Archive for April, 2007
by Jay Stevens
North Dakota property tax payers who also pay income taxes may take a credit on their income tax returns equal to 10 percent of the property taxes they pay. The credit is capped at $500 for individuals, and $1,000 for married couples and companies. Any unused credit can be used to offset future income tax bills, or be rebated as a voucher, which then can be used against a future property tax bill.
Of the North Dakota plan, MH writes, “…[this is] legislation that we imagine could have gained bipartisan support here in Montana.”
Were it only so.
The North Dakota plan actually closely resembles Governor Schweitzer’s one-time tax rebate for Montana households, not the Montana GOP’s “permanent tax relief.” As David Sirota recently pointed out,
Republicans were planning on using the usual conservative movement tactics that America has gotten used to. From the trickle-down playbook, they were readying an even bigger property tax cut – one primarily targeted at large corporations (many of which are based out of state).
That’s because the GOP plan would not have a cap, would redistribute the tax relief proportionally based on property tax. That means the largest property owners – big out-of-state corporations – would get the biggest refund, taking the biggest piece of the surplus pie out of the state and leaving the majority of Montanans with the crumbs.
Which would be okay, if all other things were equal.
But they’re not.
Middle class breadwinners actually shoulder as big or larger tax burden than their financial betters. Plus, the costs that are growing the fastest – health care and housing – unavoidable costs and affect the middle class disproportionately. And that’s not to mention that some of our out-of-state corporations who’d receive the lion’s share of tax refund from the state’s GOP are also some of the biggest tax cheats. Things are not equal, and I think it’s reasonable that Montanans demand a fair slice of the economic pie.
The North Dakota plan would be a slight move away from Schweitzer’s plan, giving corporations and married couples a slightly larger share than their single property-owning brethren. But such a cap would no doubt be completely unacceptable to Montana Republicans, who have scuttled the state budget and the legislative session to prevent such a tax rebate.
It’s funny then, that while Montana Headlines apparently sided with the Governor and Democratic legislators on what kind of tax rebate should be doled out to Montanans, he blames the Democratic party and leadership for failing to compromise:
But Republicans suspected that Democrats weren’t serious about any sort of compromise on long-term property tax relief, and until tax relief is decided on, there was — in their opinion — no point in discussing spending levels, since the process would likely end up with a “whoops, sorry, no money for tax relief!.”
And we’re to believe that the Gazette was politically slanted in its criticism of Republican leadership for hamstringing any potential for compromise? Gazette:
Yet a dissection of this failed session shows that the last clear chance to avoid the train wreck belonged to the House GOP leadership. Speaker Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, refused for 10 days to take any action on any of the major spending bills approved by the Senate. The usual process (in our now-outdated textbooks) would have been for the House to accept or reject the Senate’s amendments, and if the House rejected these major amendments, to form a House-Senate conference committee to hammer out a compromise. That’s the way the system is supposed to work.
Yet that’s exactly what happened. By not returning the spending bills, House Republicans ensured that a joint House-Senate committee wouldn’t hammer out compromise spending bills. And when the Governor did approach House leadership with a compromise, Mike Lange responded by suggesting the Governor could put his compromise in Mikey’s rectum.
The Democrats have offered the state a tax refund. As the minority party, the House Republicans should have recognized that they wouldn’t have much input on the substance or form or philosophy of the rebate, but instead have suggested – like the rebate in North Dakota – that the rebate be bigger, aimed at families, included corporations, whatever.
And let’s not kid ourselves, here. The House Republicans are responsible for the session’s derailment. Even before the session started, the Speaker of the House declared war on the Democratic party and promised to obstruct the session. Let’s blame the car crash on the driver, not on the telephone pole he ran into.
by Jay Stevens
What is it about ideologically-controlled media and humor impairment? Is it something about sucking up to power that renders propagandists immune to satire? Why else would a media outlet report parody as truth?
No, no, I’m not talking about the time a Beijing newspaper reprinted a story from the Onion.
I’m talking about a news channel a little closer to home.
by Jay Stevens
A couple of juicy resignations today – which must be really, really bad, announced as they were on a Friday.
First, the fun one: a senior administration official, Randall L. Tobias, resigned his office today because he was outed as a customer of a prominent DC madam.
Wait, it gets better.
Tobias was the administration’s “AIDS Czar,” the official responsible for co-ordinating with world leaders on fighting the AIDS epidemic.
Wait, it gets better.
If the official promoting abstinence and monogamy can’t keep it in his pants, why would a rational person expect the entire third world to?
The second resignation falls a little closer to home. Senior Dept of Justice official, Robert Coughlin II, announced his resignation retroactive to April 6 “because he was relocating to Texas.”
Or, more likely, it was, as “a Justice Department official with knowledge of the case” said, he was “coming under scrutiny” over his friendship with Kevin Ring, an Abramoff associate connected to the Doolittle investigation, and an old friend of Dennis Rehberg.
Wait, it gets better:
Making the situation more awkward for the embattled Department, the official, Robert E. Coughlin II, was deputy chief of staff for the criminal division, which is overseeing the Department’s probe of Abramoff.
Hm. Aren’t some folks saying Carol Lam was fired because she busted Duke Cunningham over Abramoff-related corruption charges, and was following the case to Rep. Jerry Lewis, ex-CIAer Dusty Foggo, and defense contractor Brent Wilkes? And isn’t it for steering contracts to Wilkes that John Doolittle is facing heat?
So, Doolittle’s aide, Kevin Ring, and subsequent employee of Abramoff, involved in the Wilkes contracts, the investigation into which Carol Lam was likely fired…is the DoJ’s lead Abramoff investigator’s pal?
And you wonder why the Abramoff investigations dried up right around the elections?
Update: The Tobias story gets even better! Apparently during his tenure as “AIDS Czar,” he was pressuring international organizations to deny outreach to sex workers!
by Jay Stevens
Jon Tester has posted a speech he gave to the Twenty-First Century Democrats yesterday on The Huffington Post. It was a great speech and should remind us all who worked our tails off to get this man into office that it was worth it.
But power can be seductive. And its power, I think, that causes politicians to stop being true to who they are. The press and the pundits tend to talk about powerful politicians… those with the best committee assignments… the most seniority… or the highest leadership position. And when you start thinking about power as something granted to you by your party’s leadership… or by the rules of the Senate… I can see how someone can get wrapped up in the trappings of power.
But the fact is, the Constitution is pretty darn clear about where our power comes from – it comes from the people that elect us. And that’s it. Our power comes from them. Once you forget that… I can see how it can be a challenge to remain true to who you are.
Although it’s peppered with the usual praise of Montana and his upbringing as a primary component in the creation of his character, he also had this to say:
When Kelly told me that Twenty First Democrats was honoring me for being one of these authentic candidates, it got me thinking about what it means to be authentic.
Maybe it’s because of where I’m from…
Maybe I’ve never had much trouble being what folks out here call authentic. . .
Maybe it’s because I like who I am…
Maybe it’s because I believe every body is equal …
Maybe it’s because I appreciate people who work hard.
Good stuff, worth a read. If you do, you discover the principles at the heart of our burgeoning Western Democratic populist movement…
by Jay Stevens
As you’ve probably no doubt seen, there’s video of the Mike Lange outburst! What struck me about watching it – and what wasn’t evident from the original reports on Lange’s rant – was that the profanity came in the midst of a speech on the “honor,” “integrity,” and “dignity” of the House Republican caucus!
It only gets worse, of course. Here’s the transcript of a CBS interview with Lange:
Lange: Everything I said in there is exactly what I mean, it’s exactly what I stand on, and I’m not budging off one comment of it, not one word of it. I meant the truth, and that’s not showmanship, that’s called dignity and honor.
Florio: Telling someone to stick it up his ass is called “dignity” and “honor”?
Lange: In the real world, you bet it is. When the shoe fits, wear it. I gotta go back to work, thanks.
And with that quip, the House Majority leader scuttled offstage.
The “real world”?
In the real world, what we’re seeing could be the result of term limits. Simply put, House Republicans are too inexperienced. They don’t understand the process. (Of course that doesn’t explain why House Democrats aren’t exhibiting the same childishness.)
The Governor is the big winner in all of this. In a nice summation of the situation the Legislature finds itself — and sadly a few days too late – George Ochenski prophetically predicted such a car crash might happen:
Montanans had best brace themselves for the end of what is undoubtedly one of the worst legislative sessions in the state’s recent history….But how could we possibly know with no end in sight to the bitter partisan squabbling that turned a deliberative policymaking institution into a locker-room brawl between opposing teams? No matter. One way or another the blame game is about to start big time—and with it will come a political spin cycle that promises to be dizzying.
Ochenski had hard words for all of the players – accusing the Governor specifically of skipping out when he was needed most, of failing to meet and talk with Republican leaders.
But this incident gave his supporters plenty of ammunition. After all, Lange’s tirade happened after Schweitzer tried to hammer out some compromise on key bills. Lange has made it questionable whether House Republicans are capable of discussion, let alone compromise!
But is that a surprise from lawmakers whose supporters say things like this?
“Mike Lange is the only House Republican majority leader we have…” –What’s this “we” stuff? You’re pretending Mike Lange represents you? Whatever you are trying to insinuate, he belongs to my party and not yours, and I am damn proud of him for calling a spade a spade.
And you wonder why Republicans at the state and federal levels have pursued policies that have divided the nation?
The Governor, of course, has played the situation like a fiddle. Check out this response to Lange’s apology:
“I said to Mike Lange, ‘We should never take the measure of a man at his weakest moment,’” the governor said. “I tried to comfort him. I think I gave him some comfort.”
In short, Lange’s outburst has backed the Montana GOP into a corner. If they don’t compromise, and the session runs for weeks during the summer, and there’s a state government shutdown, the video evidence makes it clear who’ll take the fall. If the House Republicans do bend on their demands, then Lange will have violated his own back-alley “principles.” It’ll be a self-defined sign of legislative “weakness.”
And regardless of the outcome of this legislative session, this video clip has iced whatever chance Lange had at a federal-level job. As a Senate candidate, Lange will offer Baucus as much challenge as his upcoming primary contender – i.e., none — promises to be. As a gubernatorial candidate…well…Lange’s already been upstaged and out-maneuvered by the Democratic candidate. It’s not easy to unseat a man who publicly sympathizes with you for your bungling.
But worse still – at least for the Montana GOP – is that Lange promises to become a national laughingstock. Can you imagine how the NRSCC, NCCC, and RNC feel about this clip?
Also, from around the blogosphere, condemnation is near universal.
Montana Headlines doesn’t write much, but you can almost hear his forehead hit the keyboard as the House Republicans continue to ignore his excellent advice.
Common courtesy and decency are obviously a dying commodity. What I can’t figure out is how the party of “family values” thinks such profanity and vitriol upholds their party standards?
Like it or not, sir, you are in the minority. You can throw a tantrum, point an accusing finger, and hyperventilate all you want, but doing so will not move an agenda, and it does not serve the interests of this state or your party. And just so you know, the former is more important than the latter, because it is apparent that you don’t grasp that.
TMM also finds Lange’s outburst typical of the state’s Republicans and, as a conservative, worries about the party’s future.
Ed Kemmeck probably summed it up best (and his post is worthy of a full read):
…if you haven’t watched the video of Lange’s speech, which is attached to the first two stories mentioned above, do. It shows Lange apparently getting a little teary-eyed toward the end of his tirade, and saying to his colleagues, “You’re ladies and gentlemen with honor and integrity” — and saying it without a hint of irony! He also tells them he would be willing “to go off a cliff with you.” That could prove to be a prophetic remark, as that seems to be exactly where Lange is leading them.
Oh, and that was the reaction from the state’s conservative and independent blogs…
by Jay Stevens
On the front page of yesterday’s Missoulian, Tristan Scott addresses the recent “spate” of bike deaths in Missoula, bringing our total this year to two, and three since October. That’s news, because there were none all of 2004 and 2005.
I’d agree with the report that it’s hard to draw any conclusions about traffic infrastructure or culture causes from the three deaths:
–The October death occurred when 14-year-old Colin Heffernan was run over during Rolling Stones weekend – but he was riding without reflectors, helmet, or lights at night and was struck by someone who simply didn’t see him.
–Roy Smith, 64, was killed at the intersection of Reserve and Mullin “where he either fell or was knocked off his bike and then rolled underneath a semitrailer.” It’s one of the worst and most congested intersections in the entire city, and way out in the big box-store sprawl of North Reserve.
–And then was the recent death of Stacie DeWolf, 50, who was – apparently – targeted by a drunk driver in broad daylight on a busy, but not bike-hostile, Toole Avenue.
Hefferman’s death was attributable to lack of biker awareness (no lights or reflectors?); Smith’s to bike-hostile infrastructure; and DeWolf’s to random malice. The first two were perhaps preventable through infrastructure change; the third, sadly not.
In the end, most bike experts quoted in the story could only explain the incidents on conflicting cultures. Phil Smith, Missoula’s bicycle-pedestrian program manager, perhaps said it best:
“In Missoula we’ve got public streets that have to serve everybody’s needs and we need everybody to be responsible,” said Phil Smith. “We really need to foster a culture in which everyone respects everyone else using the roadways.
“So what kind of program could we launch to solve this problem?” Smith asked. “The answer is I don’t know. The behavior and attitude of everyone on our roadways needs to change. It’s not something the government can fix.”
Missoula still has a lot of streets and intersections that are bike-hostile. North Russell, say, or Third Street between Russell and Reserve. Or the intersection of Van Buren and East Broadway. Or, or, or.
In the meantime, while we demand better bike lanes, we bikers, as always, need to stay alert, over-cautious and well-equipped with helmets, lights, and reflectors. And if we’re not sure, disengage from traffic! We can always hop off our bikes and off the road.
by Jay Stevens
Remember way back when there was a little debate about civility here in the Montana blogosphere? You remember! First there was criticism of the left bloggers’ use of a nickname for the Montana Legislature’s Speaker of the House, in which our antics were compared to racism. Apparently our constant mocking of Sales irked some, despite the Speaker’s bitter partisan rhetoric and promises to obstruct this year’s session. (If nothing else, he at least follows through on his promises, eh?)
And then came Corey Stapleton’s criticism of the blogs, calling us “angry, unaccountable, anonymous media.” Ignoring for a moment how untrue those characterizations are – are any of us left bloggers anonymous or free from libel laws? – and ignoring that Stapleton’s attack was a smoke screen for his racist remarks – the lawmaker’s remarks dislodged some self-introspection from bloggers. We abandoned the nicknames, this blog dropped its “creep” category, and a modicum of civility descended.
And now comes this expletive-laden rant from House Majority Leader Michael Lange, in which he tells Governor Schweitzer to use his ambition as an anal suppository, implies the Governor’s mother is a dog, refuses to offer feces to the Governor, implied the Governor offered Lange financial compensation for his intent to engage in sexual congress with the citizens of Montana, and frequently mentions his urine – all in terms a bit more vulgar, of course. The scene was the Republican Caucus, and Lange’s vituperative obscenities were roundly applauded by House Republicans, who chanted “Stay till May! Stay till May!”
The odd thing is that this outburst came in reaction to Schweitzer’s offer of compromise on some of the spending and tax bills that has bogged down the Legislature:
At the caucus, Lange said Schweitzer asked him at an early morning meeting if he would vote for House Bill 833, a 14-bill Democratic omnibus tax relief and loophole-closing package, in exchange for Democrats supporting a version of Lange’s House Bill 678, a school funding and property tax relief plan.
Such horse-trading over bills is commonplace during the closing days of any Legislature.
“The governor can go straight to h*ll as far as I’m concerned for trying to do that,” Lange told his caucus.
It’s not surprising that this outburst had provoked responses from leftys — we’ve been pointing at the House Republicans’ angry and divisive rhetoric since day one – but it should alarm the state GOP that Lange’s puerile grandstanding has upset some Republican lawmakers, not to mention rightys, like Jack the Blogger:
Is this another embarrassing and political harmful moment for the Republicans? Yes.
My Mom and Dad always said that, “Cursing at someone and calling people names make you sound really stupid and uneducated.”
You know, Mom and Dad were right and this was a classic example.
Apparently, some of Lange’s followers in the caucus applauded him for his speech. They’ve surely been locked up in Helena for too long drinking the partisan Kool-Aid and have lost touch with what they were sent there to do.
It was also supposedly caught on tape by a news crew. I smell a campaign commercial!
As The Western Word (TWW) has contended before, this whole session has been nothing but one big three-ring circus (Governor, Senate, House). Montanans are sick of it. Please just go home on Friday. Pick up your toys and go home. Please.
So let’s put this whole blogs-are-angry-and-uncivil thing to a rest, okay? Apparently we’re the most reasonable and civil folks in Montana politics today.
by Jay Stevens
Many lefty pundits are getting weak-kneed over the idea of an Office of Special Counsel investigation into the politicization by the Bush administration of the nation’s civil service – which includes the Department of Justice – only I can’t help but feel that this is another political move by the President and his henchmen.
Basically the OSC is looking into violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees to use their office for political purposes, an investigation that’s appropriate, given the revelations that have come out of the prosecutor purge.
But is the OSC the right body to investigate? Steve Soto doesn’t think so:
modus operandi for this administration when a real problem surfaces is to push the issue into the lap of an in-house “investigation” that will drag on forever, allowing the White House to deflect all media and opposition inquiries and demands for open accountability by saying “we can’t comment because the matter is under investigation.” That is what happened here.
Kossak Limelite also recalls that the OSC lead, Scott Bloch, is a typical Bush appointee, carrying out the administration’s political goals in his department. Not to mention that his office itself is under investigation by the FBI for violating whistleblower laws and discriminating against employees – laws that the OSC is supposed to enforce. (Kind of like the EPA lowering environmental pollution standards, or something. Oh, wait!)
There’s more, too! Apparently Bloch’s office has hired unqualified friends to government positions (in violation of civil service rules), unqualified “Christianists” to important government posts, and has handcuffed his office’s ability to perform its duties.
In other words, Block represents the exact kind of politicization that he’s supposed to be investigating. It’s too bad the LA Times didn’t bother to do a background check on this Bush appointee.
(Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are planning on holding a vote of “no confidence” for Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, a non-binding political maneuver that will force Republicans into an awkward position. It’s not a bad strategy. Impeachment would be just dessert for Gonzalez, of course, but as long as he remains in office, his official existence serves as a public reminder of how intractable and out of touch this president is, which might help leverage public opinion into getting us out of Iraq.)
Of course, that we all would be suspicious of an office that is supposed to fairly investigate government workplace violations is just another example of why politicizing the government is a bad thing. Citizens have no confidence in a politicized government’s ability to govern properly. It leads to corruption and abuse. And could lay the ground work for authoritarianism.
So…ignore the OSC investigation, and let’s keep up the pressure on Congress to start throwing these bums out.
by Jay Stevens
There’s a new, gentler libertarian stalking the virtual corridors of Montana’s blogosphere: Montana Liberty Project. It’s been a pleasure reading his blog and his perspective.
That said, I admit I don’t agree with everything he says, and I especially don’t agree with his latest post on health care. In it, he quotes Michael Cannon on the health-care market:
There’s a lesson here for those who want to cover the uninsured: focus on the incentives facing the 250 million Americans who have health insurance, not on the estimated 47 million who don’t. If the federal government stopped encouraging people with health insurance to be less careful consumers, then coverage would be more affordable, the number of people without coverage would shrink, and the quality of care would improve.
It’s this kind of abstract theorizing that can drive me nuts about libertarians.
First, health care “products” aren’t like different kinds of paper towels found on a supermarket shelf. You don’t just idly walk buy and see how much each costs, how much each brand is per roll, etc. Thanks to the insurance industry’s Byzantine pricing, it’s almost impossible to get accurate quotes on something like prescription drugs – which, in theory should be the easiest to shop for. (That is, you know the drug you need; you could just call around and see who sells it for the cheapest.) And this Byzantine pricing structure is intentional – the insurance industry created it in order to discourage claims. And that’s not to mention that the consumer probably shouldn’t be making the decisions on what drugs and medical procedures they should consume. (Actually, I wrote a little one-act play about this the last time a Montana libertarian claimed applying “free market” principles would “solve” our health-care woes.)
Second, people are already becoming “more careful” consumers of health insurance. That is, in order to avoid high deductibles and insurance paperwork, people are simply not going to the doctor. For the consumer, that’s an economically illogical action to take: avoiding the doctor now increases the likelihood of a costlier procedure later. That is, by saving a little now, the consumer pays more later. Unfortunately that’s human nature.
Third, denying people health care – especially children and the elderly – is immoral. Our society believes everybody should have the right to basic healthcare – and they do. That’s not a bad thing, even if the market disagrees. (The market, oddly, is often at odds with human beings.) The uninsured’s visits to the emergency room are not cost-efficient. They’re also not covered by insurers, but by tax dollars.
Pooling together our resources to ensure everyone has access to health care is the way to go. It’s cheaper, both for policy holders and taxpayers. It’s more efficient, meaning less paperwork for care providers. And it’s better care. The evidence for all of these claims is ample.
The only reason I can see for opposing national health care is ideological, a desire to see, say, market principles prevail, even if means ignoring or even destroying programs that work (the privatization of Walter Reed, anybody?), and thereby putting people’s lives at risk.
by Jay Stevens
As you can imagine, this Earth Day weekend is one of Missoula’s highlights of the year, with a bejillion things going on, all of it fun. On Saturday there was the Clark Fork River cleanup, a bicycle festival at Bonner park, and a screening of the global warming documentary, “Five Planets: Montanans at the Crossroads of Global Warming.” (Awesome flick, by the way, and deserving of wider viewership. Montana PBS? You listening?) On Sunday was the Earth Day celebration at Caras park, with live music, food, booze, and sustainable living demonstrations and information. And there was the weekend-long powow at the Adams center.
In short, Earth Day is an important weekend in Missoula. That’s fitting, of course. Many in Missoula are dedicated to sustainable living concepts, trying to reduce pollution and carbon emissions, and searching for a way to have a small impact on the environment. I suspect as global warming worsens, Missoula will be a place to look to for answers on how to live.
One of Missoula’s strengths in this regard is its citizens’ use of bicycles. There’s a decent trail system (which needs more work) and a load of bike lanes (more are desperately needed), a surprising number of Missoulians (including yrs truly) bike year-round.
And then you hear something like this:
The driver of the car, one witness said, seemed to intentionally veer out of his way in order to ram into the bicyclist riding on Toole Avenue, launching her 15 feet into the air, before speeding off down the street.
According to witnesses the driver, Anthony Dailey, purposefully veered into Stacie Ann Dewolf. He was drunk at the time and faces vehicular homicide charges, which has a sentencing of up to 30 years. (And this blogger is urging Missoula authorities to ask for the maximum.)
Anyone who bikes regularly knows how dangerous the streets are. I’ve had a few accidents myself, one of which you may remember. Drivers, ensconced behind glass in a climate-controlled environment, coffee in hand, music on, are psychologically and emotionally removed from the street. They don’t pay as much attention as you wish they would. And worse still, many of them, so far removed from the reality of the street, don’t reason well. Some of them cut bikers off or push them off the road because bikers sometimes delay them a few seconds. That is, they endanger the lives of bikers over a few seconds.
I’m not saying that’s why Dailey struck Dewolf. He may not know. Maybe it was an impulse. Or a moment of rage. The point is, is that Dewolf didn’t have a chance against Dailey’s car. None of us do against any car. And that’s a bit of a bummer when considering if you want to commute by bicycle. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would like to bike more often, but are terrified – and rightfully so – of the streets.
I don’t know the solution other than to expand the bike trail system and keep motorists apart from cyclists as much as possible and especially in high-density traffic areas. Still, every cyclist eventually uses a street.
The point here, is that a lot of folks – especially the climate change haters – say that true climate change reform will mean lifestyle changes. And that’s absolutely true. One of the institutions that will have to change is our car-dependency. Right now cars have the advantage. Our streets and cities are designed around the car, especially the sprawl on our cities’ edges. We need sidewalks and city blocks and bike lanes and trails and living density. We need to change our perception of how we see our streets and roads.
by Jay Stevens
So how did Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez do yesterday?
The New York Times:
If Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had gone to the Senate yesterday to convince the world that he ought to be fired, it’s hard to imagine how he could have done a better job, short of simply admitting the obvious: that the firing of eight United States attorneys was a partisan purge.
Mr. Gonzales came across as a dull-witted apparatchik incapable of running one of the most important departments in the executive branch.
He had no trouble remembering complaints from his bosses and Republican lawmakers about federal prosecutors who were not playing ball with the Republican Party’s efforts to drum up election fraud charges against Democratic politicians and Democratic voters. But he had no idea whether any of the 93 United States attorneys working for him — let alone the ones he fired — were doing a good job prosecuting real crimes.
He delegated responsibility for purging their ranks to an inexperienced and incompetent assistant who, if that’s possible, was even more of a plodding apparatchik. Mr. Gonzales failed to create the most rudimentary standards for judging the prosecutors’ work, except for political fealty. And when it came time to explain his inept decision making to the public, he gave a false account that was instantly and repeatedly contradicted by sworn testimony.
Even the most loyal Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee found it impossible to throw Mr. Gonzales a lifeline. The best Orrin Hatch of Utah could do was to mutter that “I think that you’ll agree that this was poorly handled” and to suggest that Mr. Gonzales should just be forgiven. Senator Sam Brownback led Mr. Gonzales through the names of the fired attorneys, evidently hoping he would offer cogent reasons for their dismissal.
Some of his answers were merely laughable. Mr. Gonzales said one prosecutor deserved to be fired because he wrote a letter that annoyed the deputy attorney general. Another prosecutor had the gall to ask Mr. Gonzales to reconsider a decision to seek the death penalty. (Mr. Gonzales, of course, is famous for never reconsidering a death penalty case, no matter how powerful the arguments are.)
Mr. Gonzales criticized other fired prosecutors for “poor management,” for losing the confidence of career prosecutors and for “not having total control of the office.” With those criticisms, Mr. Gonzales was really describing his own record: he has been a poor manager who has had no control over his department and has lost the confidence of his professional staff and all Americans.
Mr. Gonzales was even unable to say who compiled the list of federal attorneys slated for firing. The man he appointed to conduct the purge, Kyle Sampson, said he had not created the list. The former head of the office that supervises the federal prosecutors, Michael Battle, said he didn’t do it, as did William Mercer, the acting associate attorney general.
Mr. Gonzales said he did not know why the eight had been on the list when it was given to him, that it had not been accompanied by any written analysis and that he had just assumed it reflected a consensus of the senior leaders of his department. At one point, Mr. Gonzales even claimed that he could not remember how the Justice Department had come to submit an amendment to the Patriot Act that allowed him to fire United States attorneys and replace them without Senate confirmation. The Senate voted to revoke that power after the current scandal broke.
At the end of the day, we were left wondering why the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer would paint himself as a bumbling fool. Perhaps it’s because the alternative is that he is not telling the truth. There is strong evidence that this purge was directed from the White House, and that Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s top political adviser, and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, were deeply involved.
Yesterday, Mr. Gonzales admitted that he had not been surprised by five of the names on the list because he had heard complaints about them — from Republican senators and Mr. Rove.
In another telling moment, Mr. Gonzales was asked when he had lost confidence in David Iglesias, who was fired as federal prosecutor in New Mexico. His answer was an inadvertent slip of truth.
“Mr. Iglesias lost the confidence of Senator Domenici, as I recall, in the fall of 2005,” Mr. Gonzales said. It was Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, of course, who made a wildly inappropriate phone call to Mr. Iglesias in 2006, not 2005, to ask whether charges would be filed before the election in a corruption inquiry focused on Democrats. When Mr. Iglesias said he did not think so, Mr. Domenici hung up and complained to the White House. Shortly after, Mr. Iglesias’s name was added to the firing list.
We don’t yet know whether Mr. Gonzales is merely so incompetent that he should be fired immediately, or whether he is covering something up.
But if we believe the testimony that neither he nor any other senior Justice Department official was calling the shots on the purge, then the public needs to know who was. That is why the Judiciary Committee must stick to its insistence that Mr. Rove, Ms. Miers and other White House officials testify in public and under oath and that all documents be turned over to Congress, including e-mail messages by Mr. Rove that the Republican Party has yet to produce.
I guess not so well.
by Jay Stevens
As a regular outspoken critic of Max Baucus, I suppose it’s fair to give him his due when he does something cool. Like get in a heated exchange with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson over closing the gap between owed taxes and paid taxes:
Baucus, D-Mont., who has focused for years on the so-called “tax gap” between what Americans owe and what they actually pay, held another hearing on the issue Wednesday. Since 2001, the government has failed to collect more than $2 trillion in legally owed taxes, he said.
“Yet the administration does not appear to take this job seriously,” Baucus said.
Paulson, a good administration soldier, bristled. Basically he’s happy with the 85 percent compliance rate for taxpayers. Baucus was not happy. Hilarity ensued.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Eighty-five percent? Almost one in five tax dollars remains uncollected? Sign me up! Right? I mean, that’s a lot of tax dollars going uncollected, they won’t miss little piddly contribution to Bush’s grandiose and delusional foreign policy schemes!
Not so fast. If you’re like me, a regular working joe with a five-digit income, you won’t be getting away with cheating. That’s right! The IRS has stepped up its scrutiny of middle-class taxpayers.
Admittedly the frequency of audits are much higher if you earn a million or more. But what about the super wealthy? The Bush administration has cut the IRS staff investigating the wealthiest Americans in half. Additionally, while IRS staff investigating the super-rich have gone down, the complexity of the tax laws has shot up, and it’s the super-rich with their paid accountants and tax specialists who have the tools and the resources to exploit those laws.
A study of Walmart’s earnings against its taxes shows how much it cheated state governments out of its rightful income. According to the report, Walmart and other multi-state corporations cook their books and shift income made in states with income taxes to states without.
How much is it bilking US taxpayers?
Over those seven years, Wal-Mart reported $77.4 billion in pretax U.S. profits to its shareholders. But it reported a total state income tax bill of only $2.4 billion, just 3.16% of those profits.
That’s less than half of what it should be. Or about two and half billion withheld from state coffers.
Or take this account of tax cheat and Swift Boat financier, Max Wyly, who cheated the government of $300 million.
Wyly did his cheating through an offshore scheme that hid $1 billion in profits via Isle of Man “shell companies” that existed only on paper, were registered under front men to hide the Wylys’ names, and were used to carry out transactions and launder money. And that’s only the hidden income that was found. The Dallas mogul, with a $1 billion admitted net worth, may be guilty of the biggest personal tax fraud in U.S. history.
According to the report, this type of tax cheating is common among the super-wealthy and large corporations.
According to the IRS, business executives have used such shelters to evade taxes on $8 billion in income. Assume that means “at least.” And that’s just one swindle in the panoply of tax cheating which the IRS says contributes to the loss of $40 billion to $70 billion a year from individual use and $30 billion from corporate use of tax havens.
Those numbers are probably low: According to a Tax Justice Network report quoted by the Senate investigation and based on statistics from Merrill Lynch/Cap Gemini’s “World Wealth Report” and the Boston Consulting Group’s “Global Wealth Report,” 16.2 percent of the private wealth of North Americans, $1.6 trillion, is held offshore. The overwhelming reason for that is tax evasion.
The Bush administration has largely ignored this form of tax cheating, which is strictly limited to the richest among us. Why? Maybe because Wyly and Walmart are huge contributors to the President and to the Republican party.
Senate Democrats have taken this issue up and are looking to close off the offshore loopholes that allow the most egregious tax cheating. Barack Obama (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Norm Coleman (D-MN) have sponsored the The Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act (S-681) (pdf), which would effectively end this practice.
So Secretary Paulson is dead wrong when he claims the government would be unable to close the tax gap. The Senate is sitting on a bill that would greatly aid the collecting of taxes from the country’s biggest cheats.
If Senator Baucus is genuinely concerned about narrowing the tax gap, he should enthusiastically endorse, promote, and push Senate bill 681 through Congress.
by Jay Stevens
The long-awaited grilling of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has begun.
For those of us who like to see incompetence and malice appropriately rewarded, Gonzalez’ appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee is especially sweet.
Senator Patrick Leahy’s opening remarks began with thoughts on the Virginia Tech shootings, and hopes that the Justice Department can swiftly work things out – and here Gonzalez was beaming and nodding his head eagerly, probably the only person in the country happy, even for a moment, that the shootings occurred. But then things quickly turned sour as Leahy made it evident he thinks there’s enough evidence to support the theory that the US attorney firings were politically motivated, and he lambasted the administration and its Attorney General, who sat alone at a long, red table, at the center of a circle of a throng of journalists and reporters and politicos and onlookers.
Or watch Senator Arlen Specter absolutely paste Gonzalez. If Specter is angry, then Gonzalez is probably toast. It’s safe to say that Specter is angry.
Aw, heck, check out the highlights for yourself…
Basically it’s obvious the Senators have a lot of information, and little of it looks good for Alberto Gonzalez.
by Jay Stevens
What’s going on? Didn’t we already learn to be wary of the “conventional wisdom” on Iraq passed down from on high? The latest meme is that we should stay in Iraq, because if we leave chaos will ensue, that we owe Iraq the obligation to stay until the mess we’ve made is put right.
It’s a dangerous view, if only because it gives Iraq war proponents the necessary little budge to delay serious talk of withdrawal until after the 2008 elections. And by that time, because of the domestic political situation, we’ll be locked in Iraq for the indefinite future. Four more years? Ten? Twenty?
The most able defense of this point of view was supplied by Noah Feldman in the April 8 issue of The New York Times Magazine. In it, Feldman makes plain that the current Iraqi funding bill with withdrawal timetables was written, voted on, and passed with the full knowledge that it would fail. Why?
Do the Democrats really intend for U.S. troops to stand by and allow Iraqis to slaughter one another while claiming that the defeat of Al Qaeda is our only objective? To do so would be to repudiate the only clear foreign policy legacy of the Clinton years, namely the principle of no more Rwandas — that the U.S. can and must intervene to stop genocide. Would the American public really be prepared to accept preventable massacres taking place before the eyes of U.S. soldiers?
Quite simple. The Democrats do not want to be responsible if all h*ll breaks out in Iraq after our withdrawal.
So, even if a Democrat wins the White House in 2008 – which is looking increasingly likely – and the Democratic party maintains their majority in Congress – which looks certain – if we don’t withdraw by January 2009, we’ll be there for good.
Naturally it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Feldman actually supports the war:
…Deposing Saddam Hussein was not a genuine part of the war on terror except in the most oblique and indirect sense, but like it or not, the present conflict in Iraq is now at the heart of the struggle with Al Qaeda and violent jihadism. Just because President Bush says it’s so, and just because he helped make it so, doesn’t mean it isn’t so. It is heartening that so many leading figures in the Democratic Party seem to understand this — though of course the fact sits very uneasily with the simultaneous desire to get troops out of Iraq.
Montana’s Jack the Blogger offers up the same rationale in more blunt language:
McCain said very correctly that, “America has a vital interest in preventing the emergence of Iraq as a Wild West for terrorists, similar to Afghanistan before 9/11. By leaving Iraq before there is a stable Iraqi governing authority we risk precisely this, and the potential consequence of allowing terrorists sanctuary in Iraq is another 9/11 or worse.”
Feldman and Jack the B are, of course, completely wrong on this presumption. Al Qaeda was a fringe terrorist group even among Sunni nations before and after 9/11, right up until the United States invaded Iraq unilaterally. And even now al Qaeda is not terribly popular among the Iraqi factions jostling for power. Also, al Qaeda’s international, pan-Arabic form of jihadism is not the norm for Islamic terror in the region, which is generally nationalistic and regional in form. Like Hamas or Fatah. That is, it’s quite possible – even likely – that US withdrawal would cause al Qaeda to be again pushed to the edge of Middle East power politics.
Jack the B’s urging to wait and see if the “surge” will work is also just another delay tactic. Even if Petreus is on the right track in implementing counter-insurgency tactics, there’s far too few troops. The surge is as much a political game as the Democrats’ timetables.
Feldman and Jack the B also ignore the national security reports that say the United States’ presence in Iraq is creating terror. That’s natural: as an overwhelming number of Iraqis oppose US military occupation of their country, more are inclined to take arms against us. If we leave, terrorism is likely to decrease. Other military studies have shown that what terrorism that does exist in Iraq is extremely unlikely to follow us home. So: if we withdraw, terror decreases and remains in the region. Withdrawal, then, is clearly not a national security risk.
However, staying is clearly is. We’re overextending our military forces, sending troops back into combat ill-equipped, under-trained, and unready mentally or physically for battle. The lowering of recruitment standards has allowed the US to maintain recruitment goals, but as the war extends – which it will, given our lackluster effort – those numbers will continue to decline, and our military will be damaged. That is, of course, assuming no other global or domestic crisis occurs requiring our troops. Like, say, war with Iran.
Meanwhile, the longer we stay, the worse our credibility internationally becomes. Our biggest asset after WWII wasn’t the number of ICBMs we possessed, but the principles we stood for. We were a good ally. The longer we remain in Iraq, the more we’re seen as an international rogue state. The world’s population has already turned against us, ranking us alongside Iran as global troublemakers. Governments must necessarily follow, and our diplomatic efforts, military endeavors, and trade will all suffer as a result.
What are we left with? Sad and confused well-wishing, the kind we got from an otherwise very rational David Crisp, who sums up his whole position as such: “Going to war in Iraq was wrong. Let’s stay there.” Basically, he’s saying, since we broke the country, we need to fix it. Feldman feels the same way: “We have no business starting wars we cannot bring ourselves to complete, but maybe we can bring ourselves to win a war we didn’t start.”
Right. That reminds me of Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
This war is not winnable. Reasonable policy-makers knows this. Sy Hersch:
Right now, a lot of people on the inside know it’s over in Iraq, but there are no plans for how to get out. You’re not even allowed to think that way. So what we have now is a government that’s in a terrible mess, with no idea of how to get out. Except, as one of my friends said, the “fail forward” idea of going into Iran.
Staying in Iraq at current troop levels (give or take a few dozen thousands) and unilaterally is a failed strategy. Period. Unless the nation ratchets up the war – and I’m talking conscription, war-time economy, the whole kielbasa – or agrees to submit to an international peace-keeping effort, in which we would play only a supporting role – neither of which is politically feasible – things will remain the same.
We’re not going to “fix” Iraq by staying. So now it’s up to us. There’s still time to convince Jon Tester and Max Baucus that it’s imperative we leave by the end of 2008.
It’s a simple choice, really. Do we leave in two years, or twenty?
by Jay Stevens
Commenter Kevin’s been pestering me for a post on the Duke rape case, as if it somehow represents the end of legal jurisprudence as we know it. I’ve avoided this case from the very beginning because of all the sensationalist coverage of the case, the shameful prejudging of the Duke students by the Duke faculty, the just-as-shameful attacks on the accusers. It seemed like everybody – everybody — had an opinion on this thing before the facts were in.
I did find an op-ed which I completely agree with, from the Charlotte Observer’s Tommy Tomlinson:
Nobody in the Duke lacrosse case is innocent.
Let’s start there.
What follows is not in order of blame, simply in order of time.
The students who organized that party decided it would be a fine idea to hire a stripper.
The stripper decided, out of spite or shame or who knows what, to call the police and lie that she was sexually assaulted.
District Attorney Mike Nifong called the players hooligans and pushed the case far beyond what the evidence justified. He just so happened to be running for election.
Many on the Duke campus — including an alarming number of faculty members — jumped on the case because it fit their notions of victims and oppressors in America.
The media — my tribe — covered the story as if it were nuclear war and the Super Bowl rolled up into one, and some of our professional blowhards convicted the players before they spent a day in court.
Now, Kevin’s been calling this thing an indication that our criminal justice system isn’t working.
Um, ho hum.
This is old news, people, prosecutors all around the country have been railroading people into jail to keep conviction rates high, to satisfy their constituents that they’re tough on crime and the like. Only the people usually railroaded are poor. Anybody who’s ever seen “The Thin Blue Line” (1988) knows exactly what I mean, as do those who have followed the effects of DNA testing on the death penalty.
Honestly, the only thing new about this case is that a prosecutor up for re-election tried to make his bones with a couple of rich kids. Only these rich kids had ample defense and connections within the system to protect them from wrongful imprisonment. (Heck, as the OJ case showed, you can get out of rightful imprisonment if you have enough cash to spread around.)
As for the media frenzy around the case and the quick taking of sides by the community for political reasons, well, that’s been going on since the beginning of the Republic, especially in the case of rape and sexual assault cases involving different classes.
Like the murder of Helen Jewett in 1836, which has a lot of similarities to the Duke case. A prostitute was murdered – bludgeoned with an ax to her head – and the police found a suspect, Richard Robinson, a young aristocrat. The press got involved and hilarity ensued. Sensationalist crime journalism was born.
So, no, this isn’t a landmark incident. It doesn’t expose sudden or new cracks in American jurisprudence. In fact, it’s the inheritor of centuries’-long practice of media sensationalism and prosecutorial politicking.
Now that rich people in high places realize that they, too, are in danger of zealous prosecutorial ambition, maybe we’ll see some interest drummed up in support of defendants’ rights. Like the apoliticization of prosecution, or the renewed faith in habaes corpus. Or maybe more investment in public defenders, lightening their casework, paying them more money, and ensuring higher standards for their selection.
And hopefully this case will put an end to the idea that the checks and balances built into our legal system represents the “coddling of criminals” once and for all.
by Jay Stevens
I’m with Bigfork Republican, Bill Jones, who responded to Scott Sales’ implication that considering a death penalty ban would hurt Republicans politically:
“There’s more liability for those who obstruct the legislative process than those who vote their conscience,” Jones said.
The notion that death penalty support or opposition falls purely along party lines is a quaint notion. On one hand, you’ve got Wulfgar!, who supports the death penalty, and on the other you have Montana Headlines, who opposes it. (And by the way, anytime MH starts a sentence off with “liberals think…” you can skip the paragraph. If MH actually knew how liberals think, he’d be one.)
The death penalty is expensive, it’s not an effective deterrent, it’s unfairly applied, and it’s subject to mistakes, as the recent spate of pardons based on DNA evidence attests. Unease about the practice has grown, not just among liberals who are understandably uncomfortable with the idea of a government putting its citizens to death, but among Christians who value life, repentance, and an eternal soul; lawmakers, who hate to see the courts bogged down in endless appeals; prison officials who have to deal with the ugly and difficult mechanics of the process; and citizens of all ideological stripes who are beginning to realize that there are innocent men and women on death row, more than we can be comfortable with.
At the very least, House Republicans should be open to debate. Let the public record show how our representatives feel about the issue. Let them suggest ways that we can fix the obvious and glaring problems with the death penalty. It’s time we address this issue again.
by Jay Stevens
I’m at a loss for what to say. He was one of my favorite writers and humans.
Julie Fanselow fondly remembers Vonnegut’s scathing indictment of new conservatism.
The Booman Tribune’s Steve D thinks Kurt – WWII POW, survivor of the Dresden firebombing, teacher, and social critic – was American hero.
Stefan Beck talks about his influence as a writer.
The Y Chromosone fondly remembers his appearance in Rodney Dangerfield’s “Back to School.”
Cory Doctrow has more links.
by Jay Stevens
Kamiya’s piece is a must-read withering attack on the media passivity that plagues big-corporate traditional media outlets. Basically Kamiya argues that, due to psychological, ideological, and institutional reasons, big media have become an “info nanny,” guardians of the mythical “national center,” who filter out information that might counter a perceived national consensus. (I’ll let you ponder how DC journalists know what people outside the Beltway are actually thinking.) Basically, big media is easily cowed, bullied, and subservient to their cocktail party buddies, the government’s big power brokers.
The key section of Kamiya’s piece that brings me to Couric is this:
The decline of newspapers, the rise of infotainment, and media company owners’ insistence on delivering high returns to their shareholders have diminished resources and led to a bottom-line fixation unconducive to aggressive reporting. There are big bucks to be made in being aggressively adversarial, but most of those bucks are on the right, not the left. The meteoric success of right-wing media outlets like Fox News and ranting demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter has not encouraged media owners, too shortsighted to see that there are viable alternatives to the kind of bland national nanny-ism manifest on the networks, to pursue real journalism….
Another is the opiating effect of corporate culture: Major media has become increasingly bland and toothless, just like the huge bureaucracies that own it and that are increasingly indistinguishable from each other and from the federal government. It is harder to “monitor the centers of power” when you work for a gigantic corporation that is itself at the bull’s-eye of power.
There are two maybe-not-so-shocking revelations from the Couric plagiarism debacle. First is that Couric’s writers are not talented enough to come up with original content. And no one recognized the text! Apparently these people don’t read the Wall Street Journal — other than to steal from it – a pardonable sin for the majority of Americans, who have jobs and kids to tend, but unforgivable for a national television news team.
The second is that Couric doesn’t write her own personal commentary. That’s right, she either doesn’t have the skill, or can’t be bothered with penning one minute of personal material a day. How far network journalism has fallen since the days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite!
Let’s be frank. Katie Couric is not a journalist. She’s an entertainer, a gussied-up teleprompt reader. Period. She’s the anchor for one of the nation’s most influential and powerful news outlets, likely representative of the future of network news.
And you wonder why we’re mired in Iraq?