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April 29, 2005

Quote of the day

I just love this.  From Jim Bouton (ex-Yankee pitcher and now author) on whether a gay baseball player would be accepted by his fans and teammates:

I would say that the better a player you are, the more gay you would be allowed to be.

Posted by David at 10:02 AM in Random | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 28, 2005

Follow-up on the coming GOP implosion

Several comments on my recent "GOP about to implode" post, both here and in my Kos diary, noted that internal GOP tensions are not enough for Republicans to lose elections - the Democrats need to come up with a coherent vision of what they want to do.

To those comments, I say this: ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.  By only talking about what I see as a serious problem inside the GOP, I certainly didn't intend to absolve the Dems of the need to explain where they want this country to go (we've been pushing that idea on this blog for some time, as our readers know).  There's just so much one can do in one post. 

Thanks to all for your thoughtful commentary.

Posted by David at 01:48 PM in National | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

But what a pretty view...

According to the American Lung Association's new report, the Cape still has the worst ozone levels in the state. Maybe they could use some better traffic signals there, too.

Or, instead of pumping out crud from the Mirant plant in Sandwich, make a bold move to wind power!

Posted by Charley on the MTA at 10:22 AM in Massachusetts | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 27, 2005

Patrick packs Rindge and Latin

As promised, here's my run-down of Deval Patrick's speech for the Cambridge Town Democratic Committee at the Rindge & Latin High School lunchroom last night. (Incidentally, at the same event, before Patrick spoke, State Sen. Jarrett Barrios announced his intention to run for Middlesex County DA, citing the desire to work on public safety issues at the ground level. As they say, "Developing"...)

Patrick was given a nice introduction by former Cambridge mayor and now councilman Ken Reeves, who knows Patrick through a mutual friend: attesting to Patrick's personal qualities, Reeves quipped that Patrick offers "Hope and a Hug" -- and indeed before the event you could see Patrick enthusiastically and gratefully greeting several old friends who showed up. (I don't want to get all Peggy Noonan on you all, I'm just trying to give a flavor of the event.)

I suppose that David has adequately covered Patrick's basic stump speech, although I don't recall him speaking much about "No needless taxes", or his ideological label, or lack thereof. He's probably modifying his speech somewhat for his audience -- there's no question about where Cambridge Democrats lie on the ideological spectrum. I concur with David that he is a very effective speaker: comfortable, sincere, passionate but composed, very easy to listen to. (No charisma boot camp necessary for him.) It is nice to hear someone talk about the principles of community, by which we all look out for each other's best interests; and to point out the false choices that our current conventional wisdom holds: You can't have a strong economy and social justice, or excellent and universal health care. A stump speech needs to highlight the candidate's temperament more than a laundry list of positions, and Patrick does that with uncommon grace.

Just to sum up some of the rest of his speech:

  • Education: pre-K through college should be "second to none" in the nation. Why not?
  • Universal health care now. Consumers, employers, HMOs, hospitals are all unhappy with our current system. We're past due reform on this issue. (Cf. our commentary on this.)
  • Job creation: Romney was right when he said in 2002 that the Governor must be a salesman for the Commonwealth. Trouble is, Mitt can't be a credible salesman when he clearly doesn't believe in MA.

Now for the good/tough part: the questions. There were a couple of tough and pointed questions, especially regarding his tenure as Coca-Cola Company's general counsel. As you might expect from a Cambridge crowd, some of the questions were long and somewhat rambling -- I've tried to distill them to their essence. In many cases, as you'll see, I was scribbling so furiously that I missed something. Folks who were there can feel free to fill in the gaps in the comments.

  1. Concerning universal health care: What's different this time from the Clinton plan years?
    Patrick mentioned the complexity of the Clinton plan, but more to the point is that all the other players in health care, not just consumers, are dissatisfied. And even if you have insurance, it's a hassle. Patrick spoke of his recently deceased mother's difficulties with getting reimbursed for care. Single payer care is unrealistic in the short-term, but he said he's willing to spend political capital on major health care reform: "If I don't get it done in my first term, throw me out."   
  2. Question regarding violence against union members at a Coke plant in Colombia, and pollution of water in India.
    Patrick responded that the lawsuit against Coke in Miami was brought by a Colombian union which lost out to another union for the right to represent those workers at the plant. He believes that the allegations against Coke in the suit are not true, but he broke with the CEO of Coke over how to respond: Patrick wanted to settle the case to protect the brand.
  3. Big Dig: What are you going to do?
    Patrick asked rhetorically: How did we know things were wrong for so long, and yet not do anything? He worked with Bechtel on building a Coke plant in Ireland, where Bechtel tried to go over budget by 75%.
  4. Would you sign a bill to ban soft drinks in schools?
    Answer: I'll consider anything that comes to my desk. He knows obesity is a problem, but it's not just about soda and junk food: kids need to get outside. He acknowledged that whatever he said, "You will think I'm a soft drink shill. I'm not."   
  5. Should MA be a leader in the fair-trade movement, vis-a-vis treating labor fairly in the US as well?
    Patrick answered with a general comment about how little regard the business community has for Mitt Romney, and his "governing by press conference". The governor can do things to call attention to and encourage good business practice.
  6. Long and rambling question regarding foreign debt from a young Larouchite woman. (I freely admit that I did not understand the question.)
    Patrick seem unfazed by the (multi-part) question, and offered to discuss it with the woman afterwards. Points for poise, anyway.
  7. Education?
    "Early childhood education is huge." Fewer kids in the classroom. Though teenagers may disavow it, they are hungry for contact with adults. It's not just about money -- the best teachers are involved in the whole child. We have to create opportunities for that to happen.
  8. What role do community colleges have in his education plan?
    "I don't know." Recognizes that they play an important role, but wouldn't state their relative importance in the educational system.
  9. Environment in general, and wind power?
    He's been talking to advocates about what's at play. Enforcement has been decimated, as has maintenance of resources and parks. Re: Cape Wind: "Conceptually, it seems so right", but there are many sides to the issue. Eventually the various sides must be brought to compromise, but in the absence of strong leadership that won't happen. "You'll have to wait 18 months for that."
  10. Crime and gangs?
    We need to restore money for law enforcement. Make school days longer -- many crimes committed between 3pm and 5pm. But, respectfully, "I'm not running for mayor." The mayors want a partner, not someone to solve their problems for them.

Well, I hope this is useful. (Taking notes on the fly and transcribing them gives me new respect for print reporters.)

Posted by Charley on the MTA at 05:21 PM in Massachusetts | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

GOP: The gathering storm

The NYT's Paul Krugman recently wrote a column called "The Oblivious Right" in which he argues that Republicans have found themselves on the wrong side of public opinion on numerous issues lately - judges, Schiavo, social security, you name it - because they talk only to their base, namely, "corporate interests and the religious right."  And, according to those guys, everything's fine.

It's an insightful column, as Krugman's usually are.  But I think there's a bigger lesson to be learned here from the dual nature of the Republican base and the party's recent miscalculations.  I think we are witnessing the beginning of a major implosion in the Republican party.  And here's why.

Republicans could not have won as many elections as they have won lately if they were just the party of the religious right, nor if they were just the party of the corporate elite (i.e., the rich).  They have to be both.  And the genius of what they've been able to do recently is appeal to both of these groups without really upsetting either - even though in many cases these two groups don't have a lot in common, and in fact should be on opposite sides of a lot of issues.

I would venture to say, for example, that many Christian conservatives are not wealthy people, that they probably don't benefit from the Bush tax cuts, and that they in fact are harmed by the Bush economic policies.  Similarly, I would venture to say that many rich Wall Street types couldn't care less whether women get abortions or gay people get married, that they probably know and work with (and may even themselves be) people who are pro-choice and pro-gay rights, and that they think government's most important job is to keep the wheels of commerce running smoothly and never mind all this "cultural" stuff which they see as a big distraction.

And yet both these sorts of people tend to vote Republican.  Why?  Because in both cases the Republican party has figured out how to appeal to what is really important to them.  The corporate crowd would probably prefer, on balance, to have a government that leaves abortions etc. alone, but it's much more important to them to have what they see as a favorable tax structure, favorable regulatory climate, and so on.  Similarly, the religious right crowd would probably prefer, on balance, that the government not screw them economically, but it's much more important to them that the government try to restore what they see as a moral compass - get rid of abortions, make life harder for gay people, more religion in public life, and so on.  This is why the central mystery of "What's the Matter With Kansas" - why do people keep voting for a party that is making them poorer - is really not that mysterious.  You can rationally support a party that does not act in your immediate economic self-interest if you think what the party is doing elsewhere is more important.  The abortion, etc. issues are so important to the religious right that nothing else matters much.  Same with the corporate elite, but in reverse.  (You can see variants of this on the left as well - e.g., there are lots of well-off lefties who don't vote Republican even though Republican policies would put lots more money in their pockets, presumably because they define their own self-interest more broadly than just having a larger balance in their checking account.)

The real beauty of the Republican strategy is that the two appeals don't have to interfere with each other.  The party can be all for tax cuts for the rich, a lax regulatory environment, etc., and still be pro-restrictions on abortion, anti-gay marriage, pro-funnelling money to religious organizations, and the rest of the "cultural conservative" agenda.  It's worked brilliantly.

UNTIL NOW.  Because now what's happening is that the agendas are starting to converge - and in a very uncomfortable way.  The newly-emboldened religious right wing, no longer satisfied with making abortions and gay marriages incrementally harder to obtain, has started an all-out assault on the federal judiciary.  And in so doing, they are scaring the crap out of the corporate elite, who need stable, well-functioning, independent federal courts.  Remember, the corporate elite really like the federal courts - that's why they want to move as many state law tort claims into federal court as they can.  A weakened federal judiciary is the corporate elite's worst nightmare.  Similarly, the Bushies' assault on social security seems to be scaring the crap out of even people who ordinarily don't pay a lot of attention to economic issues - that is, people who have supported Republicans because of their stand on the culture wars, not the class wars.  The Bush administration's failure to appreciate how attached the American people (particularly the non-wealthy American people) are to social security has got to be one of the most colossal political blunders of recent years, and it is threatening to turn a lot of previously-reliable Republican "cultural issue" voters into persuadables for the Democrats.  No one, cultural conservative or otherwise, wants to see their grandma in the poor house, and while rich folks don't have to worry about that, a lot of other folks do.

Terri Schiavo figures into this too.  The Republicans' behavior in that extraordinary case of course scared the crap out of corporate elite Republicans (who really hate the idea of government telling them how to care for their sick family members).  But it also may have freaked out even some of the cultural conservatives, who while probably in sympathy with the anti-euthanasia position, were justifiably horrified by the Republican overreaching and hypocrisy.

The delicate balancing act, in other words, is starting to fail.  The natural enmity of the Republican corporate elite and the Republican cultural conservatives, for so long deftly managed by the national Republican party, is starting to take on a life of its own, and the party has no idea how to stop it.  Just look at poor Bill Frist - he's completely trapped in this nucular option business.  I'm guessing that no one regrets more than he does the fact that he is really going to have to do it - because he knows that when he does, he will have lost any shot he ever had at becoming President.  To win, you have to have more than just the cultural conservatives, and going nucular will freak the corporate elite.

Remember those old Star Trek episodes where Scotty radios up to the bridge and says something like "this thing is goin' ta blow up, and there's nothin' in the universe can stop it"?  It's kinda like that for the Republicans right now.  Scotty, of course, always found a way to avert disaster at the last possible millisecond.  We will know, and I think sooner rather than later, whether the Republicans have someone as good as Scotty who can defuse the coming internecine blowout.

Posted by David at 10:30 AM in National | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Stay tuned...

I went to hear and meet Deval Patrick last night at Rindge Latin School in Cambridge. Pretty good stuff, and I'll have a rundown this afternoon. He made his brief but quite effective stump speech, and took some tough questions about his work for Coke, and handled the Larouchies with grace and aplomb -- more than I'm capable of, that's for sure.

More later.

Posted by Charley on the MTA at 08:43 AM in Massachusetts | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

I dunno - you tell me

FenceI am not making this up.  We report, you decide.  (Click image to enlarge.)

Posted by David at 12:50 AM in Random | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 25, 2005

Nucular, Because They Can.

Dear folks: After last night's Nuclear Hootenanny, Senators really need to hear some phone calls on this issue, especially (but not only) if you live in NH, ME, and RI. And don't get complacent: The Dems need to hear from you, too. In his conference call last week, Senator Kennedy said it really makes a difference: “People (on the Judiciary Committee) are jittery. You’re making them jittery.”

Well, abuse of power comes as no surprise. And since the Republicans have their majorities, however slim, perhaps it's not surprising that they would imagine themselves to transcend all accountability. Actual governance seems to be farthest from the mind of the folks in power right now. As the expression goes: "Why does a dog lick its balls? Because it can."

Last night was "Justice Sunday", Bill Frist's and the Family Research Council's simulcast attacking the independence of the judiciary, which the filibuster helps to protect. Although the Republican majorities are actually quite slim, the religious right has claimed their mandate within the party as the majority-makers. And Frist is egging them on.

But as Ted Kennedy made clear in our conference call, people aren't going to put up with a change to the old Senate rules if all they get is a gaggle of radical judges. You really have to ask the question: Aren't there any better judges out there than these? Couldn't Bush just give up, find ten more garden-variety conservatives, and call it a day? Apparently not. Doing something simply "because you can" may be fun, but rarely ends up being a wise decision.

Well, federal judges matter. As Sen. Kennedy recalled, the 5th circuit court was extremely significant in the civil rights era. For better or for worse, we all saw the significance of federal judges in the Terri Schiavo case. I think we all felt a bit of "There but for the grace of God go I" while the controversy raged. And I think the general reaction was a mix of horror at the reality of the case, and horror at the hysterical political gamesmanship: Would you want a bunch of strangers to treat your family that way?

So let's boil it down: For whom are Sen. Frist and Pres. Bush willing to "go nucular" to put on the Federal bench? How does it matter to us?

The first two are Priscilla Owen, a Texas Supreme Court judge who's been nominated to the aforementioned 5th Circuit, and Janice Rodgers Brown, a California Supreme Court judge nominated to the Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit.

Owen first:

  • If you want control over your own body, forget about it. And if you lose a limb at work, or have a corporate neighbor that pollutes, tough. She's not interested. From Alliance for Justice's fact sheet: "Justice Owen has taken campaign contributions from law firms and corporations, including Enron and Halliburton, and then, without recusing herself, ruled in their favor when their cases came before her."

(Ha. Maybe if you wrote her a check, too, she'd decide the case on the merits. Why so many folks seem to be unclear on the concept of "conflict of interest" these days is beyond me.)

  • You know who thinks Owens is over the edge? That wacko lefty Alberto Gonzales, our Attorney General who thinks the Geneva convention is quaint because torture is hot. You see, she had a habit of making up new restrictions on abortions by minors that simply were not in the law. He said that following her logic would be an unconscionable act of judicial activism".
    (Really! Read it yourself!)

Now for Brown: Just read this passage, and see if you think this sounds like a sober-minded judge (you know, as in the expression, "sober as a judge"):

“Where government moves in, community retreats, civil society disintegrates, and our ability to control our own destiny atrophies. The result is: families under siege; war in the streets; unapologetic expropriation of property; the precipitous decline of the rule of law; the rapid rise of corruption; the loss of civility and the triumph of deceit. The result is a debased, debauched culture which finds moral depravity entertaining and virtue contemptible...

I have argued that collectivism was (and is) fundamentally incompatible with the vision that undergirded this country's founding. The New Deal, however, inoculated the federal Constitution with a kind of underground collectivist mentality.”

She really, really hates the New Deal. Most people think it was kind of necessary, and that the alternative that she might have proposed was a heck of a lot closer to slavery. You like Social Security? Brown is bad news for you. In fact, lifting a damn finger for anyone seems to be a little too much for her to bear. Does "conservative" really have to mean "misanthropic"?

I heartily invite you to read the whole speech. That will give you an idea of the kind of temperament we're talking about here... that is to say, the total lack of temperament.

Also see this open letter from the Society of American Law Teachers. Very thorough.

Posted by Charley on the MTA at 06:31 PM in National | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The crime lab really is underfunded!

A week or so ago I ranted about how outrageous it is that the State Police Crime Lab took many months to analyze the DNA sample provided by the guy who has now been arrested for the murder of Truro resident Christa Worthington.  I urged that this should be unacceptable, and rashly said that the only way to solve the problem was to spend more money on the crime lab (which routinely takes six to eight months to analyze samples).  Several comments took me to task for ignoring the role that good old fashioned incompetence seems to have played in the Worthington matter, and I agreed that I shouldn't have jumped straight to spending more money without considering what we could do by way of eliminating stupidity.

However, the AP is now reporting that the crime lab really is grossly underfunded.  According to the article, the lab can handle 300 samples per year - one sixth of the demand, hence the nine-month backlog (the national standard is 30 days).  Each of the state's DAs can only submit four samples per month, and the head of the Mass. DAs association describes DAs as "ludicrously handicapped" in the number of samples they can submit.  The article reports that the legislature and Governor Romney have pledged to double the lab's resources in the wake of the Worthington fiasco.

Good!  They should be devoting more resources to valuable institutions like the crime lab (and, of course, they should also be rooting out incompetence).  And so I ask again, Governor: how can you responsibly push for yet another tax cut, while simultaneously pushing to double the State Police Crime Lab's resources?  First, tell us what you want the government to do, then tell us how you're going to pay for it, and then let's talk about a tax cut.  Republicans have turned this debate completely on its head, and until Democrats are able to alter the discourse, they will keep losing.

Posted by David at 03:08 PM in Massachusetts | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

DeLay, in a nutshell

The NY Times very helpfully printed out the House ethics rules today, along with more on DeLay's latest Abramoff bombshells. (It's a carpet-bombing, at this point.)

Let's just put two and two together, and agree that it makes four:

The Washington Post reported on Sunday that it had obtained travel receipts showing that [lobbyist Jack] Abramoff's personal credit card had been used to pay $6,938 for Mr. DeLay's airfare to and from Britain, suggesting a possible violation of House ethics rules, which bar lobbyists from paying for a lawmaker's travels. It had been previously disclosed that Mr. Abramoff had paid part of Mr. DeLay's hotel bill. Mr. DeLay's lawyer denied impropriety.

And now for the rule:

A member, officer or employee may accept necessary expenses from a private source for travel in connection with official duties - including, for example, to give a speech or engage in fact-finding - subject to the following restrictions.

¶ The source of the travel expenses may not be either a registered lobbyist or a registered foreign agent, and the source must have a direct and immediate relationship with the event or location being visited.

The prosecution rests, Your Honor.


Posted by Charley on the MTA at 12:32 PM in National | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack