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Berkeley Bubble

Rethinking and Rebuilding Progressivism in US Politics and the Democratic Party: Politics, Law and Courts, Foreign Affairs, Sports and Popular Culture...a great Berkeley blog

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Berkeley Bubble Has Moved!

The Berkeley Bubble has moved to a new home. The new URL for the blog will be at Go check out the new site and tell me what you think. In addition, this old site will remain up so that people can continue to link up to it and use it as a resource. Sorry for the inconvenience, and thanks for your continued readership.

Breaking News: Texas Judges Orders Redrawing of Districts

Major news out of San Antonio--the three judge court has issued a redistricting order calling for CDs 15, 21, 23, 25, and 28 to be redrawn, and ordering new, winner-take-all elections, with the possibility of runoffs.

The most significant news here is that Webb County, home to Laredo and a sizeable Latino voting population, will be unified in District 28, and a new District 23 (Republican Henry Bonilla's district) will be redrawn by adding chunks of San Antonio, and turning it into a toss-up race and free-for all.

I'm going to analyze the map and update soon...

Commentary: Time for Plan B in Iraq

Thomas Friedman's latest article on Iraq finally acknowledges the failure of the Bush administration in attempting to reconstitute a new regime in Iraq. Friedman proposes that it's time for a plan B--and suggests that we should take a cue from the Bosnian case and organize some type of multi-factional conference. Here's more:

I think we need to try a last-ditch Bosnia-like peace conference that would bring together all of Iraq's factions and neighbors. Just as Bosnia could be solved only by an international peace force and the Dayton conference -- involving Russia, Europe and the U.S., the powers most affected by Bosnia's implosion -- the civil war in Iraq can be quelled only by a coalition of those most affected by Iraq's implosion: the U.S., Russia, Europe, Japan, India, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Syria and Jordan. As in Bosnia, any solution will have to be some form of federalism, a division of oil wealth and policing by an international force, where needed.

For such a conference to come about, though, the U.S. would probably need to declare its intention to leave. Iraqis, other Arabs, Europeans and Chinese will get serious about helping to salvage Iraq only if they believe we are leaving and it will damage their interests.

I agree with Friedman on the need for a declaration on the part of the US that they are going to leave. But while I applaud his embrace of a mulilateral, international solution to the problem, I question it's viability.

First, will a system of federalism and "division of oil wealth," policed by an international force, really work? On the surface, such a plan may ameliorate sectarian tensions and pacify certain insurgent groups. But I'm not sure the new Friedman-Plan B map of Iraq would promote stability in the region. It's likely that Iraq would be subdivided into a Kurdish state, a Sunni state, and a Shiite state. As if the Middle East couldn't get more complicated.

But this type of federalism could easily buckle as Iran effectively turns the resulting Shiite state into a puppet of its own, backing another Hezbollah-like force there. From Israel's standpoint, this may mean that it's security is threatened by yet another nation-state linked to Iran.

Friedman doesn't seem to think his federalism plan would help Iran, but rather stymie it:

Some fear that Iran will be the winner. But will it? Once we are out of Iraq, Iran will have to manage the boiling pot next door. That will be a huge problem for Iran. The historical enmity toward Iran by Iraqi Arabs -- enmity temporarily focused on us -- will re-emerge. And Iran will also have to compete with its ally Syria for influence in Iraq.

Yes, the best way to contain Iran would have been to produce a real Shiite-led democracy in Iraq, exposing the phony one in Tehran. But second best is leaving Iraq. Because the worst option -- the one Iran loves -- is for us to stay in Iraq, bleeding, and in easy range to be hit by Iran if we strike its nukes.

I'm not sure I necessarily buy this logic. The only effective deterrent and counter-balancing leverage the US had against Iran was the presence of a secular regime in Iraq. And because we have now been occupying Iraq for almost 3 years, our very presence there and backing of one side has incurred the enmity of rival factions. So I don't think the solution here is to keep with a strategy of subdividing land plots in the Middle East every time there's a war.

The solution is for the US to withdraw, so that the factions of Iraq can sort it out themselves, without US intevention or US backing of a particular regime. Friedman acknowledges that our withdrawal could eventually be a good thing:

What would be the consequences of leaving without such a last-ditch peace effort, or if it just fails? Iraq could erupt into a much wider civil war, drawing in its neighbors. Or, Iraqis might stare into this abyss and actually come to terms with each other on their own. Our presence may be part of the problem. It's hard to know.

So withdrawal is a good idea, accompanied by a multilateral conference and perhaps an international peacekeeping force like that being proposed for Lebanon. But subdividing it into multiple states is not the best solution. Just ask India and Pakistan about the British partition scheme of 1947, which has stymied the development of both nations and now set them on course to a permanent nuclear-arms-race.

Cheap Gas for Votes in NC? Larry Kissell for Congress

CNN has a great video story about how Larry Kissell, who's running against Robin Hayes in the 8th congressional district of North Carolina, was offering voters gas at the price of 1.22 a gallon, the same price that gas was in 1988, when Hayes was first elected. Here's details on the event:

Join Larry Kissell, Democratic nominee for Congress in North Carolina's 8th District, this Thursday, August 3 from noon to 1 p.m. at Benjy Dunn's Filling Station in downtown Biscoe. Benjy Dunn's Filling Station is located at 103 West Main Street in Biscoe, near the stop light, right across from Kissell for Congress headquarters in Montgomery County.

Kissell's opponent is definitely not going to make the list of oil-free candidates:

Robin Hayes (NC-08) has taken nearly $250,000 from Energy Special Interests (1) and nearly $135,000 from Oil and Gas Interests (2) while voting for a final energy bill that gave away billions to Oil, Gas and Nuclear Industries (3). Hayes also voted three times (4) against cracking down on price gouging and lowering gas prices, and against giving consumers immediate relief (5) at the gas pump with increased investment in new energy sources like ethanol just last year.

When the Bush administration's not tackling an issue like soaring oil prices, its time for plan B. Looks like Kissell had a good one.

Commentary: Centrism Is For Suckers (Whither Zell Miller and Lieberman?)

Paul Krugman's piece in the New York Times highlights an interesting argument--namely, that party identification matters much more than individual candidates' policy predispositions or leanings. To drive the point home, Krugman shows how Liberal groups, when they endorse "moderate" Republicans like Lincoln Chafee, actually do more harm than good to advance their cause, even though individuals like Chafee actually do support their interests:

"Now compare this with the behavior of advocacy groups like the Sierra Club, the environmental organization, and Naral, the abortion-rights group, both of which have endorsed Senator Lincoln Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, for re-election. The Sierra Club’s executive director defended the Chafee endorsement by saying, "We choose people, not parties." And it’s true that Mr. Chafee has usually voted with environmental groups.

But while this principle might once have made sense, it’s just naïve today. Given both the radicalism of the majority party’s leadership and the ruthlessness with which it exercises its control of the Senate, Mr. Chafee’s personal environmentalism is nearly irrelevant when it comes to actual policy outcomes; the only thing that really matters for the issues the Sierra Club cares about is the “R” after his name.

Put it this way: If the Democrats gain only five rather than six Senate seats this November, Senator James Inhofe, who says that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” will remain in his current position as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. And if that happens, the Sierra Club may well bear some of the responsibility."

I think Krugman has a valid point here. He rightly notes in his op-ed piece that this kind of pragmatic, centrist politics really doesn't make sense given how intensely partisan Bush and the Congressional Republicans have become, and suggests that Dems need to almost take the same, blindly partisan approach to things or they'll never regain power and effect policy change.

And Krugman's argument about Inhofe retaining control of the Enviornment and Public Works Committee is a valid one--what difference does it make to have "moderate" or "sensible" Republicans when the real power lies in the party leadership and committee chairs? One need look no further than Richard Pombo and his chairmanship of the House Resources Committee to see how devastating an impact one man can have on environmental protection.

I know that many political historians have often pointed to the importance of centrists in the great debates of our time. One can recall the leadership of Henry Clay or even Stephen Douglas (if one buys David Potter's characterization of his leadership in "The Impending Crisis.") in times of crisis. When it comes to slavery, I for one, don't necessarily think that compromise for compromise's (and for the sake of the Union) was necessarily a realistic option, but that's a wholly different post.

But the sad reality here is that this kind of centrist, pragmatic politics only works when you're operating in an era of weak parties or weak polarization. In the era of the Whigs--there really hadn't been a coalescing of two, solid national parties just yet, and the politics of compromise and pragmatism perhaps made more sense.

And while there were glimpses of centrist politics in our recent past, the realignment of the parties has made centrist politics a fictional character--a myth. As the South realigned and and southern Dems became Republicans, there has been a slow decline in the number of centrist or moderate Republicans. There simply aren't many Republicans in the mold of Nelson Rockefeller--perhaps Olympia Snowe and Lincoln Chaffee come the closest.

Of course, the biggest empirical challenge for Krugman's argument comes from Clinton's victories in 1992 and 1996, and what many point to as the rise of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the centrist group that Clinton headed as a font of ideas for "new progressives," and from Joe Lieberman, who has bucked his party in Iraq.

But in one sense, Clinton proves Krugman's point--Clinton's politics were actually the OPPOSITE of that of Bush and Rove, and actually set the tone for putting the politics of compromise and pragmatism ahead of partisanship. Clinton and his advisers perceived that this was the best way to capture and retain control of the White House, and maybe they were right. Just look at Clinton's embrace of welfare reform, a la Dick Morris' classic "Triangulation" strategy. There's no question here--Clinton moved his party to the center, and maybe to the right.

But Bush and Rove have done the opposite and have moved their party AWAY from the center. And Lieberman has drifted with them into the nether world of the Iraq war.

And I think there really is no going back to the politics of Clinton and the DLC, at least in the near future. The Dems cannot, nor should they, attempt to move more to the right or to the center anymore. For the ultimate example why they can no longer afford to do this, I point to the strange case of Zell Miller. Responding to claims that Zell Miller moved right because of the Dems' leftward drift, Michael Crowley of Slate Magazine argued that Zell Miller, once a favorite of Bill Clinton, Carville, and the DLC, basically (and perhaps inexplicably) morphed into a Republican:

This argument amounts to a basic truth wrapped in a major fraud. Democrats have tacked left in recent years (though more in tone than in substance). But Zell Miller has moved, too. Far from representing some lonely, abandoned Democratic center, Miller has become a cartoonish GOP partisan...

Since then Miller has supported Bush on virtually every major Senate vote: No Child Left Behind, drilling for oil in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge, the Patriot Act, the GOP Homeland Security Department plan, the Iraq war, and a partial-birth abortion ban. Two years ago, he stopped caucusing with Democrats and now meets each week with Senate Republicans. More than that, Miller churns out more elaborate anti-liberal invective than most actual Republicans. Earlier this year he published A National Party No More, a long indictment of effete Democratic values and the party's subservience to groups like NARAL and the trial lawyers. During the Democratic Convention last month, Miller agreed to be a member of a Republican National Committee "truth squad." And while just three years ago Miller praised John Kerry as "one of this nation's most authentic heroes, one of this party's best-known and greatest leaders, and a good friend," today he belittles Kerry as "so out of touch with the average American it would be comical if it were not so dangerous."

I still remember watching the 2004 Republican National Convention, and Zell Miller's almost maniacal speech attacking John Kerry, the nominee of Miller's own prty, thinking to myself--this man has truly lost his mind. My thoughts were confirmed when I saw his exchange with Chris Matthews on Hardball immediately thereafter, and Zell Miller promptly challenged Chris Matthews to a duel on live television. (Chivalry is not dead, even if centrism is?) But this also confirmed to me that the politics of centrism and the DLC were officially dead, at least in the post 9-11 era of terrorism.

And while I don't agree with the politics of purging centrists from our party, to win against Bush, Rove, and the GOP leadership, Democrats have to be realists and take firm positions on Iraq, Oil, and the environment. And if that requires electing Ned Lamont, so be it. There are simply too many Inhofe's and Pombo's to continue practicing the politics of cautious centrism.

Zell Miller Challenges Chris Matthews to a Duel

The link above requires internet explorer, so I'm posting the Zell Miller v. Chris Matthews face-off here. Enjoy!

Angelides Takes on Energy

So the Bubble has been encouraging Angelides to go after Arnold on blackouts and energy reform.

And today, on Phil's website, voila! Angelides has unveiled a comprehensive energy plan that faults Arnold for not doing enough about rebuilding energy supply or conservation or oil prices. (Alas, I can't take credit here either--the date of the press release is July 25, 2006, while my article appeared on the 29th. But for some reason, I didn't notice the press release on the website until today.) Here's more from Angelides' press release:

First, a great quote showing how deregulation messed up everything:

"Arnold Schwarzenegger promised us in 2004, ‘Trust me. Everything will be under control. Your lights will stay on.' And for three years, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been singing the music of California's deregulation scheme, thwarting efforts to create an environment that attracts clean power to California," said Angelides. "It's time to send a strong signal to the market that the failed deregulation experiment of Enron, George Bush, and the energy power pirates is over once and for all."

Next, an excellent statement about the Governor's inaction on energy:

The Governor's energy policy can be summed up in four words: Pray for Mild Weather," said Angelides. "Governor Schwarzenegger has put California's energy in the hands of the power barons who have been fined more than $5.3 billion for market manipulation. The result is a crazy quilt energy policy that is not working for California."

And now for Angelides's plan for energy--here are the main points:

* Within 100 days of taking office, unveil an action plan that will ensure the state has sufficient power with a 15 percent reserve - along with needed improvements to the transmission grid -- to provide adequate power to protect our families, our economy, and our businesses.

* Reinvigorate the California Consumer Power and Conservation Financing Authority to build and invest in new power plants if the utilities and energy generators do not, and to finance transmission improvements to protect us from price manipulation, gouging, and blackouts. The Authority would also finance large scale solar and renewable power projects to meet and exceed the state's renewable energy portfolio standards.

* Name an energy czar to focus on attracting new renewable and gas-fired generation to the state and improve the state's energy efficiency programs.

Finally, Angelides would streamline the process by which new energy plants come online:

Angelides also said he would support legislation (AB 974) to streamline the electrical transmission facility permitting and siting process. The plan would address eliminating regulatory overlap, reducing review and approval times, and providing expedited review of transmission lines.

Again, I can't say enough about how important energy will be in the November election. But voters have to be constantly reminded of the link between Arnold and our energy problems. Right now, I'm still not sure that has sunk in--and it will take a series of campaign commercials in this last month of summer (timing is key here) to prime public opinion and set the tone for a second set of ads that remind voters of just how brutal the summer was.

Zell Miller's Speech to the 2004 Republican Convention (Daily Show)

With inspiration from Paul Krugman's "Centrism Is For Suckers," I present to you coverage of the 2004 RNC and Zell Miller's speech, courtesy of Jon Stewart and the Daily Show. (The speech coverage starts after thhe 4th minute).

More on Hillary's Call for Rumsfeld to Resign

I really think Hillary may be starting to get the frustration and anger most Americans are starting to feel over the deterioriation of Iraq, when she called for Rumsfeld to resign after the hearing yesterday, in which she relentlessly questioned and challenged Rumsfeld's handling of the war.

And I don't think it's a coincidence that Hillary's change in position--or more precisely, her adoption of a position that so many other Democrats have held, took place on the same day that the Quinnipiac poll came out showing Lamont with a 12 point lead over Lieberman. This Clinton has shrewdly assessed the lay of the land, and concluded that an anti-war candidacy could effectively deny her the party's nomination in 2008.

Now I'm not saying that Hillary's locked the nomination up. But if continues her leadership and aggressive questioning of the administration, and sharpens her position toward one supporting a withdrawal from Iraq, it may be difficult for an anti-war candidate to gain traction in the primaries in 2008.

Quick Poll--Dems in '08

Create polls and vote for free.

Pat Robertson Now Believes in Global Warming

And is no longer blaming it on the wrath of God, according to this report. It's about time. Is this some type of left-right convergence going on here? Imagine if the religious right aligned with Dems to push through legislation that would mandate higher fuel effiency and reduce fossil fuel emisisons. Now if only the President would sign on to this position.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

What is the Extreme Left of the Democratic Party?

Or where is it, to be more precise?

I flipped to Hannity and Colmes just a few minutes ago to see a dialogue between Hannity and Senator McCain talking about the Lieberman-Lamont race, and something Hannity said really irked me.

Hannity asked if he thought Lamont's strong showing in polls was proof that the "extreme Left" was taking control of the Democratic party. And while he said he couldn't second guess the internal politics of the Democratic party, McCain seemed to think that the "extreme Left" was playing an important role in the Connecticut Race.

Now I know we throw the terms "extreme Left" and "extreme Right" around a lot, but what do these terms really mean? Extreme Right has been used to describe the politics of Tom Delay, and of Ralph Reed--it's been used to describe the politics of the religious right and of religious conservatives on issues like abortion, stem-cell research, and evolution.

I take it that "extreme Left" refers to that wing of the Democratic party that's for withdrawing our troops out of Iraq before they are trapped in a never-ending civil war (if they are not already). But perhaps the term "extreme" is being used out of fear by the establishment and centrist candidates--fear that the people, through grassroots efforts, are voicing their will, their frustration, and yes, their anger with leaders who are out of touch with the pulse of America.

Is it "extreme" to want almost 140,000 young troops to come home, so that the death toll of 2,500 troops doesn't continue to rise? Is it "extreme" to push for an end to our dependency on Middle East oil? To advocate for basic health care for all Americans, 45 million of whom don't have it? To press for expanded support for stem-cell research that could ultimately save the lives of millions, and improve the quality of life of millions more? To push for protection of our air, water, coasts, forests, oceans, natural resources, and integrity of the planet? And is it "extreme" to want an end to a reckless and bloody war between Israel and Hezbollah, in which civilians are being killed and wounded, a war that has forced close to a million civilians to flee Lebanon and become refugees of this war?

The more I think about it, these positions aren't extreme at all--they are the hopes and aspirations of millions of ordinary, extraordinary Americans who ultimately all want the safe return home of our troops, peace and stability in the Middle East, policies that protect our environment and earth, and policies that protect our health and welfare. They may seem extreme to those in power--to those afraid of dramatic and radical change, but they're not extreme at all.

So I'm not sure the term "extreme Left" really has any validity or useful application in our discourse. And in telling you where the extreme Left is located, I basically render the term meaningless-it's located in the grassroots efforts of countless millions who are desperately seeking change through electing new representatives and leaders. The only thing "extreme" in our county is the state of our foreign policy, of our domestic policy, and of our social and welfare policies--they are all extreme in neglecting the basic needs, rights, and aspirations of Americans, and of citizens all over the globe.

Extreme is a term used by those in power to insulate themselves--indeed, protect themselves--from losing power. And if moderate centrists like McCain and Hillary can't understand it in '06, I've got news for them--neither one may win in 2008 as the "extreme" voter casts his or her vote for fundamental change. But Hillary's aggressive posture today in calling for the resignation of Rumsfeld is a promising sign that she's in touch with the frustrations and concerns of everyday Americans. And if she continues to assert this kind of leadership, there's no way that even John McCain can beat her.

Corker Wins Primary, Will Face Harold Ford in November

So we now have our GOP nominee for the Tennessee Senate Race. Fmr. Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker has won the Republican Primary with 48 percent of the vote, defeating Ed Bryant (35%) and Van Hilleary (16%).

This will be a tough race for Ford, as Corker is the most moderate of the three Republicans and can attract moderate Democratic support. As noted earlier on this blog, Corker is very much a Republican in the mold of Lamar Alexander.

An excerpt from the earlier post:

In a nice article on this race, Clay Risen of the New Republic notes the East-West cultural and political divide that exists in Tennessee, and how this shapes the character:

"But Tennessee conservatism is different from, say, Alabama conservatism. West Tennessee is a culturally conservative place; but the state GOP's roots lie in east Tennessee, where voters going back to the Civil War have held conservative notions about government and the market while eschewing the reactionary cultural and racial politics that have beset other parts of the South. (In 1861 the region even tried to rejoin the Union after the state seceded.) East Tennessee has provided the country with such moderate Republican senators as Howard Baker and Lamar Alexander, and it gave Democratic senators like Al Gore Sr. and Estes Kefauver the political room to support the civil rights movement. And while solidly conservative, it is never a lock for the GOP--many east Tennessee voters crossed party lines in 2002, providing the winning edge for Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen."

So moderate candidates generally fare well in Tennessee. The race now is for the center. And as thispost notes, the latest Rasmussen head to head has Corker leading Ford by 12 points (though this may change, given that the public's attention was primarily on the Republican racem, and a glut of Corker ads all over the state, according to the post). A comment on this same post notes how crucial a Ford victory could be to gaining control of the Senate in a 51-49 split.

Snakes on a Plane: A Social Commentary on Our Times

At first my friends and I thought this movie was just a joke on the web, but now that the television commercials have been out, we can now say for sure that Samuel Jackson's epic Snakes on a Plane will hit movie theaters this August 18th. As absurd as this movie is, I believe that the internet buzz that the movie has created speaks to something deeper.

This article details how the movie's producers have brilliantly used the new "Web 2.0" model to promote the movie in a low-cost way--and indeed, the movement has taken on a life of it's own. According to Wikipedia, the phrase "Snakes on a Plane" now is part of the new online vernacular, and has been used to indicate that something is nonsensical or to say "oh well, what can you do." So here's how you'd use it:

Man1: "Man that guy just hit my car."
Man2: "Snakes on a Plane, man."

But Snakes on a Plane is now also becoming a medium for friends to communicate with one another. If you go to this link, you can actually personalize a phone call message that will go to your friend's phone in Samuel Jackson's voice, with details about your friend. I tried it, and my friend literally responded within one minute of me clicking the mouse. See-a real friendship builder.

But I think the movie's popularity and buzz on the internet may also have to do with empowerment. For most big-budget, big studio, Hollywood movies, we are forced to passively accept a barrage of Hollywood previews, trailers, advertisements, and critics' reviews that effectively shape our movie-watching agenda. I must have seen a zillion commercials, ads, posters, and boards for M. Night. Shyamalan's "Lady in the Water," and thankfully, I was able to resist seeing the movie. (Lucky me, I heard it was terrible). I can list a whole littany of similar promotional campaigns that basically clogged our TV airwaves and collective psyche with lame movie ads. But the bottom line here is that we are essentially TOLD what to see by Hollywood, and for the most part most movie-goers passively go along and see movies, most of which are totally crappy.

Now granted, Snakes on a Plane in the end may turn out to be a very crappy movie. But the means by which it has been promoted has been an empowering one in the sense that would be viewers have had a chance to not only submit suggestions for the soundtrack and actual lines (no joke--some scenes were actually refilmed to incorporate these, according to the InfoWorld article), but to feel like they are part of the dissemination regime for the movie. As a result, people who have been active, or even mildly passive, participants in this phenomenon actually feel like they have a vested interest in seeing the movie (my group of friends are actually organizing a group to go see it on opening day).

Evidence of the organic, spontaneous buildup of buzz around the movie is everywhere on the internet, including a Snakes on a Plane Blog, another user interactive site that allowed users to submit music which would actually be included in the film's soundtrack here, and spoofs like Snakes on an Elevator.

Thus, the actual viewing of the movie may not be as important as the buildup and community building aspects of it that built up the buzz and hype surrounding the movie. Unlike really, really bad horror films, this film has succeeded in capturing the imagination of people on the internet by openly acknowledging the absurdity of its premise and of the whole enterprise, and I think this has engaged would-be viewers in a way that traditional Hollywood-driven advertising could not. By allowing word of the movie to spread first as rumor, and then as a legitimate production, the producers allowed a new and unpredictable community of viewers to build. And that community building experiment has filled a void in an era in which Hollywood dictates the terms on which viewers must engage with films, which has in a way fostered a sort of alienation with the big-studio movies.

So, when Samuel Jackson screams--"Enough is enough, I've had it with these snakes," he may really be voicing deep-seated resentment and frustration on the part of viewers who've had it with the traditional formula for Hollywood-style movie promotion.

Angelides Endorses Proposition 89

According to SFBrianCL at Calitics, Angelides has announced that he will back Prop 89, the measure that would bring public financing to California elections.

Now this is fantastic news, and what makes it even cooler is that it comes only 2 days after I recommended on this very blog that Phil endorse the measure. Check it out, I'm not kidding. While I can't take credit for this shrewd manuever on Angelides' part, I hope that people over at the campaign are at least reading this blog.

As I reiterated in my earlier post--this move will allow Angelides to turn the tables on Arnold by claiming the mantle of "reformer." I quote liberally from my earlier post:

So how can Angelides unify and solidify this base of voters? Speak to issues on which they have common ground. And I think the key here is emphasizing a key theme on which Arnold did well on in his recall campaign (and then not so well in the 2005 special election)--reform.


How about backing Proposition 89--the proposal for public financing of elections? This would be the ultimate in pushing a "reform" agenda which Arnold championed during the recall election. Why not steal a page from Arnold and steal the thunder of Arnold's reformer-appeal? Unlike Arnold's "reform" agenda and support of certain initiatives in '05, which alienated and galvanized the unions and far left, Angelides would not face comparable backlash on this one. In fact, if corporate interests (the Chamber of Commerce, for example, which is probably already in Arnold's camp anyway) start attacking Angelides, this may actually raise his stock with the Democratic party faithful and rile them up enough to actually get them active and mobilized. As I wrote about in an earlier post, Arnold's support of the reform initiatives led to a rift and battle between unions and business interests, which ultimately hurt the proposals chances of winning, given that a well-organized coalition of nurses, labor, firefighters, etc. came together to defeat the initiatives.

In addition to stealing Arnold's reform "thunder" away, this move should galvanize union support and fire up the base. And as I note above, any "business" backlash will further reinforce in the minds of Democrats and others that Phil is the one who stands for reform. It draws a nice line in the sand and amplifies the contrast between the two candidates. Nice job Phil!

Tom Delay Must Remain on Ballot

Sweet. It looks like the "Hammer" will have his name on the ballot in his (old?) congressional district as he runs up against Nick Lamspon in TX-22. Voters will get a chance to finally vent their frustration with DeLay's oppressive remaking of Texas congressional districts--I like this San Antonio article's take on it:

So, Tom DeLay, the former bug exterminator-turned-U.S. House Majority Leader, raised millions — a lot of it from corporations — and spent it to turn key Texas House seats over to Republicans who would do his bidding with regard to redistricting.

Hopefully Lampson can pull this one out.

Why Bill Clinton Isn't Boosting Lieberman's Numbers

Lamont is pulling ahead of Lieberman in today's Quinnipiac poll, 54 to 41 percent. It's pretty clear that the momentum has dramatically turned, and has done so since July. I'm not sure I can remember a Senate race where an incumbent with a couple of terms under his belt has his fortunes turn so fast in a primary.

The real question I want to answer is why Bill Clinton's endorsement and recent visit to the state on behalf of Joe isn't making all that big a difference. Of course, the immediate answer may be that the true effect of the Clinton endorsement still hasn't shown up in this poll, given that Clinton visited the state on July 24th, a little more than a week ago. But honestly, I personally doubt that. Clinton came and personally delivered a speech alongside Lieberman, personally endorsing Joe.

(Now why Clinton bothered to do this is beyond me--this is the same Lieberman who leaped at the opportunity to condemn the former President over the Lewinsky scandal).

Personal politics aside, the real reason Clinton was out there defending Joe was because his personal legacy, along with his contribution to shaping the policies of the DLC, are now on the line and being called into question in the state of Connecticut. What's interesting about this race is that is has become a battle between the ghosts of the DLC and the specter of a prolonged, out-of-control Iraq War. A tussle between centrists who don't want to appear "soft" on national security, and Democrats who see a country that's completely lost its way in foreign policy.

And this is why Clinton's speech and visit are having so little of an impact on a race. When it comes to the Iraq War, the DLC has lost credibility, and public opinion on Iraq is no longer wavering--it's stabilizing in intensity and coalescing around a candidate in Ned Lamont. The recent poll shows that 85 percent of voters have made up their mind, with only 5 percent undecided. So not even Bill Clinton can defeat the views and opinions that Lamont now represents.

But perhaps the more interesting footnote here maybe that this "first test" for the DLC and Clintonism in 2006 does not portend well for Hillary's chances in 2008--hence Hillary's cautious avoidance of providing too visible a presence in this race. Hillary doesn't want a Lieberman defeat to be viewed as a preview of things to come in the 2008 primary. Unfortunately for Hillary, and for Bill's legacy, that's exactly what would happen.

A Lamont victory would embolden Democrats who oppose the Iraq war and support withdrawal to mobilize at the next level in '08, and pool together their net-roots and grassroots support to back a candidate who has and will oppose the Iraq war and support immediate withdrawal. And that's another reason why Bill was there with Joe. He was trying to reinforce Hillary's chances in 2008, fortifying the increasingly obvious breaches in the cautious, centrist campaign that's she's starting to run.

Iraq in a Civil War, while Bush and Rumsfeld in Denial

With Democrats now united behind a single position on Iraq, the relative confusion and uncertainty within the administration and the Pentagon on a plan for Iraq are now becoming clear. These folks simply don't have a clue. Just look at the news articles today on Iraq.

Rumsfeld and Bush refuse to recognize that Iraq is now caught in a civil war, and continue to repeat the same tired old line about how leaving Iraq would embolden terrorists:

President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have refused to call the worsening violence a civil war, but Rumsfeld, in often tense exchanges with senators, warned against pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq prematurely.
"If we left Iraq prematurely as the terrorists demand, the enemy would tell us to leave Afghanistan and then withdraw from the Middle East. And if we left the Middle East, they'd order us and all those who don't share their militant ideology to leave what they call the occupied Muslim lands from Spain to the Philippines," he said.

Okay, so that's what the commander-in-chief and Defense Secretary say. No civil war--don't worry, Americans.

What do their top generals say? Iraq is basically sliding toward civil war:

"Sectarian violence probably is as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular," Army Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate hearing. "If not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war."

And check out this acknowledgement about how quickly things have turned for the worse in Iraq in only a year:

Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, the most senior U.S. military officer, also said there was a "possibility" of civil war in Iraq, where the violence has claimed about 100 lives a day. Asked whether he would have seen a chance of civil war a year ago, He replied, "No, sir."

In the same Washington Post article, General Abizaid says that the recent surge in sectarian violence makes it more unlikely that we'll see any immediate troop reductions or withdrawal. Translation: We can't pullout because Iraq is sliding into civil war. Great.

(FYI, I have to say I love an ad banner slogan I've seen on my site today--"At Least in Vietnam, Bush had an Exit Strategy." Great stuff--I can't click on it, but all of you should).

I've got news for all of you. The presence of US troops ain't goin' to make things get better--look how badly things have gotten with our troops on the ground already. And I don't know about you, but I don't to leave our young men and women trapped in a civil war amidst multiple sectarian factions where they can't even tell who is enemy and who is friend.

Today, Kos eloquently rebuts those who criticize campaigns that are making Iraq the single, central issue of this campaign cycle, noting that the recent Gallup poll now shows that 55 percent of Americans support troop withdrawal by year's end. The key question now becomes--will centrist Democrats like Hillary take the cue and support immediate troop withdrawal. If I were advising Hillary, I'd tell her such a move could virtually guarantee her the party nomination. Hillary has cautiously attacked Rumsfeld over his administration and execution of the war, but why not take it to the next level?:

Democrats, trying to regain control of Congress from Republicans in elections in November, have made Rumsfeld a prime target of criticism over the handling of the war.

"Because of the administration's strategic blunders and frankly the record of incompetence in executing, you are presiding over a failed policy," said Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, a possible 2008 presidential candidate. "Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now?"

The leading candidate who ultimately gets out in front of this issue and supports a withdrawal of troops out of Iraq could take the lead in '08 and never look back. Al, we're still waiting...

This Guy Rules

Check out the picture of this guy sitting on his front porch, relaxing with a puppy on his lap. The guy looks really happy, and why shouldn't he be--he's not working, and has no immediate plans to do so. Seriously, though, this Times article details a growing trend among American males age 30-54--namely, that they won't work because the only jobs available are beneath their skill set/experience or are demeaning. FYI, the guy in the picture's name is Alan Beggerow.

The article reports that 13 percent of men this age group are not working, which is up from 5 percent in the 1960s. Here's more:

Many of these men could find work if they had to, but with lower pay and fewer benefits than they once earned, and they have decided they prefer the alternative. It is a significant cultural shift from three decades ago, when men almost invariably went back into the work force after losing a job and were more often able to find a new one that met their needs.

The article reports that 30 something former dot-commers are relying on former savings and pension packages to survive, while others are relying on borrowing against their own homes and from support from the Government, like Christopher Priga, a former Xerox exec who used to pull six figures:

Mr. Priga supports himself by borrowing against the rising value of his Los Angeles home. Other men fall back on wives or family members.

But the fastest growing source of help is a patchwork system of government support, the main one being federal disability insurance, which is financed by Social Security payroll taxes. The disability stipends range up to $1,000 a month and, after the first two years, Medicare kicks in, giving access to health insurance that for many missing men no longer comes with the low-wage jobs available to them.

No federal entitlement program is growing as quickly, with more than 6.5 million men and women now receiving monthly disability payments, up from 3 million in 1990. About 25 percent of the missing men are collecting this insurance.

The article also reports that a lot of these men rely on their spourses are girlfriends for income support. But often, this doesn't work, and forces men to eventually end up as single:

Sometimes women who are working throw out men who are not, says Kathryn Edin, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania. In any case, without a household to support, there is less pressure to work, and for men who fall behind on support payments, an incentive exists to work off the books — hiding employment — so that wages cannot be garnisheed.

One other interesting note, the trend toward men not working has a distinctly southwestern and southern flavor to it--the five states with the highest joblessness among this age demographic in males are Arizona (7.7%), New Mexico (7.3%), Louisiana (7.2%), Kentucky (7.1%), and West Virginia (6.6%).

While I don't want to be the sultan of gloom on this one, I do have to point out that this trend could have long-term repurcussions on the economy--if a lot of these guys are basically depleting their savings and/or borrowing against equity in their homes or taking out second mortgages, the net savings rate in this country will continue to drop precipitously. And that'll only lead to a further decline in investment, which will impact negatively on future growth.

But hey, it's a free country. I seriously sympathize with those men who can't find jobs that match their experience and skill levels. If only blogging paid more...perhaps the government can start new subsidy progam?

Play Delay's Dollars

Lampson has a great game on his website--check it out here.

Solar Powered Houses and Laundromats

I really think that solar energy is the way to go when it comes to the search for alternative clean fuel sources to oil. Two interesting cases to relay to all of you...

First off is the Maine Solar House. Yes, solar power is viable even in wintry Maine, and this house is basically completely self-sufficient in its energy production--so much so that the House sometimes generates excess energy which it then feeds back into the power grid. The family who owns the house also have biodiesel and hybrid autos. This suggests a decentralized model for energy conservation and generation, one in which the government should incentivize indivdual homeowners to install solar cells. For more on the House, you can go here.

Next up, is a story on a solar laundromat in a Chicago suburb, as reported here on Tangledwing. This solar laundromat uses solar cells to provide hot water to the laundry 24 hours a day. I encourage you to check out this post and article.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

DailyKos Gives Props to Article on Arnold, Angelides and Prison Reform

And the Bubble gladly reciprocates the props back. My post on Arnold, Angelides, and prison reform came up on the diary rescue post for today, and I'm glad some people found it informative and useful. Here's the link to the actual diary entry up on DailyKos. It got some great feedback and comments, and I encourage you to read people's responses to the post.

And for the original, original article on this blog, you can click here.

India Bans Child Labor

This issue is definitely close to my heart, as I have seen countless number of children working in the cities and slums of India. Thankfully, the Government today banned the employment of children under the age of 16 "as domestic servants or at hotels, tea shops, restaurants and resorts," according to this report.

The presence of child labor is accepted by many Indians as a sad reality, as children often work to supplement their families' income--often, parents and their children all work in the same households. But while they bring additional income to their families, there is also a much darker side to it, according to the government:

"The committee...while recommending a ban on employing children in these occupations, had said that these children are subjected to physical violence, psychological trauma and, at times, even sexual abuse," a government statement said, referring to the Technical Advisory Committee on Child Labor. "These children are made to work for long hours and are made to undertake various hazardous activities severely affecting their health and psyche," it said, in a statement released late on Tuesday.

Apparently, under the previous law, the 1986 Child Labor Act, children were already banned from working in hazardous trades.

But as usual, the main problem in India isn't the presence of legislation, it's a problem of implementation and corruption. And part of the difficulty lies in policing the millions and millions of homes where children work as domestic servants.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) welcomed the ban but said its implementation was a challenge, as many of the children worked in homes and away from public view.

``Children working at homes or in eateries have very long hours and face isolation, and are far away from support systems,'' said Leyla Tegmo-Reddy, ILO's India representative.

``Often, these children take care of more privileged children, seeing the world that they don't have.''

So enforcement is a major problem for the government, which faces many obstacles in monitoring child labor in domestic settings:

Labor ministry spokesman M.L. Dhar said children working as domestic servants and in street restaurants, were vulnerable because crime against them often went unreported.
``For children working in houses, it is an difficult area (to investigate) as there is a question of privacy of people living there,'' Dhar said. ``But the government will evolve some methods.''

Personally, I think the key to bolstering enforcement requires a sizeable investment in the legal rights infrastructure in India. Thousands of lawyers need to be trained to go out into cities and the countryside to help enforce these laws on the books. And these teams of lawyers need to be teamed with one or two police officers to ensure that they have the imprimatur and force of law behind them, so that they can actually go through the courts and effectuate court orders. Of course, there's also some corruption in the courts (at the lowest level, not in the High Courts or Supreme Court) that needs to be addresed here.

If you're interested in getting involved to help stop child labor in India, visit Save the Childhood Foundation. For more information on the ILO visit ILO's website.

Can a Bayh-Warner Ticket Win?

This author sure seems to thinks so. On paper, looking at an electoral map, this sounds like a winning ticket:

If Bayh and Warner could hold the Kerry States from 2004 and win back Iowa and New Mexico, then add their own home territories of Indiana and Virginia, they could carry the election, even without Florida or Ohio.

There is a slight problem with this analysis--Bayh and Warner could conceivably hold their 2 home states, but whether they could then hold the Kerry states from 2004 against a ticket like McCain-Hagel, or Mc-Cain-Allen is unclear. The Clinton-Gore pairing did make sense, in that it helped lock down a block of Southern states that the GOP had typically won. I'm not sure Indiana and Virginia have the same symbolic impact. Plus, Clinton and Gore were able to "talk" like Southerners, while Bayh and especially Warner do not come off as "red state populists," at least in the same way that Clinton was able to talk like a Red-stater.

I agree with the author that Bayh clearly has the experience to run for President, having served on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees in the Senate, and having had the important governing experience as Indiana's governor for eight years. But the biggest problem here is that Bayh is not Bill Clinton, nor is Mark Warner, in terms of charismatic appeal.

And so here's the biggest problem I see with a Bayh-Warner ticket--there's simply not enough "gravitas" to compete with a John McCain candidacy. Sure, Bayh has the foreign policy expertise and credentials, but these are dwarfed by McCain's military and foreign policy experience and knowledge. Warner, however, still could make a solid Vice-Presidential candidate for the ticket, as could Bayh, so I still woudn't want to rule either man out for this slot. I'm just still not convinced that either one could win on the top of the ticket. But who knows? Maybe they'll convince me when I see them in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, and the early debates.

But for now, I think Dems need a "heavyweight" in the ring--and that narrows the field for me to Hillary, Al Gore, John Edwards, and maybe John Kerry.

But given my earlier posts on this blog about the need for Dems to take a very tough position on Iraq--including calling for immediate withdrawal, Al Gore and Russ Feingold have the best credentials. And of these two Gore has the most "gravitas."

Will Green Party Help Elect Rick Santorum?

If you want to hear about how desperate Republicans are getting in Election 2006, one need look no further than the race for US Senate between Republican Rich Santorum and Democrat Bob Casey. The Republicans and Santorum have helped a Green party candidate, Carl Romanelli, get on the ballot in a desperate bid to siphon off votes away from Casey:

Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli, making his first bid for statewide elective office, acknowledged Monday that Republican contributors probably supplied most of the $100,000 that he said he spent gathering signatures to qualify for the Nov. 7 ballot.

Romanelli said he expects to turn in far more than the required 67,070 signatures by Tuesday's deadline.

I know that politics makes for strange bedfellows, but this absurd. And Romanelli shamelessly acknowledges that Republicans are his new best friends:

I have friends in all political parties. It's just that my Republican friends are more confident about standing with me than my Democratic friends. And as a group, my Republican friends are a little better off," he said in a telephone interview.

Okay, so we've got a three-way scenario between a Rep, a Dem, and a Green. And Casey currently has a 10 to 15 point lead over Santorum, depending on which poll you consult. No big deal right? A Green couldn't take more than 4 or 5 points away from Casey, right?

Maybe not. The real problem here is that Romanelli differs from Santorum and Casey on a key, critical wedge issue--abortion, according to the first article:

Romanelli, a Wilkes-Barre resident, supports abortion rights, while both Santorum and Casey oppose them. Political observers say Romanelli's candidacy would likely draw votes away from Casey, the state treasurer, who has held a double-digit lead over Santorum for months.

Although most Pennsylvanians seem to lean away from supporting the right to an abortion, there are enough pro-choice voters in the Democratic base and on the left to swing this race:

In Pennsylvania, 41% of likely voters say it is too easy to get an abortion, versus 23% who say it is too hard, and 24% who say the effort required is "about right." Fifty-two percent (52%) believe abortion is morally wrong, but only 34% agree that abortion should be banned except when the life of the mother is at risk. Fifty-two percent (52%) oppose such a ban.

The real question now becomes-how much Republican money will flow into Romanelli's coffers in the next few weeks? If he gets enough, he may be able to go to the airwaves and tout his pro-choice views. And it looks like Santorum's campaign or supporters have been behind funding Romanelli's signature gathering effort:

A Casey campaign spokesman accused Santorum of "earmarking" GOP contributions for an ostensible opponent."He's been the biggest supporter of the Green Party candidacy," said the spokesman, Larry Smar.

Virginia Davis, Santorum's campaign spokeswoman, declined to answer questions about whether he solicited the contributions.

An analysis showed that at least $29,000 came from donors who also have given to Santorum's campaign, and nearly all the donors had given to Republican candidates in recent elections.

Man, politics is getting pretty sleazy in the Quaker State. Maybe the Dems should also play hardball here. Any word on the libertarian candidate, Thomas Martin, in this race--has he gotten the requisite signatures to get on the ballot?

Should You Divorce Your Car?

Katie Alvord, author of Divorce Your Car! Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile, has written quite a bit on in her diary entries about experiences travelling car-free nationwide for her book signings, including interesting experiences riding trains and on bicycle in various cities where cars still rule the world. The diaries are a great exposition on how viable and enjoyable bicycling can be in our everday commutes and recreation, and I think they support an important theme also flagged in Gore's An Inconvenient Truth--namely, that change starts with the individual, and that we can't wait for our leaders to initiate it.

In another article, Alvord outlines a vision of a world in which we are less reliant on cars, one that fosters a greater sense of community, promotes green space, and puts on the road to environmental restoration:

Imagine it. As people drive less, travel lanes fill with cyclists. Businesses reclaim adjacent street space for outdoor cafes and markets. Children play in the streets, and safely. Neighbors, no longer so constantly encased in glass and metal, speak more often. Trains connect city centers. More of these city centers are designed for walking and bicycling, as in Copenhagen or Amsterdam with their car-free streets downtown. Development, instead of spreading, clusters into compact, convivial communities, surrounded by green space. Parking lots become parks and gardens. Smog dissipates. Quietude grows as traffic noise fades. As cities become less motorized and more livable, people feel less need to escape them. Pressure on wilderness drops; a restorative neglect blesses outlying areas. More roads get ripped and revegetated. Creeks are freed from culverts. Erosion from road construction no longer chokes trout streams. The sheen of oil disappears from lakes and rivers. All manner of biological communities expand -- forests and prairies, wetlands and deserts

This sounds like a world I'd like to live in. And at the rate we're going, it may HAVE to be the world we choose to make, if we want to stymie the accelerating rate of global warming, deforestation, and environmental degradation.

Alvord also alludes to the deleterious impact of our obsession with cars and multilane highways, roads and sprawling parking lots on our fragile ecosystem and on animal life, including egrets, in this great piece:

We humans have gotten into the habit of driving most times we take a trip -- but when we pull out of the realm of habit, a trip becomes a point of decision-making, and an opportunity. Not many of us can function in today's society without ever entering a car. But all of us can be mindful of the ramifications of doing so, mindful of the choice we make when sliding behind the wheel, and mindful enough to reduce the amount we do it. To drive undermines restoration. To move about using other means -- walking and bicycling in particular -- gives restoration support. Driving less can mean fewer roads, fewer oil rigs, less mining, containment of sprawl, fewer pollutants, and a tentative flourishing of places like the one where I communed with the egret.

One day shortly after I decided to pursue a "car divorce," as I later came to call it, I stopped my bicycle on the bridge to watch the egret, and it occurred to me: Bird, I'm doing this for you. For myself, yes, but also for you and for the potential that this could catch on, that car culture could de-volve, that less driving will allow a restoration of your wild world

It's very true--each time we leave our homes and choose to take our car keys and start the ignition, we are making a clear choice to prioritize our own personal convenience over restoration of our environment. And each time we start the car, we have truly missed an opportunity for taking a step to protecting our planet by using alternate transportation optionsm, including bikes and our two feet.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go play golf with a visiting friend, at one of the most beautiful golf courses in the Berkeley area--Tilden Golf Course in Tilden Park. On the third hole, I happened upon two deer grazing near the side of one of the fairways, and one of them couldn't have been more than 20-25 feet away from me. The doe just stood there and stared at me, and Alvord's communing with the egret reminded me so much of this moment on the course. So I'm going to follow Alvord's lead, and remember my chance encounter with the deer next time, every time I choose my mode of transport. Tomorrow, I plan to invest in a quality bicycle to take my own personal first steps toward restoring our environment.

Fidel Castro, Cuba and Iraq

Cuban-American leaders like Mel Martinez are speculating that Castro may not be alive. But in the same article, Tony Snow suggests that Castro is probably not dead.

Still, it looks like the Bush administration and Cuban-American leaders in Floridas can't wait for the moment that Fidel Castro no longer controls the country. And the administration has been planning for that very moment:

Three weeks ago, the administration released a 40-page report by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, with recommendations to hasten the end of Castro's government and assist a future transition to democracy. This year's report from the three-year-old presidential commission, now jointly headed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez, pledged $80 million in new funding to aid opposition and democratic forces, including Miami-based broadcasts of Radio Marti, but it offered no new policy initiatives.

Okay, now that Radio Marti nonsense simply hasn't worked. But $80 million to support "democratic forces" might. The real question is--why would we want to support another Western-backed coup or revolution of sorts, when it just triggered another coup in which a dictator seized power? And then US opposition to Castro led him to go seek support from the USSR. Recall that the dictator Bautista was originally backed by the US because he was catering to US corporate interests there. After multiple attempts, Fidel Castro succeeded at overthrowing Bautista in what's now called the democratic revolution. And Castro has held on to power ever since for more than 40 years.

I think we have to get over the neo-con obsession with regime change and quit worrying about the Chavez-Castro alliance between Venezuela and Cuba. Unlike what we did in Iraq, we should let things sort themselves out in Cuba, a soverign nation. Interfering there could lead to the same types of problems we have in Iraq--complete regime and regional destabilization, which has now led to problems with Iran and Hezbollah. If we get involved in another regime change operation in Cuba, not only could we be mired in a never-ending civil war, but the end result may be a new regime that is much, much more hostile to the US (if that's possible). And given that Cuba already has some support from Venezuela, we've got to be careful here.

Forest-friendly Fast Food?

According to Greenpeace, McDonalds has taken steps to stop deforestation in the Amazon:

It is hard to believe that the worlds largest rainforest is being destroyed to feed the fast food industry in Europe. That's right, thousands of acres of pristine Amazon rainforest are burned everyday to make way for soy production for cheap chicken feed. But now the worlds biggest fast food chain has answered our call to save the Amazon. McDonald's has agreed to stop buying soy grown in newly deforested areas of the rainforest.

But this may not be enough. As this article from the Kos shows, the Amazon forest may be depleting at twice the rate previously thought. And because the Amazon rainforest serves as vital CO2 sink, its depletion could accelerate global warming. Great.

And other fast-food chains still are buying soy from these deforested areas:

In order to truly protect the Amazon we need the same commitment from companies like KFC and the Amazons major soy-traders - Cargill, ADM, Bunge, Dreyfus and Amaggi. Weve just obtained a limited two-year moratorium from these traders on buying soy from deforested areas. But two years is not the permanent protection the Amazon needs, and if we dont act now, it could be no more than a token gesture.

So here's some stuff you can do. To donate to Greenpeace's efforts to help stop deforestation, click here. Here are some other groups working on it:

Rainforest Relief
Rainforest Action Network

Lieberman to Change Position on Iraq War?

Matt Stoller at MyDD reports on a rumor that Lieberman is making a new campaign ad about the Iraq War. Might Joe pull a Jane Harman and appease the Left with less than a week to go before the primary? After months of Ned Lamont hammering Joe on Iraq, it looks like desperation may be setting in its full-blown form now. Even if he does, this might be too little, too late.

Firefox: 200 Million Downloads

Firefox just passed a huge milestone today, recording its 200 millionth download today. Techweb notes that Mozilla is now cutting into Microsoft and Internet Explorer market share quite a bit:

Mozilla's has acquired about 15 percent of the global usage share in the nearly 21 months since it was released. In the same time span, Microsoft's Internet Explorer saw its share drop from the high 90s to just under 80 percent.

Firefox is also kicking butt in the US:

In the U.S., Firefox’s claim is even larger, with 15.8% in July up from 14.1% at the end of last year, according to Web analytics firm OneStat.

I've been using it for almost 2 years now, and find that's much cleaner and more stable than Microsoft's Internet Explorer, plus less immune to popups and bugs/viruses. Also, I advise readers to use Firefox when viewing this webpage as well.

To download Firefox, visit here.

Is the FairTax "Fair"?

I've been thinking more and more about this FairTax legislation since the Fairtax rally in Orlando, and still have two major critiques or objections that have not been adequately addressed--the fairness of the Fairtax and whether it would hamper economic growth.

First, I'm still not convinced the FairTax is fair. A national sales tax would disproportionately hurt and affect the middle and working class and the poor, since it would drastically raise the cost of basic necessities.

And it appears that such a tax would punish working families while rewarding the excessively rich--as I understand it, individuals and families would have to pay a 23 percent tax on gasoline (ouch), while Exxon and other oil powerhouses would pay zero--zilch--nada in corporate taxes. And guess how much Exxon made in the last quarter? 10 billion dollars profit. In 3 months. British Petroleum made 7.2 billion. As Jon Stewart tells us, that's $55,000 a minute. And under the "Fair" Tax, these two pay NOTHING in corporate tax. And you have to pay 23 percent on top of already soaring gasoline prices. Sounds like the Government and the Oil Companies make out like bandits under the FairTax, while the everyday consumer gets gouged even more. Not good. Plus, by all accounts, it would inevitably be regressive, according to this article from the conservative Brookings Institute:

If households are classified by annual income, the sales tax is sharply regressive. Under the AFT proposal, taxes would rise for households in the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution, while households in the top 1 percent would receive an average tax cut of over $75,000. If households are classified by consumption level, a somewhat different pattern emerges. Households in the bottom two-thirds of the distribution would pay less than currently, households in the top third would pay more. Still, households at the very top would pay much less, again receiving a tax cut of about $75,000.

And according to this source, a sales tax would cut taxes for only the very rich (top 5%), while middle class citizens would pay thousands more.

Economic Growth

The FairTax would slow economic growth by putting a damper on consumption. And since consumption helps stimulate growth. But as this article notes, it's doubtful whether a national sales tax would really promote growth, again according to the Brookings article:

But growth projections also need to take into account transition relief. Consider a 65-year-old who retires the day that a sales tax takes effect. While she worked, her income exceeded her consumption and she paid income taxes. Now in retirement,—when her consumption will exceed income,—she will be asked to pay consumption taxes. Should she be given tax relief for consumption financed by drawing down her assets? Giving such people tax relief on their accumulated assets would raise the sales tax rate considerably and reduce growth, but not giving tax relief seems unfair. Politically, some sort of relief seems almost a certainty.

Estimates suggest a well-functioning, broad-based consumption tax, with limited personal exemptions and limited transition relief could raise income per person by up to 2 percent over 10 years. But more generous transition relief or erosion of the tax base would drive the growth effects to zero fairly quickly. These results stand in sharp contrast to AFT's claims that after 10 years of a sales tax, the typical American household would be at least 10 percent and "probably 15 percent better off" than they would have been otherwise.

So there's a major problem here as I see it. I think advocates are right in suggesting that at higher income levels, a 23 percent sales tax won't affect consumer behavior that much--that is,the rich millionaire will still buy the nice shiny porsche whether it's $100,000 or $123,000. But I do think such a tax will be much more likely to affect the behavior of middle class and poor Americans. Marginal increases in the cost of food and groceries, gasoline, rent, basic utilities and services could make a significant impact in the aggregate and dampen down consumption.

Plus as the excerpt above notes, what are poor, fixed income, elderly retirees with very little retirement income going to do? I agree with the article that the poltiics of it will force leaders to offer relief to the elderly (given the enormous power of AARP and older voters), and this would raise the sales tax rate much much higher (30 percent or above), which would defintely affect consumption and growth.

It should also be noted that the report above observes that a national sales tax has failed in most countries where it's been tried leading those nations to revert to a VAT, because the sales tax ends up not being revenue-neutral, forcing them to raise the rate to excruciatingly high levels.

Finally, the "fairness" problem also indirectly impacts on the economic growth issue. I still submit that the FairTax would affect and reduce consumption among the middle class and poor--who make up the majority of this country (see the Porsche anecdote above). So if you're reducing consumption among the majority of consumers (and the nation), you're reducing demand for goods and services, which ultimately stymies growth, at least in the immediate term.

Swift Boat Vets Attack Murtha

Not again... Now they are calling themselves "Vietnam Veterans for Truth" (Huh?-not a clever play on Kerry's original group), and are going after Rep. John Murtha, a decorated marine who served his country in both Korea and Vietnam. The group now is campaigning against Murtha, urging for his "redeployment from Congress," because of his opposition to the war in Iraq. First Kerry, now this?

The VVT or Swift Boat Vets or whatever they're called are planning an anti-Murtha rally in October. So let me get this straight--a bunch of right wing, conservative veterans are attacking a decorated war hero who served his country in 2 wars, and for 30 years in Congress? More on Murtha's bio:

In 1959, Captain Murtha took command of the 34th Special Infantry Company, Marine Corps Reserves, in Johnstown. He remained in the Reserves after his discharge from active duty until he volunteered for Vietnam in 1966-67, where he served as the S-2 intelligence officer for the 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division and received the Bronze Star with Combat "V", two Purple Hearts and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

Wow. If these guys go through with their rally, they'll look like fools, plain and simple. And they'll have lost whatever shred of credibility they may have. Murtha's one of the finest leaders we have. The Swift Boat Vets will become nothing more than a sidestory of Election 2006.

John Kerry Pushes for Universal Healthcare by 2012

Speaking at Faneuil Hall in Boston yesterday, Kerry called for immediate action to provide insurance coverage for 45 million Americans without insurance.

According to the article above, the Kerry proposal is a more ambitious re-packaged version of his 2004 campaign proposal:

Kerry's plan would start with health coverage for all children by boosting federal reimbursements to states through their Medicaid programs. It also would allow individuals and employers to purchase the same health plan available to federal employees, and would reduce insurance costs across the board by having the federal government pick up catastrophic care insurance.

If anyone is left uninsured by the 2012 deadline, Kerry would require Congress to reexamine the program and figure out how to reach them. The coverage guarantee would come through some form of a government mandate, Kerry said, though he added that it's too soon to say how that would happen. Citing 2004 estimates, Kerry aides said the plan would cost $653 billion over 10 years.

While this is a smart policy move and tactic, Kerry is still reeling from criticism of his recent quote about the current crisis in the Middle East, in which he said, "If I was president, this wouldn't have happened."

I admit this was a gaffe--but sadly, MSNBC and Fox have this really bad tendency to just spin these stupid things into never-ending chatter for their programs. On Hannity and Colmes (the show where a persuasive conservative is teamed with a not-so-persuasive liberal, but hey it's Fox), Kerry ran into trouble defending his statement--here's the excerpt from the show transcript:

What I was talking about, Alan, which should not be distorted, is Iraq and the impact Iraq has had on the Middle East and the lack of diplomacy and involvement by this administration for several years. I'll give you a huge example.
For three years or more, this administration did not engage with France, Great Britain and Germany in the effort to keep Iran from having nuclear weapons. And our absence from that had a profound impact on their attitude.

In addition to that, the management of the war in Iraq has been such a disaster that this administration has lost credibility. I said again and again, I would not have gone into Iraq the way President Bush did, if I had to. I would have done that very differently, and our leverage, we would have a great different — a great deal more leverage in the region that we have today.

Obviously, I can't tell you that Hezbollah wouldn't do something bad. I can't tell you that they were going to snatch a couple of soldiers. I'm not saying that.
What I'm saying is Iraq would have been profoundly different, and our engagement and diplomacy would have been profoundly different. And the attitude of the United States towards the countries in that region would have been different, and as a result, we would have greater leverage and greater ability to protect our interests.

I agree with most of it, but the problem is that it's too loquacious, too long-winded, too academic. All Kerry needs to say (or some Democrat has to say) is :
1) Iraq was a mistake--we were lied to build support for an invasion, and now we need to pull out.
2) Our invasion of Iraq has destablized region, and we need to get out.
3) Our invasion of Iraq undermined our ability to prevent Iran from getting nukes, and now we're screwed.
4) I wouldn't have sped the arms-munitions shipments to Israel so they could bomb civilians in Lebanon. I would have engaged Iran and the nuclear program directly.

That's it. No long-winded mentioning of the three or four countries you'd gather together in a room. No abstract discussions about "leverage" and the international community. And no musings about engagement and diplomacy. Just keep it simple. Like Bush does.

But I'm with you on health care, John.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Arnold leads Angelides by Six Points; How Angelides Can Win

Today's Rasmussen poll had some bad news for Phil Angelides--he's down by six points to Arnold--47 to 41. This is not a good swing of momentum--Phil had a two point lead in Rasmussen's July 5 poll (46 to 44)--basically a dead heat. Also noteworthy--Terminator's approval rating has CLIMBED four points--from 51 to 55. Why the jump for Arnold? Here's my take:

The poll jump coincides with Arnold's call for a special session on prison reform, which has shored up Arnold's conservative base and also scored points with independents and moderates. Even though nothing's been done, just calling for the session gave people the impression that Arnold's going to something--which definitely allays people's concerns about prisons and prisoners.

Here's another problem--Angelides thus far has lacked the "killer" instinct. I said in an earlier post that Phil should be hammering Arnold on the incessant power outages caused by record heat, and also rising oil prices--hammer away on energy supply and conservation. But there's nothing to date from Phil on this. Bring out the revamped version of the Gray Davis "grayout" ad, only use some clever terminator pun and work it in. Phil may also want to back and fully support Proposition 87--the proposal to raise oil taxes. Then again, maybe not--raising taxes doesn't usually help Dems win.

Some contend that another problem Angelides has is that Democrats lack the "fire in the belly," that they had in last year's special election when the Terminator morphed into a right-wing Terminator aiming at labor unions and firefighters. The argument here is that the defeat Arnold suffered last fall shows that Dems have nothing to fear from a weak and puny Terminator.

The same article cited above also suggests trying to hammer Arnold on Iraq. How, you may ask? Use the screen clip of Arnold meeting Tony Blair during the PM's visit:

If Angelides wants to motivate his base, he should create a commercial showing Arnold’s support for Bush at the 2004 convention and his current boosting of Blair. In the background there would be photos of Americans who died in Iraq, coupled with footage of the death, misery and destruction that Arnold’s good friends George and Tony have brought to that country.

While this would be an effective tactic for a FEDERAL campaign, I don't know much it would resonate among state voters in a state election--this suggestion may underestimate how savvy voters really are. But hey, it's worth a shot if nothing else works.

The posting above also mentions that Phil faces a fractured Dem base in California that is not as galvanized as 2005:

The chief reason Angelides trails is his lack of unified support among Democrats, including union members and those who identify as environmentalists. If Angelides can get Democrats back in his camp at levels that were achieved by John Kerry or Barbara Boxer in California’s 2004 election, he has a good chance to win.

So how can Angelides unify and solidify this base of voters? Speak to issues on which they have common ground. And I think the key here is emphasizing a key theme on which Arnold did well on in his recall campaign (and then not so well in the 2005 special election)--reform.


How about backing Proposition 89--the proposal for public financing of elections? This would be the ultimate in pushing a "reform" agenda which Arnold championed during the recall election. Why not steal a page from Arnold and steal the thunder of Arnold's reformer-appeal? Unlike Arnold's "reform" agenda and support of certain initiatives in '05, which alienated and galvanized the unions and far left, Angelides would not face comparable backlash on this one. In fact, if corporate interests (the Chamber of Commerce, for example, which is probably already in Arnold's camp anyway) start attacking Angelides, this may actually raise his stock with the Democratic party faithful and rile them up enough to actually get them active and mobilized. As I wrote about in an earlier post, Arnold's support of the reform initiatives led to a rift and battle between unions and business interests, which ultimately hurt the proposals chances of winning, given that a well-organized coalition of nurses, labor, firefighters, etc. came together to defeat the initiatives.

I say throw down the gauntlet again. What Angelides needs to do now is to light fire under his Democratic base, and he can't do that by playing it too safe and moderate on all issues. Support Proposition 89 wholeheartedly, campaign on it, and force Arnold to come out and defend his OPPOSITION to reform. Arnold's made it clear that he's not a fan of public financing--the former Kindergarten cop has raised a whopping $93 million thus far. So maybe Arnold is trying to waffle on this one and not take a position--but if Phil forces his hand on campaign finance reform, he could make some real noise.

One more thing. Phil needs to target Latino voters and hammer Arnold on immigration. To minimize backlash, he could target latino television and newspapers perhaps.

So there it is Phil. Hammer Arnold on Blackouts, Oil Prices, and the lack of a real energy policy in California. Then go for the jugular and get behind Proposition 89 and turn the tables on Arnold by making this campaign a race about reform. It's not late to do it. But if you wait until October it might be too late.

And the Rich Get Richer: Stanford Gets $100 million from Nike

The Stanford Business School, set on the picturesque "farm" has received a whopping $100 million from billionaire Philip Knight, of Nike fame. Stanford is already one of the top 2 or 3 business schools in the nation, and now look what they'll get:

The bulk of it -- $100 million -- will go toward $275 million in new facilities that will be called the Knight Management Center. The rest of the money will be used to match other donors' gifts to endow faculty positions. Officials say the new buildings will allow Stanford to fulfill its vision for revamping the business school curriculum so students have a more individualized, interactive education.

The 340,000-square-foot center will be roughly 85,000 square feet larger than today's business school and will include eight buildings set around three quadrangles on Serra Street. Stanford plans to break ground in 2008 and finish construction by 2010 or 2011.

Man, why aren't Cal alums forking over this kind of money? There are some noteworthy donors--take for example Col. Charles and Louise Travers, who donated $12 million to the the Berkeley Political Science Department and $4 million to the Cal football team (Go Bears!). But Cal definitely needs more love.

Pombo's Quest for Oil Drilling off the California Coast

In the previous post, I alluded to Pete Dominici's child-like insistence that he's going to push for "more and more and more and more" (count'em--that's FOUR "mores") oil drlling off America's coasts. But if you thought that was bad, wait till you see Richard Pombo, chair of the House Resources Committee, who is pushing a much, much, much, much more aggressive coastal oil drilling plan with the full backing of the oil industry and its lobbyists. Apparently, Pombo's getting really testy with his GOP chums in the senate, and their wimpy oil drilling plan and unwillingness to adopt the more aggressive House plan, according to this report in the Chronicle:

"In fact, Pombo took a shot at the Senate's position by posting a cartoon on his committee's Web site showing a senator, portrayed as a screaming toddler, crying: "Waaaa! But I don't want to play with the House!"

So these are the rhetorical highlights of this week's lawmaking on Capitol Hill?: "More and more and more" and "WAAAA" (with 5 As)? What's happening to Congress? And why, like cranky little kids, are they fighting over who gets to destroy the environment and America's coastlines more, like they're fighting over playing with the same toys?

If you're a voter living in the 11th district in California represented by Richard Pombo, you now have yet another reason to vote the guy out. It was bad enough that Pombo accepted money from Abramoff and cozied up to him when it comes to policy making. But now, the Pombo-nator is out to destroy California's coast. With a vengeance...

Again according to the SF Chronicle, here's what the House plan would do:

"The House bill goes much further, ending the federal moratorium and allowing individual states to choose whether to permit drilling. Under the House measure, coastal states would have no control over areas more than 100 miles off shore."

Great. Just destroy what's left of the California coast. I went to Stimson Beach a while back and couldn't swim in it because of "bacterial contamination." And now we're going to have lots and lots of oil drilling. Nice.

The saddest part of this story? Pombo's unabashed and open acknowledgment that he's caving in to the interests of big oil and gas on this one and lobbyists:

"Pombo spokesman Brian Kennedy said the same industry lobbyists also met privately with Pombo last week to offer their behind-the-scenes support for his more sweeping House bill.

"The chairman has their assurance that they are not just going to fold to the Senate position. They are trying to get as much supply as possible," Kennedy said. Pombo "feels that American consumers are going to demand more from their lawmakers than baby steps when it comes to solving this supply crisis."

Hmm...."baby steps." How appropriate.

But apparently, Pombo will face some difficulty given that Arnold also opposes the House plan. Check out Landrieu's comment on this:

"Chairman Pombo, I think, understands when his own governor comes out against his bill how much work we have to do in this country" to persuade people of the merits of drilling, said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., a key sponsor of the Senate bill. "If Congressman Pombo is aggravated, don't be aggravated at me. Take it up with Arnold, take it up with the Terminator."

That's awesome. What a fitting rejoinder to the rhetoric of more and more and more and more and a cartoon of a baby screaming -- remind Pombo that his region is ultimately policed and governed by the Terminator. At least Arnold is being sort of sensible on one issue. But seriously, call your Senators and congress members immediately on this one--and tell 'em that you don't want either version of the proposed legislation--tell 'em you want to preserve the sanctity of our coasts. To find who your representative is click here.

Senate Approves More and More Oil Drilling

Man, the 2006 elections can't come soon enough. The Senate last night killed a fiibuster of a bill that would end restrictions on coastal oil drilling, allowing drilling on over 8.3 million acres of federal coastal waters near Florida, including 2.5 million acres of "Lease 181," the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, as the Chronicle notes, this may be the first step toward reversing the moratorium against coastal oil drilling nationwide. You've got to love (or not) the aggresive tone of Senator Pete Domenici on this one:

"Sen. Pete Domenici, the powerful New Mexico Republican who crafted the legislation, said he will propose even more drilling, possibly off the East and West coasts, as soon as next year.

"I will, in due course, argue for opening more and more and more and more," Domenici, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Monday. "That's how I see it happening. I think this is the first giant step toward breaking the precedent (against drilling) and getting us started."

Nice, Pete. I love the rhetorical flourish of repetition... (recall the recent repetition of the names of captured terrorists by Republicans on the House floor). Do Domenici and Ted Stevens of Alaska have the same speechwriter? Are there going to be a lot of tubes running through the ocean? Pete sounds like a little kid throwing a tantrum and then getting his way here.

Seriously, though, if there was ever a need to throw the Republicans out of the senate, it's now. It's like the Republicans literally salivate when it comes to new oil drilling of our fragile coasts and in the Alaskan wilderness. Of course Pete's going to push for more and more and more--New Mexico doesn't even have a freakin' coastline to drill off of.

Sadly, the Senate version of this legislation is actually a much milder, kinder, "gentler" oil-drilling bill compared to its House counterpart. And for that we have to thank...who else but...Richard Pombo. More on the Pombo's quest for coastal oil drilling in the next post.

Fidel Castro and Bush's Plan for Regime Change

Apparently, Bush and his team knew well in advance of Castro's ailing condition, and the Bush administration has been actively preparing for Castro's death or demise. On Monday, before news of Castro's condition was released, Bush just happened to be in Miami to speak to citizens about the situation in Cuba. Here's an excerpt of the speech:

"If Fidel Castro were to move on because of natural causes, we've got a plan in place to help the people of Cuba understand there’s a better way than the system in which they’ve been living under," he told WAQI-AM Radio Mambi, a Spanish-language radio station. "No one knows when Fidel Castro will move on. In my judgment, that’s the work of the Almighty."

Three weeks before the official announcement in Havana of Castro’s deteriorating health, a U.S. presidential commission called for an $80 million program to bolster non-governmental groups in Cuba for the purpose of hastening an end to the country’s communist system.

At the time the 95-page commission report was released, Bush said, "We are actively working for change in Cuba, not simply waiting for change."

There are so many fishy things about this statement, I'm not sure where to start. First, it's a bit strange to hear Bush talking about Castro moving on and the "work of the Almighty" so soon before we hear about Castro's condition--they obviously had some intelligence reports on Fidel and wanted to pre-empt reports of Castro's surgery with some official US policy statement--Bush was basically "priming" the news.

Second, why didn't Bush just wait for the Almighty to take Saddam Hussein out? Why the sudden patience with the Man upstairs?

Sadly, leaders in Florida are now suddenly becoming paranoid about the potential influx of immigrants and refugees from Cuba:

Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who like Ros-Lehtinen was born in Cuba, joined with her in saying they expect U.S. action for now will be limited to transmitting radio messages of hope to the Cuban people and preventing an influx of illegal immigrants from the island. Martinez said he is confident the Navy and Coast Guard have the necessary resources to prevent refugees from trying to flood U.S. borders.

This is terrible. When Castro was firmly in control of Cuba, we actually tried to aid or help a lot of folks seeking asylum. Why should that change?

Finally, why on earth are we going to try to actively work on regime change in yet another country? Is the plan that Bush has in place one that involves a military operation? Because we are already up to our ears in Iraq, it looks like the US or Israel are going to launch pre-emptive strikes against Iran, and we can't really afford to extend ourselves anymore. Granted, the proximity of Cuba makes its of supreme geopolitical importance, but I'm not sure supporting a coup or armed revolution would be a smart thing, given our experience in Iraq.

And I doubt exporting Radio Marti on the airwaves is going help much. Who knows, maybe Tony Snow and Bush will actively work to push the Fox News channel on Cuba? That'll REALLY make them want to become like the US, won't it?

Prop 89: Public Financing in California

Okay, so maybe it won't be a repeat of Arnold the Terminator against the unions of nurses and firefighters that we saw in the failure that was last year's special elections aimed at bringing "reform" to California. But it could get ugly.

This report from San Diego details the latest effort by campaign finance reformers to institute a system of pubilc financing (already passed by voters in Maine, Connecticut and Arizona) for state political campaigns. Backed by the California Nurses Association, the fight over Prop. 89 threatens to lead to a new tiff (or feud, if you like) between unions and business organizations, according to the report. Here's the details for you policy wonks:

Under the "clean money" system, the state would give money to candidates who collect the requisite number of $5 contributions as long as they agree to forgo further private fundraising.

The system would be paid for by an increase of two-tenths of a percentage point in bank and corporation taxes and would cost more than $200 million a year, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.

Sounds like an interesting idea. Of course, taxing banks and corporations to do--therein lies the rub. It's sort of like the reverse problem with eliminating existing corporate taxes under the FairTax--it basically incurs the ire and wrath of the opposing party and the interests they represent, only THIS TIME, reformers are trying to RAISE the corporate tax from 9.02 to 9.04. That's the political angle on this--a new battle between unions and corporations (last time it was an initiative trying to limit union power).

But the constitutional-legal aspect of this is more problematic--the contribution limits proposed by Proposition 89 maybe constitutionally suspect, but what may be more difficult are the proposed limitations on independent expenditures. As the report details, one problem with Arizona's new system is that it has given birth to a slew of independent-expenditure campaigns that try to operate outside the regime's restrictions:

he Arizona system has spawned a proliferation of special-interest campaign groups that spend money ostensibly independently from campaigns, said Bruce Merrill, a professor of political science at Arizona State University. The "independent expenditure" campaign is also a burgeoning phenomenon in California.

"The concept makes sense. It's an attempt to get more people into the process, to minimize the impact of large corporations and to loosen the impact of money in the system," Merrill said. "The problem is the way it works in Arizona, it works just the opposite."

Proposition 89 would put a cap on contributions to independent expenditure campaigns and to candidates who reject public financing and raise private contributions.

Again, capping independent expenditures and imposing caps on non-participating campaigns may not fly in court. FYI, here are the proposed contribution caps:

Contributions to nonparticipating candidates would be limited to $500 to $1,000 from individuals depending upon the office, $2,500 from committees and $12,500 to $750,000 from political parties.

More on the constitutional analysis from an election-law perspective to follow...

Is Chuck Hagel running for President?

As covered earlier here, Hagel is blasting Bush openly about his lack of leadership in the Middle East, as this article reports.

Hagel could be gearing up for a 2008 run, and these recent statements may be part of that. The Nebraska senator is distancing himself from an unpopular president, and may be trying to articulate a very different vision of foreign policy early on. Hagel and McCain are buddies, so who knows--maybe the two join up on the same ticket with Hagel as VP? If I'm the Democrats, that's the ticket I'd fear most, hands-down.

Katherine Harris told she will lose by GOP

It's never a good thing when you're on party is rooting against you in your own primary. Yet according to this report, that's exactly what happened according to a recently released letter issued by Florida GOP party chair Jean Jordan to Katherine Harris. In the ultimate act of political smackdown, the GOP issued this frank assessment:

"The polls tell us that no matter how you run this race, you will not be successful in beating Bill Nelson, who would otherwise be a vulnerable incumbent if forced to face a stronger candidate," it said.

While three others have since entered the race, a recent poll shows Harris has a good lead over these folks: LeRoy Collins Jr., son of the fmr Florida governor; Peter Monroe, a developer who managed the government's savings and loan bailout; and attorney William Mc Bride.

But the same Quinnipiac poll shows Harris trailing Nelson by a whopping 37 points, 64 to 21. Ouch.

Aside from her polarizing and controversial role as the Secretary of State (and chief elections officer) and simultaneous chair of President's Bush campaign in Florida, where she developed a sudden aversion to recounting ballots, Harris is also under scrutiny for taking contributions from Mitchell Wade, a defense contractor who pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, according to the CNN report.

Here's the real reason why I think the GOP is so worried about Harris and her candidacy. It's not just that she's going to lose to Nelson. Harris will also be a lightning rod for national attacks given her controversial role in the Bush v. Gore catastrophe that was the Florida elections, and in a way, will help Democrats in much the same way that Newt Gingrich was used by Clinton and the Dems in the 1996 re-election campaign. Both are high-visibility candidates with high-negatives, and Harris's campaign will only remind Dems of the Florida election imbroglio of 2000.

And Harris is already engaged in a bitter back-and-forth with DNC Chair Howard Dean. On her website, Harris takes umbrage and offense and Dean comparing her to Joseph Stalin (who wouldn't?). Anytime you're compared to brutal dictator who killed millions, it can't be good for your candidacy.

Here's another problem with Harris--on her website, she touts her active support of UN Ambassador John Bolton for permanent appointment to the position, in contrast to Ben Nelson's position. Again, more from Harris' own website, where she argues Nelson is aligned with the far-left in his opposition to Bolton:

Bill Nelson seems to be more concerned with perception than substance in comments made on MSNBCÂ’s "Hardball" when he stated that "sending John Bolton to the United Nations was tantamount to 'dissing' the rest of the world." Nelson went on to tell the Associated Press that John Bolton is "not the kind of representative of America that we want in the United Nations."

Umm..Katherine? I have to tell you that opposition to Bolton is NOT the exclusive province of the far left. I've seen the guy speak at the UN on North Korea and Iran, and the guy has been a terrible diplomat thus far, and that's not a big surprise, given his personal dislike of the UN and strong ties to neocons in power.

Here's one of the biggest problems with Bolton--the guy chose a personal speaking engagement at a right-wing think tank over the U.N. Security Council mission to Sudan over the humanitarian crisis and Genocide in Darfur:

Bolton responded that he had "a personal commitment in the United Kingdom" and couldnÂ’t "break the commitment" to address the ongoing genocide in Sudan.
To see the video of Bolton defending his action to Russ Feingold, go here. One word. Unbelievable.

Fidel Castro Steps Down From Power

Due to surgery he underwent last night, Fidel Castro has temporarily handed over power to his borther, Raul, according to this report. Read more:

The surprise announcement that Castro had been operated on to repair a “sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding” stunned Cubans on the island and in exile, and marked the first time that Castro, two weeks away from 80th birthday, had relinquished power in 47 years of absolute rule.

I've never heard of a "sharp intestinal crisis" before? Perhaps this is an ulcer in Cuba-speak? So what's the importance and impact of all of this on the transition to power and US politics?

First, Raul, Castro's bro, is only three years younger (75), so both brothers are aging. So who knows how long both survive and can hold on. Raul Castro, the current defense minister is apparently not the equal of his brother as a leader:

"Raul is worse than Fidel," said 52-year-old Maria Bencomo Page. "He is a worse person in every way. This guy, hope and pray, that he does not take over as such. Raul will not be able to fill Fidel’s shoes, not with the people of Cuba, not with the outsiders."

The US reaction to Castro's illness was definitely another questonable day in terms of diplomatic savvy:

White House spokesman Peter Watkins said U.S. authorities were monitoring the situation: "We can’t speculate on Castro’s health, but we continue to work for the day of Cuba’s freedom.”"

I know we're itching to overthrow this regime and establish "democracy" in Cuba--whatever that means now, but given our record in Iraq, is this really a good idea? And aren't you supposed to send well-wishes to ill foreign heads of state instead of planning regime-change while they are dying, even if they are Communists?

Raul Castro and the Battle for Succession
Robert Windrem's article on Raul is a good read and instructive here. While Raul is apparently a better administrator, some question his overall leadership capacity. But Raul apparently was a decent mobilizer and also helped recruit a lot of the current junior leaders who may succed him:

"Raul will seek consensus. He built the party, built the military and built the government. He is Mr. Cadre, Mr. Personnel, Mr. Talent Scout," said one intelligence official who tracked Cuban affairs.

Using Max Weber lingo, we are witnessing a transition away from charismatic authority to routinization.

What's more worrisome is who takes over after Raul, who if you ask me looks much, much older than Fidel Castro, at least in this picture.
There's apparently 3 guys who could try to take control (who unlike Raul are not part of the constitutionally mandated chain of succession): Vice President Carlos Lage, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon. Windrem notes that Lage and another guy, del Toro, are the most loyal and trusted by the Castros:

Officials say the most important "Raulistas" are two members of Fidel Castro's cabinet, Lage and Sugar Minister and former army chief Ulysses Rosales del Toro

(Insert Benicio del Toro quip here.) It'd be strange to have a Cuban president named "Ulysses."

Economic Reform?
Apparently, Raul may be more pro-economic reform than his brother, though he still is politically an authoritarian. More to come on how this story affects US-Cuba relations

There's a great message board here about the implications and future of Cuba. Some are already calling for an end to the embargo.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Israel v. Lebanon: Bush Says No to "Cease-Fire"

Is the Bush administration talking out of both sides of their mouth? Just this morning, Condoleezza Rice was saying she was confident that a framework was in place for a cease-fire agreement to be adopted later this week to end the fighting between Israel and Lebanon--one that would bring in an international security force into southern Lebanon.

But now, according to MSNBC, Bush is dismissing calls for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon as "stopping for the sake of stopping," without a plan for a lasting Middle East peace.

These folks aren't making any sense to me (not that they ever did). It appears to me to be diplomacy by confusion. Rice assures the community of world nations already raw and viscerally bothered by the Qana attacks that there will be an end to the war--soon. And then Bush says, "Nah, let it go for a few more days." I, for one, like stopping war for the sake of stopping violence--civilian casualties--you know, saving women and children and that sort of stuff. It's like Bush is saying, c'mon let'em bomb 'em for a couple more days, maybe a week or two, and maybe some more innocent women and children will be killed, but then we'll have LASTING peace. This is not leadership--this is insanity.

Meanwhile, fissures are starting to emerge within the Republican party over Bush's mishandling of the Israel-Lebanon war. Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, already an outspoken critic of the Iraq war, is now officially and openly condeming Bush on Israel and Lebanon, according to the same article:

Pro-Israel congressman breaks from President

Although pro-Israel sentiment runs deep in the U.S. Congress, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., broke with the president on Monday and said Israel’s pounding of Lebanon was hurting America’s image in the Middle East. “The sickening slaughter on both sides must end now,” Hagel said. “This madness must stop.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Republicans, Evan Bayh Opposed to Moving Up Nevada Primary; Proposals for Primary Reform

Updating this earlier post, it appears now that Evan Bayh isn't the only one to critique the DNC's proposal to move up the Nevada and South Carolina primaries. Now it's the Republicans turn. According to this report from the ever-so conservative Washington Times, strategists like Scott Reed and Nevada GOP chair Paul Adams are blasting Dems, alleging that the proposed primary changes are designed to advantage Hillary Clinton's chances in the primaries. The article alludes to Republican fears that early victories for Hillary will further enable her to build up an already massive campaign war chest for 2008, given that she faces a very weak challenge in her race against Tasini. But the GOP here is trying to spin it as desperately as they can:

"The Democrats would be a lot better off focusing on developing an agenda than fiddling with the calendar," said Scott W. Reed, a Republican presidential campaign consultant.

"They seem to think the problem is the manner in which they select their nominees rather than the policies of their candidates," said Paul Adams, Nevada's Republican Party chairman.

While I'm not the biggest fan of the new "six for '06" platform rolled out by the Democrats on the Hill, I am still pretty confident that Dems have a much stronger platform than Reps at the present moment. All hell has broken loose in Iraq in the Middle East, oil prices are soaring, and America is absolutely scorching and cooking this summer, and unless we live in a world gone mad, Democrats should be able to take back at least the House this year. I highly doubt that moving up Nevada and South Carolina will make that big of a difference, unless of course Harry Reid or Jim Clyburn throw their hats in the ring. Maybe South Carolina helps Warner (a little?).

More likely than not, the state of the war in Iraq will have a much, much, bigger impact on the Democratic Primaries

Evan Bayh weighs in on Nevada

According to this report, members of the DNC from Indiana, at Evan Bayh's request, are going to vote against the proposal to move up the Nevada primaries closer to Iowa's and New Hampshire's. Apparently, however, the proposal is likely to pass.

Nevada and South Carolina may not be the biggest strongholds for Bayh:

But independent political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said he doesn't necessarily agree.Inserting Nevada and South Carolina in the schedule could increase the impact of Hispanic and black voters, two constituencies that aren't a natural constituency for Bayh, Rothenberg said."I just don't see it as a huge plus for him. I'm not sure it's a minus," Rothenberg said. "But he's still going to have to do really well in Iowa and come out of there with some sort of head of steam."

At the outset, I agree with Bayh and others on this one--at least for 2008. Candidates like Bayh have invested precious resources and time in Iowa and New Hampshire assuming that these would be the two early sites for candidate vetting and selection. There's a reliance interest here--and to shake that up so late in the game is truly unfair. The DNC should announce that the changes will be put into effect for 2012. But perhaps Democrats are desperate for change.

Alternate Proposals for Primary Reform

I personally support shaking up and reforming the primary system for Democrats, and would subdivide the primaries into a compressed one or two-month period in which there would be three or four distinct "weekend periods" of voting. The first weekend would consist of smaller states including New Hampshire, Nevada, West Virginia, Maine, Kansas, New Mexico, etc. The second weekend would have the moderately-sized states weigh in--states like Minnesota, South Carolina, Oregon, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, etc. Finally on weekend three--the big states like California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, etc. would get to weigh in.

An obvious advantage of such a system would be to minimize the role of the media in picking front-runners, which subsequently influences who gets campaign contributions and whose campaigns are doomed. I also think our current system may be flawed--candidates that do well in New Hampshire and Iowa may NOT necessarily be the best candidates or most electable. Enlarging the sample size early on increases the diversity of voters within the party, and provides a better test of a candidate's viability.

An alternative proposal--why not just have one national primary day in late January of 2008--after all, that's how our general election is conducted? Granted, the major flaw with this system is that it heavily advantages the most "famous" or well-known candidates, and will also heavily favor big states, as candidates will be forced to campaign in the big electoral prizes. But there might be ways to offset this--perhaps tie delegate counts to the electoral vote system, or "weight up" smaller states to equalize delegate representation. While some might contend such a system might devolve into virtual anarchy with multiple "favorite regional" candidates each focusing on their respective regions and deying the winner an outright majority, I contend that a national primary would add excitement back into the primaries, especially for states that have very little say or influence given that they come so late in the current primary calendar.

FairTax: Proposed Legislation and Politics

We've had some stellar debate on the policy merits and details of the FairTax on this blog thus far, but I wanted to examine the actual legislative effort on the Hill led by Representative John Linder and examine the political context of the FairTax legislation.

First off, it should be noted that support for the plan is definitively and distinctly concentrated in the South and Southeast, at least if rallies are a good measure of this--there have been two successful rallies, one in Atlanta (9000) and the second Orlando rally (close to 10,000 according to organizers).

Representative John Linder,a Republican from Georgia's 7th district, is a primary sponsor of the Fair Tax legislation, which if you're wondering, is H.R. 25. H.R. 25 is available at this link. (I had trouble finding a direct link to it on Linder's site). Linder, according to the handy-dandy spectrum chart is definitely a conservative, but not from the far-right of the party. (Linder's actually a dentist by profession).

Linder's own website reveals some of what the FairTax would do--including the immediate repeal of all corporate taxes:

The FairTax Act:
Repeals all corporate and individual income taxes, payroll taxes, self-employment taxes, capital gains taxes, estate taxes and gift taxes.
Imposes a revenue-neutral personal consumption tax on all new goods and services at the point of final purchase. Business-to-business transactions and used products (which have already been taxed) are not subject to the sales tax.
Rebates the sales tax on all spending up to the poverty level.

Again, from a political perspective, passing a repeal of the corporate tax may be very difficult, as a lot of Democrats may not sign on to it. (Remember, this is a constitutional amendment attempt, so you need more than a majority). Perhaps this effort will then have to go directly through the states?

What's impressive about HR 25 is the number of co-sponsors it has thus far--55 representatives--not bad. Here's a list of the co-sponsors--so far all of them are Republican, and mostly from the South. Note that there are 3 Senators backing the measure--Jon Cornyn of Texas, Sen. Coburn of Oklahoma, and Sen. Isakson of Georgia.

Overall, if the ideology of co-sponsors is a good measure, H.R. 25 primarily has the backing of the most conservative members of the Republican party (again--see the political spectrum chart). And if I was a consultant to the FairTax group, I would advise them to take the first name on the list of sponsors off the list--Tom DeLay. His support of this thing isn't likely to help your cause. But all-in-all the list of co-sponsors looks like a list of conservative "all-stars" from the right wing of the Republican party. A look at some of the names: Of course, our good friend W. Todd Akin (author of the classic Pledge Protection Act and No Taxation without Representation Act) is on the list, as is Tom Tancredo and Phil Gingrey.

And this is strange--a large percentage of the names on this list also appear on another list--the list of congress members who voted AGAINST renewal of the Voting Rights Act. There's the venerable Steve King from Iowa, who opposed the renewal of the Voting Rights Act because of objections to the bilingual language provisions. And surprise--representatives including Tancredo, Gingrey, Gary Miller, and Lynn Westmoreland who support HR 25 all voted against the Voting Rights Act.

And finally, there's John Linder, the original author and main sponsor. Also an opponent of the Voting Rights Act.

So there you have it--a largely conservative bloc of congress members backing a comprehensive tax reform bill and constitutional amendment. Granted, on its merits, the FairTax proposal may not necessarily be one tied to either one of the party's ideological strains (though I submit this may be a dubious contention), but nonetheless, the major hurdle to passing H.R. 25 will be to get bipartisan support from Democrats, especially given that Democrats are loathe to support reductions in the corporate tax (as this would upset their base). Again, I'm not sure this is legislation on which proponents would want to compromise on--the whole point is to get rid of tax loopholes as I understand it, and compromises would inevitably entail putting loopholes back in. But who knows--perhaps the authors of the bill would be willing to keep corporate taxes if they can get rid of personal income taxes?

If passing the FairTax through Congress is not a viable option (and again, this will depend on the results of the November midterm elections), proponents would have to lobby the legislatures of 2/3 of the states to to call for a national convention at which constitutional amendments could then be proposed. The amendment would then have to garner support and ratification by three-quarters of the state legislatures. Again, not an easy process--and no amendment has ever been proposed and ratified and enacted through this route.

Commentary: The Peculiar Disappearance of the War in Iraq

Frank Rich's column on how the mass media and major news networks have effectively vaporized the Iraq War as a point of focus for news coverage is an important read, and it points to a critical flaw in the relationship between American foreign policy and media coverage: the public's short attention-span often has a negative feedback effect on our policies and priorities abroad.

What is truly sad is that the struggles of 135,000 plus American troops trying to stabilize an anarchic Baghdad, and the stories of countless thousands of civilians who have been killed and are suffering as a result of the virtual chaos there. As Rich so rightly notes, Americans would rather the war just "went away" from their public view and public attention, but lack the moral courage and political will to ask their leaders to put an end to US occupation in Iraq. As Rich points out:

CNN will surely remind us today that it is Day 19 of the Israel-Hezbollah war — now branded as Crisis in the Middle East — but you won’t catch anyone saying it’s Day 1,229 of the war in Iraq. On the Big Three networks’ evening newscasts, the time devoted to Iraq has fallen 60 percent between 2003 and this spring, as clocked by the television monitor, the Tyndall Report.

Sadly, as Rich notes, the death toll in Iraq continues to rise precipitously, to more than 100 a day, which is greater than that of the Israel-Lebanon conflict.

I know that when we visit our families or go on vacations, none of us want to be reminded of the horrible situation in Iraq. We think that our psyches, our personal lives will be unduly burdened or weighed down by hearing bad news. But folks, I have to tell you something--ignoring this failed war doesn't make it go away. It still persists in the inner recesses of our collective psyche and will trouble us dearly if we don't openly acknowledge the mistakes we've made in the Middle East. More from Rich:

For reporters, the already apocalyptic security situation in Baghdad keeps getting worse, simply making the war more difficult to cover than ever. The audience has its own phobia: Iraq is a bummer. "It is depressing to pay attention to this war on terror,” said Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly on July 18. "I mean, it’s summertime."

(Bill O'Reilly is a real piece of work.)

The incentive structures of our current political war powers regime are perverse--it's easy to urge Americans to support troop deployments to other regions when we've been attacked. But no matter how much failure and defeat we suffer in these military adventures abroad, it seems politically impossible to withdraw troops--individual congressional leaders lack the political incentive and will to go against a President unwilling to admit a mistake or unwilling to admit he's losing a war gone awry.

While I do think we all have short attention spans when it comes to certain issues, I also think that within each of us lies an innate sense of humanity and empathy that will NOT allow us to ignore policies that unnecessarily are exposing American troops and Iraqi civilians to violence. At some point, human empathy must embolden political will, and political will must then effect change in our foreign policy and military operations.

It's ultimately the media's sustained focus on the "bummers" of failed wars that can tap into these human virtues--that can convince Americans and our leaders in Washington of the need to withdraw troops from foreign misadventures gone haywire. It took the persistent and sustained reporting of many a news anchor and reporter in Vietnam for Americans to truly see the human price and face of a cruel and horrific war in Southeast Asia. And unless, the American news media turns the Iraq War Channel back on, America may find itself and its troops trapped in the Iraq quagmire, without an end in sight to a failed and misguided occupation and war.

2006 visits

We just received our 2006th visit--I thought I'd flag this auspicious moment. 2006 in our first month of operating in 2006. Neat.

PostSecret: A Source of Hope?

After hearing and reading about this site, I finally visited the PostSecret blog page and was surprised to find a simple, yet elegant website that offers people the opportunity to anonymously vent their secrets through online postcards. Apparently, various news outlets have commented on the cultural and artistic significance of the site. But the site has some great aspirational aims I think as well--there are links to suicide prevention sites and hotlines. I think it's a great use of the web that is simultaneously artistic, entertaining, therapeutic, and socially conscious, especially if it addresses important and critical issues like suicide, domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Oil-Free Candidates in Arizona

Apparently, candidates are taking the oil-free pledge in the race for the 8th congressional district of Arizona. Democratic candidates Jeff Latas and Francine Schacter have taken the pledge, as have Patty Weiss and Republican Frank Antenori. By the way, Latas' campaign web site is here, this one belongs to Weiss, and here's Antenori's.

Apparently, Jon Kyl is one of the best friends of the oil industry, according to the post on the Blog for Arizona, and has accepted more than 300,000 from Big Oil and helped advance their interests:

What have these oil giants bought with their largess? Kyl has been at the forefront of selling American energy policy to the energy industry. 24 American refineries were intentionally taken off line through the 1990's to limit supply of refined oil products and thus inflate prices. Kyl has led the fight to block Congressional investigation into this price gouging by big oil.

If you know of other candidates who have taken the oil-free pledge, please post here or let me know via email. I'll post a running list on the right side of this blog.

The War in Iraq: Concrete Steps to Bring the Troops Home

So I'm done with my ranting about Iraq (at least for the next few hours). But ranting, while sometimes therapeutic, can also foster feelings of hopelessness and despair. And the Bubble is all about action. So if you want to reverse course in Iraq and start pulling back our troops, here's what you can do:

1. Call your congressperson immediately. If you don't know your local congressperson's name, address, or phone number, you can find that information here.

2. Mobilize through websites like to support passage of a plan to end our occupation and presence in Iraq. Or sign this petition.

3. Work for the campaign of a congressional candidate committed to bringing our troops home.

4. Write letters to the editor (or emails) to your local or to national newspapers and magazines. While you're at it, call in to talk radio and talk television shows as well.

Breaking News: Rice Reports Cease-Fire Framework Reached Between Israel-Lebanon

The Washington Post, and now CNN, are reporting that Sec. of State Rice is hopeful that a cease-fire agreement will be reached by week's end between Isreal and Lebanon.

"Based on what we have accomplished, and the urgency of the situation, we will call for the United Nations Security Council action this week on a comprehensive settlement that includes three parts: a cease-fire, the political principles that provide for a long-term settlement, and the authorization of an international force to support the Lebanese army in keeping the peace," Rice said in a statement.

But is this real diplomatic progress or just fluff? There's too many unresolved issues to conclude that this thing will happen for sure.

But Rice was vague about the political framework by which a comprehensive settlement could be reached. Rice also failed to provide details on the thorny issues of sequencing of the various elements of the agreement and the composition and mandate of the international force. The U.S. and Israel would prefer a European force, while Lebanon wants to expand the existing UNIFIL force. And it remains unclear whether the force would have the authority to fight against Hezbollah.

But it looks like senior diplomats on the ground are optimistic:

A senior administration official traveling with Rice said that the cease-fire, political agreement and deployment of the stabilization force should happen "near simultaneously" once the United Nations passes the resolution spelling out the deal.

Keep your fingers crossed, and pray (if you do that), or do both!

War in Iraq: Baghdad kidnappings and chaos

It's good to see that MSNBC is still covering Iraq. It's sad to hear about the latest news from Baghdad--29 people were kidnapped in a cellphone store today, while 19 were killed in the latest wave of attacks and suicide bombings.

Support an Oil-Free Congress

I wanted to direct readers to a worthy cause--signing a petition urging House and Senate members to take a pledge not to take any further contributions from the oil industry. You can sign the petition here, at's website. Ultimately, the first step to ending our dependence on oil requires that we elect leaders who aren't beholden to or dependent on the support of the oil and gas industry and their campaign dollars. While both parties have taken millions from oil, Republicans account for 75% of those campaign contribution receipts since 1990, taking over 140 million since 1990! Only after we get leaders who disavow oil contributions can we pave the way to serious debate and adoption of sensible, viable legislation on alternative clean energy sources. I urge you to take this important step today.

Lebanon: The Historical and Political Significance of Qana

Many world leaders and diplomats were stunned and shocked by Israel's air attack on Qana, Lebanon, which killed 60 or more civilians, and among them mostly women and 37 children. And more were simply outraged by the US and Condi Rice's assertion that they wouldn't necessarily press for a cease fire immediately, until Hezbollah is disarmed. And what's most significant about any of these stories is the toll on human life--measured not only by casualties, but by the affect and impact of attacks on the actual quality of life of civilian families just trying to live normal lives.

This attack may prove to be a turning point in this war. While I suspect many Sunni nations and regimes in the Middle East may have been initially "mildly" neutral, given that they feared the growing power of the Shia dominance of Iran and Hezbollah, the images of Qana have the danger of translating directly into the psychological and rhetorical precursors of terrorism. Apparently, there is some dispute as to whether this building really housed Hezbollah or was just a civilian target, and this is leading Lebanese citizens (who are not aligned with Hezbollah) to direct their outrage at the U.S. This is from Kevin Sites' article on Qana:

I ask Abbas Kassab who he blames for the bombing and death in Qana, and the answer I receive is similar to what I have heard elsewhere on the streets of Lebanon.

"America," he says. "Only America."
"America gave the green light for Israel to do this. Israel can't shoot one bullet without America's permission. America is responsible. There are not resistance fighters here. Only kids playing. Even if there were, why would they kill civilians? Let them fight in Bint Jbail where the resistance is. Let Israel go to Bint Jbail and see what they can do."

The U.S. must be extremely cautious from this point on in this war. As I wrote in my earlier post Israel (and arguably the US) have an interest in completely eliminating Hezbollah's military capacity and installations so that they can go after Iran's nuclear program if necessary, without fear of immediate retaliation.

But Qana can emerge as a potent symbol that may further frustrate U.S. and Israel's aims; by evoking the collective outrage of the Islamic world, the attacks may help galvanize a second wave of terrorism that can further destabilize the region.

Ironically, Qana also is a town of tremendous historical and biblical significance, as it is here that it is claimed that Jesus turned water into wine, as Sites notes in his article. And Qana was hit by Israel in 1996 in an attack that killed over 100 individuals who were taking shelter in a UN installation. Could there be a larger significance to attacking this town, given its obvious connection to Christian history and heritage? Ultimately, all of these military conflicts, at their deepest roots, have some religious bases. Let's pray that this conflict ends immediately and that the better heads and minds in the US and the UN prevail upon leaders to put an end to this never-ending war.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Lebanon and Israel: Where do we go from here?

Israel's strike today against Qana, in which more than 60 civilians, including children, were killed, has called into question Israel's larger strategy and true motives for the current war. In fact, while expressing sorrow for the Qana tragedy, PM Ehud Olmert told Condi Rice that he needed another 10 to 14 days to complete its war aims against Hezbollah. The extended Israeli war against Hezbollah and Lebanon now reveals that there may be a much more long-range goal ahead--the elimination of Iran's nuclear program. This whole war now really boils down to strategic maneuvering between Iran and Israel for regional power. As this article suggests--the Hezbollah kidnapping and initial attack on Israel could have been just a smokescreen and delay tactic, to buy time for Iran as it continues to drag its feet in international negotiations regarding its nuclear weapons program. Distract the world by triggering a war between Israel and Hezbollah (backed by Iran), and while the world panics, Iran keeps plowing ahead with its development of nukes.

At the same time, military planners within the US and Israel have been drawing up plans to take out Iran's nuclear weapons program for the past five years, and Israeli intelligence may have just learned that Iran is very, very close to developing a nuclear weapon that could strike Israel. Iranian president Ahmedinejad's recent statements about...
There's more...

The Bubble Focus

For many of you visitors who have been dropping by and reading my ranting and raving about Lieberman, the Iraq War, the Israel-Lebanon conflict and recent Qana attacks, and the Fairtax, I wanted to take this moment to clarify what I believe to be three of the most critical issues that the Bubble hopes to focus on and discuss. Our goal here is to bring together the best analysis of policy proposals, along with the politics surrounding these issues, in order to provide a roadmap and suggestions for effecting change in all areas. I hope that the Bubble can thus help engage readers and other authors in a thoughtful debate about where we are headed as progressives, as Democrats, and as Americans.

So here's three of the main issues we care about at the Bubble:

The Iraq War
American occupation and involvement in Iraq, the Middle East and elsewhere. America's presence in Iraq is NOT aiding our efforts to prosecute the war on terror, and only subjects our troops to the heightened violence and attacks of multiple factions engaged in an all-out civil war. We can't hide in a bubble and ignore the horrific toll in casualties this war is inflicting on US troops and civilians. So we won't stop talking about it--and we'll also offer concrete suggestions from this point on as to how to bring the troops home through political mobilization.

Oil dependency and energy conservation
The price of oil continues to rise, and yet the US lacks a coherent and concrete energy policy that truly embraces energy conservation and research and development of alternative energy technologies, along with investment in high-speed rail systems and metropolitan rapid transit systems nationwide. It's time to break Oil's strangehold on our politics, and on our way of living, and toward that end the Bubble will focus increasingly on articles dealing with new energy technologies and policies that are both sensible and viable.

Environmental Protection and Global Warming

Third, but definitely not the least important, the Bubble hopes to engage readers and other authors in a dialogue about policies that can help reduce and reverse global warming, while also discussing how we can better take care of our air, water, forests, parks, natural preserves, and endangered species.

These three topics are definitely interrelated in many respects, and of course, the Bubble will also continue to discuss American politics and the 2006 and 2008 elections. But through thoughtful blogging and discussion of these three areas, we hope to foster a new dialogue that brings new ideas and policies to the forefront of Democratic party politics--a dialogue that seeks to redefine what being a progressive and a Democrat really means. But I'm pretty certain that people of all partisan orientations and leanings agree that these three issues should be at the front and center of debate and discussion in the American polity, and toward that end, we hope to advance the development and implementation of policy change that all Americans will appreciate and benefit from.

FairTax: A Corporate Boondoggle?

Ever since the Fairtax rally in Orlando, I've been reading the FAQ and literature on the FairTax, and I have to say that I do think there are some compelling reasons to support such a policy, but I still have a few reservations about the proposal, based on the FAQs on the FairTax website, and on the Research and Analysis section provided on

First, FAQ #48 alludes to my first concern--namely that business purchases would NOT be taxed under the FairTax. Obviously there are concerns about potential fraud and sham businesses that could be set up for tax evasion purposes, but the FAQ suggests otherwise, stipulating that the FairTax proposal would make this type of fraud very difficult:

The FairTax has several features that make it difficult and very risky for persons to have a scam business in order to purchase items tax free. First, in order for any person to purchase items tax free for business purposes, the business has to be a registered seller and possess a registered seller certificate issued by the state sales tax authority. Registered sellers are expected to file monthly or quarterly sales tax returns with the state (depending on sales volume). The certificate enables the business to purchase tax free from wholesale vendors, but the vendor must retain a copy of the registration certificate to justify not having collected tax on the sale.

Thus, one problem with the FairTax is that it may not reduce or eliminate the government bureucracy that is needed to implement and enforce any tax regime. You're essentially replacing one huge bureaucracy in the IRS with a new auditing and enforcement agency--with 50 NEW state-level agencies (or another federal agency). Read more:

Also, as registered sellers, they are subject to the possibility of being audited by the state. During such an audit they will have to produce the invoices for all the “business purchases” that they did not pay sales tax on, and will have to be able to show that they were bona fide business expenses. If they cannot prove this, then they will have to pay the taxes that should have been paid when the items were purchased, plus interest and penalties. The probability of being audited will be much greater than it is under the current system with its over 140 million tax filers. Under the FairTax, there will be less than 20 million businesses that will be filing sales tax returns and thus subject to the possibility of being audited. Thus the probability of tax cheats getting caught will be much greater than it is today, making tax evasion riskier than it is today. Additionally, while the FairTax has much stronger taxpayer rights than does the current tax system, the FairTax legislation provides for a number of fines and penalties for noncompliance.

So even under the FairTax, you would still have a regime or government agency charged with auditing businesses. And given that businesses must register with the Secretary of State or analogous state agency, there would still be two levels of bureucracy (unless the proposal would actually vest this power in state governments). But either way, there will still need to be a government agency in place with both auditing and enforcement capacity, including administering and enforcing fines and criminal penalties. More government bureaucracy.

Second potential problem I see with a national sales tax--it fails to account for variation in state-level (and even county-level) state taxes. So for example, if one were living in Alameda County in California, you would add the 23 percent national tax to the 8.75 percent local tax. That's a tax rate of almost 32 percent on goods and services, which would be downright oppressive for the working poor in this area.

Here's one final problem. The FairTax advocates suggest that it would help limit or undermine the influence of lobbyists and others who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo tax regime replete with thousands of loopholes. But the FairTax, while no doubt simpler and cleaner, still seems to suffer from this problem. In carving out an exemption for real estate, it has earned the full and obvious backing of the Realtors. So you still have a tax regime that caters to Realtors, in much the same way that the current tax system privileges home ownership.

Qana: Historical and Political Significance

Many world leaders and diplomats were stunned and shocked by Israel's air attack on Qana, Lebanon, which killed 60 or more civilians, and among them mostly women and 37 children. And more were simply outraged by the US and Condi Rice's assertion that they wouldn't necessarily press for a cease fire immediately, until Hezbollah is disarmed. And what's most significant about any of these stories is the toll on human life--measured not only by casualties, but by the affect and impact of attacks on the actual quality of life of civilian families just trying to live normal lives.

This attack may prove to be a turning point in this war. While I suspect many Sunni nations and regimes in the Middle East may have been initially "mildly" neutral, given that they feared the growing power of the Shia dominance of Iran and Hezbollah, the images of Qana have the danger of translating directly into the psychological and rhetorical precursors of terrorism. Apparently, there is some dispute as to whether this building really housed Hezbollah or was just a civilian target, and this is leading Lebanese citizens (who are not aligned with Hezbollah) to direct their outrage at the U.S. This is from Kevin Sites' article on Qana:

I ask Abbas Kassab who he blames for the bombing and death in Qana, and the answer I receive is similar to what I have heard elsewhere on the streets of Lebanon.

"America," he says. "Only America."
"America gave the green light for Israel to do this. Israel can't shoot one bullet without America's permission. America is responsible. There are not resistance fighters here. Only kids playing. Even if there were, why would they kill civilians? Let them fight in Bint Jbail where the resistance is. Let Israel go to Bint Jbail and see what they can do."

The U.S. must be extremely cautious from this point on in this war. As I wrote in my earlier post Israel (and arguably the US) have an interest in completely eliminating Hezbollah's military capacity and installations so that they can go after Iran's nuclear program if necessary, without fear of immediate retaliation.

But Qana can emerge as a potent symbol that may further frustrate U.S. and Israel's aims; by evoking the collective outrage of the Islamic world, the attacks may help galvanize a second wave of terrorism that can further destabilize the region.

Ironically, Qana also is a town of tremendous historical and biblical significance, as it is here that it is claimed that Jesus turned water into wine, as Sites notes in his article. And Qana was hit by Israel in 1996 in an attack that killed over 100 individuals who were taking shelter in a UN installation. Could there be a larger significance to attacking this town, given its obvious connection to Christian history and heritage? Ultimately, all of these military conflicts, at their deepest roots, have some religious bases. Let's pray that this conflict ends immediately and that the better heads and minds in the US and the UN prevail upon leaders to put an end to this never-ending war.

Update 9:44 AM: MSNBC and the Washington Post have an article up which drives home the point I'm making here--namely that the Qana attacks and a prolonged war between Israel and Lebanon could isolate and undermine American foreign policy in the region.

New York Times Endorses Ned Lamont

Update--July 30: It's official--the New York Times has endorsed Ned Lamont.
Here's a link to the early story yesterday on the DailyKos. Incredible. It's hard to believe the same newspaper endorsed the guy as VP in 2000.

The article by Adam Nagourney cited by the Kos details just how much trouble the Lieberman campaign is in, and details the mistakes made by the campaign early on in failing to pay heed to early warning signs that Lieberman was vulnerable on the Iraq war. Apparently, Lieberman's campaign staff was so inexperienced, and his GOTV operation so shoddy, that Senator Chris Dodd was forced to send in his own staff to reinforce the operation, and national Democratic operatives were sent in as well.

There's some debate as to whether Lieberman was a candidate in denial early on:

"How did it come to this?" said Jano Cabrera, a longtime adviser to Mr. Lieberman. "There's no good answer to the question. It's a political question to ask what Lieberman should have or could have done differently. But lost in all this is that Lieberman rarely thinks politically."

Mr. Lieberman's associates said, however, that he had come to appreciate the gravity of his situation.

Carter Eskew, a senior adviser to Mr. Lieberman, said, "While the core of the campaign recognized the threat, it takes a while to reverberate out."

Mr. Eskew added: "Everybody has got the message now. He's not sitting in some bubble of denial, nor has he for a while."

Carter Eskew? No wonder this campaign is in trouble. This is the same guy who recruited Bob Shrum to run Gore's 2000 campaign (the same Bob Shrum who has NEVER been a major consultant to a winning presidential campaign).

In many ways, Eskew's work as a top Lieberman consultant is symptomatic of the larger problem with the Lieberman campaign outfit--namely, that it's become an "insider-D.C." operation. Matt Stoller's post is definitely worth reading, as he illustrates how problematic Eskew's use of the good ol' Lowell Weicker bear-bear cub ad was:

Which brings me to Carter Eskew's bear ad. The ad is a judgment failure on Eskew's part. The ad works on one level - it would convince Joe Lieberman to vote for Joe Lieberman, for instance. But for normal non-machine people who don't see Lowell Weicker's 1988 loss through the same earth-shattering lens, it doesn't make any sense.

For Lieberman, however, and Carter Eskew, Weicker is the opponent. Lieberman is a machine politician, and Carter Eskew is a DC machine lobbyist. Their memory is long, sharp, and out of sync. Lieberman's last real Senate race was in 1988, but that's how he won it, so that's how he'll win this one. Now, I'm not from Connecticut, so I can't pretend to know a great deal about lingering feelings about Lowell Weicker and whether the ad stings in some non-obvious Connecticut-specific way. My guess is that it doesn't, because people don't really care that much about someone who hasn't been in office for many years. Political machines, though, have long memories, and are always fighting the last war.
These K-Street Democrats have a lot of power, and they are angry at the Lamont challenge because it's a direct threat to their revenue stream. And in Carter Eskew, you can see how tied together these machine people and lobbyists really are. I know it's hip to say that Lamont is not a single-issue candidate, but it's true in a deeply fundamental way. The Lamont challenge is a direct attack on how DC does business.

Indeed, as Stoller points out, this race really has become a tussle between insider and outsider politics. But again, I think it also signals a larger point--perhaps Dems need to reconsider who they hire to run their state and national campaigns. Eskew was a skilled lobbyist for big tobacco, and yes--maybe he understood Tennessee politics during his years working on Gore's senate campaigns. But his national record is not so good: Eskew has now helped manage two consecutive losing campaigns in 2000 and 2004. Now, of course, some of you may blame it on the candidate. But why chance it again? Maybe it's time to get someone else to do media strategy and consulting in 2008?

Republican McCloskey Endorses Jerry McNerney

In the latest news in California's 11th congressional district race, Republicans Pete McCloskey and Tom Benigno, the two Republicans who challenged Pombo in the GOP primary, have crossed party lines to endorse Democrat Jerry McNerney.

This is quite an extraordinary story and highlights just how vulnerable Pombo may be in this race. I'm not sure when the last time House primary challengers crossed over to endorse the other party's candidate (if someone knows, please post), but I dont recall seeing news like this in the recent past in other races.

Why did McCloskey and Benigno bolt to endorse McNerney? One word: corruption. Read more:

"You know, I never really thought I'd be doing this. I've been a Republican for 57 years. My family have been Republicans for four generations," said McCloskey. "But I've concluded two things: Jerry McNerney is an honest man; Richard Pombo is not. I'm confident that Jerry McNerney is an honorable man who will vote his conscience."

McCloskey, a war hero and accomplished attorney, challenged Pombo in the primary because of Pombo and the Republicans' track record on corruption and links to the Abramoff scandal, among other ethical miscues.

What's even more extaordinary about McCloskey is that as a Republican, he is now urging voters to support a Democratic majority in this year's House elections on his old campaign website.

As this post details, McCloskey's run against Pombo in the primaries was partly driven out of a desire to reshape the GOP and restore real conservative values back to the Republican party. It's truly rare to a see a candidate who puts principles and country before party. But given that McCloskey has lost faith in the current leaders of his party, he'd rather see them lose and regroup, rather than see his party's core values disintegrate while in power.


The Fairtax organization had a hugely successful rally in Orlando today, and I wanted to take a closer look at their proposal for overhauling the tax system. What is the FairTax? I thought you'd never ask:

The FairTax was created by first asking the American people what they wanted out of a tax system, and then having a team of respected economists design a tax system that met those demands. The FairTax replaces the income tax and all other federal taxes with a national consumption tax. The FairTax is levied only once, at the point of purchase on new goods and services. The simplicity of the FairTax frees Americans from our current overwhelming tax code and unshackles the U.S. economy.

The FairTax:

* Abolishes the IRS
* Closes all tax loopholes and brings fairness to taxation
* Maintains our current Social Security and Medicare benefits
* Brings transparency and accountability to tax policy
* Allows American products to compete fairly
* Reimburses the tax on purchases of basic necessities
* Enables retirees to keep their entire pension
* Enables workers to keep their entire paycheck

While this would definitely make Spring a much less stressful season for myself and others, my worry with national sales tax proposals is that they tend to be regressive taxes that disproportionately hurt the poor. I know abolishing the IRS sounds like a popular idea, but doesn't someone ultimately have to monitor a tax regime, even if it's based on sales taxes? Isn't their always the threat of sales tax circumvention by private companies and a black market in goods? One of the most appealing parts of this proposal is that it really would close down loopholes for the very rich and for corporations under our current tax code, but wouldn't a national sales tax end up driving up the cost of living generally speaking?

Do you support this proposal? Post away...

How to Increase Blog Traffic: 5 Tips to Increasing Traffic to Your Site

Much of what I write here is based on trial and error and anecdotal evidence, but I hope it helps new blogs interested in increasing traffic to their sites. So here are five tips for increasing traffic to your blog.

1. Write interesting, relevant, funny content, or posts people find useful. I've found that the articles that I spend time on and make sure are interesting, thoughtful, and even useful attract a lot of visitors over and over again. For example, I wrote a post called "Things to Do in San Francisco and Berkeley," which contains my own suggestions on travel ideas. Believe it or not, it gets a lot of hits from people planning travel to the area. The post also contains restaurant recommendations.

2. Incorporate "Buzz Words" in your blog based on current popular trends, as manifested in popular search terms. One way to do this is to go Yahoo's Buzz Index. Again, using popular search terms like Jessica Simpson, Pamela Anderson-Kid Rock wedding, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen or the Olsen Twins, Tony Blair visits San Francisco, the Fogal family, or Paris Hilton will attract traffic to your blog, but it may not necessarily be your target niche, so you may need to be selective in this approach.

Searching Technorati search terms is also a great idea. Including buzz words like Mel Gibson (the drunk driving story), the Fairtax rally in Orlando, or even Lance Bass, who recently admitted he's gay and is dating Reichen from the Amazing Race, will also generate traffic to your site.

I read a funny post about another blogger who writes that when he included Mario Vasquez, who quit American Idol, his traffic soared. But again, you want to pick relevant topics and things that are current. So one might want to discuss or do a post about the reality show "So You Think You Can Dance," perhaps bemoaning the elimination of Allison, or explaining why Travis should win it all. Also keep in mind your target demographic. If you are writing a blog for music afficionados, maybe write about U2 or Bono, Freddy Mercury and Queen, or even Michael Hutchence, of INXS.

3. Advertise on Craigslist. You can post links to your blog in the "politics" or "general" discussion boards on your local craigslist, and this will generate some moderate traffic streams to your site. But if you want people to keep coming back, you still better be linking them to quality content that is interesting or useful.

4. Post comments and articles on high-traffic blogs or sites, such as DailyKos.

5. Finally, pick a unique niche or direction and stay within that focus area. People will come back to your site if you offer something unique or different from other sites--you want to offer a differentiated product and brand, and the only way to do this is to be creative and original. This may entail projecting some of you into your blog--personalize the blog with photos or personal news.

In addition to these tips, make sure to regularly ping blog pingers like Pingomatic or Blogflux to make sure blog search engines are updated on your most recent posts. And don't forget to post your blog at various blog search engines or lists.

Do Democrats Have a Soul? (Part II)

Lest my earlier post be mistaken for an endorsement of ideological purging of the Democratic party, I write to clarify this simple point: if anyone could be charatercized as purging the Democratic party, it is the Democratic Leadership Council, the centrist group that has skillfully steered the party to the right. And that's why the Lieberman-Lamont race is not so much a purge of the party as it a quest for preservation of the party's ideals.

Once upon a time, there were actually Democrats who were proud to call themselves "Liberal." But then, something strange happened. "Liberals" became demonized, on the left AND on the right. So while Republicans slowly purged liberals from their ranks, moving decidedly to the right, Democrats followed suit, moving decidedly to the right.

So in a semi-Liberal state like Connecticut, Democrats see an opportunity to reclaim some of the original ideals that made this party great by electing a liberal Democrat. Is that so wrong? There's not many Liberal Democrats left these days, and bloggers realize that they do indeed have to support more moderate candidates in states that are more "red". But when they have an opporunity to elect a Liberal in a Liberal state--they're going to go for it. And they shouldn't be excoriated for trying to do so.

So, Liberal bloggers, when someone lambastes you for supporting Ned Lamont over Lieberman, tell them that you're the ones trying to save an endangered species of the Democratic party: Liberals. And then you can rant and rave (if you'd like) about where the soul of the Democratic party has gone..

The Blog Jihad Against Lieberman or Do Democrats have a soul?

In one of the best articles of the day, MSNBC covers how bloggers on the Left are targeting Joe Lieberman, while continuing to support other, conservative Democrats in other races. The author, Alex Isenstadt, notes that the singling out of Lieberman has caused some to label the drive to get rid of Lieberman as something akin to an ideological purging of the party. Perhaps the most poignant quote? Here it is:

Added Morton Kondracke in Roll Call: "This is no exaggeration: The soul of the Democratic Party -- and possibly the future of civility in American politics -- is on the line in the Aug. 8 Senate primary in Connecticut."

Not to sound too much like a justice on the current Supreme Court, but I must concur in part, and dissent in part with Kondracke's bold assessment.

The soul of the Party is on the line--and that soul will be defined, and is ultimately intertwined with the Democrats' positions on Iraq, the Middle East, and the War on Terror. But this term "soul" does seem to be thrown around with reckless abandon these days in politics, so I wanted to bring clarity to the term.

Let's look at some of the definitions of soul, courtesy of the American Heritage Dictionary online:

soul (sōl) pronunciation
1. The animating and vital principle in humans, credited with the faculties of thought, action, and emotion and often conceived as an immaterial entity.
2. The spiritual nature of humans, regarded as immortal, separable from the body at death, and susceptible to happiness or misery in a future state.
3. The disembodied spirit of a dead human.
4. A human: “the homes of some nine hundred souls” (Garrison Keillor).
5. The central or integral part; the vital core: “It saddens me that this network … may lose its soul, which is after all the quest for news” (Marvin Kalb).
6. A person considered as the perfect embodiment of an intangible quality; a personification: I am the very soul of discretion.
7. A person's emotional or moral nature: “An actor is … often a soul which wishes to reveal itself to the world but dare not” (Alec Guinness).
8. A sense of ethnic pride among Black people and especially African Americans, expressed in areas such as language, social customs, religion, and music.
9. A strong, deeply felt emotion conveyed by a speaker, a performer, or an artist.
10. Soul music

Now, I think we'd all agree that definitions 2 and 3 have religious connotations, in their reference to some type of spirituality and afterlife. And definition 4 is clearly not what we're looking for, as it's more apt for describing humans in ship disasters and other calamities. Definition 6 is too personalized a definition, and I'm not willing (not just yet) to call Bill Clinton the "soul" of the Democratic party, athough Clinton clearly tried to appeal to defintions 8 and 10, especially during his 1992 campaign.

That leaves us with 1, 5, and 9 And betwixt the three, I think we've got the gist of what the "soul" of the Democratic party entails, particularly #5--the "vital core" of the party. I include #9 because under that definition of soul, the Democrats (and arguably the Republicans) have lost their soul--the ability to emotionally connect with voters empathically (though again, Clinton may come close here). Using this definition, Robert Kennedy's remarks to a crowd in Indiana following Martin Luther King really were the epitome of soul in rhetoric. And of course definition #1 captures much of this--what is the "animating and vital principle" in the Democratic party.

I don't view the blogger's war against Lieberman as a witch-hunt, a purge, or a jihad. I view it as the coaelscing of a new groundswell within the Democratic party--a movement that indeed is trying to find that party's soul. And sometimes, to use religious parlance, the only way to identify your soul is to identify who lacks it.

I'm not saying Lieberman is "soulless"--nothing could be farther from the truth, given his own strong beliefs and religious faith. But his political "soul" no longer hovers within the spectral scape of the Democratic party--it has moved somewhere else.

And that's the Lieberman-Lamont primary, if nothing else, is good for the party. It forces Democrats to engage in political introspection--and it's really a test of political faith for voters in Connecticut and elsewhere. If we continue to follow the path of least resistance--that is, hedging bets through half-support or "qualified" support of the Iraq war, the party really doesn't have a unique soul--or at least one that is distinguishable or discernable from that of the Republican party. And to use the religous analogy once more, it's hard to keep a strong following of true believers if your beliefs are comprised of watered-down, moderated opinions.

And here-in lies the rub--to acquire (or bring back) the soul of the Democratic party, the party needs to lay out its beliefs--even if those beliefs are NOT in line with mainstream public opinion or the median voter. I refer back to Definition #9--a "strong, deeply felt emotion."

So in challenging Lieberman on the war, bloggers in my view are not being uncivil as Kondracke asserts, but are indeed fighting to discover their party's soul. In years past, a battle over abortion may have been part of this, but now that issue seems to have receded as the global importance of the War in Iraq and the War on Terror has eclipsed all other issues. And a Lieberman victory won't mean the end of this battle for discovery of the party's vital core--if anything, Lieberman and other moderate-conservative Dems WILL pay attention.

But the lesson for Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al From, and the DLC really is this--while their formula of moderation did work and brought Dems to power for eight years, it hasn't translated into victory post 9-11. Perhaps labelling the DLC as party "soul stealers " or "soul suppressors" would be overkill, but not by much. The DLC by its very nature never was a mechanism for soul definition. It was basically a tool used by party elites to isolate the Democratic left and push centrist policies emphasizing fiscal conservatism, more conservativism in terms of social issues, and more of a hawkish approach to foreign policy. Sounds like Lieberman, doesn't it? It also sounds like robbing a party of its soul.

The time for emphasizing "moderate" to "conservative" economic policies is in the past.The geopolitics of the war has channged immensely, and Democrats must fight to articulate a new vision for it. And the War in Iraq is that single, clarifying issue on which the party can and should distinguish itself from Republicans. So perhaps it may be time to move the party to the left to discover the party's soul, lest the Dems just become yes-people for the Republicans' boundless War on Terror.

Arnold and Angelides on Prison Reform

On a recent drive across the Richmond bridge, while trying to focus on the immense natural beauty of the San Francisco Bay, I couldn't help but stare at San Quentin prison, which sits at the northern end of the span. As I drove past this prison, I realized that I didn't want to live in a state where state prisons continue to explode, expand, and become permanent, visible fixtures, of our cities and counties, and of the California landscape.

Sadly, prisons have dominated our political landscape, and prison overcrowding has become a permanent problem. On June 27, Arnold called for a special session to address the prison crisis in California, to deal with overcrowding of prisons. As it turns out now, the Legislature will now consider prison reform beginning on August 7, 2006. And wouldn't you know it, Arnold just happens to be running for re-election.

Unfortunately, the Terminator's solution to prison overcrowding is to adopt the same, short-sighted policies that our state has adopted to alleviate traffic on our highways and roads --just build more (lanes) prisons. And Democrat Phil Angelides' policy proposals for prison reform aren't much better, as one might expect, as he attempts to cautiously court (or avoid alienating) moderate and independent voters concerned with crime. This is the problem with resolving crises in the middle of election cycles--political expedience takes precedence over viability and policy prudence.

Angelides v. Arnold on Prisons

As this report from the Chronicle notes, Arnold called the special session in response to a special report by John Hagar, a special master appointed by federal district court judge Thelton Henderson to deal with use of force, discipline, and other pervasive problems among California's 33 state prisons. In his report to the Legislature, Hagar highlighted serious problems with the administration of prisons and vast abuses on the part of prison guards, while noting that the state's prison guard union has been an intractable obstacle to true reform.

Arnold highlighted some of the issues facing the prison system:

"He noted that a system designed to hold about 100,000 inmates houses more than 171,000, and more than 16,000 inmates are sleeping in gyms, dayrooms and other areas of lockups not intended for housing.

Arnold also noted in his speech calling for the special session that in addition to alleviating prison overcrowding, he seeks to address the extraordinarily high recidivism rate here in the Golden State--apparently, it's the highest in the nation, with 70 percent of inmates returning to prison after release. (Sounds like prisons aren't rehabilitating most prisoners).

And here's Arnold's plan--build more prisons:

"The governor proposed a four-pronged approach: building at least two new prisons; enacting rules to suspend some state laws to allow the new prisons to be built quickly; shifting 4,500 female inmates from prisons to community-based facilities closer to their families; and opening new facilities designed to help male inmates adjust to life outside prison."

Building new prisons really isn't a long-term solution to the state's prison overcrowding problem--in the short term, it may alleviate temporary overcrowding, but in the long-run, it really just ensures that we're going to expand the number individuals we sentence to imprisonment, according to this source:

The problem is there is one solution put forward, and that is build, build, build. Increasing the number of cells will only increase the number of people in prison. "History teaches us that if you build them, you fill them", says Rose Braz, national campaign coordinator for Critical Resistance, a prison reform organization


It's the Prison Guards Union, Stupid!

As on most issues, prison reform faces a major obstacle--interest group politics. On this front, it's the prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (or "CCPOA") that has blocked, stalled and gutted repeated attempts at reform. And while it looked Arnold "the reformer" had originally sought to combat the power of prison unions in his January 2005 State of the State address (proposing a new $6 billion corrections agency that would seek to counter the influence of the prison guards union and reduce incarceration rates), since that time, he appears to be backpedalling and catering to CCPOA. Check out this excerpt from a great article in the Ventura County Reporter:

In something of a reversal laid out in this year�s State of the State speech and announced again with new emphasis on June 26, Schwarzenegger has proposed a $3.6 billion gift to the union � an expansion of the state corrections system, easing crowding by building two brand new prisons at $500 million each, shipping as many as 5,000 illegal immigrant prisoners to other states, and moving 4,500 nonviolent women inmates to community facilities closer to their families.

The CCPOA loves policies that encourage new prison construction because it guarantees them job-security and income security. So it's in their interest to kill any prison reform that seeks to reduce the number of prisons, seeks to promote rehabilitation, or heaven forbid, seeks to reduce the number of prisoners in our prisons.

Terminator denies this is politics--but check this excerpt from the Chronicle article :

"Speaking at a conference of state district attorneys in Newport Beach, Schwarzenegger characterized jam-packed prisons as being in crisis and warned that courts could take over the system and "order the early release of tens of thousands of prisoners."

Again, echoes of a campaign of fear, from Pete Wilson's 1994 anti-immigration platform of yesteryear. And what better place to talk about prisoners and crime than the bastion and heart of California conservatives--good ol' Orange County. Some of Pete Wilson's old campaign advisers now advise Arnold, and I'm sure they've told him that prisons are a solid wedge issue that can divide Dems and undermine Angelides. Sadly, spreading fear and scaring voters isn't going to be productive in resolving this policy crisis... Courts ordering the release of more then ten thousand prisoners? Not going to happen.

No matter what Arnold says or does, calling a special session less than six months before Election Day means that this becomes a de facto political maneuver. So Phil Angelides has to weigh in with his own plan as well. And while this one smacks of election-cycle calculations and considerations in its moderate to conservative tone, Phil's plan isn't that much better than Arnold's:

"On his first day as Governor, Angelides will immediately:

Expedite hiring of staff for both prisons and parole
Immediately increase prison capacity by opening two unused prisons
Personally contact the federal judge who holds California's prison health care system in receivership and schedule a meeting within 30 days
Name the Cabinet Secretary and top-level managers at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and give them 90 days to produce a prison recovery plan that will:
A. Increase prison capacity by building new prisons and assuring completion within 3 years of authorization
B. Improve and expand rehabilitation, education and job training
C. Improve mental health and substance abuse treatment
D. Provide a new focus on juvenile diversion programs
E. Set a goal to take the prison health care system out of federal receivership by the end of Angelides' first term

Obviously, Angelides is trying to appeal to the center of the California spectrum in this election year, hence his emphasis on prison construction and capacity. Here, Angelides isn't that much different from Arnold. However, parts B and C of his plan show a glimmer of hope, but again sound more like aspirational statements than detailed policy solutions. I'm not going to second-guess Phil's campaign advisers on this one. But I will second-guess the viability of these policy reforms--unless Phil puts and emphasis on rehabilitation, education, job training, and mental health, his plan won't resolve the current crisis.

The Legislature is now slated to take up prison reform as part of the special session on August 7, following their summer vacation. However, as this report details, the reform package adopted will have to be comprehensive, sweeping and meaningful, and not just a band-aid solution, to help quell criticisms that the special session is purely a politically motivated one designed to further Arnold's re-election...

How about Sentencing Reform?

If the Legislature really wants to solve the prison crisis, they should pay heed to the recommendations of the American Bar Association and the Deukmejian commission, for starters.

Here's some of the ABA's recommended reforms:

-Lengthy periods of incarceration should be reserved for the most serious offenders, who present the greatest danger to the community;

-Alternatives to incarceration should be provided to offenders who pose minimal risk to the community and appear likely to benefit from rehabilitation programs.

The Chronicle also chimes in with its own suggestions:

We have argued numerous times on this page about the need to revise the state's controversial "three strikes" law. But we recognize that, especially in an election year, too few politicians are brave enough to touch laws affecting inmates with violent or serious felonies in their backgrounds.

That's why the Legislature and the governor should begin with reforming laws affecting inmates who commit nonviolent or so-called "victimless" crimes.

And here's the recommendations from the Corrections Independent Review Panel, which was chaired by former Gov. George Deukmejian. Unfortunately, although the CIRP "was originally appointed by Schwarzenegger... (it) has consistently ignored its cogent insights and recommendations". (For the full Deukmejian report, go to this page. Here's some of the key parts of the Deukmejian report:

The Deukmejian report suggested providing inmates an incentive to reduce their prison time by increasing the "day-for-day credits" they could earn if they participated in a range of educational, vocational and drug-treatment programs. It also called for replacing the "determinate" sentencing system with one in which a judge would impose a minimum "presumptive" sentence and a longer "maximum sentence." In order to be released after serving the shorter "presumptive" sentence, an inmate would have to complete a "program plan" assigned to the inmate on his or her arrival in prison.

And it looks like some politicians in Sacramento are listening to the ABA and
"We can look at bricks and mortar, but we have to look at sentencing reform and parole reform -- that's where change is needed,'' said state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, who carried unsuccessful legislation this year that would have amended the state's three-strikes law to lessen the use of lengthy sentences for some non-violent offenses.

So here's the problem--it's the politics of entrenched interest groups and short-sighted politicians seeking re-election that has really doomed prison reform thus far. Furthermore, because our political process has become so reliant on the intiative process, with politicians often punting on controversial issues so that the public can directly vote on them, our state has enacted thousands of new laws on stiffer sentencing and prison construction, but few that really address the root causes of what drives individuals to resort to crime and violence.

Part of the problem here is California's initiative process, which has helped churn out a criminal justice regime replete with a myriad of bizarre mandatory sentencing and parole laws that flood our prisons with prisoners, often for minor crimes, and keeping prisoners locked in due to a lack of rehabilitative policies and mechanism.

The initiative process, which produced the infamous "three strikes law," has created a system where wealthy interest groups roam about the political landscape like sentinels, destroying reform proposals through costly ad-campaigns which scare electoral majorities away from voting reform and leading them to support short-sighted policies that they believe will provide them the most "protection." Few voters can often intelligently discern what particular initiatives will actually do given the complexity of prose used by drafters, so they look to campaign ads and direct mail for heuristic cues. In short, interest groups have turned a process originally intended for reform, into a forum filled with confusion and scare-mongering, an environment no better than the smoke and mirrors of turn of the century insider politics.

Ultimately, I do think we need to adopt policies that de-emphasize construction of new prisons, and emphasize rehabilitation and allevation of the root social causes of crime and violence. If you're interested in taking action on prison reform during this special session, check out this great website committed to ending the spending spree on new prison construction.


What's at stake here is a budget line item that just keeps ballooning out of control, one that threatens to rob California of economic vitality and balanced budgets...according to the Ventura County Reporter,

Since 1985, the number of state prisons has increased from 13 to 33, all of them overcrowded every step of the way, and the state's Corrections budget has ballooned from $923 million to $5.7 billion in 2004

And looking at the 2006 budget, we see that this number will increase to 8.6 billion! The problem with constantly investing the public's money in new prison construction is that prisons are a TERRIBLE investment from an economic perspective--they don't produce much, and are mainly a drag on the state's coffers and economy. (Plus, they're really ugly and not-at-all-pleasant). From an economic perspective, it is far sounder policy to invest in more productive sectors--such as research institutes and universities. But unfortunately, due to poor planning and a lack of vision, California has gone down a dark and dreary road. California has basically turned into a garrison state--one in which the number of state prisons vastly outnumbers the number of University of California campuses statewide.

I think the issue of prison reform is both a matter of common sense, as well as an issue of deciding what you want California to look like 50 years from now.

The next time you are crossing the Richmond bridge up to Marin, ask yourself if you like staring at prisons amidst the natural beuaty of our state, and ask yourself if you'd like to live in a state where prisons dot the urban and rural landscape.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Floyd Landis on Larry King Live

Floyd Landis defended himself against doping charges on the Larry King live program on Friday, as he awaits a second test of his testosterone-epitestosterone levels (the backup B test). Landis' doctor was also inteviewed. For a complete transcript, go here.

Treasure Hunters-the Solution to Summer Boredom?

So I've got confess to something--I'm finally hooked on a reality TV show: Treasure Hunters on NBC. It's a much, much, more interesting version of "The Amazing Race" with teams of 3 instead of 2. Unlike Race, Treasure Hunters isn't just a blind race around the world, it involves challenging puzzle solving and deciphering of clues leading up to a larger puzzle at the end of the show, and in the process, viewers can't help but get immersed and interested in American history. The show thus weaves a complex puzzle through the entire game, and I have to say it gets better each week. Last week, the show hid a clue in the same way that Benjamin Franklin (a US spy in England during the Revolutionary War) did--the only way to read the clue involved burning special paper with candles. While the show definitely has a cheesy "Da Vinci Code" puzzle solving element to it, I think it's one of the few reality shows on television that is not mindless.

I highly recommend this show if you haven't been watching it already (Mondays 8-10 pm, NBC). Here's a quick update--the five remaining teams are the Geniuses, Ex-CIA, Air Force, the Southie Boys (firefighters), and Miss USA (Yes, they are a team on the show, and they're actually doing pretty well).

I think another aspect of the show that draws in viewers (or at least me) is the online challenge, where you play this historical game, solve puzzles and clues, and then try to figure out a larger challenge.

Charles Barkley Joins Democrats, Now Running for Governor?

Apparently, the current TNT analyst and former NBA All-Star has now switched parties and may run for Governor of Alabama in 2010. Barkley, one of the all-time great power forwards in history, had a storied career with the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns.

But apparently, the prolific rebounder is sick of the GOP:

Barkley continued to identify himself as a Republican until recently, when he switched parties. "I was a Republican until they lost their minds," he said earlier this month.

Apparently, the head of Alabama Republican party doubts the viability of a Barkley candidacy:

The head of the state GOP said she has no idea whether Barkley is serious when talking about a future race for governor as a Democrat. "To be governor requires more than a publicity stunt. It requires real leadership," said Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh.

Profound words from "Twinkle." In another Twinkle story, Twinkle apparently invited DNC head Howard Dean to come to Alabama, an offered to foot the cost of his flight if he'd campaign with the current Dem candidate for Governor, Lucy Baxley:

Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh said Friday she would foot the cost of Dean's flight to Alabama if he'd come stand with Baxley and explain his party's position on issues including abortion, gay marriage, gun rights and taxes.

This great post, entitled "Twinkle, Twinkle GOP Star," notes how transparent a ploy Twinkle's invitation was, and what a sad attempt it was to try to distract the voters of Alabama away from the real issues facing the state.

How Angelides Can Beat Arnold: Energy, Power Blackouts and Oil

Ok. The poll numbers from Field are in, and they show Phil down 8 points. So whatchya gonna do, Phil. I say look closely at the numbers, but also pay close attention to the California summer heat.

The numbers show a couple of things , other than the 45 to 37 lead:

"Angelides leads Schwarzenegger by 10 points in the San Francisco Bay Area, and by 11 points in the Los Angeles area. Schwarzenegger holds a nine-point lead in the Central Valley, and a strong 2-to-1 lead among voters in Southern California outside of Los Angeles.The governor leads in support among white voters by 52 to 32 percent, while Latinos favor Angelides by more than 2 to 1."

And it also shows that there's still 15 percent undecided.

So Phil obviously needs to makeup ground in the Central Valley and in the suburbs outside Los Angeles (and probably Orange County). How can he do it? Use the same strategy Arnold and the GOP used against Gray Davis--energy. We have already had numerous mass power outages this summer, and the CAL ISO recently declared a power emergency . And as I write this, 20,000 folks in San Jose are without power still. (And if they're not already Angelides voters, Phil has to make sure they become supporters). Obviously, the Governor hasn't done that much to alleviate the energy supply in California, nor has he done enough to promote conservation. And that speaks to a total lack of leadership.

Now the Field Poll does show some good news for Phil:

"DiCamillo said the poll does contain some hopeful signs for Angelides because it found that the issues that are most important to undecided voters -- health care and education -- have been the strongest points of his campaign. "Schwarzenegger voters are different than the rest. They believe illegal immigration and taxes are the biggest issues," he said."

But while health care and education are good bread-and-butter Dem issues, Phil needs to do two key things here to light a fire under his base. First, don't allow Arnold to distance himself from his radical turn to the right only a year ago--when he tried to back an assortment of radical initiatives targeting the power of unions and other Democratic mainstays. Second, deflect back Arnold's attack against Phil's proposal to raise taxes on the very rich by emphasizing repeatedly all of the budget CUTS the terminator has made affecting schools, hospitals, etc. RUN A TERMINATOR AD--USE CLIPS FROM THE TERMINATOR, showing different programs being cut, with Arnold saying "hasta la vista" after each one is "torched." While these commercials are goofy, they appeal to the same types of younger voters who support him, and should generate tons of free media.

And besides, it will be the Democrats last chance to use these classic Arnold clips in commercials, as this will be Arnold's last campaign (unless he runs for Senate..yikes!)

The Chronicle article details how Arnold's base cares about two issues--immigration and taxes, sort of the Pete Wilson 1994 formula... Phil can run targeted media in Latino communities emphasizing how anti-Latino Arnold has been.

But again, the real winner here is energy and power blackouts--it's just too powerful a symbolic issue to give up. And Bob Mulholland, one of Phil's advisers, seems to be aware of this, when discussing the "swing" 15 percent of voters that remain undecided still:

"When swing voters do start paying attention, they won't feel better (about the governor) given all the problems with electricity, gas prices and interest rates," he said. "The Schwarzenegger record will be laid out, and it's not going to be a pretty one.""

It's the energy supply, stupid, to modify that over-used political mantra. And tying in power blackouts with rising gas prices has powerful symbolic value--it's got to be one of the main fears facing Californians. (The ads should also show pictures of Arnold and Bush together as much as possible). I still remember the devastating commercial run against Gray Davis about power outages and "gray outs." Now Dems can run ads showing how Arnold "terminated" California's power supply.

But Phil can't just attack on energy, he has to offer a comprehensive, substantive energy plan that addresses both supply and conservation--and he's got to roll out it NOW, in the middle of the summer. After that, he needs to go on the attack and make this campaign about one issue, and one issue alone--energy and oil prices.