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Politics (2002-2004)

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Pay-to-Play, Enshrined. | The Veal Pen.

[I]n establishing OFA and through it extending an open palm to Washington’s corps of lobbyists and their masters, Obama is in danger of hitting the history books as a president who gamed, exploited, and ultimately joined a corrupt system rather than cleaning it up…Millions of Americans voted for Barack Obama thinking he understood what’s happening and would do something about it. Instead, he’s making things worse.

Common Cause president Bob Edgar reads Obama the riot act for his many transgressions on the campaign finance front. “He still has time to change course and I’m enough of an optimist to hold out hope that he will. But it’s getting tougher.” On this as on so many other fronts, I myself am no longer that optimistic. (Obama Lucy picture via this Atlantic Monthly article.)

“We talk a lot about broken models. The DC progressive model is broken. It does nothing but facilitate the injustices readily evident in this case.” In related news, and in the wake of his recent Salon piece about the administration’s phantom financial fraud task force, Dave Dayen argues its time for progressive organizations in DC to get adversarial or go home. Well-meaning people all over this country concerned about any number of issues hand over their hard-earned money to these groups, and they aim to speak broadly for liberal values. The accountability doesn’t stop on Wall Street. It needs to be shared by the DC progressive community.”

Update: “There’s a certain conventional wisdom that President Obama wants stronger campaign finance laws, and to protect our democracy from the corrupting effects of money in politics. It’s a story that you should no longer believe.” The Sunlight Foundation weighs in against Obama as well. “The arc of the Obama presidency may be long, but so far, it has bent away from transparency for influence and campaign finance, and toward big funders.”

Ich Bin Ein Heidelbergensis.

Although Homo heidelbergensis has generally been seen as a precursor to Neanderthals, its precise relation to us has been less clear. This fossil analysis is some of the most compelling evidence yet that we can in fact trace an evolutionary lineage back through Homo heidelbergensis.”

From a 400,000 year-old skull found in Ceprano, Italy, scientists believe they may have locked down humankind’s parent species. “The idea is that, aided by the favorable climates of the Middle Pleistocene starting around 780,000 years ago, Homo heidelbergensis spread far and wide throughout the Old World. Around 400,000 years ago, this mobility began to decrease and Homo heidelbergensis became more isolated, paving the way for the clear emergence of Neanderthals and modern humans in Eurasia and Africa respectively.

Feingold Falls.

“‘He was one of the last true progressives,’ said Michael Zimmer, a Feingold supporter who teaches media and communication at the University of Wisconsin. “Who is left now?‘” One important addendum to the 2010 midterm overview that deserves its own post.

A handful of notable losses notwithstanding — Tom Perriello, Alan Grayson, Phil Hare — a goodly number of the House Democrats who lost seats on Tuesday were of the Blue Dog or New Democrat variety, and the whirlwind they reaped was partly of their own making. Looks to me like Third Way-style corporate shilling just isn’t the answer.

Rather, the most painful loss of the night for progressives happened on the Senate side, when Russ Feingold fell to an idiotic Ayn Rand disciple, businessman Ron Johnson. (Wisconsin, the state of both Bob LaFollette and Joe McCarthy, is a strange place.) From fighting against the Patriot Act to calling for accountability on the illegal NSA wiretaps to, of course, battling for campaign finance reform, Feingold was often a lonely voice of conscience in the Senate, and his progressive leadership will be sorely missed there.

Of course, the fight goes on, so let’s hope Feingold will be back in public life someday soon. Big Russ has ruled out a 2012 primary shot, but if Wisconsin’s other Senator, Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl, should decide to retire in 2012 at the age of 77, Feingold would be a great candidate to go toe-to-toe against yet another “Galtian nincompoop” of the first order, current GOP golden boy Paul Ryan.

Where Torture Goes, Mengele Follows.

“‘The CIA appears to have broken all accepted legal and ethical standards put in place since the Second World War to protect prisoners from being the subjects of experimentation,’ said Frank Donaghue, the CEO of PHR, a nonprofit organization of health professionals.

A new report by Physicians for Human Rights suggests the CIA conducted human experiments on detainees, including “monitoring the effects of sleep deprivation up to 180 hours” and testing out new forms of waterboarding on them. Once we’re all happy with the president’s visible anger levels toward BP, perhaps we can get some wrath-of-God fury — and criminal prosecutions — directed towards these atrocities committed in our name also? Thanks much. [Update: Here's the Mother Jones story.]

Bank to Basics.

The big U.S. banks were the source of the global financial crisis, in part because their bigness and their practices were copied by major banks around the world. What happens in this reform effort is being watched avidly in many countries, because it will say much about how global finance is to be conducted. What is often missing in these discussions are the assumptions people make about banking and its role in a modern economy. We should begin therefore with some first principles.

As the manifestly fradulent behavior by Goldman Sachs of late comes to full light — one among many, it seems — Numerian of The Agonist goes back to basics to make a case for strong banking reform. “The very first lesson we should learn from this crisis, which we thought this nation learned in the 1930s, is never again…The second lesson we should learn from this crisis is that we should not as a nation have to learn these lessons over and over again every 80 years. Something has to be done to make the legislative changes this time stick.

Diebold Redux.

“We…know that Bush ‘won’ Ohio by 51-48%, but statewide results were not matched by the court-supervised hand count of the 147,400 absentee and provisional ballots in which Kerry received 54.46% of the vote. In Cuyahoga County, Ohio the number of recorded votes was more than 93,000 greater than the number of registered voters. More importantly national exit polls showed Kerry winning in 2004. However, It was only in precincts where there were no paper trails on the voting machines that the exit polls ended up being different from the final count.None dare call it stolen? A new report by Pomona professor Dennis Loo offers considerable evidence that election 2004 witnessed more GOP monkey business than has been previously reported in the mainstream press.


Tinky-Winky may keep Jerry Falwell up at night, but apparently it’s Spongebob Squarepants that haunts the dreams of James Dobson, founder and head of right-wing freak show organization Focus on the Family. (Must’ve been that David Hasselhoff cameo.) At a inaugural function this week, Dobson castigated a new tolerance promotion video featuring Spongebob, Barney, Winnie-the-Pooh, and other children’s characters of suspect orientation as “pro-homosexuality.” Said Dobson’s #2, “We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids…It is a classic bait and switch.” Um, yeah, ok…fight the power, y’all.

The Final Tally.

The Committee for the Study of the American Electorate reported yesterday that more than 122 million people voted in the November election, a number that translates into the highest turnout — 60.7 percent — since 1968.” The Dems didn’t do so hot that year, either, but then we had Tet, Chicago, and the murders of both RFK and MLK. How are we going to answer for 2004? Also, “[t]he report noted that although turnout reached new heights, more than 78 million Americans who were eligible to vote stayed home on Election Day. The group estimated that Bush won just 30.8 percent of the total eligible voters.

All the Hammer’s Men.

Just when it seemed the House GOP might be doing the right thing on the ethics question, the truth comes out — Boss DeLay’s boys have decided to work the system rather than explicitly subvert it. Case in point, the imminent ousting of DeLay opponent Joel Hefley (R-CO) from the House Ethics chair. “‘I’m not naive enough to not know that there are some folks that are very upset with me because they think we were too harsh with DeLay,’ Hefley said.

Capitol Thunderdome.

No doubt anticipating some kickback-heavy sessions in 2005, Tom DeLay and the Congressional GOP aim to eliminate several House ethics rules, among them the procedures for investigating complaints and the restrictions on free trips for relatives. “Government watchdog groups called the proposals startling and unjustified. If the proposed rules are adopted next week as GOP leaders suggest, they would amount to ‘the biggest backtracking on House ethics rules that we have seen,’ said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21.Update Sensing a PR nightmare on Day 1 of the new Congress, the GOP back down and void the recent Save-DeLay rule. Good for them.

Tang-tungled Rummy.

In a boon for conspiracy theorists the world over, Rumsfeld refers to the 9/11 Pennsylvania plane as “shot down.” Said Rummy during one of his usual rambling Two Minutes Fear-type screeds, “I think all of us have a sense if we imagine the kind of world we would face if the people who bombed the mess hall in Mosul, or the people who did the bombing in Spain, or the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon, the people who cut off peoples’ heads on television to intimidate, to frighten — indeed the word ‘terrorized’ is just that.” Freudian slip or slip of the tongue? Either way, it was a bonehead mistake.

Trailer Park Xmas.

Hello all…I finished up the end-of-term grading yesterday evening, at which point Berkeley and I started settling in to the christmas spirit down here at Murphy Home Base in Norfolk. Here’s hoping everyone out there is having a safe and merry holiday season, and that you get something better from Santa than Dubya’s warmed-over right-wing judges.

Also, if you’re looking for some trailers to tide you over, here’s Leggy & Liam battling freedom-hating infidels in Ridley Scott’s crusader pic Kingdom of Heaven, Russell Crowe trying to out-Seabiscuit Seabiscuit in Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man, a slew of A-listers vamping and vicing in the Robert Rodriguez version of Frank Miller’s Sin City, MTV Films butchering another needless remake in The Longest Yard, and creepy undead kids claiming yet another victim in Boogeyman. Enjoy, and happy holidays, y’all.(Aragorn pic via Fark.)

Hide them votes.

The intro sums it up: “With 573 newly discovered ballots roiling the second recount in the race for governor of Washington, the Republican Party went to court Thursday seeking a restraining order that would halt the counting of those votes.” Ah, the shadiness knows no bounds.

Preying on (Social) Insecurity.

Dubya starts the hard sell on his plan for privatizing Social Security, claiming such a move will reassure financial markets. “Mr. Bush never mentioned the near certainty that without raising taxes, which he has ruled out, any plan to add personal investment accounts to Social Security and improve its financial condition would include a reduction in the guaranteed retirement benefit.” Hmmm…that doesn’t sound very reassuring.

Running from Rummy.

It’s a pile-on. GOP Senators Trent Lott (who knows how these things work) and Susan Collins join John McCain, Evan Bayh, Bill Kristol, and Chuck Hagel in calling for Rumsfeld’s removal. (Naturally, this White House is responding by hugging him ever closer.) Update: Dubya praises Rummy’s ‘really fine job.’ In comparison to yours, perhaps…)

Blame the Children.

Just as Tom Ridge did in his own resignation a few weeks ago, NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe steps down by citing his need to make more money to put his kids through college. “‘It is this [the president's] very commitment to family that draws me to conclude that I must depart public service,’ O’Keefe wrote. ‘The first of three children will begin college next fall…I owe them the same opportunity my parents provided for me to pursue higher education without the crushing burden of debt thereafter.’” Am I missing something? I know tuition costs have skyrocketed, but is $158,000-a-year really too little money to send a child to college these days? C’mon, now.

Stuck in the Middle With You.

If establishment Democrats still fear Howard Dean, they ought to elect him chairman of the Democratic National Committee…” Following in the footsteps of such insightful political blogs as Value Judgment, Slate‘s Chris Suellentrop warns Dean to stay away from the DNC. “Ed Rendell was so frustrated with his job as DNC chairman during Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign that he complained to the New Republic, ‘I basically take orders from 27-year-old guys in Nashville who have virtually no real-life experience. All they’ve done is been political consultants living in an artificial world, and basically their opinion counts more than mine.’” Heh.

The Pieces are Moving.

“The congressional watchdog remains fast asleep, and we intend to wake him up.” As Catkiller Frist and the GOP threaten to go nuclear on the filibuster tip, Senate Dems announce they’ll be holding oversight hearings into matters such as “defense contract abuses” over the coming year. Well, at the very least, this news from our side of the aisle sounds more promising than Harry Reid’s recent thumbs up for Scalia.

Friendly Fire.

Speaking to the Associated Press yesterday, fair-weather maverick John McCain gives Donald Rumsfeld a vote of “no confidence.” As usual, this seems like the type of key reservation McCain should have expressed before last month’s election.

The Power of Myth.

One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington.” At a recent awards dinner, Bill Moyers laments the rise of theocratic “End-of-Days” types under Dubya. Meanwhile, with the White House in their collective pocket, religious fundies now look to spread the word through the states.

A Storm is Coming.

“For years, the party has been led by elite Washington insiders who are closer to corporate lobbyists than they are to the Democratic base. But we can’t afford four more years of leadership by a consulting class of professional election losers.” While kicking Terry McAuliffe out the DNC door, MoveOn.org lays claim to the Democratic party. “We bought it, we own it, we’re going to take it back.”

Their lyin’ eyes.

Ooh, Porter Goss must be furious. The CIA station chief in Baghdad “has warned that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and may not rebound any time soon.” According to the classifed cable obtained by the NYT, “the security situation was likely to get worse, including more violence and sectarian clashes, unless there were marked improvements soon on the part of the Iraqi government, in terms of its ability to assert authority and to build the economy.

Elsewhere, Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) said upon his return from Iraq, “We really need cold, hard facts and honesty. The situation is tough over there…If with 100,000-plus troops over there, we can’t control that 10-mile road [between Baghdad and GWB Airport], it shows what’s happening politically. The people are not as friendly as they were a year ago towards Americans.” Hmm…you’d think a GOP Senator like Chafee, to say nothing of our nation’s intelligence agency, would know better than to aid the terrorists by airing the real facts about what’s going on over there. Can’t they smell the victory?

Two roads diverged.

While new Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid shores up Scalia’s creds for Chief Justice (ugh, the new Congress hasn’t even met yet and he’s already Daschle redux), Howard Dean preps for a big State of the Party speech tomorrow in which he’ll “argue that the Democratic Party should be rebuilt from the grass roots up, that it should be driven by millions of Americans who make small contributions rather than by a handful of moneyed interests, and that the party should focus not just on presidential politics in swing states like Ohio and Florida but also on down-ballot races even in the reddest of states.” If these are my choices, put me on the Dean Machine…the endless protective camouflage song-and-dance perp’ed by Reid this past weekend has to stop. Update: More on Dean’s speech.

Don’t Know Much about History.

All the news that’s fit to print…According to the NYT, “Mr. Bush never lingers at much of anything, but he really doesn’t linger in museums and at historical sites.” Nope, can’t say that’s much of a shocker.

When Good Things Happen From Bad People.

Hmmm…I don’t know quite how to feel about this one. “Without a separate vote or even a debate, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) has managed to deliver to a delighted NASA enough money to forge ahead on a plan that would reshape U.S. space policy for decades to come…DeLay, a self-described ‘space nut,’ told Johnson Space Center employees a few days after the vote that ‘NASA helps America fulfill the dreams of the human heart.’” It probably doesn’t hurt that the Johnson Space Center is now in his district, either…still, this may be one of the only times when I find myself applauding the Exterminator.

Power and the Passion.

Call him King of the Mountain….via the newly reconstituted JJG, Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett (who suffered a fainting spell over the weekend) was recently elected to the Australian Parliament. I saw the Oils ten years ago during their WOMAD tour with Peter Gabriel, and Garrett was an electric presence, offering what is still far and away the best stage banter I’ve ever heard. (And, whatsmore, it wasn’t canned…I remember him riffing on their Letterman appearance only a few days earlier.) The people of Kingsford Smith are lucky — in this day and age, you could do a lot worse for an elected rep than Garrett.

Blinding Us From Science.

Well, I guess this what we get for re-electing a President who thinks “the jury’s still out” on evolution. To help offset exploding Dubya deficits, Congress “has cut the budget for the National Science Foundation, an engine for research in science and technology, just two years after endorsing a plan to double the amount given to the agency.” But, don’t fret: “While cutting the budget of the science foundation, Congress found money for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham, the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, bathhouses in Hot Springs, Ark., and hundreds of similar projects.” Yep, priorities, people. (Although granted that cutting-edge cancer research probably costs more than Charlie Daniels’ signed guitar.)

Orange Alert.

Break out the duct tape…Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge joins the ranks of the Dubya-departed, “noting that he feels exhausted from the grueling hours required for the work and that he wants to make more money now that he has two children reaching college age.” Current names being bandied about as replacements include “former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Frances Fragos Townsend, current White House homeland security adviser.” Given the recent trend to promote Dubya loyalists throughout the cabinet, I’m surprised they haven’t found a new gig for Marc Racicot yet…he’s been the flunky’s flunky.

The True North strong and free.

For those of you who’ve considered moving to Canada after recent events, sorry…it looks like Dubya beat y’all to it. As with his recent trip to England, “Bush will not make a customary speech at the House of Commons in Ottawa where the sometimes raucous Parliament has been known to heckle speakers.” Well, you know how the Prez gets all kinds of incoherent in front of unscreened audiences, even with that strange bulge taped to his back.

Careful what you wish for.

“Intent on using his capital to secure his place in history, Bush may finally pass a right-wing social agenda, an entitlement reform agenda and a neoconservative foreign policy…And by enacting his program, Bush may dash conservatives’ hopes for a lasting Republican majority.” With trouble already brewing among House conservatives, Columbia PhD, former FCC colleague, and Gipper scholar Matthew Dallek contrasts Dubya’s governance with that of Reagan, and finds the former wanting, to say the least.

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