Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Molly Ivins
August 31, 1944 - January 31, 2007

Molly Ivins lost her battle with breast cancer today.

A moment of silence, please.

...And that will be enough silence. Now get loud.

Do it for our country.

Do it for our Constitution.

Do it for Molly.

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Consider Iran

There is a lot of speculation right now about how things are going to play out between the United States and Iran. I admit to having some very troubling concerns myself, because the lack of thoughtful analysis applied to Iraq made a huge mess, and failing to consider wisely with regards to Iran would be even worse.

Size of the Country: Iran is four times the size of Iraq, for starters. It is comparable in size to Alaska. Iraq, on the other hand is the size of two Idaho's. In addition to a vast size, Iran also has a modern military, including a technologically up-to-date Navy. Iran has recovered from the Iran-Iraq war of the eighties, but Iraq never did. Iran has not been struggling under two decades of warfare and economic sanctions.

Demographics: In the wake of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, birthrates skyrocketed, and the country has as many males between the ages of 15-64 as Iraq had total population at the time the United States invaded. The average age of those men is approximately 25 years.

Culture: Iran has a strong cultural identity. Persian culture predates Islam by about 1500 years. Iraq was / is an artificial construct, carved from the remnants of the Ottoman empire on the eve of World War I. From 1917 to 1958, Iraq was occupied by Britain, having invaded under cover of World War I and staying on post 1920 under a League of Nations Mandate.

Iran was known as Persia until 1935, and has not been occupied in modern times.

Iraq is populated with diverse Arab groups, many more loyal to tribe than the nation. Iran is predominantly Persian in ethnicity and possesses a strong national identity that is founded in a shared history.

System of Government: Iraq has never evolved a self-determined system of government. Instead, a series of military strongmen have emerged since the "Republic of Iraq" was declared in 1958. Saddam was merely the last in succession. Iran, on the other hand is an Islamic Theocracy. The President is a figurehead, and toppling the figurehead would have no impact on the stability of the government. The real power of government rests with the 86 Clerics who comprise the Assembly of Experts. Iran would not be toppled as long as a single Mullah remained alive.

Smarter people than I maintain that if America would engage in a little nuance and exercise some patience, the Mullahs will enjoy another decade in power; but if America were to forge ahead with an ill-conceived war against Iran, it would cement the Mullahs in power for an additional 50 years, possibly a full century.

As those in charge have been absolutely wrong about absolutely everything up to this point, I see no reason why they should be trusted now, in this regard, when the stakes are even higher than they have been to this point.

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That answer wasn't an answer, Mr. President

Ryan Schmidt has some questions.

Spec. Schmidt is one of the Minnesota Guardsmen who will be retained in Iraq for an additional four months to comprise a part of the shell-game that makes up the "surge" of troops to stabilize Baghdad and Anbar.

Tuesday, one of the extended Minnesotans got to ask a question when NPR's Juan Williams interviewed President Bush. Spec. Ryan Schmidt asked if the president had a plan if his troop surge didn't work. Here's what the president said:

"Well, I would say to Ryan, I put it in place on the advice of a lot of smart people, particularly the military people who think it will work, and let us go into this aspect of the Iraqi strategy feeling it will work. But I will also assure Ryan that we're constantly adjusting to conditions on the ground."

We asked Spec. Schmidt if he was satisfied with the president's answer.

"No, it did not answer my question," he said. "I would have liked to know more so that there will be a plan if this does not work. For some of us that are over here, particularly me, my unit, we all feel, what's the point of us being extended if your initial plan to send more troops over here does not work? What are you going to do, Mr. President?"

This whole thing is getting out of control. (Prolonged war has a tendency to do that.) The troops are questioning and signing an Appeal for Redress from the war in Iraq. They have a right to have their questions answered and their concerns addressed, not blown off and dismissed.

Ryan Schmidt should keep asking his question, and we should be asking it too, until it is answered to the satisfaction of the soldiers in the field.

(Listen Here)

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Sky is Falling

Why? Because the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Page and I agree on something.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Florida is thinking about moving up its primary because we lack the political clout that an early primary would give us. That's crap because, as we all know, other states will just move theirs up too.

I say enough. Although I fail to see why Iowa and New Hampshire should come first (is this the sacred cow syndrome?), I think the Sentinel rightly brings up this slightly dated, but legitimate, alternative to the race to be relevant:

One promising alternative was proposed after the 2004 election by a
bipartisan panel headed by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of
State James Baker. After the traditional opening contests in Iowa and New
Hampshire, a dozen states, grouped by regions, would hold primaries once a month
from March through June. The regions would rotate, giving each a chance to go
first every 16 years. Voters would have more time to evaluate candidates. The
ones with less money and notoriety might boost their chances by focusing on one

As with all things, there is no one "right" answer, but we really need to start looking at ways to stop the insanity called our election cycle.

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Monday, January 29, 2007


If you thought the unexpurgated title was "clusterbomb," give yourself a point.

It turns out that a significant part of those Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (a/k/a cluster****s) the Mandarin wrote about recently were made in the good old U S of A and sold to Israel on the condition they not do exactly what they ended up doing after all: firing them into civilian areas.

Leaving a lot of unexploded bomblets that look like the photo - the kind of
brightly-colored thing that a kid might pick up. With allies like these, who needs enemies?

Yes, Yogi, its déjà vu all over again.

Crossposted from here.

There's more: "Cluster****" >>

Florida's Large Donor Base

Like the Orlando Sentinel, I've also noticed that a lot of big names are staking claim to donation dollars here in our state. I've been invited to at least three private fundraisers for two Democratic contenders and a bevvy of public ones. What I didn't know is this:

Florida is key to that effort because of its wealthy donor base. Former
state party chair Al Cardenas, a Romney fundraiser, said as much as 15
percent of a candidate's money often comes from Florida.

"It's going to be one of the closest primary contests we've had in a long
time. I can sense it," Cardenas said.

Republicans, especially, must organize early this year because the state
party is expected to hold a "straw poll" in Orlando in October, where activists
will vote on their favorite candidate. The event, which is nonbinding, draws
national attention and will require about $1 million worth of organizing per
candidate, said GOP strategist Tre Evers of Orlando, who is neutral in the

That 15 percent figure just has to be wrong for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Florida has fewer corporate headquarters than several top-ten-population states. Then, of course, it could really just be Republicans and that might make sense. After all, almost every small business owner where I live holds fundraisers to donate to the "Republican of your choice." (I'm in a very, very red county.)

Orlando's straw poll has become a pretty big deal in the state and has gained a bit of national stature because of Mel Martinez but I don't think a state with a per capita income of $33,219 (ranks 24th) is really generating that much money.

I know there's a great divide between the have and have-nots but, in Florida, our haves are kind of like the middle class of the wealthy.

There's more: "Florida's Large Donor Base" >>

Doing Nuance Again

We've all know President Bush's (in)famous quip that he "doesn't do nuance," and I think most of us have formed an opinion on that school of foreign policy (or about 70-72% of us have; I'm not sure what the other 28-30% are waiting for but I can think of at least one play by the esteemable Mr. Beckett that might help answer that).

But what happens when we view the fine mess the President has gotten us all into through the lens of nuance? Well, it might look something like what our Speaker of the House told President Karzai while she and a bi-partisan delegation visited Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan (you remember those last two countries, right?):

    Pelosi told Karzai that Afghanistan has bipartisan support in Congress, the Afghan official said. Members of the delegation also told Karzai they hope to see more coordination and cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But the Democrats are striking a somewhat different tone with President Musharraf:
    The new Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives has passed a bill which requires America’s President to certify that “the government of Pakistan is making all possible efforts to prevent the Taliban from operating in areas under its sovereign control”. Failure to do so will stop all US aid, including military assistance. The House wants the restriction to take effect from the 2008-09 financial year.

Of course the Bushies are blustering that they shouldn't have to certify that Pakistan is pulling its weight (he's the decider), but with the Taliban cropping up in Pakistan, it seems like a pretty commonsensical idea that we hold Pakistan to some benchmarks for all the aid we're giving them. Which tells you about all you need to know about why the adminstration doesn't want to. Here's to nuance and commonsense having a long lasting cohabitation in the House of Representatives.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Circumventing the Electoral College

People like to bitch a lot about the Electoral College, and whether or not they do tends to hinge on whether or not that institutional arrangement benefits their preferred candidate. After the 2000 Presidential Election, Democrats railed against the thwarting of the national will. In 2004, John Kerry came reasonably close to winning the Presidency had Ohio swung the other way - he too would have won the Presidency while losing the popular vote. Had we enjoyed a Kerry/Edwards victory in 2004 you'd better believe Republicans would have protested en masse. It's no secret (or at least, it shouldn't be a secret) that our constitution was deliberately designed to mitigate the will of the majority. Madison and other Federalists feared factions - both minority and majority - would damage the institutionalization of the liberal values on which they hoped the United States would be founded. Majority-thwarting institutions were established to help maintain stability and individual rights; the Senate, the Supreme Court, and the Electoral College are undemocratic by design. I think there's a great deal of value in this line of thinking. Majority rule is not right by virtue of it's majority support. Just because 50 percent plus one of the population wants to strip racial minorities or their rights, or seize the property of the middle class does not make such actions right, normatively speaking. The Senate over-represents rural populations to ensure, in part, that states will large populations would not push through policies which might adversely affect numerical, rural, minorities. This makes a lot of sense, as our governing institutions emphasize consensus over the tyranny of the majority, and the emphasis on republican government (separation of powers, checks and balances, civic-minded citizens) works toward that end.

That said, I still think the electoral college is a damned ridiculous - and antiquated - body.

I would say that the Senate, Supreme Court, and our Federal arrangement mitigate the strength of numerical majorities well enough. The Electoral College was intended to give numerically smaller states a greater stake in Presidential elections, and to limit the strength of the mob. During the 19th century, state and local governments had much greater policy portfolios, and the Federal government was largely side-lined when it came to issues that affected local populations. You could say that there was a greater deal of (potential) local democracy during this time, as the lines between the local and federal spheres were pretty distinct, and accordingly, state governments were held more accountable for favorable and unfavorable policies. As the portfolio of the Federal government increased during the Second Industrial Revolution (late 19th, early 20th century) individuals found it much harder to affect change locally. Local policies were increasingly shaped by Federal laws, funding, and guidelines, while the disconnect between the individual and the Federal government remained. The popular elections of Senators changed this dynamic to some extent, but did nothing to increase the connection between voters and the Executive Branch.

During the late 20th century, people managed to develop alternatives to effect change in the executive branch. Participation in politically active civil-society and single-issue organizations gave citizens an effort to shape executive policies by way of lobbying. However, we all know the problems that can arise with this arrangement. Today, the will of individuals has very little effect on executive politics. By removing the barrier of the Electoral College, I think it would increase the 'level of democracy' (for lack of a better phrase) in our country; a level of democracy which is lacking.

I'm certainly not the first person to make these arguments. People seem to be generally opposed to electoral college (except when it benefits their particular cause at particular points in time) as it's overtly undemocratic. In fact, it seems fairly insulting. The Senate's majority-will-thwarting role in the legislature makes sense, I think, to people, as does that of the Supreme Court. However, the Electoral College essentially represents those elitist tendencies that many of the Federalists had toward the masses. These fears were probably legitimate at the time, but the demographics have changed quite a bit over the last two-and-a-half centuries. But there's not much that can be done short of a constitutional amendment to change the current situation...

... or is there?

Electoral arrangements are largely left up to the states to decide. The Constitution only requires that each state be given a number of electors equal to the number of Representatives and Senators that they have in Congress. It is up to the state legislatures to determine how these electors are to cast their ballots. Most states have a winner-take-all arrangement. In Washington State, we have 11 electors (9 Reps + 2 Senators), and they are determined by the party committee which wins the state. If the majority of Washingtonians vote Democrat (as has been the case since 1992), then the State Democratic Committee picks the electors. There's nothing in Washington State law which dictates that the electors have to vote a certain way, but you can bet that the parties pick the most loyal of loyalists to cast those votes. Some states have laws which require electors to vote in such a way as to reflect the will of the majority, while one or two states split their votes proportionately (Reps win 60 percent, they get 60 percent of electors). There has been a movement afoot to use state laws as a way to circumvent the electoral college.

The Associated Press reports* on some efforts to reshape the way electoral votes are allocated on the state level. Apparently, some state legislatures have voted to require that their respective electors cast ballots according to the will of the national majority. This would, of course, do away with the election night newscasts in which states are colored-coded according to whom their electoral votes are pledged when the polls closed. Those votes would only be allocated when the all the polls were closed, and the popular votes were tabulated. This would ensure that whoever wins the popular vote would also win the electoral, and would (hopefully) remove certain regional wedge issues from the national dialogue.

Of course, any institutional arrangement can be used to over-represent one group or another, and if these changes were adopted nation wide, some states would find themselves as the new foci of political activity, while other states would fall from prominence. This doesn't really change anything. However, it would make the election of our President more democratic, which is, I think, a good thing given the other, undemocratic arrangements that we have which limit the strength of majority factions.

Check out the link and let me know what you all think.

*I was unable to find a direct link to the AP, so here's a link to the story by an AP reporter via the Seattle Times

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House Judiciary Committee to Look at Signing Statements

Well, it looks like the House Judicary Committee is also going to have a hearing this week. On wednesday 01/31/2007 at 10:15 AM the committee has scheduled a hearing in Room 2141 Rayburn House Office Building of the full committee to examine "Presidential Signing Statements under the Bush Administration: A Threat to Checks and Balances and the Rule of Law?" Finally, the House Committee is doing something interesting.

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Congress's "Power to End a War" is the Topic of an Upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday January 30, 2007, entitled “Exercising Congress's Constitutional Power to End a War.” The panel will include David J. Barron of the Harvard Law School, Bradford Berenson, a partner with Sidney, Austin, LLP of Washington DC, Walter Dellinger, a professor at the Duke School of Law and also former acting Solicitor General of the United States, Louis Fisher, a specialist in Constitutional Law with the Library of Congress, and Robert F. Turner of the Center for National Security Law, University of Virginia School of Law. The hearing will be chaired by Senator Russ Feingold. Since the hearing is scheduled to start at 10:00 AM, it is a little too early to pop corn, but it should be fun. I wonder if I can get continuing legal education credit if I listen in?

There's more: "Congress's "Power to End a War" is the Topic of an Upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing" >>

Wolf, What Happened To Your Boys?

Ok, my guess is that we have all seen the Blitzer/Chaney cage match. It is one of the ugliest events I have ever seen recorded.

But my complaint is not with Cheney. After all we should know from the start Cheney is going to lie his tail off. No, what amazed me was Blitzer’s pathetic weenie-bound attempt to plant a wet one on Chaney’s rear.

After Cheney attempted to cut Blitzer off at the knees, “Frankly, you're out of line with that question.” Wolf fell silent, then stammered, and then did everything up to volunteering to father Mary’s next child in order to appease the raging VP.

Go ahead, watch the clip if you can bare to. If you must, mute everything but the last 10 seconds. Observe how a so-called news anchor willingly becomes a eunuch on national TV. Sad, so very very sad.

Updated link (thanks BGRS):
Chaney/Blitzer on youtube

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Missouri Delegation: How They Voted, Jan.22-26

This week, those we chose just didn’t get a whole lot done. The House took up exactly one floor vote, and the Senate deadlocked on the Minimum Wage bill that the House sent to them last week.

By a vote of 226-191, the House extended limited voting rights on the House floor to delegates from American Samoa, The District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. It was a largely symbolic resolution that allows the five non-state representatives to vote on amendments to bills, but not for final passage. The measure is truly symbolic, as no issue can be decided on the votes of these “representatives.”

In the Senate, they failed to achieve the magic number of 60 to overcome GOP opposition and advance the bill that would raise the minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $7.25 per hour. GOP Senators opposed the House version of the bill because it omitted tax breaks for small businesses that might be forced to pay higher wages. The vote was 54 against to 43 for. A Yea vote was to pass the measure.

The Senate also voted 28 for and 69 against abolishing the federal minimum wage and sending the issue to the states. (D.C. and 29 states have a minimum wage higher than the federally mandated minimum.) A Yea was to abolish the federal minimum.

Voting 49 for and 48 against, the Senate also failed to achieve the 60 votes needed to advance a proposal that would empower presidents to block entitlements and discretionary spending in a line-item basis. Under the GOP sponsored amendment, presidents would be able to reject individual items within overall spending packages approved by the Congress. Such rescissions would be sent back to Capitol Hill where a simple majority in both chambers, conducted within eight days would be required to ratify the cuts. Under the legislation, presidents would have been able to exercise the line-item rescission four times per year. A Yea vote was for passage.

Next week the House will take up stopgap appropriations for agencies still operating without regular budgets for FY 2007 after the 109th congress failed to pass the budget.

The Senate will be taking up floor debate on the presidents proposed troop escalation in Iraq.

Your handy-dandy reference chart on how each member of the Missouri delegation voted is here:


House: HR 78

Senate HR 2

Senate HR 2 (amnd)

Senate (HR 2)

Bond (Rep)




McCaskill (Dem)





Clay (Dem)


Akin (Rep)


Carnahan (Dem)


Skelton (Dem)


Cleaver (Dem)


Graves (Rep)


Blunt (Rep)


Emerson (Rep)


Hulsof (Dem)


There's more: "The Missouri Delegation: How They Voted, Jan.22-26" >>

Were It Only So

Overheard and read so many times this week:

I say this not because I have faith in Bush, but because I believe Petraeus is the best man for the job, and the general has literally written the book on counterinsurgency ops.


Phillip II, Caesar, Napoleon, and von Schlieffen all, either literally or figuratively, wrote the book on their own strategies. Yet where is the logical arguments that Petraeus’ version of COIN strategy will work at this time, in this place and with these conditions.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

An End to Stop-Loss?

The Air Force Times reported today that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has instructed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace, the Secretaries of the respective branches and other top defense officials that he wants plans on his desk by 28 February to find their manpower elsewhere. Stop-loss authority allows the services to extend people on active-duty at will by delaying planned separations, retirements and demobilizations.

“Use of stop loss will be minimized for both active and Reserve component forces,” Gates wrote in a Jan. 19 memo. This will affect the Army more than any other branch of service. The Air Force has not employed the stop-loss policy since 2003. The Marines have all but abandoned the practice and the Navy has only employed the controversial tactic twice - in the wake of the terror attacks of September 11, a total of 301 Navy were retained until December 2002. In the spring of 2003, 179 Corpsmen were retained in service beyond their scheduled dates of separation.

When American men and women enter into service, a bargain is struck. That bargain amounts to a sacred trust. Those who agree to serve are betrayed when they are held in service beyond their exit date against their wishes.

By stopping the reliance on stop-loss, Gates is doing the right thing.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mental Health and the Returning Soldier

When Tyler Jennings returned to Ft. Carson, Colorado from Iraq, he became depressed and anxious. It got so bad, he decided to kill himself. One night in mid-May of last year, with his wife out of town, he tied a noose around his neck, opened a window and sat on the ledge, drinking vodka - hoping he would get so drunk that he would either slip and fall or work up the nerve to propel himself to his death.

Five months before, he had sought help from mental health professionals on base who reported his symptoms as "Crying spells... hopelessness... helplessness... worthlessness." When the Sergeants who supervised his platoon found out he was seeking therapy and self-medicating, they began to haze him. That hazing he was subjected to was what drove him to that ledge that May night, with a bottle of vodka and a noose around his neck. He was made suicidal by the threats of those Sergeants to eject him from the Army rather than see he got the help he not only needed...but deserved.

"You know, there were many times I've told my wife -- in just a state of panic, and just being so upset -- that I really wished I just died over there, cause if you just die over there, everyone writes you off as a hero."

After hitting bottom in May, Jennings called his supervisor to report that he had nearly suicided and that he would be skipping formation to check himself into a psychiatric facility; per DoD clinical guidelines; which state explicitly that soldiers with suicidal ideations should be hospitalized.

Instead of working within those guidelines, a team of soldiers was sent to his home, to arrest him for being AWOL for missing work. "I had them pounding on my door out there. They're saying 'Jennings, you're AWOL. The police are going to come get you. You've got 10 seconds to open up this door,'" Jennings said. "I was really scared about it. But finally, I opened the door up for them, and I was like 'I'm going to the hospital.'"

What Tyler Jennings experienced was not an isolated incidence. Numerous Soldiers at Ft. Carson who have returned from Iraq have reported that they feel betrayed by the way they have been treated when they returned and had problems adjusting to life stateside. Those they answer to have marginalized them and branded them as "weak willed."

This in spite of the evidence accumulated by the DoD studies that show 20-25% of all returnees will experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and/or other difficulties readjusting to life back home. These are soldiers who had no reprimands prior to serving in Iraq, but who began to spin out of control upon their return.

Nearly all of these soldiers said that the problems they experienced were exacerbated by supervisors and fellow soldiers who castigated them for having emotional difficulties. Some supervisors admit it freely, maintaining that there is no place in the Army for those who can't deal. Other supervisors accuse those experiencing difficulty of malingering, or even cowardice; refusing to believe they are truly experiencing difficulty, instead they just don't want to go back to war. In a report on NPR, two Sergeants interviewed said they often refused to allow soldiers in their charge the time to attend mental health counseling sessions.

Military spokespersons maintain that soldiers diagnosed with PTSD or other serious emotional and readjustment issues can attend group therapy sessions on their bases, but the soldiers at Ft. Carson aver that in many instances the group sessions only served to exacerbate their problems and make them feel worse.

Those seeking treatment are told by the therapists that they are not permitted to criticize their Officers and Sergeants, even thought it is the Officers and Sergeants who are harassing them and punishing them for being "weak minded."

Only in the military can you be prohibited from bringing up in therapy what is really bothering you.

The military issue has become enough of a public concern that Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Barak Obama (D-IL) and Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO) (Senator Bond's son is currently serving in Iraq) have asked the Pentagon to open an investigation into the treatment - and punishment - of returning soldiers who experience difficulty with mental health issues. "It is tremendously problematic that Fort Carson officials take it upon themselves to make medical determinations without input from mental health professionals," the senators said in the letter to Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

Besides asking for an investigation, the senators asked Winkenwerder to look into whether commanders at Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs, have given a low priority to mental health treatment for soldiers suffering from service-connected mental health problems, and what plans there are to correct any such problem.

They also want details about available mental health treatment for soldiers, how many soldiers at Fort Carson have sought treatment in the past four years, and how many have been diagnosed with PTSD after service in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"The goal, first and foremost, is to identify who's having a problem," said Winkenwerder. "Secondly, it's to provide immediate support. And finally, our goal is to restore good mental health."

The Army is very fond of touting the programs it has in place to care for soldiers, pointing out that the Pentagon has sent therapists to Iraq to work with soldiers on the ground.

All the programs in the world can't help Soldiers who are not allowed to utilize those services.

This is an issue that can't be ignored. The soldiers were sent into harms way deserve to receive the treatment they need, and how you feel about the war is irrelevant, put that aside for now. This is a bigger issue. These are real people, they are our fellow Americans, and they have been betrayed by their Sergeants and Commanders.

Don't let them be betrayed by American citizens. We have been down that path before, and it was not to our credit. Contact the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees; and the Senators who have demanded the investigation.

This is a tragedy and these soldiers deserve better.

Demand they get it.

There's more: "Mental Health and the Returning Soldier" >>

Issue Framing and Exaggerations

One of the biggest problems Democrats have had in terms of pushing an agenda over the last 10 years has been, in my opinion, their inability to frame their issues. Issue framing is probably the most important aspect of successful marketing. Or instance, anti-tax conservatives have always had a serious problem with the Estate Tax. Of course, many of them are super rich, but many of them just disagree with it on principle - these estates were built with wealth that had already been taxed, so the resources should not be taxed when passed down to beneficiaries. However, the Estate Tax has been largely popular amongst the majority of Americans because 1) the vast majority of people are not, nor will they ever be, subject to such a tax, and 2) because Americans tend to approve of progression tax schematics, particularly when the wealth transfer is unearned; i.e. inheritance, lottery winnings, capital gains, etc. To counter this sentiment, anti-tax forces have re-framed the issue from one of economic fairness and the taxing of wealth transfers, to one of liberals trying to tax death. Taxing DEATH. This is, of course, grossly disingenuous. The Estate Tax (or rather, death tax, as some would put it )does not tax death, but rather, taxes a transfer of wealth from one person to another - from one who earned it, to one who did not. The anti-Death tax movement has gained some steam as a result of this re-framing. Fortunately, Washington State voters voted down an initiative which would have done away with our state Estate Tax, the revenues of which are collected from no more than 250 families and which are diverted to public school funding.

Bill O'Reilly has engaged in a re-framing strategy in an effort to mitigate support for programs which are widely considered to be "leftist" programs. Of course, referring to them as "leftist" is ridiculous; something is only as right or as left as they are in relation to the general will of the American moderates, which is to say, the middle 60 percent or so. I would go so far as to say that embryonic stem-cell research is incredibly popular in this country, garnering support well over 60 percent. Many political hacks (as opposed to wonks) try to frame this as a liberal pet project, which is silly, because the vast majority of people support such research. However, by framing the issue in such a way as to make it appear "leftist", conservative forces are able to link it to other, more controversial issues, like abortion or social welfare, or whatever. O'Reilly uses his radio and TV shows to this end pretty constantly. His whole "Culture War" thing attempts to further solidify issues into certain classes as secular-progressive (aka liberal/Democratic) or Traditionalist (aka conservative/Republican). By using a taxonomy which creates dichotomous classes of issues, O'Reilly is able to associate unrelated issues with each other, and thus mitigate support for one issue by focusing on its association with others. He does this primarily with silly language. For instance, he refers to embryonic stem-cell research as "fetal stem-cell research" which is, of course, ridiculous because the stem-cells are not harvested from fetuses, but rather, embryos. He does this to link stem-cell research to abortion in an effort to sway pro-stem-cell-research people who happen to be pro-life away from supporting stem-cell research.

Last night's "Talking Points Memo" on The O'Reilly Factor was a perfect example of how O'Reilly uses issue framing to manipulate how people examine these issues. My good friend Blaine, on his blog over at Dead Journal, has provided an excellent analysis of O'Reilly's segment, and illustrates how O'Reilly uses rhetoric to misrepresent the American left.

Check it out.

There's more: "Issue Framing and Exaggerations" >>

Let's Get Quizical

I am going to take a moment and step outside my portfolio and post something about Iraq. Generally, I am reluctant to write much about the war simply because so many others do so with much more skill. But I feel I have an opening. There has been something missing from the debate.

Every time Bush, Chaney, Lieberman et al speak on the subject of a draw down they assert two things:

  1. What’s left of Iraq and the rest of the Middle East will dissolve into chaos
  2. The terrorists (whoever they may be) will be able to gain the advantage of using Iraq to attack the United States.

Also thrown into the mix are assertions that:

  • Terrorists will be able to use oil as a weapon against us
  • Terrorists will be a step closer to their ultimate goal of establishing a caliphate
  • This conflict is existential – our survival as a nation is at risk just as it was during WWII

My debate teacher used to tell me that an argument unchallenged was an argument accepted. So would some one please tell me why the Democrats are not aggressively challenging these assertions?

Where are the experts : Cole, Clarke, Albright and the others who could address these issues? Where are the white papers?

These seem to be the only arguments that resonate with what’s left of those who either still support the war or are undecided. To my thinking, this is a huge and unforgivable flaw in the conduct of this so-called debate on the part of Democratic leadership and the Democratic intelligencia.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"If you want a safe job, go sell shoes"

Chuck Hagel [R-NE](center) pulled no punches opposing the ab-surge-ity that is
the McCain Doctrine in a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today

Chuck Hagel took a strong stand today in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as they deliberated a non-binding resolution opposing the McCain Doctrine of a troop escalation in Iraq. He chastised members of his own party, demanding they look into the camera and explain themselves to the people back home. The Purple Heart recipient, who understands the gravitas of war was in no mood to quibble. "There is no strategy," Hagel said of the Bush administration's war management. "This is a pingpong game with American lives. These young men and women that we put in Anbar province, are not beans; they're real lives. And we better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder."

"No president of the United States can sustain a foreign policy or a war policy without the sustained support of the American people," he continued. "This is not an attempt to embarrass the president. ... It is an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake with regard to our policy in Iraq." But Hagel wasn't finished. "This is a tough business. But is it any tougher, us having to take a tough vote, express ourselves and have the courage to step up on what we're asking our young men and women to do? If you want a safe job, go sell shoes."

Senator Hagel was the only Republican on the committee to cross over and vote with the Democrats to pass the non-binding resolution out of committee, but so far a total of eight Republicans in the Senate have indicated they back efforts to stop the troop-buildup now underway that will insert a total of 21,500 new American targets into the civil war raging in Iraq. The growing list of Senate Republicans who do not support the escalation includes Sens. Gordon Smith , George Voinovich, Susan Collins and Sam Brownback. "I am not confident that President Bush's plan will succeed," said Sen. Richard Lugar, ranking Republican on the committee, but he voted with those opposed anyway because he didn't want to 'appear weak in the face of our enemies.' (Insert Bronx cheer here, the universal salute to the feckless.)

"The president has made his decision," Vice President Dick Cheney arrogantly shot back, in a response that made it clear the administration doesn't give a damn what the American people or the congress thinks; but would forge ahead anyway. "We need to get the job done."

"We are moving forward," Cheney said in an interview with CNN in which he was asked about the troop buildup. "The Congress has control over the purse strings. They have the right, obviously, if they want, to cut off funding. But in terms of this effort, the president has made his decision." The vice president added: "We've consulted extensively with them. We'll continue to consult with the Congress. But the fact of the matter is, we need to get the job done."

He also made the assertion that "We have to have the stomach to finish the task." I would remind everyone that when he was one of the young men who should have had the stomach to finish the task, he was gutless, taking five deferments because he had "other priorities." Chuck Hagel still today has shrapnel in his chest because he wasn't a useless punk. Cheney dismisses Hagel's objections with a "He hasn't been with us for a long time anyway." (Can anyone think of a better endorsement for Hagel? Yeah, me neither.)

The Democrats are emboldened by the public attitude and the Republican opposition that is building against the president and his war (mis)management, and hope for a vote by the full Senate next week.

Homefront Implications

The effects of fighting two simultaneous wars, coupled with the escalation of troop levels in Iraq don't stop there. The homefront is compromised. There is concern at the Pentagon that the conflict could hamper the military's response to domestic crises. "I am not as comfortable as some others seem to be in accepting the low readiness levels here at home," Lt. Gen. Steven Blum said. "It creates a problem. It will cost us time and time will translate into lives."

The armed forces plan to bolster the size of the active duty forces by 90,000 Soldiers and Marines over the next five years, at a cost of 10.8 billion dollars. (The service budget jumps $1.2 billion with each 10,000 Soldiers and Marines that it recruits and trains. The highly technical Air Force and Navy carry an even steeper price tag.)

Should another conflict erupt before the force can be bolstered, it would take longer to fight and cost more American casualties than otherwise might be expected, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, a deputy chief of staff.

Meanwhile, he acknowledged, fighting wars on two fronts has compromised the readiness of the ground forces. Some units are below the standard measure used to determine if they are ready to fight a conventional, high-intensity war. This is because they have substantial equipment shortfalls and their training is focusing on the low-intensity, counterinsurgency battle being fought in Iraq. "What America needs to do is realize that we can fulfill the national strategy (of defending against another conflict simultaneously), but ... that it will take more time and it will also take us increased casualties to do the job," he said.

The implications of the war are much farther reaching than most people realize. Only about 2% of the people in this country have any connection to the military at all. That isn't very many of us who really truly "get it" and realize the full gravity of sending our military on a bug-hunt.

In ordinary times, that would not be so problematic, but in these times it is. We have a president who thinks it's a big game of Risk. But these aren't mere pieces on a board. These are American (and Iraqi) lives at stake. That we have a president who doesn't appreciate this fact makes it all the more pressing that those of us who do educate those who don't.

There's more: ""If you want a safe job, go sell shoes"" >>

Does Bill Nelson Support the McCain Doctrine?

I haven't been paying as much attention as I should to Florida's US Senators so I missed this - Bill Nelson's press release on the Surge.

He supports the non-binding resolution, opposes cutting off funding and then he says this:

Nelson said today he’ll oppose efforts to cut off funding. “I’ll do what I think
is right to support our troops, though I don’t support the president’s plan to
add 20,000 more in Iraq,” said Nelson, who is a member of the Senate’s Armed
Services, Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees. “That’s not enough
– not without a political solution to the sectarian violence that the
Maliki government has been unable to achieve.”

(my emphasis added)

So, is it that he doesn't support the plan to add troops or he doesn't support it because 20,000 isn't enough? It's very craftily worded, but he voted for the war and he has yet to call for a redeployment or draw-down.

In fact, after he went to Syria in December 2006, this is what he had to say:
At a news conference this morning, Bush said he will consult with top generals
before deciding whether to increase troop strength. An announcement is expected
after the holidays.

and this:
Nelson said he believes the United States has about 12 months to help facilitate
a political solution to the sectarian violence in Iraq, or it will be too late.

These all sound like the hedges and excuses that Republicans are using, not words I'd expect from my Democratic Senator.

I've sent a letter via email. I'll let you know of the response.

There's more: "Does Bill Nelson Support the McCain Doctrine?" >>

Road to the White House--1st Post of Many to Come

A busy week/weekend with regards to presidential campaign announcements, so I figured it was time to do a roundup of who is currently in the race (and I'm only including, at this time, those who have actually announced candidacy and/or formed exploratory committees).

Hillary Clinton announced the formation of an exploratory committee, via her official website, perhaps in a nod to the netroots who have not always been her biggest fans. Though Mrs. Clinton's announcement was a day later than initially expected, it did happen to fall on the date when the next president will be inaugurated two years from now. "I'm in, and I'm in to win," she says.

Barack Obama also announced his bid, again via formation of an exploratory committee, online a few days before before Senator Clinton. These two big guns of the party are going to be monopolizing most of the free media coverage.

Bill Richardson made his announcement (again, say it with me, via formation of an exploratory committee) while also hitting the Sunday talk shows. Though it could be argued that his announcement was overshadowed by the Obama/Clinton roadshow, Richardson may very well be the most accomplished candidate to announce, of either party. Skeptical? Just check out his curriculum vitae. He even has fans on the other side.

I will say again that I am far from choosing a horse for this race, but just these three announcements have me rather jazzed simply for the sheer diversity of candidates the Democrats a fielding this year. Of the above candidates, we have a woman, an African American and a Hispanic...all with credible chances of gaining their party's nomination.

Whereas on the other side....we have the typical parade of white men, exemplified this weekend in the person of GOP Senator Sam Brownback (whom I will in the future refer to, for the duration of his bid, as Senator SexyBack).

So, without further ado, here is the current crop:


  1. US Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware)
  2. US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York)
  3. US Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut)
  4. Former US Senator John Edwards (D-North Carolina)
  5. Former Alaska US Senator Mike Gravel (D-Virginia)
  6. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)
  7. US Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois)
  8. Governor Bill Richardson (D-New Mexico)
  9. Governor Tom Vilsack (D-Iowa)

  1. US Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas)
  2. Former Governor Jim Gilmore (R-Virginia)
  3. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R-New York)
  4. Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-California)
  5. US Senator John McCain (R-Arizona)
  6. Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas)
  7. Former Governor Mitt Romney (R-Massachusetts)
  8. Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado)
  9. Former Governor Tommy Thompson (R-Wisconsin)

So far, the Democrats seem to have a leg up with regards to web prescence. Neither Jim Gilmore nor Rudy Giuliani seem to have campaign websites as of yet. Ron Paul & Duncan Hunter's sites have little to no information about the candidates yet (this seems especially odd for Hunter, since he announced his candidacy way back on October 30 of 2006). Futher, Clinton plans to hold a series of webcasts, beginning tonight, in hopes of spurring a "national conversation about our country's future." Presidential candidates can simply no longer ignore the netroots, and this campaign will also demonstrate that the netroots are more than a money tree to be shaken every two years. I'm neither smart enough nor prescient enough to know how the netroots will shape the upcoming campaign, only that they will.

There's more: "Road to the White House--1st Post of Many to Come" >>

Nuff Said

Well, I was pulling together a nice bit of snark in response to the SOTU, but Senator James Webb pretty well up-staged that. And although he's not my senator, damn if he doesn't say everything that needs to be said-- nice work electing this guy Virginia.

There's more: "Nuff Said" >>

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Reading Tea Leaves

Today, the Secretary of Energy announced that the US would move to double the size the Strategic Petoleum Reserve. Are they just taking advantage of low prices or are they expecting an upcoming disruption in our ability to purchase oil (or both)?

There's more: "Reading Tea Leaves" >>

Bush's Health Care and Me

So I get a $7,500 tax credit per year to cover health care. My pre existing illness makes me have to spend $6600.00 per yr on premiums; a minimum of $480 on drug co-pays which could increase significantly if other issues arise; $280 in dr visits, $300 for out patient treatments; $80 testing for a total of $7700. That’s if my health doesn’t change.

It will change. In fact, I am fighting a condition that will kill me, probably in a couple of years. I can expect increasing regular costs and sooner or later another long-term hospitalization.

I need help for my monthly medical expenses which at present add up to a minimum of $650 per month. The drs, my rent, the pharmacy, my electric bill will not wait for a possible January tax refund.

So pardon me if I am not doing back flips.

There's more: "Bush's Health Care and Me" >>


I know this is supposed to be a hard hitting, take no prisoner's, progressive political blog, but sometimes you have to share. Sometimes you have to remember.


There's more: "Reveille" >>

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Brady Bunch Vision of the Constitution

Last week Alberto Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and announced that "the Constitution doesn't say that every individual in the United States or every citizen has or is assured the right of Habeas Corpus. It doesn't say that. It simply says that the right of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended." You can watch his comments over at crooks and liars.

The long and the short of Gonzales' argument is the Constitution says Congress can't suspend Habeas Corpus, it doesn't say the Congress can't permanently deny Habeas Corpus to some group it doesn't like. According to the A.G. none of us have any "constitutional right" to Habeas Corpus.

A bunch of us wasted a lot of time over the weekend arguing the merits of the claim. I could cite an opinion written by Justice Stevens (INS V. ST. CYR, 533 U.S. 289 (2001)) suggesting the A.G.'s argument is not particularly persuasive. I could also cite Justice Scalia's dissent in that same case giving Gonzales significant "strict constructionist" cover. There are a host of other citations floating around the web.

Tonight I watched Steven Colbert's Word segment. I would provide a link, but it isn't up on the Comedy Central site yet. Either watch the 1/22/07 episode of Colbert when it is aired or watch for it on the Comedy Central site. Colbert's analysis of Gonzales' argument is brilliant. Instead of a series of dusty Supreme Court cases, and obscure references to Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries or to the Magna Carta, he brings us the profound argument of Greg Brady from an episode of the Brady Bunch and a reference to a well known "hummer." Gonzales' argument sort of reminds us all of that other univerally known "legal" argument: "it all depends on what the definition of "is" is."

UPDATE 1/23/07: Here is the link to Colbert.

There's more: "The Brady Bunch Vision of the Constitution" >>

Educating Congress One Representative at a Time

The Seattle Times has printed its periodic update of the goings-on of Western Washington's Congressional delegation, and there's, unfortunately, not much to discuss. Other than some bland entries about Rep. Inslee and Sen. Murray trying to secure Boeing an Air force tanker contract, and Maria Cantwell breaking the ice on the Today show, it doesn't look like the Washington delegation is rousing much of the rabble. However, the entry at the end of the article amused me.

Dave Reichhert (R WA-8) squeaked by the last election in what should have been a cakewalk for him. His district is made primarily of upper-middle class professionals and Microsoft Millionaires who love tax-breaks on their income, their spending, and their SUVs, and care little for much else. His democratic opponent, Darcy Burner, a former Microsoft exec, ran a pretty pathetic campaign against him - nothing substantive, just pictures of Reichert with Bush. As a junior member of Congress, he wasn't in a position to do much while in the majority, and by and large, his voting record was in-step with his constituency (small government, low taxes, and generally environmental). Other than claiming that, perhaps, he didn't actually catch the Green River Killer, Burner was cursed from the outset.

However, Reichert pulled a classic Republican move when asked about his position on global warming; sure, it might be happening, but is it really our fault? Well, it seems as though Congressman Reichert has decided to get to the bottom of the whole "debate" and is trying to set up a meeting with none other than AL GORE to try to figure it all out.

Rep. Dave Reichert , whose questioning comments on global warming were derided by environmentalists during his re-election campaign last fall, wants to learn more about the issue.

His preferred teacher: Mr. Global Warming himself, former Vice President Al Gore.

Reichert, R-Auburn, has asked [Rep. Norm] Dicks to set up a meeting with Gore, whose global-warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" became a national sensation.

During a campaign rally in Seattle in October, Gore scoffed when told that Reichert said he was unsure of the role humans play in global warming.

Dicks humorously suggested a couple of months ago that Reichert and Gore talk, and now Reichert is ready with his notepad. No word yet from Gore.


Last week I noted that a local school district had put a moratorium on viewings of An Inconvenient Truth, due to perceived (and in my opinion, ultimately unfounded) biases in the film. I can only hope that this endorsement of Gore and his film by a Republican Congressman will finally put to rest the bull-shit claim that An Inconvenient Truth somehow skews the scientific consensus regarding this pressing problem.

There's more: "Educating Congress One Representative at a Time" >>

The Week That Was - Week 2

Man, Central Florida was the place to be last week for presidential politics.

John Edwards stopped by on Thursday for a private fundraiser in my neck of the woods. He shared some hard words for those Democrats who just won't get tough with the president over the surge:

Edwards criticized congressional Democrats for promoting nonbinding resolutions against the troop surge without taking action to back it up. "Why don't we go stand in the corner and stomp our feet like an 8-year-old?" he asked.

Sam Brownback stopped by GrayRobinson, a big Republican supporting law firm here in Orlando. And, in a coup for our local 24 hour news station, Brownback made an appearance on its weekly issues show. Yes, while Ted Kennedy was schmoozing it up with Tim Russert, Sam Brownback was sitting down with Jane Healey, from the Orlando Sentinel, and Scott Harris, political newsperson from Channel 13. It was an hysterical thirty minutes of fun and frivolity as Brownback actually tried to paint himself as a moderate!

Mit Romney was here in week 1, also stopping by GrayRobinson and McCain stopped in Winter Park to meet with Republican Phil Handy, whose Education Board nomination was cancelled by incoming Republican governor, Charlie Christ.

Now comes word that our own Abramoff-tainted congressman, Tom Feeney (FL-23), has come out for Romney. That kind of support might put Romney out of the race a lot sooner than even he thought.

Oh, and Florida's sick of being an ATM machine for Presidential Candidates but not getting any respect. It looks like we'll be trying to move our primary up a bit on the calendar to be more impactful.

On the voting front, once again our Democratic delegation voted in lockstep with the leadership - 9 of 9 supported HR5 and HR6. Eleven of our 15 Republican representatives broke ranks to vote for HR5 and 3 voted with the Dems on oil royalties.

The surprise continues to be Republican Vern Buchanan, out of Sarasota. Provisionally elected (pending the Democrat Jennings appeal), he has voted with the Democratic Leadership on 5 of 6 votes. Only the Republican position against Stem Cell funding got his vote. He's taking a bit of heat over this, not surprising as the Repubs continue to consume their own.

Last, our state Senate will be taking testimony tomorrow on how to clean up our elections process because we can't do anything right. From hanging chads in 2000 to an 18,000 undervote in a 2006 Congressional race (see Buchanan), we really need this.

It's a shame that the state Senator leading the effort is so useless, he had to tout achievements from 10 years ago in his 2006 campaign ads.

Five words for the committee: paper trail, vote by mail.

There's more: "The Week That Was - Week 2" >>

Rep. Blunt & The 100-Hour Agenda

KYTV political reporter David Catanese notes House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) says much of the 100-hours package House Democrats pushed through still face stiff opposition in the Senate.

''Many of the 100-hours 'accomplishments' can't make it through the Senate'' or survive a veto, said Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the Republican whip, told the New York Times.

Blunt told the Washington Times the energy legislation would raise the price of gas.

This bill will hurt domestic production and increase the price of oil and gas in this country," said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican. "If you take away the oil industry's incentives to invest in domestic production, you increase our dependence on foreign oil."

Environment & Energy daily reports that Blunt tried to stop the energy legislation by using House rules.

"It also came after a last-minute parliamentary maneuver by Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), ultimately unsuccessful, to require a three-fifths majority vote in support of the bill because it would result in a tax hike."

Others are wondering who Roy Blunt represents in Washington. Last November, nearly 75 percent of Greene County voters and two-thirds of Jasper County voters supported a higher state minimum wage. These are the people Roy Blunt represents. Yet Blunt voted against a bill in the U.S. House that would raise the federal minimum wage. In the decade since the last federal minimum wage increase Rep. Blunt’s congressional salary has increased by $31,600.

There's more: "Rep. Blunt & The 100-Hour Agenda" >>

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Time for a Reprise of the Truman Committee

In 1940, as World War II gripped the globe and United States involvement in the conflict became more and more likely, the United States appropriated $10 Billion in defense contracts in preparation for that eventuality.

Early in 1941, reports of malfeasance and abuses by the contractors reached Missouri Senator Harry S Truman, and the news did not sit well with WW I Infantry Captain “Give ‘em Hell Harry.” In typical Truman fashion, he set out to seek the truth, not by summoning “experts” but by embarking on a 10,000 mile tour of military installations. On this fact-finding tour, he discovered that the companies that received the contracts were clustered in the east, with a mere handful divvying up most of the largesse. He also discovered that they were receiving a fixed-profit, regardless of performance.

He returned to the Senate convinced that the defense efforts of the United States were being undermined by waste and corruption, and he proposed the notion of a special Senate committee that would investigate the National Defense Program.

President Roosevelt was convinced to let Truman head up the committee, being sympathetic to the President and his administration. The President was assured that the committee would not be too much trouble, as it would only be allotted $15,000 to investigate billions in defense contracts.

The Truman Committee was created by unanimous Senate decree on 01 March 1941. Over the next three years, with Senator Truman at the helm, the committee held hundreds of hearings, traveled thousands of miles to conduct field inspections, and saved millions of dollars in cost over-runs. Senator Truman was not shy about threatening executives with prison time as he whacked greedy corporate snouts out of the public trough. It was through his chairmanship of the Truman Committee that Harry S Truman shed his image as a bagman for the Pendergast political/criminal machine that ran Kansas City and Missouri politics for decades, and set his course for the White House. (For those who are unfamiliar with Big Tom Pendergast…He out-Tammanied Tammany Hall.)

Now we face the need for another Truman Committee to investigate contractor abuses once more.

On Wednesday, 17 January, the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness heard testimony from Thomas F. Gimble, the acting Inspector General (IG) for the Pentagon, and Katherine V. Schinasi, the Managing Director of Acquisitions and Resource management for the Government Accountability Office (GAO). (Links to opening statements are in .pdf format.) Full transcripts are not yet available, but the opening statements of these two career civil servants are disturbing enough.

Mr. Gimble, the IG for the Pentagon testified that the problems he uncovered were widespread and pervasive, and they ranged from rushing purchases to use funds that were about to expire without doing the appropriate market research and cost analysis; to DoD personnel without security clearances authorizing contracts for classified work. Office space was leased for the Counterintelligence Field Activity by using a service contract instead of following required procedures through GSA. Using service contracts constitutes an “end run” around regulation and if not curtailed, will effectively eliminate oversight.

Both statements linked are full of outrages that should have every last one of us on the phone to our Senators, demanding the appointment of a present-day Truman Committee to rein in the abuses by contractors and the government employees who facilitate their malfeasance.

If it were up to me, that committee would be co-chaired by Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Tom Harkin of Iowa; and Claire McCaskill, fresh from a successful tour as Missouri’s State Auditor, would have a seat on that committee too. Only appropriate, since she now occupies Harry Truman’s senate seat.

There's more: "Time for a Reprise of the Truman Committee" >>

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Missouri Delegation: How They Voted

Last week the House of Representatives voted 356-71 to reduce interest on Student Loans through the Stafford Loan program for undergraduates. the action will lower interest rates on Stafford Loans incrementally over four years, dropping the rate from the current 6.8% to 3.4% by 2011. (A "Yea" was to pass the bill). The GOP attempted to attach a means test to the interest relief, but the measure was voted down 186-241. (A "Yea" vote was to add means testing).

The House also voted 264-163 to repeal tax breaks (to oil companies) that were written to drive the extraction of fossil fuels and use the savings to develop renewable fuels and increase energy efficiencies. (A "Yea" vote was to pass the bill).

On the other side of the building, the Senate voted 96-2 to pass a sweeping lobbying reform and ethics package that is intended to rein in lobbyists and prevent them from providing perks, gifts and meals above minimal levels to Senators and their staff members. The legislation also mandates full disclosure of tax and spending earmarks before votes are taken. The ethics package also requires Ethics Committee pre-clearance of privately financed travel. Senators traveling by private (corporate) jets now must pay the substantially higher charter rates for the trip. (In the past, they merely paid the equivalent of a first-class ticket). The legislation limits the professional contacts that lobbyist spouses of lawmakers can pursue. The new legislation doubles the length of time that must elapse before a former Senator can register as a lobbyist. The Ethics package also does away with the practice of anonymous holds being placed on legislation. (A "Yea" vote was to send the bill to conference).

The Senate also voted 89-5 to outlaw the practice of lobbyists and lobbying organizations throwing lavish parties for members of Congress at the political nominating conventions. (A "Yea" was to add the ban).

The Senate voted 27-71 to reject and amendment to the Ethics package that would have established a non-partisan Office of Public Integrity to investigate complaints of misconduct by Senators and Senate staffers. (A "Yea" vote backed the amendment).

In a closer vote, the Senate voted 55-43 to strip the Ethics bill of a provision that would have initiated federal regulation of so-called "Astroturf" lobbying. The term refers to well-financed influence campaigns that misrepresent themselves as grass-roots efforts. (A 'Yea" vote opposed the regulation).

As you can see from the handy charts below, the Missouri delegation pretty much split across along party lines, with the exception of Roy Blunt, who can always be counted on to embrace partisan hack-dom, no matter what.

This Weeks's House Votes


Student Loan Interest Rates

GOP Income test (HR 5)

Oil Company taxation ((HR 6)

Clay (D)




Akin (R)




Carnahan (D)




Skelton (D)




Cleaver (D)




Graves (R)




Blunt (R)




Emerson (R)




Hulshof (R)




This Weeks Senate Votes


Ethics Reform Legislation

Convention Lobbying

Office of Public Integrity

“Astroturf” Lobbying

Bond (R)


No Vote



McCaskill (D)





There's more: "The Missouri Delegation: How They Voted" >>