Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pakistan Military Rescues Mingora-- By Destroying It


Not Mormons, Mingorans-- but they have lots of wives too

According to a BBC correspondent on the ground, "all the buildings and shops in the town square had been completely destroyed." Mingora, population around a quarter million, is the formerly charming capital of the Swat region. Yesterday the Pakistan military drove the last of the Taliban rebels out of the city. They're now fighting in the surrounding hills. Two million people in the region have been displaced by the fighting and there is a refugee crisis in Pakistan now. Fighting has also broken out in South Waziristan ("the fountainhead of extremism"), another Pashtun-dominated region east of Afghanistan and sympathetic to the Taliban-- and, apparently, not shying away from a wider war.
So far, there are just skirmishes in Waziristan but the key U.S. ally plans a full-scale military offensive there this summer, according to Pakistani and Western officials, a fight that is certain to be deadlier than the current operation in Swat valley and with profound international repercussions.

Western leaders have repeatedly said that international terrorist plots are being hatched in Waziristan, while the area provides a sanctuary for Afghan insurgents and al Qaida leaders, possibly including Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri.

South Waziristan, a part of the wild tribal territory that lies along the Afghan border, houses Pakistan's public enemy number one, warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who has thousands of armed followers around him. The insurgency across the country is fueled by fighters and suicide bombers sent by Mehsud. North Waziristan is also under the control of a Taliban warlord.

Every report I read from Pakistan features unsubstantiated death counts-- 15 miscreants here, 6 terrorists there. It sounds a lot like a Vietnam War era mindset. General Petraeus, who paid a secret visit to Islamabad on Tuesday is talking up the ability of the Pakistanis to successfully contain the rebellion. While terming it "a tough fight, he says the country is fighting for it's existence and making progress.
"They (Pakistani army) are doing it because of the threat that the Taliban poses to them and to their country, not because of American interests. The people have come to recognise the Taliban for their repressive practices," Petraeus said.

The Pakistani army is fighting the militants "because the Taliban has come to represent a threat to the very existence of their state."

In fact, Gen Petraeus said: "They very much want to be seen as not fighting our war. They'll take certain assistance, but by no means anything that directly affects the combat operations. There is a fierce pride in their own ability. And a good bit of that is justified."

Gen Petraeus said the Pakistani army currently seems to be determined on their own to carry out this fight against the Taliban. "And we see every reason to expect that they are going to continue to do that," he said.

"We've provided some other logistical supplies and other assistance. We've provided economic assistance," he said.

Yes, $12 billion-- $9 billion of it in military aid-- since 2002. And where is it? Mostly in the pockets overseas bank accounts of corrupt politicians and in a costly and tragic nuclear weapons program that is one of the world's most serious existential problems. More Cheney-Bush ineptitude and catastrophic "leadership." I would be nice to see Obama taking U.S. policy in this part of the world in a different direction.

I was in shock this morning when I started reading what I thought was a book review by former U.S. Ambassador (to Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon-- all the cushy posts) Ryan Crocker. I was so astounded that he could be writing what I was reading that I went to recheck. And sure enough, it was Ryan Croken.
History doesn't repeat itself; we repeat it, and we are only doomed to do so if we don't apprise ourselves of it. For this reason, I strongly recommend Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald's new book, Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story. Thirty years in the making, this deeply researched book is bursting with overlooked facts and unauthorized insights. Through their erudition, prescience and passion, Gould and Fitzgerald have provided us with an urgent and necessary history, one that pierces through the haze of misinformation that has, for far too long, obscured the guiding light of an authentic past.

The timeliness of this book cannot be overstated. As the US government, still without a clearly articulated strategy, calls for a heavily militarized escalation of forces into a conflict that cannot be resolved through military means, we would be well advised to arm ourselves with the wisdom of the historical record. As it now stands, President Obama is being led into the graveyard of empires by the same misguided philosophers of war that helped spawn this disaster in the first place. It's time for new, empowered, alternative voices to rise up from an informed American public and enter the fray.

...After the Soviet collapse, a "victorious" United States abandoned the country it had just helped turn into a haven for violent extremism. America's sole objective had been achieved, and it foolishly believed that it had no real strategic interest in a stable Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the mujahedin forces - steroidal with US-supplied military technologies - fought against the Afghan government, and then against one another, until the Taliban finally rolled into Kabul and took power. The Taliban, brainwashed in Pakistani madrassas indirectly constructed with US tax dollars, had more in common with the virulent pan-Islamism of al-Qaeda than with Afghanistan's traditionally moderate society. They brought a brutal, medieval agenda to Afghanistan, and provided sanctuary to a non-native terrorism that would eventually find its way back to American shores.

In this manner, the development and rise of the Taliban was a direct consequence of America's intentional destabilization and radicalization of Afghanistan. Yet, despite the shock-value and enormous pertinence of this story, it remains in the margins of our national narrative, even after the events of 9/11. This gaping hole in our national consciousness, aside from being unfaithful to the past, has set us on a course for disaster in the future. As Sima Wali, Afghan refugee and author of the book's introduction, writes, "the void of accurate historical information on the origin of [the Taliban] has resulted in a succession of dangerous, counterproductive policy initiatives from Washington. The consequences of these initiatives have negated any chance for a successful restoration of an Afghan republic, opened Afghanistan to cross-border raids from Pakistan while at the same time providing a platform for the resurgence of Taliban."

And... the book comes complete with the kinds of recommendations to President Obama that I wouldn't expect to hear from Ryan Crocker-- but were not unlike what I was hearing this past week from Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who had just come back from a trip to Afghanistan.
1.) Stop bombing innocent civilians. It's unconscionable, and it makes terrorists out of the people whose support we need. 

2.) Stop destroying the poppy harvest. This also alienates Afghan civilians, as many of their lives depend on the sale of poppies. Create financial incentives for farmers to grow other crops, and consider purchasing the rest of the poppies for the legal manufacture of pain relief medications, of which there is currently a worldwide shortage.

3.) Get serious about reconstruction efforts and the effective deployment of desperately needed humanitarian aid. Gould and Fitzgerald interviewed an aid worker in Afghanistan who said that the US would have been more successful if we had just flown over the countryside and dumped money out of the window. Afghanistan needs schools and streets to function. Apportion more money for these purposes and less for weapons. Fire corrupt and inept private contractors.

4.) Bring fresh voices to the table. There are some disturbingly familiar faces in President Obama's circle of advisers. The very same people who led the crusade to arm terrorists and destabilize Afghanistan 30 years ago should not be in charge of disarming terrorists and stabilizing Afghanistan today. Ditch the coterie of failed thinkers who - through their hegemonic delusions and addiction to war - have led us to this ledge.

5.) Realize that what is good for the people of Afghanistan is also good for the people of the United States. As Gould and Fitzgerald explain: "Cosmopolitan and friendly, [Afghans] are beautiful, funny, proud and smart. Think of them that way and how they can be helped to make the country safe again." All actions should emanate from an understanding of this basic principle.

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The Fix Is In: Ben Nelson (D-NE) To Administer The Death Blow To Health Care Reform


Ben Nelson in a graphic frame normally reserved for Repugs

The Senate's most Republican Democrat (see chart below), Nebraska reactionary Ben Nelson, has long been in the pocket of the Medical-Industrial Complex and Big Insurance. He was a former insurance company executive. They have underwritten his career with millions of dollars in legalized bribes-- $1,196,799 from Insurance special interests and another $1,000,366 from the HMOs and other "health care" industries. And they're promising him lots more if he will do their dirty work for them again this year. And he will.

Nelson is worried that voters in Nebraska will start understanding that he doesn't work for them-- not ever-- but that his real employers are the wealthy and powerful vested interests he is always serving. His main function in the Senate seems to have always been to water down all reforms and make them meaningless. Today he went to the Lincoln Journal Star to spin his role in the killing of health care reform so that the dull minded among his constituents miss the point. "Sen. Ben Nelson," reads the friendly and deceptive first line, "says he’s open to a government role in securing universal health care coverage."

A couple nights ago progressive health care reform advocate, Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards explained how the Insurance company shills in Congress would embrace the public option and then make sure it non-robust, worthless and uncompetitive with the plans of their "generous" patrons.
Nelson says, he does not want to “destabilize or adversely affect” the private health insurance coverage now in place for most Americans.

“I have not closed my mind to any option,” says Nelson, a key figure in the approaching showdown over health care reform.

While he’s opposed to opening the door to choice between a government and a private plan, Nelson says he wants to “see how a public plan is crafted.

“It’s a deal-breaker for me if there’s a government-run plan to replace existing insurance plans,” he says.

“I see a role for government, but not the primary responsibility,” Nelson says. “I see a backup plan,” but not at the expense of “erosion of a market-based system.”

...What’s not on the table is a single-payer universal health care system managed by the federal government. 

Nelson says he’d adamantly oppose it, but the Obama administration and congressional leaders aren’t even crafting such a plan.

“Single-payer can’t pass,” Nelson says.

What’s open is how to construct coverage for 45 million uncovered Americans who would be brought under the umbrella of universal coverage.

The private insurance industry is prepared to eliminate barriers to coverage for Americans with pre-existing health conditions if there is universal coverage, Nelson said.

So what is it that the insurance companies and shills in the Senate like virtually the entire Republican caucus plus the worst of the Conservadems want to kill? In short, anything that looks like it will compete with the awful private insurance plans that almost all Americans hate with a passion.

Progressives demand a plan that is fully risk-bearing, like Medicare. It must fully bear the risk of medical claims for its enrollees. The idea is to keep administrative costs low-- like Medicare and unlike the private insurers-- and guarantee a high standard of care. As for payments, again Medicare is a good model to start with, but the new entity should be free to use its buying power to establish fair provider rates. It should have the authority to structure provider rates that build on Medicare’s payment system and to develop and implement payment system reforms that promote quality care, prevention, and chronic care management. At the very minimum it has to be available to anyone (which also means everyone) who lacks employer-provided insurance. And it must allow patients to have access to their choice of doctors and other providers that meet defined participation standards, as Medicare does.

Imagine having representatives in our own government who are there to fight for us, not for their campaign contributors in big business? It'll never happen until we get rid of the horribly corrupt way we finance our "democracy." Until then there will always be stooges like Ben Nelson and Max Baucus-- not to mention the entire GOP-- who fight for the lobbyists and for the industries that underwrite their careers rather than for their own constituents. Not a single Republican voted for Social Security when Roosevelt proposed it-- not one. They called it socialist and said it would bankrupt America. Sound familiar? As I mentioned yesterday, when Rep. John Sullivan, Oklahoma's rabid anti-health care fanatic, decided he needed-- reason not yet clear-- to fly across the country and check himself into the Betty Ford Clinic to treat his long-documented dependency on alcohol, the taxpayers were forced to pick up the entire tab, probably $30,000. Nice for him, but isn't it a bit hypocritical for him to vote against that kind of health insurance for the rest of us?

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As Arnold’s Political Career Dies, How Many Californians Will He And DiFi Sacrifice To His Three Big Lies?


-by Dr Kirk Murphy

As Arnold Schwarzenegger's failed political career flames out, he's demanding California sacrifice thousands of human lives for his Three Big Lies. Arnold's First Big Lie was the one he used to win office in 2003: he used all his celebrity star power to promise voters he could slash CA's revenues by $4 billion and everything would be great. In the real world, Arnold's cut did exactly what CA's budget analyst predicted: starve the state budget and grow deficits. Over the next years, the annual loss from Arnold's First Big Lie grew to $6 Billion. With the state's deficit now swollen to $24 billion (thanks to Prop 13 and Arnold's First Big Lie), in the May 19 California voters overwhelmingly rejected Arnold's special election, rejecting his stealth attempt to further destroy California's public sector. Arnold's Second Big Lie pretends that when CA voters refused the Rethugs' plan to smash public services for the future, they actually wanted to slash those services. Before that election, Arnold vetoed the Legislature's budget: a budget that partly restored the revenue cuts the Rethugs created to destroy public services. Arnold's Third Big Lie is to pretend he never vetoed non-lethal budget solutions, and to pretend the only solution for thirty years of the Rethugs' war on California's government is Shock Doctrine.

With a personal net worth somewhere between $100 and $800 million, Arnold's demanding the rest of us allow him to sacrifice thousands of Califonians' lives. Yep, when it comes to Grover Norquist's Chub Club For Growth, movie-hero Arnold shows his inner girly-man: he'd rather kill off sick people and seniors than stand up and fight. How many Californians will this real-life coward sacrifice to fan the embers of his dying career?

On Thursday a panel of California's legislators heard from one of Arnold's intended victims:

[T]hey heard from a woman named Lynnea Garbutt who has lived with AIDS all of her 24 years.

She has survived with the help of a state program that provides the expensive antiviral drugs she takes. Now, with that program facing elimination, she pleaded with lawmakers to save it -- and her life.

"If these cuts take place, you're not just cutting money from the program -- you're cutting my life," she told the panel, her voice shaking and tears falling. "I choose to live. Please don't make me die. My choice is life."

You see, unlike Arnold with his personal Gulfstream, the desperately poor patients who rely on California for the medications they require to stay alive can't just jet off to find better services in some other state. From working with those patients, I know most of them don't even have the money to pay for new substandard housing somewhere else, much less the funds to travel there.

But hey, why stop with killing off young people? To keep on the good side of the Rethug lunatics who've spent the last three decades waging open warfare on California, movie-hero Arnold also demands California kill off seniors. When hundreds of thousands of disabled folks and seniors rely on in home health workers (IHSS) to remain alive and to stay out of nursing homes (where their care would cost the state even more), Arnold will deny in home health assistance to most of California's disabled people:

Limit IHSS Domestic and Related Services To the Most Functionally "Impaired" - Governor proposes, effective October 1, 2009 (if Legislature approves), to limit the provision of domestic and related services to persons with the "highest level of need" in the IHSS Program.

Matthew Yi from the SF Chronicle's Sacramento bureau describes the real consequences:

Restrict the In Home Support Services program to the most severely disabled such as those who can't breathe on their own and are partially paralyzed.

What will this do to seniors and the disabled?

Gary Passmore, who represents the Congress of California Seniors, an advocacy group for the elderly, said the cuts would be life threatening.

"These cuts and the ones that were announced earlier this week are cruel, they are heartless, and they will literally kill people," he said. "It's no longer a question about whether these folks will end up in nursing homes. There aren't enough beds in nursing homes. They will end up on the streets and die."

While they're sacrificing seniors and the disabled, movie-hero Arnold and the deadly radicals who run CA's Rethug party also want to go after pregnant mothers. His Shock Doctrine attack demands

Elimination of remaining General Fund for Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health

Rather than stand up to Grover Norquist's death cult, Arnold wants to sacrifice women with cancer...and people with kidney failure:

Cuts Medi-Cal coverage for breast and cervical cancer treatment and dialysis.

Arnold and the Rethugs' Cult For Death even want to destroy Californians' future:

Schwarzenegger's plan to dismantle the Cal Grant program - considered one of the nation's best programs to help poorer students cover full fees or tuition at public colleges - would make California the first US state to eliminate student financial aid while raising tuition....A CalWorks program providing medical, dental, and vision care to 90,000 children will be eliminated.

Why stop with killing off people and their futures? Arnold's death wish for California's budget includes special hell for our pets:

Kiska Icard, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said suspending the state requirement on animal shelters to hold strays at least six days to save the state $24.6 million would result in euthanizing more animals.

In order to kill off California's people and government with his Shock Doctrine on steroids, Arnold's frantically repeating his Second Big Lie: the voters made him do it. Brian Leubitz and his colleagues at Calitics explode the lie:

The people did not say anything about cuts. In fact, they spoke out strongly against cuts by rejecting Props 1D and 1E that cut social services for children and the mentally ill, respectively. The people are saying they want a functional government that is responsive, not demanding, of the people.

Brian Leubitz also spotlights how SF Gate's Carla Marinucci caught DiFi parroting Arnold's Second Big Lie

"And what [the voters] said is, in so many words, take the cuts, because that's the alternative. And nobody wants them, but people have to understand.''

Marlinucci also caught DiFi parroting Arnold's Third Big Lie: California's only choice is the Shock Doctrine.

And the hard part of it is where the cuts have to come from. People don't like it. But they didn't seem to know that when they voted no on these propositions, so it left the Governor and the State Legislature with really no alternative other than to make the cuts.

Hey, why should a California Democratic Senator remember California's Republican Governor vetoed the anti-Shock Doctrine budget her fellow Democrats passed out of the State's Legislature?

In the real world, a few months ago California's beleaguered Legislature did an end run around the Rethug's Cult For Death and passed a budget with choices that don't kill people: Arnold vetoed it. In the world where DiFi, Arnold and CA's Rethugs rush to please the Club For Growth's suicide cult, why bother with reality?

In the real world the rest of us live in, how many Californians' lives will Arnold sacrifice as his political career dies? And how many Democrats in Sacramento and Washington will spin the Big Lies required to make Shock Doctrine his weapon?

[h/t Calitics for their coverage, which this post uses extensively.]

UPDATE: A Rescue Plan

Aeolus has a great idea which is elucidated over at Daily Kos. President Obama needs to ask Schwarzenegger to resign as a condition for loan guarantees for short-term debt. The Governator has failed California and failed the nation.

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Arrest Warrants Issued For 1,000 Corrupt Iraqi Officials-- Minister Of Trade In Prison


Iraq isn't the most corrupt country in the world. Somalia, which has no effective national government, is. Iraq is tied with Myanmar at #2. Last week, according to Sabah Saedi, head of Iraq's anti-corruption watchdog, the Commission on Public Integrity, arrest warrants were issued for some 1,000 corrupt officials.

Rule of thumb: where there are bribees, there are bribers. You never hear much about the bribers though. Until he was forced to resign a couple days ago, Abdul Falah Sudani was Iraq's Minister of Trade. Yesterday he tried to flee the country for Dubai and his plane was ordered back to Baghdad. He was promptly arrested. One of his brothers is already in prison and another has vanished, presumably to London, where all these crooked Iraqi politicians wind up (with the millions of dollars they've absconded with). Sudani, a member of the Embezzlement Party Dawa Party, which is also the party of Prime Minister of Nuri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister. Most Iraqi politicians who have been caught stealing have escaped to London and to the U.S. with nice chunks of the $9 billion in U.S. taxpayer money that the Bush Regime shipped into the country that has been unaccounted for.

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dan Gelber Drops Out Of The Florida Senate Race


Wasserman Schultz announcing last year that she and her puppet would not be supporting Miami-Dade Dems against Cuban congressional fascists

It looks like there won't be a progressive in the race for Florida's open Senate seat after all. At tonight's Jefferson Jackson Dinner state Senator Dan Gelber withdrew, presumably to run for Attorney General. That leaves a corrupt Democratic Party hack with virtually no chance to win, Kendrick Meek, as the de facto opponent to either Charlie Crist or Marco Rubio. Two weeks ago in the Orlando Sentinel Scott Maxwell predicted that in the end it would be a race between Meek and Crist. He never thought Gelber had any chance.
The folks in Tallahassee seem to love him-- the media, his fellow Dems, even Republicans who respect the way he plays the game.

Gelber's biggest problem is that regular folks are sick of the game altogether.

Gelber may be smart and quick-witted. But in the minds of most, he's still just another Tallahassee politician. And those guys are a dime a dozen. (And that's when you're paying the sticker price.)

Another startlingly mediocre Democratic House member, Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, is also making noises about running for the Senate seat. It's unlikely she'll make the jump though. Meek has wrapped up all the Inside the Beltway support and has raised a fortune. What a tragedy!

UPDATE: Letter From Dan

Dan Gelber sent a letter to supporters this morning explaining his decision and hinting at his future plans:
As you may know I have decided to step back from my U.S. Senate bid. I wanted to let you know the reasons.

When Governor Crist announced he would be a candidate for US Senate, he created a domino effect that opened up every seat on the cabinet. At a time when our state is facing its greatest challenges, ironically, we have our greatest uncertainty and dislocation. But I believe this is also an opportunity-– the chance to set a new course that avoids the mistakes of the past and tracks a better future for our families.

It makes little sense-- when we do face the prospect of real change in Florida-- for me to participate in a potentially divisive primary for U.S. Senate that will only serve to diminish our chances against a very formidable and well-known Republican nominee.

I also believe that we have a historic opportunity here in Florida to reshape the political landscape and more importantly, bring fundamental change to Tallahassee. I have had a number of conversations with Senators Graham and Nelson, and CFO Alex Sink, about how we can best unify our party and move forward with a slate of candidates that can communicate our vision for a better Florida, and I look forward to continuing these discussions.

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Petraeus Says Bush Committed War Crimes And Warns About The Dangerously Deteriorating Situation In Pakistan


There was a lot of talk yesterday about General David Petraeus' jolting appearance-- jolting for Republicans-- on Fox News. The Fox talking head was apparently too shocked to put up that normal 'ole Fox anti-reality fight. He reiterated that its important for American national defense that the Guantánamo concentration camp be closed down. He told her that he "oversee[s] a region in which the existence of Gitmo has been used by the enemy against us. We have not been without missteps or mistakes [systematic torture] in our activity since 9/11 and again Gitmo is a lingering reminder for the use of some in that regard."

When she did try to come back with the standard, intellectually dishonest right-wing talking points, he swatted her away like a slow-moving fly. "I don't think we should be afraid of our values we're fighting for, what we stand for. And so indeed we need to embrace them and we need to operationalize them in how we carry out what it is we're doing on the battlefield and everywhere else. So one has to have some faith, I think, in the legal system. One has to have a degree of confidence that individuals that have conducted such extremist activity would indeed be found guilty in our courts of law."

I'm sure Limbaugh and Rove are plotting their response now. After all, his acknowledgment that we violated that Geneva Conventions-- and committed war crimes-- lead right to prison cells for Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush. If only! Actually, I was more interested in his assessment of the highly volatile situation in Pakistan-- a dysfunctional nation of 165,900,000 mostly impoverished and angry people, which has been crippled by mind boggling endemic corruption. During the Bush Regime, over 12 billion American tax dollars flooded into the country. Most of the money disappeared down the rathole of corruption and most of the rest of it went in developing a nuclear arsenal which is useless in the guerilla war the country is now mired in. On top of all that, Petraeus warned that anti-American sentiment there is growing. Pakistanis are angered, he wrote, by “cross-border operations and reported drone strikes” that they believe “cause unacceptable civilian casualties."

In today's Wall Street Journal former CIA agent and a top advisor on Pakistan to both Clinton and Obama, Bruce Riedel takes a look at the relationship between this savage hellhole and the U.S. through the prism of Pakistan's nuclear capabilities. The background: intense fighting in the Swat Valley just a couple hours from the capital; 2 million internal refugees; rebels bombing cities across the country (Lahore and Peshawar this week); a disgruntled populace; and a failing, hollowed-out political system ready to fall apart completely. And between 60 and 100 nuclear weapons which may or may not be secure.
Today the arsenal is under the control of its military leaders; it is well protected, concealed and dispersed. But if the country fell into the wrong hands-- those of the militant Islamic jihadists and al Qaeda-- so would the arsenal. The U.S. and the rest of the world would face the worst security threat since the end of the Cold War. Containing this nuclear threat would be difficult, if not impossible.

The danger of Pakistan becoming a jihadist state is real. Just before her murder in December 2007, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said she believed al Qaeda would be marching on Islamabad in two years. A jihadist Pakistan would be a global game changer-- the world’s second largest Muslim state with nuclear weapons breeding a hothouse of terrorism.

Riedel has no answers that make the slightest bit of sense. His optimism is unfounded foolishness and I fear he's infected Obama with it as well. He's correct when he points out that "U.S. policy toward Pakistan in general and the Pakistani bomb in particular has oscillated wildly over the past 30 years between blind enchantment and unsuccessful isolation. President Ronald Reagan turned a blind eye to the program in the 1980s because he needed General Zia and the ISI to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. President George H. W. Bush sanctioned Pakistan for building the bomb in 1990, and Mr. Clinton added more sanctions after the 1998 tests [both having been forced to do so by Congress]. President George W. Bush lifted the sanctions after 9/11 and poured billions into the Pakistani army, much of it unaccounted for, in return for Pakistan’s help again in Afghanistan."

The rest is just pie-in-the-sky woolly headed nonsense that ends in tripling "aid" to Pakistan-- more and more billions of dollars annually that do nothing whatsoever to secure the country or make life more bearable for its pissed off population. The U.S. can't be the policeman of the world.

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What Made Oklahoma Wingnut John Sullivan Check Himself Into Betty Ford Last Night?


John Sullivan, on the right, as usual, takes a leave of absence from Congress

Earlier today, Ken signified that the battle for the Republican Party's soul might be termed one that pits the crazies against the stoopids. He looked at the state's two senators, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn and only one thing is certain-- you can't always be clear where the ignorance stops and the insanity begins, not in Oklahoma. And when you look at the state's incredibly reactionary House delegation-- way at the bottom of the national barrel-- you see a similar pattern. Mary Fallin, who represents the bluest part of the state, Oklahoma City, can lay claim to being the most radical hard right kook in the entire House of Representatives-- the only member to have not ever voted once in her entire career for anything significant that would in any way be of benefit to a working family. She scores a zero. Not even lunatic fringe maniacs like Michele Bachmann (MN-O.41), Devin Nunes (CA-0.71), Paul Broun (GA-0.71), Adam "Howdy Doody" Putnam (FL-0.77), Eric Canter (VA-0.88), Roy Blunt (MO-0.96), Virginia Foxx (NC-0.97) or John Culberson (TX-0.99) score zeros. And well-established national sociopaths like Mean Jean Schmidt (OH-1.18), Marsha Blackburn (TN-1.13), Darrell Issa (CA-1.21) and Steve King (IA-1.34) are almost socialists in comparison.

Fallin is running for governor and her "no, never, nothing, not ever" stand on everything can be attributed to her focus on a lust for higher office. The holder of the second worst voting record in Oklahoma, Tulsa miscreant John Sullivan (0.87) has an entirely different excuse: he's usually drunk or hung-over when casting his votes on the House floor.

A former failed real estate agent with a long police record for drunk driving, disorderly conduct, and assaulting police officers, he was judged by Oklahoma voters to be a perfect representative for them and entered Congress in 2002. You can call him crazy or stupid-- both work fine-- but his mind-boggling anti-working family voting record-- and his complete embrace of the Politics of Hate-- also points up a long history of substance abuse. He checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic in California Thursday. It isn't clear yet what precipitated the move. Usually Republican congressmen check into drug and alcohol rehab clinics when they get caught doing something unspeakable-- like soliciting a police officer in a public toilet or raping a young child. We expect to hear what impelled Sullivan to hop on a plane, take a leave of absence from Congress-- he opposes Alan Grayson's bill calling for a one week paid vacation for all Americans-- and check himself into the clinic. And we'll let you know.

One other thing. It's entirely possible that the pressures of being a hypocritical right-wing congressman are what drove Sullivan over the brink and that he didn't rape anyone or kill anyone or get caught stealing anything-- maybe not likely, but possible. And maybe it was just the tension of having been one of only two of Oklahoma's uber-reactionary members of Congress to vote for Bush's TARP legislation and then declare himself, incongruously, a teabagger, even speaking at a teabag party in Tulsa, hoping no one would notice that he and his record were what they were actually protesting.

As for the likelihood of Sullivan being exposed as a crooked pol... well, hints began early in his career that, aside from being an uncontrollable lush, he is also a criminal. From his Wikipedia entry:
In July 2004, Dave Pearson, a former GOP communications consultant, claimed he was owed $20,000 for work he did on Sullivan's 2002 special election. Pearson put out a press release attacking his former candidate, and sent a letter to all of Sullivan's campaign contributors: "Sullivan is the most dishonest, disingenuous and crooked politician I have ever known. He is a liar because he repeatedly lied to me and others about his business background, his arrest records and many other things." Sullivan responded by saying that Pearson was fired for "not doing his job" and "owes me money probably."

At least his temporary departure from Congress means one less obstructionist fighting to prevent health care reform-- the kind that would make it possible for the rest of us to get the kind of treatment he's getting, at our expense, at Betty Ford.

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Meet Linda Ketner


In what looked-- at least from the outside-- like one of the most unlikely outcomes of the 2008 election cycle, Democrat Linda Ketner came within two percentage points of beating entrenched Establishment wingnut Rep. Henry Brown in a gerrymandered South Carolina district specifically drawn to be an easy win for Republicans. At the same time, Obama only managed 42% in the district. Linda was the only South Carolina Democrat who came close to ousting an incumbent last year. Until near the end of the campaign the DCCC and the punditocracy didn't have a clue. The fact that Linda is openly gay and openly progressive on social issues-- and very outspoken-- caused quite a few people to not even give the race a second look.

I've been trying to persuade her to run again in 2010, and asked her to come by and meet our community today. Before asking you to join us in the Firedoglake comments section, let me share with you a helpful bio her brother had some fun with:
* At age 8, she sent a petition with 300 signatures to President Eisenhower asking that girls and African Americans be allowed to play Little League baseball.

* Age 8 also found Linda showing other early signs of activism. She uniformly drank from water fountains marked “colored” instead of the ones marked “white” and made sure to ride in the back of the bus (for which she was “thrown off” the bus more than once).

* In 1961, her widely known pit-bull stubbornness was evidenced at a piano recital. After having blown the heck out of the Moonlight Sonata in 1960, she announced to her mom and dad she would not be playing in the recital of ’61. Her mother announced back-- and louder-- that indeed she would play in the recital… end of subject. So, Linda found a poison ivy field, bathed her hands up to her elbows in the stuff and spent the next 6 weeks wrapped in bandages. However, she did NOT play in the recital of ’61 or any thereafter!

* In ’69 she started college and was elected President of the Freshman Class. She neglected her studies woefully and spent all of her time marching in the Civil Rights movement and plotting with her friends as to how to save the world. They had almost accomplished it (saving the world) when they graduated and were dispersed. Linda’s mom blames the 60’s for almost everything she doesn’t understand about Linda.

I asked her if she thought being upfront about being gay, even campaigning with her partner of 9 years, Beth Huntley, impacted the race. "When you lose by such a tight margin, anything could have played a role." In focus groups she found that people didn't care about her personal sexual preference but respected her honesty. "We have more gay people serving in South Carolina than probably in anyplace in the United States; they're just not out of the closet. We have an awful lot of people in the closet-- Lindsey Graham, Glenn McConnell who's our Senate president pro tem, our Lt Governor... I obviously lost the conservative, religious crazy vote, but I would have anyway because I'm pro-choice... It got more national attention than it did local attention; it was no secret to anybody around here." She actually won in Charleston County.

Speaking with Linda on the phone this week she reminded me a lot-- in her attitudes towards taxpayers' money, towards corruption, towards the abuses of incumbency-- of Alan Grayson. Somehow she has the idea that her impetus towards reform gives her something in common with Blue Dogs. I almost fell out of my chair. She promised to do some research into Grayson. She'll be blogging live for 2 hours at FDL today starting at 2pm (ET).

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The struggle for the soul of the Republican Party (and the conservative movement): It's the age-old war between crazy and stupid


Anyone who's tried to read the drivel penned over the decades by Peggy Noonan, or has been forced to listen to the "eloquent" speeches she's written for presidents and such, knows the feeling of trying helplessly to puzzle out: Is she just dumber than spit, or is she completely out of her pea-pickin' mind?

"We’re not talking fringe activists here; we’re talking U.S. senators. The truth is that lunatics have been running this particular asylum for years."
-- Paul Krugman, in a NYT blogpost yesterday (see below)

by Ken

I have been left mostly speechless (as some of you may have noticed) by the, um, "intellectual" climate of what now passes for political discourse in this great country of ours. As usual, I have my ups and downs with the people on Our Side, but what's struck me dumb is the total abandonment of even the slimmest pretense of sense or sanity by the Other Side.

I loved Howie's piece yesterday ("Cornyn Denounces Limbaugh and Liddy Denounces . . . Women," with a really terrific batch of comments) about what appears to be a pullback among Official Republicans, notably Texas Sen. John Cornyn (chairman of the GOP's Senate campaign committee), hardly a voice of moderation himself (as I understand it, he has been a principal architect of the GOP's "All No All the Time" strategy, and is more than anyone else responsible for keeping Al Franken from taking the Senate seat to which he was elected -- for the simple reason that, as he realized, he can prevent it), from the cliff over which, they finally understand, the Un-official Party, that passel of raving lunatics ringled by the Daddy of the Dittoheads, is leading them.

In part, I loved the piece because Howie is a lot more confident than I am about where the country is in all of this. Not only do I share commenter Balakirev's concern about the irreducible 24 percent "base" that appears to be willing to follow Rush and Glenn and the crazies over the cliff, I think the 24 percent figure seriously understates the portion of the public that's susceptible to the reign of craziness. Even if they're no immediate threat to regain power, I worry that 30 or even 40 percent of the country in the thrall of ignorance and insanity makes for a powderkeg that could blow up what's left of our democracy.

One of the things I've been trying to dope out is what part sheer stupidity plays, and what part evident insanity.

One should never underestimate the stupidity factor. Both Howie and I have written frequently about the stupidification of America, which he believes is the result of a careful right-wing master plan to turn the American educational system into poop for the conscious purpose of turning masses of Americans into retards who will cheer madly at the wackiest inanities passed off as policy prescriptions.

Me, I'm not so sure about the careful planning. I think if you elevate stupidity to a virtue, and make heroes of enough dimwits whose nitwittitude is their only virtue, you'll wind up at the same point, especially if you have enough "opinion leaders" -- in particular the kind who claim to get their guidance straight from God -- who have as their educational goal making their offspring as smart as they are. Throw in ruthless manipulators like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, and the rest is history -- our history, from Reagan through Little George.

I've been trying for months to write something on this subject, and failing. So I was greatly cheered by a pair of delicious posts this week on Paul Krugman's NYT blog, "Conscience of a Liberal." The one I really loved was this one from Wednesday:

May 27, 2009, 6:40 PM
A note on identity politics

The attacks on Sonia Sotomayor are getting crazier by the minute. The pronunciation of her name is unnatural. Her fondness for Puerto Rican cuisine -- sorry, her "claimed" fondness (you never know) -- may cloud her impartiality. She doesn't have enough money in her retirement account.

But is this any crazier, when you come down to it, than the Cult of Bush that ruled much of Washington for years? It was positive, not negative (though there was plenty of that too), but it was similarly about identity politics -- you were supposed to support Bush, not because of how he did his job, but because he was, drumroll, a regular guy. Remember Peggy Noonan:
I was asked this week why the president seems so attractive to the heartland, to what used to be called Middle America. A big question. I found my mind going to this word: normal.

Mr. Bush is the triumph of the seemingly average American man. He's normal. He thinks in a sort of common-sense way. He speaks the language of business and sports and politics. You know him. He's not exotic. But if there's a fire on the block, he’ll run out and help. He'll help direct the rig to the right house and count the kids coming out and say, “Where's Sally?” He's responsible. He's not an intellectual.

Of course, a year and a half later there really was a fire on the block — actually a flood in New Orleans, but basically the same thing — and what he actually said was, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” But I digress.

The thing that is really driving conservatives crazy, I think, is that their identity politics just isn’t working like it used to. Their whole approach has been based on the belief that Americans vote as if they live in Mayberry, and fear and hate anyone who looks a bit different; now that the country just isn’t like that, they’ve gone mad.

Paul is, of course, being kind to our Peggy. There isn't a word in her paean to her beloved George W., unless you count the declaration that her boy "isn't an intellectual," that doesn't mark her as the dumbest life form in the history of creation. (The "isn't an intellectual" comment merely marks her as someone implacably hostile to the thought process.)

"He thinks in a sort of common-sense way"?

This is a man who doesn't think, ever. He seems to have discovered at Yale, surrounded by all those smart kids, that thinking wasn't his forte, and that trying was only going to get him into trouble. Out of sheer laziness, mixed with the arrogance of a subhuman blob who believed himself as entitled as he is ignorant, he willed himself into an ignoramus, and that ought to be literally unforgivable -- not praised by pseudo-populists like drooling Peggy.

"He speaks the language of business and sports and politics"?

Uh, yeah, I suppose, but he knows only the tiniest, most superficial bit about sports, and nothing whatsoever about business or politics, unless you count "how to fake it."

Maybe I'm just slow to adapt, but I don't believe that Noonanism has been banished from American discourse. Yeah, I saw Karl Rove, the master of this form of political manipulation in our time, pulling back from his earlier ritual smears of Judge Sotomayor. But I don't believe for a moment that he's lost faith in those tactics, or that they won't work just fine another time: "[insert name of latest defiantly ignorant blob of human waste] is the triumph of the seemingly average American man. He’s normal."

As I suggested above, I'm less than persuaded by John Cornyn's sudden conversion to reason in the matter of the Sotomayor nomination. Can the arch-loon in Cornyn really be put to rest so easily? Captain Courage he's not. I guffawed at the contribution of another commenter on Howie's post yesterday, Comrade E.B. Misfit:

"Coryn's apology to el Rushbo in 3....2....1..."

Um, yeah, Comrade, I hear you.


I mentioned that Paul Krugman had written a second blogpost on this subject, and I would be remiss not to direct your attention to it as well:

May 29, 2009, 11:46 AM
Same as they ever were

Obama is a socialist/fascist; Sonia Sotomayor is a racist, and La Raza is the KKK; there’s an evil plot against Republican car dealers. The GOP is sounding a bit, well, demented these days.

But here’s the thing: it always did. A few trips down memory lane:

Senator Tom Coburn:
In a tape recently released by Brad Carson, Coburn’s Democratic opponent for the Senate race there, Coburn is heard warning the good clean citizens of Oklahoma of the great lesbian threat to their state.

On the tape, Coburn tells how a campaign worker form Coalgate, Okla., told him that lesbianism is “so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they’ll only let one girl go to the bathroom."
Senator James Inhofe:
Why did the UN cook up the idea of global warming? To “shut down the machine called America.” In fact, we learned, global warming is a plot to destroy the US economy and to initiate one-world government–a goal not only of the UN but of the American political left more broadly.

Establishing his Christian credentials, Inhofe invoked Romans 1:25 (For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever) to suggest that taking steps to ameliorate global warming would constitute a form of idol worship.

We’re not talking fringe activists here; we’re talking U.S. senators. The truth is that lunatics have been running this particular asylum for years. But in a classic case of emperor’s new clothes, it wasn’t acceptable to notice this until the lunatics lost power.

Thanks for that little stroll down Craziness Lane, Paul. I still can't help considering that if only, say, 40 percent of the insane blithering being blithered about Judge Sotomayor, by people who ought to know better (and, yes, some who probably don't), is being absorbed by the public, that still represents a staggering quantity of psychotic lies and filth.

[For the record: The world is anxiously awaiting word from Senator Doctortom Coburn (who like his unlamented colleague, former Senate Majority Leader Doctorbill Frist, is a physician, but more importantly is a beyond-certifiable kook, proud to be known as "Doctor No" for his tireless one-man crusade of obstructionism in the Senate) as to whether he will run for reelection. If he doesn't, can we expect that the Oklahoma Republican cult has someone of comparable, er, stature to slot in? We know that Oklahoma Democrats have nothing better to throw at the seat than unspeakable DINO Rep. Dan Boren.]

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Friday, May 29, 2009

A Little Chat With A Congresswoman About Afghanistan Leads To The Real Problems Confronting Health Care Reform


Last night I went to a gathering of people interested in hearing from a member of Congress who had just returned from Afghanistan. After a frank talk-- that confirmed my feelings that our presence there is as completely hopeless as it was when Cheney was running the show-- she opened the floor to questions. One woman-- with whom I had co-hosted a fundraiser for state Senator Barack Obama many years ago when he was first running in a seemingly hopeless Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate-- prefaced her question like this: "Since you're the smartest member of Congress..."

Donna Edwards (D-MD) demurred. "I don't know what Barney Frank or Jerrold Nadler would think about that." And there are a number of other exceptionally bright and thoughtful members of Congress as well, probably more than a dozen. But no one who knows her would deny Donna Edwards fits right in with that crew. Many of them were on a short list that caused Rahm Emanuel's short fuse to blow 2 weeks ago-- the 4 dozen Democrats who refused to vote for the supplemental budget that would continue unmerited war funding in Afghanistan. Although Nadler fumed and decided to give Obama the benefit of the doubt at the last minute, most of the other best and brightest Dems in the House courageously voted "no"-- from Alan Grayson (D-FL), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Jared Polis (D-CO), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Maxine Waters (D-CA) to Barney Frank (D-MA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Steve Cohen (D-TN) and, of course, Donna Edwards.

But it wasn't her insights about the pathetic non-policy in Afghanistan that I walked away thinking about. It was something she said about the bitter battle over health care reform. One of the House's most outspoken and well-reasoned advocates of universal health care-- sidetracked by the puppets of the Medical Industrial Complex to a chance for a "public option"-- Donna is worried that Big Insurance will embrace the "public option." Embrace and then smother to death in a bear hug. They don't want the competition, so they have given their well-paid allies-- Republicans, Blue Dogs, members of the Evan Bayh anti-Obama Bloc of Senate Conservadems-- their orders: let it pass and then make it dysfunctional. They will gamble everything that their three highest paid shills-- Arlen Specter (R/D-PA- $4,026,933), Max Baucus (D-MT- $2,833,731) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY- $2,758,468)-- will be able to sabotage the public option sufficiently enough to ensure that it is not robust and not competitive.

Although Ted Kennedy is the Chair of the committee that deals with health issues, the Medical Industrial Complex hasn't been forthcoming with the "donations" to him the way they are with the career criminals who always support them, what I call the "over two million dollar men-- like John Cornyn (R-TX), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), These 4 have also been tasked with guaranteeing that a public option will be non-functional. Unfortunately, no one can reasonably expect anything more from Republicans. They are the party that seems to live to torture-- including American working families.

We do, on the other hand, expect more from Democrats. Sometimes I wonder why. Truth be told, though, for every corporate whore like Max Baucus, Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson and Tom Carper, the Democrats have stalwart defenders of working families-- Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, Dick Durbin, Sherrod Brown and, of course, the Lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy. And today, despite the mealy-mouthed manipulations of turds like Baucus and Nelson, the Lion was roaring again.
Senator Edward Kennedy, chairman of one of two Senate panels drafting health-care overhaul plans, said he will include a government-run program to compete with private insurers in a measure to be considered in mid-June, asserting his role in the emerging debate despite his battle with brain cancer.

..."An important foundation of our legislation is the following principle: If you like the coverage you have now, you keep it," Kennedy wrote in an op-ed article in the Boston Globe. "But if you don’t have health insurance or don’t like the insurance you have, our bill will give you new, more affordable options."

This is the insurance companies worst nightmare, and the hope for millions of American families. And stopping this is why the Medical-Industrial Complex has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in legalized bribes to corrupt members of Congress-- basically the entire Republican Senate caucus plus Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, Blanche Lincoln and a few other untrustworthy bribe-hungry Democrats. And what about the White House?

Playing on the corporate side you'll always have Rahm Emanuel, the darkest force inside the Administration who went from being the Democrats' Tom DeLay in Congress to being their Karl Rove in the White House. But his isn't the only voice-- only the loudest, most insistent and most malevolent. On the other side of the issue, also vying for the president's ear is OMB Director Peter Orszag. Orszag is committed to real health care reform, exactly what the Baucuses and Nelsons are joining the GOP to prevent. And he's doubly dangerous to their cause because he makes his case in terms of fiscal discipline:
When I give public talks on health care reform, the question I receive most often is "given the government’s fiscal situation, how can it make sense for the government to take on new spending commitments as part of health reform?"  The answer is two-fold.  First, health care reform has two components: cost containment provisions and expanded coverage.  In the near term, the impact of expanded coverage will temporarily dominate, and health care reform will therefore temporarily increase government spending.   Over time, however, the impact of the cost containment provisions will accumulate, and the net impact will be a reduction-– and perhaps a dramatic one-– in government spending.  Second, while we are waiting for the cost containment provisions to take hold, we are insisting that health care reform be deficit neutral.  In other words, the Administration is committed to a health care reform that is at least deficit neutral over 10-years -- and deficit-reducing, potentially to quite a significant degree, over the longer term.

It's important to bolster the worthwhile voices inside the Administration despite the cloying relentlessness of the self-serving legendary Emanuel hype-machine. is running radio ads in Maine, North Dakota, Oregon, Delaware, Washington and Florida aimed at senators on Baucus' committee who are still on the fence about the public option. All of the ads but one target Democrats. has also organized “thousands” of members, including doctors, nurses and small-business owners, to visit senators’ district offices to call on them to support the so-called public plan option.

“President Obama and 70 percent of voters support healthcare reform that includes a public health insurance option to contain costs, increase competition and guarantee coverage,” the narrator in the ad states.

“The insurance industry says with new rules they can do it alone, but they’ll find a way to put profits first. We need a health insurance choice not run by the insurance companies to keep costs down and ensure access to quality, affordable care.”

The question over whether to make the public plan option available in all parts of the country has emerged as one of the thorniest of the healthcare debate. Republicans say a nationwide public plan option would be a “non-starter” and would represent a march toward a single-payer, socialized healthcare insurance system. They argue that government competition would drive private healthcare companies out of business.

It's important to remember that the real battle for real health care reform has nothing to do with the GOP. It will take place entirely inside the Democratic Party. Frank Luntz explained the strategy to his GOP clients a few weeks ago: "You're not going to get what you want, but you can kill what they're trying to do." They can-- but only if they can peel off enough corporate Democrats to water down Obama's plans. The Republican smear machine is full operating now and their front groups are operating as though they were in the middle of an election campaign. They're wallowing in the mud and sowing discord and confusion. MoveOn has succinctly distilled the thrust of the Obama plan down to 5 key point:
1. Choice, choice, choice. If the public health insurance option passes, Americans will be able to choose between their current insurance and a high-quality, government-run plan similar to Medicare. If you like your current care, you can keep it. If you don't-- or don't have any-- you can get the public insurance plan.

2. It will be high-quality coverage with a choice of doctors. Government-run plans have a track record of innovating to improve quality, because they're not just focused on short-term profits. And if you choose the public plan, you'll still get to choose your doctor and hospital.

3. We'll all save a bunch of money. The public health insurance option won't have to spend money on things like CEO bonuses, shareholder dividends, or excessive advertising, so it'll cost a lot less. Plus, the private plans will have to lower their rates and provide better value to compete, so people who keep their current insurance will save, too.

4. It will always be there for you and your family. A for-profit insurer can close, move out of the area, or just kick you off their insurance rolls. The public health insurance option will always be available to provide you with the health security you need.

5. And it's a key part of universal health care. No longer will sick people or folks in rural communities, or low-income Americans be forced to go without coverage. The public health insurance plan will be available and accessible to everyone. And for those struggling to make ends meet, the premiums will be subsidized by the government.

And in both Houses of Congress, the Democrats who were handsomely paid off to abandon their constituents' needs and work for the Insurance companies and HMOs are demanding a place at the table-- and veto power-- for their patrons. Blue Dogs are threatening to cross the aisle en masse and vote with the Republicans to kill the public option entirely unless they get assurances it will be a crippled and dysfunctional system. The Sunlight Foundation put together this chart of some of the Blue Dogs on the take who are throwing up the biggest problems for the people working seriously on mending the health care system.

UPDATE: The Deep Difference Between Kennedy And A Revolting Shill Like Baucus

Today's NY Times draws the clear distinction. Kennedy and all non-corrupt Democrats favor "a robust public health care plan, a government-sponsored entity that would compete with private insurers."
By contrast, Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who is chairman of the Finance Committee, has been working for months with the panel’s senior Republican, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, in the hope of forging a bipartisan bill, which would probably play down the option of a public plan.

Mr. Grassley opposes creation of a new government insurance program and says “we cannot afford the public health plan we have already,” referring to Medicare.

The insurance companies have provided Baucus and other shills, notably Chuck Schumer, with a "fallback plan," that will feature a public option that is designed to not work.
Public opinion polls suggest that many consumers would like to have the choice of a public plan. But insurance companies and Republican lawmakers say a public plan could drive private insurers out of business and lead eventually to a single-payer system run by the government.

Supporters of a public plan have been putting pressure on Mr. Baucus. Mr. Kennedy and 28 other senators signed up last week as co-sponsors of a resolution supporting creation of a public insurance option.

“Health care reform must include insurance reform, and health insurance reform must include the option of a federally backed health insurance plan,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, the chief sponsor of the resolution.

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Cornyn Denounces Limbaugh And Liddy Denounces... Women


Battle For The Soul of The GOP: Whigs vs Know Nothings

Few GOP elected officials are as aware as John Cornyn is about how badly the Republican Party image as Know Nothing obstructionists, racists, and extremists is hurting the party's chances to hold its own in the 2010 elections. As head of the NRSC he's staring at a catastrophe that could rival the voters' response to Republican obstructionism and extremism in the 1930s. Between 1928 and 1936-- over the course of 4 consecutive elections, the Republican Party shed 39 Senate seats, going from 56 seats in 1928 to 48 in 1930, 35 in 1932, 25 in 1934, and, finally, as the crazed obstructionism, cries of "socialist" and the desperate extremist accelerated, to a nadir of 17 seats in 1936.

And they seem to be on their way to repeating the same pattern. They're certainly using the exact same playbook-- obstructionism and extremism. When Bush was "re-elected" in 2004, the Republicans gained 4 seats for a total of 55. It's been all downhill ever since. Two years later they lost six seats, giving the Democrats a slim 51-49 seat majority. Republican Senate candidates garnered a total of 26,674,169 votes (42.4%) across the country to the Democrats' 33,929,202 (53.9%). But that loss was nothing compared to the 9 seats they lost last year, giving the Democrats a 59-41 seat advantage. The ugly extremism then drove one of their own members, mainstream conservative Arlen Specter, to switch parties.

And as Cornyn surveys the landscape, he sees tough terrain ahead. Retirements in Ohio, New Hampshire and Missouri are setting up Democratic pick-ups and a vicious fight between a mainstream conservative and an extremist lunatic in Florida could result in a Democratic pickup there as well. On top of that, unpopular extremist incumbents in North Carolina, Louisiana and Kentucky, are giving the Democrats unexpected opportunities that would completely devastate the party's Senate caucus.

With a new poll showing that only 24% of the public sides with the GOP smear machine on Judge Sotomayor, many in the Republican Establishment are already pointing fingers. They are starting to blame the party's sorry state on the extremists and there is growing anger directed towards right-wing media-- especially at Rush Limbaugh. One joke going around Capitol Hill is that the party is being done in by the RNC-- not by the hapless Michael Steele (although he's proven to be an unmitigated disaster as well) but a different RNC: Rush/Newt/Cheney. I might add that even Steele, clueless and comical as he is, recognizes the GOP better stop slammin' and rammin' on Sotomayor.

Yesterday Cornyn did what few Republicans, other than Olympia Snowe, have been willing to do: tell the truth about the horrible damage Rush/Newt/Cheney is doing to the party. When questioned at NPR about the crackpot jihad being led by Limbaugh and Gingrich to brand Sonia Sotomayor a "racist," Cornyn said he was appalled. "This is not the kind of tone any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advise and consent... Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials. I just don't think it’s appropriate. I certainly don't endorse it. I think it’s wrong."

Creating a bloody vicious battle over the confirmation of a very moderate judge that no liberal advocacy group is thrilled with-- particularly not the ones that look at the overwhelming-- and devastating-- corporate influence on a Supreme Court dominated by Big Business shills like John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito and Anthony Kennedy, may be good for ratings for extremist demagogues like Limbaugh and Fox News, but it is absolutely killing the GOP with mainstream voters. Limbaugh and Fox have business models dependent on ratings success in niche markets. That kind of strategy is just deadly for a national political party. Gingrich is also stirring up the crazies to enrich himself. As Jane Hamsher pointed out at Firedoglake last month, the Gingrich operation is dependent on donations from low dough suckers who have little idea what Gingrich does with the thousands and thousands of $20 and $30 checks that come in when he makes incendiary and divisive speeches. Like Cornyn pointed out, Gingrich isn't an elected official. He's just a hustler. And his hustle has gone to pay for things like $4 million dollars in private jet rentals, quite a lot for someone not even running for office.

Glenn Beck, Limbaugh, Michele Bachmann and Ann Coulter may want to urge Republicans to grab their rifles and run to the streets but the Republican Party Establishment Cornyn is fronting is backing away from the burn it down strategy. Even the right-wing bloggers-- usually the most hyperbolic and frothing of the GOP's lunatic fringe-- have backed away from urging the Party to block Sotomayor's confirmation-- although there are still plenty of the crazies in the nutroots siding with Limbaugh and Gingrich. Besides Gingrich there are plenty of other Republican opportunists using the confirmation debate as a way to raise money, particularly the two religious extremists, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney because, of course, if you think God is on your side, anything-- no matter how repulsive-- is somehow done with God's approval.

Is this [the drug-addled demagogue in the video clip below] the voice of the Republican Party? He's quickly becoming the elephant in the room that's ruining the chances for a Republican Party revival. Although... hard as it is to imagine, there are even more grotesque sociopathic Republicans spewing hatred onto the airwaves than Limbaugh. Take G. Gordon Liddy, for example. He gave a perfectly acceptable-- in their bizarro universe-- explanation for why Republicans need to oppose Sonia Sotomayor: "Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then." I almost feel sorry for John Cornyn. Almost.

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What's Wrong With Paul Ryan (R-WI)?


Wisconsin's shame: two clowns

Paul Ryan has become the front man for the worst excesses and betrayals of the Republican Party. He's the less ugly face of the more ugly policies we all rejected at the polls in November when we elected Barack Obama instead of opting for a third Bush term-- including, by the way, a majority of the voters in the southeastern part of Wisconsin Ryan purports to represent. Wednesday we were looking at Ryan's anti-health care agenda the latest travesty he trotted out to simulate solving problems without actually offering any substantive solutions.

Yesterday the DCCC sent media alerts to all the press outlets in Kenosha, Racine, Janesville, Waukesha and Milwaukee so that Wisconsin residents would be aware that the state's entire congressional delegation-- minus Paul Ryan and Jim Sensenbrenner-- voted to pass the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act. And it did pass-- 300-114-- 60 Republicans joining the Democrats to protect consumers from predatory and abusive mortgage lenders. In Wisconsin everyone from Dave Obey (D-Wausau) to Tom Petri (R-Fond du Lac) got behind the bipartisan reform measure.

So the question is, why, with record foreclosures, did Ryan decide to protect predatory lenders who have been victimizing mortgage applicants? Do you think it could possibly have anything to do with the huge amount of money, "donations," Ryan has been receiving from the financial, insurance and real estate sector? After all, the FIRE sector gives to everyone, right? Well, almost everyone. But very few are as richly rewarded as Paul Ryan. These are the contributions from this sector that each Wisconsin House member has gotten (with the number of years they've been in office):

Paul Ryan- $1,593,345 (in 10 years)
Ron Kind- $786,911 (in 12 years)
Jim Sensenbrenner- $625,707 (in 30 years)
David Obey- $617,796 (in 40 years)
Tammy Baldwin- $330,648 (in 10 years)
Gwen Moore- $319,779 (in 4 years)
Tom Petri- $316,520 (in 30 years)
Steve Kagen- $131,835 (in 2 years)

They sure seem to like Mr. Ryan... a lot. And he has never once let the well-being of his constituents get in the way of his unswerving loyalty to the crooked bankers and insurance cheats who have financed his political career. True, Wisconsin hasn't been hit with the tidal wave of foreclosures that Florida, California, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia have. Oh, wait... there is a Wisconsin district that has been as hard hit as the California and Florida districts-- Ryan's district. The projected foreclosures over the next 4 years in WI-01 are 14,874. That's a lot of families being pushed out of their homes.
“Responsible Wisconsin families who played by the rules but are still losing their homes in this foreclosure crisis can thank Representatives Paul Ryan and James Sensenbrenner for voting to protect predatory lenders instead of trying to help them keep their homes,” said Ryan Rudominer, National Press Secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The bill Ryan opposed earlier this month puts an end to the kind of predatory lending practices that helped lead to the current financial crisis and also prevents borrowers from misstating their income to qualify for a mortgage. It also establishes statutory standards for all lenders and places limits on high-cost mortgages. And one of the parts Ryan objected to most strongly-- since it hits his crooked campaign contributors-- is that it bars lenders from steering consumers to loans that they cannot reasonably be expected to repay and prohibits lenders from paying mortgage brokers for getting consumers into loans with above-market interest rates. At the same time, the bill also requires that tenants in foreclosed properties be given at least 90 days notice before having to leave.

Paul Ryan has never had a serious opponent. Blue America is trying to find one for 2010. We would really appreciate any help you could give us with that endeavor.

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Charlie Crist's Dilemma-- Which Audience Is He Playing To?


Yesterday we talked about how Charlie Crist's theoretical vote on Sonia Sotomayor's nomination would impact the election campaign for the Florida Senate seat. If Crist takes a mainstream position supporting the nomination it could help him with non-Cuban Hispanic voters, women voters and moderate voters. On the other hand, that position could hurt him against far right extremist Marco Rubio in the GOP primary. Wednesday, however, Crist navigated similar shoals-- and not theoretically. He probably helped himself for a general election campaign but helped Rubio primary-wise. Yesterday's St. Petersburg Times made the point: Crist broke a pledge to not raise taxes, a mortal offense to many Republicans. He signed a $66.5 billion budget and only vetoed two small items, one of which will further infuriate the anti-government right-wing zealots: a small pay cut for some state workers. He also referred to state workers, in his signing speech, as "hard working," which is anathema to Republican Party ideology.
By not vetoing the new taxes, Crist violated a no-new-taxes pledge he made on the campaign trail in 2006. He also has signed an antitax pledge geared toward governors, written by the conservative Washington group Americans for Tax Reform. Earlier this month, the Republican governor signed a similar no-new-taxes pledge for federal candidates now that he's running for the U.S. Senate... Crist's decision to cancel the 2 percent pay cut on state workers earning more than $45,000 was met with cheers from Democratic Senate leader Al Lawson of Tallahassee. He said Crist would look like "a hero." Crist said the veto would protect the economy by ensuring the 28,000 state workers who faced a pay cut would have more money to spend. To make up for the loss of the $56 million pay cut, Crist directed all state agencies to trim their budgets. Salaries could still be among the cuts.

...[T]he budget includes $2.2 billion in new fees and taxes. Much of the new revenue comes from a $1-a-pack cigarette tax and higher fees on driving licenses and motor vehicle tags. Those who use the court system, visit state parks and even those who fish from beaches and bridges will pay more in fees... Crist, who had repeatedly promised not to raise taxes, said Wednesday that the budget does not include "broad-based tax increases''-- even though fees for the 15.6 million Florida driver licenses and 18.8 million registered vehicles will rise.

Democrats, particularly in the House, assailed the tax hikes. They said Republicans did too little to close tax loopholes and made too many cuts to programs helping seniors and foster kids. "This budget was balanced on the backs of the middle class, the working men and women of our state," said Rep. Martin Kiar, D-Davie.

Democrats crowed that next year's budget will be propped up with $5.3 billion in federal stimulus money made available by a Democratic Congress and president. Without it, the state's $6 billion budget hole would have been far harder to fill. The current year budget is $69.5 billion, including $4 billion in stimulus money.

Crist and Republican legislators acknowledged that the federal money was a must. But they said they needed to raise other revenues, trim about $1 billion in spending and beef up savings to $1.7 billion to protect the state's bond rating and ensure there's enough cash in the bank if times toughen.

This is probably why Rubio doesn't have to play the closet queen card on Crist. He may be building himself up among more sensible mainstream voters but he's absolutely killing himself among the kinds of lunatic fringe sociopaths who still identify as Republicans. And these are the only people who would care that he's care-- and probably the least likely to care he's a hypocrite.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Who's Most Likely To Hide From The Press During The Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings?


My guess that those with the most to lose from a bitter battle over the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor are Republican Senate candidates, especially the ones in states that have a lot of women voters, moderate voters and Hispanic voters. That would be... all of them. Of the dozen states with the biggest Hispanic populations, only two-- New Jersey and New Mexico-- don't have Senate contests coming up next year. The others, along with their Hispanic populations:

California-- 12,146,508
Texas-- 8,269,407
Florida-- 3,300,333
New York-- 2,881,409
Arizona-- 1,711,429
Illinois-- 1,533,767
Colorado-- 918,899
North Carolina-- 571,307
Georgia-- 563,450
Pennsylvania-- 514,386

As Manu Raju mentioned in Politico today, "voting-age Hispanics represent about 29 percent of Texas’ population." Kay Bailey Hutchison is trying to transition from the Senate to the governor's chair-- and she's out ahead of the secessionist incumbent, Rick Perry, in the polling. But first she'll have to vote on the confirmation. Does she try to out-pander the secessionist or does she hope there are enough mainstream voters left willing to vote in the Texas Republican primary that it's worth voting to confirm? The Burnt Orange Report went over her dilemma earlier today. Are Republican primary voters of the same mind as Tom Tancredo who is, clearly out of his mind? Along with Hate Talk radio, Fox-News, Rove, and a tiny handful of deranged extremists, Tancredo is the face of the opposition to President Obama's nomination. This is what he told Rick Sanchez on CNN this afternoon: "If you belong to an organization called La Raza, in this case, which is, from my point of view anyway, nothing more than a Latino-- it’s a counterpart-- a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses." Jesus... this is what the Republican Party has come to!

Florida's Governor Charlie Crist doesn't have to vote for or against but he's being asked what he'd do by every reporter he comes in contact with. His far right opponent, Marco Rubio, isn't going to be accused of being anti-Hispanic for taking a Limbaughesque obstructionist position. Crist is between a rock and a hard right place though if he wants to persuade moderate voters and women voters that he's not going to go to DC and turn into another GOP zombie.

In Missouri Claire McCaskill has been forthright in her praise for the nominee: "She has accomplished great things in her life through the all-American values of discipline, hard work, and integrity. I'm especially glad she has experience as a courtroom prosecutor and a trial judge. There hasn't been a person with more experience nominated in decades. She will be a terrific Supreme Court justice." But it's the other Missouri seat that's open and it pits right-wing extremist congressman and tax-cheat Roy Blunt against Secretary of State Robin Carnahan-- who's way out ahead in the polls. Carnahan is likely to echo McCaskill on this while Blunt is more in tune with Limbaugh. His statement to the press, as he prepares for a tough primary battle against former state treasurer Sarah Steelman who is even further from the mainstream than Blunt. Basically, he's just a corrupt douchebag. She's a fringe maniac, who bills herself as a "Sarah Palin with a brain," and her campaign website looks like it was written by Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter. She's pointing her followers to this post from the Ayn Rand Center regarding the Sotomayor nomination.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor, recently nominated for the Supreme Court seat being vacated by the retiring Justice David Souter, is unqualified to become a member of the Court. Why? Because her judicial philosophy explicitly rejects objectivity and impartiality.

In a 2001 speech titled “A Latina Judge’s Voice,” she declared that “the aspiration to impartiality is just that-- it’s an aspiration because it denies the fact” that “our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions.” Elsewhere in the speech, she noted that judges are typically unable to “transcend … personal sympathies and prejudices” and that “gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging.” “There is no objective stance but only a series of perspectives,” Sotomayor said.

Referring repeatedly to her “Latina soul” and “Latina identity,” Sotomayor rejected the view often expressed by the Court’s first female Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, that “a wise old man and a wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases.” On the contrary, Sotomayor said, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

This is a blatant endorsement of subjective emotional decision-making, which has no place on the Court and will swiftly corrupt what’s left of its integrity. The Supreme Court has a solemn duty to interpret and apply the Constitution. That is an intellectual task requiring ruthless objectivity-- which, contrary to Judge Sotomayor, is not an illusory “aspiration” but a requirement of justice. A conscientious judge strives to banish all emotional influences from the decision-making process. But here is Judge Sotomayor declaring herself helpless to resist-- indeed, even welcoming-- the influence of personal intuitions that cannot be grasped or shared by persons of another gender or ethnicity.

She makes Blunt look almost mainstream in comparison: "The most important issue when considering a Supreme Court nominee is their judicial philosophy and whether they are an activist who would attempt to legislate from the bench, or a jurist who respects the authority of the Constitution. This nominee offers proper professional credentials and a compelling life story.  However, her view that judges should make policy raises a huge red flag. The U.S. Senate should neither pre-judge or pre-confirm, but thoughtfully, thoroughly and rigorously examine the record of this nominee to our nation's highest court." Remember, I said almost.

And then there's Blanche. Back to Politico. They point out that she's a top target for the NRSC, although the party doesn't have a serious candidate to run against her. They don't mention that working people and unions are starting to coalesce around the Green Party. What they do say is that "she is certain to hear the argument that Sotomayor’s positions fall outside of the mainstream of voters in her state. She could be given cover if Republicans join in support of Sotomayor; if not, she will certainly face enormous pressure from Republicans in Washington and back home to join in the opposition." And given the fact that she is easily the least courageous member of the Senate, a corrupt hack with no convictions about anything other than re-election, she'll go whichever way the pressure pushes her. What an embarrassment for Arkansas-- and they have two like this!

Rush To The Gutter:

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