Monday, February 28, 2005

Michael: Giving New Meaning to the Word 'Scum'

PENTAGON BUDGET BLACKMAIL.

There's really nothing I can add to this story. Just read it and rail.

Michael: Bush Admin Abortion Crusade Goes International

The Bush Administration insists that the UN not include abortion among the list of fundamental rights of women. Bush spokesmen insist that the 1995 Beijing conference on women did not create new international rights. The platform document resulting from that conference urged that abortion should be safe where legal, and should not result in criminal charges in any case.

Kofi Annan also came under fire by the Administration for saying thet governments had to guarantee reproducive and sexual rights. Bush is also requiring NGOs recieving government funds to fight AIDS to sign statements opposing sex work, even if they do not work directly with prostitutes. This is part of an ongoing campaign by the Administration to use the conduct of international affairs and foriegn humanitarian aid to further their goal of controlling the reproductive and sexual choices of women outside of the United States. All this comes on top of the global gag rule, of course.

In large part, the lack of institutional opposition in Presidential conduct of international affairs that Samantha Power noted is responsible for Bush's ability to pedal his sexual snake-oil world-wide. It is a convenient way for Bush to throw red meat to the Fundamentalist lobby without risking much domestic blowback. How sad it is that a small minority of religious zealots in this country have the ability to control the reproduction of so many women around the world through their control of a U.S. President.

Eyes Wide Open

FROM: Caroline Isaacs
Program Coordinator
AFSC Arizona Area Program


Eyes Wide Open, AFSC’s War Casualties Memorial Coming to Tucson March 5th & 6th.

Eyes Wide Open is the American Friends Service Committee's widely acclaimed memorial exhibit on the human cost of the Iraq war. Eyes Wide Open was created to memorialize all the lives lost in the war. In addition to the more than 1400 pairs of boots honoring U.S. military casualties, the exhibit includes a 32-foot Wall of Remembrance, including names and confirmed incidents of Iraqi civilian deaths with 1500 pairs of shoes representing a small fraction of the estimated 100,000 Iraqi civilians who have been killed in the conflict. An indoor multimedia display explores the history, cost and consequences of the war and will be on display adjacent to the outdoor memorial.

Eyes Wide Open will be exhibited in Tucson on Saturday and Sunday, March 5th and 6th at Armory Park (downtown at 6th Ave. and 12th St.); the memorial will be open from 10:00 am to sundown on both days.

Tucson will be the only stop in Arizona on the “Eyes Wide Open tour”. The exhibit, which opened in Chicago's Federal Plaza with 504 pairs of boots in January 2004, continues to grow as the death toll continues to rise. The memorial has toured to over 40 cities and towns across the country, including Boston, New York City, Lansing, Indianapolis, Orlando, Memphis and Little Rock. Sites have included various college campuses, Philadelphia's Independence Mall, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and Central Park in New York City.

The exhibit is designed to be a memorial to all those who have lost their lives in the war. While the AFSC, a faith-based organization, has a historic position against all war, this event is not intended as a protest. The AFSC is actively discouraging anyone from using this exhibit as an opportunity to express political views through protest or confrontation. AFSC welcomes all people, regardless of their opinion on the war or political convictions, to view the exhibit. The mood of the event will be appropriate to a somber, respectful memorial. AFSC hopes that those who support the war come away with a conscious sense of the war's cost, and that those opposed to war come away with a sense of the sacrifice of the people -- the sacrifice of military families, as well as the Iraqi families.

The outdoor exhibit alone will span 12,000 square feet. We are need of community support to make this memorial exhibition a success. We are looking for people who can help now with planning, and we will need at least 100 volunteers each day of the exhibit. Please call, e-mail or stop in to our offices to volunteer. Our volunteer coordinator, Lorena Howard, can be reached at 520.623.9141 or eyeswideopentucson@yahoo.com

Learn more about the “Eyes Wide Open” tour at our national website:
http://www.afsc.org/eyes

Join Senate Leaders in Rally for Social Security

Sign up to attend a large rally for Social Security at the Phoenix Civic Plaza at 10 AM on Saturday, March 5. Congressman Grijalva is organizing buses from Tucon to this event. Organizers are trying to arrange a bus to the event. Congressman Grijalva will provide the tickets to this event.

Speakers to include Senators Byron Dorgan (ND), Minority Leader Harry Reid (NV) and Richard Durbin (Il). Host for this event include Congressman Raul Grijalva (CD-7) and Ed Pastor (CD-4). Other guests may also appear as a part of the program.

The event is scheduled to last 2 hours. Buses would leave Tucson at 7:30 to reach the event with plenty of time to get a seat. The buses would leave within a 1/2 hour of the end of the event. Organizers are working on plans for lunch before attendees leave, or on the way back. Participants should be back in Tucson around 3 PM with the lunch. Without lunch, around 2 PM.

Andy: Iraq is a Success?

More bad news from Iraq:



- A suicide car bomber drove into a line of about 400 volunteers for the Iraqi National Guard and police force today in Hilla, south of Baghdad, killing at least 122 people and wounding at least 170, an official at the Interior Ministry said. It was the deadliest single attack since the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.



The Iraqi National Guard can't even defend its own volunteers. How is it going to defend Iraq? The elections seem to have had as much impact as the capture of Saddam.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Michael: The Big Easier

The Neo-Con men always take the easy way out. Instead of facing the real problems confronting America and taking them on, they ignore the problem and opt for, or just invent, an easier problem to 'solve'.

Faced with the problem of international terrorism, the Neo-Con men decided to attack a prostate and weakened Iraq instead of a hard to locate Al Qaida. Faced with genocide in Sudan, they knuckled under to big oil and had Bush scupper an embargo that would have brought Sudan running to the negotiating table in 2002; thousands of lives ago. Faced with a nuclear threat from North Korea, the Neo-Con men stuck their head in the sand and refused to talk until North Korea announced they had nuclear weapons. Faced with criminal nuclear proliferation in Pakistan, they had Bush do nothing and approve Musharrif's pardon of the network's mastermind. With Afghanistan becoming the world's leading supplier of heroin right under their noses, the Neo-Con men don't even acknowledge the problem.

Perhaps the worst Neo-Con job yet is Social Security 'reform'. Not only does the privatization plan the Neo-Con men propose fail to address the potential revenue deficit in the program, but it actually makes the problem worse by diverting up to a third of existing revenues out of the program and cutting benefits. Not only are the Neo-Con men lying about the effect and purpose of their 'reform', which is to destroy Social Security, but they are even lying about what FDR said about the program to make it seem that he would support their schemes and secretly paying shills out of government funds.

What makes the Neo-Con men's Social Security scam even more craven and cowardly is that it is just a distraction from a much worse problem which the Neo-Con men won't even mention: Medicare. Depending on one's long term economic projections, Medicare will facing shortfalls of as much as 40 trillion (yes, trillion with a 't') dollars over the next 20 years. This is a deficit several times that which Social Security may be facing - from twice to seven times as large. Bush made the problem even worse with his Prescription Drug Neo-Con job. Is Bush running around the country telling people the sky is falling because of Medicare? No, he doesn't want to deal with Medicare. What the Neo-Con men DO know is that the prospects of long-term structural deficits in multiple federal entitlements programs endanger Bush's class-warfare tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy. They can sell the snake oil idea that privatization can 'fix' one huge government program, but even they can't stretch credulity far enough to encompass Medicare as well. So they won't talk about it.

One thing that one can count on is that the Neo-Con men we've allowed to steer our country are driving us straight into a blind alley, and desperately hoping that we passengers don't look forward.

"Look at the scary Muslim man!"

"Look at the perverse homosexuals!"

"Look at the naughty socialist program!"

"Look at Janet Jackson's titty!"

But, for God's sake, don't look where this nation is headed...

Friday, February 25, 2005

independent world television

independent world television is finally coming. News and current affairs programming from across the political spectrum, based on citizen reporting from around the world, and governed by a non-profit organization. IWT.tv is raising funds for their launch in 2006 and already have 7 million dollars in startup funding. Get in on the ground floor, and start production of your own media projects for IWT today.

Mensa Alternative Energy Colloquium

Part of Mensa's ongoing colloquia series, Earth In Mind: Fueling the Future, on the subject of alternative and sustainable energy technologies, will be held in Tucson on March 4 - 6 at the Sheraton. If this is an area of interest to you professionally, or intellectually, I encourage you to attend.

Registration is $150 (no discount for members) and does not include hotel costs, should you live outside of Tucson. If you are feeling charitable and want company at the colloquium, I don't think I'm busy that weekend :)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

OPPOSE SB 1229

The Arizona Senate will soon vote on SB. 1229, which will strip away the funding mechanism that has worked for public access television. Cox Communications, the largest cable TV operator in Arizona, is behind this bill, as is the industry group the Arizona Cable Telecommunications Association. In effect, the cable companies have written themselves a bill that strips millions of dollars from local, public coffers and gives the cable companies more corporate welfare.

The long standing Executive Director for Arizona Cable Telecommunications Association is Ms. Susan Bitter Smith. A former member of the Scottsdale City Council, Ms. Bitter Smith has been an active player in the Arizona State GOP. Ms. Bitter Smith has held many high level posts in the Party. For example, she was Arizona State Republican Campaign Manager for Bush/Quail Election in 1992. Susan's husband, Paul Smith, also has a very long standing history in the inner circles of Arizona GOP politics and strategy. Together they work continuously for the Arizona Republican Party. Prior to the 2004 election, Ms. Bitter Smith wrote several articles in the Arizona Republic praising President Bush's leadership and agenda for America. As Executive Director for Arizona Cable Telecommunications Association, Ms. Bitter Smith is one of the highest paid lobbyists in the State of Arizona.

The Bush Administration and Republican Party under Karl Rove have an agenda to close down free speech across America. They want to eliminate low watt community radio stations, hinder or stop free press and any type of media which does not support Rove's Republican agenda. SB 1229 is a joint effort of corporate media and the Arizona Republican Party to replace non-commercial community produced programming with profitable rewards to corporate cable that will promote their agenda. The Arizona State Senate wishes to gift Ms. Bitter Smith's Arizona Cable Association and Cox Communicstions with more profit while robbing citizens of free expression through cable communications.

Contact your Arizona Senators. Call Toll Free: 1-800-352-8404. Arizona has 30 state senators. Those listed below either cosponsored SB 1229 or voted in favor of it in the Senate Finance Committee, so call and ask them to justify their vote.

Ask if they have received any financial contributions from employees of Cox Communications or the Arizona Cable Telecommunications Association (Senate Finance Committee Chair Dean Martin received contributions from both, for example) - - also impart your sense of the importance of strong, diverse, well-funded public, educational and governmental channels, and the power of municipalities to govern their rights or way, that is the streets and property that cable companies use to get access to the customers homes. PLEASE BE COURTEOUS. PLEASE CALL. YOUR CALL COUNTS!

Some of the Arizona Senators who favor SB 1229:
Dean Martin
Robert "Bob" Burns
Ken Cheuvront
Ron Gould
Karen Johnson
Jack Harper
John Huppenthal
Thayer Verschoor

Michael: Power Lectures

I attended the J. Byron McCormick lecture last week and finally getting to blogging about it. The McCormick lecture series was established by a former Dean of the Rogers Law School here in Tucson. Every year, a major figure in public affairs is invited to lecture at the law school. Past invitees have included Supreme Court Justices, former Cabinet members, distinguished researchers and theorists. This year Samantha Power was the invitee. She is a lecturer in public policy at Harvard’s JFK School, and author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which was awarded the 2003 Pulitzer prize for non-fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award in the same category, and the CFR’s Ross Prize for best book on U.S. foreign policy. Ms. Power was the founding director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, and formerly a reporter for U.S. News covering the war in Yugoslavia. She is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School. This is a summary and interpretation of Ms. Power’s lecture, not a transcript. Any opinions expressed or conclusions drawn are my solely my own and should not be imputed to Ms. Power.

The central theme of Ms. Power’s lecture was a question: “Can American foreign policy be fixed?” There is no question that it is out of whack. Out of whack with our professed values. Out of whack with our realistic and sustainable role in the world. Out of whack with our long-term national interest. That it is out of whack was not topic of discussion; it was taken for granted, and rightly so. Our allies are so concerned about us that Power told an anecdote of how a Dutch audience, perhaps somewhat wistfully, mistook the central question to mean “How can American foreign policy be rigged?” Apparently, they were very interested in learning how do whatever it takes to get us back on track.

A threshold question for fixing American foreign policy is whether security in the ‘age of terror’ is even compatible with human rights and respect for the rule of law? The obvious and common-sense answer is that greater security comes from attention to the welfare and security of others. Violence and instability have their root causes in injustice, oppression, and inequity.

But there are reasons why integration of a respect for human rights into American foreign policy is difficult, and consequently why few American Administrations have even tried to so. Bush’s policies, repugnant as they are, are comprehensible responses to inherent structural challenges. John Kerry’s moral cowardice on Iraq during the campaign, and Jimmy Carter’s (the only recent President to seriously contemplate the marriage of human rights and foreign policy) sparking of Al Qaeda with his support for the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan demonstrate that Democrats are just as hamstrung by these limitations. Americans, and Democrats specifically, are unlikely to do too much better unless we address some of the structural factors affecting policy-makers’ choices.


  • Those on the receiving end of American foreign policy don’t vote – there is a systemic lack of feedback into the political system from those most strongly affected, and harmed, by foreign policy disrespectful of human rights and dignity. What little information about the effect of our policies on people around the world gets through the media filter, rarely, if ever, results in a major electoral response. There was a proposal floating around that everyone in the world should get to vote for the American President because of the strong influence the holder of the office can have on people outside our borders. That will never happen, of course, but the logic underlying the proposal recognizes this lack of connection between the consequences of policy and the legitimate political forces acting on the Presidency.


  • The Constitution does not provide sufficient checks and balances in international affairs – there is no Bill of Rights for non-nationals, no courts which they have reasonable access to for relief, no discipline of over-reaching or systemic opposition to whatever policy the Administration sets. Theoretically, international law is supposed to fill in many of these gaps, but the lack of an enforcement mechanism of sufficient robustness enables rogue Administrations to stream-roller international norms just as Bush is doing presently. Arguably, the Senate was supposed to be a locus of countervailing power in international affairs via the treaty power, and Congress as a whole via the power to declare war and control spending. We have seen all of these formal controls fall by the wayside over the past century, however. The treaty power has been marginalized by the Concurrent Resolution and Executive Agreements. The war power is never used, even in the midst of the most sustained combat operations. And we have seen in recent years several instances of how the Administration is able to reprogram and redirect money without the consent of Congress, and generally get away with it. In short, there is little left of even those weak formal restraints the Constitution provides.


  • The goals of American foreign policy are undefined – absent any pressing domestic interest, i.e. Israel, or a group that is widely perceived as ‘the enemy’, i.e. Indian savages, fascist aggressors. the Red Menace, or Islamic terrorists, foreign policy is very vulnerable to cooptation for short-term economic advantage of special interests. America’s history is rife with examples of domestic special interests using American military and diplomatic power to secure or to maintain special advantages in foreign markets. The result is that short-term economic advantages for a few are often prioritized above fairness, democracy, human rights, economic equity, and constitutional rule for the many abroad. Putting the weight of American influence and power behind maintenance of dictatorial and repressive regimes, and in service to imperialist corporate practices, is ultimately against the national interest; but the American political system makes foreign policy especially prone to such short-term and zero-sum thinking.


  • The weakness of international law in our culture and system of government – the institutions of international cooperation are defective and weakened by the same structural features which compromise foreign policy formation. For instance, most European nations courts freely incorporate international law and the practices of foreign legal systems, ours is highly resistant to making international law, even treaties which we have ratified, truly endogenous to our jurisprudence. Constitutional law still makes distinctions between self-implementing and non-self-implementing treaties, which results in absurdities; a treaty may be ratified, but its provisions may have no force or effect in American courts.


  • We are not always welcome to intervene in human rights crises – we lack the political capital and goodwill internationally to use military and economic coercion without seep suspicion of ulterior motives. This makes us weak and unreliable even in the face of a clear evil and even when our goals are purely altruistic. Good examples of this weakness are Rwanda, Somalia, and currently Sudan.



So where does this endemic weakness of foreign policy leave us? With Bush’s foreign policy. The isolationist faction of the GOP has lost traction because the tragedy of 9/11 has so clearly demonstrated that globalization has ended our relative isolation in the world. But the same ethic of insularity is demonstrated in the exceptionalism and unilateralism of this Administration: we have to play, but we won’t use their rules – heck, we don’t even need a team. Different label, same stupid.

Some hopeful signs exist that, at least rhetorically, if not in practice, even the Bush Administration is realizing that how a regime treats its own people is a good indicator of how reliable they are as a security partner. The human rights record of a state is reliable predictor of a state’s likelihood to become a security threat to the world. Failed states are also dangerous; they destabilize the region and harbor terrorists. These are truisms that thinkers in the liberal realist camp have been repeating for many years, and they are now being mouthed by Bush and the GOP. Yet, we still are supporting Israel unconditionally, despite what it is doing to the Palestinian minority both in Israel and in the occupied territories. We still send the most military aid, besides Israel, to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. All of these are repressive authoritarian regimes, with serious legitimacy problems and terrible human rights records. Our support for them is like a time-bomb waiting to go off; like Iran, or like Iraq, but with more people, more oil, and nuclear weapons. Perhaps Bush’s rhetoric points to a willingness to be less accommodating of geopolitical allies abusing the rights of their own citizens, but perhaps it’s just rhetoric.

A major problem facing the U.S. if we try to become less tolerant of human rights abuses among our allies is that the legitimacy of efforts in that direction have been undermined by our actions over the past 60 years. And our track record is only getting worse. And Bush’s failures in Iraq have harmed our reputation immensely. Now, even perfectly rational arguments can fail to get a hearing because the world is simply sick of us. Even more damaging is a la carteist policy. We proclaim that we love democracy, yet we support Pakistan and Uzbekistan. We claim to support human rights, yet Guantanamo’s Camp X-ray and a string of secret camps exist, we are torturing common criminals in Abu Ghraib prison, we are using extraordinary rendition to send prisoners to Syria for torture, and people are being boiled alive in Uzbekistan. We seem to be either dangerously insane or deeply hypocritical. Only sustained consistency between our values and our actions can pull us out of the nose-dive we are in.

To rebuild our credibility and get the world cooperating with us in such endeavors, we have to pull away from unilateralism and work to strengthen those very international structures, such as the UN and NATO, of which the Conservative movement, and many others, are so deeply skeptical. Critique of the UN is overbroad and often misses its strengths. The UN is just an empty building without the representatives who are sent there. If there is a failure of the UN as a forum for working out political solutions among nations, it is the community of nations that is defective, not the UN. Much of what the UN accomplishes happens through the Secretariat, not the political UN. The humanitarian aid missions of the UN can be corrupt and inefficient, but they more often work well and are often the last line of defense between people in crisis and death.

In the end, neither the world’s fear nor its affection will serve us very well in creating rational foreign policy. What we really need is respect. Respect comes from what we demonstrate clearly that we stand FOR, as much as what we stand AGAINST. We need to be able to make people want what we want. That is the essence of soft power and the key to real security in this globalized world. We will never be completely secure. If people want badly enough to hurt us, they can. We can improve security, but we can’t make the integration and interdependence of globalization go away. In the end, our best line of defense is to make fewer enemies.

After the lecture I spoke with Ms. Power about several topics, but one topic really struck home for me. She is an expert in genocide and I asked her if she thought that American actions in Iraq for the past dozen years was tantamount to genocide. She said that the scale of the deaths that have been a direct consequence of American policy are commensurate with that category, but the intent is not. She was quick to point out, however, that future historians will certainly see many American actions in Iraq, from 1992 on, as grave war crimes and crimes against humanity, and those who ordered and executed those actions as the worst sort of criminals.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Michael: US Parlays With Iraqi Insurgency

It is reported by Time that the U.S. is holding talks with the bitter-ender, terrorist, Baathist, foriegn-fighters (i.e. the mainly Sunni nationalist insurgency). While this could be seen as a sign of wavering resolve by the Administration, or even a craven attempt to negotiate with terrorists, given their own past rhetoric. I would prefer to cast it as a pragmatic and hopeful sign of rationality by an otherwise reality-challenged Administration.

This development says a lot about the new power arrangements resulting from the recent elections. The Administration feels bereft of allies with the Iranian-oriented Shia in control of the new government, and is looking to achieve an accomodation with the newly politically-marginalized insurgency to balance the equation. There is suddenly a shortage of levers with which Washington can manipulate Iraq. By courting a cease-fire with the increasingly effective Sunni-based insurgency, Washington hopes to make both parties more influential. The Sunnis are surely feeling insecure about thier own political fortunes following an election which they essentially sat out and are looking to influence the formation of the new constitution to secure their interests. With this confluence of interests, there may be room for cooperation.

There is a very narrow opening here through which a peaceful Iraq might be threaded. If the disparate Sunni factions can be convinced to lay down arms and trade insurgency for influence, a peaceful accomodation between all the factions might be possible. I don't give it much of a chance of suceeding now that so many blows have already fallen, nor do I trust the Administration to pursue American and Iraqi national interests above their own political interests, but it is encouraging that the Administration, for all of its faults, misteps, miscalculations, and plain incompetence, is not ignoring that slight possibility of a negotiated settlement, as it tends to ignore all other unpleasant realities.

I urge all progressives to support this latest front the Administration has opened in its disasterous 'war on terror': the conference table. It may be the best hope for long-term security for the Iraqi people and trip home for our troops, both of which are long overdue.

Michael: On Bullshit

Harry Frankfurt's "On Bullshit" is a moral philospher's view of bullshit, which has become the dominant mode of communication in our society. It is an oddly entertaining read, and a rewarding one: despite being moral philosophy. And it is refreshingly short and to the point. At just 80 pages when type-set, it might take you a half-hour to read.

Given that our government is dominated by assholes seemingly genetically designed to extrude ever-more elaborate bullshit, it behooves us all to be become well-grounded and literate consumers of their field-apples. Only with a fine-tuned palate and a sense of ironic intellectual detachment from the subject will any of us emerge from the next four years with our good-humour and social graces intact.

"Know thy enemy" is a homily, but one containing considerable wisdom. If you want to know the Conservative movement, you must start by understanding their only real weapon. Frankfurt is the Clausewitz of bullshit, reducing what was an infuriatingly elusive topic to a scientific taxonomy of humbug. If you really adore what you discover in his essay, you may want a copy for your library. Princeton University Press, perhaps in a symbolic gesture, published Frankfurt's classic on January 4th, 2005.

Michael: Private Accounts were Law Student's Wild Hair

Bush's Private-Account concept grew from obscure roots. 25 years ago Peter Ferrara was a law student at Harvard and wrote a paper outlining a scheme to trasform Social Security into a private investment institution. The idea was scooped up by a the man who started the Libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, which developed and championed the idea over the years.

So now what began as hair-brained idea cranked out by a law student is set to become the definitive political battle of Bush's second term. And its looking more and more like Waterloo for our dear Emperor... er, President.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Michael: 20/20 Hein Sight

The appointment of a new city manager is a lot like the appointment of Supreme Court justices. It is supposed to be bipartisan, meritocratic, and somewhat apolitical, yet in reality it is anything but. It is a struggle for the great institutional power that the Justices hold in our Federal government, and that the city manager wields in our Charter. Just as with the Senatorial confirmations, the proceedings set out to be fair and deliberative, but soon enough the long knives come out. The short-circuiting of the carefully crafted evaluation process to perform a national search for a new city manager, just to wind up anointing Hein in a backroom deal, strikes many as rank partisan maneuver. However, just as the hoped-for appointment of another Rhenquist, in the person of stealth candidate Souter, turned out poorly for Conservatives, the sudden anointment of Hein may also turn awry.

A registered Democrat of blue-collar heritage, Hein's work history in Arizona government strongly indicates an ability to take the long view, abiding respect for long-range planning and able administration, an ability to navigate choppy political waters, and, perhaps most importantly, a willingness to reign in unchecked growth at the expense of current citizens through impact fees. I just wish our Democratic council members had grumbled longer before throwing their weight behind Hein. The imperial and anti-democratic manner of Hein's selection is a wonderful political issue for contesting Ward 6 and the mayoral race (a pinch of perception being worth a pound of policy in politics). But I think they recognized a good thing and rushed, in a slightly unseemly manner, to cement the deal.

If nothing else, the manner of Hein's selection, behind the scenes by an un-elected group of Republican power brokers, makes clear where political power truly lies under the Cheerleader's administration. It demonstrates clearly how undemocratic city politics and government have become. If only Democratic leaders had held back more, cried "Oh no, don't throw me in that briar patch!" a few times before giving in, the political lesson would have clearer to voters in the upcoming elections. In the end, I suspect that Hein will be the best thing to happen to Tucson in long time. I don't know if the powerbrokers thought they were getting a 'Rhenquist' in Hein, I can only conclude they were inept if so, because they quite evidently selected a 'Souter', or maybe even a 'Hugo Black'.

Peter Newton: The S.S. Scam Sinks

A Report on Kolbe's Social Security Town Hall prepared for the Concord Coalition:

Synopsis:

The meeting was an effort to inform the public of the reform, not yet enacted, of Social Security. The fact that law hasn't enacted did not seem to matter; it was a fait accomplis. Any questions challenging this supposition were dismissed as the product of disgruntled Democrats who are not willing to accept the fact that President Bush won and thus has a right to pass the legislation he wants, regardless of the opposition. Congressman Kolbe alluded to this sentiment in his comments to KVOA Channel 4 in an interview following the meeting (a link has been included below). It was a sales job and nothing more, and this rankled many feathers of attendees.

This dialectic does not bode well on the future of political discourse. If there is any means to program a less partisan forum to discuss Social Security, I believe that this option should be taken. Currently, we have two sides hell-bent on a fight, where the spoils hurt everyone and help no one. Neither side seems interested in a solution, just notches on the belt. It is terribly discouraging and disappointing that in an advanced nation such as ours, we still act like children fighting in the sandbox. If there is a problem with Social Security, we should come to together and look for a solution; more heads are better than none to solve this issue. I hope that such a forum may be arranged for Tucson in the near future.

I spoke with Representative Kolbe about participation in any upcoming events that the Concord Coalition might be involved with in Tucson. He was very receptive to the idea. I inquired about access to the simulator when speaking with the Deputy Administrator. He stated that the simulator is not available for public use, only for demonstration purpose at meetings. However, they are working on making it available.

Narrative Report

On Saturday, February 19, 2005, Congressman Jim Kolbe of Tucson held a Town Hall Meeting at the Pima Community College Administrative Office Complex, in the Board Room. The room was rated to hold 164 people, but more than 180 attended the meeting. Mr. Kolbe brought with him Deputy Social Security Commissioner Lockhardt to speak on Strengthening Social Security. Commissioner Lockhardt brought with him a booklet produced by the Social Security Administration (Publication No. 05-10055) to describe The Future of Social Security.

Representative Kolbe opened the meeting with introductions of his Washington and Tucson office staff, as well as the Tucson staff, of the Social Security Administration. A short discussion of the Congressman's Social Security bill before Congress followed. His comments pertained to the process of how he has worked to create a bipartisan bill. It is the only bill at the moment before Congress and is slightly different from the plan being discussed by the President, however it too includes private accounts. A few "under the breath" comments were made as the Congressman spoke, but few disrupted the meeting. These comments took about 10 minutes.

Commissioner Lockhardt followed the Congressman. He introduced himself as a member of the Presidents team to "preserve Social Security for our children." He described why he took the position, and has campaigned for the President to address this issue. A few audible remarks were heard as the Commissioner mentioned the President's name. What followed was a Power Point Presentation; not much different from that in the Publication produced by the Social Security Administration. Much of the information was designed to show why private accounts are the best way to "fix" Social Security "permanently."

At this point, the audience interrupted the Commissioner. Both the commissioner and Representative Kolbe asked that ALL questions be held to the end of the presentation. The questioner, who continued to persist his question about the presentation's methodology, did not honor this request. This changed the tenure of the room from attentiveness to gamesmanship. The audience and the speakers began testing each other to see how each could make their point. After order was restored, the Commissioner continued with his prepared comments.

A series of graphics and graphs were displayed to describe "the Social Security problem," and what would happen if we did nothing. This was followed with a light discussion of a similar proposal to previous Social Security adjustments, to show how such attempts would not be able to resolve the issue. Then, the commissioner unveiled the President's Personal Accounts proposal and how it would affect Social Security. This was met with more vocal opposition from the audience. At times, a few people seemed ready to carry others out of the room.

Little of the discussion revolved around the numbers that went into the modeling for expected growth in the economy, other than to mention that they were expected conservative investment returns. Nor was there much discussion of how we would pay for the transition. It was assumed that it was better to solve the $3.7 trillion benefit pay out issue through personal accounts, rather than deal with how to pay for the $1-2 trillion transition. At one point, Commissioner Lockhardt compared the benefit deficit as equal to the current Debt held by the United States Treasury. However, I believe that the current debt load is almost double ($7 trillion). The $1-2 trillion was considered a small cost to pay to preserve Social Security "for our kids," rather than saddling them with the $3.7 trillion in 2042. The issue of intergenerational responsibility arose many times from the panel. Each speaker believed that it was more important to preserve their legacy by providing for their children, stating that anyone near 55 would not have to worry about changes. However, it was dissuasively mentioned that benefits would be re-indexed to prices, not wages, which would put benefits in line with inflation.

Next, Commissioner Lockhardt revealed an internal agency simulator to model various Social Security reform inputs and their outcomes. This simulator was developed with AARP to model the various reforms of Social Security that AARP and the SSA believed would lead to the best outcome for this government program. Again, they modeled the current system, a few proposed changes, and their preferred modifications. The simulator produced the desired results to prove the point of the presentation. Many asked for the simulator to be used to model various proposals that the audience wished to have modeled. This was performed once, as a prominent local citizen asked about raising the cap to $140,000, the limit imposed within the simulator. The result produced silence in the room. Both Representative Kolbe and Commissioner Lockhardt stuttered to respond. Eventually, Mr. Lockhardt claimed that such a reform would, "…limit benefits."

Congressman Kolbe than took over the meeting and opened it to questions. As he was doing this, the computer equipment containing the simulator was packed for the return trip to Washington. The room was then open for questions.

Questions and comments came from all corners of the room. Few were positive of the proposed reform. Early comments were about the definition of TSPs, IRAs, Social Security and 401Ks. Many felt that their Congressmen about the format of the meeting misled them. They felt that he had brought them a "dog and pony show" by the people that would administer the program before the law was even passed. This was not well received. They did not think that a bureaucrat should be making sales calls to lobby the electorate to support legislation that has not yet been presented to Congress. Many derided the Congressman for not doing his job of representing them and their views. Little response was given to these comments.

Most believed that the cap should be removed, leading to a very interesting exchange between Kolbe and his constituents. The Congressman felt it was "unfair" to raise taxes on "Bill Gates" without raising his benefits as well. Congressman Kolbe took a poll of the room with concern towards the cap. The poll was 4 to 1 to remove the cap. The Congressman then dismissed the crowd as out of step with the district, claiming that he is "…getting far more positive responses from High School Students…" so no one in the room knew what they were talking about. Much loud discussion ensued. This debate went back and forth for half an hour with no resolution.

To Kolbe's comment about demographics, those in the room were a fairly representative grouping of the Congressional District. CD-8 is a fast growing district with its main growth industry being retirement communities and winter vacation homes. CD-8 has an older population that votes more frequently most districts. Only CD-2 has a similar demographic in Arizona, except that the gap between the parties is 3 times as much. Only CD-2 has more registered Voters than CD-8. However, the forum was held within the Democratic stronghold of CD-8, hence there would have been far more opposition to the Personal Account plan than in other parts of the district. However, the general sense within the district is that the opposition to this bill is more widespread than the Congressman would let on.

Much of the concerns about the effects of reform on the deficit, comparisons to other countries that attempted similar reforms, or whom would profit from such reforms were simply dismissed out of hand. Any reports, articles or figures to argue an audience member's point were derided and ignored, claiming that were simply partisan attacks on the President. At one point Commissioner Lockhardt asked the audience to "think of their kids" for without these reforms they wouldn't be able to collect Social Security. This did not help the tenor of the room.

The meeting ended when Congressman Kolbe felt that he had reached an impasse. Many in the room went down to speak with the Congressman and the Deputy Commissioner. KVOA Channel 4, the Tucson NBC affiliate, asked others to grant interviews for the evening news. (KVOA was the only news outlet to send a reporter to the meeting. KGUN 9, the local ABC affiliate sent a camera). Many attendees spoke with the staff of the various offices represented. Others continued their own separate conversations. One Republican was dismayed that the Democrats had packed the room to heckle. This assessment is far from the truth. Congressman Kolbe informed many of his constituents of the meeting by sending them postcards. Others read about the meeting in a local paper. Although, the Democrats did send out information about the event to their activists, most of the attendees were not Democratic Activists. Partisanship aside, many of the harshest comments came from registered Republicans who were collecting Social Security.

Editorial:

We look to leaders to lead, but too often they our led by their drive for self-relevance. It is no wonder we have the problems we have: we created them, because we wanted them. We needed some form of self-affirmation, and the most direct means to this end is to create conflict for self-interest. That IS the true American way. I am not sure that it matters all that much what opposition is mounted, since the reforms will occur beyond legislation regardless. I went to this meeting to listen, but found few others willing to do the same. I do not agree with the proposed reforms, but I believe that I will have to accept them, even if the salesmanship around them never explains the true program or intent. It was a terrible discouragement to speak with the Congressman and the Administrator as they left the room to sense that they were not phased by the conversation of the Town Hall Meeting. Once again, I felt that my government has let me down by simply going through the motions, while never engaging the public in any other manner than to talk down to them. I guess it is true: Power corrupts, and infinite power corrupts infinitely.

This weekend's Town Hall was a sham. It was a dog and pony show to sell a program before law has enacted it. Not to enact the law, but to force our acceptance of the law as Gospel. This did not go over well at all. The meeting was extremely contentious, but Congressman Kolbe would have none of it. It didn't matter what we thought, he didn't care, and how could we know? We don't live in Washington; therefore, we don't understand the problem at hand. Or, we were simply tilting at windmills that did not exist.

Nothing they had to say had anything to do with public discourse. Their role was to present this wonderful program that they have devised for us. Our role was to accept it and take it compliantly, asking only adoring questions of the program. It was no different from any other 401K program I have sat through. Some accounting wizard presents their proposal for how the company's retirement plan will benefit you by you benefiting the company, then scolds about how we don't work enough to invest enough to make enough money for the brokers managing the account.

Essentially, we are to work to benefit others, and they make the profit off our benefits. With Social Security, the plan is to have us work for our children to invest in their own retirement with their government money. If they don't get the returns promised, well, sorry Charlie. And we are to sacrifice whatever we might claim from Social Security for the children. Sorry, but I'm not falling for that one Mr. Jackson.

Though I went to listen, I can't help but be a partisan. I believe that we need to have a social ethic in how we interact with one another and not be all about self-interest. Their is no 'I' in 'US', though 'I' starts 'IndUStry', with the 'US' in the middle (Carlin 1972). I agreed with Jen Prelison's comments, as did the audience, but it didn't matter to the speakers. The show and tell was all about them and what they do for us. So we are stuck with the disaster they are bringing to us, but we knew that and 50% voted for it anyway.

Toto, what's behind the curtain?

And lift your leg on it while you're at it.

Links:

KVOA story

Arizona Daily Star:
No mention in Sunday's paper, however there was a series of articles about Social Security.

There will soon be a published transcript of a roundtable about Social Security online at the Star.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Social Insecurity: Caluculate the Cost

Senator Schumer has put up a web calulator that estimates your benefits under the GOP plan versus the existing system. Send the link to everyone you know.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Rick Romero, Sr.: Our Lawsuit Culture

Frivolous: lacking in any arguable basis or merit in either law or fact.

President Bush on Friday signed a bill that he says will curtail multimillion-dollar class action lawsuits against companies and help end "the lawsuit culture in our country." "We're making important progress toward a better legal system," he said. "There's more to do. ... We have a responsibility to confront frivolous lawsuits head-on."

How many people do you know have sued and made big money from a frivolous lawsuit? Are you or someone you know a part of the lawsuit culture? I am not ashamed to admit that I'm a part of the lawsuit culture. Litigation was the only way my family could obtain necessary medical treatment and care for a disabled brother.

There are two words insurance companies love to use. These words are: claim denied. Once you hear these words, you have two choices: One choice is to walk away and forget the whole thing and the other is to find a lawyer and litigate. Here is what you will discover: An insurance company will spare no expense to justify why your claim was denied.

In 1965, my brother Reuben was working for a radio station and he fell two stories off a radio tower and broke his neck. Being a young, strong man, (he was 19 years old) Reuben survived the fall, but he was a high level quadriplegic. Reuben was totally paralyzed from the neck down. There was no hope he would ever walk or move again because there is no cure for quadriplegia.

Shortly after Reuben's fall, my parents filed a Workmans' Compensation claim on Reuben's behalf with Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. Liberty responded by denying Reuben's claim for disability and asked for a Hearing.

Due to the back up of Workmans' Compensation cases, the Hearing date was several months off. During the Hearing, Liberty's lawyers argued that it was too soon to make a determination about his injury and they asked for a delay. The judge went ahead and ruled in favor of Reuben. Liberty appealed, and another round of Motions were made along with more medical exams and depositions taken from expert witnesses. A year went by, and the Workmans' Compensation Court of Appeals rejected Liberty's Appeal.

Reuben had been a quadriplegic for nearly two years before he was able to proceed to the next level of care he needed - - rehabilitation. Again, Liberty denied his claim for treatment this time stating Reuben's injuries were too severe to merit rehabilitation. It would take another year to hold a new Hearing that would determine if Liberty should pay for Reuben's rehabilitation. During that year, Liberty filed new Motions and conducted more medical exams and depositions taken from expert witnesses. For the Hearing, Reuben was too ill and unable to be moved to the Courthouse, and so the Hearing was held at his hospital bedside. The judge ruled in favor of Reuben, granting him rehabilitation but Liberty promptly filed an Appeal. For several months, there were more Motions and new arguments made before an Appeals Court that eventually denied Liberty's Motion for Appeal.

For the next ten years, there were more denied claims, but my parents gave-up with litigation and paid for Reuben's treatment and care out of their pocket. My father was an auto mechanic and once a month, during his free time, he would find, repair and sell a car to pay for Reuben's attendant care. Doing this dedicated task for ten years and caring for Reuben at night and weekends wore my dad out, and it became obvious that Reuben needed to litigate again. There were many denied claims that Liberty would have to defend.

Here is a partial list of their denials and defenses: Liberty's defense for denying a wheelchair van was that it made no sense to them why a severely disabled man would need transportation. After all, where could a severely disabled man go? Not all buildings have ramps, in fact most are inaccessible for wheelchairs. Liberty also felt Reuben's injuries were too severe to allow him to travel outside his room. An electric wheelchair was denied because Liberty felt that paid Attendants at the nursing home could easily push his wheelchair around wherever he needed to go. Liberty would not provide full time Attendant home care because they reasoned that it was, after all, my parents who were obligated to provide care for family members, not impersonal Attendants.

After a long illness due to complications from quadriplegia, Reuben died a few months ago. He had been a quadriplegic for over 39 years. When Reuben was dying, Liberty denied his claim for hospice care. They said Reuben was faking his death in order to improve his chances for increased medical treatments and benefits. We held an emergency Hearing four days before he died.

Reuben's legal files filled an entire room in our house. I lost track how many times Reuben's claims were denied In 2001, after Reuben had been paralyzed for 36 years he was still litigating for home care treatment. At that time, Liberty paid over $10,000 to have a medical doctor flown in from another State to examine Reuben to see if his paralysis had improved over time.

Once during a break during a Hearing in 2002, Liberty's lawyer privately apologized to me. I asked him how he could live with himself knowing how many needless problems he had created with his endless Motions and defenses. His answer was honest, simple and quick, "I have a duty to vigorously represent and defend my client, and I have a large overhead and lifestyle to support."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

GOP operative accused of theft

The Chairman of the first ever Young Republicans National Convention is being investigated for theft by the Reno, Nevada police. Nathan Taylor stands accused of misappropriating nearly $25,000 intended to fund the event to such uses as his bar tabs, payments on a personal loan, payments to the Mandalay Bay resort and casino, and unexplained cash withdrawls. Mr. Taylor claims the charges are baseless and the product of the "politics of personal destruction."

This doesn't come as much surprise to me, frankly. When the national party and its leaders create a culture of lies, misuse of office, unaccountable governance, rampant corruption, and fiscal irresponsibility, it should come as no shock that the young generation learns from their seniors' example.

After all, the President swindled his way into office, abused ethical rules and bent the law in amassing his fortune, and sleazed and lied and shredded his way out of military service to his nation while his betters were doing their duty. Young Mr. Taylor is obviously a quick study of how to make it in today's GOP and is a bright up-and-comer in the Republican party. I'm only surprised that Taylor didn't claim his detractors are in league with Satan and terrorist sympathizers; then he would be fully in line with the zeitgeist of Republican rule. But given Bush's track record of nominating war criminals, torture appologists, and plain incompetents to high positions in the government, I'd say the future is bright indeed for young Mr. Taylor; he should be expecting a call from Mr. Rove any day now.

On 'Hogtying the Deaniacs' by Joshua Frank

Joshua Frank writes at Counterpunch:

"The Democrats have finally accomplished something. Yes, I'm talking about Howard Dean's latest victory, but it's not what you think. Dean's scoring of the DNC chair isn't a win for progressives. Nope, it's a triumph for the establishment. The Beltway savants have successfully muted the only vibrant contingent within their frail party. The Deaniacs have been corralled.

Howard Dean's new post has been hailed by many as a huge feat for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party (yeah, what 'progressive' wing?). But it is no feat. Not only is Howard Dean a centrist in the most disgusting Clintonesque sense of the term, but his victory this past weekend to head the DNC is also a shot in the head of his passionate supporters. He has sold them out, while taking on the roll of insider, where his new symbolic post within the party will do little more to challenge Democratic policy, than, say, MoveOn's irritating phone calls to Congress.

We should have seen it coming. Right after Joe Trippi left Dean's presidential campaign last year, the good doctor moved quickly to replace him with DC insider Roy Neel. Neel, who talked Al Gore out of actively contesting the 2000 election, was a long-time telecom lobbyist who employed his status with the Clinton Administration to maneuver the atrocious Telecommunications Act through Congress in 1996 -- was perhaps the greatest corporate handout of the Clinton years.

It was a sign of what was to come when only months later Howard Dean jumped into the ring with presidential candidate Ralph Nader, hoping to entice his dizzied Deaniacs into not fleeing the Democrats' pro-war ticket. Although Nader's peaceful embrace was more in line with their anti-war principles -- the 2004 elections were simply not the time to stand up for what they believed in. Or so claimed Howard Dean.

The ex-governor was attempting to cover his own ass, hoping to embolden his clout within the party. Old Howard even went as far as to call John Kerry a 'progressive' in his debate with Mr. Nader. It was a disgusting display of political myopia. Dean sold out his loyal followers that moment. He told the very people that were responsible for his success to go ahead and piss their ideals into the political winds of Washington. The Iraq war wasn't the issue; Dean's own gluttonous motivations were.

Nevertheless Howard Dean seems to be riding high, like Bing Crosby in that awful Frank Capra flick. But don't believe the hype. Dean's new job is an administrative boondoggle. The dry Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has more influence over Democratic policy than Dean ever will. Believe it.

The party bigwigs are surely thrilled. Especially if Dean can fill their campaign coffers with a surplus of grassroots cash.

Hold on. Don't kid yourself, though. This certainly doesn't mean Dean won't continue to hobnob with the corporate fat cats like his filthy predecessors. And don't count on Deano to disclose campaign finances either. Just look at Vermont where his boys gutted the only law that called for even the slightest transparency in the state's public elections.

No, this whole DNC thing smells of rot. Let's hope that the Deaniacs (the few not having multiple orgasms over this 'success') break ranks and hang Howard Dean and the Democrats out to dry like a pair of stanky old socks. That's the only way victory could ever come out of this calamity."


Harsh words certainly, and appropriately cynical. Everyone should be a touch cynical about politicians, no matter who they are, or claim to be. Dean has played the game as a centrist, and has made many compromises in the name of expediency in his time. Certainly, most of us understand that Dean is the least likely wild-eyed radical, and that his wild and woolly public image is more a smear than a reality. For many Deaniacs, the fact that he is reliably centrist on many issues is a deep comfort. We aren't radicals, by and large, we are reformers looking to eliminate the worst excesses of our political system, not utopians.

For my own part, I think there is much that Dean can do to reform the party and deliver to us a more vital and stronger party. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. I'm impressed by the vision outlined in Dean's plan and encouraged by his determination to spend most of his time in the red states. What I will be looking for is systemic reforms that make a Democratic party that is, well... more democratic. I want a party that is more responsive to common people, and has more control over the policy choices of its candidates. In my own view, the best way to do this is to institute what Benjamin Barber (who was an advisor of Dean during the primaries) terms 'strong democracy'; direct participation, more frequent voting, more cooperation between political and civil society organizations.

Dean asked for our imput and I gave him mine: all party officers should be directly elected by all registered Democrats (and possibly Independents and Greens) in the relevant districts rather than selected by representatives at second-, third-, or even fourth-hand. Both parties operate like the 19th century US Senate, with officers selected by powerful factions and special interests in the closed ranks of the county and state conventions and committees (who are themselves elected by a only tiny fraction of Democrats). If Dean is able to open up the party to more direct influence by average voters outside of primaries and general elections then I will deem him to be moving in the right direction. The Democratic party has to become the party of the people again, and greater involvement by regular voters will only come with more power given to regular voters.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Kudos to Prezelski and AZ Congress Watch

Tom Prezelski destroyed the cable lobby today in an editorial entitled "Don't buy rhetoric of cable bill" in today's Star. He takes apart the bill that I wrote against on January 29th. Good for him. We need more honest, able, and Democratic representatives like Tom.

I also found a recently created blog today, Arizona Congress Watch, which I highly recommend. These people are doing a great service that the MSM are failing to do. The content is politically progressive and universally critical. I was so favorably impressed that I placed a 200 word summary RSS feed (practically a full feed on some posts) at the top of the News Feeds section on this blog. Please visit them and support their efforts.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Slamming Dean the in Letters Page

This letter ran today in the Star:

Dean is a disgrace

Howard Dean ran in 17 Democratic state primaries and lost in every one. He misspent over $40 million of his campaign funds. He became the laughingstock of the country after his famous 'I had a scream speech.'

And now, to fulfill the Democratic Party's death wish, Dean is about to become its national committee chairman. Ain't politics grand?

Raymond R. Kisch

Tucson


Please, let's see some push back on this. We can't let this crank go unaswered. Even if the Star doesn't publish all the positives, we'll let them know where public opinion really lies. Let's tell people why Dean is the man for the job and what his candidacy and advocacy has meant to you personally. Gentle Readers, start your text editors...

State Legislative Update: AZ State GOP hates elections

GOP lawmakers have put forth a plan that lets them, rather than you, pick Senate nominees. They are trying to put a Referendum on the ballot that would allow the state legislature to nominate the party candidates for Sentate. In effect, this would roll back the Federal 17th Amendment right to vote for Senate members, turning it into an empty rubber stamp of the choice of party insiders. This is an obvious attempt by the right wing to control the federal delegation more tightly and to exclude Republican moderates from holding office in Arizona.

I gotta say, I'm impressed with just how short-sighted, stupid, and anti-democratic the right wing of the GOP can be. They've topped themselves this time. They not only have slapped every Republican voter in the face, telling them they aren't wise enough to choose the nominee, they have shown their hand to moderates, demonstrating they will even destroy popular nominations to get their own way. Should this beast ever pass, it would make a fine weapon to keep minorities like the Religious Radical Right far away from power in either of the major parties. Though I can't rightly say that's a bad thing, from a strategic standpoint, it is the last thing a minority insurgency like the Neo-Cons should be promulgating. They think they are shutting the gate of power behind them when, in effect, they would only be immunizing our political system from further infections like themselves.

The mechanics of demonstration elections

Before you engage in your next debate regarding the Iraq election read this article about the recent election in the context of past demonstration elections as part of a regime change or occupation.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Andy: Solidarity for Social Security

These local Democratic groups have all passed resolutions opposing any plan to phase-out Social Security. They have resolved not to fund any Democratic candidate who entertains any notion of compromising with the Administration on Social Security.



  • Groton Democrats

    Groton, Mass.


  • Democratic Club

    Johnson County, Mo.


  • Downtown Democrats

    Birmingham, Ala.


  • Democratic Party

    San Fernando Valley, Cal.


  • Democratic Club

    Cental Orange County, Cal.


  • Democratic Party

    L.A. County, Cal.


  • Democratic Central Committee

    Sumner County, Ks.


  • Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party

    Minnesota


  • Democratic Party

    Washoe County, Nev.


  • Sacramento For Democracy

    Sacramento, Cal.


  • Democrats

    El Paso County, Colorado



This is grassroots action that clarifies what it is that Democrats and progressives stand for. We won't support anyone who messes with Social Security.

Soldiers Angels

Billy Budd at Soldiers Angels has posted a helpful list of things our troops are dearly in need of on a regular basis. Sad it is that our monstrously expensive armed forces can't provide these things given half the discretionary spending of our federal government, but if you feel it your duty to help out beyond paying taxes, this is good place to start.

Frame Shop: The Inventor of Modern Conservatism

The inventor of modern conservatism was arguably Benjamin Disraeli, the great Prime Minister who reinvented 19th century Tory Conservatism for a mass audience. David Gelernter argues in the Weekly Standard (yeah, I know... I wouldn't have read it either if Art & Letters Daily hadn't linked it) that the Conservative movement of the 20th, and now Neo-Conservatives of the 21st century, are the inheritors of that tradition.

The key insight Disraeli had, Gelernter argues, is that a populist conservative party must, above all else, define itself as the national party. To succeed beyond the privileged and ruling classes, conservatives must be the party of nationalism, national pride, and national identity; they must make the cause and will of the elite of the nation appear to be the cause and will of the whole nation on a deeply passionate and spiritual (even pre-rational) level. In short, it must utilize the ideology underlying modern fascism.

There is a feeling, carefully cultivated by the Republicans, that the GOP is the national party. Despite class and race and sex divisions which they exaserbate and exploit, they feign to respect the traditions and embody the will of the 'authentic' nation. This is why they are so quick, and successful, at questioning the patriotism of others, and so masterful at wedging 'traditional' values issues. This is why their hawkish adventurism so often passes as the vigorous advancement of natioanl security interests. This is, in my opinion, the ultimate frame that progressives must break and rebuild to our own specifications: that the GOP is the party that puts America first, and that Democrats are the party that just wants everyone to like us.

The hardest challenge here is that we are apt to admit a grain of truth to this assertion, and then argue why our way is better. That's deadly. We have to frame the notion that the only true security is collective security in a viscerally compelling way. We must destroy and discredit the old habits of chest thumping militarism and dissolve the bonds of the 'organic' idea of nationhood. We have to build a stirring mythological subtext for rational internationalism that is more compelling than the trappings of the idealized American nation that can be summoned and exploited with as much facility as nationalist memes. Not easy. No, that's an understatement: it's damn near impossible, and will require generations of work. Nationalism has deep phychological roots, millenia of development, and two centuries of lore and history on which to draw. Rational internationalism has ony maybe 60 years in the modern world. a handful of historical precedents, and a solid but complex scientific pedigree. Anyone care to have a stab at how to start, or what such a project would look like?

Saturday, February 12, 2005

GOP and the Iraq vote

Republicans are now parroting the talking point that the recent Iraqi election is justification for the Iraq war and the consequent death and disablement of so many American soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians. I too believe that freedom and self-determination of a people is the only possible justification for so much suffering, but I fear this election may be only the exception to a repressive rule, and that freedom is not the fate the Bush Administration has in mind for Iraqis.

At least, finally, the buck has stopped. Unlike all the previous justifications, discarded so conveniently when they proved illusory, democracy and freedom are too central to our values to be conveniently supplanted by a new rationale.

At the end of the day, when the Iraqi election is seen to have led to a new ally for Iran, an oppressive Islamic state, or a terrible civil war in Iraq, the hubris and folly of Bush's policy of armed intervention in Iraq will finally be recognized by all as the historic mistake it is.

It is naive to believe that peace, freedom, and democracy come without a price. And that price is too often violence and death. However, this hard fact can never justify the exploitation, repression, torture, and killing of the very people whom we are trying to free. And that, tragically, is exactly the product this Administration and its apologists are trying to sell us.

Congratulations Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean

It's official. DNC Chairman Howard Dean immediately took up his duties upon his election today. The very first thing Dean did is ask for Democrats for their ideas on how to make the party stronger.

Read Dean's acceptance speech or watch it (windows media).

In related news, Jim Dean, Howard's brother, will be heading Democracy For America.

Radio Left : PDA Conference

Radio Left will rebroadcast today's proceedings at the PDA conference in Phoenix on Sunday. If you weren't able to attend, be sure to tune in.

Friday, February 11, 2005

It's Not About "Framing", but about Reality

It's Not About "Framing", but about Reality Stuart Heady, who will be writting here on BfAz, published a peice on Common Dreams. I encourage you all to click through and give it a read.

Contragulaitions, Stuart!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Filibroken?

Update: Never blog when groggy. Here what this post should have looked like:

Frist is gearing up for an assualt on minority rights in the Sentate by reinterpreting the rule for cloture. Presidential nominations require a vote of 60 to move to cluture and vote, and that is where a sorely abused minority can have their say. The don't need to vote for cloture and can't be shut up so long as no cloture vote passes: this is the filibuster in all its frustrating glory. There are interesting arguments on both sides of the issue, summed up well by Erwin Chemerinsky of Duke Law School and Steven Smith of Washington U at St. Lou, but it comes down to this: removing the filibuster from Presidential nominations, especially of judges, would greatly weaken the protections of minority rights built into the structure of the Senate.

Contrary to agitprop from the right the filibuster a venerable, constitutionally approved, tool of statecraft that both sides have deployed in exactly this fashion for over 100 years. More importantly, the GOP's current push to level yet another barrier to majoritarian dictatorship is ultimately going to bite them in the ass. Far too many causes they, and their consitutents care about are minority positions. Killing the filibuster for this purpose, will lead to its death for other purposes. Contstutional change (even of a non-textual type) is like a one way valve, once you've passed though, everything is different, and there is no going back.

Senators face a harder electoral challenge than House members. They cannot tailor their districts; they take their states as they find them. They are less likely to be facing an inexperienced opponent in a carefully crafted district. Instead they have an more organic constituency to answer to, which are generally much closer to 50/50 than a Congressional district, and much more experienced opponents. Part of their political capital is their long-term political and social ties with the people of the state. Knowing this, what Sentator is going to take marching orders from Tinpot Bush to overturn the very system which she knows might protect her constituents' more unpopular interests someday? Senators are a more powerful and self-assured lot than Congresscritters. They are able to take a longer view of politics. DeLay may be able to run Congress like a kangroo court, but Frist cannot treat the Senate that way; not yet.

Were this nation in the midst of a massive electoral realignment, such as the Civil War or the Great Depression and WWII, or even Vietnam, some of the normally rigid structures of the Constitution may need to become more pliable short of actual amendment to accomodate the new reality. But this election was the closest for a sitting President save one: that's no realigning shift, that's a deeply troubled and increasingly embattled Administration barely escaping the wrath of the voters with its tailfeathers singed. There will come a day, and that is not far off, when the Republicans will once again be shivering around the inadequte centers of power in the states and cities and counties of America, while Democrats Morris dance round the bonfire of power in Washington.

You have to ask yourself, oh American Conservatives, with all those liberals up there basking in the heat of Washington once again someday soon, do you really want them to be able to pack the courts with anti-gun, anti-death penalty, pro-immigrant candidates about which you can do nothing? Once that stop is pulled, it pulled for us too, when we retake power, and we will. The GOP is great at politics, but lousy at governing sensibly. People are going to get fed up with sound bytes, deficits, and Orwwellian slogans, and demand solutions to everyday problems, and they will vote for Democrats to get them.

So if you are a conservative, or a GOP member, or just an independent interested in keeping some balance in this nation, think on these matters and oppose the short-sighted, self-serving stunt Frist and Cheney want pull by 'reinterpreting' the scope of the filibuster. Consider that the Senate has already abrogated its traditional role in advising and consenting to treaties with a 2/3 vote by failing to guard its prerogatives vigorously and wisely. This radical restructuring of national power, stripping minority interests of their protection from international agreements which are against their interests, required no Constitutional amendment. The rise of the joint resolution to equivalence with the treaty power happened during the upheaval in power of the Great Depression, New Deal, and World War, and only much later led to the passage of NAFTA under Clinton by a bare majority of both houses of Congress. Actions can have unforseen consequences, and the best of intentions can run awry.

Consider whether it is really in this nation's best interests to unbalance the Constitutional framework to serve the radical anti-abortion and pro-corporate agenda of this President? Once this step is taken, the genie won't go back in the bottle. The judiciary will become a political football for whatever faction can gain a bare majority of the Senate and the Presidency. There is a good reason why we allow a minority to block unwanted judicial nominees. We do not want Americans' civil rights, which are always unpopular when it matters, to become even more vulnerable to a tyrannical majority through the venal and political packing of the courts with ideologues and activists. Next time it may not be abortion and gay rights they are after, it may be your right to own a gun.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Help Prosecute Gonzales for War Crimes

Sign the letter of support for the Center for Constitutional Rights presentment to the German Federal Prosecutor. They are adding Gonzales to the complaint against Rumsfeld and others in the civilian and military leadership regarding torture at Abu Ghraib. Ironic that we are now depending on the Germans to prosecute war crimes by American politicians. History moves in circles, they say...

Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Mad Professor Churchill

I got an interesting comment on my post about the embattled Professor Ward Churchill that exemplifies a serious problem with the Left.

Take a few moments and read some of the distinguished Mr. Churchill's work, I think you will find very little to agree with no matter what side of the political fence you are on. AIM is disavowing his so-called Indian heritage and he is proving to be a pofessional contrarian. Freedom of speech on the public dole has limitations, and the soon to be unemployed Professor might have to "go sell crazy somewhere else".


I have no doubt there is little to be admired in the Professor's views. I don't endorse him. I merely suggest that we tolerate his unpleasant views and protect him from attack. The central premise of his essay, that there are historical reasons why we find ourselves in conflict with third world people, is not without merit. Most of his rhetoric is shit-witted, but so what? That's no reason to attack him personally and politically, or for us to tolerate, or even be cheerleaders for, his personal destruction.

How often do you see either side attacking Jerry Falwell or James Dobson in such a manner for their reprehensible views? What would happen to such extreme commentators if the Right folded at the first sign of criticism of their most outrageous statements? Right wing punditry in America would be hobbled. But the Right defends its own, even if they are 'selling crazy'. The result is that the range of acceptable debate on the Right is much greater than the acceptable range on the Left.

By accepting the demonization of the demented Professor, liberals shoot themselves in the foot. By failing to protect the extreme commentators of the Left to speak freely, we open all commentators on the Left to criticism and attack. We fall once again, head-long and willing, into a trap set by the Right to silence the Left.

I don't care if you are a militant lesbian Trotskyist advocating the enslavement of all men in service of Gaia in a feminist world state; I'm going to defend your right to speak out, no matter how obnoxious you are to me personally. And every other person on the Left should, too. Because if we don't, we expose the people advocating for universal health care, protecting the environment, the right to unionize, a fair wage and all-day Kindergartens to attack by the Right as looney leftist extremists. For the Left to be central to the nation's political debate, there has to be an extreme left fringe as contrast. We have to defend and push that fringe as far out there as possible, even if we don't endorse its views.

The Conservatives understand this; we don't. Thus we spit on Ward Churchill as he burns.

Revitalizing Hope

Sign up for next weekend’s Western PDA conference in Phoenix http://azprogressive.us/. Cost is only $30.00.

Hi everyone,

I don’t know about you, but after November, and all that’s happened since, I could use a little hope. So I am pleased to let you know that during the inaugural activities, the weather in Washington DC was frigid, but not so the hopes of progressives. 600 Activists from every part of the progressive movement braved the icy temperatures and came together to revitalize hope for America’s future.

Participants represented over 40 states, a wide variety of ages, interests, and ethnicities, and Tucson’s own David Kaler was there. I had a chance to speak with him about the conference on Wednesday.

Dave is aglow! I asked him just what it was that made him feel so hopeful now, even with control of all three branches of government and the fourth estate in the hands of Republicans, pretty depressing to most of us.

He told me that after witnessing the work that PDA (Progressive Democrats of America, started across the river in Cambridge during the democratic convention) had done in just the past six months, he is convinced the country will see something much bigger and stronger than even during the civil rights and Vietnam war era because it comes from the grassroots up. He is awed too at the organizational capacity of those coming together. He said that, listening to people speak who are presently in congress and in leadership in many organizations, he heard a “new tone.” We’re not wasting time on the negative, he said – we are focused on the positive, on building. We are empowered, enthusiastic, speaking clearly about building again the America we inherited from Thomas Jefferson and the other framers of the constitution. He said the feeling in the rooms, everywhere, was “magnetic.”

When David Cobb, leader of the Green Party, showed up to say that he is for what we represent, and people at the summit joined hands who had worked hard for Kerry and for Dean and for Kucinich, David knew there was true coalition building from across the spectrum. People were there from Code Pink, the Rainbow Push coalition, Black and Latino congressional caucuses, GLBT leadership, alternative media (Pacifica radio, J. Zogby, W.R. Pittt), and everyone was focused on one thing: building an effective coalition to take back our country.

The U of WDC law school gave a huge welcome and opened all its facilities. The keynote speaker was U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., who wants us to understand that every American shall have the right to vote and that he and many others are taking that as first priority – a constitutional amendment guaranteeing every American the right to vote. Tom Hayden spoke of focusing all of his energies, with 14 other senators, on bringing our troops home now. John Conyers was there to report on the ongoing lawsuits and electoral reform bills in congress that will ensure our right to vote. Hip Hop guru Rev. Lennox Yearwood spoke of the commitment of a whole new generation to “live free again.” Featured workshops included some on following up with the Ohio Voter irregularities and electoral reform, building the grassroots movement at home, media reform, building alliances both within Democratic party and with others, and sessions for regional caucuses (Arizona’s is one of the largest).

Experience it for yourself. The Arizona caucus is hosting the first regional followup conference next weekend, Feb 11 (Amy Goodman) and 12 (Tom Hayden, Medea Benjamin, Rev. Yearwood, many others). You can sign up at http://azprogressive.us/ Cost is only $30.00.

I sincerely hope to see you there, in peace, gerry


Rev. Gerry Straatemeier, MSW
Co-chair, Gandhi/King Season for Nonviolence, S. AZ
http://www.agnt.org/snv02.htm


"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?" ~ Mahatma Gandhi
--
“We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy…for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.” MLK

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Granny Haddock

"Granny D" is known for having walked across America to promote campaign finance reform. That is the first time I met her, when she stopped to speak with students at UofA about the need for reform in America. I must say, that one hour-long discussion with a small group of students and Granny D did more to shape my view of American politics than a major in political science. She ran against NH Rep. Bass when no one else dared, promising to serve only one term in Congress and pointed out that Bass was reneging on his earlier pledge not to serve more than 2 terms. She lost, but her campaign was a victory in itself.

Doris "Granny D" Haddock, 95, is in a Lebanon, New Hampshire hospital today. She is undergoing surgery to remove a tumor in her throat. The surgery is expected to cost her her normal voice, though she said before surgery that she will find ways to continue to communicate her political message of reform and democracy.

"Sometimes you speak loudest just by standing there," she said, remembering her several arrests in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda for standing up for the Bill of Rights and democratic reforms.

For friends wishing to send cards, her address for the next five days will be:

Doris Haddock
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
1 Medical Center
Drive, Lebanon NH 03756


There will be updates on Granny D's condition on the DemocracyWeek.org. For those of you who heard her speak in Washington DC during the recent counter-inaugural protests, cherish that memory of the great sound of her voice -- one of the few in our times with the courage to speak the truth.

Her remarks that infamous morning (Jan 20) at Meridian (Malcolm X) Park:

Thank you.

We have honored Dr. King this week. When we honor him we honor many others, all the way back in time to the Sermon on the Mount and beyond, who have given us, if we will but use them, the political tools of love and their great power over all other human forces.

Gandhi taught us that, when used right, non-violent non-cooperation always wins. He gave us five principles to remember in its use: First, know that you are dealing with the truth. Do your research. Bring in the experts. Know the truth before you dare speak for it.

Second, ask those in authority to remedy the problem at hand, and give them a reasonable time to act. Don't ask them to do more than they can.

Third, involve the wider community's conscience in the problem. Share the problem widely.

Fourth, if those in power will not remedy the problem, show the extent of your moral concern through your personal sacrifice. Stand in the way of the injustice with your own body, doing no harm to others, for it is your moral courage that will move the conscience of society toward awareness and action. If you have not won yet, your sacrifice has been insufficient. The fifth principle, because the previous four will give you control of the issue, is to graciously allow the opposing side to save face in the final settlement, as you must love them, too, and will meet them again.

We have the power to win, to serve justice, to protect our neighbors and our planet, but victory comes at the price of our courage and our pain.

So we have our issues. A warming planet, an unjust war, a long list of policies that do great harm to the people and places of the world. We have done our homework and know the truth. We have petitioned for the redress of our grievances and we have waited. We have informed the world so that many are involved. We know what is next for us and it is the fourth principle: our sacrifice.

So that our great grandchildren will look back and say of us, yes, in the
first years of the 21st Century, they faced the most difficult of times with extraordinary courage. They knew they would not live forever and they cared that their lives and deaths should mean something. They saved American democracy and the life of the planet with their creative resistance and their courage. While others around them slept through grey lives, they were awake, they saw, they acted, they overcame all the great forces against them. They saved the forests and mountains, the oceans, streams, the air, the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, they saved our ancient hope for a just world, for a peaceful world, where the highest potential of every human might be understood as the greatest resource of every society and nation.

Well, we know where we are and who we struggle against. I have been in their jails and it's not so bad. I know many of you have been in their prisons and felt the sting of their batons and bullets and gasses, and it is not so bad, compared to losing our freedom or the life of our planet.

The limousines of monstrous presumption whisk by us today, but we need not feel powerless, for the real power of history is always in the people's hearts and hands. All the power of change is given by fate and history to the courageous, who fear the loss of liberty and justice more than that brief glimmer of life that sparkles through the eternity of who we are. And so we take our parts in the great struggle between dark and light, fear and love, between the withering decomposition of separation, and the living joy of combination, cooperation and growth.

Let our neighbors, who have voted another way or not at all, see what we are made of and what we are willing to do for love, for life, for justice. Only a few more of them need step forward to our side for love and life and justice to win. They will not step forward if we are not full of courage and grace and beauty and most of all love. We will inspire them with awe. For, from this time forward, our courage must rise to end the war and the coming wars, to end the destruction of our land and its people, and of our planet and its life. With love in our hearts, with a vision before us of a better America made visible in our own lives, we will do what history demands of us now. And so say us all.


And so say us all. Best wishes, Granny D, and speedy and complete recovery to you.

PDA's Capwiz

Progressive Democrats of America (part of DFA) have their own capwiz account up and running. There you can find out what bills are pending before congress, how PDA stands on them, and contact your elected officials and the media regarding them. Useful tools.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Bill Richardson endorses Howard Dean

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Friday he is supporting front-runner and former presidential candidate Howard Dean for Democratic National Committee chairman.

'The race is essentially over,' said Richardson, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. 'He's won fair and square.'

Dean moved a step closer to the position on Friday when activist Simon Rosenberg left the race and threw his support to the former Vermont governor.

There is no longer any doubt. If a finger-raiser like Richardson is calling the game, the clock has long since run out. Dean is the next DNC Chairman.

Bush's Social Insecurity

The centerpeice initiative of Bush's second term is going to be Social Security destruction. This much he made clear in his SOTU. What is equally clear is that there isn't a single surplus this man likes, nor a working program he can't wreck with creative lies and misdirection.

The simple fact is that Social Security, or Old Age, Survivor, and Disability Insurance (OASDI), is a well-run and highly successful program which will be running significant surpluses for the forseeable furute. In fact, if the economy grows at the same average rate in the next 40 years that it did in the past 40, there will be no projected program deficits in the 2040s, as Bush's economists project. Regardless, our knowledge of the future is to incomplete to really know what is going to happen with OASDI. But even if we had perfect confidence that OASDI were going into deficit, Bush's plan doesn't address the problem. In fact, Bush's plan for 'privitized accounts' is simply political cover for greatly reduced benefits, and a sop to those who want Americans to be forced to save at a higher rate (higher than zero, which is our current savings rate).

Bush attempts to throw a scare into Americans by predicting that OASDI will go 'bankrupt' in the 2040s, but that is a mischaracterization. It is possible that there will no longer be a surplus and that liabilities will exceed income for the system at some point, but even if Congress can't summon the will to enhance revenues to the system, the full faith and credit of the United States stands behind the benefits. There is no reason why general revenues cannot pay for OASDI benefits as OASDI Trust Fund surpluses now pay for general budgetary spending. There is no organic or neccessary line dividing Federal revenues.

Why do I keep calling Social Security OASDI? To emphasize that old age benefits are only a part of the insurance system. It also covers the survivors of prematurely deceased workers and those who become disabled and unable to work. These payments are critical to keep families from falling into abject poverty and are an important part of America's social safety net: a part which Bush's 'plan' competely ignores. Instead Bush's 'plan' proposes cuts of up to 40% in old age, survivor and disability benefits to avoid the theoretical threat of budget deficits of just 1.61% of payroll, far less than the deficits his Administration is nonplussedly running in the general fund right now. This 'plan' will plunge thousands, if not millions, of Americans into abject poverty.

There are many better and more conservative ways to bolster the system's revenues to close any future deficits. We can increase the payroll limit, taxing some portion of earnings above the current income ceiling of 90,000. We could bring more government workers into the program to improve revenues and provide greater portability to those workers. We could fix increases to the Cost of Living Index instead of wages. We can devote revenue from an estate tax on estates above 10 million dollars (enough to exempt 99% of family farms) to the OADSI system. We can gradually increase the retirement age, or reduce benefits for the first years of retirement. These are just a few of the revenue enhancing and cost saving options that the Trustees have recommended.

But what Bush proposes doesn't close the revenue gap. He does not propose any revenue enhancements for the OASDI program, in fact, his 'solution' is to take over 1/3 of the current revenues out of the system and put them into personal annuities, and then borrows over 2 trillion dollars to pay for the new system's costs. The benefit to the public? Unknown. However, what is known is that the macroeconomic effect of this system, when you clear away the rhetoric, is to cause the government to borrow heavily to speculate in the securities market and pass the risk to those who can least afford it, our elderly, disabled, and infant and widow survivors. At the end of the day, Bush cannot even claim to close the projected revenue shortfall in OASDI with his risky scheme, instead he simply reduces benefits based on whatever revenue might be available. AOSDI would no longer be a gauranteed benefit program upon which people could rely and plan; it would be a lottery ticket in place of a meal ticket.

Bush's 'fix' for social security is not to fix it at all. Instead, he would gut its revenues to pour them into the equities and bond markets and hope for the best - then radically cut benefits if things don't work out. One sure effect of the plan is to shore up and artificially inflate the financial markets as trillions in new capital are forced into the market. If you thought the speculative tech bubble of the 1990s created a market distortion, you ain't seen nothing yet. Those new funds will raise the values of stocks and bonds as more and more money chases the same investments. New wealth with be created without creating new value, and the American stock market will become even more over-capitalized than it currently is. It's good for a very few very wealthy investors who own the lion's share of equities, corporate and government debt in this country, but it's like junk food to America's long term fiscal health.

For those of you over 55, Bush has figured out a magic bullet to take you out of the game. The reason why OASDI has been the 'third rail' of politics is because you would immediately destroy any politician who might reduce your benefits. So Bush structured his plan to avoid engaging you. Instead, he's going after your younger siblings, children, and grandchildren's benefits. He figures they are an easier target and can't defend themselves politically. Well, we'll see if you really are as selfish as he thinks.




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