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The year in gay

Wed, 12/30/2009 - 19:45
Kerry Eleveld at the Advocate reviews the President's handling of gay civil rights over the past year. Her opinion matters greatly in the gay community. Here's an excerpt:But perhaps what is most peculiar for a president who ran on an aggressive equality platform was the Office of Personnel Management’s recent decision not to provide same-sex partner benefits to a federal employee, defying a federal judge who ordered the agency to do so in a dispute resolution case.

Based on guidance from DOJ, OPM reasoned that the order was not legally binding because the judge was acting in an administrative capacity rather than a court case. Representatives from Lambda Legal, the organization representing the federal employee, countered that a federal judge is always imbued with the power of a federal judge regardless of what proceeding he’s presiding over.

Without getting too bogged down in legalese, suffice it to say that the case presents in shades of gray and could be interpreted by reasonable lawyers different ways. The real question is, if the administration has to lean one way or the other, why not lean toward equalizing treatment for gay couples, as candidate Obama consistently claimed he would?

“I don't understand why they are so focused on finding reasons to not do this -- it seems to me that they had all the cover they needed if they had wanted to reach a different result,” Richard Socarides, a New York attorney and former LGBT advisor to President Clinton told me. Just as the agency argued the order was not legally binding, he added, “they could have also chosen to comply and said they were being directed to do so by a federal appellate judge.”


A Question For The Media

Wed, 12/30/2009 - 19:10

Josh Marshall at TPM asks a good question:

When does the story became the GOP's unprecedented politicization of a terror attack? Three days before the first fund-raising letters go out? The obviousness of the point would seem even more obvious since the main complainers are demonstrably hypocritical on their basic arguments. Someone lemme know when this becomes the story.

Sadly, I think the answer is never.


Right and Left Agree: Mandates are the Road to Neo-Feudalism

Wed, 12/30/2009 - 18:40

Hmmm, feels limiting (photo: TheTruthAbout)

There is tremendous fear rising on both the right and the left that the announced intention of Congress — to force every American to pay tribute to private corporations, with no government alternative — sets a dangerous and frightening precedent with implications far outside the scope of health care.

If the health care bill written by the Senate is passed, middle class Americans will be mandated to pay almost as much to private insurance companies as they do to the federal government in taxes, with the IRS acting as a collection agency for penalties of 2% of your annual income for refusing to comply.

This is just one of many recent measures that have brought liberal progressives and conservative libertarians together to join forces in opposition:

  • Democrat Alan Grayson worked successfully this year with Republican Ron Paul to pass legislation to audit the Federal Reserve, with 317 cosponsors as diverse as Dennis Kucinich and Michelle Bachmann.
  • On December 3, the liberal Campaign for America’s Future wrote a letter to the Senate opposing the reconfirmation of Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke until such an audit has been conducted. The letter was signed by James Galbraith, Robert Weisman, Chris Bowers and myself on the left, and Grover Norquist, Phillis Schlafly, and Larry Greenley on the right. Financial blogger Tyler Durden and young organizer Tiffiniy Cheng joined them.
  • Also on December 3, conservative Jim Bunning joined liberal Bernie Sanders in placing a hold on the Bernanke nomination until the Fed had been audited.
  • On December 15, CAF again sent a letter to the Senate Banking Committee, asking them to delay the vote on the Bernanke confirmation until Audit the Fed received a stand alone vote in the Senate. It was signed by Matt KIbbe of Freedomworks, John Tate of the Campaign for Liberty, and Grover Norquist on the right, and David Swanson of AfterDowiningStreet, Dean Baker and Robert Borosage on the left.
  • On December 21, a letter was written opposing the mandate in the health care bill. It was signed by Bob Fertik of Democrats.com, Howie Klein of DownWithTyranny, Brad Friedman of Velvet Revolution, Tim Carpenter of Progressive Democrats of America on the left and Grover Norquist, Jim Martin of 60 Plus Association, Duane Parde of the National Taxpayers Union on the right.
  • On December 23, Grover Norquist and I sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for an investigation into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s conflicts of interest before the White House could lift the cap on the commitment to them from $400 billion to $800 billion with no Inspector General in place.

The individuals on both sides of the political spectrum who signed these letters agree on very little, but they do share both a tremendous concern for the corporatist control of government that politicians in both parties seem hell-bent on achieving.

In 2000, the Democrats railed in opposition when the Republicans passed Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage that didn’t allow for negotiated drug prices. And in 2006 when Democrats took over Congress, one of the hallmarks of their first hundred days was passing legislation allowing Medicare to do so, supported by both Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama. Of course, it had no chance of passing with George Bush in the White House.

Candidate Barack Obama said the ability to negotiate for drug prices would save $30 billion a year in medical costs. Yet when President Obama got to the White House, one of the first things he did was negotiate a secret deal with PhRMA that prevented drug price negotiations in exchange for $150 million in political advertising to help vulnerable Democrats in the House and in support of the health care bill.

In the Senate, Tom Carper said that because PhRMA had paid for the deal with political advertising, they were obligated to abide by it.

Jeff Sessions railed against the corrupt PhRMA deal that didn’t allow for prescription drug price negotiation. He didn’t mention that he voted for the 2000 bill without it, and when he had the chance to vote for it in the Senate in 2006, he voted “no” himself. Both parties are equally blameworthy — the only difference is who is in power and taking PhRMA’s money.

The PhRMA deal is one of many negotiated by the White House this last summer which formed the underpinnings of the health care bill. From then on, it just became a matter of which member was going to extract what deals for their votes, and who was going to take the blame for cutting popular elements from the legislation that the corporate “stakeholders” didn’t want.

As FDL’s Jon Walker wrote recently, if the ability to cut health care costs hadn’t been auctioned off to private corporations in exchange for political patronage, there would have been no government subsidy necessary to make insurance coverage affordable.

We are ceding control of the government to private corporations, not figuratively but literally. When the Senate Finance Committee bill was released earlier this year, the “author” was a former VP of Wellpoint. Liberals, conservatives and independents alike are all justifiably alarmed at what this represents.

It is tragic that health care for the poor is being held hostage to the corporatist agenda, a fig leaf to buy public support and disguise this bill for what it is. As blogger Marcy Wheeler noted in a piece called Health Care and the Road to Neo-Feudalism:

I understand the temptation to offer 30 million people health care. What I don’t understand is the nonchalance with which we’re about to fundamentally shift the relationships of governance in doing so.

Just as those on the libertarian right were demonized by the Republican establishment for opposing the Iraq war during the Bush years, so progressives on the left are being pilloried for “damaging the cause” by joining with Republicans to oppose these extreme measures. It’s ironic that the most virulent supporters of a President who ran on “bipartisanship” should reject it so vehemently when it becomes critical of the policies pursued by his White House.

This “right-left wraparound” is happening because politicians in both parties have become so unresponsive to popular sentiment: public support for stifling investigation of the bank bailouts just to protect the President are infinitesimally small, and fortunately Dennis Kucinich announced today that he would commence an investigation into the Fannie/Freddie bailout. But it’s a testament to the extreme nature of what is happening to our government that such traditional political foes could find common cause in opposing it.

It’s foolish to say that only those who agree with you on every issue are allowed to share your opinion when it comes to opposing something like the mandated bailout of Aetna — it isn’t necessary to achieve health care reform. As Jon Walker notes, removing the mandate would reduce the CBO score and its inclusion in the health care bill with no government alternative is unacceptable for moral, political and policy reasons.

Candidate Obama himself opposed the mandate. Keith Olberman and Howard Dean concur.

As Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos said, “remove the mandate or kill this bill.” We’ve opened a “war room” at Firedoglake with information about calling your member of Congress to demand that this provision to bail out the insurance industry be removed from the health care bill before they agree to cast their vote in favor of it.

And nobody needs to pass an ideological purity test before they can use it.

Join us to oppose the mandate. Enter the war room.

When 'natural' isn't natural

Wed, 12/30/2009 - 18:30
Slimy corporate marketing double-talk at its best.Until early 2009, Silk brand soy milk was made using organic soybeans. But earlier this year, Dean Foods (owner of the Silk brand) quietly switched to conventional soybeans, which are often grown with pesticides. But they kept the same UPC barcodes on their products, and they kept the product label virtually the same, only replacing the word "organic" with "natural" in a way that was barely noticeable. They also kept the price the same, charging consumers "organic" prices for a product that was now suddenly made with conventionally-grown soybeans.

Many retailers and consumers never noticed the bait-and-switch tactic, so they kept buying Silk, thinking it was still organic. The shift on the product label from "organic" to "natural" wasn't well understood by consumers, either. Many consumers continue to think that the term "natural" is basically the same as "organic," when in fact they are almost opposites. The term "natural" is entirely unregulated, and almost anything can be claimed to be "natural" even when it's sprayed with pesticides or treated with other chemicals.


How do you bump Cheney from Politico's top headline?

Wed, 12/30/2009 - 18:10

Let's say you're in the White House and a certain publication is stenographically touting attacks from the previous administration's Vice President. Sure, that publication might be pushing self-contradictory double standards, but everybody reads it, and you know whining about it won't get anything accomplished.

So what do you do to get them to lower the volume on the attacks against you? You give them an exclusive. Now you are in control of the message, at least for a little while, and your critics have been pushed aside.

But the only problem is, when you wake up tomorrow, you're going to face the same problem when that publication goes back to some other random schmuck to line up an attack against you, forcing you to once again feed the beast, fueling the vicious circle.

You really don't have much of an option other than to play the game, but man, does it ever suck. Big time.


MI-Gov: Hoekstra's Defense For Trying To Cash In On Terror

Wed, 12/30/2009 - 17:09

After a DNC spokesman called Pete Hoekstra's (R-MI) attempt to cash in on last week's attempted terrorist attack, "beyond the pale," a Hoekstra spokesman offered perhaps the lamest excuse in recent political memory:

Truscott, Hoekstra’s spokesman, dismissed criticism of his boss’s terrorism-related fundraising appeal as part of an effort by Democrats to undercut his gubernatorial bid.

“This is hottest issue going right now. Everybody’s talking about it’s the lead story in the news all across the country,” Truscott said. “As a leading national expert on this issue, it’s certainly appropriate to raise this issue as he talks about the leadership he could bring to Michigan.”

Uh, the problem isn't raising the issue of terrorism, it's trying to make money off of it -- never mind the fear and hate-mongering language Hoekstra used in his fundraising letter.


Maureen Dowd on WH's handling of terrorist attack aftermath

Wed, 12/30/2009 - 16:57
I think she's right. I don't think they're handling this well from a PR perspective. And yes, PR matters. It is important that the public feel that their leader gets it, that he's running the show, that he knows there's a problem, and that he is trying to fix it.

The Republican attacks against Obama over the past few days have hurt. But only because the White House hasn't exactly done a stellar job of managing the public response to the attack. The President should have been out there on day one, he shouldn't have gone golfing right after speaking to the nation about the attack (does no one in the White House watch old footage of Bush?), and it's not at all clear that he should have remained on vacation in "exotic" Hawaii (again, no memory of the campaign and the "Hawaii problem"?). And the last thing the WH should have done is sent Napolitano on TV, had the WH repeat the allegation, that everything worked really well AFTER the nut got away with trying to blow up a jet. The President even defended Napolitano yesterday. He didn't just defend the secretary, he defended her words. His staff said the President thought she was right, that the system did work well.

Oy.

As Maureen Dowd would say, lose the Spock. It doesn't matter if you're technically correct if your words come off as creepy and aloof. After some guy who paid $3000 in cash for his ticket, didn't check luggage, was on a terror watch list, whose own father called the US to warn that his son had become an extremist, waltzes on to a plane full of Americans and tries to blow it up - and only gets caught because some Dutch guy, not an air marshal, but a Dutch guy, jumped him, and the fairy dust in his crotch didn't fully ignite - after all of that, there is simply no circumstance, short of presenting the public with Osama bin Laden's head on a spit, that merits calling the day anything other than an unmitigated disaster.

It just looks bad, and whether folks like it or not, appearances matter in leadership. Just because the Republicans are trying to make hay of the entire incident doesn't mean the White House is handling it correctly.


Kucinich to Investigate Fannie/Freddie Bailout

Wed, 12/30/2009 - 16:15

If the White House thought they could slip the bailout of Fannie and Freddie through by announcing it in a Christmas Eve news dump, think again.

Dennis Kucinich just released this statement:

As Chairman of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, I’m announcing that the Subcommittee will launch an investigation into the Treasury Department’s recent decision to lift the current $400-billion cap on combined federal assistance to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, opening the way for additional, unlimited funds through the end of 2012. This investigation will include the role played by Fannie Mae chief executive Michael J. Williams and Freddie Mac chief executive Charles E. Haldeman in the decision, if any, and will seek to ensure that the additional assistance is used for homeowners and not Wall Street.

Many questions remain unanswered regarding this move by the Treasury. Why suddenly remove the cap? Indications are that Freddie and Fannie, even as millions of Americans lose their homes, have used just $111 billion of the $400 billion previously available to them. Is lifting the cap on assistance a back-door TARP?

Additionally, I want to determine whether Fannie and Freddie have a cohesive plan to buy up the under-performing mortgages that remain on the books of the big banks, at appropriate prices, and undertake a massive reworking of the terms of the mortgages so as to stem the foreclosure crisis that continues to plague our country.This new authority must be used responsibly and for the benefit of American families. This cannot be used simply to purchase toxic assets at inflated prices, thus transferring the losses to the U. S. taxpayers and acting as a back-door TARP.

On Christmas Eve, they also announced $4-$6 million compensation packages for their top executives. But they’ll start foreclosing on homeowners again in January.

Fannie and Freddie have been corrupt cesspools for years, a place where presidents of both parties parked friends like Dennis DeConcini and Rahm Emanuel, giving them lucrative spots on the board of directors as political payoff. As government sponsored entities (GSEs) selling shares to the public, they operate like hedge funds that socialize losses and privatize profits. From the LA Times last year:

This week…news broke that until August, the lobbying firm owned by McCain campaign manager Rick Davis was paid $15,000 a month by Freddie Mac, one of the mortgage giants implicated in the current crisis (now taken over by the government and under investigation by the FBI). Apparently, Freddie Mac’s plan was to gain influence with McCain’s campaign in hopes that he would help shield it from pesky government regulations.

It appears they kept looking. The Democrats have been too intimidated by leadership to start looking into the utter corruption at these entities, but Kucinich just doesn’t care.

We’ve started a fundraising page at ActBlue to thank Dennis for taking this bold step, and doing it quickly. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to leadership, the White House and the banks like that. GSEs are going to be much in the news in the upcoming year, and Kucinich is announcing that he will be setting the agenda, not standing on the sidelines, watching a coverup.

We’d like to get 100 donors to say “thank you” to Dennis, even if it’s only $5, so he knows it matters to the people who are watching.

Donate to Dennis Kucinich

Dick Cheney Isn't Even "Trying To Pretend"

Wed, 12/30/2009 - 16:00

Dick Cheney has emerged from his undisclosed lair to issue his expected attack against the President, this one in response to the recent attempted terrorist attack on a U.S. airliner.

As usual, the attack is blatant, hypocritical, and sure to be lapped up by the traditional media for the next 24 hours. In part, he says:

"As I’ve watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of 9/11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won’t be at war ... But we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe.

Of course, after the near identical situation in 2001, when shoe bomber Richard Reid attempted bring down an airliner, the Bush administration waited nearly a week to comment, and then only in passing, and Reid was (presumably after being read his Miranda rights) tried, convicted and sentenced in a civilian court.

I anxiously await the grilling Dick Cheney will get by the media over these pesky little details. And if any intrepid reporter does manage to work up the nerve to question him, maybe they could also ask Dick how that art therapy program kept us safe.