Raggin' on the Pres

The first time I ever heard someone raise a concern about a woman ascending to the presidency was when Geraldine Ferraro was the VP on the Democratic ticket when Walter Mondale challenged Reagan. I was 9 years old, and I remember hearing how it wouldn’t be safe to have a woman with her “finger on the button.”

After the years and years (and years and years and years) of hearing men say (even men on the Left, I might add) that you couldn’t trust a woman to have her finger on the button, especially during certain times of month (insert manly guffaws here), and being repeatedly put in the position of one of the (unfortunately) rare women who was passionate enough about politics to mount a defense on women’s behalf, I think I’ve earned the right to question the credentials of the person with his or her finger on the button for any reason I damn well please. And I have to tell you, two recent stories have got me thinking, This is the man with his finger on the button?!

Number One: FAIR reports that the NY Times decided to kill a story about the mysterious bulge appearing under Bush’s jacket during the three debates, despite there being credible evidence that he was, indeed, wired. Aside from the Times’ outrageous decision to withhold information that our president is likely a cheat days before the election, which is a whole other issue, the very real probability that he was wired raises some serious red flags, namely if he had help, why did he still suck so bad? Considering his exponentially better performance at the SOTU address, for which he was well-prepared and well-reheared (ergo more relaxed), the explanation comes down to his inability to perform well and/or think clearly under pressure, neither of which are particularly desirable shortcomings for a man who is daily required to make huge decisions, and sometimes not always with a generous surplus of thinkin’ time.

Number Two: Bush’s recent speech on Strengthening Social Security, given in Tampa, Florida. He explained his plans thusly:

Because the -- all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those -- changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to what has been promised.

Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the -- like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.

Okay, better? I'll keep working on it.

He obviously has no idea what he’s talking about. He shouldn’t need to keep working on his ability to describe a plan he’s been promoting since he was running against Gore over four years ago.

Someone who is so demonstrably incompetent as to have to swindle his way through a debate and babble incoherently when faced with the proposition of giving a pre-scheduled address on one of the key policies of his current term is unfit to be trusted with the decisions we need our President to be able to make, clearly and decisively, at any given moment.

He should never have been given the opportunity to have his finger on the button—any time of month.

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Koufax Awards

It’s your last chance to vote for the Koufax Awards semi-finalists. Shakespeare’s Sister is up for Best New Blog and Blog Most Deserving of Wider Recognition. I have no chance of advancing in either category, so go give me a pity vote, or better yet, vote for someone we love who actually has a chance. (You’ll know ’em when you see ’em.)

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First Amendment Schmirst Amendment

The Fixer pulls this from Yglesias:

Yet another in a depressing continuing series. Josh Marshall notes that the Republican National Committee is now threatening legal action against media outlets and independent advocacy groups who criticize the president. The RNC, as I trust I needn't point out, is, at this point, rather intimately connected to the state apparatus of this fine nation of ours. Now to be fair, in Russia they prefer to silence critics with legal action unrelated to the substance of the criticism. Trying to make use of libel and slander laws to shield political leaders from criticism is more the sort of thing you see in Singapore or Jordan. Still, the basic point should, I think, be clear. But libertarians need no longer worry about President Bush -- after all, all of this is being done for the sake of gutting Social Security!
and then pointedly notes:
And you know there are judges out there who'll rule in favor of these idiots. Don't say I didn't warn ya. Repeat after me, "Deutschland űber Alles!"
Think it’s hyperbole? So did I, once upon a time. But now I think it’s Time to Make Some Noise.

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Pay Per View?

{Ed. Note: I'm moving this post back up to the top, because we didn't give John much play the first time around.)

Kung Fu Monkey's John Rogers is doing some informal research, and I'm posting the question here on his behalf (in no small part because I'm interested to see what people have to say). He's looking for responses to the following:

Q: How much would you pay, per episode, for your favorite TV shows?

A buck, two bucks per, a quarter or 50 cents, or nothing at all?

As for me, about the only things I watch are C-SPAN, the Discovery Channel, and Law and Order re-runs. (There are people who would claim that I am irrationally and embarrassedly addicted to American Idol, too, but those people are clearly insane.)

If I started getting charged for any of the above, I'd probably just rely exclusively on my DVD collection, which includes most of my favorite television shows (Seinfeld, Six Feet Under, Twin Peaks, Sex and the City, etc.) already, anyway.

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Muddying Our Efforts

While we’re busily slinging mud back home, some of our troops have apparently decided to wrestle in it:

U.S. military police threw a mudwrestling party at a prison camp in Iraq and a woman who took part has been found guilty of indecent exposure and demoted, the U.S. military said Monday.

At least three female guards stripped to their underwear and wrestled each other in a paddling pool full of mud in the grounds of Camp Bucca, the biggest U.S. camp for detainees in Iraq, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said.
Here’s the not really amusing part: Camp Bucca was the destination for detainees being removed from Abu Ghraib—ya know, because of all the rampant sexually-related misconduct there. Apparently the sight of Iraqi detainees just drives our troops wild.
"It does not appear that alcohol was involved and there is no evidence to support suggestions of any type of sexual misconduct," Johnson told Reuters.
So women were engaging in half-naked mud wrestling sober? Wow, war really does fuck with your head.

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The AP reports:

Tim Roemer, the only remaining opponent of Howard Dean in the race to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Monday he's bowing out of the race …

Dean, the former presidential candidate and governor of Vermont, is expected to win the DNC chairmanship at the election Feb. 12.

Reuters Photo

No word yet on whether he's won the coveted role of "The Fonz" in Broadway's upcoming Happy Days Revival.

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Critical Discussion

On Feb. 1, Democracy Corps’ James Carville, Stanley Greenberg, and Bob Shrum released their summary of a survey meant to provide useful information to Democrats in terms of framing party identity, called Toward a Democratic Purpose. (You can see the whole report here.) Information was gleaned thusly: “Democracy Corps conducted a national survey of 998 likely voters conducted January 16-20, 2005. The margin of error is +/- 3.1%.” (The entire poll can be viewed at www.democracycorps.com.) Their stated intent was: “We are not trying to be prescriptive at this point, rather to contribute to the critical discussions ahead.” Of which I intend this to be one. (Daily Kos’ Armando here; Matthew Yglesias here; Pam here, for others.) So that’s the background noise. Now to the findings.

What the report uses as its conclusion, I want to use as my starting point:

In this test, the Republicans say their most important principle is “self-sufficiency,” and everything else follows from that. The Democrats say their most important principle is “increasing opportunity and community,” and similarly, construct a framework of connected ideas.
When the surveyors constructed competing frameworks built pivotally around the concepts of Self-Sufficiency verses Opportunity and Community, the participants favored the latter (Democratic) framework by a 6-point margin (51-45%).

This result is clearly indicative of the opportunity available to Democrats, if we can get our shit together.

The first step toward that end is examining what our advantages are, so we can play to them, and what their disadvantages are, so we can exploit them.

Simply being Not Greedy might, on its face, seem a bit lackluster, but the truth is, it’s very valuable, particularly when extended as a concept beyond our own borders. Being the party that best represents the spirit of American generosity (a point of pride among many Americans, despite the fact that we often don’t do much to earn it—see: Hotel Rwanda) is a great place to start, and in terms of its domestic usage, coupling it with our next highest advantage—being for the middle class—we have at our disposal another great American fallacy; there are very few Americans who don’t consider themselves middle class.

Generally speaking, we are seen as the party of doing right by people, fighting for equality, fairness, and the little guy. By contrast, the Republicans are seen as the party of strength and clarity. I believe once we begin to solidify and effectively communicate our vision, we’ll make grounds on the latter (which should also help close the Optimism gap—memorably promoting our own ideas in tandem with criticizing the other guys’).

There are certain advantages I believe we have to cede to the Republicans, and Respecting Religious Faith is one of them. There are, quite simply, too many conservatives who will never be willing to reconcile religious tolerance and support for gay rights or abortion rights, or any of a number of other social issues that are integral parts of our platform. I don’t believe it helps our cause to suddenly declare ourselves “praying people,” or try to awkwardly inject religious rhetoric into campaign speeches. It doesn’t sound authentic to my ears (I doubt I’m alone), and ticking off your god-lovin’ bona fides in the same speech where you support legalized abortion just doesn’t play to many religious people. When we talk about religion, we need to talk about a general respect for religious faith, as opposed to trying to out-maneuver the Republicans for the coveted Right Hand of God slot. The best we can do is try to reframe the argument so that it’s less about how religious a candidate is and more about how respectful of faith (or the lack thereof) a candidate is.

There are also a good number of attributes in which both parties fall close to or within the margin of error:

We can look at this chart one of two ways: A) that it is reflective of a divided electorate, leaving little room for headway in either direction; or B) that this list tells us exactly where we most need to look to differentiate ourselves.

The truth is, it depends on the line item. Some of these are very squishy; Reform and Change, Opportunity, Improving America…it all depends on one’s own interpretations. Some think partially privatizing Social Security would be an improvement; some think extending the assault weapons ban would be an improvement. Many of these answers would be, I imagine, more ideologically driven than some of the others, rendering them part of rationale A.

Rationale B then, must address those where redefinition and refinement are viable: Shares Your Values, Future-Oriented, and Ambition to Do Better. What this list has in common is that they are all completely unquantifiable. (Technically, I know Share Your Values can be reasonably quantified, but the idea here is not whether our party actually Shares Values, but whether our party is perceived to Share Values—a conclusion reached by voters viscerally, not by examination of historical legislation.)

One of our greatest assets as legislators is our penchant for nuance, for wonkiness, for the facts and the figures. It’s also our Achilles’ Heel come election time. It isn’t enough to actually Share Values with a majority of the electorate; we must learn to convey the notion that we want to Share Values with them, that we do Share Values with them, and that they Share Values with us. (As I recall, John Edwards was particularly adept at turning that one on its head, as well it should be—making people consider and question their party affiliation, rather than constantly appealing as an alternative. You might be a Democrat if… We might already be your real first choice…if you think about it.)

Also worthy of attempting to differentiate ourselves is Trustworthiness. The leadership of the two parties are not even in the same league, and yet we are virtually tied. This is the responsibility of the Congressional Leadership, to hammer home loudly and repeatedly the misrepresentations, miscontextualizations, and outright lies perpetrated by this administration on a regular basis. There’s no reason we should be ahead of the Republicans by a negligible margin on this issue, except for our lack of willingness to call a spade a spade (and a lie a damn lie). The D.C. Dems have been so lax in their responsibilities to the truth that when Mark Warner used the L-word, it was media worthy. A sad state of affairs, considering this administration’s nonexistent relationship with the truth, but also clearly in our favor at this moment in time; if we call them on it, the stories will follow.

Okay, this is getting a bit long-winded, even after severely editing myself, so I’m going to move on to one final point, and then wrap it up, leaving further discussion for comments.

This last chart seems to have captured most of the attention around the blogosphere, and probably rightfully so.

The consensus, I’ve been relieved to see, is that we shouldn’t move anywhere on the social issues: Support for Gay Marriage and Support for Legalized Abortion. (Big Government also arguably falls into this category, as many who regard it as a weakness likely do so because of federal social programs.) Not only would it be an affront to liberalism to weaken our support on any of the above, but it’s frankly pointless, as homophobes and right-to-lifers are never going to vote Democratic, anyway. In fact, moving center on these issues would likely be tantamount to political suicide, as the party progressives would be marginalized and the Right would (accurately) describe Dems as flip-floppers (a change we are well aware has sticking power and resonates with the American public).

No Strong Direction is the thorn in our side that must be immediately addressed. The one thing this report seems to suggest to me is that the direction is clearly not toward the center. We need a progressive, populist message, a candidate who believes in it, and a grassroots movement prepared to support, reinforce, and fund it.

Well, one out of three ain’t bad…

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Hotel Rwanda

I saw Hotel Rwanda this weekend, and I keep trying to write something that would do justice to the powerful experience. Turns out, Scott already wrote it:

Countries in Africa, and even the pacific southwest don't matter. We say "never again" when we recall the NAZI's brutal murdering of 6 million Jews and countless others, but we really don't believe it. The Khmer Rouge, Rwanda, the Middle East ... the list goes on and on, and always will, unless there is a financial or military interest involved.
Read the rest, and please, see this film.

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The War at Home

Why does President Bush hate veterans?

President Bush's budget would more than double the co-payment charged to many veterans for prescription drugs and would require some to pay a new fee of $250 a year for the privilege of using government health care, administration officials said Sunday.


Veterans groups attacked the proposals. Richard B. Fuller, legislative director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, said: "The proposed increase in health spending is not sufficient at a time when the number of patients is increasing and there has been a huge increase in health care costs. It will not cover the need. The enrollment fee is a health care tax, designed to raise revenue and to discourage people from enrolling."
I guess “Support the Troops” ends as soon as they need more than bumper magnets and lipservice.

In other military news, John’s got a good one on the disturbing trend of increased reliance on private military corporations (PMCs) to function in rolls traditionally taken by the United States military.

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Tough Case

In a very unsettling case out of Illinois, a judge has ruled that a couple whose frozen embryos were inadvertently destroyed by the fertility clinic at which they were stored has the right to file a wrongful death suit.

In an opinion issued Friday, Cook County Judge Jeffrey Lawrence said "a pre-embryo is a 'human being' ... whether or not it is implanted in its mother's womb."

He said the couple is as entitled to seek compensation as any parents whose child has been killed.
I feel terribly bad for the couple to whom this happened, but as a pro-choice advocate, I am very torn about this decision. I don’t personally believe that a pre-embryo should be considered a human being; in a perfect world, the issue would be tied to viability. Do I think that a fetus, which would have lived if delivered the day before, dying as a result of an attack on the mother should be a criminal offense? Yes. Do I think a first-term abortion should be? No. Until I feel secure that appropriate lines can be drawn, however, I can't support fetus-protection laws (such as Laci’s Law), lest they end up slowly eroding abortion rights, as many of their supporters openly intend.

And in this case, the embryo had not even been implanted. My feeling is that the couple to be entitled to damages for property loss, which sounds callous even to my own ears, but categorizing the destruction of a frozen embryo in the same way as the death of a living, breathing child seems absurd to me. It disproportionately elevates the status of the former, and diminishes the value of the latter. I doubt any parent who has lost a child would consider it the same, and I can’t, either.

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Another depressing reminder of why this election was so important:

It was Justice Antonin Scalia's standard speech. He bemoaned the Supreme Court's growing political role in cases such as abortion, then joked about how Democrats are wary of a "Chief Justice Scalia" in a second Bush term.

But in an appearance one week after President Bush's re-election, Scalia elicited a particularly hearty roar and ovation from a conservative Federalist Society crowd with his kicker.

"Please," a clearly pleased Scalia said. "It was supposed to be funny!"
With Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist ailing with cancer, the irascible Scalia is doing nothing to discourage talk that he would like to be Bush's pick if Rehnquist steps aside this year.

Scalia's ascension is considered a long shot because the staunchly conservative justice would prompt a firestorm of opposition from Democrats, abortion rights supporters and others groups. Nonetheless, Scalia seems to be relishing, if not subtly encouraging, the speculation.
See, here’s another reason why Democratic opposition to, as examples, the appointments of Condi Rice and Alberto Gonzales are important. Because the promotion of ideologues should always be expected to be met with a firestorm of opposition. However, we’ve got a problem, because:
Scalia got an unsolicited boost in December from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. He suggested he would be open to elevating Scalia, calling the justice a "smart guy."
Even if Reid doesn’t find Scalia’s positions objectionable, even if he does find him a smart guy, his willingness to consider Scalia for the position of Chief Justice should have been severed once Scalia brazenly ignored possible conflict of interest charges and went on a hunting trip with VP Dick Cheney while Cheney had a case pending before the Supreme Court. Whether it was indicative of a lapse of judgment or a sense of being above the normal guidelines of propriety really doesn’t matter. Even Liebertwat had a problem with it, and, back when he was still a Democrat, sought to find out if Scalia should be compelled to recuse himself from the case.

It’s troubling that our Senate Minority Leader is still open to the possibility of a Chief Justice Scalia. I really hope that, should that possibility present itself for debate, there are Dems willing to galvanize the fierce opposition their constituents expect.

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You Bet Your Ass I'm an Activist

AMERICAblog’s John Aravosis writes this morning:

Only "Democratic Activists" want Dean as party chair?

That's what Stephanopoulos says. Sounds a bit demeaning to me. The "activist" word has always been used to belittle the guy it's thrown at. Is it only Democratic Activists who want Dean as chair?
You know, if wanting some action makes me an activist, then I wear the badge proudly. What makes my belief in fighting to save Social Security (for example) worthy of an activist tag, as opposed to the administration, who want to radically change the program, is a distinction I don’t quite understand. Probably because it’s inane hyperbole of the sort with which shows like Stephanopoulos’ are riddled. I’m exhausted with the constant stream of mischaracterizations and random assertions such as this one being presented as if they had already achieved status as conventional wisdom, just to generate debatable topics.

I might be more forgiving if we lived in a near-utopian state of bipartisan cooperation, where every day didn’t produce a thousand issues worthy of discussion, but we don’t. And indeed, this topic itself could be reframed to generate a pertinent debate about the state of the left: What about the grassroots has made Dean so uniquely appealing? That, however, might actually require thoughtful commentary, a talent of which the hosts of political shows seem universally devoid.

As regards the use of “activist” as a means to denigrate someone, I find it a rather tedious habit. Considering the pervasive apathy toward all things political that plagues the American electorate, disparaging those who ardently pursue their political objectives seems little more than a snide admonishment to get back in line with the rest of the sheep. I’m not sure where we lost our notion to celebrate the individual, but this resentment of those who refuse to conform to a Rockwellian image of a passive and jolly red-cheeked constituent, waving the flag regardless of what it has come to represent, is the worst kind of disfigured patriotism.

I’m a Hoosier, dammit; Indiana is the home of James Dean, Kurt Vonnegut, Cole Porter, Eugene V. Debs, and half of the Wright Brothers (Wilbur, if you want to know)—proud and shameless activists all in their individual ways, and our culture is richer for each of their contributions. Pissing all over those who seek to make the world just that much better through realizing their passions is an endorsement of complacency and mediocrity, and a refusal to acknowledge what makes this country great.

That flag was forged with the blood and spirit of activists. I don’t want to hear it used like it’s some dirty fucking word ever again.

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NY Ruling Update

The New York Times reports that Republican NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided to appeal the decision legalizing gay marriage in New York, despite it being in conflict with his personal beliefs:

Mr. Bloomberg told reporters that the city would try "to expedite the appeal directly to the highest court," the state's Court of Appeals, "so that people will have a right once and for all to know where they stand."

With New York's highest court now likely to face an issue that has proved its political potency around the country, Mr. Bloomberg said he personally favored gay marriage. It was the first time, according to his aides, that he has so clearly stated his position in public.

He went further last night at a dinner held by the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, where he told the guests at the Waldorf-Astoria that he would "work with you to change the law" in Albany if the lower court ruling - which he called "something to celebrate" - was struck down.
Careful, Mr. Bloomberg. That sounds dangerously close to nuance; you might have your GOP card revoked.

As for why he’s decided to appeal the ruling:
In his remarks in Chinatown, the mayor said city lawyers had told him that the ruling "was incorrect, that the current state Constitution does not permit same-sex marriages."
I suspect the state Constitution doesn’t explicitly male provisions for construction workers yelling, “Yo baby, come hop on dis!” at female passers-by, or people making a living dressed as cats, or 6’2” drag queens walking down the street in nothing but a pink feather boa and black leather thong, either, but New Yorkers find as part of their world lots of things that might at first blush seem out of the ordinary, and I’m sure gay marriage will be no exception. There’s good reason I [heart] NY, you know.

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History Repeats Itself

Ezra on Iran:

[T]he ingredients there were an Islamic power base in government, a vicious insurgency, and a starting moderation that helped the Islamists achieve power but that they never wanted in the first place. Connect the dots. And get depressed.
Go read the rest. And bear in mind that Iran is now part of the designated “Axis of Evil.” I wonder if the term self-defeating ever occurs to Bush & Co.

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Snarky McSnarkerson Examines the Bush Budget

Another bit of appalling news released on a day when no one will be reading it:

Bush has said his budget will assemble federal resources for war, domestic security and other priorities and cull inefficient or redundant programs. Administration officials have said he will hold overall nondefense spending — excepting domestic security — to less than next year's expected 2.3 percent increase in inflation, meaning the programs will lose purchasing power.
You might be wondering, as I was, what the “inefficient or redundant programs” to which Bush was referring are. It turns out, his choices finally clear up what he really means by “compassionate conservative”—basically, conserving all your compassion in favor of pork barrel spending and unjust wars. Let’s take a look:
The budget, the toughest he has written since entering the White House four years ago, seeks about half the increase for school districts in low-income communities he requested last year and a slight reduction for the National Park Service.
First of all, perhaps if he had written a reasonable budget in any of the last four years, or made any attempts to control the outrageous spending in Congress, we might not even be having this discussion. Secondly, I wonder if, per chance, giving less money to poor schools might actually end up leaving a child or two behind…?
The details obtained Saturday are the latest in a budget that will also seek savings from programs ranging from Amtrak and farmers' subsidies to Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor and disabled.
Well, that’s fair enough. We’ve been spending way too much money on health programs for the poor and disabled for years. We probably ought to just euthanize them. Sure, the upfront costs for the crematoriums will be kind of hefty, but once they’re built, they’ll be paying for themselves with all the money they save us in funding health programs for the poor and disabled. One, two generations max, and we’ll probably be turning a profit.
According to figures obtained by the AP, Bush would slice a $600 million grant program for local police agencies to $60 million next year. Grants to local firefighters, for which Congress provided $715 million this year, would fall to $500 million.
That’ll teach ya to make heroes of yourselves during a terrorist attack which will later be cynically used as the centerpiece of an opportunistic and exploitative presidential campaign.
He would eliminate the $300 million the government gives to states for incarcerating illegal aliens who commit crimes. It's a proposal he has made in the past and one that Congress has ignored. Also gone would be assistance for police departments to improve technology and their ability to communicate with other agencies.
Dear Red States: How you feeling about your choice of who will keep ya safer now? Love, Shakespeare’s Sister
The Environmental Protection Agency's $8.1 billion would drop by $450 million, or about 6 percent, with most of the reductions coming in water programs and projects won by lawmakers for their home districts.
Drinking water schminking water. Who needs it? Especially when the Kool-Aid is so widely available for mindless consumption.
The Bureau of Indians Affairs would be sliced by $100 million to $2.2 billion. The reduction would come almost entirely from the agency's effort to build more schools.
Who needs schools when you’ve got tribal sovereignty?
The $2.2 billion program that provides low-income people — in large part the elderly — with home-heating aid would be cut to $2 billion.
See: health programs for the poor and disabled. Also, with the polar icecaps melting, I’m sure there are plenty of little icebergs available on which we can send the elderly out to sea.
The park service's budget would drop nearly 3 percent to $2.2 billion, largely due to a reduction in its construction account.
The problem with expanding national parks is that, if you ever want to drill for oil in one, it becomes, like, this huge hassle. So better not to build them at all anymore, in case we want to rape the land for its natural resources instead.

There is, as one would expect, some good news, too:
The Coast Guard — now part of the Homeland Security Department — will get $8.1 billion, $600 million over this year. Included will be a healthy increase for its plans to buy more oceangoing vessels, a boon to the new chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., in whose state many of the ships are built.
That’s great. I’m really happy for Thad. And now when he’s puking up the gallons of cum he swallowed getting that “healthy increase,” he can just blame it on seasickness as he stands astride the decks of one of our brand spanking new oceangoing vessels.
Community health centers would grow to over $2 billion, an increase of $304 million, or almost 18 percent, over this year. Bush said he wants to every poor county to have one of the centers, which are used heavily by the poor.
Because they don’t have jobs or insurance. But hey—a community health care center is just as good for treating malnutrition or patching up a slit wrist as a fancy schmancy hospital.
Many proposals face an unclear fate in Congress, where members of both parties are sure to defend favorite initiatives. Democrats blame the cuts on the tax reductions Bush has enacted and say that other items his budget omits — a Social Security overhaul and costs for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — will only make matters worse.

"What it will lead to is growing pressure for draconian cuts," Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the Senate Budget Committee's top Democrat, said Saturday. "It's inescapable, the course he's led us on, whether it's this year or next year, is for very, very heavy cuts."
Oh, these aren’t heavy cuts? Never mind then.

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Action Alert 2: Anti-Gay Legislation Being Pushed in Kansas

Pam’s House Blend reports that there is another constitutional fight over gay marriage happening in Kansas:

The Kansas House adopted a proposed amendment to the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions. The vote was 86-3 -- three more votes than the two-thirds majority needed. The amendment states that only married couples of one man and one woman would be entitled to the "rights or incidents" of marriage. The statewide vote is slated for April 5, with only a simple majority needed.
Richard Donner, PhD, the Executive Director of the Kansas Unity and Pride Alliance, requests the following:
1. Specific detailed media campaigns that have worked in the Midwest-especially media

2. Ideas to make a few short dollars go as long a way as possible

3. The name of anyone who is interested in and has experience in doing a short term issue campaign starting immediately.

4.Anything else you think that would help us.

5. Money !!! Seriously we need you all to help us raise money outside of Kansas- contact me for more specific information or check out our web site at http://www.kansasunityandpridealliance.org/.

Email me directly at rdphd@cox.net. Please help us in Kansas.
During the campaign, the standard Dem response to the issue of a Federal Marriage Amendment was "the States have always handled marriage; they've done a fine job so far, so there's no reason to change that." What's currently happening in North Carolina, and now in Kansas, highlights the problems with that position. First of all, there are gays and lesbians living in these states who will be subject to the provisions of this legislation. Do you want to be the person to look at someone and say, "Sorry—it was politically expedient to punt it back to the states"?

Here are the other problems: by letting each individual state choose whether to enact bigoted legislation or not is continuing to give the federal government an excuse to withhold the same rights granted to straight married couples. While states may allow joint tax returns, the federal government does not, thereby refusing to extend rights to gays that they're getting in their own states. The only way we can force the issue is to fight against this kind of legislation and for marriage equality legislation in every state.

This is also creating a situation where gay couples are relegated to certain designated areas to get equal rights. It's great for a gay couple who lives in NY, but what if one of them has a job offer in Kansas that's too good to pass up? It's insane, not to mention cruel, to suggest someone should have to give up their civil rights in exchange for better employment. (Or for any of the myriad of other reasons that people move.) The elected Dems might not have a problem with essentially creating a gay ghetto, but I do.

Please help out however you can.

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Poetic Leanings’ Scott has begun the whimsically named (and easily remembered) PLDPCRS: Poetic Leanings Democratic Presidential Contender Ranking System. It will be an ongoing analysis of the top contenders for the ’08 nomination. Here are the current Top 7, according to Scott:

1. Hillary Clinton - Can't win in red states, but she has the money and positioning right now.
2. John Edwards - Can't win anywhere in my opinion, showed he was not up to it in 04 (would have lost re-election bid to Senate had he run). However, as a former Veep candidate he is well positioned and has name recognition.
3. Evan Bayh - A moderate liberals can like. Can take a red state or two.
4. John Kerry - By virtue of his network and money. Think he will drop out of top seven over time.
5. Wesley Clark - If he had been better organized, he could have been a force in '04. Will move up or disappear completely.
6. Mark Warner - Similar to Bayh, but not as experienced or connected. A force in the south?
7. Bill Richardson - Has the connections and southwestern appeal. Could be better as a Veep.
Scott’s looking for input. I suggested that Dennis Kucinich will run again, just to make noise, Tom Vilsack might throw in his lot, and Gephardt will run...again. And lose...again. I also think that we would be very lucky if Dick Durbin runs. (Not to dismiss Obama, because he’s just still green is all, but we’re looking at the wrong guy from Illinois right now.)

If you’ve got thoughts, go give Scott your input.

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Shameless Self-Promotion...

...or, There's a Good Reason to Read This Blog (I swear).

Forgive me this little indulgence, but I just wanted to point out this post in Salon’s War Room from this morning, indicating that the WaPo had gotten some of its facts wrong about Bush’s proposed Social Security Reform.

And then I want to point out this post on Shakespeare’s Sister, correctly contradicting the conclusions drawn by the WaPo and penned by our own Demosthenes last night.

[End of shameless self-promotion.]

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DNC Update

Via Ezra, Simon Rosenberg has dropped out of contention for DNC Chair and endorsed Howard Dean.

I think that’s what you call a done deal.

Go Dean!

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Action Alert: Anti-Gay Legislation Being Pushed in NC

As gays, lesbians, and their straight supporters look poised to win one fight in NY, another one rears its head in North Carolina. Pam’s House Blend reports:

A group of scared, middle-aged white men are so threatened by my relationship with Kate, that they want to write discrimination into our state constitution. And they have been elected to do so, and have made this their top priority. [The proposed legislation] is patterned after the highly restrictive Virginia legislation, attempting not only to define marriage, but to prevent civil unions and restrict contracts between same sex couples that would ensure legal protections.
Her post, which details the extent of this repellent, bigoted proposal and the fucktards behind it, is a must-read. She also has some recommendations for what we can do to help:
1) Watch [Pam's House Blend]. I keep House Blenders informed as things progress here, and if there are any action items that may help us out here, I'll let you know. Email me (pam at pamspaulding.com) if you've taken action or sent a letter that you wish to share on the Blend on this issue.

2) Support Equality organizations in your state, if it is at risk for an amendment challenge. Give your time and money, if you can spare. In North Carolina, the organization at the grassroots level is Equality NC.

3) If you are gay and if it is at all possible for you to safely come out, DO IT. No one ever regrets throwing open that closet door, even if the path is difficult for a while. The more that people realize we are your neighbors, co-workers, teachers, police officers and leaders in the community, the less effective the "fear and loathing" demonization campaign by the Right is. We're usually living average, boringly normal workaday lives like the average American and no threat to life as we know it.

4) If you are straight and an ally, COME OUT. Support your gay friends and loved ones when you hear intolerant conversation, politely engage ignorance with information.

5) Make the Democratic establishment get off of their asses on this issue. Too many are DINOs, ready to sacrifice all principles for a vote as a career politician. Courage is in short supply, apparently, so these losers need to be threatened with the electoral boot. Party hacks need to be held accountable. Write them and call them out in emails and in the blogosphere. So far, I've only heard Mel Watt (D-NC) make a persuasive case on how to approach gay civil rights in the public sphere. Where are all the other Dems? Let them have it. Don't give a dime unless they are willing to take a real position, not the punt of "marriage is between a man and a woman" so there's no need for a constitutional amendment, "unless the courts see otherwise."
Also, write a letter to the editor of the Raleigh News and Observer and let them know you oppose this discriminatory legislation.

In keeping with Pam’s suggestion that supportive straights COME OUT, too, I want to direct anyone who might be wondering about whether pushing for gay rights is necessary and/or 'rightly timed' to my post on Reframing Gay Rights, which includes my explanation of why I think it's an integrally important issue for any liberal to support—now.

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Congratulations, Big Apple!

Lambda Legal reports:

A New York State court ruled today that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry, in a decision that Lambda Legal called “a historic ruling that delivers the state Constitution’s promise of equality to all New Yorkers.” Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit last year, representing five same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses in New York City.

In a 62-page decision issued this morning in New York City, State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan said that the New York State Constitution guarantees basic freedoms to lesbian and gay people – and that those rights are violated when same-sex couples are not allowed to marry. The ruling said the state Constitution requires same-sex couples to have equal access to marriage, and that the couples represented by Lambda Legal must be given marriage licenses.
This is so fucking cool. Great news—finally something to celebrate! For anyone who disagrees, I’d direct you to Justice Ling-Cohan’s eloquent ruling:
Simply put, marriage is viewed by society as the utmost expression of a couple’s commitment and love. Plaintiffs may now seek this ultimate expression through a civil marriage. […] Similar to opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples are entitled to the same fundamental right to follow their hearts and publicly commit to a lifetime partnership with the person of their choosing. The recognition that this fundamental right applies equally to same-sex couples cannot legitimately be said to harm anyone.
And if that didn't convince you, the words of Jo-Ann Shain, who, with her partner, Mary Jo Kennedy, was a plaintiff in the case, surely will:
I was even more moved than I thought I’d be when I heard about this ruling. All of us cried – me, Mary Jo and our 15-year-old daughter. For the first time, our family is being treated with the respect and dignity that our friends, coworkers and neighbors automatically have. […] Last week, Mary Jo and I celebrated our 23rd anniversary together, but we’ve never had all the protections and rights that come with marriage. We need these protections to take responsibility for each other and for our daughter, and we are enormously grateful that the court saw that and said our family should be treated equally.
If you’re still not even the slightest bit happy for Jo-Ann, Mary Jo, their daughter, and every gay and lesbian in New York who has just been granted equal rights, then you’re probably just an ass who doesn’t belong at this site, anyhow.

Congratulations, New Yorkers. There are tears of joy for you in this red state today.

(Note that the ruling will be stayed for 30 days to give New York City the opportunity to file a notice of appeal in state appeals court, should they so choose.)

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More Signs of Life...

At the American Street, Hesiod points to an article that reports the Mississippi Dems have found their cajones:

The Mississippi GOP criticized Dean last month, alleging the former medical doctor’s favorable stance toward abortion and same-sex civil unions is out of touch with most Mississippians. But Wayne Dowdy, state Democratic chairman, noted leading Republicans who shared Dean’s views.

“Dr. Dean has the same position on gay unions that Vice President Cheney has,” Dowdy said. “Perhaps (state Republicans) should ask Vice President Cheney to be excused from the Republican Party because he’s so liberal.”

Dowdy also cited former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Republicans who, like Dean, are pro-choice.
Heh heh heh. Let’s hope this testicle-discovery phenomenon begins to sweep north toward D.C.

Hesiod also makes a good point about what Dr. Dean really represents:
[A] massive grass roots rejection of the obscenely compliant attitude of the Democratic party leadership to George W. Bush and his agenda. […] Howard Dean presents the correct tone: We ain’t going to just play dead.
Yer darn tootin’ we ain’t. There’s just so much to be angry about, and so little anger being expressed by the Dems in D.C. Reportedly, some of the blues in the Beltway are nervous about Dr. Dean trying to direct policy if he gets the DNC Chair position. They shouldn’t worry about that; what they need to worry about is that he’s going to capture and reflect back the righteous fury and lust for change that so many of his supporters feel, and if the D.C. contingent can’t muster the same, despite having every reason to, then they risk alienating their grassroots, perhaps irreparably. The Green Party’s always waiting to welcome us (scroll down toward end of post).

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Friday Blogrollin’

First up: Ezra Klein, former Pandagoner, any and all of whose posts are worth your time, and whom, if I were ever to meet him in person, I would expect to be wearing that damn blue shirt.

Next on the list: Seeing the Forest, which is another site that is always, consistently good, and additionally has a great blogroll of many great Lefty sites that’s worth exploring.

Off we go to: Slightly Left of Center. Authored by Kiosan, it’s primarily political (good recent example here), but she throws in other interesting stuff, too. In the latter category, this was particularly amusing to someone married to a Scottish immigrant who’s been asked if he can “read English okay.”

Next stop: Tami, the One True. I appreciate anyone who can turn a comment on supporting the policy versus the politician into a sly bit of humor, plus I dig her conversational style.

Last but not least: Culture Ghost, who’s cool for all kinds of reasons. Check this out.

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Farewell, Ossie

The actor Ossie Davis, who was seriously tough and seriously cool and a brilliant actor, has died. If you’re not familiar with work and his amazing marriage and his politics, read his obit and see if you don’t come away thinking we should all be so lucky as to live a life as rich as his was.

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Film Noir

This is just kind of a cool story that really has nothing to do with politics.

The superb film Sideways, for which Paul Giamatti was absolutely robbed of an Oscar nomination, features a lovely scene where two characters reveal themselves to each other while discussing wine, specifically pinot noir.

The pinot noir repartee between Paul Giamatti's and Virginia Madsen's characters in the movie "Sideways" has helped spur dizzying sales of the red wine during a lingering U.S. glut, wine experts say.


"People come in and immediately say, 'Where's the pinot noir?"' said Steve Villani, manager of Columbus Circle Liquors in Manhattan. "After a while, we began to ask them if they saw the movie, and they laugh out loud and say, 'yes."'


"People have really latched onto the romance of the scene, which made pinot the star, no doubt about it," said Phil Lynch, spokesman for Louisville, Kentucky wine producer Brown-Forman Inc.
That scene is so charming, so warm, it’s actually reassuring to find out that there are so many people who connected with it. Being immersed in politics during a time of such divisive partisan acrimony can make you cynical. Reading that, en masse, people have embraced a symbol of a film like Sideways is a small delight, a reminder of how wonderful and fragile and loveable people can be.

(That one’s for you, Pierce.)

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The Only Crisis is Lack of Accountability

In my State of the Union wrap-up, I mentioned that one of the things which most annoyed me was Bush’s ability, in pitching his Social Security reform proposal, to make claims about the market that a licensed financial representative would not be able to make (nor would any responsible professional think to make). The NASD has specific rules and regulations governing financial reps’ communications with the public, and tonight, I looked them up, to see exactly what the NASD would have to say about Bush’s claims.

According to rule 2210-(a)-(5), any licensed financial representative who communicates with the public through a public appearance, defined as “participation in a seminar, forum (including an interactive electronic forum), radio or television interview, or other public appearance or public speaking activity,” is subject to the rules governing communications with the public. I think a nationally televised address before Congress and the whole of the American electorate applies.

The applicable standards regarding such communications include the following (2210-(d)-(1)-(A, B and D)):

All member communications with the public shall be based on principles of fair dealing and good faith, must be fair and balanced, and must provide a sound basis for evaluating the facts in regard to any particular security or type of security, industry, or service. No member may omit any material fact or qualification if the omission, in the light of the context of the material presented, would cause the communications to be misleading.
I don’t think any elucidation on how that applies is really necessary. (I wonder if Fox News knows that the NASD is using “Fair and Balanced” though? Hope Fox doesn’t sue them.)
No member may make any false, exaggerated, unwarranted or misleading statement or claim in any communication with the public. No member may publish, circulate or distribute any public communication that the member knows or has reason to know contains any untrue statement of a material fact or is otherwise false or misleading.
In Bush’s address, he said, “And best of all, the money in the account is yours, and the government can never take it away.” While technically true, if he is referring strictly to the capital gains earned in the account over and above 3% (which is not explicitly stated), as Demosthenes pointed out in his earlier post, the rest of it gets deducted from the government-issued benefit. (And, by the way, if you have losses, you pay them, not the government.) Misleading at best.

He also said:
The goal here is greater security in retirement, so we will set careful guidelines for personal accounts. We will make sure the money can only go into a conservative mix of bonds and stock funds.
Well, that’s nice, but even exclusively conservative investing does not necessarily guarantee greater security. A look at the Dow Jones Industrial Average, a composite index of the top 30 most conservative US stocks, from 9/5/01 to 9/21/01, shows a more than 15% drop in the two weeks surrounding 9/11. Even a conservative mix is subject to big market swings.
Communications with the public may not predict or project performance, imply that past performance will recur or make any exaggerated or unwarranted claim, opinion or forecast. A hypothetical illustration of mathematical principles is permitted, provided that it does not predict or project the performance of an investment or investment strategy.
Here comes the real fumble. In his address, Bush stated:
Your money will grow, over time, at a greater rate than anything the current system can deliver - and your account will provide money for retirement over and above the check you will receive from Social Security.
No one, but no one, can accurately predict market performance. For Bush to assert that private accounts will grow at a greater rate than what the current system can deliver is patently absurd, unless when he speaks to Jesus, Jesus speaks back…and gives him stock tips. To wit: another look at the Dow Jones Industrial Average, this time from 1/1/70 to 1/1/82, reveals an almost negligible return over that 11-year span, demonstrating that no one can (or should) make guarantees that investment in personal accounts will outperform treasuries (in which Social Security funds are currently invested).

Clearly, if Bush were a licensed financial advisor, he would have been in violation of the NASD rules. Instead he gets away on a technicality—he’s not a financial professional presenting a potential investment to a client; he’s just the President of the United States, trying to convince the American public to buy into his radical plan for their collective financial future.

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Trojan Horseplay

For someone who frowns upon the homosexual lifestyle, Mr. Bush sure does like rear entries. First we had the back door draft, and now, in the form of Social Security reform, we have a back door tax cut for the wealthy.

Before I get to that, though, I wanted to summarize the mechanics of the new plan. I tried to simplify it as much as possible and put it in terms, as Shakespeare’s Sister requested, that wouldn’t require a financial background to understand. If you already have a grasp of the mechanics, feel free to skip down to the asterisked paragraph, which begins the discussion of how this is another back door tax cut for the wealthiest among us—an aspect of the plan that, in my opinion, hasn’t received the attention it deserves.

The Social Security “fix” that Bush is proposing is based upon the plan introduced to Congress by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has completed a detailed analysis of the plan that you can view here (thanks to Atrios). Here are the most salient points:

Currently the benefits paid by social security rise at the same annual rate as wages. Under the Graham Plan, payments would rise at the same annual rate as prices. Since prices rise at a considerably lower rate than wages, this represents a significant decrease in the benefits that would be paid by Social Security under the Graham Plan. If we were to leave Social Security exactly as it is, and do absolutely nothing, then it would be able to pay retirees larger benefits than it would under the proposed plan.

In order to help compensate for these lower benefits, the Graham Plan proposes the creation of “Voluntary Private Accounts,” into which each worker is allowed to divert some of their payroll taxes – up to a maximum of 4% of their total wages, or $1,300, whichever is lower. This money will be invested in a government-controlled portfolio of stocks and bonds that should hopefully give the retiree a higher rate of return on their savings than Social Security is capable of providing. Alternatively, workers can opt not to use these private accounts, and just receive the new lower, price indexed benefits.

Once they retire, those who chose to utilize the private accounts will essentially have Social Security benefits that are comprised of two parts: Part One: their government-issued benefit. Part Two: the proceeds of their private account. Sounds groovy, except that, and here’s where it gets nuts, Joe Schmoe, who opted to pay into a private account, will be subject to an additional cut to his government-issued benefit. This cut will equal the amount of money he would have earned had he invested the money directed to the private account at a 3% rate of interest. In other words, the net increase to his benefits will only be equal to what his “private” account manages to earn over and above 3%. If his account earns less than 3%, he will actually lose money on the deal.

I should make clear that the investments in the “private” account will be chosen and directed by the government. Joe will have no direct control over how these monies are invested. Many like Joe will find that the combined income they will receive from both that and their normal Social Security benefit will still be less than if we were to simply leave Social Security alone, and do absolutely nothing.

Okay, fair enough, maybe we can no longer afford the same level of benefits that we could in the past, but the Graham Plan does at least manage to put Social Security on a more even financial footing, right? Wrong. The payroll taxes that get diverted to the private accounts will put a 2 TRILLION dollar hole in Social Security’s finances, a sum that will have to be funded via debt.

* So why, for the love of God, is a plan that reduces the benefits that would be available if we left the current platform alone, and puts Social Security on a more uneven financial footing even being considered as a solution to our problems?

Well, under the Graham Plan, in addition to the payroll taxes that people divert to their private accounts, an additional $5,000 per year may be contributed to what effectively amounts to a ROTH IRA. Contributions to a ROTH are not tax deductible, but all capital gains and interest earned within them are tax-free. Once retirement age is reached, withdrawals are also tax-free. For the lower and middle classes this is completely meaningless, as we can already contribute as much $4,000 per year to a ROTH IRA, and for most lower and middle income families, even this sum is more than they can afford; only 4% of people eligible to make an IRA contribution actually put in the full amount.

For the wealthy, however, this is great news, as it allows them to put an extra $5,000 a year in tax favorable accounts, effectively handing them a very nice tax cut. This tax cut will put the nation’s finances in even more dire straights, further destabilizing Social Security, and possibly even reducing the benefits of retirees who are not able to afford a $5,000 IRA contribution!

It should be noted that for those who earn less than $27,500 a year, the Graham Plan will match their contributions to this extra IRA account dollar for dollar. However, as noted above, matching or no, it is very difficult for most low and middle class families to put much aside in IRAs.

So there you have it: a massive increase in federal debt, lower benefits for those rely most on Social Security benefits for their retirement, and a nice tax cut for the wealthy—the Bush Plan in a nutshell. Not to mention more fees for his corporate donors on Wall Street.

This, the flagship legislation of Bush’s second term is all about dismantling the social contract that has nobly served the interests of the average American for a half century, and giving kickbacks and breaks to the people that need it the least. The mendacity with which this legislation is being presented to the American people is a disgrace, and proves once again that all this administration cares about is catering to the wealthy and the corporate lobbyists who grease their palms. The rest if us are nothing but a commodity, to be bought and sold at the lowest price possible; expendable, powerless, and worthy only of their contempt. This plan is an insult to every American, and if it is passed then we have become deserving of their contempt.

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Authentic Democracy

Since the Iraqi elections took place a few days ago, many conservatives and war hawks have bemoaned the lack of enthusiasm on the Left for the great success that a burgeoning Iraqi democracy. Out of a plethora of choices, I’ve chosen John Podhoretz as my favorite representative of the blue-tipped finger-pointers:

There are literally millions of Americans who are unhappy today because millions of Iraqis went to the polls yesterday. And why? Because this isn't just a success for Bush. It's a huge win. It's a colossal vindication.

It's a big fat gigantic winning vindication of the guy that the Moores and Kennedys and millions of others still can't believe anybody voted for.

And they know it.

And it's killing them.


Yesterday was a day for Democrats and opponents of George W. Bush to swallow their bile and retract their claws and join just for a moment in celebration of an amazing and thrilling human drama in a land that has seen more than its share of thrilling human drama over the past 5,000 years.

But you just couldn't do it, could you?

Aside from our fears that the election was less about bringing functional and fair democracy to Iraq then serving primarily as a tool to lend legitimacy to the Bush Doctrine (fears, I must admit, that are confirmed by declarations such as “this isn't just a success for Bush. It's a huge win. It's a colossal vindication … It's a big fat gigantic winning vindication”), Lefties may not be celebrating quite as heartily as our friends on the Right because (oh the ugly nuance of it all) elections mean very little in a democracy if there is no structured rule of law to support and sustain the population thereafter. Clearly, this is of less concern to not a few conservatives, who are busily trying to subvert the secular rule of law at home as often and as egregiously as possible, but it a concern of liberals, who believe that the rule of law is an integral component of a flourishing democracy.

I was especially concerned today as I read this article, which seems to suggest that at least some of our senior troops have little consideration for comporting themselves lawfully within the countries they are an essential part of democratizing:
The commandant of the Marine Corps said Thursday he has counseled a senior subordinate for saying publicly, "It's fun to shoot some people."

Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, an infantry officer who has commanded Marines in both Afghanistan and Iraq, made the comments Tuesday while speaking to a forum in San Diego about strategies for the war on terror. Mattis is the commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va.

According to an audio recording of Mattis' remarks, he said, "Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. ... It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling."

He added, "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis continued. "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
I am the last person you’ll find defending perpetrators of spousal abuse, but I hardly believe that being shot by occupying troops without the benefit of judge, jury, or trial is appropriate justice for the behavior. It is of deep concern to me that we laud elections while ignoring the growing frequency of incidents of such misconduct. (See formerly: Abu Ghraib; Guantanamo.) I don’t intend to blame the troops; I believe there is a pervasive problem with disinterest in helping to establish, and a general disrespect for, the rule of law in both Afghanistan and Iraq, that starts at the top and works its way down.

Obviously, there is difficulty in initiating and sustaining a democratic-supportive rule of law during a time of war which reflects the freedoms we are ostensibly gifting to Iraqis; my contention is, however, is that perhaps those of us who believe the two are too inextricably linked to celebrate one without the other aren’t really losers, as Podhoretz suggests, but instead the carriers of the authentic definitions of democracy and freedom.

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GOP Turns "Ethics Committe" Into Orwellian-Named Free-for-All

Someone more cynical than I might suggest that the House Republican leaders’ decision to replace the chairman of the ethics committee yesterday was timed so as be drowned out among the buzz about the State of the Union address.

Someone more paranoid than I might suggest that this move represents another blow to the progressively unsteady system of checks and balances that keep us from sliding into a dictatorship.

Someone more prone to angry bursts of anger than I…

Fuck it. This is complete crap:

House Republican leaders tightened their control over the ethics committee yesterday by ousting its independent-minded chairman, appointing a replacement who is close to them and adding two new members who donated to the legal defense fund of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).

Republican officials have spent months taking steps to ensure DeLay's political survival in case he is indicted by a Texas grand jury investigating political fundraising, and House leadership aides said they needed to have the ethics committee controlled by lawmakers they can trust.
Trust to not accuse them of ethics violations, despite that being the objective of the position, should it be required. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi wanted to effectively counter the GOP’s view of the state of our union, they might have forgone the droning wonkiness in favor of an announcement that the state of the union is this: the President and his allies are seeking to undermine the integrity of the Congress and our very union by refusing to hold accountable any of their members who breaches the public trust. Our union is in grave danger of its government losing their purpose; the GOP is serving their own best interests, rather than the people’s.

And then they might have mentioned that while the president was preparing for his freedom-riddled speech earlier in the day, his fellow party members were increasing their own freedoms, too—starting with appointing a partisan ethics chair who will grant them the freedom to do whatever they want without hindrance of law or threat of censure.
Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), who clashed with DeLay so often that they barely spoke and was considered wayward by other leaders, was replaced yesterday with Rep. Richard Hastings (R-Wash.). Hastings has carried out other sensitive leadership assignments and is known as a favorite of Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who made the decision.

Hefley said in an interview yesterday that he believes he was removed because he was too independent. He said there is "a bad perception out there that there was a purge in the committee and that people were put in that would protect our side of the aisle better than I did."

"Nobody should be there to protect anybody," he said. "They should be there to protect the integrity of the institution."

The replacement of Hefley is the latest in a series of actions by GOP leaders to crack down on a rebellious ethics committee that posed a threat to DeLay and other Republicans.
Foolishly, I would suggest that DeLay’s unethical behavior posed a threat to himself and other Republicans more than the ethics committee. You see, if DeLay could just keep himself from breaking the rules, who ran the ethics committee would be moot, now wouldn’t it?
DeLay and other Republicans were angered in October when the ethics committee admonished DeLay for asking federal aviation officials to track an airplane involved in a Texas redistricting controversy, and for conduct that suggested political donations might influence legislative action.

It was the third time that the panel had admonished the powerful majority leader. And many Republicans were miffed because the complaint that led to the committee's findings was filed by then-Rep. Chris Bell (D-Tex.), a freshman who lost his primary last year under the redistricting plan that DeLay had promoted.

Hastert had signaled for months that he would refuse to waive a rule that limited Hefley's term as chairman. The leadership not only stripped Hefley of his chairmanship yesterday but also removed him from the committee.


Republican leaders put on the committee two new members who have donated to a DeLay legal fund: Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Tex..) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). Smith gave DeLay $10,000, making him among the seven largest donors among congressional members, and Cole gave $5,000, according to an analysis of disclosure records by the watchdog group Public Citizen.


Hefley said he "would not have changed the committee members, because I've sat there and watched them work with great integrity."
Well, that was their first mistake, wasn’t it? Nobody has any business working with great integrity in the GOP. Not anymore.

(Hat tip, Ms. Julien.)

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The Beat(en) Generation

Although this song by THE THE came out in 1989, I find eerily appropriate today. Also their song "Armaggedon Days Are Here (Again)" is a great commentary on the hijacking of Christianity for sinister political purposes. Again, amazingly released in 1989.

Forgive me, for I am feeling dramatic today!

The Beat(en) Generation

When you cast your eyes upon the skylines
Of this once proud nation
Can you sense the fear and the hatred
Growing in the hearts of its population

And our youth, oh youth, are being seduced
By the greedy hands of politics and half truths

The beaten generation
The beaten generation
Reared on a diet of prejudice and misinformation
The beaten generation
The beaten generation
Open your eyes
Open your imagination

We're being sedated by the gasoline fumes
And hypnotised by the satellites
Into believing what is good and what is right

You may be worshipping the temples of mammon
Or lost in the prisons of religion
But can you still walk back to happiness
When you've nowhere left to run?

The beaten generation ...

And if they send in the special police
To deliver us from liberty and keep us from peace
Then won't the words sit ill upon their tongues
When they tell us justice is being done
That freedom lives in the barrels of a warm gun

The beaten generation ...

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Let Freedom Ring

Or, as President Bush would say, "Let Freedom Reign," which seems increasingly like a Freudian slip, as opposed to his usual mumble-mouthed fuck-ups.

Mr. Furious left this in a comments thread, but I felt it deserved its own post:

We will fuck you in the ass with Freedom! We will bomb your countries with Freedom! We will lock you in a Freedom Cage and torture you with Freedom. We will spread Freedom across your homes left in ruins, your childrens' charred bodies, and your families' unmarked graves. And here at home, we will anoint our poor, our minorities, our sick and our voiceless with the cold, iron, ramrod fist of Freedom. Amen, Praise Bush.

Yeah, that about sums it up.

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Snake Oil

Atrios points us to two Washington Post articles that address the realities of Bush’s proposed Social Security reform plan. I’m going to quote some highlights here, and hopefully our resident economic expert, Demosthenes, will weigh in later with analysis that’s actually based in genuine expertise, as opposed to my less critical analysis: This is bullshit, man!

First, in their SOTU address wrap-up, the WaPo reports:

Even more curiously, a "senior administration official" who briefed reporters on the Social Security proposal earlier today disclosed details of the White House plan that I don't think will play well in Peoria. Most significantly, this official revealed that most or all of the earnings from new "personal" or privatized accounts will be paid not to the holder of the account, but to the government. The senior official called this a "benefit offset." It's one way to finance the creation of these private accounts, but it's going to cause quite a political stir, I think.
This certainly seems to contradict the president’s assertion made in the SOTU address:
And best of all, the money in the account is yours, and the government can never take it away.
I suppose it’s technically true of the principle, but they would be taking away earnings above principle. You’re better off in a 401(k), where the government can keep its filthy hands off both.

Secondly, is a more detailed analysis of the plan:
Under the White House Social Security plan, workers who opt to divert some of their payroll taxes into individual accounts would ultimately get to keep only the investment returns that exceed the rate of return that the money would have accrued in the traditional system.

The mechanism, detailed by a senior administration official before President Bush's State of the Union address, would hold down the cost of Bush's plan to introduce personal accounts to the Social Security system. But it could come as a surprise to lawmakers and voters who have thought of these accounts as akin to an individual retirement account or a 401(k) that they could use fully upon retirement.


The plan is more complicated. Under the proposal, workers could invest as much as 4 percent of their wages subject to Social Security taxation in a limited assortment of stock, bond and mixed-investment funds. But the government would keep and administer that money. Upon retirement, workers would then be given any money that exceeded inflation-adjusted gains over 3 percent.

That money would augment a guaranteed Social Security benefit that would be reduced by a still-undetermined amount from the currently promised benefit.

In effect, the accounts would work more like a loan from the government, to be paid back upon retirement at an inflation-adjusted 3 percent interest rate -- the interest the money would have earned if it had been invested in Treasury bonds, said Peter R. Orszag, a Social Security analyst at the Brookings Institution and a former Clinton White House economist.

"I believe you should be able to set aside part of that money in your own retirement account so you can build a nest egg for your own future," Bush said in his speech.

Orszag retorted: "It's not a nest egg. It's a loan."

Under the system, the gains may be minimal. The Social Security Administration, in projecting benefits under a partially privatized system, assumes a 4.6 percent rate of return above inflation. The Congressional Budget Office, Capitol Hill's official scorekeeper, assumes 3.3 percent gains.

If a worker sets aside $1,000 a year for 40 years, and earns 4 percent annually on investments, the account would grow to $99,800 in today's dollars, but the government would keep $78,700 -- or about 80 percent of the account. The remainder, $21,100, would be the worker's.
Pretty tasty, huh? Forget 401(k)—you’d be better off sticking it under your mattress.

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State of Disappointment

I had the notion that I would do a thoughtful analysis of the State of the Union speech, and maybe I still will, but now, immediately afterwards, my feeling is: What's the point? It was all just bullshit wrapped in the rhetoric of freedom.

Freedom around the world! And end to tyranny! Liberty and justice for all! Not so fast, faggots...

How can a speech riddled with references to freedom and equality contain a call for a federal marriage amendment denying rights to a sizable portion of the American public? Or a demand to make tax cuts favoring the wealthiest permanent? Or a recommitment to funding faith-based initiatives over those which, in a country where freedom to practice or not practice religion as one sees fit, do good works in the name of humanity instead of God? Unmitigated horseshit.

I'm also wondering, by the way, how in the hell Bush can get away with promising that "personal savings accounts" will perform better than Social Security. He kept talking about how one's contributions would grow, but no one can make those kinds of promises about the market. The NASD regulations prevent your average Joe Schmoe stockbroker from making promises like that every day; promise your client something like that, and you'll lose your damn license. So how is it legal for the president to make the same outrageous claim in his sales pitch to reform Social Security?
And what was that wink at the associate justices of the Supreme Court when he was babbling on about activist judges?

And did I see Joe Liebertwat actually go up and KISS him after he was through with his ode to rubbish? Ugh! Just cross the aisle already, you sorry excuse for a Democrat!

And what was with the Dems' rebuttal? Fucking hell, could Harry Reid have been a bigger snoozefest?! I kept expecting him to put on a cardigan and some sneakers and break into "It's a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood."

Nancy Pelosi looked like Joan Rivers on valium, and delivered her entire speech with this desperate half-smile that smacked of ingratiation rather than stern opposition: Please like me. This was not the time to rehash John Kerry's stump speech...unchecked cargo, loose nuclear material, blah blah blah...this was the time to say, "Everything you heard was crap, and here's why." Jumping bejesus, I'm a Democrat, and I could barely keep my eyes open.

Then she ends with a line about protecting America for our kids and grandkids that sounded like it was pilfered directly from Bush's speech. Yeah, that's the way to differentiate yourselves as the opposition. Shit.

And hey, President Bush - remember how you promised to catch Osama bin Laden dead or alive? You didn't mention that in your speech. How's that going?

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State of the Union

In preparation of the big Sales Pitch, err, State of the Union Speech tonight, we turn to pre-released excerpts from the address. On Social Security:

“One of Americas most important institutions, a symbol of the trust between generations is also in need of wise and effective reform. […] Fixing Social Security permanently will require an open, candid review of the options.”
Interesting choice of words, that, a symbol of trust, coming from a man whose very strategy to dismantle the existing system is based on fear-mongering and the continually repeated lie that there is an impending crisis that must be immediately addressed. Let’s revisit their playbook again, shall we?
The president says that "the crisis is now." That comment has inspired a lot of fairly tedious semantic debate. Let's just say that we have a serious problem. It is true that we do not have to fix it immediately. (p22)


The campaign will use Bush's campaign-honed techniques of mass repetition, never deviating from the script and using the politics of fear to build support -- contending that a Social Security financial crisis is imminent when even Republican figures show it is decades away. (p33)
That doesn’t sound to me like “an open, candid review of the options,” but instead like the misinformation campaign and cynical inducement of panic that led us to war. The Democrats have said they will not provide the votes necessary to enact the privatization scheme proposed by the administration. I desperately hope they come through on this one. I hope they have learned by now that this president and his associates are not to be trusted to be honest or fair.

On national security:
“We will pass along to our children all the freedoms we enjoy – and chief among them is freedom from fear.”
Unless, of course, generating fear is a useful means to an ideological end—like Social Security reform.
“In the next four years, my Administration will continue to build the coalitions that will defeat the dangers of our time.”
Don’t forget Poland!
“In the long term, the peace we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder.”
Just a thought here, but a good start might be rescinding the nomination for Attorney General of the architect of our torture policy. Rewarding a man who found the Geneva Conventions quaint, and sought to find loopholes allowing us to torture suspected enemy combatants, with the highest position of law enforcement in the country seems to be creating exactly the kind of condition that feeds radicalism and the ideologies of murder. Not only will we be seen as radical and endorsing a murderous ideology, but appointing Gonzales is sure to invoke the same sentiments in those who have fallen victim to our wanton disregard for human rights and decency under his direction.
“The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom.”
It never ceases to amaze me how he can deliver such lines without the slightest trace of irony.

Enjoy the show. We’ll no doubt have lots to talk about tomorrow.

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The Bardess is Pissed

Via The Alternate Brain, we find a link to an update in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary under the entry for nuclear:

Pronunciation: 'nü-klE-&r, 'nyü-, ÷-ky&-l&r
Eh? There are now suddenly two acceptable pronunciations for nuclear? How did that happen?
Though disapproved of by many, pronunciations ending in \-ky&-l&r\ have been found in widespread use among educated speakers including scientists, lawyers, professors, congressmen, U.S. cabinet members, and at least one U.S. president and one vice president. While most common in the U.S., these pronunciations have also been heard from British and Canadian speakers.
So, much like everything else in George’s World, as long as he keeps saying it enough, it eventually becomes acceptable. Gordon comments:
Oh fucking swell. So in order to be a good American, you not only have to think ignorant, now you have to talk ignorant as well? Phooey.
Phooey is right. As someone who seeks to communicate my thoughts through writing, I take particular offense to changes in language based on the mispronunciations and malapropisms of people who should, by virtue of a top shelf education and every opportunity to access the finest society has to offer, know better.

Language is fluid, ever-changing. We add new words to our already expansive collective vocabulary all the time; years ago, blog had no meaning. I take no issue with broadening our language in keeping with a dynamic world, but I do take exception to editing it solely to indulge the ignorance of powerful men.

Such adjustments to accommodate verbal peccadilloes may not, in practical terms, wreak the same havoc with our culture as will the uncontested undermining of our rule of law at the whim of those who seek advantage otherwise impeded by its boundaries, or the unchallenged abolition of checks and balances in furtherance of an ideological agenda. But they are of a likeness in their complicity to empower those who exhibit a manifest refusal to conform to the social contract. The existence of an agreed-upon language is the foundation of our ability to communicate, to share ideas, to progress; those interested in doing any of the above should abide by the standards forged by common linguistic tradition. There is no reason to change our language on the basis of a mistake common among dignitaries aside from accommodating their weaknesses.

In and of itself, this is no lingering concern. But I wonder where the pandering will stop. There are truths in this world, and there are things that right and things that are wrong. And it seems to me that there is no end to the things that are made to be right, in order so that Mr. Bush will not be wrong.

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Don’t blame me for the lapse into inanity. It’s Pierce’s fault. (And 1031’s.)

Mr. Shakes says, “That totally looks like you.” Yes. Yes it does.

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How's Your Health?

I came across an interesting AP story in the Boston Globe that reports the state of Massachusetts alone spent over $52 million to cover the healthcare costs of

thousands of workers at some of the state's leading employers, including major hospitals, universities and even the commonwealth itself...

Four companies -- Dunkin' Donuts, Stop & Shop, Wal-Mart and McDonald's -- had more than 1,000 employees who received public health benefits over one year, the study found.


Restaurants, retailers and health care companies dominated the list. The cities of Boston, Springfield and Worcester and the U.S. Postal Service also were named.
As I read the entire thing, I was thinking to myself that we already have a de facto but totally dysfunctional socialized healthcare system—offered to only the poorest among us and used as a last resort when problems are much worse than they could have been with routine check-ups and preventative care. Why not just get the whole socialized system sorted out already and make it work for everyone? People who can afford and still want private insurance can get it; it would probably end up a windfall for insurance companies since the most likely purchasers of private health insurance are people who are well-off and healthy. Less people buying in, but less pay-outs, too. And if it screws the insurance companies, well, I don’t really care—they’ve been screwing us for years.
Authors of the report cautioned against drawing conclusions about specific employers based on the figures. There are many reasons why an employee might not be on the company's insurance: high co-payments or deductibles, ineligibility due to part-time or recently hired status, or limited benefits for family members, for example.
None of which are reasons that should exclude someone from access to healthcare. And if employers are going to be required to provide healthcare, then it should be of a caliber that using the state-funded services isn’t distinctly more attractive.
Still, the report concludes policies and programs in place in the state now are a double-edged sword: they provide both an important safety net but also an incentive for employers and employees to shift health care costs to the public.
All part of the Great Ownership Society, which is quickly becoming recognizable as a clever moniker for the federal government’s decision to break the social contract with the people it’s meant to represent and the state governments that will be left to pick up the pieces until they are no longer able. Thanks, George, and thanks all you wankers who voted for him and his asinine policies.

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Gimme a D...

The NY Times reports that Howard Dean will most likely become the new DNC chair.

"It's a fait accompli, it's over: Dean's going to be it," said Gerald McEntee, head of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, who runs the umbrella political organization for all the unions in the A.F.L.-C.I.O.


Dr. Dean announced the support of 53 new committee members, bringing his total vote count to 103 public commitments, his campaign said. He won the formal endorsement of the Service Employees International Union, said Anna Burger, its secretary-treasurer. Among the committee members supporting him are Edward J. McElroy, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Mr. McEntee of the public employees union said he would probably support Dr. Dean as well. He said Mr. Fowler and his father, Don Fowler, a former D.N.C. chairman, had telephoned him Tuesday to urge him not to view Dr. Dean's election as inevitable. Mr. McEntee said he advised Mr. Fowler to quit the race.
I’m very pleased with this possible outcome, as I’m still very much the smitten kitten when it comes to Howard Dean. I hope he finds a way to use the admirable talents of Simon Rosenberg, who I also like, but Dean is really the man for this job. And it’s not because he’s got more name recognition and more built-in grassroots support, although those aren’t insignificant, either—it’s because he has been on the right side of every issue that’s come down the pipe since he threw his hat into the ring for the presidential nomination. Not on the right side by one person's standards, but empirically right.

When he spoke of needing to convince guys with the confederate flag on their pick-up trucks that we’re their party, it was a poor choice of words, but the right sentiment. Other Dems were saying we could win without the South, and whether intentional or not, that was very much how the campaign was run, but Dean was right. And he didn’t mean to increase appeal by running to the center on social issues; he meant by reframing the debate.

When every other Dem was deciding their Iraq vote using political calculations, Dean (who didn’t have to cast a vote himself) came down hard against the war resolution. So unique was that position among Dems, that he became the “anti-war” candidate. While others, including our eventual nominee, had to explain to a nuance-averse public the semantics in casting a vote for a war resolution but not the war itself, Dean just said no all along, and in the end, he was right to have done so.

And perhaps most importantly, Dean was right in bringing righteous anger back into the Democratic lexicon of expressions. He was the one who came out swinging, and if it hadn’t been for his fighting stance, quickly adopted by all the other candidates when they saw how well it played with an angry and marginalized liberal electorate, we likely wouldn’t have come nearly as close to unthroning King George as we did.

And Dean’s choice to be guided by his moral compass rather than by political opportunism works for him still. He’s come out against the nomination of Gonzales to Atty. Gen., and rightfully criticized Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid for having said he would support Antonin Scalia as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Dean’s right, and anyone who suggests that a man who sought to legitimize torture should be the highest lawmaker in the land, or a man who has severe conflict of interest problems stemming from his relationship with the executive branch should lead the highest court in the land, is just plain old wrong. Some things are just that simple.

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