Saturday, January 28, 2006

My Opposition to Alito

There are a host of reasons to oppose Alito as a SCOTUS justice. However, one thing stands out for me as, in itself, sufficient to oppose his nomination. He has taken the position that
Since the president's approval is just as important as that of the House or Senate, it seems to follow that the president's understanding of the bill should be just as important as that of Congress,...
to argue for the value of presidential signing statements and how the court should consider them as equal to legislative intent. Anyone this ignorant of the actual US Constitution should not sit on the highest court. The US Constitution clearly states in Article I section 7
Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a law. But in all such cases the votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the persons voting for and against the bill shall be entered on the journal of each House respectively. If any bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law, in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case it shall not be a law.
If the President fails to sign the bill it becomes law "in like manner as if he had signed it", his signature, his approval is unnecessary so long as congress stays in session for 10 more days. Even if he disapprove's congress may overrule him. Alito's claim that "the President's approval is just as important as the House or Senate" is nonsense. The President's approval is completely unnecessary, Congress's approval is essential. These are not equal.

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Response to the State of the Union

At Eschaton a few days ago, Atrios noted the probably media responses to the State of the Union, pointing out that whatever happens with the Alito confirmation the media story line will be bad for Democrats. This is no doubt true, but I think that there is a far more important issue, namely what will be the response of the Democratic base.

After all, the fact that the Republicans will portray the Democrats as unreasonable is only to be expected. It is rather like the prosecution at a trial portraying the defendant as guilty, it's just what they do.

The fact that the media will portray the Democrats as unreasonable is a problem to the large extent that the public sees the media as neutral or , god knows, liberal already.

Both of these can be overcome, I believe, However, will the Democratic base portray the Democrats as

A) strong minded opponents taking a firm stand against Alito's policies of corporatism and dictatorship whether the Democrats filibuster or not, and whether they win or not,

or will the message from us be

B) the Democrats are spineless wusses and craven failures.

See I think that message B, especially coming from us, will do a poor job of winning over moderates. I urge the Democratic base to work on providing message A, no matter what the outcome.

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Democrats on the NSA wiretaps

The American Prospect article is a week or so old, so the reference is a bit out of date, but the issue is still pressing. The issue of the NSA wiretaps is NOT a question of National Security or Civil Rights. This is a question of National Security AND Civil Rights on the side that the Democrats are taking vs. a false SENSE of security while actually reducing our security, the Republicans' position.

The only reasons anyone needs to have complete freedom of action with no oversight, the powers being claimed by George Bush, are 1) the individual is incompetent and does not want that discovered or 2) the individual is up to something illegal, and does not want it discovered. Oversight and review are needed to get competent results, they are essential to get top notch results. Removing the oversight on wiretaps and prevalence will only result in wasted time and effort on false leads and pursuing innocent citizens. If we want our national security to be the best it can be we need to restore the kinds of oversight and review that have been in place for the past several decades.

Some folks, see Kevin Drum are starting to see this. Now if we can get the Democratic leadership to make this case we might be in good shape.

As a post script I would add that granting someone these extraordinary, absolute powers has never in history lead to the possessor of the powers using them to protect the nation. The possessor inevitably uses them to protect himself. The Democrats are for the president to have the powers and the motivation to protect the United States, the Republicans are for the president to have powers and motivations to protect himself and the Republican leadership.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Democratic Legislature Does Right Thing for Maryland

Received from the Democratic Party of Maryland. Legislature passed a hike in the minimum wage.
(Reprinted article below)

This morning the Maryland General Assembly raised Maryland’s minimum wage by $1 per hour, from $5.15 to $6.15, overriding Governor Robert Ehrlich’s 2005 veto. Before the increase, Maryland had one of the lowest minimum wages in the nation.

“Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do for Maryland workers, working families and businesses,” said Maryland Democratic Party chair Terry Lierman. “It is shocking that Governor Ehrlich wants to spend record amounts of taxpayer money while denying those most in need an opportunity to live a more comfortable life.”

The minimum wage increase will help almost 60,000 families in our State. Businesses also benefit as higher wages lead to increased sales. A recent poll shows that 67 percent of Marylanders support the minimum wage increase.

Lierman added that “even with this modest, common-sense wage increase, many Maryland families will still fall behind as the cost of living increases faster than their incomes.”

Maryland is the 3rd wealthiest state in the nation. Lierman said that “we have a long way to go before working families can share in some measure of Maryland’s prosperity, but increasing the minimum wage takes us one small step in the right direction.”

Lierman praised the numerous advocacy organizations including Progressive Maryland that led the charge for a minimum wage increase.

“The minimum wage increase is about fairness and investing in our work force and our future,” said Lierman.

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Gore's Speach

Hits all the right points.

The following selections

The rule of law makes us stronger by ensuring that decisions will be tested, studied, reviewed and examined through the processes of government that are designed to improve policy. And the knowledge that they will be reviewed prevents over-reaching and checks the accretion of power.

A commitment to openness, truthfulness and accountability also helps our country avoid many serious mistakes. Recently, for example, we learned from recently classified declassified documents that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized the tragic Vietnam war, was actually based on false information. We now know that the decision by Congress to authorize the Iraq War, 38 years later, was also based on false information. America would have been better off knowing the truth and avoiding both of these colossal mistakes in our history. Following the rule of law makes us safer, not more vulnerable.

and this

Where we disagree is that we have to break the law or sacrifice our system of government to protect Americans from terrorism. In fact, doing so makes us weaker and more vulnerable.

Once violated, the rule of law is in danger. Unless stopped, lawlessness grows. The greater the power of the executive grows, the more difficult it becomes for the other branches to perform their constitutional roles. As the executive acts outside its constitutionally prescribed role and is able to control access to information that would expose its actions, it becomes increasingly difficult for the other branches to police it. Once that ability is lost, democracy itself is threatened and we become a government of men and not laws.

also this

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the full Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of nuclear missiles ready to be launched on a moment’s notice to completely annihilate the country? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when the last generation had to fight and win two World Wars simultaneously?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they did. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it’s up to us to do the very same thing!

just to select a few, sum up many of the points I've been making here. I could quote a great deal more as well. It is truly an excellent speech. Read it.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Medicare Part D

The link takes you to a reader's comments at Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo. The unfolding disaster that is the Bush Medicare prescription drug plan is indeed a big issue and deserves a great deal more attention than it is getting. This is just another example of the corruption that has taken over this country's government with the advent of Republican leadership.

The WaPo has a good article out on the troubles that the plan is having as it starts up. As the article notes there are some 20 states that have reported serious problems. From the TPM reader J above there would appear to be 12 states declaring a medical emergency. This is a dreadful dereliction of duty and yet par for the course with this administration.

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Digby gets some advice from one William G. Henders. This is classic wingnut drivel. But I do want to make a few points.

1) It is quite absurd, indeed spineless and pathetic to compare the United States and the "Islamofascists" as equals in this competition, as Mr. Henders does. If the United States is an Iditerod dog team, the 'enemy' is some minor player that could injure us, but has no chance of "winning" in any meaningful sense. Our competitors are China, India, Russia, and perhaps Japan and Europe, not Al Qaeda.

2) The left's complaint with regards to Bush is not that he is going too fast or occasionally heading to close to a cliff. The complaint is that while our objective is clearly to the North, he his heading resolutely to the South East.

3) The "...purpose served by "fouling the traces" through criticism of the leader..." is to keep the sled more on track and to get it to function at peak efficiency. That is what the criticisms do, that is all they do, and without the criticisms the sled cannot function at peak efficiency. Clearly with the current leader, peak efficiency is pretty poor, but nonetheless that is the only purpose served.

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Why Pick One Issue

In this post, Matt Yglesias points out that you don't always get to pick the issues that dominate an election. The Republicans will have some success making the 2006 elections about national security even if the Democrats want it to be about corruption. But why the hell do the Democrats have to pick only one of these? The main issue, as I see it, is that those who are systematically corrupt and always place their own personal gain above the welfare of the nation cannot be trusted with national security. We are seeing the consequence of having entrusted our security to this Republican leadership so lacking in integrity and ethics and the results are not pretty. The long, brutal attrition that is the Iraq war is a direct consequence of the corruption which pervades the Republican party. Going back, we should not have been surprised that the September 11 attack was able to do as much damage as it did, and kill as many Americans as it did, given the corruption which pervades this White House. Why cannot Democrats argue that the revelations of Abramoff and Savavian and the rest demonstrate a culture of corruption and that that culture of corruption is the most serious threat to national security that we face.

Indeed, given the Martin Luther King address given by Al Gore, see here, it is clear that Democrats can argue this point. Why then are so many on the left arguing that we can only make one point at a time?

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Maryland Health Care

Well, Maryland has pushed through, over the Governor's veto, the bill requiring large retailers (although in effect, only Wal-Mart) to chip in a bit more for the States health care costs. See this in the NYT. Some (see Jonathan Cohn) are arguing that this is better politics than policy. I'm not so sure that it isn't good at both. I certainly hope that it indicates some new movement on the health care front. It is also interesting to see that Ehrlich's position is somewhat weakening.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

DeLay Style Corruption

Speaking of how Democrats need to fight, Harry Reid has an excellent opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle. He goes straight at Tom DeLay, holding no punches, taking him on as the leader of the culture of corruption which has taken over the Nation's Capital. Senator Reid describes it in this way
"Our nation's capital has been overrun by organized crime — Tom DeLay-style."
That is the way that Democrats need to take on the opposition.

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Steve Gilliard absolutely gets it. It is vitally important that we Democrats be willing to fight for positions we believe in, even if victory is unlikely. This insistence from some quarters that we cannot afford to fight the Alito nomination because we probably won't win is stunningly foolish. The Democratic party fought against the fighting the first Gulf war, lost, and was shown to be wrong. They won the next election. The Democratic Party fought for Clinton's Health Care Plan and lost. They won the next election. Since we've adopted the policy of making sure that we take no stands that might result in failure, we have consistently lost elections. Holy mother of Christ what does it take to drive home the point that winning every fight is not the way to promote electoral success.

Furthermore, the public expect their leaders to stand for something, by which we mean that they will take a firm position on some issues, even if those issues are loosers. These same Democrats who argue that we cannot afford to fight over the Alito nomination are also seen puzzling over why the Democrats are seen as so week on national defense. Look, people expect their commander-in-chief to be willing to fight for them even if victory is not assured. If the Democrats insist on projecting the attitude that they will not fight unless victory is assured, people will see them as week on defense. Loosing is indeed bad, however, refusing to fight is even worse.

Finally, if there are any issues on which the Democrats should be willing to fight, whether victory is assured or not, Sam Alito represents all the things we should fight against: loss of individual rights, corporations over people, lack of integrity and honesty, support for an imperial president. At the very least, every Democrat needs to vote against this nominee. If the party wants electoral victory it should also attempt the filibuster. If it fails, we at least fought the good fight.

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

How to Reform Congress

Josh Marshall provides and excerpt from James Dobson. Calling for more ethical people to purge congress of corruption is a hopeless task, we cannot rely upon the goodness of mankind. What is needed is a return to oversight and critical review. What we need is a diverse group of independent actors who can and will criticize and challenge the actions of the President and leaders of Congress.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Republican Disaffection

Atrios notes that David Brooks has come down hard on the Republicans over the Abromoff affair. Brooks' editorial is on the NYT pay site, so I've got no link. Atrios reprints part of the editorial and provides a link to the NYT, but two things struck me:

1) Great line "That's a great G.O.P. talking point: some Democrats are so sleazy, they get involved with the likes of us." This really does sum up the Republican position.

2) Main problem facing principled Republicans is illustrated by this line: "Instead, all legislation should be posted online for 72 hours before the vote, so the staff and bloggers can nitpick and expose."

However, that nitpicking and exposing is exactly what this Republican party is so completely opposed to. That is why they support this Imperial President. It is a matter of deep conviction and principal to these people that one should not have that kind of review. It is a deep conviction which is completely wrong, one which all of history and experience has repeatedly shown is profoundly wrong, but it is nonetheless the deeply held belief of this Republican Party.

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Abramoff Scandal Spreads

Well Maryland is getting into the act with the Abramoff scandal. Our Governor, Republican Governor, Bob Ehrlich, is returning money he received from the Abramoffs. The following message was sent by the Maryland Democratic Party
January 4, 2006


“Now that Jack Abramoff has pleaded guilty to conspiracy, tax evasion and fraud, the only ethical course of action for Governor Ehrlich is to return Abramoff’s money,” said Maryland Democratic Party Chair Terry Lierman.

Ehrlich has received $16,000 directly from Jack Abramoff and his wife, Pamela. The Abramoffs each donated the legal maximum, $4,000, to Ehrlich for his 2002 campaign and for his 2006 re-election campaign.

“Governor Ehrlich has had close ties to Jack Abramoff since Ehrlich’s days as Tom DeLay’s deputy whip in the U.S. House,” said Lierman. “Although Ehrlich can’t return all the quality time he’s spent with Jack Abramoff, he can return his tainted money.”

Lierman said that Ehrlich should also instruct the Maryland Republican Party to return several thousand dollars the Party has received from the Abramoffs.

So far this year, many members of Congress have returned Abramoff’s money, including U.S. Senators Max Baucus (MT), Conrad Burns (MT), and Byron Dorgan (ND), and U.S. Rep. Jeb Bradley (NH).

See also Julia at Hullabaloo for a link to a WaPo article on Ehrlic's difficulties.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Heart of Conservatism

There is a fundemental dishonesty at the heart of conservatism today. Separating the true from the false, the honest from the dishonest has been a problem that has confounded man for all time. But one thing has always been clear and that is a statement and its contradiction cannot both be true. If I claim that 1) I spent all yesterday evening at the gym and 2) that I was never at the gym yesterday evening, I am lying. One of those statements must be false. You may not be sure which is false, but one must be. And yet George Bush ans his conservative supporters have been champions of exactly this sort of deceit. Consider:

  • When tax cuts were on the table Social Security, they argued, is wholey separate from the general budget, paid by payroll taxes, and therefore the tax cuts should go primarily to those who pay income taxes. When Social Security privatization was brought up they argued that Social Security is just part of the general budget so the surpluss that has been spent cannot be recouped.
  • When Bill Clinton was president perjury was a most serious crime certainly equal to the high crimes and misdemenors referenced in the Constitution. When Scooter Libbey was inidicted perjury was a crime so minor it did not even deserve notice.
  • The powers of government are strictly limited and the President's power is completely without limit. See Digby for more detail.
  • The President can violate any statute passed by Congress at his whim (FISA) and he is strictly limited by Congressional statute ( Posse Commitatus ).

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Control of Congress

Via ThinkProgress we learn that
the Wall Street Journal is reporting that “Mr. Abramoff says he has information that could implicate 60 lawmakers,”

Now this could be quite significant. The Republicans currently control the House of Representatives by 30 seats (232 - 202) and, at this point, all the lawmakers implicated in this scandal are Republicans. Certainly all who have taken money from Mr. Abramoff are Republicans. If half of the number quoted above are indicted and resign before next fall, we could face an historic event. The Republican party could loose control of the House prior to the next election, solely due to indictments. At this point it is still and unlikely scenario, but it does say something of the state of corruption that the Republican party has fallen to that it is even a remote possibility.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Band of Brothers

There is an impressive crop of military vets who are running for office this year. Follow the link to a new website that a group of them are setting up called Band of Brothers . What is interesting to note about this group is that in spite of the decades long claim from the right wing that Democrats have no support in the military, the 36 members of this group are all running as Democrats. What is even more telling is that only about 2 military vets are running as Republicans. There is clearly a fair measure of frustration within the armed forces with this Republican administration.

So for any of you who actually do support our military personnel, and value what they have to say, check out this group. I for one think that they are a welcome addition to the Democratic party. The Democratic has always had the utmost respect for the our fellow citizens who take on the awful responsibilities of being a soldier, sailor or marine. These candidates are warnly welcomed in the party and are recieving strong support. See for example here and here.

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NSA Wiretaps and Posse Comitatus

The stance that this administration is taking with regard to the NSA wiretapping scandal reminded me of something from a few months back. Back during the immediate aftermath of Katrina, when attention was focused on the administration's failure to act promptly, the right wing argued vigorously that President Bush could not possibly have sent in military personal to help out because of the Posse Comitatus act. Now the Posse Comitatus act is a piece of legislation past by congress after the Civil War which forbids the military from performing police functions within the US. See Dadahead for a list of right wingers insisting that this act of congress prevented Bush from acting. As Bob Barr put it, "A frustrated President Bush could only stand by and watch as the horror unfolded until he received the request for help." because to do otherwise would violate federal law. Now as Dadahead correctly points out the right wing argument was nonsense at the time. Federal law does indeed prevent the president from using military personnel for police functions, but it in no way prevents the use of military personnel for other functions, with or without the request of the governor.

What strikes me now, however, is the fact that all the time that the right wing was insisting that the President could not act because federal law barred his action, the President was violating the terms of the FISA statute on the basis of his claim that he has near absolute authority to act. His claim that congress has no power to restrict his actions. Does this not mean that according to the President he was not in any way prevented from using the military at the time of Katrina? That even if the Posse Comitatus restricted his actions in the way he claimed, that by his standards he could have simply ignored it?

We have here what I am coming to see as a standard part of conservative thinking. Namely that one is free, as far as conservatives are concerned, to assert both a statement and its contradiction.

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Monday, January 02, 2006

The Need for Oversight

he administration, and their right wing supporters, is trying to portray the NSA wiretap issue as a matter of acting in the interests of national security. Indeed they are now claiming that the President has absolute authority to act in any manner he wishes, with no oversight at all. This position is absurd. As many others have pointed out, it is clearly at odds with the constitution and our values of democracy, freedom, and civil rights. But it is absurd in a more concrete and common sense way. There is no human activity of any sort, in which the outcomes are improved by removing all oversight. Consider your accountant, a home contractor you hire, an employee, a babysitter, or any other field at all. In every case, if you remove all oversight you can predict, with confidence, that you will get disastrous results. Indeed the only reason any of these people would object to you checking up on their performance periodically and that their actions be subject to review is that they know their performance is substandard or incompetent and they don't wish to be caught. And that is clearly what we are seeing with this administration.

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Star Spangled Banner

O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Above is the most often sung first verse of our nation's national anthem. It sums up a vitally important principal that I think is being lost these days. Note that while it describes the flag under constant fire on that night in 1814, there is no mention of firing back. The point, clearly, is that the greatest acts of courage and bravery come not it slaying the enemy, however much that may be necessary in war, but in the ability to stand in defiance in the face of danger and threat. Even cowards can kill, but only the brave can stand firm and hold formation in the face of intense fire.

One of the greatest lines from the American Revolution was at the battle of Bunker Hill, "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes." The order was necessary because of a shortness of ammunition, so the American soldiers there needed to stand in firmly and in formation while the British came within extremely short distance. The soldiers stood there patiently, knowing that at that distance, if the volley did not hit the mark, they would not survive. Yet they stood. In our Civil War, about the most famous of the Confederate Generals, after Lee, got his sobriquet not from killing the enemy, but from standing "like a stonewall" at first Manassas. This is the vital characteristic of bravery and bravery is the essentially characteristic for a free people to survive. Hence the final line of our national anthem.

But is our current political leadership maintaining these values and traditions, or are we straying toward singular concern for personal safety and abandoning any willingness to be brave? I think the American people truly adhere to the value of courage and determination, but that our political current political leadership in the White House and Congress has abandoned these principals.

Furthermore, history makes clear that security is best maintained by exhibiting courage and squarely facing dangers. The singular pursuit of securing one's own personal security may give a short term boost to that personal security (but I also argue that it mostly gives a boost to the sense or feelings of security, not to security itself). In the long run, avoiding danger will only increase our danger and risk.

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