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Friday, March 31, 2006

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos, My Left Wing and ePluribus Media.)

Ah yes - now that I've lured you shamelessly to my diary, let me say that I do not, in fact, have evidence that Tony Perkins, bloviating president of the Family Research Council, is now or ever has smoked pot.

But if you watched Hardball on Wednesday night, you'd certainly think he must be on something.

Jump with me on this sunny Friday to find out why.

Here's the setup. On March 29, a bunch of evangelical Christians hosted an event called (drumroll, please) "War on Christians". From Wednesday's Washington Post:

This week, radio commentator Rick Scarborough convened a two-day conference in Washington on the "War on Christians and the Values Voters in 2006." The opening session was devoted to "reports from the frontlines" on "persecution" of Christians in the United States and Canada, including an artist whose paintings were barred from a municipal art show in Deltona, Fla., because they contained religious themes.

Just so we're clear, I've included the following picture to re-familiarize Mr. Scarborough on what religious persecution looks like:

Ask any holocaust survivor to define religious persecution and the piture above is the result of the visualization of their words.

But I digress. Back to the War on Christians. Among the speakers were none other than Tom DeLay, John Cornyn, Sam Brownback, Phyllis Schlafly, Gary Bauer, and Alan Keyes. Yuck. Here's an excerpt of DeLay's speech:

"We are after all a society that abides abortion on demand, that has killed millions of innocent children, that degrades the institution of marriage and often treats Christianity like some second-rate superstition. Seen from this perspective, of course there is a war on Christianity."

Which brings us back to Matthews. After playing that clip precisely, he turns to Tony Perkins and Al Sharpton for their comments. I've combed through the transcript to bring you the highlights. The whole exchange was rather nauseating, but this particular line of questioning (and reasoning) is the reason I wrote the diary:

(This exchange occurred a few minutes into the segment and specifically referred to removing the cross from the mission on the official seal of the state of California)

SHARPTON: But that is not because they're attacking the cross. They're saying that there are those citizens that don't believe in the cross. And I would have that position if there was a different religious symbol in a city that I lived in and paid taxes.

But I would like Tony to tell me how what Tom DeLay is facing has anything to do with his religion or any religion at all. I mean, I think it's an insult to Christians to act like because of his religion, he's been charged with what he's been charged with. It has nothing to do with his religion.

PERKINS: I don't think anybody ever said that, Al.

SHARPTON: I think everyone said that at this meeting this weekend that was cited when we came on. He was introduced as a man that was being persecuted because he stood up for Jesus. Tell me how Jesus and being accused of embezzling funds is the same thing. What chapter did you get that out of the New Testament?

(At this point I'm paying full attention. Sharpton's on a roll.)

PERKINS: What you find is that just in this case or whatever, there is a concern that those that identify with evangelical Christianity—and Tom DeLay was very closely affiliated with that as the House majority leader. And there are those that say that was part of the motivation for going after him because he was an effective leader, in particular on issues as related to pro-life.

(Huh?)

But on the issue of where Americans feel the country is moving, clearly there is a growing hostility toward Christianity. I mean, think back when FDR, Chris, was president, and he led the nation in prayer from the White House. If President Bush were to do that today, before I could get back to my office I would be run over by ACLU attorneys on their way to file suit in federal court.

My emphasis added.

Ah. So Tom DeLay is being persectued for his beliefs... Of course!! It's not the whole money laundering thing or the breaking the law thing. It's because he's a Christian. I know that not one Christian should go to church this Sunday - I'm sure it's under surveillance by our persecuting anti-Christian government and its authorities. It continues:

MATTHEWS: So you want to identify with Rick Scarborough's, Reverend Rick Scarborough's claim that the reason Tom DeLay is in trouble with the courts, with the Democrats, with the media, is because he's a Christian. Are you going to identify with that argument?

PERKINS: I would not say that in total.

MATTHEWS: But he [Scarborough? DeLay? Unclear on that] did.

PERKINS: I'm just saying that I think that that has made him a target.

MATTHEWS: It has?

PERKINS: I think it has.

MATTHEWS: His religion?

PERKINS: The fact that he has been so out front on many of these issues. Now in terms of his legal problems or what he's facing today, those stand on their own. But I think that clearly anyone who stands up and identifies with the evangelical community if a very pronounced way as he has and ...

MATTHEWS: ... Is Abramoff in trouble because of his religion?

PERKINS: No.

MATTHEWS: He just got five years and 10 months today.

PERKINS: No, and he's pleaded guilty to committing crimes. Tom DeLay has not been convicted of anything, nor has he said.

Let's sift through that a bit. So DeLay became a target because he's "out in front" of many evangelical Christian issues. Does Perkins think that the case was manufactured against him in order to persecute his Christianity? But the charges themselves "stand on their own". And Abramoff is not being persecuted becuase of his religion because he pleaded guilty to a crime. So becuase Tom DeLay has neither been convicted of nor pleaded guilty to a crime, he's a victim of religious persecution. Because Abramoff pleaded guilty, he's a crook. I don't get it.

And finally:

SHARPTON: I think that it clearly is a misuse of those of us that believe in something to act as though a man who has operated to the extreme right, who has tried to redistrict people of color out of office in Texas, is operating as some Christian missionary.

PERKINS: Red herring.

(Really, Tony? So you're not defending whether or not he redistricted people of color out of office - you're only claiming that it's not relevant.)

SHARPTON: I think that it is absolutely insulting to the intelligence of Christians. You're not going to meet anyone that believes in Christ more than me, but I believe in converting people, not forcing people to following my religion. We are living in what we want to be a democracy, not a theocracy, and it is dangerous to try and move in that direction.

PERKINS: And that's what we're saying. Let us live as we want to live.

SHARPTON: Well then you don't put your cross up on public emblems that don't have ...

PERKINS: ... That's parts of our history.

My emphasis added.

I don't even know how to respond to the idea that Christians are not beling allowed to live as they want to live. I'm a Christian - I don't feel persecuted. I feel as though I can wear a cross around my neck (if I choose) and go to church and sit in the Chick-Fil-A and say a prayer before I eat (I don't do any of those things, but you get my point). I don't worry that anyone will ever force me to have an abortion and I'm not worried that anyone is going to come and confiscate my Christmas tree and make me take down my lights.

I DO worry, however, that I'll be forced to pray in increasing situations and that my grandchildren will be forced to pray and believe in a way that favors only the smallest minority of Christians in the United States. That's a very real concern as religion encroaches inch by inch into our public squares and laws.

Mr. Perkins should spend less time hitting the bong and more studying history to gain a full understanding of "persecution" it all its forms before he waves it as the battle cry for aggrieved American Christians.

And most importantly - what will the Democrats do to counteract this ficitious "war" with the mid-terms approaching?


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 3:13 PM 0 comments links to this post
Thursday, March 30, 2006

I have maintained this blog since August of 2005. To date, I think every single post I've done has been either purely political or related to some kind of serious current event (Iraq, Katrina, Darfur, Malawi etc.).

What many may not know, however, is that in addition to my day job, I am a musician (vocalist) AND an American Idol junkie. If you are an AI watcher, you know fully well that Season 5 is in full swing. I am throwing my loyalty into the ring early this year and will confess that, since the audition, I have been a Taylor Hicks fan. I expect him to go all the way and vote for him each week (I told you I was a junkie).

Now, with that disclosure aside, I happened across this blog: Gray Charles. For the uninitiated, Taylor Hicks is a soulful, bluesy 29-year old white boy from Alabama who sounds like he's channelling the soul and heart of Ray Charles. He's indescribably good. He also has a full head of hair that was once dark but has now gone wonderfully gray - hence my delight with the smart person who conceived of and maintains Gray Charles.

ANYHOO. Gray Charles has a post up about an auction for charity going on over at Ebay. You can find the auction itself HERE and the post that explains it HERE It sounds like a great cause - check it out!!


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 11:30 AM 2 comments links to this post

New at On The Left Tip: I have added code which presents an "Impeach Bush" RSS Feed. I am a sustaining member of the Impeach Bush Coalition and this feed, at left and below the "Subscribe" option, shows what other participating blogs are saying. Many thanks to SustainableLOG for putting it together.

I read a great diary over at Daily Kos by ThatTallGuy. In a nutshell, his brother spent his spring break in NOLA helping clean up some of the devastation and helping those left behind. He put together a very moving slideshow, set to music, that can be found here. It's well worth your time to check it out.

Currently on the Daily Kos Recommended List:


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 11:07 AM 0 comments links to this post
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos, My Left Wing, ePluribus Media, and Booman Tribune - gee - think I can find somewhere else to post it??)

I watch the news every morning as I'm getting dressed for work (yes, I have a day job - it really interferes with my blogging habit). My preferred morning show is CNN's American Morning. In the way that only CNN can announce so-called "breaking news", the tell-tale "breaking" music came on this morning and caught my attention. I put down the hair brush and gave the TV my full attention for the announcement of (drumroll please) the resignation of Andy Card. I listened to the commentary and found myself wishing...

Oh to be a fly on the wall as Bush made the decision to accept Card's resignation.

Jump with me.

I can't speak for everyone who writes, comments or simply lurks at Daily Kos and other blogs - but I definitely get a sense of the frustration we feel with our party. It's almost manic and has been for as long as I've been coming here (ca. November 2004). Something big happens that is generally negative towards the President and/or the Republican party as a whole. The buzz is immediate - diaries literally surge forth with analysis and speculation and well thought-out research and commentary. The wire tappings would be an apt and recent example. When news broke in mid-December that the administration had been unconstitutionally and illegally wire tapping domestic communications without adhering to FISA, it was blogged from every conceivable angle. I jumped into fray myself with a dry but informative diary about the particulars and history of FISA. Collectively, we swarmed around the information and raised the cry of "foul!" loudly and clearly. We eagerly rubbed our hands together waiting for the Democratic shoe to drop - for our leaders to fully and finally leverage this outrage which had been served up on a silver platter.

And we rubbed. And we waited. And we read. And we sighed. And we waited. And we got... well, essentially nothing.

And then the emotions violently swung back in the other direction - Quick!! Duck - you're going to get hit with it!! We suck. Our leaders couldn't identify the difference between their ass and a hole in the wall. We will never, ever win again. The vichy-Dems are to blame - the DLC is to blame - Reid and Pelosi are to blame - everyone but Howard Dean just doesn't get it. And then, lo and behold - the numbers for not only the President but the Republican party as a whole are WAY down. Tom Delay is imploding - Randy Duke Cunningham is taken away in handcuffs - Abramoff is going to spill the beans - they are a corrupt bunch of money-grubbing illegal surveillors, I tell you!! (swing-duck)

You get the picture.

As many of you know, I went to the Crashing the Gate book signing in DC yesterday. Due to a last-minute request from ePluribus Media, I wound up taking copious notes on Markos' and Jerome's comments and the question and answer session. I'm glad that I did it - the mere process of trying to capture all of that information in writing, for me, allowed me to really focus on what was actually being said - my mind was not allowed to wander (which it does quite frequently).

One of the things that Markos particularly focused on was the need to take the "long view". At times as he spoke, that view was either 10-12 years or even 10-15 years. 10-15 years. My instictive reaction to those moments was to cringe and think "Jesus Christ - I can't wait that long!!" Yet reflection this morning delivered the truth of that statement to me loud and clear. One questioner made an interesting comment in the context of setting Democratic priorities. She said (paraphrased):

"We always seem to be running around putting out fires that are set by Republicans."

(swing-duck) I can't escape the fundamental and blanket truth of that statement. It has been echoed in many, many diaries and front-page stories on Daily Kos. We are reactive - not proactive. We always seem back-on-our-heels. The frustration that breeds is palpable. The only answer to that flaw is to take a long view. I find that inherently depressing even while recognizing that it's absolutely necessary and accurate.

So where's the juxtaposition? How do we make our advancement in the short-term while planning always for the long-term? How do we save what we can today while planning not only our future goals and moves but also planning to undo the damage done while we were being reactive and they proactive?

I don't have a simple answer to that question - sorry. But what I do have now, today, is the ability to look at events occuring now and in the recent past that give me hope, hope that will keep me fighting, pressing, and moving forward.

Which brings me full-circle to the that fly on the wall. My fly on the wall exists in a speculative scenario - let's be clear on that up-front - but I don't think what my fly sees and hears is beyond the scope of the believable. Sometime in the past week, my fly on the wall heard and saw something like this:

HASTERT: Mr. President. We have an election year coming up and Republicans are worried. Even our numbers on national security are softening. You don't have to run again, but we do. Your approval ratings are dragging us down. You must make some changes, very public ones, in your leadership.

BUSH: Denny, I'm not going to do that. I'm a loyal guy and I'm loyal to the people who have served me all these years. Andy Card is a friend and good guy. I'm not going to get rid of him just because you guys can't get anything done in Congress.

FRIST: Mr. President, this is obviously your decision and we can't tell you what to do. But if you keep doing what you've been doing and don't make a public effort to make some changes, not one item on your second-term agenda is going to make it through Congress. Republican Senators and Representatives can't and won't sacrifice their re-elections to stand behind your policy initiatives.

HASTERT: Look at the Dubai deal - we couldn't and wouldn't back you on that because we'd lose our jobs. Iraq doesn't look good to the American public. No one seems to have a passion or willingness to back your Social Security initiatives. Medicare isn't going well in the public's opinion. We still have the Libby, DeLay, Abramoff and Safavian scandals hanging over our heads, and Specter, a member of your own party, is pushing forward the effort on hearings on the domestic wiretapping issue. And do I even need to mention how the ongoing devastation in the Gulf region looks to Americans? We can't publicly support you with these things happening. It's time to turn the tide.

BUSH: I've made public statements of support for my staff, Denny. But thank you for coming by here to talk to me.

(HASTERT and FRIST leave)

ROVE: (Inaudible - whispering to the President)

BUSH: (picks up phone) Andy, we need to talk.

Buzz buzz. And with that, Card is out and Bolten is in. And White House whisperings indicate that this will not be the end of the so-called "shake up".

Daily Kos readers specifically and progressive bloggers generally, I find, are astute. You can read what I've written above and draw the conclusion that the move to replace Card with Bolten is a sign and a signal that Congressional Republicans are waking up and are working hard to wake up the President. On balance, "getting a clue" is not what we want. But I would argue that, while you may be correct in your assessment in this moment, these capitulations (which were unthinkable in 2002 or 2003) are a sign of what Markos said at the signing yesterday. Kerry's loss signified the beginning of the end of the conservative movement as we know it. Republican policies are bad policies that can't stand over time. It's like the person who steals and steals and steals - eventually, they get caught. I believe that. It's no different where Republican policies are concerned.

So I would offer this little glimmer of hope - the Democratic party is changing. Think about the press and buzz Crashing the Gate is receiving. Think about how, two years ago, CNN didn't even speak about blogs and how they feature them regularly today. Think about the role you personally have played and are playing in the change that is afoot. The Democratic party will function differently in 2006 in part because of what this place and others represents - the change it embodies. And 2006 will be different than how it's going to be done in 2008, etc. and so on. So-called "Establishment Democrats" will face a time of choosing: Change or be struck from the process.

Keep your chins up, my revered friends. We and those like us are an awesome power that is surging forward. Work hard - embrace the 50-state strategy and do what you can to make it a realization. If we don't take back either house of Congress in 2006, step back and recognize that any gains are an increment of the greater goal we must accomplish.

(swing-duck) (buzz buzz)


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 12:11 PM 0 comments links to this post
Monday, March 27, 2006

Ok. Any of you who know me from my involvement (writing and commenting) over at Daily Kos knows that I have this -- thing. It's a thing for shoes. I love shoes. I won't go into a mall to shop - I hate malls - and thank goodness both the Gap and Ann Taylor have sizing consistency so I can order online - but give me a DSW Shoe Warehouse and I'm in it all day happy as a clam.

So it's not surprising (to me, at least) that when someone who calls herself "Mrs. Hell On Heels" wanted to rent space on my blog, I gave it. Fast.

Mrs. Hell On Heels has some very interesting and funny stuff posted at her blog - it's all funny and witty and she gets a lot of comments (I think I'm suffering from comment-envy). So shift your eyes just slightly to the left near the top of the page and click on her linky and give her some lovey. She has a cold - she could use it!!


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 10:11 PM 2 comments links to this post

It's been an interesting day. I have had it on my calendar to go to the inaugural book signing for Crashing the Gate at Politics and Prose, a book store in downtown Washington DC. Being as addicted to my Blackberry as the next person, Cho at ePluribus Media sent me an email asking if I was going to attend the Markos Moulitsas (Daily Kos) and Jerome Armstrong (MyDD) event later in the evening at George Washington University. Unable to make that, but sitting patiently in my seat at the book signing, I emailed back that I would gladly write up the appearance at the book store.

Here is the write-up. A disclaimer - I don't really know how to write this up so I'm totally winging it. Make the jump.

Initial Impressions

I arrived at the book store at about 12:30. The book signing, with comments from both Markos and Jerome Armstrong, was scheduled to begin at 1:00pm and conclude at 3:00pm. The book store itself is a great member of a dying breed - the independently-owned book store. It was deceptively large, spread out over two levels and encompassing a great deal of store-front real estate on the busy Connecticut Avenue corridor in Washington DC. I would have to describe the neighborhood as affluent - a part of old-school Washington DC's northwest corridor, a mere mile from the Maryland state line and the pricey Chevy Chase neighborhood.

The first thing I did was actually buy the book (no, I didn't have one already. I had planned to support the store by buying mine there). I moseyed on towards the back of the store where there was a large table with two chairs, a podium with a microphone, a big, comfy wing-backed chair set off to the side of the table, and rows of folding chairs facing the podium. I situated myself right in the front.

I recognized some faces in the crowd: teacherken from Daily Kos was in attendance, sans beard. thereisnospoon was also there, with his lovely girlfriend and brother. I came to realize much later that 5oclockshadow was also in attendance - he was advocating, along with a few others, for Jim Webb, who is running for US Senate in Virginia against George Allen Jr.

But there were also many in attendance who came because they had heard Markos and Jerome interviewed on the Diane Rehm show a mere hour before the book signing. There were others there from other blogs, (firedoglake is one notable blog in attendance) and some who simply subscribe to the Politics and Prose email list and take interest in a variety of things, not blog-exclusive.

Before the program started, I got up and went behind the podium and asked the crowd if I could take a few pictures and explained that I would be posting at ePluribus Media and cross-posting at Daily Kos and no one complained - here are a few of the shots:

Shortly thereafter, Markos and Jerome made their way to the front and the program began.

Opening Comments

NOTE: All comments will be paraphrased as I was taking notes and do not have an exact transcription.

First came the introductions. A woman who was presumably the owner, an attractive silver-haired lady, stepped to the podium to make introductions. One of the interesting things she said in her brief remarks went something like this:

Inside the [Washington DC] beltway, the center of political stupidity, Republicans don't know how to govern and Democrats don't know how to get elected.

I liked her immediately. She set the stage for Markos and Jerome to step to the podium and make their opening remarks, which they did in tandem, handing off to one another in a very relaxed fashion. Jerome began.

  • Crashing the Gate is about breaking down the glass doors in politics.
  • After the 2004 election, Democrats were standing around trying to figure out how the hell they lost.
  • When Jerome and Markos set out to the write the book, they were initially focused on the issue of Democrats having no message and no brand.
  • As they explored further, however, they discovered that the issues were systemic and larger - they were structural issues.

From there it went to Markos:

  • He's tired of being ashamed to tell people that he's a Democrat.
  • Republicans aren't ashamed - We can't go on like this!
  • Republicans have a nationwide structure and effort - if you're a Republican in San Francisco, there's somewhere you can go to find out how to support your party.
  • Republicans have enormous outlets - the AM talk radio dial - Fox News - think tanks and institutes.
  • If you ask anyone, Democrats included, to articulate the Republican message, they can do so by highlighting three points: strong military, family values, smaller government.
  • Democrats don't have any of that.
  • So even if the Democrats could get together and strategize and agree on the perfect brand, it [winning] STILL wouldn't happen because of the lack of leadership, institutions, and mainstream outlets for the message.
  • There is, simply, no party machinery in place to facilitate distribution of the message and winning.
  • In short, Markos and Jerome realized that the book they set out to write and the book they would write were two fundamentally different things. You can't talk about ideas until the structural and systemic bottlenecks are removed.

Jerome then talked just a bit more:

  • Dean was instrumental because he returned political power back to the people - he took it [control] away from political consultants.

Markos then wrapped up their comments before taking questions:

  • As they were writing the book, they were in Montana looking at thousands of pages of notes from 160-180 interviews they had conducted about "the Democratic brand".
  • It dawned on them that branding, as mentioned, was not the issue.
  • To wit, blogging is simply one tool in a toolset of lots and lots of tools.
  • Blogs help political footsoldiers get information - and Republicans are realizing that.
  • Rupert Murdoch knows and has purchased MySpace, the predominant place where teenagers and other young people blog and talk and share information (this was met by very large groans in the audience).
  • Republicans think 30 years ahead - Democrats think 2 years ahead.
  • Democrats have to work towards parity in this - to think much further ahead.
  • The opportunity is there. Even with all of their mass media and radio shows and money and influence, Republicans still only won by inches in 2004. Democrats own the ideas and people relate to those ideas - the mechanism has to be in place to deliver the ideas and win elections.
  • Markos believes strongly in the 50-state strategy. If you target every district and get out and go door-to-door, you force the Republicans to spread their grass-roots efforts thinly. Conversely, if you focus only on a few districts, Republicans target their considerable resources and beat you every time. You have to fight in every district to have a hope at winning. There is evidcence that this is working.

My emphasis added. Then in was off to the Q&A portion.

Questions and Answers

The question, loosely, was this: How do you get the swing voters, who seem to be pretty disaffected and make up their mind shortly before any given election?

  • Markos: Republicans have given up on those voters. They prefer to mobilize their base because in the end, the swing voter doesn't really vote. They focus on their own get-out-the-vote effort. Because Democrats are so afraid to draw clear distinctions, even registered Democrats don't show up to vote.
Extrapolating here, my general impression was that Markos feels we shouldn't even focus on the swing voter and spend more of our time focusing on drawing clear lines of difference between Republican and Democratic candidates.

The next question came from a gentleman who is working for the campaign of a Maryland Democratic Senate candidate - He wanted to know how to get "buzz" going for a candidate in the blogosphere.

  • Jerome: Generally, running blogads is a good way to get visibility, though the cost can be a factor. Candidates should also closely monitor what is being said about them in the blogs - Technorati is a resource to find out who has said what and a candidate and his staff should carefully respond to every mention in an effort to be engaged with the blogosphere.

The next question asked generally about the response to the book from the political "establishment".

  • Jerome: The initial response was skepticism. He can't understand the Shrums (Democratic political consultant) of this world and, more importantly, why Democrats continue to hire them. The "establishment" tends to disregard Howard Dean because he ultimately lost to Kerry for the Democratic nomination and in doing so, they miss the point entirely.
  • Markos: A year ago, the Dean 50-state strategy was laughed at. Now, more and more, Democrats are coming around to adopting the strategy and implementing it.

There was a question about emerging out of a purely two-party system - the questioner wanted to know how either of them felt about that as a possibility.

  • Jerome: Many people identify themselves as political independents. The problem is that those people don't really vote. Republicans win the voter registration and get-out-the-vote game. Republicans totally rule the wedge issues - they have the resources to reach the base and mobilize them to vote.
  • Markos: Generally, we should work within the system we have and take the long view to change it so it is more effective. He is not an advocate of a parliamentary-type system.

The next question was specific to Virginia and was asked by 5oclockshadow. Virginia is dealing with the protection of marriage issue - it will be on the ballot. Democrats can challenge this but they aren't organized enough. Is there some way to fight this?

  • Jerome: You have to change the mentality of how we view campaigns and elections. We have to be able to give the technology and tools for activists to turn around and reach out to friends and neighbors on the issues.
  • Markos: In the case of Paul Hackett, there were no consultans involved and he raised a stark distinction between himself and his opponent. With any candidate who had the consultants who were tied to Democratic money, you never heard them speaking out against the war and they didn't even bring up the gay marriage issue. Hackett was different. When he was asked about gay marriage, he said something to the effect of "If they want to get married, good for them. If someone doesn't allow that, that's un-American." That was the beginning and the end of the issue in the Hackett campaign - he gave his view and closed the door on the subject.

The next question came from teacherken. Before he asked the question, however, he talked about money and although I can't remember the context, the quote was priceless. Speaking on the subject of JFK's father, the quote was "[he] paid for a victory, not a landslide." Heh. His question regarded young people - whom he teaches and engages regularly in the DC Metro area. He has found that on the issues, even the most conservative young person is persuadable. In a new political paradigm, where do 16-25 year olds fit?
  • Markos: The right spends $48 million a year on high school and college Republican programs. Once they are out of college, Republicans hire them and pay them well. Democrats give young people unpaid internships - unless you're a trust fund baby, you can't afford to work extensively for Democrats. You are forced into the private sector to make a living. Meanwhile, Republicans are giving their post-college advocates dormitories in which they can live and providing networking opportunities where they can talk and exchange ideas. There is a stranglehold in Democratic circles that don't let the young rise up. That has to change.
My emphasis added.

The next question dealt with politicians and their interaction with the blogs. The questioner talked about a lot of appeals for fundraising and asked if either of them saw politicians getting intellectual property from the content posted on blogs.
  • Markos: He directly referenced Sherrod Brown, John Conyers, and Louise Slaughter. In the case of Conyers and Slaughter, two politicians in "safe" districts (and therefore not needing to use the blogs to fundraise), he talked about their desire to leverage the passion and activism of people engaged in political blogs.
  • Jerome: We have to continue to build the infrastructure online that bypasses the political consultancy approach.

Sorry to say I missed one question in here and only got part of the next one, asked by thereisnospoon (Spoon, if you're reading, perhaps you can enlighten me in the comments and I'll append the diary). The answer to the question I didn't write down, however, is worth repeating (and I DID write this down).
  • Markos: The Kerry loss in 2004 was a total turning point in the progressive movement. Democrats had been figuring that the pendulum would magically swing back and they'd win and they lost. Kerry's loss in 2004 marked the beginning of the end of the conservative movement. It woke Democrats up. But we can't give up if we don't win back one or both houses of Congress in 2006. It will take time to restore parity. The Republicans didn't pack it in after Goldwater lost - they built and planned and stayed in the game.
My emphasis added.

What do Markos and Jerome think of the subject of election fraud? If Diebold and others have the voting machines, how do we deal with this?
  • Markos: The tone of the entire voting machine issue is so negative. You get people who just say "well, my vote won't count anyways" and then they don't vote. There are so many other pre-voting issues - the Secretaries of State who decide how many machines go to what district - the canvassing boards who decide who will be include on the felon list. The issue of electronic voting is less important that addressing the systemic and structural issues.
My emphasis added.

The next question dealt with the fact of so many Democratic issues. Republicans have issues but they seem to be able to consolidate them under a few broad headers. Democrats, on the other hand, won't give up their pet issues. How do we deal with that?
  • Markos: This falls totally on the issue groups themselves. Democrats have to try to get them together and get them to start working together. He was in a meeting in Texas where NOW and NARAL actually agreed to share donor lists. The NOW representative's comment was that they "have nothing left to lose". That's what they have to do.

The next question was how you can help if you have a day job. How do we prioritize? We always seem to be busy putting out the fires that Republicans set - How can you influence under these conditions?
  • Jerome: Buy the book (laughter).
  • Markos: The key is to talk to people. THEY (Republicans) work their grass roots every day. WE have to do this also. We have to learn little by little.

And FINALLY, the last question dealt with how, as we make incremental progress, people can plug in and help?
  • Jerome: You have to go candidate to candidate and sometimes staff to staff.
  • Markos: A year ago, there were calls to oust Jerome and Markos from the party - this came from some of the Democratic darlings like Peter Beinart. Yet now they don't make those calls. Beinart, who the New York Times had review the book, gave them faint praise - this was unexpected. As the netroots gains credibility and momentum, it will service itself.

Whew. And that concluded the questions and began the actual signing - I have a few pictures of that.

At last - my closing remarks.

I am awful at judging crowd size but there were a lot of people there. It was literally standing room only. Jerome and Markos were very gracious, answering all questions and staying until all the books had been signed. I stayed behind and talked with a few people and by 3pm I was on my way.

Note - again, if I have hastily recounted something that winds up being inaccurate (I tried to give at least a sense of what was said and of the questions and answers) my sincere apologies. I was trying my darndest to get all the relevant information so I could recount it here. :-) Thanks for reading!


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 5:45 PM 1 comments links to this post
Saturday, March 25, 2006

Make no mistake - there is a very real and present war gearing up against women in these United States. The unconstitutional South Dakota abortion bill was the first serious salvo lobbed at those who do not believe in the pro-life stance.

To wit, there is an excellent diary by Chincoteague up at Daily Kos:

The War on Women: Ladies, Start your Engines. I am going to repost it in its entirety after the fold - that's how important it is. I encourage you, however, to follow the link and browse the discussion threads as great additional information can be found there.

Before I get any drive-by "baby killer" posts or posts that explain to me what a bad person I am for being pro-choice, save yourself the trouble. I will never share your point-of-view. Unlike many pro-lifers, however, I also would never tell you that you had to share my point-of-view. If you dont' believe in abortion, so be it - don't have one. Raise your children to believe that they shouldn't have one, either. But this is key: I don't agree with you. I don't think it's murder and I don't believe life begins at conception. I won't ever make you have an abortion - stop trying to deny me the rights my beliefs dictate and the rights that I've had for 34 years.

Now. If you want to read the article, click the link and read on. It's well worth your time.

The War on Women: Ladies, Start your Engines

Over the last several months, I've read innumerable diaries reflecting personal tragedy of the effects of the war on women by religous fundamentalists, and the right in general.    

Along with most of you, I've cried, gotten angry and frustrated, and relived my own pains.  But now it's time to document how that war has been waged, and hopefully start the fight to regain what we've lost and and stand to lose.  Our daughters and granddaughters deserve it.  And not coincidentally, also our sons and grandsons.

Update: windsngr has a diary about abortion in MS where action is needed.

Here are the stories and headlines documenting the war.

The War on Plan B  The FDA ignored the advice of  its own panel through the intervention of  higher ups, and refused over the counter sales of Plan B.  Even though the panel recommended in 2003 that it be sold without a prescription, here we are in 2006 and it still has not been resolved.  The problem is that the religious right believes that a pregnancy has occurred when there is a fertized egg, yet  the AMA has said pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants in the uterus.  This pill, if taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, has a 95% rate for preventing pregnancy, and if was widely available, would prevent the need for abortion.  For more information.  

South Dakota's law banning abortion, even in the case of rape and incest.


Four other states,  Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana and Georgia, have also introduced bills to eliminate all abortions except when the life of the mother is in danger.

In 1998, the American Pharmaceutical Association passed a resolution called the Conscience Clause, which states:
 

APhA recognizes the individual pharmacist's right to exercise conscientious refusal and supports the establishment of systems to ensure patient access to legally prescribed therapy without compromising the pharmacist's right of conscientious refusal.

The religious right are using that clause to deny not only RU486, and Plan B, which they consider abortifacients, but also birth control pills.  The religious right also claims that even assisting in finding another pharmacist is immoral and need not be followed.  The fight is being waged in a number of states, many having them having no protection for women by legally requiring assistance in finding a pharmacist wo will fill a prescription.

Missouri's proposed law absolving pharmacists who refuse to give out birth control, or abortifacients with no clause guaranteeing access for women.

Unintended Pregnancy Linked to State Funding Cuts

At a time when policymakers have made reducing unintended pregnancies a national priority, 33 states have made it more difficult or more expensive for poor women and teenagers to obtain contraceptives and related medical services, according to an analysis released yesterday by the nonpartisan Guttmacher Institute.(emphasis mine)

Here   is the number of women who need publicly funded services:

"Today, half of all women who are sexually active and fertile but do not want to get pregnant need publicly funded services to help them access birth control," said Rachel Benson Gold, director of policy analysis at The Alan Guttmacher Institute. "Yet in Congress and the states, we are facing a potential 'perfect storm' that could make it harder for these women to get contraceptives, counseling, and STD testing that help them plan their pregnancies and protect their health."(emphasis mine)


Access to Abortion Pared at State Level

Three states have passed bills requiring that women seeking an abortion be warned that the fetus will feel pain, despite inconclusive scientific data on the question. West Virginia and Florida approved legislation recognizing a pre-viable fetus, or embryo, as an independent victim of homicide. And in Missouri, Gov. Matt Blunt (R) has summoned lawmakers in to special session Sept. 6 to consider three antiabortion proposals.

If you live in Missouri, not only do you face having pharmacists refusing to give you birth control or abortifacients,

but the sole abortion providing facility in Springfield, Missouri has already been forced to close its doors--leaving women in that region 160 miles away from the nearest doctor who is willing to provide abortion care.

If you think the right, and the religious right, care about children after birth, care about women, and want to prevent the trials of unintended pregnancy, think again.  

There is a vaccine, proven almost 100% effective, that has been shown to prevent HPV, which is the cause of at least 70% of cervical cancers.  The ideal situation is to vaccinate young women before they become sexually active, but the Christian right is against it.  Why?  

In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus.(emphasis mine)

Our own DarkSyde wrote an excellent diary on the vaccine and the religious right's fighting it.  

Budget Cutting of federal monies for enforcing child support.  This cut, in particular, shows that the right is all about punishing women who have children, and don't care if they hurt children in the process.  Along with the cuts for enforcing child support, there are cuts in Medicaid and welfare, which also predominently affects women and children.

Teens in the United States continue to suffer from the highest birth rate and one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the industrialized world, according to the UN's Unicef.  Yet every year, more and more of our students are receiving abstinence only sex education.  Funding for abstinence only programs has grown  465% in the last five years, and has actually become more restricted in what can be taught.  Yet, a report by Henry Waxman found that students are being given `false, mis-leading, or distorted' information.  

Some examples:

  Many American youngsters participating in federally funded abstinence-only programs have been taught over the past three years that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person's genitals "can result in pregnancy,"

More examples:

* A 43-day-old fetus is a "thinking person."

* HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be spread via sweat and tears.

* Condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission as often as 31 percent of the time in heterosexual intercourse.

While there is no conclusive evidence proving abstinence only programs don't work, there is evidence that combined programs (abstinence and sex education) do work.  And there are fewer of those combined programs, jeopardizing our youth.  Besides, who wants their children being taught lies and misconceptions?  

One aside: the Guttmacher Institute has, by far, the most comprehensive information on reproductive issues.  I strongly urge visiting the site and learning more, because there is much more.  

These articles prove, conclusively, that there is a war on women.  Not content just to make a safe abortion more difficult to get, the right is also making it harder for women to access birth control, either the pill or Plan B,  so they won't be put in the position of of an unintended pregnancy.   After these women are forced into having children they don't want, the right is making it harder for them to take care of them, through welfare and medical care cuts, and by not funding the enforcement of child support.  

If all that wasn't bad enough,  the right cares so little for women and their health, they'd rather see women and girls get HPV, which is the leading cause of cervical cancer, rather than cede an ideological point.  If all this isn't war, I don't know what is.  

This administration has installed two Supreme Court justices, Roberts and Alito, who, even if they do not overturn Roe, will pander to their base and allow restricting even more abortions.  That's why it's of paramount importance that we pay attention to who's representing us at the state level, because they are the ones enacting ever more restrictions, not to mention outright banning of abortion.  

What do we do?

First, we have to educate each and every woman we know as to what's going on.  Tell your friends, tell them to tell their friends.  I can't think of a single person who wouldn't be affected in some way by at least one of these attacks.  Pass this, and any other article, to your friends.  

Secondly, we have to make absolutely certain our legislators know that this war is unacceptable.  Start calling your state  represenatitives and get their views, and tell them yours.  Go further, and call your Senators and Representatives in Congress.  There are more women than men in this country, and yet we, and our interests, are not being represented.  Why?  Because we have not been proactive in making sure our interests are served.  And now, with this administration, we're seeing firsthand the price of complacency.  We owe it to our daughters and granddaughters to wage war back.  With money, with votes, and with helping ourselves.  

Thirdly, start supporting an organization that suits you.  NOW, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and Emily's List are some.  Find your local chapter, and support them with volunteering.  If you cannot donate financially or with volunteering, at least get on mailing lists so you know what's going on and you can make some more phone calls.  Pass that along to your friends.  

If you think it can't be done, just remember.  It was women, tired of drunks killing our families, who went out and changed this country's laws and thinking.  

Any other suggestions are more than welcome.  

Ladies, start your engines!


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 12:53 PM 7 comments links to this post
Friday, March 24, 2006

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos)

This is an open and ongoing question. "They" are, specifically, the Bush administration. And in the way of politics, "they" are generally the Republican party and Republican elected officials.

Since January of 2001, a myriad of decisions have been made by the current administration. Each decision fundamentally represents a whole host of other decisions that were discarded. And with that, the die was cast and a series of events were set in forward motion, damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead.

Today, however, those decisions are in a war of their own with public statements both past and present. The poor nature of these decisions are becoming glaringly apparent - public trust and confidence in this President and his presidency is steadily dropping. Facts have trumped ideology and with 20/20 hindsight, a majority of Americans are judging this President harshly. But opinion polls and judgments are not enough - they all have to reap what they sow.

Make the jump.

It was E.J. Dionne's op-ed in today's Washington Post that brought this front-and-center for me. The broad subject of his column is the Bush Presidency and the example he uses is the 10,777 fully furnished FEMA trailers becoming unstable in a hayfield in Hope, Arkansas.

He begins:

Is President Bush the leader of our government, or is he just a right-wing talk-show host?

The question comes to mind after Bush's news conference this week in which he sounded like someone who has no control over the government he is in charge of. His words were those of a pundit inveighing against the evils of bureaucrats.

Dionne is specifically referring to the press conference earlier this week, where Bush lamented the fact that "bureaucracies haven't always responded the way we [he] wanted them to". He finished this marvellously daft and quixotic observation with "I don't like that at all." I think any one of us could have guessed that he doesn't like that.

The column is full of interesting information, most of which is common knowledge on this site. But one nugget that I didn't know was the that reason the trailers are still mostly in Hope, Arkansas (300 have been moved - another 5,000 are committed to being moved - the remainder will be stored for future emergency use) is because the mostly fully-furnished homes don't meet the government's regulations for use in a flood plain. Dionne incredulously asks the question as to why the government spent between $300 and $430 million on trailers that its own regulations preclude for use in the area of the disaster - but I digress.

After discussing the particulars of the trailer debacle, Dionne gives us this:

"So I've asked Chertoff to find out," Bush said. "What are you going to do with them? I mean, the taxpayers aren't interested in 11,000 trailers just sitting there. Do something with them. And so I share that sense of frustration when a big government is unable to, you know -- sends wrong signals to taxpayers. But our people are good, hardworking people."

Hold on: The president of the United States runs the "big government" he's attacking. This is mysterious. If Bush's "good, hardworking people" aren't responsible for the problem, the villains of the piece must be alien creatures created by some strange beast called Big Government.

And then the money shot:

This episode is important because it is representative of a corrosive style of politics. Bush and many of his fellow Republicans have done a good business over the years running against the ills of Big Government. They are so much in the habit of trashing government that even when they are in charge of things -- remember, Republicans have controlled the White House and both houses of Congress for all but 18 months since 2001 -- they pretend they are not.

And when their own government fails, they turn around and use their incompetence to argue that government can never work anyway, so you might as well keep electing conservatives to have less government. It's an ideological Catch-22. Even their failures prove they are right.

My emphasis added. This is one of those things that you just know in your bones, even if you can't explain or articulate it. Yet when someone spells it out so clearly, it hits like having a ton of bricks dropped on you. It's so obvious and explains so much.

And that is what has me thinking today - will they reap what they sow? Bush took the Presidency (and I use the word "took" quite deliberately) in 2000 after running on a "Big Government Is Evil" platform. In 2002, Republicans took control of both houses of Congress on the "Big Government Is Evil" platform and threw in a bit of "The Other Guy Will Get You Killed" for good measure. The 2004 Presidential election was much more "The Other Guy Will Get You Killed" and much less of "Big Government Is Evil", yet the anti-big government argument worms its way back into the rhetoric and public statements of the President, members of his staff and other verbal assassins dispatched by Rove and company. No one ever calls them on it - there is no coherent, frustrated groan from the media or even prominent Democrats as to how patently ridiculous the argument is. They're still sowing, but they haven't had to reap just yet.

The closest this administration has come to truly reaping what it sowed came with the Dubai Ports World debacle. I see it as a really simple progression of events. To remain in power, Republicans and especially the President have to scare the bejesus out of the voting American public. Evil and terrorists have to lurk at every turn. They hate us for our freedom and no one is safe unless Bush and the Republicans are "fighting terror". So effective is their campaign to foment abject fear that the concept of allowing an Arab-owned company to run our ports is unthinkable to even the most mildly engaged American. Fearful (by design), they decry this sale of security to people they perceive as the enemy and Republican Congresspeople, fearful of the looming mid-terms, rush to abandon the President and cover their political asses. Bush, then, can complete the flaming circle of bullshit by blaming the "bureaucracies" (Congress) for not "respond[ing] the way we [he] wanted them to". In truth, he hasn't really reaped that particular crop he had sown so perfectly. He never admitted he was wrong and a last-minute face-saving deal prevented him from following through on or abandoning his veto threat.

Russ Feingold has tried to make the President reap what he has sown. In his well-publicized and (unfortunately) isolated effort to the censure the President, Feingold, as a matter of conscience, tried to force Bush to be accountable for his illegal domestic spying scheme. So far, you'd have to say that the censure attempt was a miserable failure (albeit the right and proper thing to do). The field of surveillance remains unplowed and accountability unassigned.

I see regular (if somewhat disjointed) efforts at forcing the President to reap what he sows on the Iraq war as well. Yet each statement by this Democrat or that one is a maddeningly frustrating exercise. You have to break it down for the American people to terms that virtually any American of any level of education with any political discipline can understand - I approach it this way:

What you don't know is that your spouse had paid all of your monthly bills online the night before and they take 24 hours to clear the account. The $2,500 balance will become $500 by the close of the business day. You'll be left with $0 to buy food and gas and other things for the remainder of the month. But your spouse will have a nice, new gift. Think s/he'll enjoy it?

That's a lot like the type of information that Congress received when considering the authorization to use force against Iraq. Incomplete. They saw only the bank balance and made decisions based on what that balance told them without knowing that there were a host of transactions in the queue that were going to substantially affect that balance in short order. Those in Congress who voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq made a mistake - just like our guy who wrote the $500 check - and had they had all of the information, the mistake may not have been made. Democrats should be able to safely draw that comparison and admit that they made a mistake if they voted for the authorization. They can then turn around and make Bush and his administration, the only people who knew not only the balance but all the queued-up transactions, reap that which they have sown. It's the least I expect from my Democratic leaders.

I'm frustrated. Dionne gets it. Virtually everyone in the progressive blogging community gets it. We write about it, we refine it, we come up with great themes and talking points around it. But our Democratic leaders don't really seem to get it just yet - at least not in any kind of a consistent and unified way. This is like having the most perfect piece of beautiful, ripe delicious fruit dangling from a tree right in front of you, yet you can't reach out and grab it - your hands have been tied. So you gaze at it, longingly, hoping someone will come and unbind you so you can break free and get that low-hanging fruit.

If what Bush and his people have been handing us not low-hanging fruit for the Democratic party to pick, I don't know what is.


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 2:32 PM 1 comments links to this post

This book review was forwarded to me today and I thought it worth passing along.

Walter Mosley's latest monograph, "Life Out of Context," is a cognitive journey that tackles the big questions many of us have furtively attempted to answer. How can we make a difference in a topsy-turvy world where average citizens seem so powerless? What can be done to help the masses of people suffering in poor nations? Is there an effective way for us to individually fight for global justice in a corporatized, corrupted world?

Mosley invites readers into his thought process as he attempts to answer these questions over a series of sleepless nights. He wonders how he, or anyone, can respond to the forces of globalization, exploitation and racism. In taking on such a large task, he thankfully starts from a perspective that many can relate to. He is not part of a movement; his life, he writes, is "filled with contradictions and seemingly nonsensical juxtapositions," just like the rest of us. And that's exactly why Mosley's words resonate.

As the title suggests, Mosley searches for a political context, beginning within his own professional life and moving on to the tragedies of the African continent. Ruminating on the idea of context, Mosley writes: "I am living in a time that has no driving social framework for a greater good. There are many, many disparate notions about how to make a better world, but these are just so many voices singing a thousand songs in different keys, registers and styles -- a choir of bedlam."

He argues that it's irresponsible and dangerous to leave the fate of the world up to political leaders because they "are just as likely to mislead as they are to lead." He rightly points out that our political experts "are not interested in the truth. Their only goal is to prove a point of view."

As for Mosley, he focuses on asking questions, imagining change and prompting others to use what they have -- their vote, their voices, their profession, their talents and ability to protest -- to challenge the forces of economic globalism and exploitation. Among his suggestions are the formation of a Black Party and a House of Representatives comprised of elected officials representing identity groups -- gay people, blacks, angry white men, the elderly, etc. -- rather than geographical areas.

In essence, he asks that we all re-envision ourselves and our own political context -- and he begins with himself:

MARIA LUISA TUCKER: One of the first reactions to your essay is surprise that you have written something outside the context that most readers know you in, which is fiction. How have you responded to that?

WALTER MOSLEY: Well, I know that many people see me as a fiction writer (many others see me as only a writer of crime fiction). I tell people who say this with surprise (or disappointment) that I've written a good deal of nonfictional political work. There are essays here and there in various periodicals, the collections of essays that I edited, "Black Genius," my political monographs -- "What Next," "Workin' on the Chain Gang" and now "Life Out of Context" -- and then there's the political aspect of almost all of my fiction.

MLT: What kind of responses have you gotten to your suggestion that black people create their own political party?

WM: To begin with I do not feel that African-Americans should form a political party but that we should form an interest group that hones in on the few issues that are most important to us on racial, economic and moral grounds. Many people are excited to hear someone saying something that has been on their minds too -- specifically that the two-party system is corrupt, undemocratic and exclusionary to peoples of color. There are those who claim that my stance is divisive. I understand this response, but I believe that the division is older than this nation and that the only way to come together is to come to our political senses by defining what it is we believe and then concretizing those beliefs.

MLT: The idea of creating a separate black party is not new. The Black Panthers were a political party and now there are groups like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which advocate the takeover of the South, and many hip-hop political organizations, which share the same demands you suggest in your essay (universal health care, revamping of the penal system, etc.). How is your idea of a black party different? Or is it different, perhaps, because it is more palatable coming from someone who is not considered a radical or a separatist?

WM: Again, I am not advocating a political party, per se. My notion of a black voting bloc or interest group is based on the notion that all Americans are the victims of a capitalist oligarchy that keeps us from moving forward in a practical and common-sense fashion. There should be a gay interest group, a real Republican interest group, maybe an angry young white man interest group; there should be political bastions based on age, labor affiliations, and one's status as an ex-convict. My desire is to gain enough seats in the House of Representatives so that neither the Democratic or the Republican interest corporations will have a majority in the House. That way, we the people can have a say in the system that supposedly represents us. If this is more palatable than some other idea -- cool.

MLT: You present a picture of people desensitized to atrocity, which is often true. However, I think it's also true that some people respond to the atrocities of the world with huge amounts of grief. I know a lady, for example, who has worked to help poor left-behind children every day of her life but refuses to watch the news because she finds the images too upsetting. So my question is -- do you think everyone needs to view him or herself within a global context that includes problems so large and numerous that it is impossible to understand or help in every situation?

WM: With faith and hope, nothing is impossible. Just look at the civil rights movement or the political (nonviolent) successes in South Africa. Should everyone look at the world on a global scale? The more the better I say. But don't get me wrong -- people should do what they can. Any step toward the light is a step in the right direction.

MLT: How can people stay in tune to what's happening in the world without being overwhelmed with each day of war, AIDS, pollution, natural disasters and the like?

WM: If I were to say that the pain we are experiencing in the world today was greater than our ability to deal with it, how could I imagine the history of the 20th century? The millions dead from China to Russia to European Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals. We can save Africa. We can reduce the prison rolls. We can save the world -- again.

MLT: You put forth some ideas that you later retract. For instance, you propose putting up huge electronic billboards in major American cities that show images of starving children and other atrocities, and later you say that this idea is not feasible. Are there any ideas in "Life Out of Context" that, since its publication, you have changed your mind about?

WM: "Life Out of Context" is a monograph. That means it is there to cause dialogue. My mind is not in question here. What is in question are issues that must be considered and ways of thinking which are outside of the box that the corporate shills have put us in.

MLT: You ask individuals who live in America to take responsibility for global problems that are caused or exacerbated by American corporations and government. How are some ways that individuals can respond to global problems?

WM: The last chapter of my book talks about how political activism on a personal level has to do with your interests and ideals. One, like your friend, might decide that children suffering anywhere is what he or she wishes to concentrate on. They might start teaching in a prison or working for separate political voting groups. Taking action causes ripples in the system; it transforms not only the one taking action but the people around him or her. Doing anything positive on about the average of an hour and a half a day could begin the avalanche.

Maria Luisa Tucker is an AlterNet staff writer.


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 9:58 AM 0 comments links to this post
Saturday, March 18, 2006

On The Left Tip would like to welcome Stumbling Through Life with Grace as its new tenant!! A self-described "psychologically, analytical, neurotic, closet Bitch", this Arizona gal has a lot to say that I think Tip readers would enjoy. So look to your left and click on the thumbnail of her blog. There are fun posts, funny posts, and serious posts. All of which I find fascinating. Give her some love!!

You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 11:42 AM 1 comments links to this post
Friday, March 17, 2006

Via The Huffington Post, it seems John Ashcroft has found gainful employment.  The former Attorney General under the first administration of George W. Bush has hung out his K Street shingle (only it's made of gold, not wood) and set up shop as the quintessential "Washington Insider".

More on the flip.

From an AOL News Article:

...in the era of the Jack Abramoff scandal, Mr. Ashcroft has become a Washington lobbyist, setting himself up as something of an anti-Abramoff and marketing his insider's knowledge of how Washington works.

Sorry - I was just having a mental moment there as I undertook the cranial gymnastics required to understand how "insider knowledge" equates with "anti-Ambramoff".  Maybe one of you fine people can explain the logic to me.

"Clients would call in an individual who has a reputation for the highest level of integrity," he said in an interview in his office. "Those who have been in government should not be forbidden from helping people deal with government, which is what I see myself doing." In the hourlong interview, Mr. Ashcroft used the word "integrity" scores of times.

Ah.  So Mr. Ashcroft is the new face of integrity.  I guess he's counting on all of us forgetting the whole 9/11-ball-dropping thing and the Abu Ghraib thing and the Gitmo thing and the [insert yours here] thing.  If this is the best America can offer as far as integrity is concerned, I fear even more for our collective futures.

Here's an interesting nugget:

One of Mr. Ashcroft's newest clients is ChoicePoint, a broker of consumer data that is increasingly being used by the government to keep tabs on people within the United States. The company received millions of dollars in contracts from the Justice Department under Mr. Ashcroft as part of the war on terror and has now hired him to find more.

I guess it makes sense.  At least it ties together his remarkable policy moves, like the spying-on-old-people thing and the watch lists of people who belong to ((GASP)) environmental groups thing.  Still unclear to me is Ashcroft's role on the illegal spying thing.  It might be interesting (are you listening, ePluribus Media?) to see whether and to what extent Ashcroft's Justice department utilized information from sources such as ChoicePoint to accomplish the whole domestic surveillance thing.  If you think it was bad enough that the NSA was potentially sniffing your conversations, I guarantee you it will get a whole lot worse with an Ashcroft lobbying firm having a ChoicePoint client.

"The Ashcroft Group contacted us and we initiated a relationship," said Chuck Jones, a ChoicePoint spokesman. "He's got a lot of knowledge that could benefit ChoicePoint."

I bet.

So what of it?  Even former cabinet members have to work after they retire from government, right?

Mr. Ashcroft is the only former Bush cabinet member and, by anyone's reckoning, the only former attorney general to have registered as a lobbyist. Many former attorneys general have had lucrative careers as political fixers without calling themselves lobbyists; in that sense, Mr. Ashcroft is being more transparent than his predecessors.

I guess we should consider ourselves lucky, then.  Finally:

His staff includes David T. Ayres, his former chief of staff; Juleanna Glover Weiss, a Republican lobbyist and a former press secretary to Vice President Dick Cheney; and a Republican fund-raiser, William C. T. Gaynor II, who helped raise more than $300 million in the 2004 election. He opened his office 10 months after leaving the Justice Department.

Fellow Republicans praise his venture. "To have someone around to guide you to protect the assets of the corporation, it would be John Ashcroft who you would want at the table," said Donald L. Evans, the former commerce secretary. "Any C.E.O. in the 21st century would want him."

Of course.  And by all means - we should ensure that we turn a blind eye to the potential that we are selling our homeland security mission and initiatives to the highest bidder because the corporation must be served at all costs.  Heaven forfend we deny CEOs the opportunity to buy the Federal government on the slightest whim.  I'm sure it's all a part of a coordinated strategy to boost the domestic economy anyway.

Riddle me this:  WHAT happened to lobbying reform?  Apparently Republicans are so comfortable that meaningful reform will not occur that they are openly endorsing the idea that Ashcroft as a lobbyist is a good thing.

COME ON, Democrats.  Grow a couple and stop this kind of thing from happening.  Ever.


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 2:18 PM 0 comments links to this post
Sunday, March 12, 2006

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos)

On Friday of last week, I had the unexpected opportunity to hear a barn-burner of a wake-up call delivered by David M. Walker, the current Comptroller General of the United States and de-facto head of the Goverment Accountability Office (GAO). His message was dire as to the fiscal health of this country and it was not lost on me.

Make the jump.

I don't know how many people know what I do for a living... Put simply, I work in the technology field. I started out working for a now-merged IT services firm (now a part of a monolithic Northrop Grumman) working on a variety of contracts for the Justice Department. From there, I moved away from services and into software sales. Most every-day people think of software in the context of Windows XP or Microsoft Office... But there is a whole realm of software out there that runs high-end enterprise systems. That was my field - enterprise interoperability, data mining, business management, data integration and migration, security - you name it. All very expensive and on a very large scale.

My customer has always been the Federal government. They have always had interesting (if somewhat antiquated) systems performing complex operations like Social Security administration and administration of the tax system. The average Federal government agency is on par with the largest corporation in America in terms of number of employees and size and scope of IT systems.

Part of my job requires that I attend various conferences and seminars, some local to the DC area and some that require travel to fun (and un-fun) places. It was at one of these conferences that I heard Mr. Walker.

For those who don't know, the Comptroller General of the United States is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate to a 15-year term. Similar to other long-term appointments, the office is intended to remain apolitical and provide a consistency in accountability. Mr. Walker began his term in 1998.

The first speaker was an associate commissioner at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which falls under the executive branch. The OMB speaker talked effusively about advancements made during the Bush administration in measuring results in line with the President's Management Agenda. And they have made advances in improving the five areas they measure, which are:

The scorecard, not surprisingly, uses a color coding methodology - red if you're substantially not meeting goals in an area, yellow if you're progressing toward meeting goals in an area, and green if you have achieved all of your performance measurement goals. You can see the most recent scorecard here and if that link doesn't work, go here and select the most recent scorecard.

The OMB guy finishes his speech, which was very good as these types of speeches go, wherein he has reported on improvements in the scorecards etc. and so forth.

Then Mr. Walker steps to the podium.

If I could choose a word and phrase to sum up the tone of Mr. Walker's presentation I would choose the word "appalled" and the phrase "wake the fuck up". You see, Mr. Walker has been consumed recently with analysis of trends in the US Federal budget. Technically, Mr. Walker's role falls under legislative oversight.

He basically began by saying that measuring Federal performance wasn't going to mean squat if we continue on the current path we are travelling, fiscally speaking. He opened with this comparison:

Note the difference in interest spending from 1985 to 2005... When the budget was balanced under Bill Clinton, the debt service component of the budget had come back into more reasonable alignment. Think about it from your own perspective - it's always preferable to finance your own personal debt through lower rate interest instruments such as mortgages. It's preferable that, if you are going to make a major investment for which you will have to borrow money, that you do so from a home equity line of credit rather than a higher-interest instrument such as a credit card. It is also preferable that you keep your debt level manageable - that you don't spend vastly more than you make and thereby incur debt on which you will have to pay interest, which compounds continuously. Common sense, right? Note also the shift between mandatory and discretionary spending. You can loosely guage the growth in the size of the Federal government when mandatory spending increases as a proportion of total spending.

Now look at this slide:

You can see the trend line of defecits increase in the Reagan years, the reduction in the defecit to an actual on-budget surplus in the Clinton years, and the eventual re-emergence of defecits under Bush II. A note as well about on- and off-budget spending. Off budget items include Social Security and the Postal Service. The President can request, for political reasons, that an item be placed off-budget. Imagine, then, that the cost of the Iraq war is made an off-budget item and consider how that would skew the visual interpretation of the size of the actual budget defecit.

Another way to look at it is represented at NationalPriorities.org:

The red line represents on-budget items and the blue off-budget items, the bulk of which is Social Security. It's deceptive, though, because the Federal government is spending the off-budget Social Security surplus to shore up its on-budget defecit picture.

Now consider this:

These calculations assume two simple things - that the government will continue to increase its spending proportionate to growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and that Bush II's tax cuts will be extended. The projected figure is horrifying. Look at the proportion of the debt that goes to interest payments. Interest payments, it should be obvious, serve nothing but the institutions who service the debt. No programs are created - no new infrastructure is installed - no new loans are made from that money. It is simply LOST. Yet the revenue line remains fairly constant and is already failing to meet the totality of spending obligations made today.

Here's the graphic that shook me in my seat:

If you had a baby last year, that child now comes with a $156,000 mortgage attached to them. If you work a full-time job, under the leadership of George W. Bush, your obligation has more than doubled. And as time passes, you and your children will receive fewer and fewer services for the financial obligation you now shoulder. A huge percentage of your contribution will simply go to pay interest on the debt we are rapidly accumulating.

Here's the net/net, from Mr. Walker's presentation:

The "Status Quo" is Not an Option
  • We face large and growing structural deficits largely due to known demographic trends and rising health care costs.
  • GAO's simulations show that balancing the budget in 2040 could require actions as large as
    • Cutting total federal spending by about 60 percent or
    • Raising taxes to about 2.5 times today's level
Faster Economic Growth Can Help, but It Cannot Solve the Problem
  • Closing the current long-term fiscal gap based on responsible assumptions would require real average annual economic growth in the double digit range every year for the next 75 years.
  • During the 1990s, the economy grew at an average 3.2 percent per year.
  • As a result, we cannot simply grow our way out of this problem. Tough choices will be required.
The Sooner We Get Started, the Better
  • Less change would be needed, and there would be more time to make adjustments.
  • The miracle of compounding would work with us rather than against us.
  • Our demographic changes will serve to make reform more difficult over time.

Let that sink in a little bit - 2.5 times the taxes we pay today. 60% reduction in things like Pell Grants and Head Start and container inspections. Things like that.

It's alarming - and believe me, the tone of Mr. Walker's presentation was alarming as well.

This administration and our Republican-controlled Congress are spending money in a way that none of us would in our daily lives. As the mid-terms approach, I think the message that, if you have a job, your obligation to the Federal government is now $375,000 or if you have a child, its obligation to the Federal government is now $156,000. Those are real dollars that will have real meaning to average people.

If you want to see the slides from Mr. Walker's Friday presentation, you can go here and select his name, but you will need powerpoint to view it. Another recent and similar address can be found online in HTML format here - just select the first link ('Open') and use the directional arrows to scroll through.

Thanks for reading!


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 5:56 PM 0 comments links to this post

I've almost missed it - the Koufax Award voting is taking place RIGHT NOW and will be open through tomorrow night, Monday, March 13. In case you wonder why I care, it's because this blog has been nominated in the Best New Blog category. I've voted for this blog but I think I'm the only one. :-) The competition is stiff - but if you like the blog, please follow the link and drop a comment voting for On The Left Tip. Thanks!

You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 2:35 PM 0 comments links to this post
Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Originally posted at Daily Kos as a fill-in for the regular Cheers and Jeers author, Bill in Portland Maine.

Cheers & Jeers - JACK DANIELS Friday!!


That's right, sportsfans. I'm RenaRF and I'm coming at you LIVE and in living color from the blue county of Fairfax in the red state of Virginia. This Friday we're under NEW MANAGEMENT. As such, by an executive order of the highest hubris, I REJECT rum and coke as the official Friday drink and declare today "Jack Daniels Friday". And yes - I have been asked whether or not I pee standing up. And no, it is not too early for a cocktail, especially if that cocktail is Jack Daniels. Drink it like you mean it - in a shot glass without any twists or rocks or foofy mixers. As you sip, feel the warmth spread down your throat, making the laughter rise easily...

A Jack Daniels-drinking Friday C&J does NOT swoosh, nor does it gong. It swerves and curves, baybeee... Just like me... So head on over to the funkifyzing land of there's moresville....Here are your Cheers & Jeers for Friday, March 3, 2006!!!

A late add to my Cheers and Jeers - a special shout out to the white trash poet for his 360 days of sobriety and to giving us all an opportunity to share and learn. Check out his diary on the subject.

From the late night comic desk:

The numbers, RenaRF-Style:

Days since Iraq war began: 1,080
Days since I started my blog: 192
Days until mid-term elections: 249
Days since I joined Daily Kos: 482
Days since Hurricane Camille: 13, 347
Days since Hurricane Katrina: 186
Number of houses rebuilt for the poor and uninsured: 0
Days until 2009 Presidential Inauguration: 1056 (FUCK)
Days since I gave up meat: 1,664
Days since I quit smoking: 205
Days that I've realized how much work C&J is: 5

Your gratuitous puppy pic of the day: Someone pass that dog the toilet paper. That's the kind of dog I would have - me likey no walkey.

For all the pootie fans out there, a suck-your-gum-down-your-windpipe-laughing site called (I'm not making this up) StuffOnMyCat.com. I don't know if these people are brilliant or if they have way too much time on their hands - but damn it's funny. I even bought a T-shirt. (Hat-tip to Hyperbolic Pants Explosion for the link)

::+::

CHEERS to YearlyKos. The volunteers and planners and everyone associated with the effort are working their fool asses off to put on a great event. Be sure you support them - Give a little moolah if you can spare it.

::+::

JEERS to the delegation Presidency of George W. Bush. FEMA Officials: "Mr. President! A catastrophic hurricane is bearing down on an American city! We need to be prepared! The city could be under water!" GWB: "Great. Keep me posted." Boo-hiss!!!

::+::

CHEERS or JEERS (depending on your opinion) to shoes designed to help immigrants cross the borders. Called "Brincos", they feature a compass, storage pouch, map, and toe light.

::+::

JEERS to Domino's Pizza founder Thomas S. Monaghan, who is bankrolling a $250 million project to establish a Catholic town in Florida. Don't get me wrong - I don't have any problem with Catholicism, though I'm not Catholic. I know many lovely and fine Catholic people. But if this proposed town, called 'Ave Maria' is allowed to be established, its residents will not be able to buy condoms or birth control pills and cable TV, magazine and book content will be tightly regulated to exclude anything deemed "pornography". Last time I checked, Mr. Monaghan, we still live in America where such religious observances are a matter of personal choice. If you lack faith in the Catholic church to imbue its followers with enough conviction to eschew such things, then change the church - don't declare an entire area as a Catholic fiefdom.

::+::

CHEERS to ever having this much free time on my hands. In an effort to draw attention to his concern that all Asian cities look essentially the same, 40-year old artist Song Dong has built a replica of a traditional Asian city connected to a more modernized version entirely out of biscuits. Some 72,000 biscuits were used in the construction of the replica city, which volunteers are anxiously waiting to eat.

::+::

JEERS to selective attention to details, and not just minor details. Although not news to anyone here, reports are surfacing that multiple intelligence agencies warned the Bush administration about the possibility of deeply-rooted sectarian violence within Iraq. These weren't pesky little reports, either, like the famed PDB - these were National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs). One, given to the President in 2003, made the clear point that insurgent violence was not being fueled by foreign-born terrorists but rather by local conditions, exacerbated by the presence of US troops. Sometimes it sucks to be proven right.

::+::

CHEERS to things that would drive my cats insane. I certainly question the uses featured for this fake, semi-mechanical cat paw (most strikingly, the image of two businesspeople shaking hands with CAT PAWS), but I don't question the fact that it would freak my cats out and is therefore worth buying.

::+::

And speaking of freaking out my cats, CHEERS to unitended uses for adult toys. In college, I was a fraternity sweetheart. I was known to be studious and an excellent student. As a gag tradition at Christmas one year, my Secret Santa gift was a large, flexible black --ahem-- that ran on batteries and turned on by twisting the base. I brought it home (along with some other things that were equally goofy), took it out, turned it on and put it on the floor. The reaction of my cats was priceless - they puffed up, hunkered down, skulked towards it and then s-l-o-w-l-y raised their paws to strike. After swatting at it, they ran - puffy-arched-sideways - and wouldn't come back into the room until it was out of sight. Who knew?

::+::

JEERS to Torie Clark, former Pentagon spokeswoman and Republican talking-head extraordinnaire for saying this about the Dubai Ports World deal on CNN's The Situation Room: "I can forgive the American people cuz they're busy - they've got things to do in their lives. It's not their responsibility to learn the facts." Thanks, Torie - I'm so glad to be "forgiven" and more so to see the RNC's real opinion of us little, busy, uninformed people.

::+::

CHEERS to shit I don't need but really want. Microsoft is currently undertaking its Origami Project to produce and sell a super-small, hand-held computer running Tablet PC. It's small enough to fit in your hand and into a medium-sized purse... Oooh... Ahhh. I must have this.

::+::

JEERS to Bill O'Lielly's lack of testicles. After posting a petition which was a deliberate smack at competitor Keith Olbermann's show, O'Lielly is now whining and complaining about the "cheap shots" lobbed by NBC at FNC. As Olbermann himself is heard to say, "It's Fox - not facts."

::+::

CHEERS to the most expensive shoes on Zappos.com. At a staggering $961.95, these above-the-knee boots are the perfect compliment to my shoe collection. Email me and I'll let you know how you can make a donation to my shoe habit via Paypal because I'll need if I'm ever to own these. ;-)

::+::

And finally, CHEERS to historical persepctive and celebrity birthdays:

On this day in history:

March 3, 1873 - Congress bans sending obscene materials through the mail
March 3, 1945 - Finland declares war on Germany
March 3, 1952 - Supreme Court upholds NY law barring communist teachers
March 3, 1971 - US Special Forces withdraw from Vietnam
March 3, 1991 - Rodney King beating caught on videotape

Born on this day:

Jessica Biel
Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Herschel Walker
Ira Glass
James Doohan
Jean Harlow
Alexander Graham Bell

Today's hostile testimonial:

"F--k RenaRF. Who the f--k does she think she is? I go away for a little f--king rest and relaxation and she f--king changes rum and coke to Jack Daniels? F--k her."
--Bill in Portland Maine

A special Cheers and Jeers shout out to hono lulu and all the other Kossacks in Hawaii - stay safe in all of that flooding, ya hear?


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 5:43 PM 0 comments links to this post