ANWR filibuster succeeds; now, we need a few more senators

We had two votes today that illustrate what an enormous difference the degree of minority status makes - even aside from the question of maintaining at least 41 votes.

The Senate passed the awful budget reconciliation that provides cash for upcoming tax cuts for the wealthy on the backs of the elderly, poor, and students.  They did this through a 51-50 vote, with Cheney providing the tiebreaker.  A single additional Democrat could have killed this.

Then, on a much happier note, they failed (just minutes ago) 56-44 to invoke cloture on the defense approrpations bill including the ANWR drilling provision - meaning the filibuster stands.  FOUR Democrats voted for cloture: Akaka, Inouye, Landrieu, and Nelson; TWO Republicans voted against: Chafee and DeWine; Frist voted against for strictly procedural reasons.  So, consider how precarious this actually was.  Technically, we didn't require the Republican votes, as we had 40 Democrats plus one Independent.  But being able to muster only 41 minority party votes for this filibuster is too close for comfort.

The talking heads will blather on about how difficult it would be for us to win the Senate in '06.  They're right in a sense - it will be difficult to pick up 6 seats (although hardly impossible).  However, I like to remind myself at every opportunity what a difference a 2 or 3 seat pickup could make.  Today's events drive the point home yet again.

Update [2005-12-21 13:5:36 by arenwin]: I should note that "moderate environmentalist" McCain complained about the move by Ted Stevens to attach ANWR drilling to the defense appropriations bill - and then went right ahead and voted to end the filibuster.  Which, of course, would have virtually guaranteed passage of ANWR drilling into law.  Once again, why is he a hero of some on the left?

What civil rights, impeachment, and PETA have in common

[editor's note, by arenwin]Story title edited to better reflect updates.

This hasn't yet received much play outside the Atlanta media market, as far as I am aware.  However, I was quite struck to hear WABE (Public Broadcasting Atlanta) report tonight that U.S. Representative John Lewis has responded to the domestic spying scandal by calling for the House to consider impeaching President Bush.

"Its a very serious charge, but he violated the law," said Lewis, a veteran civil rights leader. "The president should abide by the law. He deliberately, systematically violated the law. He is not king, he is president."

The Associated Press has now picked up the story.

This is such a striking statement because of Lewis' enormous stature.  For those not versed in civil rights history, Lewis was chairman of SNCC, the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, back in the 60s.  On this Wikipedia page, you can see a picture of his arrest on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the famous Selma march that served as a major rallying point for the civil rights movement.

Top civil rights figures have a unique, personal vantage point on how domestic surveillance powers can be abused.  The FISA act was created in large part in response to the "watch lists" that the FBI, CIA, and Secret Service used to monitor "subversives" in the 60s and 70s - anti-Vietnam war activists and civil rights leaders were major targets.

Lewis has unequaled stature as a leader of the old guard of the civil rights movement, as well as a distinguished congressman.  But the message, I think, goes beyond the specific issue of President Bush's possible impeachment.  We of a younger generation interested in civil liberties, civil rights, and anti-war activism need to recapture the synergies that accrue when we recognize that these issues are inherently interconnected.  War, the abridgement of civil liberties for all, and the diminishment of civil rights for some are profoundly intertwined.

We need to find the voice to talk about them together again.

I'd love examples in the comments of specific instances of the younger generation of leaders (not limited to, but of course including the African American community) doing so.  E.g., Charles Rangel has made similar connections - although not yet, to my knowledge, calling for impeachment - but he's also of the old guard.

Update [2005-12-20 0:28:1 by arenwin]: Well, could it be that the FBI is spying on domestic political groups? Color me unsurprised.  Different agency, same mentality: the enemy within. Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee and PETA both targeted.

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Have the Republicans even screwed the rich?

There's a first-rate article at the New York Times by Cornell economist Robert Frank that deserves a read.  It's called "Sometimes, a Tax Cut for the Wealthy Can Hurt the Wealthy," and helps illustrate the cost when people abandon their concern for public policy that functions to advance the common good, and either get greedy, or are blinded by ideology.

Here are three exerpts:

A careful reading of the evidence suggests that even the wealthy have been made worse off, on balance, by recent tax cuts. The private benefits of these cuts have been much smaller, and their indirect costs much larger, than many recipients appear to have anticipated.

[...]

Compelling evidence suggests that for the wealthy in particular, when everyone's house grows larger, the primary effect is merely to redefine what qualifies as an acceptable dwelling.

[...]

On the cost side of the ledger, the federal budget deficits created by the recent tax cuts have had serious consequences, even for the wealthy. These deficits will exceed $300 billion for each of the next six years, according to projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Some of the specific costs to the wealthy that the author mentions:

  • reduced financing for scientific research, threatening the basis for long-term economic prosperity
  • threats to public health due to underfunded regulatory agencies
  • poor maintenance on public roads
  • national security compromised by underfunded homeland security initiatives
  • financial burden of interest payments to non-US lenders, falling disproportionately on rich

This is a point that gets very little play: the politics of taxation are not a zero-sum game.  We often talk about the rural poor voting against their interests when they elect a politician like Bush.  However, it's not just an empty cliche to say that everyone is harmed by a bankrupted federal government, and by stark economic inequities.

There are other examples that the author didn't cite, but could have.  Environmental degradation.  The potential for civil unrest.  Incompetent disaster preparedness and recovery.  A less healthy workforce.  The list goes on; feel free to add more in the comments.

What makes this all the more ironic is that there is now plenty of evidence (as Frank suggests) that people's sense of economic well-being is comparative, not absolute.  In other words, when the people around you have more, you feel like you need more too.  And when you get more, that just becomes the new bare minimum that you "need." In fact, even for the affluent, "falling behind" has effects on health.  For example, risk for high blood pressure has been linked to people's perceptions of what they have in comparison to what they should have, given what they see as the standard within their community.

I.e., adding wealth at the top sets off another cycle of striving, but doesn't necessarily improve anybody's well-being - not even the wealthy.

Economics is often derided as a dismal science, the science of the zero-sum game.  It's nice to see an economist pointing out in such an explicit way why, and how, the wealthy can vote against their own interests too, when they support unreasoning, out-of-control tax-cutting policies that appear at first blush to benefit them.

Why didn't Towns (NY-10) and Boswell (IA-3) vote?

Does anyone know anything about Congressmen Towns (Edolphus Towns, NY-10, I believe) and Boswell (Leonard Boswell, I believe, IA-3) - both Democrats - that would explain why they didn't vote in the $50b budget bill last night?

I find this extremely disappointing, and hope there is a good reason.  The Republicans only had 217 votes.  Had Towns and Boswell voted against the bill, it would have been 217-217, meaning a defeat.  This is one of those times when every Democrat should have been expected to be present on the floor.  Every Republican was.

This should have been an absolute top priority.  Substantively, this bill was a disaster, with cuts in basics (and usual Republican targets) like student loan programs and already bare-bones public assistance programs.  Politically, it was an extraordinary opportunity to follow up on the embarassing defeat for the Republican leadership in the Health and Education appropriations bill earlier that day.  Unfortunately, the Republican leadership now looks like they were strong enough to pull something out of the fire at the last minute - which is the way the AM headlines are running.

What is CBS's problem?

Howie Kurtz at Washington Post just wrote his second article in three days about Louis Freeh's slime job against President Clinton, which is included in a new book, and featured in a 60 minutes interview.

Here are the two articles:

Friday's article http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/06/AR2005100601797_pf.html
Sunday's article http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/08/AR2005100801128.html

This all seems to revolve around Freeh playing defense - after being roundly chastised by the 9/11 commission - by slamming Clinton for supposedly not being interested in pursing terrorism cases.  In particular, he claims and 60 Minutes apparently will report nearly unchallenged that Clinton in a high level meeting with Saudi representatives was more concerned about getting donations for his library than pressing them for help with Khobar Towers.

The problem, as (to his credit) Kurtz points out, is that Freeh wasn't even at that meeting.  A major potential flaw with the 60 minutes story, no?  Sure, they can legitimately report Freeh's accusations, but you think they'd interview someone who was at the meeting.

Well, it would appear that in they decided to play hard ball, and wanted an interview with Clinton, or no one.   Media Matters points out the hypocrisy of that standard.  From Kurtz's first story:

The Clinton camp says "60 Minutes" would not accept any surrogate to rebut Freeh on camera once the former president declined to be interviewed.

So, according to Kurtz, they were prepared to go to air with these charges unrebutted - and even now are just going to read a statement by Sandy Berger on the air.  Who, incidentally, was actually at the meeting.  And said the Presidential library was never mentioned, while Khobar Towers most certainly were.

Freeh goes out on a shooting spree to try to recover his damaged reputation, and 60 minutes gives him an uncritical platform, originally unrebutted, now nearly unrebutted... because they were annoyed that Clinton himself wouldn't appear on their show?  Or is there some other motivation?

finished on the flip

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Self-styled "Centerists" on the attack... again.

This is getting so tiresome.

The Washington Post has an article in today's edition:

Report Warns Democrats Not to Tilt Too Far Left

My first response was mild.  I'm not offended by this point of view.  But then I started to read a few of the quotes and summary statements.

It starts with this standard staw-man style misstatement by Galston and Kamarck (funded by the "Centerist" Third Way) of the viewpoints of many who support a strong partisan strategy:

Democrats must "admit that they cannot simply grow themselves out of their electoral dilemmas. [...] The groups that were supposed to constitute the new Democratic majority in 2004 simply failed to materialize in sufficient number to overcome the right-center coalition of the Republican Party."

No, it's not about converting the whole country to wholehearted liberalism; it's about providing enough of a meaningful contrast that people have something to vote for.  The problem is that Kerry never did that.  There were people dying for an alternative to Bush who stayed home, or voted for Bush holding their nose, because they thought Kerry stood for nothing.

And then it gets worse:

They contend that Democrats who hope the party's relative advantages on health care and education can vault them back to power "fail the test of political reality in the post-9/11 world." Security issues have become "threshold" questions for many voters, and cultural issues have become "a prism of candidates' individual character and family life," Galston and Kamarck argue.

Yes, security issues HAVE become very important.  So much so that Democrats must stop waffling and pandering, and articulate clearly that Republicans security policies have been a SECURITY DISASTER. What's the point in voting for a Republican-lite when you can get the real thing?

But the most irritating of all is the authors' apparent decision to do the work of the Republicans for them, by reaffirming the notion that "liberals" alienate the party from "most Americans:"

"[...] liberals espouse views diverging not only from those of other Democrats, but from Americans as a whole. To the extent that liberals now constitute both the largest bloc within the Democratic coalition and the public face of the party, Democratic candidates for national office will be running uphill."

You know what, gentlemen?  The Republicans use this smear against EVERY SINGLE ONE of us in the Democratic party.  Including so-called "centerists." You're not helping yourselves by repeating it.

So, what's the solution?

They suggest that Democratic presidential candidates replicate Clinton's tactics in 1992, when he broke with the party's liberal base by approving the execution of a semi-retarded prisoner, by challenging liberal icon Jesse L. Jackson and by calling for an end to welfare "as we know it."

What lovely examples of the worst of Clinton.  Yes, indeedy, if political brutality is what I want, I'll vote for a Republican.

Lieberman, CNN & the Peril of Weak Opposition

As we continue to discuss the importance of a robust fight on Roberts, lose or win, I wanted to highlight a video clip that showed up on cnn.com today.

I'm not sure if this clip has been noted elsewhere on the site, because I've been unable to follow the discussions today in detail.  But as of right now, 12:30am on Thursday, there's a front page video clip which is headlined: "Dems to blame for Brown hire?" I've placed a screen shot in extended.

You read that right.  Not "Dems share blame." Simply, "Dems to blame for Brown hire?"

So of course, my first reaction was, this is outrageous.  The "liberal" press has once again failed to appreciate their role in truth-telling and fact finding.  In their search for "balance" in reporting - which seems to mean making it look like there are two equal sides to everything, even if one side is patently and demonstrably absurd - they've screwed us again.

But the problem is, stripping away the completely unfair headline and going to the meat of the story, they've got a point.  They're talking about the shameful fast-track confirmation of Arabian Horse Association Brown to FEMA when Lieberman was chairing the hearings.

So, my second reaction was: what a perfect example of the political consequences of behaving like a weak opposition.  

The weak Democratic opposition made it possible for CNN writers to post this grossly unfair headline.  

The opportunity was there to look carefully and ask questions of this nominee.  The opportunity was missed.  And now, as usual, the entire Democratic party ends up tarnished, with reporters assigning them some of the blame for Bush's mess.  Even though Democrats didn't nominate Brown, or promote Brown.  Just like Iraq.  Just like may happen with Roberts.

Accountability is blurred, where it should be clear.  Because distinctions between the Democratic and Republican (especially Bush-Republican) approaches to governing were hazy, where they should have been clear.

On one hand, I'll be writing to CNN, and saying, how dare you?

On the other hand, I'm saying to the Democrats: with your role in this, you failed the party, and you failed the country.  Start acting like you mean something, and people will start voting for you.

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A Katrina Commission & Truth Telling from Personal Experience

Today, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi rejected Hastert's and Frist's attempt to set up a "bipartisan" Congressional committee to investigate failures leading to the New Orleans disaster.  They insist upon the creation of an independent commission.  As well they should, and we need to support them.

We're all at least vaguely familiar with the Warren Commission created in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, and the 9/11 Commission created to investigate operational and intelligence failures leading to the disastrous attacks in New York and Washington, DC.  

However, in the long view of history, it's easy to dismiss these commissions as little more than window dressing for accountability.  Many have been terribly ineffective, or had their credibility seriously questioned after the fact.  The advice of the Reagan's HIV Commission was almost entirely ignored.  The Rockefeller Commission's report on CIA activity was critiqued as extremely shallow.  The Warren Commission is still under attack for, in the view of critics, failure to probe deeply enough into theories of multiple attackers.  The Tower Commission investigating Iran Contra took a back seat to Congressional investigations.

So, in the wake of this, what is the appeal of independent commissions, and why should one be considered in this case?  In looking to answer this, we can also ask: what made the 9/11 Commission unusually effective in achieving the political influence required to deeply probe its subject matter, and to put nearly all of its recommendations into law?

There's a very interesting recent article in the Yale Law Journal, written by Jonathan Simon and entitled "Parrhesiastic Accountability: Investigatory Commissions and Executive Power in an Age of Terror" (Yale Law Journal 114(6): 1419, 2005).  Simon argues that the 9/11 Commission was so powerful because it leveraged a particular style of speaking truth to power called "parrhesia" - where those with authority stemming from personal experience (especially victims of a disaster) throw caution to the wind, and speak out loudly and publicly.  

I'll start by letting Simon speak for himself. This is Simon's abstract. I'll also summarize some of his points in my own language in extended.

In War and Responsibility, John Hart Ely sought to answer a question that has bedeviled constitutional scholars since the beginning of the Republic: What meaningful checks should be placed on the power of the Executive in wartime? For Ely, the answer was a new and improved version of the War Powers Resolution, a solution entirely in keeping with his support for theories of legal process more generally. Yet in light of the open-ended congressional resolutions authorizing the United States's military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, the viability of such legal process approaches to checking executive power in the area of national security is open to question. This article contends that a reinvigorated version of the independent investigatory commission may represent an effective supplemental check on the power of the Executive. To this end, it examines the experience of the 9/11 Commission and attempts to explain its remarkable successes by reference to a concept known as parrhesia. Celebrated in ancient Greece, parrhesia occurs when a speaker with a personal knowledge of the folly of choices made by his leaders confronts them with evidence of their failures. Whereas past investigatory commissions engaged solely in what can be called an analytics of truth - determining the objective facts of what happened - the 9/11 Commission also opened itself to the parrhesiastic truth telling of those who had experienced the consequences of what happened. This truth moved Congress to act and imposed a measure of accountability on the executive branch.

More in extended.

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WaPo: Zarqawi raises flag over strategic Iraqi border town

Even at a time of news saturation, I'm a little startled that I can't find anything about this story except at the Washington Post:

Insurgents Seize Key Town in Iraq
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/05/AR2005090500313.html

BAGHDAD, Sept. 5 -- Abu Musab Zarqawi's foreign-led Al Qaeda in Iraq took open control of a key western town at the Syrian border, deploying its guerrilla fighters in the streets and flying Zarqawi's black banner from rooftops, witnesses, residents and others in the city and surrounding villages said.

A sign newly posted at the entrance of Qaim declared, "Welcome to the Islamic Kingdom of Qaim." A statement posted in mosques described Qaim as an "Islamic kingdom liberated from the occupation."

Zarqawi's fighters were killing officials and civilians seen as government-allied or anti-Islamic, witnesses, residents and others said. On Sunday, the bullet-riddled body of a woman lay in a street of Qaim. A sign left on her corpse declared, "A prostitute who was punished."

And this is the nuttiest part:

U.S. Marine spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Pool said Marines had no word of any unusual activity in Qaim, but added it was possible that insurgents were acting in areas out of Americans' sight.

I knew things were bad over there, but the Zarqawi network is operating with such impunity that they can actually raise their flag and claim a village? And the Marines say they don't even know about it?

KIDS Accounts, or private accounts by (yet) another name

Perhaps I'm missing something.  Why are Corzine, Schumer, Patrick Kennedy, and Harold Ford Jr. sponsoring this turkey called the ASPIRE Act?  Why should "Liberal Democrats view them as an extension of the Great Society of the 1960s that created government programs to lift people from poverty?" How is this not simply another assault on the tradition of pursuing big ideas and bold goals that the Great Society was supposed to represent?

For those of you not familiar, there's a front page article in the Washington Post today about proposed legislation, modeled on already active pilot projects, that would:  

[...] open a KIDS Account of at least $500 for every baby born in the United States.

Corzine, Schumer, Kennedy, and Ford, along with such Republican co-sponsors as DeWine and Santorum, propose to match either $500 or $1000 of additional savings beyond an initial $500 or $1000 deposit.

From WaPo:

The idea is to give newborns or young children a miniature version of what affluent families have long provided their offspring: a trust fund. To induce parents to save, families get their deposits matched if they add to the fund.

Did they really say that?  A miniature version of a trust fund?  Where's my microscope when I need it?  Whatever happened to the party of bold ideas?  Meanwhile, O'Neill touts this as another route out of Social Security.  More below the fold.

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