Monday, August 30, 2004

Illegal fund-raising activity prior to the Republican National Convention?

One of the the ways that Republicans are raising money in the time preceding the Republican convention is holding fundraisers at sporting events, an increasing trend.

One in particular is:

"Illinois Rep. Jerry Weller (news, bio, voting record) was holding a fund-raiser Tuesday at a Cleveland Indians-New York Yankees game. The asking price was $1,500 per person or $2,500 for a pair of tickets."

Now, it's possible that AP writer just got a bit casual with the language describing the way the fundraiser works but there appears to be a double violation of New York law by having a 1) non-licensed reseller scalping tickets at 2) more than 10% above face value. And, though it's not clear, it's not obvious that the exemption/exception clause doesn't seem to apply to political campaigns (though would apply to 501c organizations, the shadowy version of 527s).

What are the penalties?

"S 25.25. Violations; penalties. 1. Every person, firm or corporation
who resells any such ticket or other evidence of right of entry or
engages in the business of reselling any such ticket or other evidence
of the right of entry, without first having procured the license
prescribed and filing of a bond required by this article shall be guilty
of a misdemeanor. Every person, firm or corporation who violates any
provision of this article shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. A conviction
for any violation hereof shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed two
hundred fifty dollars for the first violation, five hundred dollars for
the second violation and one thousand dollars for any subsequent
violation or by imprisonment for a period not to exceed one year, or
both such fine and imprisonment as herein provided."

It's not clear whether the many tickets sold this way would be multiple or a single violation but it would be interesting to find out.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Greenspan is a tool

... for the politically conservative movement to cripple the federal government. How else can one possibly reconcile Greenspan's support for the current President's massive tax shift from the wealthy elites to future citizens when he then turns around and says that we must quickly start trimming retirement and health benefits (Social Security and Medicare) to baby boomers or risk bankrupty and we must do so so they can plan for those resources not being there.

This is the epitome of bait and switch. Politicians have been promising that these resources will be there for generations. People have planned their retirements around these resources, as have private companies in the way they have designed their retirement benefit packages. To abandon our citizens now, when they have scant time left to prepare would be callous AT BEST.

Moreover, the payroll taxes (which falls much more heavily on the poor and middle class that depend on these resources) were raised as was the eligible retirement age, with the strong support of and largely at the suggestion of Greenspan to head this crisis off. Then, the surplus this tax hike created (with the help of some fiscal restraint during a Democratic presidency) helped hide the MASSIVE deficit spending of the Reagan and GHW Bush administrations and then was given to the uber-wealthy, not once, not twice, but thrice in three years under the current President.

So with the help of Greenspan, Reagan, Bush, and Bush have DRAMATICALLY RAISED taxes on the poor and middle class and used it to line the pockets of defense contractors and the oil industry, helped shift the tax burden from the truly wealthy onto the poor, the working class, and the middle class, have dramatically increased the tax burden of future generations, have shifted the tax burden more disproportionately onto money earned through work rather than money earned through sitting on your daddy's trust fund while planning to SLASH THE BENEFITS THAT THE POOR AND MIDDLE CLASS DEPEND ON FOR THEIR HEALTH AND WELL-BEING, EVEN FOR THEIR VERY LIVES as they age.

There really is only one word for such rob the poor to give to the filthy rich policy.


Election memes - Stubborn, cowardly bully

John Kerry's Daily Show appearance, while leaving me a bit whelmed (vaguely satisfied but disappointed at the same time), at least put the word to what any kindergarten teacher could see when they looked at the President's decision-making style. He's stubborn. He makes up his mind on virtually no information (well-documented) and then "sticks to his guns" - this is not character, this is foolishness.

More importantly, I'd like Kerry to stand up and call Bush a coward. First, expose him for the coward (or moral coward if you prefer Josh Marshall's excellent exposition of this point) he was 35 years ago when it came to Vietnam. And ridicule him for the coward he is now - call him out on the debates again and again. He won't meet me in the debates because he's afraid - he knows his record and that he can't possibly run on it or speak intelligently or honestly about it. Press the debates issue - HARD. If he agrees, great. If he doesn't agree, even better.

But I'd like to see these memes get a bit more traction because coupled with the president's disdain both for thinking and for people who more than occasionally try to engage in the same, I think it reveals the truth about this President. Namely that:

He's a bully, a brilliantly Machiavellian bully (thought the first two words may be due largely to his friendship with Karl Rove), but a bully nonetheless.

And no American has ever liked a bully.

Deadlines for Dictators

I was off to sleep when my eye caught the breaking news story via Reuters covering an article in tomorrow's New York Times.

In it, he admits "miscalcuations in Iraq" due to the too swift victory. So, if only things had gone worse in Iraq, they would have gone better? Brilliant.

But that's not what caught my eye. According to the coverage of the article:

"The president also discussed the issue of North Korea (news - web sites) and Iran's nuclear ambitions, saying that he would not be rushed to set deadlines."

"The newspaper said 'Bush displayed none of the alarm about North Korea's growing arsenal that he once voiced regularly about Iraq.'"

Wow. A country with a real doozy of a dictator holding nuclear weapons - no alarm. A country with a real doozy of a dictator holding, um, nothing and it's "The sky is falling, the sky if falling, it's falling, the sky." I wonder whether it exhibits a combination of casual prejudice coupled with opportunistic hegemonic desire to say "Hey, we can finally invade Iraq - Americans won't be able to distinguish between Iraqis and Al Qaeda" but leaving real dangers to fester and erupt.

But even better, some of you (all zero of you reading this) may remember the run-up to war, many of you might recall that the Bush administration arranged for all kinds of deadlines and timelines, including most notably the one for the Hussein family to leave Iraq. How does the President feel about such things?

"It quoted him as saying about the leaders of North Korea and Iran: 'I don't think you give timelines to dictators.'"


"I'm confident that over time this will work -- I certainly hope it does," the newspaper quoted Bush as saying of the diplomatic approach."
in which the President asserts

Aside from the mind-numbingly foolish, flip-flopping hypocrisy, let's examine what lesson this might offer dictators. Dictators with nukes get diplomacy. Dictators without nukes get bombed. Hmm, I wonder what most dictators will try to do.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Hypocrisy written in large headlines but the press doesn't notice

This post is getting a bit stale because I started it and then set it aside for a while. I'm going to quickly wrap it up and then come back to it later as time allows...

Every once and a while, I get really discouraged by the state of our press and their willingness to simple repeat without analysis what politicians say rather than report on whether or not what they say makes sense.

There was the absolute debacle starting yesterday of headlines talking about bring troops 70000-80000 troops home which during a time when we have between 120-140,000 people in Iraq seems directly designed to suggest to the casual newspaper reader (the one's that skip to the weather, the comics, and/or the sports section) that hey that Iraq war is going pretty well and generally that the president is helping bring our men and women in uniform home. Indeed, the headline on the Washington Post article seemed like it was written by the Bush Administration. "Bush realignment brings 70,000 troops back home"

Well, of course, 1) It's not happening now as suggested by brings. 2) It wasn't going to happen anytime soon - it's over a 10 year period. 3) Of course, the odds are good that they're not actually coming home but are instead going to be deployed elsewhere and given the state of things, it's probably going to be MUCH more difficult duty - nothing like coming home and, best of all, 4) the President, Vice President, and any Republican flack that could throw themselves within earshot of a microphone had just spent a couple of weeks criticizing Kerry's plan to ACTUALLY bring troops HOME from COMBAT by getting the international community to chip in a bit more (that is, to bring some of our boys home without reducing troop presence).

Today [August 18], I saw an AP headline which read to wit Bush Vows Push for More Military Benefits.

I think a nearly blew a gasket - first, the benefits were meager - we should be rolling out major benefit packages and pay increases (not to mention better equipping our guard and reserves) because what they've been asked to do for all of us has multiplied dramatically. They've lost income - some have lost homes - they're children have lost years of time with their parents - and we're going to offer more education benefits. That should be the icing on the cake - it's not the cake. I'm talking pay increases, combat pay increases, pay differential benefits, 0% interest loans while on active duty (it could be patterned after student loans almost seamlessly), comprehensive health benefits for self and dependents, full reimbursal for any equipment purchased out of pocket, etc., etc., etc. To use a conservative term, this is an unfunded mandate of the worst kind because the mandate falls on our most noble men and women and their families and communities rather than on states or broadly on us all.

But the word that really struck me was "more". More? More?!?! ^&$%*^&($ More?

This administration has been incredibly unkind to the military and veterans's of all stripes. They've tried to reduce pay and benefits, freeze increases, have stiffed the guard and reserves on funding and supplies while transferring millions to corpororations to provide services (e.g., guarding bases) at much higher rates of compensation then we paid the good men and women who were serving in those roles before being called to serve.

The life and livelihood of a very good friend of mine is on the line because of a decade's worth of wet dreams of a few chickenhawks view of Iraq which has turned out to be completely false. That very few Republicans have had the courage to confront this is to their everlasting shame.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Country to President Bush - You're going the wrong way

Mulling over my opening posts yesterday brought to mind two relevant road movie scenes that are analagous to the way the Bush Administration is leading the country (and much funnier than the one I imagined). One is a classic in its genre and I'm disappointed that I didn't remember it sooner.

In Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, a truly underappreciated film blending slapstick comedy perfectly with genuine human moments - I had forgotten how much I loved this film until the scene below got me thinking about it again. ... (I've tried to find some clips - I couldn't find one of the whole scene but here's it is cobbled together - I HIGHLY recommend renting the video to see the whole sequence in it's entirety)

The scene starts after Neal (Steve Martin) and Del (John Candy) finally get a rental car. They're driving at night and Del attempts to take off his jacket while driving, swerving off the road and nearly killing them. They recover to get back on the road with no idea that they are now driving on the wrong side of the road. As they're driving, a couple driving on the correct side of the road try to warn them.

(Real Video Clip)

After they start driving, they see a couple driving trying to signal to them.

Here's the audio clip:

(RealPlayer) (Wav format)

NEAL: "He wants something."
DEL: "Oh, he's probably drunk."
DRIVER: [shouting] "You're going the wrong way."
NEAL: "What."
DRIVER: [shouting] "You're going the wrong way."
NEAL: "He says were going the wrong way."
DEL: "Oh, he's drunk. How would he know where we're going?"
NEAL: "Yeah, how would he know? Thank you. Thanks a lot. Terrific."
DEL: "Thank you. [honks car horn] [laughs, motioning that other driver has been drinking] What a moron."

The clip continues with the couple trying again to warn them. Realization suddenly dawns for Neal and he turns to face two semis bearing down on them.

RealVideo clip

The analogy to the current state of affairs works reasonably well if you place President Bush in the role of the affable but somewhat daft Del, pragmatic adult or grownup Republicans (as Brad DeLong has taken to calling them) as the buttoned-down Neal, the car as the country, and the people in the other car has progressives/liberals/other critics of this administration's agenda and their execution of that agenda, both of which have been sorely lacking.

To wit, the President starting from an initial ill-advised action (or two or three) created some pretty substantial fiscal and international chaos and ended up leading the country in the wrong direction. People pointing this out have been ridiculed (called much worse things than drunk) and marginalized as outside the car (in reality, in the back seat right along with the characters). The car has continued forward with Neal largely oblivious about the stage that has been set. I think we're at the point were the grown-up conservatives have turned to see where we are actually headed and noticed the semis coming for our car. The hope, of course, is that the President manages to negotiate us between the two semis as well as Del did, only ripping off the doors and the rear-view mirrors (apt parallel there) rather than driving us into one or both of them head-on before we can get back on the right track.

The problem with the analogy of course is that we need a couple of additional characters - one to emphatically reassure Del/the President and Neal/the people that this is the right way, the way everyone really wants to go and to argue to ignore the upcoming semis. And another one to strongly second the first characters opinion and bad mouth the people in the other car/back seat before the crash and then, after the car has been trashed in the near semi-crash, to explain that this is what we were hoping for all along and that if we had listened to the people in the other car/back seat, we would have blown the car to smithereens.

I think at this point, the polls (e.g., see Q7 of this recent poll) are coming around to the backseat position and maybe, just maybe, Neal might realize what's going on in time so that we might actually get the car on to one of those no-authorized vehicles u-turns.

Let's hope.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

"artificial timelines"

President Bush has been hammering at Senator Kerry recently, not always in the most forthright or even wise ways.

First, came "We're turning the corner." which seems to have disappeared when 1) we were reminded who led us down that original street/blind alley in the first place; and 2) that the new street (on either the Iraq or the economy issues) does not look all that better, much less different than the last one. In fact, did anyone actually notice us turn? It seemed more akin to one of those phantom turns mapping websites sometimes provide, indicating a turn when all that happened was a change in the name of the road with even the slightest change of direction. I have to imagine the administration probably felt the same confusion and panic as most of us do when that happens - it's like a bad road comedy.

President Bush, driving the bus of state:
"Okay, the road map says there is a turn coming up."
The nation:"I don't see anything"
President Bush: "Nope, it's definitely coming - just a few tenths of a mile right after the repeated and massive tax cuts to the wealthy and declaration that Iraq is sovereign."
The nation: "I think that map may be a bit out of date or misguided - there doesn't appear to be any turn ahead."
President Bush: "No, we're coming up on the turn right now. It's right here according to the directions. And it'll be an easy Sunday drive compared with this rough road we've been on. Sorry about that right turn back there in Albuquerque.
The nation (with increased agitation): "But there doesn't appear to be anywhere to turn!?!"
President Bush (calmly doing nothing): "Here it is. Hold on to your hats, everyone - this is going to be quite a turnaround."
The nation: "What? There's no road! Don't turn!! (bracing itself and averting its eyes). Wait - what happened? We didn't turn."
President Bush (as if nothing is wrong): "Whew. That was close, we almost missed that corner. Well, I hope you're all happy that we're now back on track and we haven't even lost much time now that we've turned that corner."
The nation: Sigh. Okay, remind us who helped book us on this trip. Oh, that's right, Ralph get up here, right now. (Travel Agent approaches). I thought you said this outfit was the same as the other one?
Ralph the Travel Agent: Yep. Just the same. No difference. Even after this incredible detour with all the sudden and inexplicable right turns, the rough ride, the noxious bus fumes, all the extra charges, and the passengers we've lost and the pedestrians we've hit, I stand by that - in fact, I'm negotiating right now to plan our next trip and this time, the driver and his friends are actually helping me to do my job for me since, well, as it turns out, I was not asked back by my previous employer.
The nation: (Throwing up hands in exasperation).

Of course, that effort was closely followed by, "Results matter." I have to think someone was fired over that one. I think most would agree that results should actually matter. Given that there is not a great deal that the President can unequivocally point to as an accomplishment either as President or as Governor (or the Vice-President as VP or Congressman, though perhaps as Defense Secretary), and that the President is still very nip and tuck with Senator Kerry among American voters, one might argue the President is wrong on that count, quite luckily for him.

Now, we have "artificial timelines" not six weeks after perhaps one of the most artificial, arbitrary, and politically motivated of timelines for "handing over" "control" of Iraq, in spite of continued widespread unrest, largely unmet reconstruction goals and unspent (or "unaccounted for") reconstruction funds, and, to top it off, not knowing exactly who we would be handing over Iraq to mere weeks before the deadline (not to mention the fact that we did a rush job to hand it over a few days early to defuse the incredible danger created by the artificially imposed deadline).

(From AP via Yahoo, emphasis added)

'"Kerry said this week that he hoped to begin reducing U.S. troop strength in Iraq within six months of taking office, if elected, but that it would depend on broader international assistance, better stability in Iraq and other factors.

Bush dismissed the plan as a politically driven one that would cut short the mission and aid the enemy.

"The key is not to set artificial timelines," Bush said while campaigning for re-election in Niceville, Fla. He said the Massachusetts senator's plan would signal the enemy that, "Gosh, all we've got to do is wait them out."'

Wow. Now _that_ is unmitigated audacity, to have the President criticize Senator Kerry for suggesting a plan to bring some of our troops home a year from now barely moments after the mother of all artificial deadlines. It's not like Senator Kerry said, "We're bringing the troops home six months after I'm elected, come hell or high water" so that the opposition in Iraq could just wait it out, as the President suggested. I believe the plan was to be able to start bringing troops home in six months by arranging additional support from other nations, allowing our overextended and overburdened servicemen and servicewomen a welcome and well-deserved respite from their efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan without actually reducing troop strength in either location.

I have to say, at this point, I'm a bit perplexed. The President's political team used to be brilliant, scintillating even - they continually were able to turn factual and ideological sows' ears into political silk purses. But now, they seem to be stepping in their own messes at every turn.

Perhaps all the previous successes at saying whatever they wanted and having it picked up and parroted by the press as facts may have led to some untimely overconfidence? Or is it a sign of desperation, having bet everything on an ill-advised war and a tax-cut for every season (albeit, if not for every person) economic policy, they now find their talking points cupboard is bare?

Or, worst of all, is it possibly another cunning political tactic? With little ammunition left, they've attempted to inoculate the public by exposing us all to weak versions of real criticisms, thereby diluting the effect of very real and very serious criticisms of the President's performance and policies. It makes it a lot harder to correctly question the President for a lack of results or artificial timelines or, in the turning the corner case, for Senator Kerry to say that things will get better in the future when the President and his team have already said all of those things, however cynically or disingenuously. It takes a lot more work and ends up making the opposition look long-winded in having to explain away what the President has already claimed in making the counterclaim that is actually the real one (opening doors for shallow criticism from the likes of Saletan or Kaus) or, worse, to sound like preschoolers - "But vooootersss, the President used artificial timelines fi-rst" or, in the separate question of flip-flopping, "I know you are, but what am I."

Here's hoping that Senators Kerry and Edwards can somehow sidestep the President's schoolyard bully tactics, dismissing them with humor and panache, while appropriately redirecting the attention of the American people to the tremendous challenges that the President has created for us. We might just be able to face those challenges honestly and together.

(Edited to add the link to Kevin Drum's nice catch of Saletan's latest folly in Political Animal)

Pro(b)logue - Development of principles

I recently watched Citizen Kane through the magic that is TiVo - it remains an incredible movie that is remarkable in new and different ways each time one sees it. Given our current state of the world, the scene where Kane buys the New York Inquirer stood out in sharp relief from the rest of the film (appropriately, given the incredible use of light and shadow in the scene). Indeed, in many ways, that scene was one of the sources of inspiration that led to this blog.

In that scene, Kane takes over the flagging NY Inquirer and sets out a Declaration of Principles for the paper. Of course, by no measure do I hope to make this Inquirer as important as Kane hoped to make his. But, his two key principles are excellent guides on this particular journey.

1) "I'll provide the people of this city with a daily paper that will tell all the news honestly."

It is to dream to believe that there might again be some paper that might reflect or at least attempt to achieve this principle. Indeed, I think much of the blogosphere, at least that part of it devoted to politics, exists because too many of us have come to feel like there is no such paper and has not been for some time or truly, perhaps, ever. Still, whatever they once were, newspapers increasingly appear to have been replaced by typographical megaphones for a combination of public relations flacks, communication directors, and advertising-synergistic articles. Or what some might call news-related program activities.

Kane continues after being interrupted.

2) "I will also provide them with a fighting and tireless champion of their rights as citizens and as human beings."

Putting it together sounds like a good campaign soundbite actually, something Gore might have said in 2000 when his progressive populist groove was working (contrary to the pundits who panned it, not surprisingly – see the archives (e.g., here) of Bob Somerby's The Daily Howler for all the gory - bad pun, unfortunately, intended - details).

Imagine a president that could look us in the eye and say "I will provide the people of this country with a president that will speak to them honestly. I will also provide them with a fighting and tireless champion of their rights as citizens and as human beings." In some ways, I think this comes close to capturing the ethos of Edwards primary speeches.

But I digress. The point was the inspiration for the blog and what I hope will be it’s guiding principles.

Principle 1 - Comment honestly.

I'd like to say, "Report honestly" but that principle would immediately be self-contradictory because I can't honestly claim to be a reporter in any sense of the profession.

Principle 2 - In commenting, seek to advance the fulfillment of basic rights of human beings - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (broadly construed).

Some of the other parts of that scene are also relevant to the birth of this blog.

First, Kane clearly seeks to make the Inquirer important

"I've got to make the New York Inquirer as important to New York as the gas in that light."

A laudable but, frankly, unrealistic goal in this context – the blogosphere is already heavily populated with both meaningful (and meaningless) discourse. Though Margaret Mead’s words, that one should, “Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” resonate strongly here, leading me to hope that I might contribute to/be a part of such groups, leading me to Principle 3.

Principle 3 - Work in concert with others in fulfillment of Principles 1 & 2.

In espousing his principles, Kane is interrupted which leads him to elaborate further on his first principle.

“Now they're gonna get the truth in the Inquirer, quickly and simply and entertainingly and no special interests are gonna be allowed to interfere with that truth.” (I always find the use of “special interests” there illuminating – it reminds us that the idea of “special interests” does not represent a recent phenomenon and, as a result, that they are really anything but special.)

Principle 4 – Where it does not conflict with Principles 1 through 3, communicate briefly and entertainingly.

(Although you can probably already tell that the first part is really going to be a struggle).

The scene continues with Kane’s “friend” Leland asking to save the original hand-written principles.

“I'd like to keep that particular piece of paper myself. I have a hunch it might turn out to be something pretty important, a the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, and my first report card at school.”

My suspicion is that these principles will likely end up closer in their import to my child’s first report card at school (recently received) – of value primarily to myself and others close to me. Perhaps if I and all of you mutually keep our expectations appropriate, this blog might contribute in some small way to our ongoing national conversation.

One parting note on the scene in Citizen Kane – we see the initial meager circulation of the paper as the scene concludes. I suspect that there will be stronger parallels with the implication of that part (miniscule impact) than the actual circulation (26,000) for some time but welcome all of you to enjoy whatever meager knowledge and merriment I am able to provide.

Whew - glad that's over with. On with the show.