Thursday, January 26, 2006

Democrats: Get Up and Walk Out.

By William Rivers Pitt

To: Congressional Democrats
From: William Rivers Pitt
RE: A bold maneuver
- - - -
I have a wild and crazy idea.

George W. Bush's delivery of the State of the Union address will take place on Tuesday, January 31, a little more than a week from now. It is my strong belief that every single Democrat present in the House chamber for the speech should, at a predetermined moment, stand up and walk out. No yelling. No heated words. Every Democrat should simply stand silently and leave.

Crazy, I know. Crazy, and possibly the best idea ever put before a body of Democrats since the New Deal.

Understand this, congressional Democrats, and understand it well: you are not dealing merely with a body of political opponents in the GOP. You are dealing with a group of people that want you exterminated politically. The days of walking the halls of the Rayburn Building, sharing a bourbon with a colleague from the other side of the aisle, and hammering out a compromise are as dead as Julius Caesar. Collegiality is out. Mutual respect is out. They want you gone for good. Erased. Destroyed.

And you have been far too polite about this. The writing has been on the wall for a while now. Back in 1995, Republican Senator Phil Gramm said, "We're going to keep building the party until we're hunting Democrats with dogs." That was eleven years ago. If you listen close, you can hear the beasts baying in the distance, waiting to slip the leash. Your limp tactics in the face of the assault upon you, your vacillation, your strange hope that maybe the GOP will be nicer tomorrow, has left you all smelling like Alpo.

For the love of God, you are being compared to Osama bin Laden all over network television because some within your ranks have had the courage to question the war in Iraq. It hasn't been subtle. Bin Laden, according to the right-wing talking heads, is getting his talking points straight from Howard Dean. These are the out-front spokespeople for the folks running the GOP right now. If you think there is compromise to be had with these people, if you think there is quarter to be given to you, then I have a nice, big red bridge to sell you in San Francisco.

I know you believe the Abramoff scandal is going to be your bread and butter in the upcoming midterm elections. I hate to break it to you, but you have already been outflanked. The television nitwits have flooded the airwaves with the meme that this is a "two-party scandal," despite the fact that Abramoff would have sooner lit himself on fire than give money to a Democrat. As you have been collectively incapable of setting the record straight in public, with the exception of a two-minute crunch between Howard Dean and Wolf Blitzer on CNN that left Blitzer spluttering impotently, understand that "this scandal affects both parties" is now commonly accepted fact all across the land.

Oh, yeah, P.S., the investigation is being run out of the Department Justice. If this scandal does touch some sixty Republican officeholders, as Abramoff's donation history indicates, do you really think this White House is going to let the investigation get far enough to do real damage? If so, I again need to mention that big red bridge I have for sale.

In all likelihood, however, the White House won't even need to derail the Abramoff investigation to save Republicans from their ridiculous greed. Did you see the Washington Post headline from Friday? It read, "Rove: GOP to Use Terror as Campaign Issue." In reality, the headline should have read "GOP to Use Terror as Campaign Tactic." Once again, the Republicans are going to try to win midterm elections by scaring the hell out of the American people. This time, the fear factor will center around Iran and nuclear weapons.

The intelligence specialists in the United States, Germany and Israel all agree that Iran is between three and five years away from being able to manufacture nuclear weapons. This, of course, is based on the premise that such manufacture is Iran's goal. Take it as a given that it is, and we have at least three years to use diplomacy, economic pressures and possibly sanctions to keep them from creating these bombs.

But "three to five years" isn't going to help the GOP win the midterm elections. They need things to be scary, and they need things to be scary now. The same right-wing groups that ginned up the fantasy that Iraq was laden with weapons of mass destruction, and was an imminent threat, are now at work building up a martial froth about Iran. They did this in time for the midterms last time, and are preparing to do it again.

United Press International carried a story last Thursday about a group called the Foundation for Democracy in Iran. This group, according to the UPI story, claims that, "Tehran is planning a nuclear weapons test before the Iranian New Year on March 20, 2006." FDI, according to the story, offered absolutely no proof to back this claim. But that's not three to five years. That's less than ten weeks. Scary stuff, right?

Take a closer look, however, and you can see the fingerprints of the architects of our current Iraq boondoggle all over this. The Foundation for Democracy in Iran is run by a man named Kenneth Timmerman. Timmerman is umbilically connected to the godfather of right-wing think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute. It was the American Enterprise Institute that spawned the Project for the New American Century, the think tank that gave us Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, the original noise about Iraqi WMD, and the idea that a military takeover of the entire Mideast is a bully idea. The same people that terrorized the American people into unnecessary war in Iraq are preparing to do the same with Iran, and all in time for the midterms.

One must also note the irony of the suggested date for this Iranian nuclear test. March 20, 2006, for those not paying attention, is the three-year anniversary of our invasion of Iraq. And round and round we go.

You've been outflanked, Democrats. Abramoff won't help you, and the noise machine is preparing to terrorize the American people into such a distracted state that anything you say in the next ten months will be lost amid the howling. The midterms are pretty much a done deal, and your continued marginalization will proceed at speed.

You can stomp your feet and yell at the wall. You can put your head in your hands and weep. You can sit silently and be simply satisfied that your own job-for-life is secure, thanks to your friendly district back home, and be damned to actually doing anything of substance. In other words, you can continue to do what you've been doing since this outrageous assault on basic American democracy began.

Or you can stand up.

It takes a spine to stand up. Find yours. Get up and walk out of the State of the Union speech. Turn your backs on the blizzard of lies and empty promises that are sure to pour forth from that podium. Give it exactly what it deserves.

Walk outside to the steps of the Capitol Building and hold a Counter-State-of-the-Union. Lay out your plans for a better future. Explain how you will reform the system that spawned Mr. Abramoff. Demand answers and explanations about what is happening in Iraq, what is happening over at the National Security Agency, and why this administration believes itself to be completely above the law.

I can even offer a bit of text for your opening statement. "Three years ago during this very speech," your leading spokesperson can say from those steps, "Mr. Bush told us that Iraq was in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons - which is one million pounds - of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent, 30,000 missiles to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs, al Qaeda connections, and uranium from Niger for use in a robust nuclear weapons program. He said all this three years ago, during this all-important annual address, and all of it was a lie. The American people deserve an explanation."

See? It's easy. All it takes is courage.

What I am talking about is political theater on a grand scale. No opposition party in American history has ever turned their backs on a President and walked out of a State of the Union address. No opposition party has faced the degree of potential extermination the Democrats face today. The stakes have never been higher. You are dealing with a President who wants to make his Executive powers absolute, and with a Republican party that has been usurped from soup to nuts by extremists that would be cartoonish if they were not so very real.

Abramoff won't help you. The fear factor will subsume you. You can sit there and take it, clapping politely as the ram rolls towards you, or you can stand up and make yourselves relevant again. To walk out of the speech would be a huge statement, bold and potentially dangerous. But if you don't do something bold, something grand and unprecedented, something to take back the initiative, you will join the Whigs in the dustbin of history.

Stand up. Walk out. You have a week to get this organized.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Further GOP Lobbyist Corruption.

Bloomberg News With Tom DeLay having stepped down from the House Majority Leader position, Republicans are preparing to elect a new leader in the House in just 3 weeks. The clear candidates are the current acting majority leader, Roy Blunt (R-MI) and John Boehner (R-OH). But the question should be asked, are Blunt and Boehner just as corrupt as DeLay?

Blunt, who had tapped DeLay to be his chief deputy in 1999, have several things in common. Both men’s political action committees employ Jim Ellis, who was indicted with DeLay. DeLay’s PAC gave Blunt’s PAC $150,000 in 2000, and Blunt’s PAC gave $10,000 to DeLay’s non-profit foundation in the same year. Both PACs have employed Alexander Strategy Group, which included indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff as a former partner. Additionally, Blunt served as the GOP’s official liaison to K Street, having rounded up 200 lobbyists last April at the Capitol to discuss their party’s agenda.

But is Boehner any better? The top donor to Boehner’s PAC was the Reston, Virginia based student-loan company Sallie Mae. Sallie Mae contributed $65,000 to Boehner’s Freedom Project, as the House Education and Workforce Committee, which Boehner chairs, prepared to write new legislation governing student loans. In ‘95 Boehner handed out campaign checks from the tobacco industry to members of the House floor when Congress was considering eliminating a tobacco subsidy.

Tom DeLay Is Denied Again.

Two days after former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was forced to relinquish the House leadership position, Texas’ highest criminal court denied DeLay’s request that the money laundering charges be dropped against him.

This comes as the Alexander Strategy Group, one of K Street’s biggest lobbying firms has announced that it will be forced to close over its ties to Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff. Additionally, the firm employed DeLay’s wife, Christine DeLay for four years.

US Spends More On Health Care Than Ever Before.

The latest government calculations has found that due to rising costs, health care now consumes 16% of US economic output, the highest proportion ever. Health care costs has continued to rise substantially faster than inflation or wages, increasing nearly 8% in 2004 alone. In that same year inflation rose by 2.7%, while wages remained essentially unchanged.

About a third of the American population have no heath care at all, with large number of them being minorities and the poor.

From 1993 to 2004 the cost of health care has doubled, and many companies are complaining that employee and retiree health costs are making them less competitive, in comparison to other nations who have national health care systems.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

New Jersey Suspends Executions.

New Jersey lawmakers voted yesterday to suspend all executions while a task forces examines the fairness and the cost of imposing the death penalty. The outgoing Governor, Richard J. Codey is expected to sign the bill before leaving office later this month.

The measure would create a 13-member commission to study the death penalty in New Jersey, and release their findings in November.

New Jersey has become the third state, behind Illinois and Maryland to suspend executions to examine the fairness of the death penalty.

State Senator Republican Diane Allen said that, “We’ve heard about people who have been put to death and were then found to be innocent. We’ve looked at the cost, which is enormously more for someone on death row than for a person who’s imprisoned for life without parole.”

In light of several recent cases in which death row prisoners have been exonerated, at least 12 other states have appointed commissions to study the fairness in which the death penalty is carried out. 38 states permit people to be sentenced to death.

Americans Want A Democratic Congress.

A new AP-Ipsos poll has found that Americans want a change in which political party controls Congress, preferring that Democrats take majority control. The poll found that Americans favored a Democratic controlled Congress to a GOP controlled Congress by 49% to 36%.

With President Bush’s job approval at 40%, and approval of Congress at only 34%, Americans are increasingly growing tired of the scandal-laden Republican Congress. While only a third of the country believes the United States is heading in the right direction, 63% of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The War On The American Middle Class.

US household income has been stagnant for the last 5 years. US infant mortality rates are on the rise. Millions of Americans have slipped into poverty. There is an unspoken war being waged against the American middle class, a class war that the world’s 2nd richest man Warren Buffett says that his class is winning.

The purpose of this war is nothing more than to redistribute as much wealth as possible from common Americans to the richest men in America, in an organized system of servitude to the American corporate elite.

No American is free from this war, not even your average McDonald’s burger flipper. Meanwhile, the US leads the industrialized world in gun shootings, robberies, infant mortality, and a long list of several other categories. And while the Reich Wingers may blame this on race, perhaps it is actually the cause of this very class war.

So what would we find out if we compared the standard of living between a McDonald’s burger flipper living in San Antonio, Texas to your average McDonald’s burger flipper in France, and translated it into US currency?

For one, our McDonald’s worker in France spends 5 more hours a week with his family. In France a full time work week is 35 hours, as compared to the US’s 40. That gives that worker, if he has children, more time to rise them and make sure they are going to school, and staying out of trouble.

But that’s not all. If you are a woman and you have a child in the United States you will be granted 6 weeks off the job. But you will get no pay in that time. This law, the Family Medical Leave Act, was the first bill President Clinton signed into law. Conservatives have been outraged by it ever since. But what about a McDonald’s worker in France who has a child? She has a choice of two options. She can take a year off of work, and be paid $1000 a month, or she can take 3 years off at $700 a month. Additionally, families with two children receive an extra $350 subsidy in order to rise their children.

But that’s still not all. Should your child be born with some medical problems, you’re simply up the river without a paddle. Chances are that you simply cannot afford medical insurance for yourself or your family working at McDonald’s in San Antonio, Texas. That very same health care in France, and indeed in every other industrialized nation in the world is free to all their citizens. And not only that, but child care in France is free as well. Child care for the Texan mothers? How much can you afford?

But that’s still not all. That McDonald’s worker in San Antonio can work there for the rest of their lives, and will never get a paid vacation. Even for American workers who do get vacation, it is usually 1 to 2 weeks a year. What about that McDonald’s worker in France? After a year of employment, that worker will get a guaranteed 5 weeks off in paid vacation.

As your child starts to grow up, in San Antonio you can send him to public school, which is free from kindergarten to high school. Of course, conservatives have been fighting this for the last 20 years. But what about that child in France? Public education is available there from pre-school all the way up to earning your PhD in college.

Should you loose your job at McDonald’s, in San Antonio, Texas you might be able to get unemployment insurance, which would only be about 450 bucks for 26 weeks. Should the same happen to you in France, you will get a thousand dollars per month until you get another job.

But what about the cost of putting a roof over your head? In San Antonio, a two bedroom apartment for you to live in is roughly $700 a month. But in France, housing for low wage workers is only $200 a month.

And after years of working at McDonald’s in San Antonio you can retire at the age of 67 and collect social security. What is the retirement age in France? 60. Furthermore, life expectancies are longer in France than the United States, so in France you will be able to enjoy more of your golden years before you eventually kick the bucket.

And finally, what about pay? We all know that McDonald’s workers are scraping the bottom of the barrel…at least in the United States. In San Antonio, Texas a McDonald’s worker doesn’t have to be paid no more than $5.15 per hour. On average, McDonald’s tends to pay new hires between $5.25 and $5.75 per hour. But what about that McDonald’s worker in France? Adjusted for US current dollars, new hires at McDonalds in France make over $9.00 per hour.

And if that didn’t give you a moment to pause, then get this: The top 10 richest people in the United States, three of whom are from Microsoft, and another three who are from Wal-Mart, are worth $228.3 billion dollars. In France, the top 10 richest people are worth just $68.2 billion, and the richest person in the country, Liliane Bettencourt, is a woman.