Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why Democrats Deserve To Retain Both Houses Of Congress

There's a lot of talk these days about the Republicans recapturing the House of Representatives this fall, and even having an outside chance of getting the Senate too. For anyone with a memory, this would be a terrible thing, recalling the nastiness of the Clinton years, when the GOP took Congress in the 1994 midterm election, and the bad policies of the first six years of the George W. Bush administration, when the Republicans controlled Congress (minus a brief period in 2002 when Democrats controlled the Senate).

Let's not have them measure the drapes yet. As Susan Estrich points out, the use of generic polls in making broad predictions isn't a terribly effective method of political prognosticating.

Additionally, the midterm election is far from a done deal this early in the season, for a number of reasons, as one of our favorite sites,, articulates.

But rather than make predictions, let's look at why giving Republicans control over even one
house of Congress is a bad idea:

Contrary to right-wing dogma and the relentless drone of Republican propaganda, this Democratic Congress has been very effective. Among their accomplishments since Barack Obama became president are health care reform, financial regulation reform, and an economic stimulus that is widely credited with saving the nation from an even worse economic downturn.

Health care reform was a goal of many presidents since at least Teddy Roosevelt nearly 100 years ago. Did the legislation go far
enough? Probably not. Inclusion of a public option or the establishment of a Medicare-for-all plan would have done more to lower costs, but the bill that was passed will go a long way to
correcting a situation that has been out of control for too long and which is simply unsustainable. Getting the bill passed above Republican obstruction - remember that not a single Republican in the House voted for the bill - and industry lobbying - millions were spent to water down the legislation - was no small feat. However much more could have been done in reforming health care, the Democrats in Congress made an historic effort and deserve praise for what they accomplished.

Similarly, financial reform represents another huge milestone, and one that has been badly needed for decades. Deregulation of many of the New Deal-era rules began in earnest during the Reagan years. During that time, the concentration of wealth in the nation shifted to the top, with the wealthiest ten percent of the population getting about a 35% share of all income in 1982 to more than 50% in 2007. At the same time, working people have had to spend down their savings and go into debt to get by. Republicans have pushed deregulation under the guise of "freedom," and now claim that efforts to re-regulate amount to "socialism" - a claim that was made by conservatives during the New Deal period and again during the Great Society era to try to derail efforts to legislate business. Never mind that true socialism isn't reflected in these efforts - if the Republicans can scare people into thinking that "the American way of life" is at stake, they will use any phrase, slogan, or pejorative they can think of.

It's worth pausing a second to consider the complete implausibility of what the Republicans are
really advocating. They've been saying since the Reagan years that business prospers when it isn't hindered by rules, and that this benefits society. Inherent in that idea is that business leaders will act in the best interests of society. As 30 years of evidence shows us, that's either
a naive notion or simply disingenuous. It's not the role of business to act in the public interest, and while we can always hope its leaders will do so, there is no law requiring them to. Rather, it's the role of government to act in the public interest, which sometimes means creating rules we all have to follow to create a fair society. Most people are confident enough to leave their house every day and travel on the roads and highways, with the reasonable assumption that they can get where they are going safely because rules are in place to guide people to drive responsibly. Would they take the chance to venture out if there were no speed limits, stop lights or rights-of-way? Why should the business world be any different? Shouldn't workers and investors be able to have the confidence that there are rules in place that make the most irresponsible excesses of business illegal or, at least, discouraged? Establishment of these long overdue rules is yet another reason the Democrats in Congress should be applauded.

Perhaps the most controversial accomplishment of the last year
and a half is the passage of the economic stimulus bill. Conservatives have worked the nation into a tizzy with hype about the growing deficit. Yes, it is true that the U.S. has a large deficit, and it's also true that Republicans have short memories. It was under Ronald Reagan that the deficit grew wildly and the U.S. went from being the largest creditor nation to largest debtor. It was the George W. Bush administration that made the situation far worse with the tax cuts for the wealthy that were passed by the Republican-controlled Congress.
It was also the Bush administration that took the surplus of the Clinton years and created a massive debt.

But now, Republicans want to talk about the deficit and scare people into thinking that it can only get better if they were in charge - betting against the memory of the people. (When presented with the idea of letting the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2010 - as they are scheduled to - Republicans respond by saying that the deficit doesn't matter as much as tax cuts for the wealthy. What they really mean is that they want to complain about the deficit only when it is convenient for them.)

Meanwhile, economic experts have been on record since before the stimulus, saying it needed to be larger. Conservatives succeeded in watering it down by hyperventilating about the deficit, yet none of them voted for it in the long run! (In the Senate, two Republican senators from Maine voted for the measure, along with Sen. Specter who was soon to join the Democrats; in the House, not a single Republican voted for it.) So the Democrats passed legislation that is credited with saving the economy from further ruin against virtually unified opposition.

If that's not enough for you, consider what the Republicans would do if back in control. They've already said they'd hold hearings on everything in the Obama administration they don't like, just like they did in the Clinton years, eventually hounding the president to the brink of impeachment. That's not only a waste of taxpayer money - which they claim to hold so sacred - but a waste of precious time that's needed to fix problems like climate change.

Given the opportunity, they'd also enact policies - tax cuts, deregulation, and the usual suspects - that are demonstrable failures. We already have thirty years of evidence in front of us that show that these policies don't work. It really could not be more clear.

No one can deny that the U.S. is in difficult times. It seems that many of those difficulties - especially those relating to the economy - stem from Republican policies. But in grand political tradition, the Republicans instead vilify the people who have actually made strides of progress - Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama - and blame the nation's problems on the hardest working among us. N.J. Gov. Chris Christie has spent the first eight months of his term holding out teachers, policemen and fire fighters - and their unions - as the gravest threat to our security and well being -- and Christie's become an aspiration to Republicans across the country! Indeed, Republicans in Congress held up much-needed funds for teachers and police just last month; Republican Rep. John Boehner went so far as to call the money "a bailout." If the Democrats wanted to wage a negative campaign, they could do worse than the slogan "Republicans Hurt Working People."

Democrats have been more effective controlling Congress in the last year and a half than almost any other time in decades. But there is still a lot more work to be done - the economy is still in trouble and our deadline on climate change is breathing down our necks, neither of which are problems the Republicans are equipped to handle. The Democrats deserve the chance to do it, without the harmful, obstructive and divisive policies and politics of the Republicans.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Monday, April 7, 2008

10 Things You Don't Know About John McCain

The good folks at have compiled this essential list of things the general public doesn't know about Senator John McCain.

1. John McCain voted against establishing a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now he says his position has "evolved," yet he's continued to oppose key civil rights laws.

Sources: "The Complicated History of John McCain and MLK Day," ABC News, April 3, 2008 ; "McCain Facts,", April 4, 2008

2. According to Bloomberg News, McCain is more hawkish than Bush on Iraq, Russia and China. Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan says McCain "will make Cheney look like Gandhi."

Sources: "McCain More Hawkish Than Bush on Russia, China, Iraq," Bloomberg News, March 12, 2008 ; "Buchanan: John McCain 'Will Make Cheney Look Like Gandhi,'" ThinkProgress, February 6, 2008

3. His reputation is built on his opposition to torture, but McCain voted against a bill to ban waterboarding, and then applauded President Bush for vetoing that ban.

Source: "McCain Sides With Bush On Torture Again, Supports Veto Of Anti-Waterboarding Bill," ThinkProgress, February 20, 2008

4. McCain opposes a woman's right to choose. He said, "I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned."

Source: "McCain says Roe v. Wade should be overturned," MSNBC, February 18, 2007

5. The Children's Defense Fund rated McCain as the worst senator in Congress for children. He voted against the children's health care bill last year, then defended Bush's veto of the bill.

Sources: "2007 Children's Defense Fund Action Council Nonpartisan Congressional Scorecard," February 2008 ; "McCain: Bush right to veto kids health insurance expansion," CNN, October 3, 2007

6. He's one of the richest people in a Senate filled with millionaires. The Associated Press reports he and his wife own at least eight homes! Yet McCain says the solution to the housing crisis is for people facing foreclosure to get a "second job" and skip their vacations.

Sources: "Beer Executive Could Be Next First Lady," Associated Press, April 3, 2008 ; "McCain Says Bank Bailout Should End `Systemic Risk,'" Bloomberg News, March 25, 2008

7. Many of McCain's fellow Republican senators say he's too reckless to be commander in chief. One Republican senator said: "The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He's erratic. He's hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."

Sources: "Will McCain's Temper Be a Liability?," Associated Press, February 16, 2008 ;
"Famed McCain temper is tamed," Boston Globe, January 27, 2008

8. McCain talks a lot about taking on special interests, but his campaign manager and top advisers are actually lobbyists. The government watchdog group Public Citizen says McCain has 59 lobbyists raising money for his campaign, more than any of the other presidential candidates.

Sources: "Black Claims McCain's Campaign Is Above Lobbyist Influence: 'I Don't Know What The Criticism Is,'" ThinkProgress, April 2, 2008 ;
"McCain's Lobbyist Friends Rally 'Round Their Man," ABC News, January 29, 2008

9. McCain has sought closer ties to the extreme religious right in recent years. The pastor McCain calls his "spiritual guide," Rod Parsley, believes America's founding mission is to destroy Islam, which he calls a "false religion." McCain sought the political support of right-wing preacher John Hagee, who believes Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for gay rights and called the Catholic Church "the Antichrist" and a "false cult."

Sources: "McCain's Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam," Mother Jones Magazine, March 12, 2008 ; "Will McCain Specifically 'Repudiate' Hagee's Anti-Gay Comments?," ThinkProgress, March 12, 2008 ; "McCain 'Very Honored' By Support Of Pastor Preaching 'End-Time Confrontation With Iran,'" ThinkProgress, February 28, 2008

10. He positions himself as pro-environment, but he scored a 0—yes, zero—from the League of Conservation Voters last year.

Source: "John McCain Gets a Zero Rating for His Environmental Record," Sierra Club, February 28, 2008

John McCain is not the person the Washington press corps make him out to be. Please help get the word out—forward this list to your friends.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Most Dangerous Man In The Game - And The Lamest

Mike Huckabee has made a splash with evangelical Republican voters, who won the Iowa caucus for him, and many who have seen his speeches and interviews have been impressed with his low-key, calm demeanor. Huckabee's nice-guy persona is certainly a welcome change from George W. Bush's bluster and Mitt Romney's slick brand of corporate phoniness.

Even though Huckabee isn't favored to win the presidency (polls find each of the three Democrats candidates beating him), he is the most dangerous candidate to U.S. freedom and democracy: He wants to change the Constitution to suit his faith. Here is a quote from Huckabee on the campaign trail in Michigan On Monday, Jan. 14:

"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."

Among all the candidates, only Mitt Romney joins Huckabee in calling for a Constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage, but one gets the sense from Huckabee - who has never been shy about promoting his religious faith - that there is more in the Constitution that he'd like to change (and one also gets the sense that Romney's call for an amendment is just a ploy to get votes). How would the former Baptist preacher and Arkansas governor feel about enacting laws that follow the principle of separation of church and state? It doesn't sound like he'd be vigilant in that regard. As long as he and his supporters keep believing in the fallacy that the U.S. is a "Christian nation," they will continue to feel justified that their religious beliefs should be law.

Forget the fact that it would be extremely hard to change the Constitution, Huckabee's statement in Michigan tells us the kind of executive branch he would run. He'd likely follow Bush's example and forbid funding of stem cell research (in fact, Huckabee is the only GOP candidate who has given an unqualified answer to the question of stem cell research - he doesn't support it), and forbid foreign non-governmental organizations that receive USAID family planning funds from using their own, non-U.S. funds to provide legal abortion services, lobby their own governments for abortion law reform, or even provide accurate medical counseling or referrals regarding abortion. As we've seen with the Bush administration, faith would influence Huckabee's decisions and guide his philosophy. Would he defer to his faith in the face of evidence to the contrary from science or culture? Our experience with the Bush administration doesn't give us confidence that he'd make decisions based on reason. After all, Huckabee doesn't believe in evolution. Would he appoint a secretary of education who did?

Ironically, the same freedom of religion which allows Huckabee and his followers to practice their beliefs as they see fit would be the first victim to a President Huckabee codifying his religion into law. We would then be one nation under his god.

Despite the scary implications, at least Huckabee is a candidate who expresses belief in something - and that may be part of his appeal. It would be hard to find a lamer candidate than Fred Thompson, who appears not to believe in anything and appears ready to take no action as president. Look at Thompsons's positions, such as they are: He wouldn't make any changes to education policy, and says only that he "favors school choice" (a euphemism for taking money away from public schools and giving it to private companies that run private schools). As for dealing with climate change, Thompson says he questions whether global warming caused by humans is real. (Translation: He'll do nothing to halt it.) He's running on a platform of no gun control, so he wouldn't do anything to keep guns from proliferating. At a time when the nation is having a dialogue about changing health care and confronting the crisis around it, Thompson has said he would let "the market, not Washington" handle it. (Translation: he would do nothing.) The war in Iraq? Thompson said he supports Bush's course, so he'd stay with it.

It would be hard to find two worse alternatives in this election than Huckabee and Thompson.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

'The Kingdom' Of American Wish Fulfillment

Movies have long been the place where audiences see their dreams realized. People fall in love, win fortunes, find the perfect job and otherwise triumph over adversity. We know it's not always like that in the real world. But every once in a while, a movie comes along with a fantasy that just isn't healthy, and director Peter Berg's The Kingdom is such a film.

In The Kingdom, a terrorist attack occurs in Saudi Arabia, in a compound where the families of American employees of multi-national corporations live. U.S. intelligence agents make demands, twist arms and otherwise coerce their way into getting permission to enter Saudi Arabia - the kingdom of the film's title - so that they can investigate the crime that took the lives of their friends who were present at the time, despite the very clear instructions from the U.S. attorney general that they stay out of it. Apparently, the rule of law means little to Americans when revenge is at hand.

Once in Saudi Arabia, the agents are flustered and aggravated at having to comply with the rules and the customs of the Saudis. Jennifer Garner's character shows a combination of ignorance and disrespect when she meets a Saudi prince in a revealing tank top. The message to the audience is: These aren't messengers of diplomacy; to hell with Saudi customs, they have a job to do! Jamie Foxx's character is the leader and he is constantly playing the smart cop in another jurisdiction routine: "Just let me do my job because I know better than you! And I can solve this if you stop tying my hands!"

Just as Rambo once re-fought and won the Vietnam War, the Americans in The Kingdom are there to kick some terrorist ass and reassure American audiences that we could win the war on terror if only other countries' rules and laws weren't tying the hands of American tough guys (and gals).

A harrowing (and effectively suspenseful) climax has Jason Bateman's character kidnapped by terrorists, who bind and gag him, and set his execution up to be filmed, just as other torturous, real-life films of beheadings have made their way out of similar conflicts. Here is the film's inherent dishonesty: Just as the character is to be beheaded, the American agents burst into the room, killing all the terrorists and saving their friend. Using a situation that is beyond comprehension, the film suggests that American muscle can triumph over that which no one has yet been able to stop.

Early in the film, when word comes that one of their friends has been killed in the attack, Garner's character weeps. Foxx's character whispers to her, and she stops, but we aren't told until the very end what he said to her: "We're going to kill them all." That's the same sentiment that a dying terrorist leader whispers to his granddaughter near the film's end. You might think that the movie is showing how both sides are ignorant and that would be true, had we not just spent two hours seeing these U.S. agents who want to "kill them all" glorified as action heroes and problem solvers.

Newspaper ads for the film use a quote that proclaims it "the best movie of the year so far by far," according to a Fox News critic. Not surprising that the right-wing channel that has done it's best to legitimize American action in the Middle East and support a war that was a bad idea before it started would further encourage the public to see something positive in a movie that presents Americans only as do-gooders who are frustrated and hamstrung by other cultures. The movie is considered offensive enough that it has been banned in Bahrain and Kuwait, according to Daily Variety.

Anytime a movie presents itself as being topical, it owes a responsibility to the audience to present situations that bear some relation to reality. This film doesn't. Many Saudis - not just fundamentalists - resent the American presence in their country, and while the people that are victims of the attacks in the movie certainly don't deserve what happens to them, the real situation is more complex. American companies have been exploiting Saudi resources for decades, and an understanding of this would have provided a more complete picture for the film. Instead, it presents a simplistic portrait of a conflict that most audiences don't understand (especially since their ignorance is encouraged by the right-wing media), with characters descended from Rambo and other neanderthal tough guys.

The Kingdom is the most irresponsible movie in many years.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Edwards: Most Electable?

While most people read about the squabbles between the Clinton and Obama campaigns, the slipping fortunes of the McCain campaign, and the foot-in-the-mouth blunders from both the Giuliani and Romney camps, one story is being ignored: In several polls from various sources, John Edwards beats each of the Republican contenders by larger margins in most cases than his Democratic challengers.

In polls taken in June and July by Zogby, Rasmussen and Newsweek , Edwards beats Fred Thompson by an average of 11%, beats Mitt Romney by an average of 12.4%, beats John McCain by an average of 7.3%, and beats Rudolph Giuliani by an average of 2% (which is still greater than Hillary's match-up with Giuliani which puts her ahead by 1%). Only Barack Obama comes out with a higher average margin of victory against Giuliani (3.2%), Thompson (13%) and Romney (13%). There is a summary of the polls on RealClearPolitics.

However, in the most recent Rasmussen report, Edwards has a 7-point lead over Giuliani, up from a 4-point lead in early June. Also, Rasmussen says that Republican voters are less opposed to Edwards than to Clinton or Obama. Giuliani and Thompson only get 68% of the Republican vote when pitted against Edwards.

Giuliani said recently that he was a "first responder" on 9/11 and that he was at Ground Zero "as much or more than" the workers who were digging through the rubble. Rudy will continue to draw as many connections as he can between himself and the events of that day. But many fire departments have complained that it was the Giuliani administration that short-changed them and made them lack necessary equipment that could have saved lives. Giuliani's comments - not to mention his lack of humility - show an insensitivity.

And Mitt Romney, when asked why none of his five sons were serving in the military, said that his sons were serving their country by trying to get him elected because "they think I will be a great president." No doubt there are thousands of Americans serving in Iraq who would rather work on a destined-to-fail political campaign instead of fighting in a war. Romney certainly can challenge Giuliani in the lack of sensitivity department.

Meanwhile, the Edwards campaign has been addressing matters of substance and talking specifics while the Republicans are beating their chests and making ill-considered quips. Edwards' health care plan remains the most thorough of those presented by any candidate (only Obama also has a substantive plan on the table). As pointed out earlier, Edwards has been setting the agenda for the Democratic contest by addressing issues and concerns that the other candidates must comment on.

Although not widely reported, Edwards won a California straw poll held in Los Angeles over the weekend by the California Democratic Council. The CDC is made up of Democratic clubs and organizations throughout the state. Edwards got 41% of the vote, while 20% were undecided. Obama placed next with 14%. Clinton received 8% of the vote.

More info: The Real Liberal

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why the Summer of Love Remains Relevant

It has become commonplace to laugh about the Summer of Love. Conservatives, particularly, like to make fun of the excesses of that period, and some, like Ronald Reagan, built political careers by campaigning against the tenets of the counter-culture that built a movement around the notion of love.

The fact of the matter is that 1967 was anything but a peaceful, carefree period in history. The Vietnam War was heating up, with U.S. casualties mounting up to more than 11,000 that year alone, which was more than in the previous ten years combined. Race relations were deteriorating, despite (or perhaps as a consequence of) the progress of the civil rights movement, and destructive riots occurred in cities throughout the country. Anti-war forces got bigger and bolder, holding marches of previously unseen numbers, and the country found itself in a political divide unlike anything that preceded it.

Among this chaos and upheaval, people who believed in peace and understanding found a way to flourish. To some whose adherence to traditional political dogma was ingrained, it seemed a selfish, indulgent exercise, and a silly one at that. What were the hippies really accomplishing, other than "dropping out" of society, as Timothy Leary suggested? But to those with a more intellectual and open mind, the Summer of Love was an exercise in defiance, an entire way of thinking that evolved from the peaceful disobedience of the civil rights movement, and a way of being that wasn't dictated by government or corporate influence. After all, if all you need is love, how can Madison Avenue sell you things you don't really need? If you were to "get together and smile on your brother" (as the Youngbloods' song suggested), how can the government convince you to join the military and kill those they deem your enemies?

As historian Sean Wilentz points out in a recent article, the cultural divide that came to the fore in 1967 is still separating Americans today, and hasn't ever gone away. Reagan and his eventual running mate George H.W. Bush supported Barry Goldwater for president in 1964, and carried on the conservative cause in the decades that followed. Current president George W. Bush has been most damning to the peaceful side of the cultural divide. The country has another war with no end in sight, and another president who places himself and his administration above the law. Forty years ago, the U.S. had a Supreme Court that protected the rights of the powerless and strengthened individual liberties. Now, a Court packed with conservatives serves big business and gives government more power and individuals less of a voice.

Even if the Summer of Love couldn't hold sway over politics, it did permanently alter the nature of art, music, film and other creative endeavors. The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, released June 1, 1967, has been considered a cultural landmark for 40 years, and remains one of the most important works of art ever created. Music and art have always reflected the philosophy of the artists, but this period introduced the widespread acceptance of philosophical ideas in commercial, popular entertainment that could reach a vast audience. It changed the way we communicated, and now, it would be hard to imagine reaching any audience - commercial, political, artistic, even religious - without some sway from popular culture.

The lessons in the Summer of Love are there for all to see. You don't have to endorse drug use or promiscuity to appreciate the idea that human beings can live in a peaceful setting if they work at it instead of working for the purpose of war or material accumulation. It seems a far more radical idea to suggest that working for a peaceful society is not a desirable goal. Yet that's exactly what Vice President Dick Cheney said when he declared that he thought the nature of man was war, not peace. There's been little in the administrations of the last five Republican presidents to suggest that they care at all for peace, and the idea of love or understanding seems lost on them -- unless it's understanding the love of avarice.

This point is well illustrated in Mike Myers' comedy Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, when the title character confronts his nemesis, Dr. Evil:

Dr. Evil:
Isn't it ironic, Mr. Powers, that the very things you stand for -- swinging, free love, parties, distrust of authority- are all now... considered to be... evil? Maybe we have more in common than you care to admit.

No, man, what we swingers were rebelling against were uptight squares like you, whose bag was money and world domination. We were innocent, man. If we'd known the consequences of our sexual liberation, we would have done things differently, but the spirit would have remained the same. It's freedom, man.
Pictures of young people in colorful clothes with flowers in their hair, meditating in a park somewhere, needn't be dismissed as silly anachronisms. Look at them as a portal to a different way of living, and an alternative solution to a culture of greed and war.