Saturday, December 30, 2006

About Saddam Hussein: A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Saddam Hussein was executed yesterday. We can expect the mainstream media to provide saturated coverage of Saddam's brutal rule the next few days when they are not too busy lionizing Gerald Ford's memory. I certainly will not mourn this man's passing. Otherwise, all I have to say is to the left is a picture of President Ronald Reagan's Special Envoy Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in 1984. The same Donald Rumsfeld who served as President Gerald Ford's Secretary of Defense in the 1970s and designed the incompetent occupation of Iraq under President George W. Bush. Unless you've lived in a cave the past few years this picture should be familiar. Nevertheless, a reminder is in order.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Wanted: A Presidential Candidate With Foresight

The silly season of presidential politics is here. Posturing, fundraising and repositioning to simultaneously win support from party activists and independent voters that decide general elections. A candidate that can thread the needle with their party’s base and remain viable to the center has achieved a sublime nexus.

In our current culture a candidate must demonstrate fidelity to their party’s core principles and a maverick streak of independence. They must project manliness (or in Hillary Clinton’s case toughness) with a soft side of empathy. After six years of Bush’s insipid rule a winning candidate will also need to project gravitas but not appear above us. As women are burdened with a double standard Hillary Clinton will have to demonstrate firmness without coming off as shrill. Most importantly a winning candidate better have terrific hair.

We expect too much and too little from presidential candidates. Al Gore partly lost in 2000 (even though he really won) because he couldn’t pass the “beer test” while George W. Bush deceived voters into believing he was a “regular guy.” Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t stand a chance today but Arnold Schwarzenegger could win in a landslide if the Constitution permitted him to run. Hence, the realities of our culture require a measure of compromise when deciding upon a winning horse during the Democratic Party’s primary season. With 2008 on the horizon there is one trait I’m not willing to compromise about during the primary season: foresight.

Among the definitions listed online for foresight is,

“knowledge or insight gained by or as by looking forward; a view of the future.”

Yesterday, the Democrat's 2004 Vice Presidential nominee, John Edwards declared his candidacy. There is much to like about Edwards. He’s a self-made man who remembers where he came from and cares deeply for people struggling to survive in our treadmill economy. Conservatives denigrate trial lawyers such as Edwards but I rather like somebody who earned a fortune by defending the little guy against corporate interests.

Both Edwards and his wife Elizabeth appear to be talented and down to Earth. They lost a teenage son and Elizabeth recently endured the scare of breast cancer. These are people who can empathize with the struggles of others.

John Edwards is also an attractive, articulate man and can effectively advocate the progressive cause in our soundbite culture. Unlike Barack Obama however Edwards doesn’t speak in platitudes and takes firm stands. Edwards also appears to be embracing the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and not running from it like Hillary Clinton. So in many ways Edwards is easy for me to like. We sure as hell could do a lot worse and have.

However, his support for the Iraq War while in the Senate is like a worm in my brain. I appreciate his apology for supporting it and hope he’s sincere. We all make mistakes. I’m certainly not perfect. Nevertheless I wonder if his initial support for the Iraq War was about political expediency. Is it possible his apologizing for the Iraq War is also about political expediency? This troubles me. Politics requires a measure of expediency on a broad range of issues but matters such as war and peace should be about one’s conscious.

Admittedly, Hillary Clinton’s stubbornness on the issue also troubles me. I acknowledge the inconsistency in my reaction to both of them. There is a criticism one can fairly level at Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and John Kerry: a lack of foresight. Many of us protested the Iraq War in 2002-2003 and predicted the civil war taking place today. I’m not surprised Iraq has gone to hell and a hand basket and partly marched because I had no faith in our ability to manage the post Saddam era.

There were also public figures at the time that demonstrated foresight and courage such as Howard Dean, Russ Feingold, Al Gore, Dennis Kucinich and Paul Wellstone. Barack Obama partly propelled his candidacy for the Senate by opposing the neocons folly. Alas, Wellstone is dead and Feingold has opted not to seek the presidency. Dean is also not a candidate for 2008. As for Kucinich, I admire his commitment to peace but his overall record troubles me and I don’t believe he can win.

Obama is flirting with the presidency and has generated much attention. I suspect the Hillary Clinton political machine will dissect him and force Obama from his zone of comfortable platitudes to actually defending positions she will distort. The junior Ilinois Senator will come away bloodied.

Also, what kind of president would Obama be? My intuitive sense is Obama is a bit too corporatist and tolerant of religious intolerance. I reserve the right to change my mind as I learn more about him. Perhaps Obama will win me over but I doubt it.

Al Gore made a courageous stand against the war while contemplating the 2004 campaign. Gore also had to think about a general election dynamic at the time because he would’ve been the front-runner for the nomination. Many Democrats feared appearing weak on national security after opposing the Gulf War in 1991. Taking the stand Gore did was courageous and right. He showed principle, foresight and courage in doing so. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards demonstrated neither at the time and Obama doesn’t have the same track record of foresight as Al Gore who warned about global warming before it was cool to do so.

Gore is the one prospective candidate that can knit the Democratic Party's disparate coalitions into a coherent whole and compete effectively in the general election. Admittedly Gore has flaws such as an expanding waistline and thinning hair.

Right now Clinton, Edwards and Obama are regarded as the "big three" in the Democratic Party for 2008. Gore is head and shoulders above all of them. I hope he runs. Nobody else in the Democratic Party possesses his track record of foresight and can compete with the big three.
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ADDENDUM:
My thanks to The Nation (CLICK HERE) for linking the above topic on their website's homepage under their "Newsfeed: important articles from around the web section." I can only hope Al Gore reads it and takes the hint! Also, a crossposting on Daily Kos (CLICK HERE) provoked interesting commentary - much of it critical of my post but worth reviewing.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

President Ford Revealed Opposition To Iraq War In July 2004

Bob Woodward reported in today’s Washington Post (CLICK HERE) that President Ford revealed his opposition to the Iraq War during a July 2004 interview. According to the article, Woodward’s interview with Ford was “embargoed” until after his death. Yesterday I was charitable to President Ford in describing his legacy as mixed and I stand by that. Nevertheless, Woodward’s article makes me feel less kindly to President Ford’s memory. An ex Republican President critical of key former members of this administration such as Cheney and Rumsfeld was too important to be kept a secret. Ford had an obligation to make his opposition public just as former Secretary of State Collin Powell should have in 2003. Perhaps it might have impacted the 2004 presidential election and saved some lives. Ford is supposedly a symbolic figure of a bygone era when love of country mattered more than allegiance to one’s political party. I can’t help but wonder if Ford’s opposition would have remained “embargoed” if a Democrat were in the White House.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Mixed Legacy of Gerald R. Ford

Gerald R. Ford, a man fate placed on a stage far bigger than his modest persona suggested he belonged is dead at 93. In August 1974 he was appointed America's 38th president when Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace because of the Watergate scandal. Had he not resigned Nixon surely would’ve been impeached in the House of Representatives and convicted by the Senate.

Ford became Nixon’s vice president when Spiro Agnew himself was forced to resign after pleading no contest to tax evasion. According to the Constitution, congress must approve a new vice president when a replacement is needed during a presidential term. As Nixon’s crimes were increasingly exposed to the public the stakes were high when selecting a new vice president. Tip O’Neill who later became Speaker of the House and was friendly with Ford recalled in his memoirs that,

“Another reason we favored Jerry Ford was that we didn’t think the Republicans should benefit from Agnew’s resignation. While Jerry had been an excellent leaderin the Congress, he didn’t seem to have the desire, the personality, or the charisma to be elected president on his own. He had even said that in the event he was selected, he wouldn’t seek the presidency in 1976. We found that reassuring, although nobody was prepared to hold him to that promise.”

The mainstream media prefers to lionize former presidents when they die and Ford is regarded as a decent caretaker who restored confidence in the republic. Ford does deserve credit for not resorting to the politics of slash and burn when campaigning for reelection in 1976. Nixon’s electoral success was partly attributed to exploiting resentments of working class whites. These voters later became “Reagan Democrats” and combined with evangelical Christians and traditional supporters from business interests to form a powerful coalition.

Future Republican presidents Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush and George W. Bush prevailed partly by exploiting the politics of division. Ford unleashed his running mate Senator Robert Dole into the “briar patch” but otherwise campaigned on his competence and experience. Carter opened a big lead following the Democratic convention but Ford closed strong in spite of his controversial pardon of Nixon and debate gaffes by both him and Dole. Ford lost in a squeaker but resisted the temptation to resort to race baiting as Ronald Reagan did in Philadelphia, Mississippi during the 1980 campaign.

Ford also deserves credit for the 1975 Helsinki Accords signed by the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union and most European countries. At the time conservative critics such as Ronald Reagan who ultimately challenged Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976 protested the agreement because it recognized the Soviet Union’s territorial gains after World War Two. However, the Helsinki Accords also reduced Cold War tensions and put the Soviets on record as supporting human rights. Consequently the Helsinki Accords served to undermine the Soviet regime’s legitimacy and facilitated the communist empire’s demise.

National healing and the Helsinki Accords are not small accomplishments for a president that wasn’t elected. However, there is a dark side to the Ford legacy: the rise of the neocons. Ford’s Chief of Staff was a young man named Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld was his Secretary of Defense. They persuaded Ford to cave under pressure from conservative critics in the assessment of Soviet military strength. As a result, CIA director George Herbert Walker Bush commissioned a competitive threat assessment known as “Team B” in July 1976.

Team B was comprised of ideologues such as Paul Nitze and they greatly exaggerated the Soviet military threat. Hence, under the Ford Administration a precedent was established for rewarding the views of ideologues over the assessment of national security professionals who knew their business. Although the Carter Administration gave little credence to Team B’s reports the national security bureaucracy was infected with an insidious cancer that ravaged its guts.

Senator Patrick Moynihan noted years later the CIA failed to predict the Soviet Union’s demise, as it should have. The iron triangle of the defense industry and bureaucracy needed to promote the myth of a formidable Soviet menace. This mindset is partly responsible for wasted billions of dollars spent on the delusional missile defense scheme known as “Star Wars.”

Ford partly surrendered to this pressure because of trouble on his political right. California Governor Ronald Reagan posed a serious challenge in the summer of 1976. Conservative critics such as Reagan had managed to make the word “détente” as dirty as the word “liberal” and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was viewed with contempt. Remarkable that Henry Kissinger who is considered a war criminal by many was also regarded as soft on communism by conservative ideologues.

Consequently Ford established the precedent of appeasing conservative ideologues to ensure his political survival. All politicians want to survive and perhaps most would’ve done the same. Unfortunately, Ford’s political weakness helped pave the way for the ascendancy of dark political forces responsible for much of America’s abysmal leadership today. And that too is part of Ford’s legacy.
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ADDENDUM:
My thanks to "Real History Lisa" for promoting a crossposting of the above topic at Progressive Historians.
CLICK HERE to review comments from that community. Progressive Historians as one can infer from the name is a community blog devoted to analyzing history from a progressive perspective.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Reminiscing About the Future: Al Gore's Announcement Speech

Working through whom to support for president in 2008 has been cathartic for me. Typically I try candidates on for size by writing hypothetical speeches in their voice and occasionally post the results. I did this with Russ Feingold several months ago and liked how it felt but alas he isn’t running. Recently I did the same for Barack Obama and enjoyed the challenge but it required writing in heavy religious overtones and felt uncomfortable. As I review the prospective field in the Democratic Party I neither see nor feel a president among Joe Biden, Wesley Clark, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson and Tom Vilsak.

Each has merits and flaws. From my vantage point however, the right candidate must combine maturity, gravitas, experience, intellect, authenticity, foresight and desire to serve a cause bigger than themselves. Al Gore has flaws of his own but is best suited for the job. We don’t need a nominee who sticks their finger to the wind and follows the politics of expediency. Now is also not the time to nominate a pretty face or sound bite machine with a glass jaw. The real question is will Gore run? So I decided to compose a hypothetical announcement speech in Gore’s voice and try him on for size. Looking at 2008 I like how Gore fits.

(Al Gore standing on a platform in Carthage Tennessee with his photogenic family and gathering of family, friends and media in the summer of 2007.)

To my beloved family, my wife Tipper and the great people of Tennessee I ask for your support as we embark on a quest to renew America. The previous six years our country has grown weaker, our moral standing is diminished and corporate interests have triumphed over the public. America needs to reconnect with its core values of fairness, justice and reward for an honest days work. We’ve lost our way.

I can’t help but think of my dad today. I can feel him with me today. Finest and bravest man I ever knew. He stood up for civil rights and fought against Jim Crow laws right here in Tennessee. He stood up and told the truth about Vietnam. The country wasn’t ready for truth and he lost his last campaign. He vowed the “truth shall rise again.”

Since my last campaign I’ve learned truth will not rise on its own. Truth requires a push. We need to stand up for truth. Fight for truth. Sacrifice for truth. Tell truth to power. Demand truth from our leaders and ourselves.

I was in public life along time and learned from experience. As a private citizen I’ve learned even more. I’m a little older. Grayer. Wiser. Humbler. A lot wider (smiles and laughs)! I’m still very charismatic (self-deprecating facial expression eliciting laughter). And what I’ve learned is politicians can be too afraid to lose. Expediency becomes more important than conviction and telling it straight is sacrificed at the altar of ambition.

Not this time. Not for me. Not for this campaign. The stakes won’t permit it. America has wasted time these past six years. Dependence on foreign oil is accelerating global warming and financing our sworn enemies. We’re on a collision course with calamity and shirking the truth won’t safeguard our future.

There are some among us who believe American society must engage in a global war on terror. They sow fear and rationalize taking away our liberties, deploying troops in wars of preemption and torturing detainees without regard to evidence or due process. They’re wrong. Horribly wrong. Irresponsibly wrong. Morally wrong.

The truth is we’re creating our own calamity. The so called global war on terror is a self-fulfilling prophesy of death and destruction waged by people who believe Armageddon is just around the corner. We’re actually empowering our enemies. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Yes America has enemies and vigilance is required against terrorism and those who want to establish a global theocracy. During my years of public service I was a hawk against terrorism. I still am. Yet when global war against Islamic terrorists abroad is waged by Christian theocrats at home – criminal behavior is justified in the name of righteousness.

In 1942, Christopher Dawson wrote in the Judgment of Nations,

“As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy.”

The true path to victory is combining a strong defense, pursuing sensible strategic priorities, enlisting international cooperation and setting an honorable example. Nearly six years after 9/11 our homeland security remains shamefully porous. President Bush and his enablers have managed to undermine national security and erode civil liberties simultaneously.

Security at ports and a broad range of facilities ranging from nuclear power plants to our reservoirs remain unprotected but your phones may be tapped. Nothing is done about nuclear proliferation but old ladies can be harassed at airports. Osama Bin Laden remains at large and the country that provided safe haven for the attackers - Afghanistan – is being taken over by a resurgent Taliban. But our military remains bogged down in Iraq’s civil war created by an ill-advised invasion. We have failed to empower moderate Muslims while civil wars rage in Lebanon, among the Palestinians and Iraq.

America is uniquely suited to empower moderates in the Muslim world by setting an example. Millions of Muslims have assimilated well in the United States and lead productive lives. I served in an administration that helped save Muslim lives in Bosnia. Last year a good and honorable man – Keith Ellison from Minnesota who happens to be Muslim was elected to congress. So America has real assets in communicating to the Muslim world.

Instead we’re seen torturing Muslims and citizens such as Congressman Ellison are not given the benefit of the doubt about their patriotism. Too many Muslim citizens are harassed for what they are and not judged by who they are as individuals.

Republicans hope to exploit fear and some in my party are too timid of being associated as America’s “Muslim Party.” I ask my country, have we grown so cowardly, so fearful and so intolerant that we can’t look upon our own citizens as neighbors? How can we expect to empower moderates in the Muslim world when we’re not committed to protecting liberties and dignity of our own citizens?

My Dad taught me America couldn’t be freedom’s beacon of light as long as segregation infected our soul. He was right. Today I’m standing up and telling my country America will never prevail in its quest to spread freedom and tolerance abroad if we remain regulated by fear and intolerance at home. I’m not interested in leading the Muslim Party, the Jewish Party, Christian Party, the black, yellow, brown or white party, the gay party or the straight party. Instead I seek the nomination for president from the true party of all Americans: the Democratic Party (sustained applause).

As President I will roll up my sleeves and work to address the important challenges of our time. Number one is saving our planet from global warming. Some of you might have noticed I made a movie about it (dry self-deprecating tone and facial expression eliciting laughter). I will be blunt: we have no time to lose.

Natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina will become the norm if we don’t take action today. It’s not a coincidence that glaciers and the polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate. This didn’t just happen. This is not fate. Nor is it imagined. Global warming is the direct result of our consumption-oriented culture.


As Americans we have a unique obligation. We consume resources greatly disproportionate to our population. From the ordinary citizen to the biggest conglomerate American society must adapt, mobilize and change. Already we’re falling behind, as companies in China no less are busy establishing themselves in the green industry sector. We fall behind at our own peril. America should be leading the way.

Let there be no doubt I will seek a mandate to mobilize our society for developing clean alternative energy and reduce our carbon emissions. My fellow Americans I’m stating it plainly: if you want to maintain the status quo, drive big cars, make no sacrifices and continue importing foreign oil then don’t elect me. If you want to continue giving your hard earned money to big oil and hostile foreign powers don’t elect me. I intend to empower an American society that’s energy independent, clean and prosperous. I don’t seek incremental change. I’m going to push this country to join the 21st century – culturally, scientifically and economically.

Our schools need to turn out the finest engineers, computer programmers and scientists if we’re going to adapt for a new age. That requires recalibrating our priorities. The task at hand will not come cheap. Oil companies, billionaires and multi-national corporations will have to make due with less. If they’re smart they’ll join in the effort and prosper from it. A used up planet doesn’t do anyone any good.

The average citizen can’t help in this however if they’re struggling to make ends meat. Once upon a time citizens merely needed a work ethic to enjoy a slice of the American dream. Too many Americans are not rewarded for an honesty day’s work because we’ve lost a sense of community.

Workers, small business entrepreneurs and families in George Bush’s America are expected to absorb all the risks, perform the tough labor and relinquish most of the rewards to high salaried CEOs who outsource our jobs. Corporate America and their enablers in Washington have replaced community values with computerized receipts. We haven’t created an ownership society or investor class. George Bush and his cronies have placed the American workforce on a fast moving treadmill and people can’t get ahead.

We’ve seen the results. An American community underserved when disasters like Hurricane Katrina strike. A public school system in decay, skyrocketing health care costs and depleted retirement savings. Environmental and tax laws written by corporate lobbyists while their enablers in Washington lecture the rest of us about values.

I’m a religious man and it angers me when the Lord’s name is used to coarsen our culture with hate, intolerance and greed. Faith has made me humble. I lay no claim to knowing what the almighty considers righteous. I just pray everyday for the wisdom to do right.

I believe what’s right is a bold agenda of progress. I need your help. Let all of us join together. Not for me. Let us come together to restore America’s honor and rightful place as a beacon of freedom, justice and opportunity.

Thank you and may God bless you.

And God bless America.

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ADDENDUM: My thanks to "Mike" for including the above topic on his roundup at Crooks and Liars.

Friday, December 22, 2006

An Innovative Mayor

As a New Yorker I’ve regarded Mayor Michael Bloomberg with skepticism. I thought his pursuit of a new baseball stadium on Manhattan’s west side was wrongheaded. His crackdown on free speech during the 2004 Republican National Convention was despicable. Also, the Mayor has effectively gelded New York City’s Department of Investigation (DOI) from cracking down on corruption between city government and big business.

Conventional wisdom stipulates the Bloomberg Administration is less corrupt than Guiliani’s because he financed his own campaigns. True as that may be, Bloomberg’s has cut DOI's staff and diminished their ability to identify corruption within his administration. That makes me suspicious.

That said, Bloomberg is a non-ideological technocrat who isn’t afraid to try fresh approaches. As Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne writes in his most recent column,

“In New York this week, Bloomberg announced a new initiative to fight poverty, including a Center for Economic Opportunity and $150 million annually that would, among other things, provide incentives for the poor to stay in school, to build up their personal savings and to get preventive medical care.The mayor would also create an Office of Financial Empowerment to 'educate, empower and protect workers with low incomes so they can make the best use of their financial resources.' The poor often get ripped off by the unscrupulous.

The fund includes $25 million raised privately -- a signature approach for Bloomberg, a billionaire and a major private philanthropist -- which will give the program more room to experiment.”
I hope Bloomberg’s innovations succeed and can be replicated statewide. Perhaps other municipal and state governments will review these programs and adapt them for their own needs. It’s often said that city and state governments are laboratories of innovation. I’ll happily give Bloomberg credit if his new ideas lift citizens from poverty and help lower income workers learn to get the most from their resources. It would help however, if Mayor Bloomberg realized even educated professionals like myself are also struggling to remain fiscally sovent in this city.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Democracy's Mr. Fix It: A Podcast Interview With Author Joel S. Hirschhorn

Across the political divide Americans understand our democracy has stopped working for them – unless they happen to be comfortably wealthy. Prostitutes are held in higher esteem then today’s politicians because at least they’re providing a service. Our elected leaders appear to only service themselves and their cronies as Hurricane Katrina exposed to our national shame in 2005.

Many progressive political activists such as myself believe the best approach is to take over the Democratic Party the same way conservatives captured the GOP. Hence the enthusiastic pride of volunteers like me who helped Democrats recapture congress in November.

Joel S. Hirschhorn, author of Delusional Democracy: Fixing The Republic Without Overthrowing The Government (Common Courage Press) disagrees. He advocates for the systematic dismantling of the two parties “duopoly” instead.

Hirschhorn’s views were shaped by his experiences as a professor at the University of Wisconsin, a congressional staffer at the Office of Technology Assessment, a business consultant and the Director of Environment, Energy and Natural Resources at the National Governors Association. Chapters 1-6 of Hirschhorn’s book are essentially a rant against the corporatist state plaguing America.

On that score he’s admittedly preaching to the choir with people like me. Bloggers such as myself eat the “our country is a corporate plutocracy” rant for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Venting about it has become our fuel and while I’ve read similar rants in many different places, I nevertheless appreciate what Hirschhorn has to say about it. His prose effectively combines earnestness with a common touch.

Chapters 7-10 are more focused on his proposed solutions to break the two party stranglehold such as compulsory voting, cleansing politics from “dirty” money, expanding ballot initiatives and giving voters the option to choose “none of the above.” Some might consider his solutions impractical and I’m not a fan of ballot initiatives or his “none of the above” approaches. However, incremental change is not likely to reverse the trend of crony capitalism undermining our democracy and Hirschhorn deserves credit for thinking boldly.

From a scholarly point of view it annoys me that Hirschhorn doesn’t footnote anything (which I ask him about). For example, in Chapter 7 Hirschhorn cites a national poll conducted in 2000 about Americans support for “public financing.” As a reader I’d like to know what “national poll” he’s referring to and where he’s getting those figures. Typically, I review endnotes upon completing a chapter to see where information like this is coming from and it bothers me when I don’t have that option. Was it a newspaper article? Thankfully, Hirschhorn does provide a bibliography of secondary sources at the end of his book.

I definitely share Hirschhorn’s passion about the state of our democracy but remain inclined to try and change the Democratic Party instead of getting behind a third party at this time. From my vantage point we’re more likely to achieve real change that way. Nevertheless, Hirschhorn wrote a thoughtful book and he agreed to a healthy give and take in a podcast interview. Please refer to the media player below.



This interview can also be accessed for free via the Itunes Store by searching for "Intrepid Liberal Journal."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bush Finally Tells the Truth!

Since election night in 2004 lying has not served President Bush well. In a desperate quest to salvage his toxic legacy the President finally admitted we're not winning in Iraq as a pretext to deploy more troops and "strengthen" our military. Mr. President you are three years too late. Dispatching more troops will only result in more soldiers dying for a lost and immoral cause. Sadly the only realistic option is dishonorable: redeployment and containment of Iraq's sectarian violence within its' borders. This is disgraceful because our unjustified invasion unleashed the civil war engulfing Iraq today. Sadly, we no longer have any other viable options. Dishonorable leaders such as Bush, Cheney, Powell and Rumsfeld have produced a calamity resulting in only despicable choices. I don't believe in an afterlife. But if hell does exist then Bush and his team deserve to be frogmarched there for the needless deaths they've caused. Deploying more troops in Iraq will only result in more needless bloodshed

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

E.J. Dionne Writes About the "Real America"

The first time I read E.J. Dionne Jr. was during my freshman year of college when he covered politics for the New York Times as a journalist. His dispatches from Iowa and New Hampshire during the '88 presidential campaign were far more incisive than the standard beltway drivel. Almost twenty years later his op-ed columns in the Washington Post are a must read. In his most recent column Dionne writes,

"When a nation alters its philosophical direction and changes its assumptions, there is no press release to announce the shift, no news conference where The People declare that they have decided to move down a different path." Yet 2006 is looking more and more like one of history's hinge years, a moment when old ideas are cast aside, new leaders emerge and old leaders decide to speak in new ways. The changes in politics and culture are visible in the many sudden and outright reversals of the conventional wisdom.

Nowhere is the evidence of change more striking than among the young, whose attitudes and behavior are usually leading indicators of social transformation."
CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF DIONNE'S COLUMN.

I concur there is something percolating in America. Truth and hope are empowering and the public senses it is receiving neither from today's political class. Our current leadership has either provided fear saturation, shameless lies on an epic scale and crony capitalism or been too cowardly to stand up to them. The end result is a corporatist plutocracy, apathy and collective sense of vulnerability. This I believe explains the hysteria for iconic figures such as Guiliani and Obama. Sadly, Guiliani is another corporatist fear merchant and we just don't know about Obama yet.

Monday, December 18, 2006

FBI Reports Crime Is On the Rise

According to the FBI there is a resurgence of violent crime. The Bureau’s Uniform Crime Report indicates a 4% increase in homicides, assaults and other violent offenses during the first six months of 2006 compared with 2005. Perhaps more alarming is a 10% increase in robberies which criminologists sometimes regard as a bellwether of future trends. 2005 represented a 2.5% increase in violent crime compared with 2004 so there does seem to be a trend.

What could be the cause? Local law enforcement officials are critical of the Bush Administration’s focus on homeland security at the expense of traditional crime fighting. Demographically there is also an increase in the number of young men more inclined to commit crime.

I know the knee jerk response from conservatives will be to focus on our “culture of death.” True, culture does play an important part in crime. One can become jaded to violence through popular culture as well as a political culture that promotes endless war. I hope however that economic causes will not be overlooked in coming years. Young men with marginal skills are finding it more difficult to survive and have less hope.

If this trend continues one can expect conservatives will attempt to exploit crime as a wedge. It’s worked for them before and they’re losing ground on a range of other issues including fiscal responsibility, national security, values and global warming. With more Democrats controlling governorships and state legislatures it is likely conservatives will appeal to populist fear and distort the real causes of crime. Fear mongering through gay bashing, stoking anger against immigrants and paranoia about terrorists hiding underneath your pillow only goes so far after awhile.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

So About My Shorter Posts

In recent days I've received numerous emails inquiring about my shorter posts the past month. I appreciate the interest and I'm flattered readers cared enough to ask. I fully intend to continue posting more developed essays as well as podcast interviews. Typically such posts are developed over the weekend. However, in between essays and podcast interviews I'm going to provide short commentary on news items of the day. I had planned on posting an essay style post today but an angry stomach virus had other plans for me. I appreciate the loyal readership my blog has and hope all of you will continue to visit. Stay tuned for an upcoming podcast interview I'll be posting later in the week.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Addition By Subtraction: Evan Bayh Is Not Running For President

Democratic Indiana Senator Evan Bayh has opted not to campaign for president in 2008. Personally I'm delighted by his decision because Bayh’s support of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 was morally unconscionable. To me Bayh is just another corporatist exploiting the Democratic Party label. Senator Joe Biden of Delaware also supported the “Bankruptcy Reform” law but at least he has the excuse of representing a state largely employed by the financial services industry. Bayh had no excuse for helping President Bush wage class warfare on working people and small business entrepreneurs. His decision not to compete for the Democratic Party’s nomination is addition by subtraction.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Democrats Take the Gavel

This week we were reminded how fragile the new Democratic majority is when South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson had brain surgery on Wednesday. Nevertheless, Democrats are assuming the reigns in January and their incoming committee chairmen have said they will hold a series of hearings and investigations to promote phased withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

There is plenty of material for Democrats to examine: war profiteering, prewar intelligence, the shameful treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanomo Bay and the governments domestic surveillance program.

I am especially interested about what Congressman Henry Waxman, incoming chairman of the House Reform Committee will find. Waxman and his staff are renowned for their investigative talents and aggressiveness.

We can expect President Bush will fight subpoenas all the way to the Supreme Court and obstruct congress as much possible. Even so I suspect the public will receive an extensive education about the Bush Administration's criminal activity.

Unfortunately when Bush is out of office historians may be limited by what they can turn up. One of Bush's first executive orders after 9/11 limited public access to his presidential papers after leaving office. The cover-up was underway before the crimes were committed.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine To Sign Civil Unions Bill

I'm not fond of New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine. It bothered me when he muscled his predecessor Richard Cody out of the way because he was bored with the Senate. Cody is an honorable public servant and did a credible job after replacing the hapless and corrupt Jim McGreevey. I was especially impressed with Cody's committment to mental health issues. Overall Cody's interim tenure was defined by the public interest over the politics of expediency.

Jon Corzine however was bored with the Senate and decided he wanted to buy the governor's mansion in Trenton. Cody was advised Corzine would challenge him in the Democratic primary and leverage his fortune to obtain what he wanted. Cody correctly realized he had no chance and returned to his role as leader of the New Jersey Senate.

Meanwhile, the Democrats potentially could have lost their New Jersey Senate seat to Tom Kean Jr. in the mid-term elections. I like Senator Robert Menendez and believe the corruption charges against him are largely fabricated. Nevertheless, Democrats were forced to spend money in the state because Menendez was vulnerable and that potentially might have cost them Senate seats elsewhere. Put it all together and Jon Corzine doesn't imbue me with warm and fuzzy feelings.

I must express appreciation however for his willingness to sign into law a civil unions bill passed today by New Jersey's state legislature. This will make New Jersey the third state, after Vermont and Connecticut, to offer civil unions, which extend to gay men and lesbians all the rights state law affords married people. Sadly the bill does not recognize gay marriage.

I don't blame homosexuals for wondering: "Why can't we be granted the same status?" They're right to feel that way and it's a disgrace gay marriage is regarded with such vehemance. For the time being, homosexual couples will at least have the same rights as married couples in New Jersey. Hopefully, that is something to build on.

Gallows Humor In the Lefty Blogosphere

I must share this piece of gallows humor here in the Lefty blogosphere. Last night I did a short post about Senator Tim Johnson's hospitalization and the potential repercussions. At the time it it didn't occur to me crossposting was necessary because Johnson's health and the political aftershocks are being diligently monitored everywhere. I noticed however there was no mention of Senator Tim Johnson's condition on My Left Wing and felt I had a community duty to post a diary about it over there.

A member of My Left Wing named "Puzzled" posted the following comment on that thread:

"An Open Letter
to Ted Kennedy: "Step Away From The Cheeseburger!"

Ted, you look like a heart attack waiting to happen, and with our razor-thin majority in the Senate hanging in the balance, we can't afford to have Mitt Romney in the position of replacing you if, God forbid, something happens. So get your blubbery ass to the Capitol gym--my tax dollars are paying for it, the least you could do is make use of the place."
A bit crass perhaps but I appreciate the sentiment. It would be just our luck for Senator Kennedy to suffer a fatal malady prior to Massachusetts Governor Romney leaving office. Seriously, Senator Kennedy if by some chance you're compelled to sit in front of a computer, Google yourself and stumble upon my blog I beseech you to live healthy. I've always respected your legislative accomplishments. Particulary on issues such as healthcare and job training. You were also one of the few Democrats with enough spine to stand up to Bush in 2002. Your health is important to our nation's health. So learn to eat tofu and hit the treadmill!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Senator Tim Johnson Hospitalized With A Possible Stroke

Democratic Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota was admitted to a hospital after possibly suffering a stroke. The Washington Post reports that Johnson was taken to George Washington Hospital because he felt ill in the morning.

According to Senator Johnson’s spokeswoman Julianne Fisher the symptoms were detected early. Hopefully early detection means Senator Johnson can lead a fulfilling life whether he remains in office or not.

Crass as it is to write about however there are repercussions beyond Senator Johnson’s well being. South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds is a Republican and one can expect he would select a member of his own party to replace Johnson. Consequently the Senate would be split 50-50 with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote.

That happened to be the precise composition of the Senate in 2001 when Vermont’s Jim Jeffords left the GOP to be come an independent – giving Democrats a majority until the 2002 mid-term elections. Any replacement for Senator Johnson would be allowed to fill his term until the 2008 election.

If Johnson can’t complete his term the outlook is not favorable for Democrats or the country. There is no Republican likely to be converted to give the Democratic Party a majority. However, Senator Joe Lieberman is certainly a threat to discontinue caucusing with Democrats. Republicans will no doubt hit Lieberman with a hard sell.

I suspect Lieberman would be loath to give liberals the satisfaction of saying, “we told you so” about him going back on his word. However, his leverage is enhanced and Lieberman will extract heavy concessions from Democrats. Given Lieberman’s warped views on national security and corporatist leanings this is a troublesome development indeed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Seduction of Political Inertia

Democratic Party strategists must be salivating. An ABC News-Washington Post survey reports 8 out of 10 Americans favor changing the U.S. mission in Iraq from direct combat to training Iraqi troops and significant majorities prefer withdrawing nearly all troops by 2008. The ABC/WAPO Survey also indicates increased support for diplomatic initiatives with Iran and Syria.

Since the Bush Administration has opted to essentially reject the Iraq Study Group’s bipartisan recommendations, Democrats have received an early Christmas present: they can embrace the report to appear responsible and allow Iraq to continue dragging down the Republican Party heading into 2008.

All very nice except for one minor detail: blood is being shed every day. Too many of our soldiers are wounded or dying in this lost and immoral cause. Consequently, it is immoral for the Democratic Party to sit on its hands while Iraq burns.

I consider myself a progressive pragmatist. There are times when it makes sense to let the other party simply stew in its failures. On issues ranging from healthcare to entitlements it probably makes sense for Democrats to use their new majority as a platform to educate voters, push for complete victory in 2008 and implement a genuine progressive program with a Democratic White House and congress.

However, war requires a different standard of leadership. It would be irresponsible for Democrats to simply say,

“Hey we support the Baker-Hamilton report. It’s Bush that doesn’t. And he’s the commander and chief so what can we do? Instead we’ll just sit back while Iraq deteriorates more, public support goes even lower and beat up on John McCain.”
Not good enough. Democrats are obliged to use their power to reverse Bush’s criminal policies. As I have previously written, that means contemplating one of three options: 1) impeach and remove President Bush and Dick Cheney; 2) invoke the War Powers Act; 3) cut off funding for the Iraq war. Regular readers of my blog may find me to be a broken record but this message must be reiterated. Now is not the time for Democrats to be guided by their strategists. Instead we need principled leadership that is ready, willing and able to fulfill their moral and Constitutional responsibilities.

I am not a wealthy contributor or a person of influence. I am merely a concerned citizen who contributed some money to candidates and phone banked on behalf of the Democratic Party this election cycle. So perhaps the Democratic Party believes my convictions can be overlooked. Nevertheless, I will be monitoring what my party does and doesn’t do very closely.
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ADDENDUM:
Thanks to Maryscott O'Connor for frontpaging my cross posting of the above topic on My Left Wing.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Bush Rope-A-Dope

The Washington Post reports that President Bush, Vice President Cheney and a dozen aids met with a group of military experts. According to the article these experts bluntly told the President our policies in Iraq have failed but they’re skeptical of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations to reduce troop levels and initiate diplomacy with Iran and Syria. The Washington Post is basing their article on “sources familiar with the meeting.”

Obviously those sources are from the White House. Through leaks the Bush Administration is hoping to rope-a-dope and counter punch simultaneously. The public will hear that Bush has received a candid assessment of his conduct of the war to provide a veneer of credibility. However, the public will also receive a steady drumbeat of propaganda that we can’t reduce our troop levels presently.

The Washington Post even reports that retired Gen. John M. Keane advocated for several thousand additional soldiers to enhance security in Baghdad. This article is one salvo of many to come as the White House attempts to discredit longtime Bush family concierge James Baker.

Baker however is an old pro at public relations jiujutsu and won’t be so easily thwarted. Nevertheless, Bush’s intransigence only reinforces my conviction that congress must consider one of three options: impeachment, invoking the War Powers Act or cutting off funding.

Generation X Comes of Age

Generation X was primarily known for being the first generation to grow up watching television from birth. From the time I graduated college in 1991 it seemed we were stigmatized as self-absorbed and apathetic cynics. Well times may be changing.

Lindsey Layton reports in today’s Washington Post that a “30-Something Working Group” is making their presence felt in the House Democratic caucus. According to the article, young members such as Reps. Kendrick Meek and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (in the photo) of Florida and Timothy J. Ryan of Ohio made a name for themselves during the campaign making speeches on CSPAN after 11:00PM. These late night speeches are known as “special orders,” when lawmakers may speak up to an hour about any topic after the day's business is complete. I seem to recall a young firebrand named Newt Gingrich garnered plenty of attention doing just that in the 1980s.

Although the committee chairmen in the House will be experienced veterans such as Charles Rangel of Ways and Means, incoming Speaker Pelosi is bucking the seniority system somewhat for younger members. As Layton reports, Pelosi announced last week that,

“Wasserman Schultz will be a deputy chief whip and Meek and Ryan will serve on the party's steering committee, which sets policy and makes committee assignments, along with two incoming freshmen. In addition, Wasserman Schultz and Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) are being considered for a seat on the prestigious Ways and Means Committee, which sets tax policy, and Meek is vying for a seat on the Appropriations Committee.”
One wonders if this means a dramatic shift of culture in the House of Representatives. The younger breed is known to be aggressive about ethics reform for example. Decades ago, the powerful House Speaker Sam Rayburn used to counsel young members that the best way to get along was “to go along.” How will these younger members, empowered by Pelosi interact with old bulls such as Charlie Rangel, John Conyers and John Dingell?

Members of the post Watergate class such as Dick Gephardt and Al Gore became assimilated into Washington culture and associated with the establishment. I hope this new wave manages to maintain their reform-minded spirit and not become institutionalized by their newly won prestige. My advice to them is be guided by this philosophy:

"Power without principal is barren. Principal without power is futile"

For Sick Political Junkies Like Me

So how many of you knew former Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle announced he was not running for President last week? Unless you’re a totally obsessed political junkie like myself it probably escaped your attention.

However, Chris Cillizza who writes for the Washington Post blog, "The Fix," for political junkies like me reports Daschle’s announcement may be a lift for Barack Obama in 2008. According to Cillizza’s reporting, Daschle loyalists are experienced operatives and liberated to focus completely on Obama’s campaign. Apparently there are close ties between Obama’s inner circle and Tom Daschle. Obama is inexperienced in national politics and competing against the Hillary Clinton political machine is a tall order. Hence it is Cillizza's contention that Daschle's decision not to run may better enable Obama to construct an effective political operation of his own.

I acknowledge Obama’s charisma and compelling story but I’m still not ready to hop on the bandwagon. Our country is confronted with herculean challenges because of Bush's insipid rule. I need to know any Democrat I'm supporting is up to the job. Even so, as regular readers of this blog may recall, I wrote a hypothetical inauguration speech for Obama in October just to try him on for size. In attempting to write in Obama's voice I felt compelled to speak with religious overtones and that made me somewhat uncomfortable with him.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Memo To Incoming Congress: Save Our Country

Typically, I believe in setting ambitious progressive goals and pursuing them with patient deliberation. There is an ebb and flow to public perception, debate and popular will. The ideal approach is to build coalitions and let policy ideas percolate through the prism of debate. We don’t have that luxury now.

Iraq continues to burn, the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan and America is perceived as a rudderless giant. Under the Bush regime America is weak and immoral. That is a recipe for calamity. Triangulation and splitting hairs is not an option. Our national security is under the command and control of a sixty-year old adolescent (Bush), a feculent viceroy (Dick Cheney), an inept bureaucrat (Condi Rice) and a scandalous Washington retread (Robert Gates on December 18th).

Ten members of the Washington elite establishment known as the Iraq Study Group released their highly anticipated report. Their language was blunt in casting blame on the Bush Administration and dispelled the notion we’re winning in Iraq. It didn’t however go far enough in setting a timetable for withdrawal because they wanted to maintain a bipartisan veneer and not be rejected by Bush. Well Bush’s honor does not merit consideration and he’s essentially rejected the report anyway. The beltway chattering class is having a collective orgasm over the report but so what?

Like a lot of bipartisan reports crafted by insiders this document is destined to collect dust. The 9/11 Commission report is currently collecting dust without any effective implementation of its recommendations. And does anybody remember the bipartisan report on terrorism authored by Warren Rudman and Gary Hart prior to 9/11?

I readily acknowledge the report’s symbolism but the content is under-whelming. Soon enough it will become irrelevant when reviews from the Pentagon and State Department are utilized by the Bush Administration to justify the continued pursuit of “victory” whatever the hell that means. Prior to Christmas we’ve been promised yet another Bush plan will be rolled out and the “bipartisan” Baker-Hamilton report will disappear into the ether.

The only bipartisanship I’m interested in is for congressional Democrats to stiffen their spines and hopefully a few congressional Republicans will develop a soul. If congressional Republicans don’t develop a soul than perhaps fear of the ballot box will concentrate their feckless minds. Either way, congress has only three options.
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1) Impeachment – I suppose one might call this the nuclear option. I’ve been opposed to impeachment. At most I was a supporter of impeaching Cheney. A year ago I wrote,

“Impeaching Bush is tantamount to indicting Kermit the Frog when everyone knows it's really Miss Piggy who wears the pants.”
My rationale until recently was simply that Bush is gone in two years anyway and pursuing such a course would undermine the political viability of the Democratic Party. I agreed with intense oversight and investigations but otherwise thought it best for Democrats to build a record of accomplishment and use their congressional majority as a platform to educate the public about why the country is better off with them in charge.

My worry was impeachment would distract Democrats from educating the public about global warming, health care, globalization and putting forward policies designed to enhance economic and social justice. I also didn’t want the Democrats to be perceived as hungering for revenge heading into 2008.

I’ve changed my mind. In retrospect I’ve been too slow to catch on. Congressional Democrats have ruled out cutting off funding for the troops. That doesn’t leave them much recourse or leverage to push Bush in the right direction. Meanwhile we’re losing in Afghanistan, Islamic radicalism is metastasizing because of our policies and homeland security remains pathetic. They wanted a Pearl Harbor and 9/11 was just the pretext they needed to prosecute a war of imperialism and rape the Constitution over civil liberties.

I don’t advocate for impeachment lightly. The aftershocks upon our system will be turbulent especially with armed forces engaged in combat. I wish to hell it wasn’t necessary. But impeaching and removing both Bush and Cheney is the only way to restore competence and rationality to the executive branch. This administration will not change the status quo, initiate any redeployment or initiate diplomatic initiatives because Jim Baker recommends it.

They’re more concerned with saving face and establishing a justified pretext to preserve Bush’s legacy. And that translates into more bloodshed and further isolation for America. It’s not only radicals and terrorists who are opposed to us. The civilized world has no faith in our judgment or competence. That must not be allowed to continue. Even a weakened Bush can do plenty of damage in the remaining two years of his final term.

Republicans may already be seeing the handwriting on the wall. Senator Gordon Smith used the word “criminal” in describing the Iraq war. I don’t believe congressional Republicans are about to develop a conscience. But political expediency may compel them to reach an accommodation with congressional Democrats. Incompetence in the White House has its charms when it merely results in deregulation and no bid contracts for corporatist supporters. However, after awhile quagmires cease to be profitable and result in the hemorrhaging of support.

With Bush and Cheney removed the Constitution mandates the Speaker of the House is next in line for succession. Pelosi could agree to be a caretaker president dedicated to competence and salvaging America’s strategic situation. She can also form a coalition government with Republicans at key positions if they stipulate to conditions about redeployment in Iraq. That might help garner support from congressional Republicans to push the process forward and manage the country until elections in 2008.

2) Invoke the War Powers Act – If Congress doesn’t have the stones to impeach and remove this criminally insane administration from power then they’re obliged to at least force their hand on Iraq. One possible option is to invoke the War Powers Act.

Congress enacted the War Powers Act in 1973. It requires the White House to regularly consult with Congress whenever contemplating military action, written notification within 48 hours of such action and its’ estimated “scope or duration” and congressional consent through either a declaration of war or "specific statutory authorization." Once invoked, the act prohibits a president from keeping the troops deployed for more than 90 days unless congress either declares war or passes a joint resolution upholding the president's policy.

One can make a compelling argument that the War Powers Act is an egregious example of legislative overreach. Indeed, the Constitution empowers the president as commander and chief of the armed forces. Presumably, this gives the president the authority to repel sudden attacks and deploy forces as he or she sees fit to contend with perceived threats.

The act appears to encroach upon the president's authority as commander and chief. It can also be argued that this act amounts to dangerous micromanaging by the legislative branch. I’m actually more comfortable with the constitutionality of impeachment then taking this course. Invoking the War Powers Act is an extreme measure rife with risks and repercussions that we can’t possibly foresee.

Short-term considerations must prevail however. Invoking the War Powers Act will at least impose a timetable on the White House and provide leverage in our dealings with multiple factions inside Iraq once the clock starts ticking. If congress won’t remove Bush and Cheney then at least they can accelerate our disengagement from Iraq’s sectarian violence.

3) Cut Off Funding – If impeachment and invoking the War Powers Act can’t happen then congress must cut off funding for the war. Politically this is dicey and can easily be spun as “not supporting the troops.” That's why Democrats have repeatedly ruled it out. Option 1 is the best of the three. Option 2 makes me uncomfortable but is better then cutting off funding. If congress doesn’t remove Bush and Cheney from office or impose a timetable through the War Powers Act then cutting off funding is their only recourse. Oversight and investigations only go so far and controlling the purse is one of the few levers of power congress has against an imperial presidency.
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Leadership is hard. If leadership were easy everyone would be leaders. Leadership requires hard choices, accountability and courage. Democrats don’t have the luxury of simply supporting non-controversial policies such as raising the minimum wage. Meanwhile, Republicans no longer have the luxury of hiding behind empty slogans such as “global war on terror” and “victory.” Our country is in serious trouble and the time has come for grown ups to fix what is wrong.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Jay Lassiter Interviews New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne

Jay Lassiter of Lassiter Space and a frontpager at Blue New Jersey just scored an interview with New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne. Payne is next in line to chair the subcommittee on Africa and Human Rights in the new Democratic Congress.

Lassiter writes,
"For the millions of people in the Darfur region of Sudan, Congressman Payne's chairmanship can't come soon enough. As you know, all hell is broken loose in Darfur. It's a full-blown genocide, a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Donald Payne promises to make the genocide in Darfur a top priority. He has some bold ideas to end the dying as well as the smarts (and the foreign policy chops) to address the Darfur issue head on. And pretty soon, he'll (hopefully) have the clout as well. So check out the interview and see for yourself why Congressman Payne is our last best hope to break the current cycle of genocide."
Click Here to read Jay's brilliant and important interview. Jay you've done the progressive blogging community proud. Thank you.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Thinking of John Lennon

Allow me to digress from the usual politics and current events topics of this blog to acknowledge the anniversary of John Lennon’s death. I was only eleven in 1980 and watching Monday Night Football when Howard Cosell delivered the news. I had recently learned all the lyrics to the Beatles, Rubber Soul album and was especially moved by the lyrics to “In My Life.”

Personally I’ve never been a great believer in icons. Lennon himself delivers a stirring rebuke to the myth of icons with his classic composition “God” early in his solo career. Yet Lennon to me was different. Lennon was an artistic genius and international statesman.

His personal journey and evolution took place in a fishbowl. As a chauvinist from Liverpool, Lennon abused his first wife Cynthia. Under Yoko’s influence he became a feminist who sang, “women are the niggers of the world.” During Beatlemania, Lennon was an absentee father and detached from his first-born Julian. With his second born Sean, Lennon opted to jettison fame’s narcissism and dedicated himself solely to raising his son.

A tormented soul Lennon in his youth was violent and got in more than his share of scrapes. But in 1969 he wrote “Give Peace A Chance” and a timeless rallying cry for antiwar protesters was born. Four simple words that sent shivers down the cowardly spines of the Nixon Administration who wanted to deport him when Lennon moved to America.

By 1980, Lennon had confronted his inner demons, reconciled with his fame and established a fulfilling private life. He could jump in the studio, compose music and enjoy public adulation. And he could also retreat to his private world with Yoko and Sean. A bond was also developing with Lennon and his son Julian who had his own interest in music.

The champion of peace had found inner peace.

And a madman with a gun took it a way.

Lennon wrote “In My Life” in memory of his close friend Stuart Sutcliffe, an artist from Liverpool who died of a brain tumor. He was a young man paying tribute to a dear friend. It’s perhaps the most beautiful and poetic of Lennon’s songs and captures my feelings as I think of him now:

There are places I remember all my life,
Though some have changed,
Some forever, not for better,
Some have gone and some remain.

All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall.
Some are dead and some are living.
In my life I've loved them all.

But of all these friends and lovers,
There is no one compares with you,
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new.

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before,
I know I'll often stop and think about them,
In my life I'll love you more.

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before,
I know I'll often stop and think about them,
In my life I'll love you more.
In my life I'll love you more.
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ADDENDUM:
Crosspostings of the topic above were frontpaged on My Left Wing (Click Here) and European Tribune (Click Here). Nice to read that Lennon's memory remains so vibrant in the blogosphere.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Memo To Democrats: Repeal Bush's 2005 Bankruptcy Law

The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 was arguably the most odious piece of domestic legislation the previous congress passed. President Bush and his party typically cited it as among their “accomplishments” and the media seldom questioned whether it was a good idea.

This “accomplishment” amounted to nothing less than class warfare waged on behalf of the super rich against the little guy. Indeed, it illustrated the sheer indecency of the Republican Party machine and pervasive influence of banks, credit card companies and the financial services industry as a whole.

Sadly, the Republicans were aided and abetted by the support of eighteen Democrats in the Senate – including Minority Leader Harry Reid. For the record, New York Senator Hillary Clinton did not vote at all. Over seventy House Democrats supported the measure as well. Others who did not vote for it supported the Republicans in their parliamentary tactics and maneuvers to get it through. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was especially guilty of two-faced behavior – denouncing the legislation while supporting Senator Bill Frist’s efforts to shut off cloture.

A few such as Senator Charles Schumer of New York valiantly put up a fight. Schumer actually tried to attach “poison amendments” to the new law and make it more difficult for people who blow up abortion clinics to declare bankruptcy in paying for their legal defense. That tactic worked for a couple years but without the support of the Democratic leadership the bill’s final passage could not be prevented.

Well now the political landscape has changed with newly elected populists poised to take control in January. Senator-Elect Jon Tester for example doesn’t appear to be the type to sell out his constituents for heavy contributions from Bank of America. While Democrats are culturally diverse, repealing the 2005 law is a meat and potatoes issue the entire party can rally behind.

More importantly, Democrats have a moral obligation to make a stand and repeal the legislation after their fecklessness in the previous congress. They also have an opportunity to demonstrate they are on the side of working people and small business entrepreneurs.

Here is some background and context for those not familiar with the issue. During the economic boom of the 1990’s (remember that?) banks went on an irresponsible lending spree. They issued credit cards to people with either poor credit history or none at all. It was not uncommon for someone of questionable income or even no income to receive a platinum credit card from Citibank, Chase or Capitol One with a generous credit line.

While attending graduate school I interned at the corporate library of American Express in 2001. I maintained a journal of my experience and memorialized a conversation with a Vice President I occasionally performed research for and was on good terms with. I asked this gentleman why American Express was targeting less affluent people and wondered if they were assuming an unreasonable risk in doing so. He told me,

“They’re all going to have to pay eventually. The lawmakers are on our side because of heavy campaign contributions from our industry. First we have to get Joe and Jane Smith hooked on the great American drug: credit.”
I followed up and asked if that might cause undue hardship for the middle and working class who were strapped for cash in the short term and didn’t understand the long-term consequences of burning a hole through their credit cards. His response to that was,

“Not my problem.”
Predictably, people in the middle and lower income brackets hit a wall when the economy went bust and jobs were lost. Many were confronted with medical calamities in their families, had no health insurance and no means of meeting their financial obligations. In the past such people had the option of declaring Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and getting a “fresh start.” Conservative critics typically excoriated the concept of a fresh start as an unjustified reward for profligate spending. In fact declaring bankruptcy is a lifeline for people in legitimate need.

A "fresh start" used to be the objective of American bankruptcy law. The law passed in 2005 requires people who earn more than the median income in their state to pay off their debts on a five-year repayment plan. In theory, lower income earners may still avail themselves of Chapter 7's debt-erasing provisions, but they’re confronted with all sorts of additional hurdles, including mandatory credit counseling, greater paperwork requirements and rising lawyers' fees. These obstacles make it virtually impossible for lower income people to declare bankruptcy.

Contrary to conservative propaganda most do not declare bankruptcy because of profligate spending. Typically, lower and middle-income workers are forced to declare bankruptcy because of a medical calamity in their family. If a lower income individual with limited or no health insurance can't declare bankruptcy when a child suffers from a medical calamity, they’re in danger of complete financial destitution – even homelessness. Indeed, many of these people are among the over 40 million not currently benefiting from health insurance or their coverage is simply inadequate to meet their needs.

Another important impact of the new bankruptcy law is that an indispensable safety net for small risk taking entrepreneurs is gone. Bankruptcy regulations that apply to large corporations are essentially unchanged. For example, an airline can declare bankruptcy and avoid financial obligations regarding their employees' pension funds. However, the current law does facilitate economic distress on those small businesses that our economy is so dependent on for job creation.

Unlike large corporations, individual owners usually finance small businesses with money from their own bank accounts. Previously an owner of a failing small enterprise had the option of declaring bankruptcy so they could obtain a fresh start and still take care of their family. With that safety net removed it is far more difficult for the little guy to be an innovative risk taker.

In September I interviewed talk radio's Thom Hartmann and he noted to me that Henry Ford declared bankruptcy seven times. So if it was good enough for Henry Ford why not for today’s small businessperson?

Relaxing the bankruptcy laws would have a far greater impact on job creation than tax breaks for the super rich. Indeed if small business were relieved of the burdens of healthcare costs through a single payer system coupled with a relaxation of bankruptcy laws it could be a job stimulus for our economy.

The financial services industry will move hard and fast to seduce the new Democratic majority. It would not surprise me if the financial services industry lobbies the new congress for even more stringent bankruptcy laws while Bush is still in the White House. Every time new bankruptcy legislation has become law in recent years it was to benefit the financial services sector. How sickening if in coming weeks we read press clippings that lobbyists from credit card companies find the Democrats “pragmatic” and “accessible.” It’s time to reverse that trend starting with this new congress.

Replacing the 2005 law with more consumer and small business friendly legislation makes political sense and is good policy. It would put Republicans on the defensive and enable Democrats to further shift the center of political gravity in a populist direction. The corporatist media and K-Street lobbyists are eager to portray the election as having little to do with a repudiation of conservatism. Flexing political muscle on this issue will help transform the national conversation on domestic issues and keep Republicans back on their heels.

In all likelihood President Bush would veto such an initiative. If he does then it helps the party educate small business entrepreneurs and working people why it is in their interest to put a Democrat in the White House in 2008. Perhaps some Republicans could be persuaded to join Democrats out of political expediency.

The key of course will be to maintain unity in the Democratic caucus. That’s where the netroots can make an important contribution. We have to make it clear that we consider the bankruptcy law class warfare from the top and expect Democrats to make a stand about it.

It’s one thing for Delaware Senator Joe Biden to support the legislation because his state is a bastion for the financial services industry. But if he’s serious about competing to become my party’s standard-bearer in 2008 then he has to change his position. Another example is Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana. Senator Bayh it’s wonderful that you’re from a red state and have gubernatorial experience too. However, you’re among the Senators that supported Bush’s bankruptcy law and until you change your tune I’m not going to waste my time with you.

This needs to be a litmus issue for Democratic candidates in 2008. Hillary Clinton is constantly calculating and recalibrating her positions. She’ll embrace flag burning amendments to appear “moderate” and supported Bush’s national security policies in Iraq until recently. Well I’d like to see Senator Clinton put her prestige on the line and help lead a fight to repeal this horrific law. Hell it could be an opportunity for her to establish some populist credentials of her own heading into the Democratic primary season. Let her calculate in a progressive direction for a change and promise that if elected president she’ll sign legislation overturning the 2005 law.

As for Senator Barack Obama let him take an unequivocal stand that isn’t mealy mouthed and state outright the 2005 bankruptcy law is reprehensible. Why not lead the fight to change it Senator Obama? Perhaps that might enable the freshman senator to accomplish something tangible in his term before hanging out in Iowa and New Hampshire.

John Edwards this is right up your alley. Demonstrate that you’re the true champion of the little guy and push your party to do the right thing. You have populist stature already and can distinguish yourself even further from Clinton and Obama by making this one of your issues.

Governor Vilsak you can get some traction as the Washington outsider not infected by K-Street disease. Prod your party from the heartland. Forcefully deliver the message this law is a travesty of governance in Washington, and you pledge to repeal it if elected president. It’s a stand worth taking and perhaps might propel you in an otherwise bloated field of big names and big money.

Let’s face it Governor Vilsak there is no way you’ll ever raise more cash than Clinton, Obama, Edwards or even the hapless John Kerry. So why not be the people’s champion and use this issue to differentiate yourself from the pack? With Feingold out of the picture progressives are hungering for a candidate to rally behind so why not you? Everyone, including Hillary will be rhetorically against the war in 2008 so why not add some old fashioned domestic populism to your pedigree?

I didn’t phone bank after hours and weekends prior to Election Day because it was fun. I did it because I want change. The bankruptcy law of 2005 is a prime example of what Democrats need to change forthwith.
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ADDENDUM:
The above topic was frontpaged in My Left Wing (Click Here), Booman Tribune (Click Here) and Swords Crossed (Click Here). The comments both favorable and otherwise are interesting reading. Special thanks to Maryscott O'Connor, Steven D and Brendan for promoting my crosspost on those sites. Also, the fabulous Susan G once again rescued my diary in Daily Kos (Click Here).

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Bob Higgins Returns

The progressive blogosphere resembles an extended family. It’s remarkable how we interact and become acquainted with personalities from around the globe. Between blogrolls and soapblox community sites we come across so many and relationships form. Yet even as we bond over shared values it’s easy to forget that behind our cocksure Internet personas reside flesh and blood human beings.

One such blogger is Bob Higgins. Bob’s Worldwide Sawdust blog was surging as of late August. He had established a niche as a poignant and irreverent voice championing working people, justice and peace. There is a lot of talent in the blogosphere but for me Bob is a cut above. Bob is a rare gem that can make you laugh and think simultaneously.

A former marine, Bob welcomes visitors to his site with this:

Proudly Democratic
Proudly Liberal
Proudly American
My kind of guy.

A unique voice of decency and a light touch. Bob manages to capture what’s important without taking himself too seriously. We bloggers occasionally have supercharged egos and Bob’s self-deprecating sense of humor is refreshing.

As some may have noticed Bob disappeared from the blogosphere for three months. I was concerned. Bob is about my Dad’s age and has made several visits to veteran’s hospitals for his heart in recent months. So I feared the worst.

It turns out Bob’s best friend and constant companion of twelve years, Joni Russell, was hospitalized on August 20th. She died on September 13th and Bob understandably had no interest in blogging, writing or any of the issues we bloggers obsess about.

I’m happy to report that Bob has returned and his blog is better than ever. Worldwide Sawdust has incorporated Soapblox software and is a community site. The one difference between this community blog and the rest is Bob himself. As Bob puts it, his blog,

“Is a left, liberal, political blog offering news, commentary, a whole bunch of links to the useful, the entertaining and the just plain silly, as well as ‘Surprise Features’ which means we make this stuff up as we go.

Don't be shy, register, post your comments or start your own diary and share your wisdom with the rest of us.”
What Bob is too modest to say is that he has a delightful sense of the absurd and a big heart. The tone of any community site resembles the personality of its proprietor. My Left Wing for example resembles the spirit, smarts and maternal kindness of Maryscott O’Connor. Well if Maryscott is a blogmother and Markos, Jerome Armstrong and Booman are blogfathers then Bob Higgins is a kind-hearted bloguncle. Truly he’s what an uncle should be: avuncular, irreverent with plenty of piss and vinegar.

So I hope anyone reading this will join Bob’s community and participate regularly. There will be much to learn, much to share, tears to shed and plenty of laughter.

Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. AIDS/HIV has been around for 25 years and every year on December 1st our planet remembers the victims. Currently 40 million people are HIV positive and 5,500 lose their lives in Africa daily because of it.

One of my favorite bloggers is Jay Lassiter of Lassiter Space. Jay is HIV positive and he reminds his readers that simply honoring the victims is not enough. As he notes, the red ribbons are a nice gesture but the best way individuals can make a difference is to get tested. Please CLICK HERE and read Jay’s important post on this topic. You can also read Jay’s personal story of when he found out he tested positive by CLICKING HERE. Jay posted again this afternoon (CLICK HERE) and wrote,

"I don't wanna die of AIDS. I 'm tired of my friends dying of AIDS. So many are dead that I am an elderstatesman (of 34) and archivist of the fight, which is a miracle in itself. You can imagine when first diagnosed, the last thing I was thinking was I'd ever be the long-term archivist of anything. For this much I remain grateful."
Jay and I are about the same age and I can't imagine what it must be like to lose one's peers from the very disease he's infected with. I applaud Jay for his courage and leading by example. Jay has responded to adversity by working to improve the human condition. He’s an activist with a big heart who champions peace, justice and human rights. And he’s willing to share his personal story so others will get tested, not spread the disease and be empowered to enjoy fulfilling lives. Thanks Jay.