Friday, April 30, 2010

63 Members Of Congress Want To End The Occupation Of Afghanistan


Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern introduced H.R. 5015 to "require a plan for the safe, orderly, and expeditious redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan." There are now 63 co-sponsors, predominantly Democrats but also including 3 Republicans-- Walter Jones (NC), John Duncan (TN) and Timothy Johnson (IL)-- and 5 Blue Dogs-- Kurt Schrader (OR), the duplicitous and cynical Jane Harman (CA), Mike Michaud (ME), Mike Thompson (CA), and Marion Berry (AR). Twenty-five of them signed on yesterday, signaling a huge uptick in momentum. The whole list is here.

I've noticed that virtually all the books Americans read about the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan ignore the Afghan individuals that are mentioned. We learn everything about the American decision makers and key operatives involved but the Afghans... you could read all the books and not know the difference between a scholar and a goat-fucker. BraveNewFilms' Rethink Afghanistan project is at least helping Americans get some kind of idea about Afghans as human beings.


Amazing funnyman Lee Camp thinks he's spotted a pattern running through the WV mine and LA oil-rig disasters


"I can't put my finger on it, but I think there's a pattern. Oh I know! Every time we deregulate -- something exciting happens!"

by Ken

It's been on my mind since the West Virginia mine disaster, when the first reports I heard, on NPR, referred to the mine company involved as having a "mixed" safety record. I wondered, what is a mixed safety record for a mining company? Some days nobody dies, and some days . . . well, what're you gonna do?

Before I had time to think much more about it, Howie already had a post up about the appalling safety record of Massey Energy and its safety-indifferent, union-sneering, judge-buying, Tea Party-promoting principal, Don Blankenship ("Another Tragic Consequence Of 8 Years Of Conservative Governance Unfolds In West Virginia," followed up on April 9 with "25 Miners Are Dead In West Virginia Because Rich Wingnut Mine Owner Only Abides By Laws He Approves Of"), and the rest of the progressive blogosphere was on the case. Soon the infotainment-news media were making vague references to Massey's problematic history, but it never became much of a story -- unlike, say, the right-wing smear campaign against ACORN, which the infotainers jumped into gleefully, never showing the slightest interest in the growing indication that it was mostly right-wing agitators doing what right wingers always seem to do these days: lying their incapable-of-truth heads off.

After the BP oil-rig collapse, I swear I actually heard some newshawker pass on the claim that there was supposedly no oil leaking out into the Gulf of Mexico. Now I'm no oil geologist or drilling expert, but when you have a rig on top of an undersea well and then no rig, stuff is going to keep coming out. Now we know that whatever ignorantly or intentionally underestimated count of the spillage was finally issued, the actual spillage is at least five times that, and as it may take 90 days yet to cap the well, the disaster is poised to overtake the Santa Barbara and Exxon Valdez spills.

This morning on the radio I heard former Louisiana Sen. Bennett Johnston* [UPDATE: there actually was a J. Bennett Johnston footnote in the original version of this post; I must have inadvertently lopped it off in the pasting process, but I think you get the idea without it] who I assume is now a (generously) paid shill for various energy interests, acknowledging that it's a disaster but venturing that we'll have to see just how bad it gets to know whether it will have any effect on public enthusiasm for drilling. Apparently a "mere" disaster that subsides may well be forgotten -- provided it doesn't turn into a catastrophe. Those catastrophes tend to linger in the public mind a little longer, sometimes with negative results.

Drill, baby, drill!

But again, there are some stories -- typically when they're regurgitating right-wing talking points -- when the infotainment-newsers automatically assume the worst, and others where they have to be dragged kicking and screaming into contact with reality. The Progress Report, in its typically thorough survey today of "An Oil-Driven Disaster," notes:
BP, which was in charge of operating the rig, has a history of fighting tough regulations and safety inspections, misleading federal authorities about the dangers of a potential oil spill, and actively advocating for more relaxed safety standards -- much like Massey Energy Co. repeatedly fought tougher regulation of mines.

Increasingly, it seems that we have to turn to comedians for tidings of the real world, as with the Lee Camp video above.

Longtime readers may recall a post of Lee's from Scholars and Rogues that we reprinted a couple of years ago: "How to win the Iraq war debate against your dumb friends," which included the dazzling image of then-President George W. Bush being "like a colorblind child with a Rubik's Cube." More recently we showed you the CIA-forged memo Lee had "found" which "proved" that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger -- and also the scrawled note from Chimpy the Prez to the CIA which set the forgery in motion.

It's been on my mind to find out more about Lee, and I finally seized the opportunity to catch an "encore performance" of a show he did originally last month as the basis for a new DVD, "Chaos for the Weary," at The Tank. (Ticket price: $5! And that included two talented opening acts, the arch singing duo God's Pottery, and the sketch comedy troupe Free Love Forum.)

At Lee's earlier show, the late George Carlin's daughter Kelly provided a remarkable introduction:
Since my dad died, I’ve been concerned about who’s going to keep the torch alive, who’s going to keep it lit. Three things about Lee really remind me of my father: One of which is that he’s a thinking person’s comic. Secondly, he may just piss you off a little. But the most important thing is that he’s really fucking funny.

No argument here, and the evocation of George Carlin, whom I once called here "the wisest funnyman alive" (while he still was), seems to me on the money. Lee is even more directly political, but like George he has an inspired sense of what it all means in human terms, and he's funny as anything. (His official bio begins, "Lee Camp is even funnier than that YouTube video you saw of that kitten watching a tennis match.")

You'll get a good flavor of the show I saw last night, except that the energy level last night was way higher, with an audience that was hanging on, and slayed by, every word. In print Lee comes across as remarkably clear and lucid; in performance he, well, gives one hell of a performance. Of course the same thing was true of George Carlin, who was a dazzlingly lucid writer but also a commanding performer.

I was only sorry that after the show I couldn't find where those copies of "the old DVD" Lee had told us about were being sold. There seemed to be a lot more interest in the cookies that I gather his wife had baked. I also felt bad because there was an easy opportunity to say hello to Lee, who was in the lobby with hardly anyone around him. Only I couldn't think of anything non-imbecilic to say. I'm sure he wouldn't have minded if I had told him how brilliant I thought the show was. But I figured he had to know that. Anyway, he had done his job, giving that amazing hour's performance. And I had done my job, laughing my head off and clapping.

Of course I could have asked him about buying the DVD. I guess now I'll just have to wait for the new one.

"We're fine with it. We like it." (There's more from the Comic Strip Live gig here.)

- - - - - - - - - - - - -
*A page on the website of D.C. lobbywhores Steptoe & Johnson LLP brags that --
Senator J. Bennett Johnston, through a strategic alliance between his firm, Johnston & Associates and Steptoe & Johnson LLP provides key legislative and public policy advice to clients of the Government Affairs & Public Policy practice at Steptoe. Senator Johnston is not an employee of Steptoe. His services are offered to firm clients as part of the strategic alliance.
And after running through his illustrious four-term Senate career as a zealous reactionary and energy-industry whore, it notes:
Since his departure from the Senate, the Senator has remained actively involved in energy and other matters on behalf of numerous multinational corporations and other interests. He has served on the boards of Chevron, Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold, URS, and Columbia Energy Group.

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Do American Conservatives Fear And Hate Hispanics?


Conservatives, at least in polite company, say they don't hate Hispanics, despite an ugly barrage of the most incredible and vicious hate spewing out of the right-wing radio channels. (Here in L.A. two of the worst racists polluting the airwaves, John and Ken, are going to be broadcasting from Phoenix in honor of SB 1070.) If Rachel hasn't convinced you they're lying (above), perhaps the votes in the House yesterday regarding the future political status of Puerto Rico will. In fact, the House only dealt with one issue yesterday-- Puerto Rico. There were a dozen votes, starting at just before 1pm, when every single Republican voted against even allowing for a debate and all the Democrats (minus 11 reactionary Blue Dogs who tend to vote with the GOP as a default position: Boren, Childers, Donnelly, Giffords from Arizona, Hill, Kirkpatrick from Arizona, Kratovil, Minnick, Mitchell from Arizona, Nye, Taylor and 6 pro-Puerto Rican congressmen who refuse to compromise on any of the issues) voted to go forward. After a solid day of right-wing obstructionism, the bill passed 223-169, 39 Republicans abandoning their racist leadership (including, oddly enough, 2 of their racist leaders-- Cantor and Pence!) and 40 Democrats crossing in the opposite direction. The bill nearly died with a motion to recommit, which passed with only 4 votes to spare, only 6 Republicans voting to keep it alive. So, of the 39 Republicans who eventually voted with the Puerto Rican people, 33 of them tried to kill the bill on a procedural measure (including Pence and Cantor by the way).

So what were they fighting over all day? Here's the official summary of the bill (which was sponsored by Rep. Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico, a non-voting member of Congress) and to which the GOP tried, but failed to force the English language and guns onto Puerto Rico:
Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009 - Authorizes the government of Puerto Rico: (1) to conduct a plebiscite giving voters the option to vote to continue Puerto Rico's present political status or to have a different political status; (2) if a majority of ballots favor continuing the present status, to conduct additional such plebiscites every eight years; and (3) if a majority of ballots favor having a different status, to conduct a plebiscite on the options of becoming fully independent from the United States, forming with the United States a political association between sovereign nations that will not be subject to the Territorial Clause of the Constitution, or being admitted as a state of the Union.

Again, what were conservatives so scared about yesterday? According to the right-wing Heritage Foundation, "the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, contains language that will rig the election in favor of Puerto Rican statehood." Glenn Beck has been screaming and weeping about it all week and the teabaggers seem to have found yet another cause célèbre to be poutraged about.
There is a bill to make Puerto Rico a state. Again, they are trying to pull one over on us and on Puerto Ricans, who have consistently said they do not want to become a state. Read below for more information (from Eagle Forum). This was also discussed by Rep Tom Price on a conference call yesterday.

Please consider this:

* The U.S. would transform, overnight, into a bilingual nation. At least half of Puerto Ricans do not speak English, the language of our U.S. Constitution and founding documents. The Washington Times article, “Puerto Rican statehood,” analyzes all the implications of adding a foreign language-speaking state to the Union.

* It would bring immediate demands for massive federal spending. The average income of Puerto Ricans is less than half that of our poorest state, and infrastructure and the environment are far below American standards. Puerto Rico has a population with a median national income of $17,741, nearly a third of that for the U.S.

* Puerto Rico is already a democracy. Despite the bill’s deceptive title, Puerto Rico already has an elected government and exists as a self-governed commonwealth of the U.S.

* Statehood would give Puerto Rico more congressional representation than 25 of our 50 states! It would inevitably give Democrats two additional U.S. Senators and 6 to 8 additional Members of the House.

H.R. 2499 is stealth legislation designed to lead to the admission of Spanish-speaking Puerto Rico as the 51st state, thereby making us a de facto bilingual nation, like Canada. The U.S. Congress should not be forcing Puerto Ricans to vote on statehood, especially since the Puerto Rican people have rejected statehood three times since 1991!

No Member of Congress who describes himself as a limited government, fiscal conservative should be casting a YEA vote for H.R. 2499, as Puerto Rican statehood would cause an immediate increase in federal expenditures, particularly for taxpayer-funded welfare state services.

Is Ted Poe (R-TX) a racist? Yesterday he asked why the United States could prevent "illegal grasshoppers" from entering the country, but couldn't capture much bigger illegal immigrants before they crossed the border. What about Duncan Hunter (R-CA), a chronic alcoholic who often shows up for work drunk on his ass? He's pushing a bill to deport U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. The hell with the Constitution; Hunter says he's "not being mean. We're just saying it takes more than walking across the border to become an American citizen. It's what's in our souls." Quick, someone call Ratzinger to have him do a test on everyone.

Steve King of Iowa is acknowledged as being one of the worst racists in America (as well as certifiably insane) and he isn't taking part in the boycott of Arizona businesses Cold Stone Creamery and U-Haul (or of the poor Brooklyn business unfortunately named AriZona Ice Tea). And here he was on the floor of the House yesterday, advocating for keeping Puerto Rico in what amounts to a colonial status:

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Congress Can't Be Trusted To Regulate Congress-- Especially When It Comes To Money Flowing In Their Direction


It's cool that Feingold, Schumer, Wyden, Bayh is-- yeah, yeah, I'm being a wiseguy-- introducing The Disclose Act in the Senate while the even less trustworthy conglomerate Van Hollen, Castle, Jones, Brady introduces the same legislation in the House. (At least the House guys found a couple Republicans; the senators tried and failed with portends poorly for effective reform.)

The bills are an attempt to address the runaway activist Supreme Court's over-the-top, narrow corporate ruling called Citizens United and the senators and congressmen worked with the Obama administration on the bill. Since everyone concerned is in business-- if not bed-- with the crooked corporations they have licensed to own the government, the whole thing is a tad awkward. But short of shooting the entire corporate-governing elite and starting over again fresh, this is probably the best we can expect. Since the Republicans are already opposing it, there must be a preponderence of beneficial effects in it.

The 4 senators announced it-- in what passes for staged Beltway drama-- from the steps of the Supreme Court. Of course, no one called out Alito, Roberts, Thomas and Scalia for being entirely owned subsidiaries of Corporate America. Here's some of the stuff the offices of the senators sent out:
The lawmakers said their goal is for the Senate to pass the new measure by July 4 so the law can take effect in time for the 2010 midterm elections.

The legislation is a response to the Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case last January. That decision overturned a decades-old law banning political expenditures by corporate interests. The new Senate legislation would partly restore those limits – by barring foreign-controlled corporations, government contractors and companies that have received government assistance from making political expenditures-- and also require corporations, unions, and other organizations that make political expenditures to disclose their donors and stand by their ads.

The legislation is dubbed the “Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections” Act, or The DISCLOSE Act.

Senator Schumer said: “At a time when the public's fears about the influence of special interests were already high, the Court’s decision stacks the deck against the average American even more. Our bill will follow the money. In cases where corporations try to mask their activities through shadow groups, we drill down so that ultimate funder of the expenditure is disclosed. If we don’t act quickly to confront this ruling, we will have let the Supreme Court predetermine the outcome of next November’s elections. It won’t be Republicans or Democrats; it will be Corporate America and other special interests.”

...Senator Franken said: “Citizens United was an incredible act of judicial activism. It turned back a century of federal law, and it nullified Minnesota’s twenty-year-old ban on corporate spending in elections. The DISCLOSE Act will make sure that voters and shareholders know who is funding election advertising. My provisions make sure that American-based subsidiaries controlled by foreign companies or governments won’t ever spend money on Minnesota or federal elections. Minnesota’s elections should be controlled by Minnesotans.”

Under the senators’ proposal, the heads of any organization sponsoring an ad-- including corporate CEOs-- would be required to appear during the ad, as is currently required of candidates for federal office. In cases where special interests funnel their money into shell groups, the top five organizations that have donated to the group would have to be identified on screen during any ad sponsored by that group. The CEO of the group’s top funder for that particular advertisement would also be required to appear on screen to deliver a “stand by your ad” disclaimer.
Also, the bill would effectively require, for the first time, all corporations and advocacy groups that make political expenditures to establish easy-to-track campaign accounts. All donations to these accounts that exceed $1,000-- as well as all expenditures funded through these accounts-- would be reported within 24 hours to the Federal Election Commission once the money is spent, as well as to the public on the organization’s website, and to company shareholders in their corporate filing statements. If a company or organization did not wish to establish these transparent accounts, it would be required to disclose all its donors, not just those whose contributions are earmarked for political activities.
The legislation will also strengthen a candidate’s ability to respond to corporate attack ads by ensuring they can purchase air time at the lowest possible rate in the same media markets where these attacks ads are airing. The bill would also make sure that private corporations don’t coordinate their political activities with candidates.

Is this stuff important? Most people think so. Yesterday The Progressive published a piece by Ruth Conniff that proves how important-- and how urgent-- it is... and perhaps how inadequate the legislation is, especially if this is the starting point from which the crooks like McConnell, McCain, McClintock, McHenry, McCaul, McCotter, McMorris, McKeon, McCarthy and McDuck will begin the whittling down process-- or what they call compromise-- to remove anything that could actually be remotely beneficial before they vote against it... leaving the happy, smiley, retarded Democrats with another shitty bill they will try to use to show how accomplished they are.
Of all the devious tricks practiced by the financial industry-- hidden fees, usurious interest rates, and incomprehensible contracts that take advantage of consumers-- the campaign strategy for 2010 has to rank right up there.
As the banks begin pouring cash into Congressional elections, they are targeting members of Congress who support consumer protections that could cut into their bottom line.

But here is the kicker: Opponents of financial reform are tarring members of Congress who want to regulate the banks as tools of Wall Street. This Orwellian tactic is designed to confuse voters. In effect, the banks are running against themselves. Look for lots of ads that tie reform legislation to “bailouts,” “fat cats,” “Wall Street,” and “lobbyists.”

“The banks are going to be huge players in the 2010 elections,” says Mary Bottari, director of the Center for Media and Democracy’s Real Economy Project and editor of the website In Massachusetts, she points out, the financial services industry dumped $450,000 into Scott Brown’s race for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, helping Brown to win as a crusader against Wall Street, even as he opposed such basic reforms as a tax on banks to help pay back the bailout.

In January and February she began tracking deceptive ads targeting Democrats in ten states that tie bank reform legislation to “Wall Street bailouts.”

One such television ad in Montana urges voters to contact Senator Jon Tester and tell him to oppose a “$4 trillion bailout” for Wall Street.

The ad, paid for by a group called the Committee for Truth in Politics, begins with ominous music as words appear on a black screen:

“Fat cat lobbyists. Special interests. Lining their pockets at our expense. HR 4173 already passed in the U.S. House.” Photos of House Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank flash past. More words appear: “Soon to be considered in the Senate.” Photos of Harry Reid and Chris Dodd standing beside Frank and Pelosi pop up, followed by pictures that move almost too fast to follow: Wall Street, wads of cash, a man smoking a cigar and two men in suits shaking hands in front of the White House, scenes of people out of work, the word “foreclosure” and the figure $4,000,000,000,000. Then more words appear: “The Big Bank Bailout Bill. Lobbyists and Bureaucrats. They play. We pay.” (Photos of ordinary Americans.) “More taxes. Spending. Debt.” (A beleaguered-looking citizen in reading glasses, apparently doing his taxes.) “Call Your Senators” (phone numbers for Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester). “We won’t be fooled again. EVER.”

In the wake of the financial collapse, it’s no surprise to see political ads that focus on Wall Street and bank bailouts. But wait a minute. HR 4173, also known as the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, is the House bill designed to end bank bailouts and create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Watchdog Elizabeth Warren has said she is “delighted” with the bill.

And Jon Tester, the Montana Senator who is one of the ad’s main targets, is the only Senate Democrat who voted against the Wall Street bailout and the auto industry bailout.

Tester also authored the Credit CARD Act, which includes such consumer-friendly features as a ban on interest rate hikes for customers who are less than sixty days late paying their credit card bills, and requirements that credit card companies mail out statements earlier, give more notice of fee changes, and make other important information more readily available to consumers.

“I can see why some folks with a lot of money to burn don’t want this bill to pass,” Tester says of the companion legislation to HR 4173 he has been working on in the Senate Banking Committee. “They don’t want it to pass because it finally puts referees on Wall Street.”

The financial reform legislation in the House and Senate would, besides establishing a consumer protection agency, limit the Fed’s authority to pursue future bailouts and empower the government to shut down institutions that overextend themselves through risky financial dealings.

But lately, Tester’s staff has been fielding hundreds of calls from constituents who have been contacted by phone with a recorded message from the Committee for Truth in Politics and then directly connected to Tester’s office, where they are urged to demand that the Senator vote against the “$4 trillion bank bailout.”

“Many callers were relieved-- and confused-- to learn that Wall Street reform is not a bailout,” Tester says.

And then there's that whole revolving door thing between Capitol Hill and Wall Street. 71% of all lobbyists hired in 2009 by the six largest banks have come from either Capitol Hill or the Administration. No surprises here, but the senator with the most former staffers working as lobbyists for these big banks is Max Baucus, the crooked and drunken Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Concerned about seeing their huge profits cut, six big banks are leading the charge to weaken or block new financial regulations being considered in the United States Senate. To push their cause these banks have hired 145 former government officials–congressmen, staffers and executive branch officials–to lobby on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch.

The top six bank holding companies engaged in lobbying on financial regulation include Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, these banks spent a combined total of $23.8 million lobbying Washington in 2009.

Former government officials accounted for seventy-one percent of all lobbyists hired in 2009 by these six banking companies. The company with the highest percentage of former government officials working as lobbyists is Goldman Sachs. Eighty-two percent of the lobbyists hired by Goldman Sachs previously worked in government.

The DISCLOSE Act is a baby step in the right direction-- all this fucked up, compromised, bribed Congress seems capable of. Why is it, for example, that only corporations with more than 20% foreign ownership are banned from political advertising? Why not 5%? Why not 1%? The cowardly Congress, afraid of their campaugn donors and afraid of their constituents, are, alas, much more afraid of teir campaign donors, and their ability to persuade their constituents of anything they decide to spend enough money on. They need to keep in mind this polling data from February about how Americans feel about the Citizens United decision:
• 78% believe that corporations should be limited in how much they can spend to influence elections, and 70% believe they already have too much influence over elections

• 82% support limits on electioneering by government contractors, and 87% support limits on bailout recipients

• 85% support a complete ban on electioneering by foreign corporations

• 75% believe that a publicly traded company should get shareholder approval before spending money in an election

• 69% think that the President, in the event of a Supreme Court vacancy, should nominate a Justice who supports limits on corporate spending in elections

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In Your Ideal Society Who Gets The Most Status, An Educator Or An Athlete?-- Guest Post From Fred Johnson, Michigan Congressional Candidate


I want to introduce you to a great congressional candidate from western Michigan who I've been talking with on the phone, Fred Johnson. People in Michigan's second district, from his hometown in Holland through Grand Haven, Muskegon, Ludington and out to Cadillac, don't need the introduction. They know Fred, at least, because of the spirited race he ran against entrenched incumbent Pete Hoekstra in 2008, garnering nearly 120,000 votes. This year Hoekstra is off on a quest for higher office and the GOP is likely to nominate a lunatic fringe extremist for his seat. Fred's got a much better chance to win in November than he did in 2008. There are a number of facets to Fred's life that make his candidacy so compelling-- from his international expertise to his service as a U.S. Marine officer, to the authoring of the most valuable book on the life of... Tupac, Tupac Shakur: The Life And Times Of An American Icon. But what I asked him to post about today was something I felt was most essential, American education policy, not surprising for a man who has devoted his life to teaching. So from a Ph.D., a professor and an inspiring congressional candidate whose two favorite Tupac songs are "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted" & "Brenda's Got A Baby," a guest post:
If only people in the U.S. could be as serious about funding and supporting education as they are about shoveling money into the pockets of professional athletes and team owners. For the last decade or more, Americans have watched with growing alarm and frustration the mounting struggles in the nation’s classrooms. Unfunded mandates like the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind wreaked havoc upon public schools. This program, another one in a series of “silver bullet” quick fixes, continued a long process of hollowing out (or eliminating) subjects like Art, Music, Physical Education, Geography, and Languages which educators had long identified as critical in the learning process. Worried parents demanded action and accountability from public officials who routinely deflected the angst with new initiatives that generated more spin than results. But for all of the public outcry and political bluster, Americans have demonstrated time and again that they are more willing to enrich those who make their living playing games rather than supporting those dedicated to educating the nation’s future. The late 1990s insanity in which the citizens of Cleveland, Ohio were bamboozled by Cleveland Brown’s owner Art Modell and co-opted by the Cleveland Indians baseball team offers a classic case.

Modell’s Stadium Corporation had paid the city of Cleveland $1 per year since 1973 to lease Cleveland Stadium. The revenues streams generated from renting suites and scoreboard advertising boosted profits to celestial heights. The management of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, which also played at Cleveland Stadium, wanted a share in those profits since substantial revenues were produced during baseball games. Modell refused. Indians’ management took their cause to the public and convinced city and county officials to build them a new facility by imposing a “sin tax” on alcohol and tobacco. After much wrangling, the tax passed by a close vote of 193,390 to 185,209 and the new stadium, Jacobs Field (named after team owner Dave Jacobs and eventually renamed Progressive Field) was constructed.

Modell’s revenue intake dropped subsequent to the departure of the Indians from Cleveland Stadium. Those were losses he refused to endure so he asked the voters for $175 million to refurbish and modernize the decaying facility. On November 7, 1995, with one of the most challenged school systems in the nation, and even after Modell’s announcement on November 6 that he had signed a deal to move the Browns to Baltimore the following year, the people of Cleveland, Ohio voted by a significant margin to provide public funds for Modell’s stadium remodeling project. Following the success of Modell’s tactics, cities like Detroit and Baltimore, both reputed to have some of the most dismal educational performance in the nation, agreed to construct new sports facilities with public funds in order to keep their teams from relocating. Other cities like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis, each with their own respective fiscal woes relative to education, also surrendered to the extortion.

Over ten years later, American educators are now scrambling to qualify for funds offered by the federal government’s Race to the Top initiative. Elected officials at all levels of government profess limitless devotion to the nation’s children and future while simultaneously vilifying their teachers for not being able to squeeze more academic water from their budgetary stones. Those officials have also rushed to join the chorus of teacher bashing since educators are a far more accessible and less dangerous target than companies outsourcing jobs overseas, powerful Wall Street interests, environmental polluters, and the scads of lobbyists who prowl the halls of Congress. A relentless campaign from numerous media outlets has succeeded in turning a once honored profession into being perceived as a last chance destination for those whose limited competency will not allow for much else.

The demands for excellence, dedication, and proficiency that citizens and their elected officials rightfully expect of educators and what they are willing to invest in education are chasms apart. But those great gaps of reality do not exist when those same citizens and elected officials are confronted with a choice to financially coddle sports franchises and professional athletes. The predicament presents a cognitive dissonance that’s so obvious it should defy the necessity of being mentioned. Nevertheless, Americans seem mystified that vast numbers of beleaguered and berated educators are not consistently producing more intellectual miracles in their crumbling facilities and environments which often require metal detectors and security guards. People who themselves would not tolerate such underpaid wages and conditions seem generally puzzled by the growing trend for young people to choose professions other than teaching. The increased “importation” of teachers from overseas to fill a growing U.S. teacher shortage does not strike educational critics as a situation that constitutes a crisis.

Conversely, the crisis events that took place in Cleveland, Ohio relative to the Browns’ 1996 move to Baltimore required little explanation. Normally tax-averse citizens responded with faithful urgency to keep their beloved Browns in Cleveland. As they cast their votes, much of the city’s educational infrastructure was crumbling around its teachers and students. The message from Cleveland and other cities across the land was plain enough: Americans place more value on those who play games for a living than those entrusted with educating the nation’s future

The protests of public officials, worried parents, and opportunistic opponents of public schools will ring hollow until Americans are willing to put up or shut up. A nation that prefers paying exorbitant salaries to athletes for playing games while allowing its teaching professionals to languish beneath opprobrium, economic distress, and constant curriculum experimentation from ill-informed (indeed, often barely informed) policymakers cannot legitimately claim its grave concern for a democratic future.

I hope you read that and had a chance to think about it a bit, not just on its wonderful face value but in terms of how much Congress would have to gain for someone like Fred Johnson, rather than another bumbling ex-athlete like Steve Largent, Jim Bunning or Heath Shuler-- like, for example, retired Bills and Steelers tight end Jay Riemersma. If you think Fred's is a voice that should be a part of the national dialogue, please consider donating to his campaign through ActBlue.      


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Thursday, April 29, 2010

What Are Republicans Doing Behind Closed Doors?


I don't watch much TV but I do watch a lot of YouTubes everyday. Although this Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell/Velvet Underground mashup was a close second, my favorite video today-- music included-- was this political thriller called Behind Closed Doors:

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Jane Harman's Deception Blows Up In Her Face Again


It's hard to see the numbers on my house because there's a gigantic rhododendron growing down the side of the wall covering the address. I don't care; I hope no one bothers me. But these days everyone knows it's my house because there's a great big "Jobs Not Wars" Marcy Winograd sign out front.

Marcy's was the very first campaign endorsed by Blue America this year, and so far 817 netroots donors have contributed to her through Blue America '10, Bad Dogs and our Sending The Democrats A Message page. To us her race is iconic-- a way of holding a faithless corporate shill accountable and replacing her with someone we expect to be as vital to progressive politics as past Blue America endorsees Alan Grayson and Donna Edwards (our greatest hits).

Marcy e-mailed me after the California Democratic Party convention to let me know what happened there. The video above pertains to her run-in with Harman, described in her e-mail:
It happened unexpectedly at the Progressive Caucus meeting at the California Democratic Party convention when a panel was convened to discuss the fate of our nation. I spoke, then left, then got a cell phone call: "Get back here. Jane Harman just arrived." I ran back downstairs, returned to the crowded room, and quietly sat down, unbeknownst to Jane, just three bodies down from her on the panel. I waited for her to finish her thought, then jumped in. Jane stuck around for about 15 minutes, but when talk turned to the Middle East she made a break for the door and disappeared. [The second part of the video shows] what went down before she fled. I had been clamoring for a debate with Harman for four years, but she always refused, even when a rabbi offered his 800-seat sanctuary for the venue.
Instead, Harman just spreads her money around-- she and Darrell Issa are the two wealthiest members of the House-- and hopes that will buy her enough loyalty from enough places to allow her to keep her seat. She even got a somewhat addled leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to endorse her, something that ruined the poor woman's standing in the progressive community forever. And Harman has used that endorsement to try to mislead progressives into thinking she's changed her wicked ways. 

Rebecca Griffin is the Political Director of Peace Action West, another organization dedicated to peace that has been appalled by Harman and is eager to help replace her with Marcy Winograd. Rebecca was especially incensed because Harman tried to deceive California voters into thinking Peace Action supports her. She sent me this post for DWT.
Harman Tries To Use Peace Action To Bolster Flimsy Progressive Record

Facing a tenacious primary challenge from progressive Marcy Winograd, Jane Harman (CA-36), who once described herself as “the best Republican in the Democratic Party,” has been frantically trying to burnish her progressive credentials. This dynamic was on full display at the California Democratic Party Convention, where Winograd successfully gathered the necessary signatures to pull Harman’s pre-endorsement and force a vote on the floor of the convention. In an attempt to appeal to the party base, Harman published a glossy brochure touting her progressive record, leading with a photo of her with progressive antiwar leader Rep. Lynn Woolsey. The entire document is clearly designed to push a narrative that Winograd’s challenge is unnecessary because Harman is already so progressive. You can download a (roughly scanned) pdf of the brochure here

The part that caught my eye is the table of lawmaker ratings in her pamphlet that misleadingly includes a rating of 82 from Peace Action. It’s an odd record to campaign on in 2010, since the 82 rating comes from votes that occurred in 2007 (pdf). So what’s her most recent score? A whopping 50 percent. As staunch supporters of Marcy Winograd’s campaign to unseat Harman, we want to make sure voters in her district are getting the whole story. 

At best, Rep. Harman, a member of the conservative Blue Dog caucus that has notoriously watered down progressive initiatives,  has been a fair-weather liberal. Her pro-war record has made foreign policy one of the major points of contention with progressives. The 82 rating in 2007 came after Harman had been hammered for years for her early support of the war in Iraq, and it was politically safer for her to vote in favor of a timeline for withdrawal and speak out against the surge. Notably, she voted that year against a resolution that would have prohibited funding for military action against Iran without prior congressional approval, a sign that she has not learned important lessons about congressional oversight from the war in Iraq. 

It’s true that in recent months Rep. Harman has been expressing skepticism about the war in Afghanistan, and for that she should be commended. [Talk is cheap, and Harman is a notorious liar, widely considered the least dependable member of Congress when it comes to her word-- Editor.] But a glance at her record still makes it abundantly clear that people who want a reliable, progressive voice for peace in Congress should vote for Marcy Winograd. 

Her reckless and hawkish voting record doesn’t end with Iraq. Since the Harman campaign published their brochure, The Hill (the source for the lawmaker rating tables) has updated their website to reflect Harman’s latest score on her voting record. After eight years of the Bush administration’s disastrous foreign policy, Harman delivered voters hungry for change an abysmal record for a so-called progressive. Harman voted in favor of dangerous unilateral sanctions on Iran that won’t change the Iranian regime’s behavior and are likely to backfire and hurt the Iranian people who are fighting for their democratic rights. She supported a resolution condemning the even-handed report on the invasion of Gaza by Zionist and renowned human rights investigator Richard Goldstone. She voted to spend billions of dollars on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when there was little sign that the military-dominated approach in Afghanistan would net any positive results for US and Afghan security. 

But the voting record only tells part of the story. Jane Harman was a cheerleader for invading Iraq when the American people needed politicians who were willing to ask the hard questions and call foul on the Bush administration’s reckless drive to war. There were plenty of politicians-- and ordinary Americans-- who didn’t need years of hindsight to realize that was a mistake. 

Perhaps most chilling has been her fear-mongering and aggressive rhetoric on Iran. At last year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, Harman encouraged the fomenting of ethnic tension in Iran to destabilize the regime (she later apologized after being slammed by the Iranian-American community). She called for a “limited window” of engagement, and if that was unsuccessful, military action should be on the table. This is a recipe for war. Nobody expects a short attempt at diplomatic engagement with an arbitrary deadline to address decades of tension between the US and Iran. Harman’s support for harsh sanctions, saber-rattling and keeping military action on the table are a disaster waiting to happen. 

Then there is the story of Rep. Harman’s defense of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, full of screenplay-ready ironic plot twists. Rep. Harman was a champion for warrantless wiretapping, going so far as to encourage the New York Times to suppress the story before the 2004 election—a time when that news could have had a serious impact on Bush’s reelection campaign. Then in 2009 the story broke that her phone was wiretapped, and she was caught in a shady conversation with a suspected Israeli agent. Suddenly, she was opposed to wiretapping. Caught on tape, she was overheard telling the suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two former officials for AIPAC, in exchange for their help in securing the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. At the end of the discussion, she reportedly said, “This conversation doesn’t exist.” At the time of the phone call, the FBI had enough information to warrant an investigation, but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales quashed the investigation because he needed Harman’s help defending the warrantless wiretapping program.
Voters should not be fooled by attempts to put a progressive sheen on a hawkish foreign policy record. People in the 36th Congressional District who want a true progressive foreign policy leader who will speak out against unnecessary wars before they start, will oppose wasting billions of dollars on military pork, and will vote with progressives 100 percent of the time on issues of war and peace should choose Marcy Winograd on June 8th. Click here to donate to Marcy’s campaign.

Oh, and by the way, no one's ever seen this clip before today:

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Why I'd Still Hold My Nose And Vote For Meek


Kendrick Meek is far from my idea of a good candidate. The Florida Democratic braintrust picked him not to win but to turn out the African-American base for other Democrats up and down the ticket. I hope their gamble pays off and no one pays too much attention to what a weak and corrupt figure Meek is and how unworthy he is to have ever gone beyond the state legislature.

So I'm joining Howard Dean in supporting Charlie Crist now, right? No, wrong. First of all, that whole Howard Dean thing was just some silliness pushed out through never reliable right-wing propaganda channels. And second, no matter how bad Meek will be as a senator, he'll always be much better than Charlie Crist.

As a Brookings study released earlier today showed: "In both the House and the Senate, the most conservative Democrat is more liberal than is the most liberal Republican." Judging by their respective records, Crist is unlikely to be the most liberal Republican and Meek, though not a leader, will be far from the most conservative Democrat. He may not be my idea of a decent Rep for a rock-solid Democratic congressional district-- and he's almost as sleazy as his mentor Debbie Wasserman Schultz-- but he's never going to be like Blanche Lincoln or Ben Nelson or Evan Bayh. He's basically a moderate who does what he's told. And Crist is a deceitful-- let's face it, by their nature all closet queens are instinctually-- and opportunistic hack.

Even before the announcement today, Crist's campaign started giving "partial refunds" to angry Republican donors. (Cornyn wants his money back too; I bet he wishes he had never persuaded Crist to run, let alone crowned him the GOP candidate.) This morning Chris Cillizza asked the question I've been tweeting for two weeks:
Which side will he caucus with if elected?: Crist is almost certain to deflect this question, which will be asked of him repeatedly if he goes independent. But, his side-stepping won't stop it from being asked until it's answered. While a governor can get away with avoiding party labels-- the essence of the job is competency and accomplishments not partisanship-- a Senator simply cannot. Federal races are, by their very nature, far more partisan affairs and it's impossible for any candidate to avoid answering the question of which side they will caucus with if they get elected. Crist will undoubtedly cast his decision as a sort of "pox on both your houses" choice but, at the end of the day, there is no independent caucus. (The two elected independents-- Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont both caucus with Democrats.) Crist is almost certain to have to choose a side and, in so doing, runs the risk of losing votes-- no matter which side he picks.

Cillizza was writing in the context of winning the race. I was tweeting away furiously in the context of what Senator Crist would do in regard to actually caucusing. Could he really ever do anything else other than revert to habit and pop back out of the closet as a 100% bona fide Republican, albeit a sometimes slightly moderate one (relatively speaking)? I don't think so-- which is why I'd vote for Meek, no matter how distasteful that choice is.

The idea of Charlie Crist running against the system is a bit bizarre but he did make his announcement-- late, which for Crist is anything but bizarre-- and he said, "Our political system is broken... I believe in democracy and the right to choose." Most of the framing so far is that he's an opportunist and this is all about "me, me, me." Well, he's a politician, so that isn't saying much.

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T-Shirt Logo Contest: Think of a Clothing Label That’s the OPPOSITE of Members Only 


-by Doug Kahn

I really don’t know what to say to people here. I never ‘got’ this place, and now it seems beyond reason. Being quiet isn’t going to work out for me anymore; I think we all have to speak out now. I don’t want anyone who looks at me even once to think I go along with this racist bullshit and the stupid white men who’ve propagated the whole deal. I rave on and on in my posts on DWT, but out in public I don’t talk much, so my clothes have to say something that’s clear and direct.
I just ironed this onto a t-shirt: Undocumented. And Don’t Even THINK About Asking.
True, since my Florida Driver’s License isn’t valid proof of legal-ness under SB 1070. And I hope I have the moxie to say no if asked for my identification. 

What about: If You Liked Ernst Röhm, You’ll Love Joe Arpaio? Although it seems the de facto operational boss of the MCSO is David Hendershott, or as the Phoenix New Times calls him, Jabba the Hendershott. The police official I can’t get out of my mind is Henderson, the detective who hounds Harpo and Chico Marx and Allan Jones after they’re caught impersonating the bearded aviator brothers in A Night at the Opera. He introduces himself to Groucho as “Henderson, Plainclothesman.” Groucho: “Oh? You look more like an old clothes man to me.” 

Hendershott is pictured way at the bottom on assignment in Honduras, where Arpaio’s goons had an alliance with the National Police until 2008, when it was revealed that the MCSO has spent something over $300,000 building a friendship clubhouse and setting up an facial-recognition computer database that no one can seem to find. $120,000 went to a pal of Hendershott’s, someone who vacationed with him in Beijing, China.
Or: Papers? We Don’t Need No Stinking Papers. (Mexican actor Alfonso Bedoya spoke the original line in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.) 

It should be subtle, but I lack subtlety. I know I shouldn’t emulate the contrary, I’m-proud-of-being-an-ignorant-jerk, ruling-class-white-guy attitude that has spawned the recent idiocies around here. (A bumper sticker I’ve seen more than once here sums it up: How’s My Driving? Dial 1-800-Eat-Shit.) Intelligent, resolute, critical, ought to spring to mind when reading. Help me out with an idea, please. The email address here is I promise to send a t-shirt to anyone coming up with a motto that I use.
The very first time I visited, I realized Scottsdale was a cosmopolitan destination. If the White is Right and Brown is Down law actually goes into effect, expect loads of stories about wealthy furriners with tans getting hauled off for not speaking English while driving expensive cars. Of course, it’s also a winter destination for golfers from all over, and for lots of wealthy people from the midwest, from Minnesota to Missouri. (That’s the midwest, isn’t it? Not sure.)
It’s car country; the nation’s largest and richest classic car auction (Barrett-Jackson) takes place here every June. It’s fairly flat, 5 million people are spread out over the desert (and some hills) among 3 mountain ranges, and you need a car. In Scottsdale you see lots of sports cars with ragtops protecting the chrome-domes and blue hair of the retired, monster SUVs (a stand-out moronic heap is the Navigator, 3+ tons of Lincoln) and high-hundreds-model BMWs. The local he-morons drive pick-ups that you can’t see around or over, also the retro-Charger that’s so not-1970-looking (it doesn’t look like any year of the original Charger) that the stupidity of it nauseates me. I believe the point of the styling is that it hunkers down and looks like it’s about to grunt.  

I already knew it was a Red state, so when I got here I was surprised to see the Governor was a Single Woman. Campaigns were publicly financed! I imagined this to be the result of a backlash against the corruption of past Republican governors, not a state trending Blue. Many of my growing-up years were spent in a backwater Florida town. I know what an atmosphere of racism feels like, and that’s how it feels here.
Local Democrats had been expecting to make gains in the Legislature in 2008, but we lost seats instead. I took a cursory look at some of the unexpected defeats, and they were at least partially due to the recent development of ways to cheat the public finance system by using private money to pay for off-the-books employees and consultants, combined with inflation-driven erosion of the purchasing power of the public subsidy. (The US Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United ruling just about destroys the system anyway, so what the hell.) I agree most with the analysis that says that the big problem was redneck turnout driven by the anti-LGBT initiative that was on the ballot.
The politics of Arizona won’t change until the younger generation (a lot of it Hispanic) gets older and registers and/or votes more consistently. If national organizations want to help out, what’s needed is a massive voter registration project driven by outside money. Don’t expect the State Democratic Party to get it done; for one thing, it’s the Usual Gang of Idiots, feuding over who gets to be the top ant on a really small ant hill. On the other hand, they did bumble their way into electing Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Terry Goddard. On the third hand, a lot of the money over the 7 years leading up to 2008 came from Jim Pederson, who basically rebuilt the state party and financed it with soft money, also spending $2 million of his own on a losing campaign against Senator John Kyl in 2006. I don’t know the truth of the complaints from defeated Democratic incumbents that the stacks of money the state party accumulated to spend on registration and GOTV was mismanaged and badly targeted.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the dumb things Arizona lawmakers have done, so I should report that one of them is about to be un-done. KidsCare, the Arizona version of SCHIP, will be reinstated by the legislature. (SCHIP is heavily subsidized health insurance with higher income eligibility level than Medicaid, but only for kids, not their parents.) KidsCare and Medicaid (with another 310,000 poor people getting screwed over by Russell Pearce and the other Republicans) had been deleted in the 2010 budget.
The good news is that the Health Reform that Congress recently passed is helping the disadvantaged. The law severely punishes states (like Arizona) that try to balance their budgets on the backs of poor people; it takes away billions of dollars in federal aid. So almost 400,000 Arizonans will keep their health insurance because Democrats in Congress did something right. Pleasant surprise. On the other hand, they’re counting on a 1¢ increase in the state sales tax (regressive tax policy) to balance the budget. If it doesn’t pass, we’re looking at another $1 billion whacked out of state aid to education at all levels, including Arizona State University. 

You can’t imagine how great it is to have so many people speaking out against SB 1070. I don’t feel so isolated here all of a sudden, and I’m beginning to think it’s eventually going to help Arizonans realize they’re all in this together. But first the top half of the population is going to have to feel some economic pain; only now they’ll know why they’re feeling it all of a sudden. (Not that educated people need the confirmation, but the consequences will be a proof of concept for Keynesian economics.) The economic results of SB 1070 (entirely apart from the boycott and reduction in tourism) will be severe. The housing industry slump was steep here, much worse than most places, and prices still haven’t stopped going down. SB 1070 is definitely going to drive people away from Arizona, I estimate at least 100,000, since they’re saying 450,000 undocumented people live here. Imagine 20% (90,000) of these people going somewhere else along with family members who can prove residency. I figure 60,000 more vacant housing units. 100,000+ people no longer buying food or clothing, filling up gas tanks, paying state payroll taxes. And these immigrants are working people; why else would they be here? I don’t know the figures, but a lot of them must be working for middle and upper class Arizonans.
SB 1070 distills the Bizarro logic of the right into its true form, and that helps. It’s a matter of proving to voters that they can choose the side of reason, or go in the other direction. And that way lies madness. 

Jabba and friends

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Both Party Establishments Are Kind Of... Well, Truth Be Told, Stalinist


Yesterday I was ignoring the DCCC for a change, and kind of railing on the DSCC and its inept head-- destined to be the worst DSCC chair in history-- Robert Menendez (D-NJ). The above tweet refers to the DSCC's inept cavalry riding to the rescue of guaranteed loser Senate candidates Cal Cunningham in North Carolina and Lee Fisher in Ohio. Maybe Menendez just hates women or maybe he feels burned that his first race-- keeping Teddy Kennedy's Senate seat blue-- turned into such a high profile disaster, much of it directly traceable back to his incredible incompetence, and that the candidate was a woman. Perhaps that's why Menendez has been working overtime to try to sabotage the campaigns of two proven vote-getters, Secretaries of State, Elaine Marshall and Jennifer Brunner.

Either would have a far better chance to win against right-wing Republicans Richard Burr and Rob Postman in November than Menendez's turgid, tepid and uninspired faves-- each a sad male version of Martha Coakley and a sure general election loser. Apparently, though, Menendez can't see past the plumbing. Turns out, fortunately, that the Republican Inside-the-Beltway equivalents of the DSCC and the DCCC are as stumblingly incompetent and disaster-prone as their Democratic counterparts. Yesterday's CQPolitics focused on how gun-shy the NRCC has become since the rise of the teabaggers.
In the past, both parties have had mixed success in their efforts to covertly, or not so covertly, clear crowded primaries for their best prospects in some of the most competitive House races.

But with the anti-establishment sentiment among voters inflamed this cycle, both local and national GOP leaders are being forced to tiptoe-- if at all-- to show some candidates the exit for fear of triggering a backlash from local activists.

About six weeks ago, Missouri state GOP officials attempted to organize a meeting with state Sen. Bill Stouffer and former state Rep. Vicky Hartzler, the leading GOP candidates in the Aug. 3 primary to take on longtime Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton.

According to two sources familiar with the meeting, it was arranged in an effort to talk Hartzler out of running in order to clear the field for Stouffer. But Hartzler discovered the purpose of the meeting and canceled her attendance.

“Vicki Hartzler canceled the meeting, period,” Stouffer campaign spokesman Christian Morgan said. “She was going to be asked to step aside in the campaign because her support just isn’t there in the district. This isn’t theory. It is fact. Her revisionist history and behavior of toying with the facts is just another reason why she cannot be trusted to represent the people of rural Missouri in the U.S. Congress.”

But according to Hartzler political director Samantha Hill, the story is actually the other way around-- party officials attempted to bring the two candidates to ask Stouffer to step aside in the race. Hill said that when party leaders backed away from their promise to ask Stouffer to step aside just days before the meeting, Hartzler canceled.

“We kind of deliberated, and said it wasn’t worth our time, it wasn’t worth the party’s time and it wasn’t worth Stouffer’s time,” Hill said.

With several notable exceptions, the National Republican Congressional Committee is staying out of the primary game completely. Officially, the committee says it has no policy on primaries-- which technically means they reserve the right to take sides even if they are unlikely to do so.

Key words: "With several notable exceptions." It reminds me of what a higher up at the DCCC told me when I was complaining that they're up to their bad old tricks again of favoring reactionary Blue Dogs over progressives (as in the Florida open seat being abandoned by Adam Putnam pitting progressive grassroots candidate Doug Tudor against Blue Dog-backed/lobbyist owned conservative shill Lori Edwards). The DCCC fellow told me they don't interfere in 90% of the races so we couldn't we just STFU. I mentioned that the only races that matter are the 10% where they do interfere-- as well as all the lies they recite for why they interfere. It's always been clear that the Democratic and Republican establishments Inside-the-Beltway have far more in common with each other than with actual Americans of either political party.
[T]here are less-than-subtle hints about who the national GOP supports in many of these multicandidate primaries. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, for example, has endorsed car dealer Scott Rigell, the leading contender in the crowded Republican primary to decide who will face Democratic Rep. Glenn Nye.

In Tennessee’s 8th district race for John Tanner ’s seat, NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) and other GOP leaders have held fundraisers for farmer Stephen Fincher. Even though Fincher is not the only competitive candidate in the race, GOP leaders have continued to help Fincher because he entered the race and put together a strong campaign before the 11-term Democrat announced his retirement.

But by overtly backing a candidate in a contested primary, national and local parties can put themselves in a difficult position if their preferred nominee does not win. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fell into that trap in the 2006 cycle, when their preferred candidate-- state Rep. Jim Craig-- lost the primary in New Hampshire’s 1st district to Carol Shea-Porter.

After Craig’s loss, the DCCC did not target the race and, much to the surprise of Democrats, watched Shea-Porter, the little-known liberal activist, defeat Rep. Jeb Bradley in the general election. Relations between Shea-Porter and the committee remained frosty until fairly late in her first term in Congress.

This cycle in the Granite State, Republicans are faced with crowded primaries in both competitive House districts. National Republicans originally recruited Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta to run early on this cycle, but his fledgling campaign has opened the door for many other local Republicans to get in the race.

While the NRCC has stood by their early recruit in Tennessee, Fincher, they are letting the primary play out for Guinta in New Hampshire. Bradley lost his attempt to take his seat back in 2008 after a late and bloody primary damaged his candidacy and his bank account, but the risk of taking sides in an activist-driven state like New Hampshire is too risky for the national or local Republican Party.

“Being the candidate of the Washington establishment is not quite the kiss of death, it’s certainly not something that any candidate wants to run on this year,” said former New Hampshire GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen.

Yesterday, Menendez and the gang that can't shoot straight jumped into the Ohio fray in favor of Lee Fisher and DFA joined Blue America's efforts to help Jennifer Brunner. I'd much rather have DFA on our side than the DSCC. In fact if you check out the Blue America May Senate Primaries page you'll notice that Blue America is backing all non-Establishment candidates against the corporate shills the DSCC favors. And, as of this writing, Jennifer Brunner is out ahead of the 4 other excellent candidates. Have you voted yet? You can here. (And 21st Century Democrats just came down against the DSCC incredibly corrupt corporate shill in Arkansas. The DSCC, ironically, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is backing right-wing habitual aisle-crosser Blanche Lincoln. Blue America and 21st Century Democrats-- along with virtually every progressive group in America, are supporting Bill Halter.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Are the banksters we have the bankers we deserve? Part 2


Last night we left returned banker and former Sgt. Al Stephenson (Fredric March) being dressed down by his boss, Mr. Martin (Ray Collins, before he joined the LAPD to be shown up weekly by Perry Mason as investigative buffoon Lieutenant Tragg), for approving a loan to collateral-less vet-farmer, the very day Al was to be honored as a returned war hero at this banquet. Here an already tipsy (and getting tipsier) Al, with his alarmed wife Milly (Myrna Loy) looking on in dread, says some things bankers weren't used to hearing back then -- and would be fond of hearing today.

"[T]he Goldman Sachs case may turn into a final referendum on the greed-is-good ethos that conquered America sometime in the 80s. . . .
"[I]n England last year . . . Goldman's international adviser, sounding exactly like a character in Atlas Shrugged, told an audience at St Paul's Cathedral that "The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest".

-- Matt Taibbi, in "Will Goldman Sachs prove
greed is God?," in The Guardian Saturday

by Ken

Some of the Democrats are actually keen to do some serious financial-system reform to restore some measure of stability and give the nonrich some protection from our Big Money overlords, but many Democrats are more attuned to seeing what's the least they can get away with doing to satisfy the (to them) surprising public appetite for some sort of financial system reform, without making their Wall Street patrons too mad.

The Republicans, meanwhile, even more astonished by the current public touchiness about Wall Street palsy-walsy-ism (do these pols live in a bubble or what?), are looking to find out, preferably in suitably secret back-room negotiations, what's the very most it has to concede without jeopardizing its reclamation of those financial overlords as paymasters.

If you have any interest in a rigorous examination of the proper role of the banks, and suggestions for reforms based on that, there is now an excellent resource in the form of a post by The Agonist's Numerian, "Basic Principles of Modern Banking Which Should Guide Bank Reform." But it doesn't seem likely that this is going to figure in any eventual "reform" package. At the moment the course of legislation is being framed by the Republicans' precarious tightrope walk on the one end and the embarrassment of the Goldman Sachs debacle on the other.

APRIL 28, 2010

Goldman to Employ So-called ‘Douchebag Defense’

Fabrice Tourre to be Exhibit A

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) – In the event of a criminal case against the banking giant, Goldman Sachs is planning to employ a rarely-used legal strategy known as the “douchebag defense,” sources confirmed today.

Davis Logsdon, Dean of the University of Minnesota School of Law, summarized the unorthodox strategy: “Basically, they will be arguing that the Goldman executives had no control over their actions because they are ginormous dicks.”

“Exhibit A” if the bank decides to go forward with the douchebag defense will be Goldman banker Fabrice “Fabulous Fab” Tourre.


I think the government would have a hard time arguing that he was not an egregious douche,” Logsdon said.

In order to establish Tourre’s douchebag bona fides, Goldman’s lawyers would most likely offer up his emails, his Facebook profile, and several of his ex-girlfriends.

Jury selection could also be key to the success of Goldman’s douchebag defense strategy, Logsdon said.

“Goldman’s dream jury would be made up of twelve angry dickwads,” Logsdon said. “In New York, that shouldn’t be hard to find.”

Speaking of the Goldman Sachs case, yesterday I mentioned Matt Taibbi's sensational piece in The Guardian, warning that we would probably be coming back to it. Well, here we are. At the outset Matt notes that "legally, the case hangs on a technicality."
Morally, however, the Goldman Sachs case may turn into a final referendum on the greed-is-good ethos that conquered America sometime in the 80s -- and in the years since has aped other horrifying American trends such as boybands and reality shows in spreading across the western world like a venereal disease. [All boldface emphasis added.]

While, outside of America, Russian-born Rand is probably best known for being the unfunniest person western civilisation has seen since maybe Goebbels or Jack the Ripper (63 out of 100 colobus monkeys recently forced to read Atlas Shrugged in a laboratory setting died of boredom-induced aneurysms), in America Rand is upheld as an intellectual giant of limitless wisdom. Here in the States, her ideas are roundly worshipped even by people who've never read her books or even heard of her. The rightwing "Tea Party" movement is just one example of an entire demographic that has been inspired to mass protest by Rand without even knowing it.

Last summer, Matt notes, he wrote "a brutally negative article about Goldman Sachs for Rolling Stone magazine (I called the bank a 'great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity') that unexpectedly sparked a heated national debate," a debate between "people like me, who believed that Goldman is little better than a criminal enterprise that earns its billions by bilking the market, the government, and even its own clients in a bewildering variety of complex financial scams" and "people who argued Goldman wasn't guilty of anything except being 'too smart' and really, really good at making money."
This side of the argument was based almost entirely on the Randian belief system, under which the leaders of Goldman Sachs appear not as the cheap swindlers they look like to me, but idealised heroes, the saviours of society.

In the Randian ethos, called objectivism, the only real morality is self-interest, and society is divided into groups who are efficiently self-interested (ie, the rich) and the "parasites" and "moochers" who wish to take their earnings through taxes, which are an unjust use of force in Randian politics. Rand believed government had virtually no natural role in society. She conceded that police were necessary, but was such a fervent believer in laissez-faire capitalism she refused to accept any need for economic regulation -- which is a fancy way of saying we only need law enforcement for unsophisticated criminals.

Rand's fingerprints are all over the recent Goldman story. The case in question involves a hedge fund financier, John Paulson, who went to Goldman with the idea of a synthetic derivative package pegged to risky American mortgages, for use in betting against the mortgage market. Paulson would short the package, called Abacus, and Goldman would then sell the deal to suckers who would be told it was a good bet for a long investment. The SEC's contention is that Goldman committed a crime -- a "failure to disclose" -- when they failed to tell the suckers about the role played by the vulture betting against them on the other side of the deal.

Now, the instruments in question in this deal -- collateralised debt obligations and credit default swaps -- fall into the category of derivatives, which are virtually unregulated in the US thanks in large part to the effort of gremlinish former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who as a young man was close to Rand and remained a staunch Randian his whole life. In the late 90s, Greenspan lobbied hard for the passage of a law that came to be called the Commodity Futures Modernisation Act of 2000, a monster of a bill that among other things deregulated the sort of interest-rate swaps Goldman used in its now-infamous dealings with Greece.

Both the Paulson deal and the Greece deal were examples of Goldman making millions by bending over their own business partners. In the Paulson deal the suckers were European banks such as ABN-Amro and IKB, which were never told that the stuff Goldman was cheerfully selling to them was, in effect, designed to implode; in the Greece deal, Goldman hilariously used exotic swaps to help the country mask its financial problems, then turned right around and bet against the country by shorting Greece's debt.

What Matt describes as "the really weird thing" is that, "confronted with the evidence of public outrage over these deals, the leaders of Goldman will often appear to be genuinely confused, scratching their heads and staring quizzically into the camera like they don't know what you're upset about." He insists it's not an act, that what separates Goldman from history's many other greedy financiers and banks is "its truly bizarre cultist/religious belief in the rightness of what it does."
Even if he stands to make a buck at it, even your average used-car salesman won't sell some working father a car with wobbly brakes, then buy life insurance policies on that customer and his kids. But this is done almost as a matter of routine in the financial services industry, where the attitude after the inevitable pileup would be that that family was dumb for getting into the car in the first place. Caveat emptor, dude!

People have to understand this Randian mindset is now ingrained in the American character. You have to live here to see it. There's a hatred toward "moochers" and "parasites" – the Tea Party movement, which is mainly a bunch of pissed off suburban white people whining about minorities consuming social services, describes the battle as being between "water-carriers" and "water-drinkers". And regulation of any kind is deeply resisted, even after a disaster as sweeping as the 2008 crash.

This debate is going to be crystallised in the Goldman case. Much of America is going to reflexively insist that Goldman's only crime was being smarter and better at making money than IKB and ABN-Amro, and that the intrusive, meddling government (in the American narrative, always the bad guy!) should get off Goldman's Armani-clad back. Another side is going to argue that Goldman winning this case would be a rebuke to the whole idea of civilisation -- which, after all, is really just a collective decision by all of us not to screw each other over even when we can. It's an important moment in the history of modern global capitalism: whether or not to move forward into a world of greed without limits.

It's hard to think of a more entertaining recent specimen of American political theater than the spectacle of the tribal chieftain of the Republican "Just Say No" obstructionists, Senate Minority Leader Miss Mitch McConnell, having to view video clips of his own past lies on the Senate floor. Naturally the Republicans, stuck-pig-like, squealed foul, in accordance with the invariable right-wing rage anytime their own actual words and deeds are recollected -- even as they insist on their right to make up and disseminate (via the famous, implacable Right-Wing Noise Machine) any delusion or lie they choose to fabricate, no matter how outrageous and counterfactual, about their opposition. But of course, being a right-winger in modern times means you're in permanent and violent conflict with even the ghostliest hint of truth, reality, sanity, or decency.

I realize that in this stew of present-day politico-economic sophistication, it's hopelessly naive to be quoting The Best Years of Our Lives" on proper banking procedures and appropriate risk-taking. But I guess I don't agree that what our friend banker-sergeant Al Stephenson has to say about banking and risk in tonight's clip. Remember, it has to be understood in the context of the loan he authorized for that veteran who wanted to buy a farm without collateral. Recall the argument Al made:
In the Army I've had to be with men when they were stripped of everything in the way of property except what they carried around with them -- and inside them. I saw them being tested, and some of them stood up to it, and some didn't. But you got so you could tell which ones you could count on. I tell you, this man Novak is okay. His -- collateral is in his hands, and his heart, and his guts. It's in his right as a citizen.

Here's what Al has to say in his drunken speech:
One day on Okinawa a major comes up to me and he says, "Stephenson, you see that hill?" "Yes, sir, I see it." "All right," he said, " you and your platoon will attack that hill and take it." So I said to the major, "But that operation involves considerable risk. We haven't sufficient collateral." "I'm aware of that," said the major, "but the fact remains that there is the hill, and you are the guys who are going to take it." So I said to him, "I'm sorry, major, no collateral, no hill." So we didn't take the hill, and we -- lost the war. I think that little story has considerable significance, but, uh, I've forgotten what it is.

It may sound as if Al is arguing the Goldman Sachs position, that bankers need to embrace risk. (Remember, after all, that the justification of Mr. Milton the bank president for enforcing prudence on loan applications is the bank's responsibility to protect the money of its depositors.) The apologists for the modern system of crony capitalism we've developed always insist that those preposterously inflated salaries we pay to thieving incompetent CEOs and hack predators like the Wall Street pirates are justified by the "risks" they take, even though of course they take virtually no risks. They have, in fact, virtually eliminated risk from their business model, even in the extreme case of the economic meltdown they engineered, from which they emerged not only whole but actually enriched.

As many people have pointed out, the system of phony capitalism, the system defended with such fervor by senators like Miss Mitch and Arizona's John Kyl and Alabama's Richard Shelby we've developed is "capitalist" only insofar as there are profits, which are gobbled up by the grotesquely overpriced titans of industry and finance, who share less and less of those winnings with the people who perform actual work on their behalf. (Shelby at least displays a dab of honesty in attributing his opposition to the Democrats' financial reform proposals to his opposition to the "radical" consumer protection board. Although I suspect he has more basic objections, I don't doubt for a moment that he loathes the idea of a government body charged with protecting the interests of ordinary citizens. These right-wing "capitalists" are pretty uniform in their hatred for unions or any other structure that stands between the superrich and their unfettered greed.)

When it comes to losses, however, those are socialized. Indeed we have something close to pure socialism, ;which the right-wing delusionals -- or just plain liars -- claim to find in President Obama's obsessively centrist agenda. No, the Confederate faux-capitalists are unanimous in drawling their approval for unfettered socialism when it comes to corporate losses, which are mandated to be shared by all of us. Or maybe not even "shared"; we're invited to simply pick up the tab, since the corporate titans are protected by so many layers of contractual insulation. Such as those plunder-like rewards for jacking up a company's stock price by any kind of chicanery the chief can get away with, without any penalty for drops in the company's actual value) -- including, in the extreme case, the brave new world of golden parachutes.

I want to return now to the end of Al Stephenson's banquet speech, as seen in tonight's clip:
I love the Cornbelt Loan and Trust Company. There are some who say that the old bank is suffering from hardening of the arteries, and of the heart. I refuse to listen to such radical talk. I say that our bank is alive, it's generous, it's human, and we're going to have such a line of customers seeking, and getting, small loans that people will think we're gambling with the depositors' money. And we will be. We'll be gambling on the future of this country."

When was the last time the megacorporate predators or financial titans gambled on the future of this country, or even of the increasingly interconnected world reflected but never really championed in the concept of "globalism"? When was the last time they attempted to build anything, or create anything except new schemes for ever cleverer if shadier and intentionally more inscrutable "deals"?

Paul Krugman has been pointing out repeatedly that one thing we shouldn't be worrying about in trying to rebound from the meltdown is rebuilding the financial sector, because the oversize financial sector of modern times has been the problem, not any part of the solution. Contrary to the delusion that it was involved in "creating wealth," pretty much all it did was to move numbers around, trying to make sure that as many of those numbers as possible, converted into fungible form, dropped into their greedy maws, without the slightest obligation on their part to produce anything or share any of the plunder.

Of course they shared some of that plunder. As a necessary business expense, they shoveled chunks of it into the pockets of the very politicians who are now charged with reforming the financial system. For anyone who doesn't see the difference between that and "gambling on the future of this country," well, never mind.

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