled again"

Lt. General Mark Newbold was the Pentagon's top operations officer leading up to the war in Iraq. Four months before the war began, he resigned in protest against what he saw as a flawed rationale for the invasion of Iraq. In the upcoming issue of time, he goes public with his criticism. Here are a few select passages:

From 2000 until October 2002, I was a Marine Corps lieutenant general and director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After 9/11, I was a witness and therefore a party to the actions that led us to the invasion of Iraq -- an unnecessary war.
I am driven to action now by the missteps and misjudgments of the White House and the Pentagon, and by my many painful visits to our military hospitals. In those places, I have been both inspired and shaken by the broken bodies but unbroken spirits of soldiers, Marines and corpsmen returning from this war. The cost of flawed leadership continues to be paid in blood. The willingness of our forces to shoulder such a load should make it a sacred obligation for civilian and military leaders to get our defense policy right. They must be absolutely sure that the commitment is for a cause as honorable as the sacrifice.
To those of you who don't know, our country has never been served by a more competent and professional military. For that reason, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent statement that "we" made the "right strategic decisions" but made thousands of "tactical errors" is an outrage. It reflects an effort to obscure gross errors in strategy by shifting the blame for failure to those who have been resolute in fighting. The truth is, our forces are successful in spite of the strategic guidance they receive, not because of it.

What we are living with now is the consequences of successive policy failures. Some of the missteps include: the distortion of intelligence in the buildup to the war, McNamara-like micromanagement that kept our forces from having enough resources to do the job, the failure to retain and reconstitute the Iraqi military in time to help quell civil disorder, the initial denial that an insurgency was the heart of the opposition to occupation, alienation of allies who could have helped in a more robust way to rebuild Iraq, and the continuing failure of the other agencies of our government to commit assets to the same degree as the Defense Department. My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions--or bury the results.
A few of the most senior officers actually supported the logic for war. Others were simply intimidated, while still others must have believed that the principle of obedience does not allow for respectful dissent. The consequence of the military's quiescence was that a fundamentally flawed plan was executed for an invented war, while pursuing the real enemy, al-Qaeda, became a secondary effort.
Ouch. I don't know enough about military policy to commenet on the validity of any of his arguments, but I can say this. Of those military officers who have retired since the war began, very few have come out in support of the President's or the Pentagon's decisions.

GOP: Fear the People

Jonathan Chait reports on a new attempt to discard the electoral college in favor of a popular vote. The article is worth reading on its own, but I found particularly interesting the objection raised by Rep John Doolitte (R-CA) to abolishing the electoral college:
"The left in America is nothing if not creative. Knowing that they can't beat us using existing election law, they have started a state by state effort to change the rules so their 'blue' states can unilaterally decide who will win the highest office in the land. The left-wing politicos in America know that turning the national elections into populist referendums will benefit their candidates."
I had to read this a couple of times just ot make sure I wasn't missing something in Doolittle's argument. I was not. He is basically acknowledging that a popular vote would inevitably benefit Democrats, and that Republicans are only in power through the un-democratic electoral process that gives disproportionate power to small, conservative states. And he sees nothing wrong with that.

That damned liberal media

I came across this brief gem buried in a Washington Post article on Francine Busby, the lone Democrat running in the special election to replace the disgraced and convicted Randy "Duke Cunningham."
At the event, attended by 25 men and two women, mostly in business and 100 percent Republican, Busby detailed her résumé -- daughter of a sausage manufacturer, Italian studies major, Girl Scout leader, Sunday school teacher, travel agent and school board member -- and then took questions on abortion (she is pro-choice), immigration (she is for an amnesty program for illegal immigrants, but she does not call it that) and the inheritance tax (she is for a complete repeal). This is, after all, La Jolla, where the median house goes for $1.75 million. Busby was surprisingly well received even when she was asked why she did not identify herself as a Democrat in her ads.
The argument over what exactly is "amnesty" has constituted a war of semantics between Tancredo Republicans and everyone else in the immigration debate, but for the most part the media has played it down the line, briefly explaining each side and stating that there is disagreement over the term "amnesty."

But in this supposedly hard-news story, the WaPo clearly editorializes its opinion on "amnesty." Not that it really bothers me - a newspaper is entitled to determine what it believes amnesty is and is not. But let's not argue that the media is liberally biased in the face of editorializations like this one.

"This White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran..."

"...and that means war"

This of course coming from the new Seymour Hersh article on Iran Plans
Publicly flaunting diplomacy while at the same time planning an intense air attack. Just in January I heard Mr. Bolton speaking in Berlin patently denying any possibility that the US pursues military options for dealing with the "Iran issue". He actually yelled at the poor kid in the audience who asked about it - using Iraq as the precedent.
With support for the Iraq war so low, and international trust in the tank, its rather disconcerting that this information has gotten out. Of course it is only a plan (one which includes a nuclear option!), but after the example of Iraq it's extremely difficult for me to believe that the current administration takes the option of diplomacy seriously. This sums it up well...
One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.” He added, “I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’ ”

Good question.
Any ideas how the Dems can challenge this foreign policy point, without siding with the bad guys?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Tomorrow We'll Forget

I finally watched Hotel Rwanda a few days ago. As I finish my glass of subpar Shiraz and read Kevin's post on Darfur, I can't help but remember a certain scene from the movie. Don Cheadle's character tells the news cameraman that once people watch his video footage, they will act. But the cameramen tells him that they will watch and be moved, but then will go back to drinking their wine. It's sad but true.

It's unfortunate that Presidents worry about not having enough "political capital" to end genocide. Bush went on a massive PR campaign to drum up support for a war based on false and incomplete information. Too bad he couldn't have drummed up support to use force when it is imminently necessary.

If Democrats want to challenge the GOP foreign policy, they should use Darfur as an example of when to use force. Gen. Wes Clark showed how we could stop genocide in 1999 without a single U.S. fatality. Too bad he didn't get a chance to do something about this. (Disclaimer: I was a supporter of Wes Clark in '04.)



It's been a while since I talked about the Dixie Chicks, but they have a new Album coming out next month. I'll be picking up a copy--maybe even try to catch them on tour. It took a lot of courage for them to stand up to power when no one else was willing. As the rug comes out from under the Bush administration, it's important to remember those who were trying to speak the truth when it was unpopular.

Speaking of music and brave musicians, Atrios had a link to a song by Pink and The Indigo Girls directed to the President:
How do you sleep while the rest of us cry?
How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye?
How do you walk with your head held high?
Can you even look me in the eye?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

It wasn't me (yes it was...)

Via The Plank at TNR, a lawyer questioned the White House's long-standing refusal to answer any questions vaguely related to any "ongoing investigation." Here's a recent axample from one of Scott McLellan's recent press briefings:

SCOTT McLELLAN: Hang on, hang on. There's no way I can get into that without discussing issues relating to an ongoing legal proceeding. And I think you will appreciate that a policy has been established--I didn't establish it, but I'm obligated to adhere to that policy.

QUESTION: I'm not sure what you mean by that, "a policy has been established"?

Scott McClellan: About not discussing an ongoing legal proceeding.

QUESTION: About not discussing ongoing legal proceeding.

Scott McClellan: That's right.

QUESTION: Okay. But you understand the question I'm trying to get to?

QUESTION: Who established it?

QUESTION: Before we even deal with that--

Scott McClellan:--back to October 2003, and this has been in place for a long time by the White House.
While The Plank goes on to mock McClellan's obvious over-reliance on the "legal proceeding" dodge, they don't mention the circular logic of McLellan's argument. He first states that he is bound to the "ongoing legal proceeding" policy even though he did not establish it. Then who did? You'll see a little farther down that the policy was apparently established in "October 2003." So while it may not have been McClellan personally who established the policy (he didn't become press secretary until July of 2003), it was still the Bush White House, of which McClellan was a prominent communications aide.

Also, why should McLellan be bound to this policy? It's not a law by any means. He is now White House Press Secretary, so why shouldn't he be able to decide what the appropriate policy for answering questions? More importantly, why does he not feel the need to explain the rationale for the "ongoing investigation" dodge? This White House has used it to dodge questions about Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Tom DeLay, and all the other Republicans under indictment.

To turn my fire to the press, why do they not feel more compelled to demand answers?

License to Lie

Conservatives want to dismiss the revelation that Bush and Cheney authorized Libby to leak classified material by asserting that the President has the authority to declassify anything he wants, and had done so implicitly by giving Libby the green light to disseminate such info. Fine. Whatever. I don't really care that the material was "classified." What I do care about is that they knew it was wrong before they leaked it. A story that will run in tomorrow's NY Times:
"Mr. Fitzgerald, in his filing, said that Mr. Libby had been authorized to tell Judith Miller, then a reporter for The New York Times, on July 8, 2003, that a key finding of the 2002 intelligence estimate on Iraq was that Baghdad had been vigorously seeking to acquire uranium from Africa.

But a week earlier, in an interview in his State Department office, Mr. Powell told three other reporters for The Times that intelligence agencies had essentially rejected that contention, and were "no longer carrying it as a credible item" by early 2003, when he was preparing to make the case against Iraq at the United Nations.

Mr. Powell's queasiness with some of the intelligence has been well known, but the new revelations suggest that long after he had concluded the intelligence was faulty, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby were still promoting it."

--David Sanger and David Barstow, NY Times, April 9
To sum up the obvious: Bush and Cheney KNEW that a piece of intelligence was uncertain at best, flat wrong at worst. They nevertheless told one of their henchmen to leak said material to the media to create almost from whole cloth a case for war.

NSA wiretapping aside, this alone should be cause for censure.

Making Hatred Mainstream

A couple weeks ago I said that I didn't want the immigration debate doesn't boil over into a racial struggle. Sadly, it looks like this is starting to happen.

James Wolcott discusses:
Which is a fancy way of saying that the rhetoric on cable news over the immigration controversy, never pretty, has taken a wide turn to the ugly over the last week. Yesterday, Fox News, playing catch-up on the issue CNN's Lou Dobbs has owned for the last few years, solicited the wise-owl perspective of G. Gordon Liddy...

...But it was clear from his appearance that he's aching for action against all these interlopers with their Mexican flags, saying that if they want to wave Mexican flags, let 'em go back to Mexico. It was clear from the tenor of his comments that he wants confrontation between protestors and protestors-protesting-the-protesters, because enough is enough, look where this coddling has gotten us, it's time for the country to stand up for itself...

But the real prize was Dr. Jack Wheeler, whose appearance on Neil Cavuto's was touted enthusiastically by Ms. Pamela at Atlas Shrugs (which in itself should set off a cathedral of warning bells), peddles a much slicker line of shit. First off, the "Dr." bit has all the hallmarks of someone trying to pad his loafers to gain sham stature. (Dr. James Dobson, anyone?) Wheeler was on to warn us about the prospect of a second civil war, which would be waged between native-born Americans and Mexican invaders. He argued on Neil Cavuto's Fox News show that Mexico, not Iran, was the greatest threat to American security.
(Crooks & Liars has the video of Wheeler.) Read the entire Wolcott piece--it's even more disturbing.

Where is our country headed? I hope our national leadership--political, religious, and others--acts now to isolate and disown the hatemongering before it grows. Personally, I think this is much more urgent than whether or not Bush is listening to me talk to my dad about his health. Fear and hatred pose a deeper threat to our society than constitutional nuances. Our generation is much more tolerant than generations past and I hope that we can combat the hatred and fear that others are trying to thrust upon us.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Pombo's vacation



Rep. Richard Pombo, the nemesis of every tree, river and animal in America, has a strange affinity for public parks, considering his long-standing war on the environment.

In fact, he likes parks so much, that he took the liberty of using taxpayer money to fund a vacation for his entire family to numerous natural parks across the country.

However, while Pombo defended it as "official business all the way," the evidence seems to suggest otherwise.
"But officials from at least two parks Pombo says he visited have no recollection of him making an appearance — Kennedy (Pombo's spokesman) said they are mistaken.

“I was working in the park then and can’t confirm that a meeting like that ever took place. I generally remember the congressmen that come here,” said Joe Zarki, a spokesman at Joshua Tree National Park.

“I don’t remember anything like this. I would’ve probably been involved, too,” Zarki said.

At Badlands National Park in South Dakota, an employee said Pombo made arrangements to visit but never showed up.

“We had it all set up for him to come, and he never showed up, and I mean we had gone to a lot of work,” said Pam Livermont, the secretary to Badlands’ superintendent.

“I distinctly remember working with them (Resources Committee staff) getting that all set up and then him not showing,” she said.
The chairman of the House Resources Committee, hard at work.

"She Deserved it"

I'd like to depart for a moment from the normal political dialogue of this blog to call attention to a disturbing, though predictable, development in the Duke rape controversy.

The formula of attacking a victim of rape, thus implying that "she deserved it" or "can't be trusted" has already begun. Apparently, the alleged rape victim in this case had a prior run-in with the law. Anyone who thinks that sexism and racism are things of the past should take pause at this revelation. A poor, black woman is allegedly raped by wealthy, white college athletes, and the first line of the defense is that this woman is a criminal who can't be trusted.

Because, of course, having a prior criminal offense is a perfectly logical motive for subjecting yourself to the emotionally devestating process of going public with a rape allegation. Right?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

What I Learned In Sunday School (or Justice Sunday)



We all know that Tom DeLay likes to play church and his supporters like to tout his good Christian values so I found the above picture odd. The picture is (via Atrios) from a video where DeLay's supporters "protest" (or "interrupt") a Ted Lampson press conference and one guy pushes an old lady in the face. You can find more here. Either this guy doesn't love himself of forgot something.

I also wanted to discuss the latest on McCain, but I'll leave that for someone else.

Duct tape for Hurricanes?

Remeber a few years back, when DHS suggested that Americans stock up on duct tape to protect themselves from terrorist attacks?

Well, Bush has now nominated the official who made that suggestion, R. David Paulson, to be the new FEMA chief. Coming soon: how to hurricane-proof your home with rubberbands and paperclips.

Bush vs. the truth



According to a story in today's Washington Post, which was for some reason buried on page A27, the Bush administration has engaged in a systematic campaign to prevent government scientists from sharing their findings on climate change with the media (or anyone). The lede of the article sums up nicely how important and fundamental such distortions are.
"Scientists doing climate research for the federal government say the Bush administration has made it hard for them to speak forthrightly to the public about global warming. The result, the researchers say, is a danger that Americans are not getting the full story on how the climate is changing."
Last week's Time magazine cover story provides ample evidence of why global warming is so dangerous.
Dumping that much water into the ocean is a very dangerous thing. Icebergs don't raise sea levels when they melt because they're floating, which means they have displaced all the water they're ever going to. But ice on land, like Greenland's, is a different matter. Pour that into oceans that are already rising (because warm water expands), and you deluge shorelines. By some estimates, the entire Greenland ice sheet would be enough to raise global sea levels 23 ft., swallowing up large parts of coastal Florida and most of Bangladesh. The Antarctic holds enough ice to raise sea levels more than 215 ft.
In other words, imagine every run-of-the-mill category 3 hurricane having the same effect as Hurricane Katrina.

One could point to the Time article as evidence that the public and the scientific community already know about the dangers of global warming, and thus that Bush's scientific cover-up, so to speak, isn't that consequential. However, it's not just the lack of public disclosure that makes the Bush administrations muzzling of scientists disturbing. If the administration won't even acknowledge global warming, then it certainly isn't going to take any substantial effects to remedy it. Regardless of how convinced the public is of global warming, and how certain researchers and academics are it takes the inititiative of the federal government to make any substantial improvement on the national level. This makes the administrations anti-scientific not just improper but altogether dangerous.