The Jaker

Mostly rational politics, with occasional rants about how a few crazy Republicans are ruining the country.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Even Conservatives don't like the Bush "plan"
When I'm away from my usual routine, I mostly only have enough time for Yahoo news. Suffice it to say I am very happy to see that not only are the Democrats still holding tough on Social Security, but conservative experts and economists are starting to speak out about the inherent problems too.

It seems to me that when history writes this story, it won't just be that Bush overestimated the "mandate" that comes from a 51-48 victory during a war, but that his plan was actually a bad one, and brought out some of the true colors of Republicans, namely that what they really care about is the free market as an end in itself, rather than honestly believing that it provides the best result.

As I read recently, I think in TNR, if God spoke to Americans and said that Republicans are right - that free markets really do allocate best and people benefit most from them - Democrats would likely accept it and shut up. If it were the reverse, that God said free markets sometimes fail and government needs to protect fairness - Republicans would likely argue that there is still virtue in free markets regardless of what God said.
posted by CB @ 8:03 PM   26 comments
On the Road
I'm on the road this week - Saratoga Springs to Newport RI to Boston - so posts will be fewer and farther between. In the meantime, check out some of my favorite blogs:

And a poll from TIME Magazine that shows that Republicans really f'ed up by politicizing one poor woman's suffering:

posted by CB @ 11:53 AM   0 comments
Thursday, March 24, 2005
The 2008 Republican Sideshow
One of the interesting developments to watch in the road to the White House, 2008 edition, will be Tom Tancredo, Republican congressman from Colorado who plans to be the Dennis Kucinich of the Republican primary race.

Tancredo is a rabid opponent of immigration - both legal and illegal. And he's already campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire to build support for a spot in the race for President, where he can draw attention to his crusade to shut the borders. Just as Kucinich wanted all troops withdrawn and a Dept. of the Peace established, and talked about it at every turn, Tancredo is likely to worm his way into the debates and talk only about keeping everyone out. If Frist, McCain, Hagel & co. have to respond to this guy, mainstream Republicans will be wincing.

Among the things Tancredo has done: when the Denver Post profiled an illegal immigrant high school student with a 3.9 GPA, Tancredo tried to get him deported. And in a recent speech he said the Chinese government is "trying to export people" as a "way of extending their hegemony".

I'm not even going to put him on the Republican odds list. But at least he should make for some entertaining TV.
posted by CB @ 2:43 PM   0 comments
Bill Frist & Tom DeLay's Big Mistake
From a CBS News poll:
Should Congress and the President be involved in the Schiavo matter?
Yes 13
No 82
posted by CB @ 9:13 AM   0 comments
Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Something to remember. As this table indicates, trends in Social Security contributions are hard to predict, and are totally subject to the overall economy (better economy = higher tax revenue; for reference, see the Clinton presidency).. Even in 2001 we had a nearly 10% margin of error for what was going to happen in 2004. And Bush is talking about a huge structural change because of something that's forecast to happen in 2041. Posted by Hello
posted by CB @ 2:05 PM   0 comments
Social Security and Medicare
Today the Social Security Trustees released their annual report, in which they said the insolvency date (when the trust fund runs out) for Social Security is currently projected to be 2041, one year earlier than in their last report.

They also said that insolvency is projected for Medicare in 2020. Even more telling is that Republicans keep talking about 2018 - the year Social Security benefits start to exceed the amount collected in taxes. Well for Medicare, that moment came last year!

Doesn't this make it unmistakeably clear that Bush & co. are not pursuing this Social Security reform to actually solve financial problems? Because if they were, they clearly would want to tackle Medicare first and foremost, which really is in a crisis. It seems to me undeniable that Republicans have a hidden agenda, that it really is true what Democrats say - that Republicans are aiming not to fix Social Security but to put it on the road to extinction once and for all, rolling back an entitlement they vehemently hate.

My hope is that mainstream media reporting on this today pick up on this incongruity. I'll be updating what I find:
Yahoo doesn't note the Medicare issue until the 6th paragraph
NYTimes via AP mentions it in 2nd sentence
Washington Post wins the prize for putting it in the headline.
posted by CB @ 12:24 PM   0 comments
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
More on Terry Schiavo
While I agree with Bakley's sentiment that the politicization of Terry Schiavo is unfortunate, I also think it's entirely one party that has created this frenzy. Democrats were not the activists here - conservatives were, and I think they're going to get hurt because of it. They've way overstepped their bounds here, not to mention their claimed advocacy for an American public that is 63% in favor of her husband having the ultimate decision.

We also need to remember that she's not a unique case. Anything we do here will have dramatic ramifications.
posted by CB @ 5:54 PM   1 comments
Gifford Miller for Mayor
Gifford Miller, Speaker of the New York City Council, is running for Mayor. At 35 years old, Gifford is, somewhat ironically, the most senior elected official in New York. He was elected to City Council at age 26, and elected by fellow councilmembers as Speaker at 31. I think his combination of experience and youthful energy makes him the right person to lead New York City.

I met Gifford a few weeks ago at an event at his home, and I came away incredibly impressed by the dynamic intelligence and grasp of issues he demonstrates. At the same time he is incredibly down to earth and approachable, really seeking to understand what concerns New Yorkers. He has the background and the personality to go very far in the Democratic party in the coming years, and I think it's important we support him in his run for Mayor not only because he is the best choice for NYC now, but because with more experience and exposure he could be a great candidate for state and national office in the future. You can learn more about Gifford by visiting his campaign web site at

Gifford's main priority for NYC is improving schools - by fighting for the proper funding from Albany and Washington, and by focusing the city's tax dollars where they make a real impact in children's lives, rather than to help build a stadium. Among his successes: he recently forced Mayor Bloomberg to abandon his budget proposal that would have cut $1.3bn from the city's education budget. Miller has been endorsed by multiple groups and elected officials, and has raised more money so far than any of his opponents.

If you vote in NYC, join Gifford's web community for campaign updates:
posted by CB @ 1:32 PM   0 comments
Monday, March 21, 2005
Terry Schiavo
Salon's War Room hit on the most important and interesting aspect of the situation with Terry Schiavo, the Florida woman for whom Congress passed and Bush signed a resolution ordering a federal judge to examine whether or not she should be allowed to die. That issue is that Republicans have in this case abandoned their long belief in states' rights to intervene and appease the religious right that helped them so much in November. And they're trying to pass this off as a one-time event so as not to set a precedent for a federal government power-grab practice they so abhor. It even only applies to one woman! There's no way they can say there is any reason for this beside political gain.

Excerpted here for those without Salon access:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist called the measure "a unique bill passed under unique circumstances that should not serve as a precedent for future legislation." Now, where have we heard that before? Oh, right, it was in another case from Florida in which Republicans chose political expediency over their oft-proclaimed faith in federalism. When Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the vote count in 2000 and handed the presidency to George W. Bush, they warned that their intrusion into a matter traditionally left to the states was based on legal reasoning "limited to the present circumstances." As in Bush v. Gore, Republicans backing federal intervention in the Schiavo case have to go out of their way to say they're not setting precedent because they're trapped by their own political interests into doing that which they would usually abhor. In Bush v. Gore, Republican Supreme Court justices anxious to put Bush in the White House had no choice but to embrace an equal protection argument they otherwise would have rejected out of hand. In the Schiavo case, Republicans in Congress anxious to appease the religious right have no choice but to ignore the tenets of federalism they usually trumpet. Their message in both instances: We're doing this now because we can, but don't expect to get away with it yourself if the shoe is ever on the other foot.

Here's the other thing: under a Texas law that Gov. George Bush signed, a six-month old baby died on Thursday after a Texas hospital removed his feeding tube over his mother's objection. Where is the Republicans' outrage over this death, and this law? Unfortunately for this mother, she has no money and no connections to powerful politicians. This is such a clear case of political opportunism - it's shameful.

And one more thing: Republicans have voted to dramatically reduce funding for Medicaid (unspecified what they want to cut - but they just want governors to find ways to cut benefits). Well what do you think keeps people like Terry Schiavo and that Texas baby alive?

See Digby:

Those of us who read liberal blogs are also aware that Republicans have voted en masse to pull the plug (no pun intended) on medicaid funding that pays for the kind of care that someone like Terry Schiavo and many others who are not so severely brain damaged need all across this country.

Those of us who read liberal blogs also understand that that the tort reform that is being contemplated by the Republican congress would preclude malpractice claims like that which has paid for Terry Schiavo's care thus far.

Those of us who read liberal blogs are aware that the bankruptcy bill will make it even more difficult for families who suffer a catastrophic illness like Terry Schiavo's because they will not be able to declare chapter 7 bankruptcy and get a fresh start when the gargantuan medical bills become overwhelming.

And those of us who read liberal blogs also know that this grandstanding by the congress is a purely political move designed to appease the religious right and that the legal maneuverings being employed would be anathema to any true small government conservative.

Those who don't read liberal blogs, on the other hand, are seeing a spectacle on television in which the news anchors repeatedly say that the congress is "stepping in to save Terry Schiavo" mimicking the unctuous words of Tom Delay as they grovel and leer at the family and nod sympathetically at the sanctimonious phonies who are using this issue for their political gain.

This is why we cannot trust the mainstream media. Most people get their news from television. And television is presenting this issue as a round the clock one dimensional soap opera pitting the "family", the congress and the church against this woman's husband and the judicial system that upheld Terry Schiavo's right and explicit request that she be allowed to die if extraordinary means were required to keep her alive. The ghoulish infotainment industry is making a killing by acceding once again to trumped up right wing sensationalism.

posted by CB @ 9:24 AM   3 comments
Friday, March 18, 2005
Friday Prez Odds Update
Slow week on the '08 front. Everyone I expect to run is going through the motions - getting themselves invited to speak in Iowa, New Hampshire, SC, etc; meeting with top donors; taking middle-ground positions where possible; registering domain names with "08" in them.

I'm sticking with my picks in the right column for now.
posted by CB @ 3:34 PM   0 comments
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Baseball Hearings
One observation: watching Curt Schilling today - I am totally convinced that he will run for high political office (Gov, Sen) at some point, that he is likely to win, and that he's likely to be pretty good (too bad he's a Republican).
posted by CB @ 5:17 PM   1 comments
Our economy is not sustainable
I'm not an inherently pessimistic person, so I hate to hit a continuously pessimistic note, but I worry fairly regularly that the U.S. economy is headed for a correction or crash in the short to medium term. I continue to fight my personal feeling - including leaving more money in the market right now than I think I should - but everything I read continues to fuel my pessimism.

First, there's the oil situation. Demand is increasing rapidly. Places like India and China are currently at the bend in the hockey stick - over the next few to 10 years their demand will spike. And global supply, as in the amount of oil in the world that we know how to access, is basically at full capacity, as in we can't have any more until we find it in new places and figure out how to process it in less than 10 years. There's a movement called Peak Oil that i DO NOT at all subscribe to (among other things, I believe that society if faced with a supply crisis will adapt to quickly ramp-up conservation and renewable sources), but that at least demonstrates the extreme version of the supply/demand imbalance view.

Second, there's the current account deficit situation, as described extremely well in this NYTimes Magazine article by a Harvard professor (thanks to Jess C. for sending to me). I've discussed it before - the basic summary is that because we buy so much more abroad than foreigners buy here, we require huge investments from Asian investors to make sure the flow of money isn't entirely in one direction - out of the U.S. But Asian banks possibly can't continue to be so entirely exposed to the U.S. economy (especially when the Euro has succeeded in its strategy as establishing itself as an alternative world currency), so there's plenty of reason to think they'll stop fully financing our trade deficit. The dollar would fall off the table, interest rates would jump, and the stock market could lose 20-30%. Thankfully the author seems to conclude that the U.S. situation is unique and unlikely to see any of these doomsday predictions. Despite my concern, I believe it's most likely that he is right and we escape this mess. If so, let's be careful not to go here again - meaning no tax cuts during the next war.
posted by CB @ 3:26 PM   0 comments
Senate gives Yea to ANWR
The Senate voted 51-49 in favor of the ANWR budget resolution amendment yesterday. The party breakdown was interesting - Republicans Chafee, Coleman, Collins, DeWine, McCain, Smith and Snowe came over to the Dem side, while Democrats Akaka & Inouye (both Hawaii) and Landrieu (LA) went to the GOP side. Whatever you think about ANWR, it's interesting that neither Reid nor Frist was able to hold his caucus together on this vote.

It's not a done deal yet - the budget bill still has to get passed, then it goes to Conference Committee with the House where ANWR could again come up for debate (especially given the closeness of the Senate vote). But it's likely to get to Bush's desk.

BTW, another interesting vote in the Senate yesterday (this page is great) was on a Feingold attempt to reinstate PAYGO rules (meaning any additional spending would have to be accompanied by tax increases; and tax cuts by spending cuts). That came out 50-50, with Sens. Snowe, Collins and Chafee (almost Democrats) and McCain and Voinovich joining the Dems. Man, govt would be so much better if we had 2-3 more Dems in the Senate. We really need to support the races in MD (Kwesi Mfume) and PA (Bob Casey vs. Santorum), among other places.
posted by CB @ 9:51 AM   0 comments
Beyond All Doubt
A Chicago Tribune editorial yesterday advocated the push in the Illinois state legislature for changing the standard for a death sentence from "beyond all reasonable doubt" to "beyond all doubt". As you may remember, former Gov. Ryan of Illinois imposed a moratorium on capital punishment in IL when faced with the overwhelming evidence that it is likely that Illinois (and every state with an active use of the death penalty) has executed innocent men and women. The sheer amount of people who have been convicted and exhonerated by new (often DNA) evidence years later attests to this.

While the move is a good one - the finality and irreversibility of death SHOULD require a beyond all doubt standard - I don't want to let a move like this restore legitimacy to the death penalty at a time when the practice seems to me to be teetering somewhat near the brink of nationwide extinction. After all, semantics are just that, our legal system can never be perfect and jurors could still be emotionally swayed to sentence someone to death despite some lingering doubt (would jurors even notice the difference?)
posted by CB @ 9:27 AM   0 comments
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
We pulled one over on them
Senator Bill Nelson pulled a really neat trick in the Senate yesterday. He got a vote on an amendment regarding social security, the entirety of which reads as follows:
It is the sense of the Senate that Congress should reject any Social Security plan that requires deep benefit cuts or a massive increase in debt.

The brilliant part is that he got 5 Republicans to vote "Yea" with all the Democrats and independent Jeffords. And the trick is that now 50 Republicans are on record as saying they support a plan requiring DEEP benefit cuts or MASSIVE new debt.

Democrats should absolutely hammer Republicans on this in 2006. There should be ads and talking points galore on this, even after the Republicans have lost the social security fight. Here are the ones up for re-election in 2006:
Allen, George VA
Burns, Conrad MT
Chafee, Lincoln RI
Ensign, John NV
Hatch, Orrin UT
Hutchison, Kay Bailey TX
Kyl, Jon AZ
Lott, Trent MS
Lugar, Richard IN
Santorum, Rick PA
Talent, Jim MO
Thomas, Craig WY

Well done Senator Nelson.
posted by CB @ 9:03 AM   1 comments
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Listen to John Podesta
As usual the former Clinton Chief of Staff is doing fine work. His Center for American Progress has a detailed and thorough tax plan, discussed here in John's op/ed in today's Washington Post, that basically solves most of the issues with the current tax code:
  • It taxes all income the same - be it from work or capital income
  • It eliminates the problematic AMT (and the need for it by increasing taxes on investment income)
  • It simplifies the structure to just 3 tax brackets
  • It eliminates the regressive flat tax of 6.2% for social security
  • It improves the long-term solvency of the social security trust fund

The full tax plan can be found here for those interested.

This is a big issue - Bush's tax cuts are expiring soon and a Congressional task force is currently deteremining what to do long-term. Podesta is one of the left's brightest minds, and we should listen to anything and everything he says.

posted by CB @ 5:49 PM   0 comments
James Carville on Social Security
from an email from James Carville. Good to review the basic talking points every now and again:

The Five Things Every Democrat Should Know About Social Security

1. The goal of Social Security is to keep people out of poverty.
It used to be that when you got old, you got poor. Social Security is not going to make you rich, but it's not going to leave you poor either. That's the point. Is it sexy? No. But don't lose sight of how important a guaranteed "safety net" is for everyone's well-being, especially older folks.

2. Social Security works.
Social Security has cut elderly poverty by two-thirds. About two-thirds of retirees rely on Social Security for more than half of their income. One-third of them rely on it for 90% or more of their income. If Social Security checks stopped going out today, 48% of elderly Americans would immediately be thrown into poverty.

3. Right now, the very future of Social Security is at stake.
Republicans say they actually want to save Social Security. Don't believe it. They've never truly believed in the concept behind Social Security. They don't like sharing risk over large groups of people. Their attitude is basically, "Let the rich people ignore it, provide incentives for young and healthy people to get out if it, and let the poor and the sick fend for themselves."

4. George Bush's plan for Social Security won't work.
Privatizing Social Security will require as much as a 40% cut in benefits. It will increase the deficit by $2 TRILLION. And it won't extend the life of the trust fund or make the program any more solvent. Three strikes and you're out.

5. There are better plans that will protect Social Security for generations.
Very smart people have proposed a number of reforms to Social Security that don't require a cut in benefits or spending $2 TRILLION we don't have. Some combination of these sensible, measured reforms can make sure Social Security lasts for many generations to come. Doesn't that seem more reasonable than Bush's reckless privatization scheme that won't work?
posted by CB @ 3:03 PM   0 comments
The Population Lags The Progress
I welcome the news that a judge in California has mandated that California resume issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Progress in society demands equal rights regardless of sexuality.

But, at the same time, I say this realizing that this issue is once again going to hurt Democrats politically in 2006 and possibly 2008, because I feel like we're in an age where progress is being gradually mandated by judges who understand issues and cannot abide the current state of injustice, while the public lags behind, clinging to a 20th-century world and using its elective powers to send conservative legislators to Congress and enact discriminatory state Constitutional amendments in an attempt to preserve status quo.

Perhaps that's just the period we're in right now. Courts are going to have to force people to learn to live with things they're not yet comfortable with, and in the decade it takes them to get comfortable, they'll continue to vote for Republicans who represent "the good old days".

As a progressive Democrat, I welcome the progress - after all the goal is not just to win but to enact our ideas - but fear the short-term political ramifications. If that's what progress requires, I will accept being in the minority for the foreseeable future.
posted by CB @ 11:59 AM   0 comments
Monday, March 14, 2005
ANWR vote coming up
A week from Wednesday the Senate is likely to vote on a budget resolution that includes a provision for opening up a part of ANWR (Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve) to oil drilling. Republicans are amending this to the budget because budget measures cannot be filibustered - thus requiring just 51 votes to pass. ANWR qualifies to be a budget measure because it will generate tax revenues for the government from the oil companies.

I admit I am of two minds on ANWR. I like to think of myself as highly sensitive to environmental issues, but I'm also scared that our dependence on foreign oil is dangerous from an economic and geopolitical standpoint. Add to that the fact that most Alaskans, including Tony Knowles, the Democrat who ran unsuccessfully in 2004, support drilling, and you get a complicated issue.

In fact, the public appears to be somewhat split too. A Zogby poll in Dec '04 found 55% against drilling, not a huge margin. Another poll going around shows 53% support, but that was done by Frank Luntz who is a well known GOP strategist (the producer of a 160-page GOP playbook on how to articulate social security and other arguments).

So it will be interesting to see if this Congress once and for all gets what they've wanted all along in ANWR, and if independents are opposed then they have to realize this is what a Republican dominated legislature looks like - forcing things through with little debate.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton: We'd only develop a tiny sliver, and technology allows us to do so with minimal impact on the environment.
Editorial from NYTimes: ANWR would only scratch the surface of the problem, and same effect can be produced with a few simple moves like regulating SUV emissions and tax breaks for fuel-efficient car production. Shows Bush's propensity for solutions that help big companies rather than hurt them.
posted by CB @ 10:59 AM   0 comments
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Religious left?
This is a good sign:
This past week, leaders of five mainstream Protestant denominations came together to speak in one voice. Standing shoulder to shoulder, leaders of the Episcopal Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church together condemned the 2006 Federal budget proposed by President Bush as unjust by biblical standards.
posted by CB @ 7:36 PM   0 comments
Friday, March 11, 2005
Friday Prez Odds Update
Here's a recap of what happened this week in the 2008 Presidential Race:

A Marist poll shows Hillary leading for the Dems and Rudy for the GOP.

- I'm moving Hillary up to tied with John Edwards for the leader at 4:1. Lots of sentiment going her way lately.
- Biggest news is from Chris Matthews who says he has it from a "perfect source" that Gore will definitely not run in 2008. I'm lowering him from 9:2 to 6:1.
- Ted Kennedy said he's still back John Kerry in '08.

- Giuliani faces some hurdles. Knocking him down a little to 6:1.
posted by CB @ 1:46 PM   0 comments
"Defeat DeLay Every Day"
In 2004 Richard Morrison ran for Congress against Tom DeLay, losing 55-42 in DeLay's closest election ever, despite being outspent almost 10:1. For the first time in many years, DeLay actually had to spend both time and money in his own district, disabling him and Republican donors from using that money in other races.

In 2006, with our help, Richard Morrison is going to win that seat. Yesterday he posted a diary on Daily Kos, and he has now set up a system through which you can make an automatic contribution every month to his campaign. I said a few months ago that I think this is what all campaigns should set up. If I donate $5 or $10 a month, which I'm absolutely willing to do to defeat the evil DeLay, that will be $100 or $200 from me, and if only 5,000-10,000 people across the country do the same (and it could be more like 500,000), then we're talking some serious grassroots money.
posted by CB @ 8:46 AM   0 comments
Thursday, March 10, 2005
Senate 2006
From the National Journal via Political Wire:

Chuck Todd ranks the U.S. Senate seats most vulnerable to a party change in 2006. The top five:
  • Rhode Island: Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R). "There's no incumbent senator sporting more precarious poll numbers than Chafee."
  • Pennsylvania: Rick Santorum (R). "The race between Santorum and Democrat Bob Casey Jr. will be this cycle's premiere campaign, the one national reporters parachute into from time to time to gauge what the nation's 'mood' is."
  • Minnesota: Open seat with Mark Dayton (D) retiring. "Ninety-nine times out of 100, a party is better off with an incumbent seeking re-election. Meet the one-time exception."
  • Nebraska: Ben Nelson (D). "Basically any Republican who isn't a complete embarrassment can do well against Nelson."
  • Tennessee: Open seat with Bill Frist (R) retiring. "We're going to do our best to get folks to calm down over Rep. Harold Ford Jr. The coverage he gets for his campaign suggests someone who seems destined to back out. And yet, he's only backed out of one race."
posted by CB @ 2:51 PM   0 comments
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Bankruptcy Bill presents an opportunity for Dems
I don't like bad laws. This bankruptcy bill is really going to hurt some honest people who've fallen on hard times for various reasons (health problems, entrepenuership). But when the Bush administration and the Republican Congress pass bad laws, Democrats MUST capitalize on the political opportunity, and this bankruptcy bill is a doozy.

As it happens, here are the states with the highest rates of bankruptcy per household:

Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot in 2005, and Democrats have a unique opportunity to show they are for the PEOPLE not the corporations.
posted by CB @ 1:41 PM   3 comments
The IRA is out of control
For those who haven't been following this remarkable story, here's a quick recap: on January 30th a man named Robert McCartney apparently got in a fight in a bar with at least 4 people, many of whom were IRA members (McCartney may have been in the IRA himself). The men dragged McCartney, father of two, into the street and stabbed him to death, reportedly also slashing his throat and using a butcher knife to open his chest. They then went back to bar, locked the door behind them, cleaned up the blood and fingerprints, and told the 70 people inside that this was "IRA business" and that they better not say anything.

Over the last month, McCartney's 5 sisters have been bravely speaking out against the killing and the attempted cover-up by the IRA and lack of action from Sinn Fein, the IRA's political party. Outrage has been growing on both sides, including for the first time a large amount of criticism of the IRA from Republican (ie. in favor of a united Irish Republic; not right-wing) Catholics, in whose name the IRA exists.

Then yesterday, in the midst of the turmoil in the IRA and Sinn Fein, the IRA issued this unbelievable statement after a 5-hr meeting with the sisters:
The IRA representatives detailed the outcome of the internal disciplinary proceedings thus far and stated in clear terms that the IRA was prepared to shoot the people directly involved in the killing of Robert McCartney

Clearly the IRA thinks of itself as some kind of martial law in Catholic Northern Ireland. But people don't agree, and the level of current outrage could lead to the effective end of the IRA, and the downfall of Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams.
posted by CB @ 9:43 AM   0 comments
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
The Medicaid Problem
I print out more articles every day than I can read, so often I get a backlog. Right now the oldest thing in my pile is from Dec. 6th. On a not-quite-that-bad note, I today read Newt Gingrich's op/ed from last Wednesday in the WaPo on his ideas for reforming Medicaid (which faces bigger problems than does Social Security).

I can't say Newt and I see eye-to-eye, uh, ever, but I'd heard that he has turned a lot of attention to healthcare lately, and I was curious to read his proposals. On a very broad level, I have to agree with his premise: that the three groups of Medicaid benefits recipients (disabled, poor, and elderly poor) should be treated differently, with different standards and rules governing eligibility and payouts.

Newt's practical steps are vague, and I don't blame him... the task is mammoth. It's going to take years and a lot of rigorous policy debate to figure out the right way to do this (which probably will then not be politically feasible). But we do need to get cracking on fixing this system.
posted by CB @ 4:20 PM   0 comments
Minimum Wage
The Senate this morning rejected a bill that would raise the minimum wage, by a 49-46 count. The somewhat good news is that 4 Republicans crossed over to support it, but the bad news is that 3 Democrats didn't vote: Baucus (MT), Conrad (ND), and Mikulski (MD). This is outrageous. I can't understand Mikulski - she should be a lock for this. Must be some explanation that I'll try to find.

As I've said before, increasing the minimum wage is a WINNING ISSUE with bipartisan public support. We should be able to get this done soon - maybe in 2006 if we throw out Santorum and a couple other Senators. This is why we should work for / donate to Democratic senatorial campaigns.
posted by CB @ 1:37 PM   0 comments
And now it gets messy
Pro-Syria protests draw 500,000 in Lebanon
posted by CB @ 1:04 PM   0 comments
Monday, March 07, 2005
Our President Explained in 6 Cartoon Panels
posted by CB @ 2:34 PM   0 comments
The Next Fight: Foolish Tax Cuts
The Social Security battle is not over - Democrats need to:
1) make sure the program is not privatized
2) avoid agreeing to any "add-on" privatization that could be a trojan horse for "carve-out" privatization a few years later
3) actually solve the imbalance, by increasing the payroll cap or the retirement age
4) hammer the Republicans for their folly and win political capital for protecting one of government's most popular programs

But it's not too early to think about the next fight, which is the debate over whether to let Bush's tax cuts expire or make them permanent. Anyone who believes in the liberal idea that government has a responsibility to provide a basic level of social well-being for its citizens should be very clear about where they stand on this. Bush is currently trying to "starve the beast" - he cut taxes, which results in big deficits, so now he says we need to cut spending, and what goes is guaranteed anti-poverty insurance for the old, disabled, and widowed (Social Security). Next would be a reduction in health care for the old and the poor (Medicare/Medicaid).

It's imperative that Democrats use their current position as the guardians of loved programs to communicate to the country what Bush's tax cuts amount to - a huge cut in social welfare for the needy in exchange for huge inflows to the hedge funds that invest rich people's money.
posted by CB @ 10:15 AM   0 comments
Friday, March 04, 2005
Fix It, Don't Nix It
This morning I was lucky enough to attend the first stop of the 2-day, 4-city "Fix It, Don't Nix It" tour featuring Democratic Senators Harry Reid, Dick Durbin and Bryon Dorgan. The New York event also featured Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, John Kerry, and Frank Lautenberg. I haven't seen any news articles covering the event yet, but hopefully they will be up soon. The crowd was packed, with clearly warm admiration for Senator Kerry, who received the biggest applause of the day by far.

All in all I was very pleased with the event. It seems that the senators, especially Clinton and Dorgan, have gotten much better at articulating in an understandable way (for those that don't spend 5 hours a day reading this stuff) the issues that really DO face Social Security, the ways in which President Bush is EXAGGERATING those issues to push an ideological Republican small-government agenda, and the fact that the President's "plan" doesn't actually solve any of those issues, and would saddle the young generations with $5 TRILLION of debt over the next 20 years. I think every single senator mentioned that number, showing that clearly that's going to be a Demoratic talking point as the fight continues.

They also continually emphasized the point that the President has not even once addressed the fact that 30% of Social Security benefits are paid in the form of disability and survivor benefits - ie. to people who are too injured to work or to families whose provider has died. Bush's plan to cut benefits would dramatically harm those receiving these types of benefits, and yet he hasn't even found the time to think about this aspect. Senator Schumer made the good point that this should be a clear sign that Bush is not out to solve the problems, but rather to get rid of the program altogether. Bush wants to nix it. Dems want to fix it.

Senator Kerry earned a particularly enthusiastic response when he made a compelling point that Bush's pursuit of social security was an ideological crusade that was taking the country's focus off of the REAL crises: specifically Medicare/Medicaid and the millions of Americans that are without affordable healthcare.

The senators shared the stage with 3 "civilians" who spoke about what social security meant to them - a retired woman who relies on social security for the majority of her income; a college junior whose father was disabled and then died, whose family was able to keep their house, and who was able to now go to college, because of social security disability and then survivor benefits.

The star of the show was definitely an 83 year old man named Dan Sembel - who recounted what it was like to live before Social Security - with millions of seniors and families struggling in poverty, especially after the depression. He talked of his "hero" Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who created the FDIC so that people would no longer have to worry about the safety of their bank deposits, and who created Social Security as a contract between generations that we would vow to keep our elders out of poverty. He read a beautiful FDR quote, that he carries around with him, which I hope is reported in the articles about the event.... along the lines of "government that deserves that name should bear its responsiblity to those that can no longer provide for themselves".

The Democratic Senators seem to be hitting their stride on this one. Let's make sure we've got their backs.
posted by CB @ 4:29 PM   2 comments
Friday Prez Odds Update
Today's update on the 2008 presidential hopefuls' odds (to be found eternally in the side bar to the right):

- Bayh is gearing up for a run. No change in odds for now - we knew he was running.
- Edwards is already on the trail
- Five are already interviewing: Clinton, Vilsack, Bayh, Edwards, Kerry
- Biden called Hillary the "overwhelming, prohibitive favorite", and she's even managed to get Kerry to raise money for her, but I still don't see her as the favorite, until polls show sentiment swinging on her a bit.

- Bob Novak says McCain is 50/50 shot to run in '08. He will be 72. I think I'll knock him down slightly in the odds, to 5:1 (tied with Rudy).
- Sen. Specter backs the "Arnold Amendment", but that doesn't make it any more likely to happen.
- And I'm moving Bill Frist up from 5:1 to 4:1, making him my new leader for the GOP nomination (slightly over Chuck Hagel, who really hasn't been anywhere lately and might fall if he doesn't start making some noise).
posted by CB @ 1:20 PM   1 comments
Dem Senators' Town Hall on Social Security
I'm off to the "Fix It, Don't Nix It" Town Hall today on Social Security with Sens. Reid, Clinton, Durbin, Schumer and Dorgan.

Full report later.
posted by CB @ 8:33 AM   0 comments
Thursday, March 03, 2005
The Bankruptcy Bill
I've been doing some reading lately about the so-called "Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005", which is this year's version of the bankruptcy reform bill that has been introduced in every Congress since 1996. Only thing is this year there's a strong likelihood it will pass both the Senate and House, and Bush would definitely sign it.

The main problem with the bill is that it reduces judges' discretion. Currently judges can decide, based on a full examination of situation and finances, whether someone files under Chapter 7 (which erases the debts after filers forfeit a certain percentage of their remaining assets) or Chapter 13 (which forces a repayment schedule). The new bill removes the discretion and replaces it with a means test - only those under the median state income can file Chapter 7, the rest have to go to Chapter 13.

Doesn't seem too bad, right? But the problem is that over 50% of Chapter 7 filers are bankrupt because of major medical expenses... middle class people caring for sick parents, children, etc. They are not frivolous spenders, but honest people facing serious financial trouble, who may now lose their protection against burdensome debt. At the same time, the bill leaves in place a number of loopholes for corporations and the wealthy, allowing them to shield or move certain assets so as not to face repayment.

In typical Republican form, the bill is a gift to the credit card companies.

Update: DailyKos reports that 3 Democratic amendments (to save seniors' houses, address the medical expenses issue, and disclose the cost of only paying the minimum balance on a credit card) were voted down today in the Senate, 59-40 and 58-39. The Dems that crossed over to vote against the medical expenses amendment were Biden, Carper, Johnson (SD) and Nelson (NE). That's just a betrayal, probably because of campaign donations. Joe Biden: I'll remember this in 2008.
posted by CB @ 6:26 PM   7 comments
Consumption Tax
So Greenspan is out advocating shifting to a Consumption Tax from our current hybrid income/sales tax system. There are definitely problems with both - our current system taxes work heavily while leaving a lot of non-work income untaxed or taxed at lower rates. Most forms of consumption tax, on the other hand, hurt lower income people because they spend a higher percentage of their earnings - so their taxes would stay roughly the same (taxed on all earnings, taxed on all spending - which are the same numbers) whereas rich people would pay less (taxed on all earnings, taxed on all spending - where spending is lower than earnings because they can afford to save).

The reasoning is that a consumption tax would encourage further savings in a country where our low savings rate creates economic hazards such as the currency / budget crisis that we're experiencing at the moment. We have to borrow something like $30bn a day (too lazy to look up the number) from Japan/Korea in order to keep this country working.

I recently read an interesting proposal for a progressive Consumption Tax from New America Foundation, a left-center think tank. Here's the general idea:
A better alternative would be a progressive consumption tax, levied not on individual purchases but rather on total spending. Each year, taxpayers would calculate their total income, subtract their total savings and pay taxes on the difference. The first, say, $25,000 of consumption would be tax-free, and from there the tax rates would be progressive rather than flat. The more you spent and the less you saved, the higher your tax rate would be.

Phased in gradually, a progressive national consumption tax could replace the entire revenue stream of the payroll tax. And it would be a far better funding stream for Social Security and Medicare, insofar as a consumption tax would encourage exactly what we most need as the retirement of the baby-boom generation approaches: higher rates of personal savings. Over time, higher saving rates would also boost economic growth and living standards.

The Center for American Progress has also done a lot of work on the tax system.
posted by CB @ 9:59 AM   3 comments
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Here we go again
Bush demands that Syria leave Lebanon. I don't like the word "demands". I don't want another war.

A Clarification for Seth: First of all, I appreciate the implication that liberalism is defined by this blog. My readership has been steadily increasing, but I didn't realize I'd reached that level until you wrote it.

Anyway, I'm all for the Lebanese rebelling to expel Syria, as they have been. Because in the absence of genocide or egregious human rights violations I believe it is wise to let people self-determine. But I think the U.S. endangers all its citizens when it uses its overwhelming force to enact its political will. So what I don't like is the implication that I see behind Bush's words that he's open to going to war with Syria. I can't believe I even have to talk like this in the 21st century - that wars can just be started left and right - but Bush has brought us to this level.
posted by CB @ 6:01 PM   2 comments
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
A great day for progressive society
This morning the Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons that the death penalty for juveniles is a "disproportionate punishment", thus nullifying death sentences for anyone whose crime was committed under age 18.

As I posted on another blog recently, the United States until today was one of 5 countries that allowed the execution of juveniles: China, Congo, Iran, Pakistan and us. Great company, eh?

This is a fantastic ruling. Thanks to Justice Kennedy for joining this one, rather than the usual 5th liberal-leaner Justice O'Connor.

Update: And more good news! The New Mexico State House voted to abolish the death penalty today. It now goes to the state senate, where it lost by 1 vote a few years ago.

The tides are turning. I strongly believe it. America is stepping into the 21st century.
posted by CB @ 2:05 PM   2 comments
Lets make the Wal-Mart analogy
Robert Reich's editorial on Wal-Mart and what it tells us about ourselves and free market is a must-read for political strategists, because it really points a way to how Democrats can change the framing of the political discourse in our favor.

Reich points out that the somewhat obvious point that the consumer within us is at odds with the worker and citizen within us. As a consumer we love Wal-Mart's low prices, but as a worker and a citizen we deplore their lack of health benefits, their low wages, their anti-unionization, and their eradication of local businesses. Yet we still shop there (outside of NY), and at Amazon, and at McDonalds, etc.

It's a clear case of the failure of the free market. And so I wholeheartedly agree with Reich that we need "laws and regulations that make our purchases a social choice as well as a personal one". The minimum wage, which we Democrats support, is one such law. Reich's other ideas are good too:
A requirement that companies with more than 50 employees offer their workers affordable health insurance, for example, might increase slightly the price of their goods and services. My inner consumer won't like that very much, but the worker in me thinks it a fair price to pay.

I think there is also a clear opportunity here to pull a Lakoff and reframe this issue so that it benefits Democrats politically. Small businesses in rural and suburban red-state communities have been decimated by Wal-Martization. Sure, those consumers love shopping there, but they also are big supporters of local communities. We've let the administration get away with legislation privileging big agricultural conglomerates at the expense of small family farmers, and we cannot afford to do the same with retail chains. We can take hold of both these issues - talk to people about how the free market does not work for our overall interests in all cases - use Wal-Mart and big conglomerates as the example. Show them how Democrats want to save the middle class and protect workers from capitalism's marginal failures.
posted by CB @ 9:59 AM   2 comments

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