Archive for January, 2007
by Jay Stevens
Republican Roger Koopman — who believes the Earth is 4,000 years old — disagrees with the state administration on how to deal with the state budget surplus. Instead of giving a one-time $400 tax rebate to Montana-based homeowners, he wants to institute propety-tax relief to all property owners in the state.
Koopman’s proposal favors rich, out-of-state corporate interests over those of his constituents, the people of Montana. Why? Because Koopman’s proposal would give more money to the out-of-state interests than it would in-state homeowners. If the budget surplus were a pie, the governor’s plan gives an equal slice to everybody, while Koopman’s gives half the pie to the fat man and a little sliver to everyone else.
Koopman dismissed the Democrats concerns as philosophical differences.
“I don’t look at people in terms of classes,” Koopman said. “And I don’t look at companies somehow as some kind of villain that should not receive tax breaks or taxes back like anyone else.”
This talk of class reminds me of Paul Krugman’s column this week on the partisanship so prevalent in today’s politics. In it, he argues that partisanship is only natural in today’s climate of the growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots.
You see, the nastiness of modern American politics isn’t the result of a random outbreak of bad manners. It’s a symptom of deeper factors — mainly the growing polarization of our economy. And history says that we’ll see a return to bipartisanship only if and when that economic polarization is reversed.
Whether Koopman likes it or not, there is a growing divide between the classes. Under Republican rule, the wealthiest in our country got all the breaks, and the economy has rebounded — for them. Meanwhile the middle class labors under rising housing and health costs, stagnant wages, and an uncertain future.
Whether Koopman actually looks in terms of classes, he’s legislating in terms of classes. He can deny it, but with this bill, he’s thumbed his nose at all the working Montanans who struggle with escalating living costs.
We need strong partisan leaders rignt now to implement the legislation to return the country to its egalitarian ethos. That is, we’ll need someone strong enough to stand up to the insurance industry and their cronies in order to implement universal health care. A good health care plan that works for everyone will be bitterly and loudly opposed by folks like Koopman, who represent the money against the people.
The Missoulian article ends with this little exchange:
When asked by Rep. Norma Bixby, D-Lame Deer, how his bill would help the “poorest of the poor,” Koopman said it would help wean poor people from their dependency on the government by giving them their money back.
“Freedom works and big government doesn’t,” Koopman said.
After the hearing, committee member Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, called the debate over Koopman’s bill a debate between socialism and capitalism.
But Jim Farrell, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, dismissed Butcher and Koopman as “free-market zealots and fanatics.”
Man, Koopman is an idiot, isn’t he? “Freedom works and big government doesn’t,” is hilariously irrelevant. It boggles the mind just seeing the quote alongside the issue. And it’s always nice to see the Republicans trot out the “S” word whenever they’re — rightly — accused of allying themselves with big business.
Maybe sometime these guys should change up every now and then and consider the needs of their constituents first. A guy can dream…
by Jay Stevens
So this is some of the stuff I’ve missed this week: House Republicans are against closing loopholes for out-of-state tax cheats. I mean, we knew all along the GOP was the party of the corporations and moneyed elite, but this is pretty extreme, isn’t it?
Three bills aimed at getting nonresidents to pay their income taxes by closing loopholes and improving enforcement efforts were tabled by House Republicans on Friday.
–One deals seeks to tighten up tax law dealing with “grantor trusts,” which are currently not defined in law.
–The Department of Revenue would be allowed to hire out-of-state debt collectors to chase after nonresidents who don’t pay tax bills. The agency says it currently has limited ability to pursue debts in other states.
–Bergren’s measure would make sure nonresidents have to pay withholding taxes because that group is most likely not to pay the taxes, making collection difficult.
None of these seem extreme to me. Why should wealthy out-of-state corporations enjoy tax loopholes, at the cost to the rest of the state’s taxpayers? Why should out-of-staters be able to duck paying taxes and get away with it?
Why the Republicans oppose this is a mystery. What do they have to gain, other than the admiration and generous beneficience of wealthy out-of-state interests? Er…well…that might actually explain it…
by Jay Stevens
I meant to do this earlier, but that nasty cold I got during the Patriots game struck me down again, so that I was bed-ridden this morning…
Anyhow, Kim will be reading from Chrysalis in Helena and Montana soon. Here are the dates and places:
Where: Fact & Fiction, Missoula, MT
When: Feb. 2 at 7:00 p.m.
What: Chrysalis reading
Where: Montana Book & Toy Co, Helena, MT
When: Feb. 10 at 2:00 pm
What: Chrysalis reading
Sorry about the lack of posts. I can barely stand fifteen minutes in front of the computer right now…
Go out and catch Kim. The book is fantastic, and you can get an autographed copy…
For the half-dozen of you that don’t happen to read Left in the West, the Montana Democratic legislators have started blogging!
That’s right! Their site is called Montana Statehouse, and it features posts from the Senate President, Mike Cooney, and the Senate Majority Leader, Carol Williams, among other elected Democratic legislators.
I think it’s a damn fine idea.
First, it allows voters direct access to lawmakers’ opinion on issues, including ones they care about the most. Like Senator Dave Wazenried’s bill on wind energy. Or Rep. John Parker’s bill on reform of payday loans. Or Carol Williams post on what her responsibility is to Montana women (and to all Montanans, as a result) as the state’s first female Senate majority leader.
Montanans are no longer reliant solely on the media for information on what’s going on in the legislature. That’s huge. While I think the Montana media does a decent job of covering state politics (as opposed to the national media covering national politics), there’s only so much newsprint and airtime available for reporting. Reporters are responsible for documenting, condensing, and editing everything that goes on in our state government. They decide what we read or watch on television. They decide what’s important.
Now astute readers can decide for themselves.
(Not that I’m implying traditional media has gotten squeezed out of the equation. Quite the opposite. We still need the editors. After all, they know the issues, the players, the history that most of us don’t. In the end, they have pretty good judgment on what’s important to the state and the legislature.)
The best part is that comments are encouraged.
My only fear is that the novelty will wear off, and we’ll see one post a week. Which is fine for many local political or personal blog, but with…what? 80 Democratic legislators, we should see multiple posts a day…
by Jay Stevens
Many of you know my football team is the New England Patriots. So I’m a little shocked to have been eliminated by the Colts and Payton Manning. Last night’s game felt like a turning-point — the 2001 World Series, say, when the D-Backs won game 7 off of Mariano Rivera.
The good news is that I never saw the end of the game. My brother-in-law Tivo’d it while we put the little ones to bed (mommies and grandparents off galavanting). Only he didn’t manually override the time of the game on Tivo, so the recording stopped with 3 minutes and 49 seconds left, the Patriots up by 3 and with the ball.
I had assumed they won.
Instead, Tom Brady couldn’t get it done, and Peyton Manning drove the Colts 80 yards in the waning moments of the game for the winning touchdown. Peyton Manning??? (What the hell happened? Did the pain in his thumb force him to stop thinking so much?)
For me, however, there will always be 3:49 in the game, Patriots with the ball and a 3-point lead, Manning on the sideline shaking his injured thumb and Dungy making his I’m-Tony-Dungy-I-Can’t-We’re-Going-To-Lose-To-The-Patriots-Again Face. In my little world, all is still right.
by Jay Stevens
Can you believe this?
The man who’s ultimately responsible for all of our Election-Day problems – secretary of state Brad Johnson – has come out against same-day registration:
The secretary of state’s office is supporting a measure to do away with same-day voter registration in Montana, arguing it could help prevent a repeat of problems that occurred during the state’s 2006 election.
Republican Secretary of State Brad Johnson is in favor of a bill that would require voters to register before Election Day, his chief of staff, Mark Simonich, said Thursday.
Simonich said Election Day 2006, the first year in which same-day registration was allowed in the state, was “somewhat chaotic” because county election officials were required to simultaneously register voters and run elections.
Interesting. Especially because much of the chaos can be lain directly at Johnson’s feet. It was his office, after all, that failed to provide clear voting guides for Montanans. It was his office, after all, that failed to provide easy access to registration rules. It was his office that failed to help voting precincts prepare for the possible crush on election day, on a day when a nationally prominent and historically important Senate race was to be decided.
Instead, Brad Johnson was plastering Montana roadways with this:
That’s right, Johnson was erecting billboards across the state featuring his face and an American flag — ostensibly there to provide voters with election information. Of course, only an idiot would deny that they were campaign posters. For what, Brad? Governorship in 2008?
Perhaps Brad’s office would be best served by eliminating elections altogether. That would make his job easier, wouldn’t it?
In any case, it’s definitely odd that Johnson uses as evidence the chaos he’s in no small part responsible for to do away with a popular voting law. If you were the suspicious type, you might think he tried to sabotage same-day registration…
(In a side note, the most repulsive comment in the article comes courtesy of Rick Jore:
Jore said those who wait to register until the last minute also may not be well-informed on the issues.
Of course, after that comment – if we follow Jore’s logic – we should probably disenfranchise the voters of HD 12.
Or, to paraphrase David Crisp, who could have been talking to Rick Jore:
But if standards for competence and productivity were imposed, wouldn’t you miss voting?
by Jay Stevens
Recently Craig, as is his wont, posed a straw-man rhetorical question designed to make those against the war look stupid:
Really, as you know, it’s the only kind I ask, but I thought it worth “throwing out there.”
On more than one site, I have read the proposition that if we withdraw from Iraq, then suddenly, all will be sunshine and roses and peace will reign throughout the region.
My question is this: What specific event(s) in the past, say, 1000 years would lead someone to that conclusion?
When pressed, Craig would not – or could not – find one such claim.
So I looked around and found one…sort of…from Notorious Mark T: “A Veteran’s Call to Conscience”:
Iraqis are mostly rational, like us. Left to their own devices, they’ll work it out, set up a government, quell the insurgents. I’m not sure that’s what we want, as any government Iraqis set up will likely be Shiite and aligned with Iran. Do we really want democracy over there? I think not.
I think what is missing from your analysis and all others is this: A large part of the inurgency is driven by the presence of an occupying force. Once that force is gone, the insurgency subsides…I said that answer is “boats and planes.” That’s how you withdraw troops.
To be fair to Mark T, he didn’t say the insurgency would “subside” peacefully, easily, or quickly. To be fair to Mark T, he suggested an “abandoned” Iraq would probably look more like contemporary Iran than 1960s Beruit, hardly leading to regional “sunshine and roses.” To be fair to Mart T, he could be right. In fact, no one really knows what would happen if the US would immediately and unilaterally exit Iraq.
(For the record, I think US withdrawal of troops should coincide with UN or regional peace-keepers and intense diplomatic negotiations with Iran, Syria, and Israel. If that doesn’t work, pull the plug altogether.)
But what we do know is this:
In the poll, 80 percent of Iraqis surveyed reported a lack of confidence in the Coalition Provisional Authority, and 82 percent said they disapprove of the United States and allied militaries in Iraq.
So my rhetorical question is this, if 4 out of 5 Iraqis want us out, why the h*ll are we sending in troops? What specific event(s) in the past, say, 1000 years would lead someone to think we’ll actually accomplish anything worthwhile in a country overwhelmingly hostile to our presence?
by Jay Stevens
So Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez was grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee today, in what is obviously — hopefully — a harbinger of things to come.
Crooks & Liars has the video up of Sen. Leahy slamming – and I mean slamming — Gonzalez over the case of Canadian Maher Arar, who, though later found innocent of all charges, was shipped by the CIA to Syria where he was tortured. Leahy:
We knew damn well if he went to Canada he wouldn’t be tortured. He’d be held and he’d be investigated. We also knew damn well if he went to Syria, he’d be tortured. And it’s beneath the dignity of this country, a country that has always been a beacon of human rights, to send somebody to another country to be tortured.
It’s a great quote, and sounds even better coming from a red-faced indignant Senator. Give it a watch and feel the goose bumps when you realize how sincere and right it sounds. Kind of refreshing after watching GOP Senators kow-tow to the administration. Like, say, Orrin Hatch:
Orrin Hatch spent the first two minutes of his time “questioning” Gonzales by lauding Gonzales’ extreme integrity and diligence during this Grave and Epic War on Terrorism that America faces, explaining that everything they’ve done is critical to protecting us and describing the time in which Gonzales is Attorney General as one of the most difficult and important in history — Hatch emphasized that he means not only U.S. history, but in the history of the whole, wide world….
Hatch then spent the rest of his time (all 6 minutes) demanding that Gonzales and the Justice Department devote much more of its resources and attention — including FBI agents, other law-enforcement resources and a new task force — to enforcing anti-obscenity laws against people in the U.S. who produce pornography, particularly those who sell it over the Internet, and urged that whole new laws be created to criminalize Internet pornography….
Or, to put it another way, the Terrorists pose such a grave danger to our Republic that it is the most threatening and important time Ever, justifying whole new expansions of government power and total government secrecy in order to protect us and to win this War because the Terrorists want to kill us all, and our law enforcement resources should therefore be poured into imprisoning people who make adult films and putting an end to pornography. That’s what Orrin Hatch said today.
by Jay Stevens
It looks like Mike Jopek’s (D-Whitefish) proposed reform of constituency accounts is meeting resistance – the Billings Gazette suspects it has to do with lobbying efforts:
The first attempt this legislative session to shed light on secretive “constituency accounts” got little support Wednesday, as lobbying groups lined up to oppose an ethics measure that would also overhaul their reporting requirements.
Pogie has already written eloquently about why constituency accounts need reform — basically they’re unreported accounts candidates can use for whatever they like – and Jopek’s bill, HB202, would put an end to the accounts’ loopholes:
Jopek wants to set a cap on the amount of money put into constituency accounts, ban corporations from donating to the accounts and require annual disclosure reports on expenditures and donations.
But Jopek’s bill goes further than just reforming the constituency accounts. It would also “amend the ban on government officials becoming lobbyists to ban lobbyists from taking jobs as directors of state agencies or departments” and requires “those who hire lobbyists to report the source of the money for their activities.”
The last amendment is where the bill appears to be generating a buzz from lobbyists. Apparently the PACs and other interest groups that hire lobbyists want the right to keep their member lists confidential. And, you know, I can understand that. At the very least it deserves discussion.
In the end, I think Jopek’s bill tries to do too much. Reform of the constituency funds is sorely need and almost universally desired. One bill should be used to address that reform. The other issues deserve their own bills and separate discussions. Jopek’s desire to institute lobbying reform is commendable, and I might be inclined to support all of the provisions of this bill, but reform of the constituency funds should not depend on support of all the proposals.
(On a side note, Roger Koopman’s [R-Bozeman] reform bills get a little play in the same Billings Gazette article. To be honest, I’m left scratching my head. Here are the reforms Koopman wants:
— LC 0792: allows private citizens to take civil action if their written complaints aren’t acted on by the commissioner of political practices within 30 days
— HB 163: prohibits the use of public funds or employees in lobbying efforts
Weird, huh? They both seem to have been born out of personal experience, or something. Like he made a gazillion complaints that were duly ignored.
LC 0792 seems, well, impractical and expensive. What does it mean to “take action”? Can’t we agree some complaints are more valid than others? And it seems clear that this bill would create frivolous litigation at taxpayer expense. [Still…I certainly would have liked to see some action taken against those c*cksuckers who implemented the Burns-backing automated robo-push-polls before the recent election…]
The second seems impractical. Does HB 163 apply to, say, the governor’s staffers attempting to promote, say, the governor’s budget among legislators? Does this mean the different state agencies won’t have a say in drafting or considering legislation? Let’s be honest: usually the most informed people on, say, forest management or public education are public employees. Shouldn’t they have a say or some influence in the legislature on what policy the government takes?
I have to say that these reform bills don’t seem to be well-thought-out or effective. Just about what you’d expect from a guy who once started a near-fistfight on the floor of the state house and who wanted death certificates for abortions. In other words, we’re not dealing with someone who’s necessarily rational.)
by Jay Stevens
I just followed the links from a Piece of Mind post about Iraq, which claims the Democratic party is as invested in the war as the GOP was (to which accusations I responded in the Ts comments), and I came upon this bit of dreck from TPM Cafe blogger, Max Sawicky:
The “Internet Left” is a mostly brainless vacuum cleaner of donations for the Democratic Party.
The post also makes the following claims:
— The Internet left is not “left.”
— The Internet left was not, and is not, against the Iraq war enough.
— The Internet left has no economic ideology and will kowtow to the Democratic party over economic issues.
— Meanwhile “direct action forces” are the true heroes, and are the only ones who really care about populist, progressive economic issues.
— “Direct action” folks read good books, Internet lefties don’t.
— The Internet left doesn’t govern, they “only” influence.
— Internet lefties don’t understand history, economics, or much of anything.
Oh, boy. Here we go again. The battle for “purity,” to see who represents the “real” left.
And I admit, the “left blogosphere” is hardly comprised of rabid fire-eating leftys. Matt Singer initially supported the Iraq War. (Surprised?) We are, as a whole, not radical.
By the way, I should mention I was one of those “direct action” folks before the Iraq War. I marched. I protested. In San Francisco, millions of marchers took to the street. And achieved…nothing. This is, one assumes, Mr. Sawicky’s “huge anti-war movement.”
One of the obvious failures of the “direct action” against the Iraq War was the protest leadership. This is what we got for warm-up speeches: Palestinians are great, free Mumia, and let’s hear it for Maoism! Pure ideological bullsh*t, of interest only to a handful of musty, balding activists. We heard nothing about the President bypassing the Constitution. Nothing about health care, child care, rising energy prices, rising education costs. In short, nothing relating to the bulk of people who showed up to protest.
On the other hand, blogs do advocate issues that pertain to everyday concerns. This blog and others want major health-care reform. This blog and others want campaign finance reform. This blog and others want fair trade agreements. This blog and others create a centrist, populist, and democratic ideology piece by piece. We talk about real issues that matter to us and our neighbors. We’re not the ideologically pure vanguard of committed revolutionaries that Sawicky wants us to be. And I’m okay with that.
It seems that Sawicky suffers from a condition that has beset many all across the political spectrum: Blog envy. It goes something like this: after all the work I’ve done in politics over the years, why do they get all the attention?
While I think our prominence and influence is criminally overrated – especially in our own minds – let’s face facts: times change. This is a new medium, a tool, that allows anybody and everybody to be heard. Some of us are good writers, some of us have good ideas, some of us are a good read. That’s why we get attention.
A clever politico, dedicated revolutionary, or “direct action” activist would adapt, not grumble. Otherwise they will be left behind. Not by the force of bloggers’ words or our personality, but by the simple and inevitable progress of technology. Hell, a day will come when blogs are irrelevant, and it’s likely a number of left-behind bloggers will be grumbling about those snooty, know-it-all kids who Yetzer-fratz, or whatever.
You can write your own blog and see if people are attracted to your ideas. You can find bloggers sympathetic to your cause and let them promote your ideas. In short, by reading this post, you are participating in one of our culture’s most egalitarian media. If you don’t like what you see or read here, you can get your own damn blog.
by Jay Stevens
Yesterday the Missoulian commented on Max Baucus’ battle against the Alternative Minimum Tax:
The purpose of the AMT, as it’s called for short, was to make sure the middle class wouldn’t have to shoulder part of the wealthy’s tax obligations – to make sure every taxpayer paid his or her fair share. Nothing wrong with that, is there? Unfortunately, the AMT’s reach has spread alarmingly over the years, gobbling up the paychecks of millions of people who never were intended targets. That’s because the tax brackets that trigger the AMT aren’t “indexed” or automatically adjusted for inflation. People who aren’t wealthy today but have incomes that would have qualified as upper-income 1969 – $50,000 to $100,000 – find themselves paying the AMT. The AMT is so complex that it makes completion of the standard 1040 seem child’s play. And because of its the bracket-creeping nature, the tax nails more and more middle-income families every year – often taking them by surprise. According to the Washington-based Tax Policy Center, 23 million Americans face AMT this year. That number is projected to grow to 39 million over the coming decade, as incomes rise. All of these people face significantly higher effective tax rates than people paying regular income tax.
The Missoulian also correctly notes – IMHO – that the problem isn’t the AMT, it’s the complex federal tax code that creates the loopholes that the AMT was created to close.
But Baucus isn’t simultaneously suggesting reforming the tax code to close out the loopholes. Sebastian Mallaby:
[Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley] don’t want to reform the AMT or link its repeal to wider tax changes; they just want to abolish it. This would destroy the chance to say to voters: Look, we’re not going to extend all the tax cuts we gave you in 2001 and 2003, and while we’re at it we’re going to reduce the mortgage-interest deduction and other egregious loopholes so that we can collect more revenue without discouraging work by raising your tax rates. But wait, don’t get too mad; at least we’re going to kill the AMT for you.
Repealing the AMT would preempt that sort of bargain; but it would also be bad on its own terms. For all its administrative clunkiness, the AMT is wonderfully progressive: 90 percent of its revenue comes from those earning more than $100,000 a year, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Last week Baucus denounced the AMT as a “monster in the tax code” — a “Frankenstein,” no less. But in an era of rising inequality, you don’t slay progressive monsters casually.
In effect, repealing the AMT without reforming the tax code would, in effect, throw open the code’s loopholes to our nation’s most wealthy – the only segment of the population whose financial worth is sky-rocketing, thanks to the Bush administration’s reactionary fiscal policies that have thrown working- and middle-class families under the bus.
The last thing this country needs is more legislation that benefits only the richest people in the country at the expense of our national budget and economic future.
Repealing the AMT should happen only if the tax code and tax policy are reformed.
by Jay Stevens
I recently wrote about abuses occurring at a private behavioral modification program for at-risk teens, and called for stricter regulation of teen programs.
There were some very concerned and informative comments to that post, even from my sister who worked at a private teen program in Massachusetts for a few years.
First, the problem here is unregulated private schools, and WWASPs schools in particular, and Spring Creek Lodge, specifically. Second, there exist teen programs of all stripes, and many people who work for them or who have graduated from them swear by them. In no way am I going to pretend that I’m an expert on child psychology or behavior modification, and I don’t know the pain of parenting an at-risk teenager, so I’m not going to comment on these programs in general.
But I will say that the death and assault at Spring Creek have made it abundantly clear that teen programs need more oversight than they already have. Which is next to none. There’s currently no licensing for teen programs in Montana, which is reprehensible, given the awesome responsibility given to these programs.
Enter state Senator Trudi Schmidt’s bill, LC 1004, which creates licensure for teen programs, among other things, such as:
–mandatory background checks for program managers and workers
–program adherence to state building codes
–adds a physician, psychologist, and a representative from both the superintendent of public instruction and the Department of Health and Human Services to the regulating board
–expands oversight to all overnight teen programs of four or more chidren
None of these provisions seem excessive. I like the change to the board that oversees the industry; the new board ensures that industry representatives don’t start with a majority, but instead seem to give the power to the “swing voters,” the Governor-appointed citizens.
License application of a teen program requires the following information:
–description of the program
–goals and objectives
–population of the program, including max number and gender of children
–location and contact information of the school
–list of professional and supervisory personnel
–average daily number of participants
–policies and procedures on admission; behavior management; communication with family; availability of medical and psychiatric care; medication management.
The board will approve applications.
As my sister pointed out, there’s some risk to programs with cutting-edge or experimental programs. (For example, her school used peer counseling, which the Massachusetts state government did not approve of, although it was widely successful.)
While some may claim that these basic oversight powers will drag down some teen programs, consider what damage more bad news about Spring Creek and the WWASP schools could do to the entire industry. Another death or two, and you’ll have “60 Minutes” crawling all over the state, and then you’ll see what kind of regulation you’ll get.
But what do you think? Are Senator Schmidt’s proposed changes excessive? If so, what can the state do to ensure that no more abuses occur in the industry’s worst schools?
by Jay Stevens
The AP on Bush and Cheney rhetoric on Congress’ role in the Iraqi escalation:
“I fully understand they could try to stop me from doing it. But I’ve made my decision. And we’re going forward,” Bush told CBS'”60 Minutes” in an interview to air Sunday night.
Vice President Dick Cheney asserted that lawmakers’ criticism will not influence Bush’s plans and he dismissed any effort to “run a war by committee.”
“The president is the commander in chief. He’s the one who has to make these tough decisions,” Cheney said.
I have long said that the Republicans are undemocratic, but now they’re just coming right out and saying it: democracy is all well and good until the people and their representatives object to what the president is doing at which point the people and their representatives become a superfluous “committee.” They have interpreted the words “commander in chief” to mean that the constitution gives the president dictatorial powers during “wartime” (which the president defines.)
These are two dangerous and selfish men who aren’t running for office and so have no political constraints. Not even a 30% approval rating or 12% support for this decision has made them think twice. They are completely confident that history will vindicate them.
That same Bush quote jumped out at me from Bush’s “60 Minutes” appearance. “I understand that they could try to stop me…” Not that they “can” stop him, only that they can “try” to stop him.
Even if this wording could be brushed away with the excuse that Bush was ad-libbing and is a poor and sloppy thinker, his interview on the program can only be seen as a direct challenge to Congress: stop me if you dare.
And what do you think Congress will do? Actually, I’m puzzled. I have no idea. But I suspect the Democrats will organize a non-binding resolution speaking out against the escalation, then shimmy up to the funding vote with “yeas” on their lips. In other words, I think Congress – led by Democrats this time – will do what they’ve always done since the beginning of the Iraq war: when faced with an issue the President promises to do what he wants, regardless of the vote, Congress will give the President the powers he wants.
You saw it in the Iraqi resolution. Bush at first claimed that he didn’t need Congressional approval to invade the country, but his advisors – especially Powell – convinced him to put it before the House and Senate. They voted for invasion.
You saw it in the torture bill. Despite great misgivings from Arlen Specter and just about every jurist in the country, Specter and his pals voted for the bill, largely because the administration has been using torture and suspending habeas corpus for about three years already and wasn’t planning on quitting its policy, no matter which way Congress voted.
Whenever the President has threatened to make Congress irrelevant, Congress has rushed to approve of what he wanted, as if to avoid a “constitutional crisis.” That is, by rubber-stamping Bush policy, they avoid appearing powerless and have, in effect, become powerless in doing so.
So now we’ll see. Will the Democratic-led Congress actually cut the purse strings for Bush’s quixotic Iraq plans? Or will they continue to rubber stamp, hoping no one will notice that they’re not actually representing us?
by Jay Stevens
Colby supports the bill, as do I. And so should you.
Yes! Me! Mr. Freedom-is-for-tolerating-those-that-we-disagree-with!
There is, of course, an argument to be made that the government should not be in the business of creating “free speech zones” — which already exist, by the way, at political conventions and Bush speeches. And that’s the general fear of SB 15 opponents, that somehow this bill violates picketer’s First Amendment rights and violates the Constitution.
A couple of things: like Colby, I don’t think this bill places undue restrictions against the First Amendment: “..some free speech is destructive and not protected.” Specifically political speech that purposefully incites.
SB 15 clearly is protecting society against such speech. The bill is, of course, a reaction to the infamous Westboro Baptists’ (no link from me, thank you very much) protest at the funeral of Max Baucus’ nephew, Phillip, a veteran of the Iraq War. The Westboro gang makes it a habit to protest the funerals of servicemen and -women who fell in Iraq as part of their continuing crusade to inform the country that the soldiers’ deserved to die because we tolerate homosexuality. In that context, it’s clear that these protests at military funerals have the potential to erupt in violence. Protecting both the picketers and funeral-goers from the logical results of inciting protest is, IMHO, constitutional.
Another argument against the bill was offered by Carol Juneau (D-Browning), who, “suggest[ed] she could be thrown in jail for protesting the funeral of someone, who, for example, had killed her grandchild.”
Colby, as usual, is dead-on:
No matter how bad this dead [person] might have been, he/she still had friends, parents, etc who deserve the right to grieve; they didn’t do anything wrong, and may have loved the person. It is the same logic that I used to refute the death penalty for obviously guilty people, when you kill somebody you don’t punish just that person, but everybody who loves that inmate. Everybody deserves the right to grieve for their dead, even if the dead were terrible people.
I’d also add that Juneau’s hypothetical protest would also be inciting, as well, and shouldn’t be allowed. Colby is clearly correct. Funerals should be allowed to proceed uninterrupted.
But neither Colby nor Juneau touched on the case of “reasonable” protest, protest at a funeral that wouldn’t be inciting. At the funeral of a prominent figure, a president or other politician, say. I can imagine that, for example, at the funeral of Reagan, a protest in support of embryonic stem-cell research – which Nancy Reagan vigorously supported – would be “reasonable.”
Fortunately, SB 15’s provisions still maintain a protester’s free-speech rights for a reasonable, non-inciting protest. The bill’s text:
A person commits the offense of funeral picketing if the person knowingly engages in picketing within 1,500 feet of any property boundary entrance to or exit from a funeral site during the period from 1 hour before the scheduled commencement of the funeral services until 1 hour after the actual completion of the funeral services.
The bill, then, doesn’t prohibit groups from protesting or engaging in free speech, but in protesting at the funeral, the goal of which, one assumes, is to be inciting. Under the bill’s text, protesters could picket up to an hour before the funeral, giving plenty of time for passersby and media to take note, but removes them when the family and friends of the deceased are present and actively in mourning.
The bottom line for legislators, of course, is this: do you think it’s a reasonable and worthy goal? If so, even if you’re worried about the constitutional problems with the bill, vote for it. In the end the constitutionality of the bill will not be – and should not be – decided by the legislature. That is the job of the courts. If the bill is indeed unconstitutional, the courts will overturn it. But I doubt it.
Vote for Senate Bill 15.
by Jay Stevens
Well. That’s it. It’s official. Brian Schweitzer’s coal-to-gas plan is a bad idea.
How do I know? Other than a general shirking from the price tag – in the billions, which will likely come out of federal taxpayer money – the dubious claim that we can safely tuck any carbon emission byproduct safely underground, and the fact that it simply enables our continuing bad habit of consuming oil, Thomas Friedman endorsed the plan.
Make no mistake, Thomas Friedman is wrong about everything. Can you think of any project or plan that Friedman has endorsed that hasn’t backfired and left thousands — millions — of unhappy, or even dead, people in its wake? Me, neither. Honestly, if I were the Governor and got an interview request from Friedman, I’d have sent his plane to Billings, Ohio.
What’s obvious is that Friedman once again fell for a politician’s manly flexing – this time awed by our Good Guv’s ease in a prop plan tossed by winter winds – and the allure of unfettered corporatism.
In all honesty, I am ambivalent about the plan. On one hand, I recognize it would be good for Montana to be the center of new clean-burning coal technology. I like the jobs and money it brings to the state. On the other hand – well, I’ve already expressed my fears, above.
But seriously, if Thomas Friedman likes your plan…uh oh.
by Jay Stevens
Shorter George Bush:
We’re losing. I’m sending a small number of troops to delay the shame of withdrawal for the next president. Ultimately, if this plan doesn’t work, it’s the fault of the Iraqis, not me. I’m also doubling the budget for my corporate buddies and war profiteers to give them a revenue boost before the next president sends them packing. I admit the Iraqi parliament is a puppet government. I want to invade Iran and Syria, too. Expect more bloodshed, but again – not my fault. Terrorists are bad, bad people. It’s all good because I really, really meant well. I’m again going to use Joe Lieberman as a front for bipartisanship, but I couldn’t care less what the Democrats say. More US soldiers are going to die. Fellow citizens: you’re stuck with me for two more years, so deal with it.
Shorter Ted Kennedy:
Bush is replicating Vietnam. He’s divorced from the will of the people. Like Vietnam, there’s no end in sight in Iraq. There’s no military solution. Why waste American lives? “Iraq is George Bush’s Vietnam.” The key to the war is political. Escalation will only make things worse.
Shorter Max Baucus:
My constituents want an end to the war. I want to end the war. You sure pulled the wool over my eyes, didn’t you? Honestly, if I could do it all over… The soldiers are great, they deserve our utmost support. You’ve failed them. They’re in danger, you still have a chance to help them by withdrawing them from harm’s way.
And now I have to quote Senator Baucus in full, because what he says is incredibly personal, and moving:
understand and sympathize with Americans who continue to support this war because they do not want their family and friends to have died in vain. I know what they feel. I struggled with that last summer when my nephew Phillip died in Iraq.
On July 29th, Marine Corporal Phillip Baucus, my brother John’s son, was killed during combat operations in the Al Anbar province. He was just 28 years old.
Phillip was a bright and dedicated young man. He was like a son to me. He had a loving wife and a bright future. His death was devastating.
I know what it’s like to wait on the flight line at Dover Air Force Base. I know what it’s like to greet the body of a fallen soldier and family member. I know what it’s like to pray for a reason, and to become determined not to lose.
I’m not the only Montanan who has grieved. 14 Montanans have lost their lives in Iraq. We grieve for them all.
Those men and women who have lost their lives have served a noble purpose. They have taught us lessons in courage.
We honor that courage by speaking up. We honor that courage by admitting that what we are doing is not working. And we honor that courage by finding a new direction.
Shorter Jon Tester:
What Max said.
The most important thing about President Bush’s speech was that it had to be given at all. Nearly four years after the invasion, we still haven’t secured the capital. Worse, we had Baghdad more-or-less secure in 2003-2004, and we lost it. You can’t look at a basic fact like that and still believe that we’re winning the war.
“Our heavy-handed, arrogant ways gave up every advantage we had,” he said.
This whole sales campaign designed to pitch a new troop increase…is one of the more outrageous media deceptions in the history of an Iraq war that has been rife with them. President Bush is going to go on TV this week and tell the American people that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is somehow going to make a difference in the security situation. He is going to be aided in this effort by a legion of knucklehead editorialists who entered the New Year pimping a preposterous new creation story about Iraq, one that argues that the Iraqi-American Eden was spoiled only by arrogant generals and Pentagon officials who tried to secure an occupied country on the cheap.
This absurd interpretation of events, pitched hardest by (among others) Washington’s reigning power-worshipper/professional Crate and Barrel shopper David Brooks, pins the blame for the Iraq mess on such persons as Don Rumsfeld, George Casey and John Abizaid, all of whom sold Bush on a “light footprint” strategy for occupying Iraq. “Casey and Abizaid are impressive men, and Bush deferred to their judgment,” Brooks wrote last week. “But sometimes good men make bad choices, and it is now clear that the light-footprint approach has been a disaster.”
According to Brooks and a lot of other people in Washington (our possible next president, John McCain, among them), everything in Iraq would have been OK from the start, if we’d only had enough troops.
Coming to this realization now — three and a half years late, as it were — gives all these people a chance to argue one more time for a troop increase. They’re going to get that increase now, and if history is any guide, they’ll patiently give that troop increase another few years to work. When it doesn’t, bet on it, they will come back once again and say that what they got was not a big enough increase, that what was needed was a full-blown commitment, a “Super-Marshall Plan,” etc. And then we will be in Iraq until 2011 or 2012, just like everyone in Iraq (who’s seen the huge embassy complexes we’re just now breaking ground on) already knows we will be.
The soldiers have all been trained to fight and they want to help, want to make a difference — but there’s no offensive mission for them. So what they spend most of their time doing is working to sustain their own presence. More than one soldier commented to me that the mission seemed mainly to be to keep the FOBs [Forward Operation Bases] running.
I wasn’t in Iraq very long, and I wouldn’t presume to say that I know everything or even very much about how the war is being conducted. I’m just bringing this up because this whole debate about troop levels is being conducted under a number of assumptions that I’m not sure aren’t absurd fictions. The argument for more troops assumes that the troops we have there already are actively engaged in making Iraq secure, only there aren’t enough of them.
What I saw was that our troops were mostly engaged in keeping themselves secure — and even that was a very tough job. The Iraq war has gone so wrong that it is no longer an occupation, no longer even a security mission. It’s just a huge mass of isolated soldiers running in place in a walled-off FOB archipelago, trying not to get shot or blown up and occasionally firing back at an enemy over the wall they can’t see. It’s lunacy. Adding more guys to it just means more lunacy. But our government has a high tolerance for that sort of thing, and I wouldn’t bet on it ending anytime soon.
by Jay Stevens
According to Steven Clemmons of The Washington Note, Bush’s escalation has already spilled over into Syria and Iran:
Washington intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are abuzz today with speculation that the President, yesterday or in recent days, sent a secret Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and Iran.
The President may have started a new secret, informal war against Syria and Iran without the consent of Congress or any broad discussion with the country.
Clemmons also has excerpts from Condi Rice’s appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which she dodges direct questioning on the matter:
SEN. BIDEN: Secretary Rice, do you believe the president has the constitutional authority to pursue across the border into Iraq (sic/Iran) or Syria, the networks in those countries?
SEC. RICE: Well, Mr. Chairman, I think I would not like to speculate on the president’s constitutional authority or to try and say anything that certainly would abridge his constitutional authority, which is broad as commander in chief.
I do think that everyone will understand that — the American people and I assume the Congress expect the president to do what is necessary to protect our forces.
Chuck Hegel later makes it clear that he’s going to be very, very angry if Bush has escalated right over into Iran and Syria.
Is this the Bush administration’s idea of engaging in “diplomatic talks” with regional powers?
It’s been said – often, and with complete accuracy – that Iraq is George W Bush’s Vietnam. Apparently not satisfied with only a partial similarity to the country’s greatest foreign policy, political, and military debacle, he’s gone ahead and created his own Cambodia, too.
Look out, folks: we have a rogue president on our hands.
by Jay Stevens
Great post over at the the TPM Muckraker. It’s on the (known) instances where the Bush administration has shut down, classified, or derailed government reports (link fixed!!) that contradict its policies.
There are a lot of items on the list.
There are some more in the comments.
It’s a telling policy from this administration, which would rather obscure the facts rather than change its policies, many of which are ideological in nature.
How about some hearings on the administration’s classification projects? How about some more legislative protection for our right to know what our government is doing?
by Jay Stevens
Here’s an amusing clip from CNN correspondent Dana Bash who was commenting on Max Baucus’ speech against escalation in Iraq:
BASH: Another thing that happened just a short while ago. A Democrat from a red state, from the state of Montana, Senator Max Baucus, comes from a state where the president is still very, very popular….
Yes, yes, Montana is hardly Massachusetts or California. But seriously folks! We have a Democratic Governor, two Democratic Senators, and a Democratic state senate. We’re more a purplish color.
And our thoughts on Geo. W?
Media Matters links to this SUSA poll, which shows a 45 percent approval rating for the Prez…in November. (Although 85 percent of self-identified Republicans are pulling for him! No wonder why the GOP is screwed.)
And then there was a Lee papers Christmas poll that showed support for Bush actually dropped among Montanans:
Just 41 percent of Montanans gave Bush positive job-performance marks in a poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., for the Lee Newspapers of Montana.
Oh, but that figure is much lower when considering Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq:
Approval of the president’s handling of the war in Iraq has decreased from 41 percent in the last poll on the topic in November, to 33 percent in the latest tally.
However, the percentage of people who say they disapprove of the war itself has changed little since November, with 55 percent saying they disapproved of it last month and 54 percent saying they disapprove now.
Okay…so…almost two-thirds of Montanans disapprove of the way Bush is handling the war, almost 60 percent disapprove of Bush’s job performance, and 54 percent are out-and-out against the war in Iraq…
You know, I’ve made a ton of mistakes writing this blog. But then…I work full-time and have two kids. Bash is a paid, professional pundit who the public relies on for accurate information. I know Montana is tucked away in the mountains, but c’mon! We just had one of the biggest Senatorial races of 2006 take place here! Couldn’t Bash have…oh, I dunno…cracked open a local paper or two before opening her trap?
The whole incident makes me want to bring up Radar’s critique of the DC punditocracy:
few years ago, David Brooks, New York Times columnist and media pundit extraordinaire, penned a love letter to the idea of meritocracy. It is “a way of life that emphasizes … perpetual improvement, and permanent exertion,” he effused, and is essential to America’s dynamism and character. Fellow glorifiers of meritocracy have noted that our society is superior to nepotistic backwaters like Krygystan or France because we assign the most important jobs based on excellence. This makes us less prone to stagnancy or, worse yet, hideous national clusterf*cks like fighting unwinnable wars for reasons nobody understands.
The article goes on to examine four well-placed DC pundits and the results of their colossal failures to pundit well on Iraq. The shorter version: nothing. In fact, if anything, they have gained fame and riches for being so incredibly, so very wrong on everything. While those who were right…still toiling in obscurity.