State of the Union
Surprise: Alberto Gonzales lied to Congress
Prompted by a letter from Sen. Russ Feingold, the Washington Post reports that (on page A-7) that Alberto Gonzales misled the Senate Judiciary Committee during his January 2005 confirmation hearing:
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) charged yesterday that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing a year ago when he appeared to try to avoid answering a question about whether the president could authorize warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.
Think Progress noted that it reported this story on December 18 . Gonzales said “it is not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.” In fact, he personally approved Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program, in contravention of a criminal statute.
See the full transcript of the Feingold/Gonzales exchange posted.
In addition to Gonzales, former NSA director Michael Hayden and President Bush also made false statements relating to warrantless domestic surveillance, Think Progress notes.
At least some Dems put up a fight
It's no fun to get beaten on a filibuster fight, but at least progressive Democrats, spurred largely by the online blogs -- and largely absent leadership from the party officials -- put up a fight. As Kos wrote:
... the outpouring of emails, letters, faxes, and phone calls was unprecedented for the netroots and particularly surprising given how weak our issue groups organized against Alito. We should've played a supporting role to strong efforts by NARAL, People for the American Way, and others. Instead, we ended up being pretty much the entire effort.
In the end, 24 Democrats and an independent sided with the forces that don't want to see a rollback of civil liberties and health and labor standards. Sam Alito still ended up on the Supreme Court, but the grassroots managed to get the attention of the Democratic leadership that we expect them to put up a fight.
We're not inclined to blame Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who has been criticized for playing down expectations for an Alito filibuster. He could only afford to lose three or four of the 44 Democratic senators, one had already stated he would vote for Alito and many more were wobbly or worse.
It turned out that 19 Democrats surrendered on cloture. (According to the AP, they included Daniel Akaka, Max Baucus, Jeff Bingaman, Robert Byrd, Maria Cantwell, Tom Carper, Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan, Daniel Inouye, Tim Johnson, Herb Kohl, Mary Landrieu, Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Bill Nelson, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller and Ken Salazar. Tom Harkin did not vote. See the tally here. And the final vote of 58-42 to confirm Alito today was as meaningless as it was foreordained.)
If any of the Timid Twenty represent you, send them a note expressing your disappointment. (And if they voted for the filibuster, send them a note of appreciation.) If your timid senator is up for election, see if there is a primary opponent who would do any better. Support progressive candidates where you can.
But come November, withholding your vote from a Democrat because he or she didn't vote to keep Sam Alito off the Supreme Court doesn't make sense. When Bush was re-elected, we knew something like this would happen, particularly as the Dems lost seats in the Senate. Send Harry Reid some reinforcements.
Digby has a pretty good analysis.
Bush Health Plan: You're on your own
Ezra Klein has a good assessment of health savings accounts, which is expected to be the centerpiece of George W. Bush's State of the Union address on Jan. 31.
Josh Marshall suggests a slogan: "Bush Health Savings Accounts! Because the Bush Medicare Drug Bill is Working Out So Well!"
Durbin says Alito filibuster possible
Sen. Dick Durbin, R-Ill., tells the Chicago Sun Times he will vote against Judge Sam Alito for the US Supreme Court. And so many other senators intensely oppose Alito that Democrats may be able to round up the 41 votes to sustain a filibuster against the right-wing judge. With Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., boasting to Republicans that Alito is the Democrats' nightmare and planning to rush a vote to the Senate floor, more Democratic senators might be convinced to support the filibuster to shut down Alito as early as this Wednesday.
That puts the challenge to constituents.
Contact your senators -- Democrats as well as Republicans who claim they are "moderates" -- and tell them Alito is unacceptable for a lifetime appointment the Supreme Court.
It's time for people who believe in the Bill of Rights, separation of powers and the rights of working people to stand up for principles. Democrats won't accomplish anything by laying down and letting the Big Business/Big Government GOP have their way. They'll only earn the contempt of the Republicans as well as voters.
If it takes a filibuster to get their attention, so be it.
Media parrots GOP line
Media Matters has its hands full documenting media compolicity in right-wing disinformation. In a new column, Jamison Foser notes:
• News organizations devote little attention to NSA spying story
• NSA spying stories we'd like to see
• Leading Republican strategist criticizes spying operation; media yawn
• In reporting bin Laden's latest threats, media forget CIA director's claim that he knows where bin Ladin is
• Wash. Post Ombudsman: "From now on, I don't reply"
Also, MSNBC's Chris Matthews joins right-wing media figures such as Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity and Joe Scarborough who used the release of Osama bin Laden's new audiotape to denounce critics of the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Iraq.
And CNN anchor Kyra Phillips misstated a false assertion made by Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell regarding Democrats and indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Phillips reported that Howell "wrote that ... Jack Abramoff gave money to Democrats as well as Republicans." Phillips then said: "Well that's true, though most of the money went to Republicans." In fact, Abramoff made no contribution to Democrats.
And reacting to the recent designation of 'Worst Person in the World' by MSNBC host Keith Olbermann (one of the few bright lights of cable news) for saying that anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan is "pimping out the tragedy of her own son's death for her own agenda," Glenn Beck, the right-wing radio talker newly hired by CNN Headline News, expounded further: "It's almost so horrible, it seems true."
There's more. There's always more.
McCarthy memorial on C-SPAN
C-SPAN will broadcast the Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy Memorial Service that took place last weekend on Saturday, January 14th at the Washington National Cathedral. The event will air Saturday night, January 21st, on the regular C-SPAN at 8:00 PM EST and again at 10:40 PM EST.
Here is the C-SPAN schedule information.
If you wish to order a DVD, here is the program information for the McCarthy Memorial Service, which is C-SPAN Program ID# 190739.
Bipartisan Consensus on 'Reform'
David Sirota notes:
Buried in an Associated Press story about the GOP's bogus lobbying "reform" bill is one paragraph that really should tell you all you need to know about how both parties in Congress really don't want to see serious reforms to clean up the system. In an age where citizens are desperate for politicians to have a backbone, all you can really conclude from reading this is that neither party -- even the one emasculated in the minority -- still doesn't have the courage of its supposed convictions.
Here is the excerpt: "The Associated Press asked the four lawmakers who lead the ethics committees whether they would make a commitment to investigate ethical wrongdoing if, as expected, the information Abramoff supplies exposes misconduct by a number of lawmakers. Each of the four -- two Republicans and two Democrats -- declined, through his spokesmen, to do so."
See the rest.
We say: Common Cause has an ethics reform package that actually might do some good, proposing:
• Creation of an Independent Ethics Commission to investigate congressional ethics;
• An effective ban on gifts and travel from registered lobbyists to members of Congress and their staffs;
• Clean campaigns for federal and state elections with public financing that permits candidates to run for office, agree to voluntary spending limits, and receive public funds for their races;
• Extend the moratorium on taking jobs as lobbyists for members of Congress and senior staff from one year to two years, and expand the definition of lobbying to include providing strategic advice on legislation, Members of Congress, and the legislative process;
• Require Members to report negotiation of future employment with any corporation, organization or other entity that has legislative issues pending before Congress. At the very least, the public ought to know when a Member of Congress or congressional staff are discussing future jobs with the very special interests they are supposed to oversee;
• Eliminate floor privileges and other special access to former lawmakers, like use of the Congressional dining room and gym, for former members of Congress who are registered lobbyists;
• Prohibit registered lobbyists from acting as fundraisers and campaign treasurers for federal elected officials;
• Shine a light on lobbying activities with real-time reporting of lobbying contacts and real enforcement of disclosure rules.
Tell your Congress member and senators to support the Common Cause ethics reforms.
CHECK IT OUT: BuyBlue
rates companies according to how much campaign contributions they gave to Democrats (blue) or Republicans (red) and also on criteria such as labor, human rights and environment.
Also of interest:
• John Roberts joins Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in dissent as the Supreme Court on a 6-3 vote upholds Oregon's "death with dignity" statute that allows physicians to assist terminally ill patients in ending their lives. Samuel Alito almost certainly would have made it a 5-4 vote. Whatever happened to states' rights?
• See a timeline of GOP dirty tricks, dating back to 1800 (Federalists and Whigs are assumed to be Republican forerunners, for continuity purposes).
Senate Dems may surrender on Alito
New York Times reports:
Disheartened by the administration's success with the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. , Democratic leaders say that President Bush is putting an enduring conservative ideological imprint on the nation's judiciary, and that they see little hope of holding off the tide without winning back control of the Senate or the White House.
In interviews, Democrats said the lesson of the Alito hearings was that this White House could put on the bench almost any qualified candidate, even one whom Democrats consider to be ideologically out of step with the country.
We say: Democrats have plenty of reasons to oppose Alito by any means necessary, including a filibuster.
• Alito apparently either lied to the Reagan administration or he lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his membership in a Princeton alumni group that opposed the admission of women and minorities to the Ivy League.
• He reneged on a promise made to the Judiciary Committee in 1990 to avoid cases involving Vanguard mutual funds, where he had money invested, when he was named to the 3rd Circuit US court of Appeals. He participated in a 2002 case involving Vanguard.
• The White House has withheld documents requested by Senate Democrats to help them assess the fitness of Alito to sit on the nation's highest court.
• Alito's record shows deference to the government on issues of privacy and civil liberties. He also could swing the Supreme Court to the right on issues such as affirmative action; the role of money and corporations in politics; voting rights; family and medical leave; labor and consumer regulations; and presidential powers.
Republicans are engaging in typical hypocrisy in demanding an "up or down" vote on Alito just weeks after scuttling Harriet Miers' nomination because she was seen as insufficiently devoted to the cause of overturning Roe vs. Wade.
Democrats should filibuster Alito’s nomination and call Majority Leader Bill Frist’s bluff on the threatened “nuclear option” of doing away with judicial filibusters.
A nominee who can't muster 60 votes on the Senate floor doesn't deserve to sit on the nation's highest court. We have no doubt that would be the argument if President Al Gore or John Kerry had sent a left winger to a marginally Democratic Senate.
The hearings are over. It's up to voters to urge their senators to oppose Alito -- upholding a filibuster if necessary -- because he does not uphold the values of working-class America. Contact your senators here.
Chile's pension no model for US Social Security
"Free marketers" pointed to Chile's privatized pension system as the model for a privatized US Social Security System, but the Century Foundation notes that all of the candidates in Chile's presidential contest agree that the privatized pension system, which was created by the dictator Augusto Pinochet 25 years ago, is in trouble and needs immediate repair. Transition costs from the old system have been higher than expected while pension benefits are lower than expected.
Century Fund noted that "voracious commissions and other administrative costs have swallowed up large shares of personal accounts." One measure estimates that fees took roughly 28 to 33 percent of contributions made by employees retiring in 2000.
No wonder Wal Street hopes to get its hooks into the Social Security fund if Republicans maintain control of Congress.
Media adopts GOP mythology; Dems fight back
Scott Shields at MyDD notes that the pressure is on for the media to parrot the Republican talking point that the Abramoff scandal is bipartisan.
It's not. As Howard Dean did a beautiful job of pointing out to a disappointed Wolf Blitzer on yesterday's Late Edition, the Abramoff scandal is Republican, through and through.
The fact is that no Democrat received contributions from Jack Abramoff. Not one. That was the point of Tom DeLay's K Street Project, that Republicans would take over the DC lobbying firms and cut off donations to Democrats.
Dean acknowleged that some Democrats took money from Indian tribes, but the good doctor noted:
"They're not agents of Jack Abramoff. There's no evidence that I've seen that Jack Abramoff directed any contributions to Democrats. I know the Republican National Committee would like to get the Democrats involved in this. They're scared. They should be scared. They haven't told the truth. They have misled the American people. And now it appears they're stealing from Indian tribes. The Democrats are not involved in this."
MATT STOLLER also has a good post at MyDD on why, facing the possibility of a bird flu pandemic, we need a functional government. However, instead of furnishing the public health infrastructure with medicine and resources to handle a pandemic, "the Republicans are using this episode to dole out pork to their corporate backers and to attack trial lawyers."
The real problem here is that preparations for keeping the US infrastructure running in case of a flu pandemic just aren't happening. Even if you think that it's worthwhile to divert public health resources to the war on terror, part of that war is addressing the threat of bioterrorism, which looks remarkably similar to addressing the threat of avian flu.
Regardless of what you think of the Republican Party's philosophy, it's clear we need people who can prepare for disasters and manage our government when those disasters hit, not just yell through bullhorns. As with Katrina and New Orleans, you can't blame the terrorists for avian flu. I hope the adults get put in charge soon. It's too scary to contemplate what happens otherwise.
Job growth weaker
Economic Policy Institute notes that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the nation’s payrolls rose by 108,000 in December, well below economists’ expectations of over 200,000 jobs. With November’s revised gains of 305,000—an upward revision of 90,000 jobs—the pace of growth over the last two months has been about par for the year. Taking out the impact of the Gulf Coast hurricanes payrolls expanded at an average rate of about 200,000 per month in 2005.
Over a similar period in the last recovery [from March 1991 to April 1995], payrolls grew by nearly 300,000 per month. Thus, while the US labor market is consistently generating job growth, the pace remains below that of past recoveries. For example, payrolls grew by 2 million jobs in 2005 (December 2004-December 2005). Over a similar period in the last recovery, payrolls grew by 3.5 million jobs. In percentage terms, payrolls grew 1.5% over the past year. The average over prior recoveries that lasted at least 49 months is twice that rate at 3.1%.
Max Sawicky and TPM Cafe, among others, note that Venezuela President Hugo Chavez has given a speech excoriating the descendants of those "who crucified Christ" for appropriating the riches of the world.
One translation by a well-known Venezuelan blogger at Salon has Chavez saying:
The world is for all of us, then, but it so happens that a minority, the descendents of the same ones that crucified Christ, the descendents of the same ones that kicked Bolivar out of here and also crucified him in their own way over there in Santa Marta, in Colombia. A minority has taken possesion all of the wealth of the world, a minority has taken ownership of all of the gold of the planet, of the silver, of the minerals, the waters, the good lands, oil, of the wealth then and have concentrated the wealth in a few hands ...
Some of Chavez's defenders have noted that Chavez may have been referring to the Roman Empire, which after all actually crucified Jesus, or the rich and powerful interests in Judea that condemned Christ. And Jews had nothing to do with fighting Simon Bolivar, the South American revolutionary.
There is simply no doubt about it. There is a well-documented history of anti-semitism, and blame for crucifixon is deployed solely against the Jews. "His blood be on our children ..." Anybody who thinks this connotes anything else is kidding him(her)self.
None of this is cause for invading Venezuela. I say the sooner it is slapped down and HC cleans it up, the better off he and his revolution -- to which I am sympathetic -- will be.
We agree with Max.
Our view: Populism gets a bad rap for being based in anti-semitism, racism and a few other unsavory isms. We believe anti-semitism reflects a general prejudice rather than a populist prejudice. It is a symptom of a weakness that the powerful interests -- the same types that Chavez is railing against -- exploit to divide people who should be working together.
Chavez and other populists shouldn't fall into that trap. At best, Chavez used clumsy language. He should clarify his remarks, apologize to Jews and appeal for their cooperation, along with Muslims and those of other faiths, in bringing economic equality to the world.
UPDATE 1/12/06: Venezuelan Jews have come to Chavez's defense, according to The Forward, a Jewish weekly in New York.
"We believe the president [Chavez] was not talking about Jews and that the Jewish world must learn to work together," said Fred Pressner, president of the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela, in a letter to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, complaining that it had misinterpreted Chavez's words and had failed to consult with them before attacking the Venezuelan president. He added that this was the third time in recent years that the Wiesenthal center had publicly criticized Chavez without first consulting the local community.
The Venezuelan government has not reacted publicly, but the Forward reported that senior government officials met with Israeli diplomats in Caracas and said that the president's remarks had no antisemitic intent or meaning.
We say: We're glad to hear that Venezuelan Jews knew what Chavez meant, and they don't view him as antisemitic.
Behind the mine disaster
Jordan Barab, who spent 16 years running AFSCME's health and safety program, notes in Confined Space, a blog devoted to workplace safety, that the President has expressed concerned about the fates of the 13 West Virginia coal miners, 12 of whom were found dead.
But the President and Scotty should also be aware that in addition to this extremely tragic event involving the lives of these 13 men and those who love them, 15 workers die in workplace accidents every day in this country. Take a look at the last Weekly Toll that lists only 75 of the approximate 200 workplace deaths over the past two weeks. Why are these souls any different or less worthy of the President's prayers than the 12 West Virginia miners?
One reason: Most of the these workers died one at a time, hardly even noticed by their local newspapers, much less the President of the United States. Nevertheless, they should be no less deserving of the nation's attention, resources or commitment.
The fact is that President Bush has not requested budgets for OSHA or MSHA that even keep up with the rate of inflation and mandatory pay increases over the past several years while penalties for OSHA or MSHA violations remain laughably low. The highest penalty of the more than 200 citations received last year by the Sago mine was $878. But that was the exception. Most of the others were $250 or $60. At that rate, it's hardly a good business decision to even bother fixing anything. And the administration has shut down any new worker protection standards in OSHA and MSHA.
It's not hard to imagine why this state of affairs exists in an administration dominated by energy interests. As James Ridgeway points out in the Village Voice,
Out of $2.3 million in contributions to federal candidates during the 2004 election cycle, coal companies put up $2.3 million with 90 percent going to Republican candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
So, Mr. President, until you can put some real money down on the table, and appoint some people who aren't afraid to rock the boat to protect workers' lives, save me your crocodile tears. These miners and millions of other workers who go to work every morning fearing they may not come home alive at night are literally putting their lives on the line to support their families.
(See the rest of his post .)
See other figures on comparitive mine safety via Kevin Drum.
See also Barab's Top 10 Workplace Health and Safety Stories of 2005.
UPDATE: David Sirota writes that Bush ignored explicit warnings in 2002 about mine safety after a major mining accident in western Pennsylvania. "President Bush held a big photo-op to pretend like he cared -- but he never responded to the fact sheet that House Democrats put out questioning why he had made so many cuts to mine safety programs.
Bush Guts Torture Amendment
Matt Stoller writes at MyDD.com
George 'I am the Law' Bush gutted McCain's torture amendment on Friday. Read Bush's signing statement, which is literally chilling.
The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks. Further, in light of the principles enunciated by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2001 in Alexander v. Sandoval, and noting that the text and structure of Title X do not create a private right of action to enforce Title X, the executive branch shall construe Title X not to create a private right of action.
In other words, I'm the President, and you can't enforce jack. And McCain got snowed.
Stoller is not impresed with McCain. See the rest.
Divine right of Republicans
Digby, via Daily Kos, reminds us of those immortal words of Hon. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and protector of American democracy:
That none of us is above the law is a bedrock principle of democracy. To erode that bedrock is to risk even further injustice. To erode that bedrock is to subscribe, to a "divine right of kings" theory of governance, in which those who govern are absolved from adhering to the basic moral standards to which the governed are accountable.
We must never tolerate one law for the Ruler, and another for the Ruled. If we do, we break faith with our ancestors from Bunker Hill, Lexington and Concord to Flanders Field, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Panmunjon, Saigon and Desert Storm [...]
We are the heirs of a long tradition of parliamentary development, in which the rule of law gradually came to replace royal prerogative as the means for governing a society of free men and women.
We are the heirs of 1776, and of an epic moment in human affairs when the Founders of this Republic pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor - sacred honor - to the defense of the rule of law.
We are the heirs of a tragic civil war, which vindicated the rule of law over the appetites of some for owning others.
We are the heirs of the 20th century's great struggles against totalitarianism, in which the rule of law was defended at immense cost against the worst tyrannies in human history. The "rule of law" is no pious aspiration from a civics textbook. The rule of law is what stands between all of us and the arbitrary exercise of power by the state. The rule of law is the safeguard of our liberties. The rule of law is what allows us to live our freedom in ways that honor the freedom of others while strengthening the common good. The rule of law is like a three legged stool: one leg is an honest Judge, the second leg is an ethical bar and the third is an enforceable oath. All three are indispensable in a truly democratic society.
Kos notes: "Ahh, so inspiring. Of course, Hyde was talking about a blowjob. So, you see, it was important. Tearing up the constitution, making a mockery of Congress, and doing whatever you want even against the advice of an already wingnutty attorney general (Ashcroft) is fine. As long as it's a Republican doing the lawbreaking.
"But let's go back to this:"
The rule of law is what stands between all of us and the arbitrary exercise of power by the state.
"That's the bottom line, neatly summed up."
Happy New Year!
Take Back America!
Don't give up hope!
Don't let the bastards wear you down.
Don't apologize for defending the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Do stand up for the rights of workers and mom-and-pop businesses over multinational corporations.
Do kick tyrants' asses -- both foreign and domestic.
See The Battle for America, a powerful 4-minute video from Current.TV.
(Also subscribe to The Progressive Populist.)
New Year's Resolution: Resist Fascism
By Bob Burnett
Bush's warrantless spying programs put Americans at risk
ThinkProgress explains it.