Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Long-Term Bush Backlash

I just got back home from Thanksgiving travel to see family down south. On the drive, we stopped at a gas station in rural southwestern Virginia. A pickup truck with a South Carolina tag had a bumper sticker that caught my attention. It said:
"George W. Bush made me a Democrat."
Right on! You and millions of others, I thought.

When I consider the long-term damage that the Bush administration did to America and the world, I take some comfort in knowing that it also led to social and political awakenings for a great many people who were repulsed by it. I count myself as one of these people. Though I was a Democrat before Bush, his presidency and all that enabled it definitely lit a fire under my ass. In fact, I would say that the Bush years turned me from a casual, election-minded Democrat into a lifelong progressive activist.

What about you? How did the Bush years affect your political consciousness?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Adopt-a-State, Things Republicans Hate

Will the Democratic caucus in the Senate stick together long enough to allow an up or down vote on health care reform? If so, we win and millions more Americans will have access to medical care.

But know this: Every single Republican Senator will support a filibuster to kill health care reform. Every one. Even the two ladies from Maine. They hate everything about this reform bill. They hate it for the normal ideological reasons, because it involves government action on behalf of the general welfare. But they also hate it for strategic political reasons. Republicans know that if the Democrats manage to pass big health care reform legislation, and it does indeed expand access and reduce costs, then it could alter the political landscape for a generation. Americans would start to think differently about not only their party identification but also the role of government. The entire Reaganite "government is the problem" philosophy could disappear over night. There are plenty of quotes from conservative intellectuals and strategists admitting as much, which I will dig up when I have some more time.

But for now, the point is that if the Democratic caucus will stick together, the Senate Republicans don't really even matter. And this leads me to the SEIU's cool recent campaign: Adopt-a-State. They explain...
We elected Barack Obama, in part, by calling tens of thousands of voters in key "swing states." This year is no different. Voters in Arkansas, Nebraska, Connecticut and Louisiana need to hear from us about what's happening on health insurance reform. So adopt a state, and start recruiting your team today.
These of course are the states of the four Democrats who have at one time or another threatened to join a Republican filibuster of health care reform. They are Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas, Ben Nelson from Nebraska, Joe Lieberman (technically he's an Independent, but he caucuses with and gets free stuff from the Dems) from Connecticut, and Mary Landrieu from Louisiana. SEIU's idea is to help activate supporters of health care reform in these key states to contact their Senators, so that Lieberman and company will feel more pressure from below.

So at a time when many progressives are hoping for some back room arm-twisting against the conservative four, the country's second biggest union is out to turn up the heat in their home states. That is something to feel good about.

PS... Expanding access to health care, big and active unions, and the possibility that Democrats might act like real Democrats? These sound like the ingredients of a right wing nightmare! Just toss ACORN in there to really make this psychedelic. As Rachel pointed out, SEIU is right below ACORN on the Right's list of things to smash.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Not Kidnapped By Somali Pirates

Just a quick note to the BTM faithful that I have not fallen off the face of the earth. Family in town last week and obscene work hours this week has meant not much time for the ol' blaaawg.

Don't panic. Here's what's coming up this week on BTM:
  1. We'll ask the Utah state government to man up and take responsibility for an act of villainy it committed 94 years ago.
  2. We'll examine possibly the most ridiculous and racist monument currently on display in a U.S. national park.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another Gratuitous Execution

Tonight the state of Virginia executed John Allen Muhammad, who was convicted of the 2002 DC-area sniper shootings that left 10 people dead. There is little about this case to indicate that Muhammad's execution was much more unjust than others. But a few unsettling circumstances remind us that the death penalty is indeed an inexact science. And I'm left wondering, "Why is America still executing people?"

Mr. Muhammad maintained his innocence until he was killed tonight, as more than 20 relatives of victims watched through the glass. One of his lawyers claimed--even as late as today, once all appeals had been exhausted--that Muhammad was mentally ill. His second ex-wife said that Muhammad's personality had changed after serving in the Gulf War. And she said he never received counseling after returning from the war.

The state seems like it was in a hurry to execute Muhammad. As the Supreme Court declined to hear Muhammad's appeal, Justices Stevens, Ginsberg, and Sotomayor wrote that the judicial process had been rushed because Virginia had scheduled the execution for Tuesday. And Muhammad's lawyers complained that they had not been given enough time to file his final appeal.

The final chance for clemency lay in the hands of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, who is also chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Kaine has long claimed to be "personally" against the death penalty but has overseen 11 execution as governor. When he was campaigning for governor in 2005, Kaine's Republican opponent tried to make Kaine's anti-death penalty stance the central issue of the campaign. To win, Kaine had to assure voters that he would uphold Virginia's death penalty laws even though they violated his personal and religious (he's Catholic) beliefs. This week, Kaine must certainly have known that news of the chairman of the DNC granting clemency to one of the country's most notorious killers would have brought unwelcome attention at a time when the party has big things on its plate. I have no particular beef with Tim Kaine, but his position in all this illustrates the (at best) arbitrary and (at worst) political factors that determine who gets executed when.

But the simpler and more profound point is this. There was no need to kill John Allen Muhammad tonight. They could have locked him up and thrown away the key, as they did with his child accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo. He would have been no danger to anyone, just as he's been no danger since he was apprehended in 2002. Instead, for reasons that I know but don't understand, Virginia decided to march Muhammad out in front of a small crowd to kill him seven years after his crimes.

I think that when America finally bans the death penalty, it won't be so much a result of arguments about deterrence and cost and so on. It will be because we grow to see executing criminals as a clumsy and barbaric institution.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Questions From A Reader

From Mason, in comments to the previous post:
Master of the Machines,
Two questions: 1. What's your take on the Stupak Amdt? (Was it a good thing in itself?) 2. Is it better to have 40 conservative blue dogs in Congress or 40 Republicans?

First of all, come on! I'm not the dang Master of the Machines! Conservative autocracy--hoarded power, son!--the great owners and their lieutenants, try to make us all into machines. I'm trying to remind us that we're people(!) and we can build a country where we act like it. I'm trying to overthrow the Masters of the Machines! Alright, alright, I've caught my breath. Moving on...

1. I think it's a distraction from health care reform. But others' opinions will vary depending on what they think about abortion itself, something I've generally avoided delving into on this blog. (I may lift that embargo soon, because the issue is getting harder to ignore.) From what I understand, the Stupak Amendment is billed as "prohibiting federal funding for abortions," when in reality, it introduces new restrictions. It pretty much says that no insurance plan except a private plan where the consumer is paying 100% of the cost can include coverage for "abortions"--and the term includes more than you might think. That means that private plans on the "national exchange" described in the reform bill--not to mention the public option--would not have coverage for abortion procedures. So basically, it will be harder for poor people to get abortions--or at least harder to get them without being financially ruined. The amendment will do nothing to reduce the demand for or number of abortions, because that's not really the point, is it?

I think the health care reform bill is the wrong place to have an abortion debate. At worst, I think the Stupak Amendment was actually meant to deflate left-wing support for the bill and thereby kill meaningful reform.

2. It's better to have 40 conservative blue dog Democrats than 40 Republicans, even though it doesn't always feel like it. That's because the Blue Dogs are easier for progressives to pressure than Republicans are. I read an article yesterday showing how much even blue dogs rely on organized labor for money and grassroots power. If the Left really wants to, it can pull the plug on a blue dog, or better yet, beat them with a progressive candidate in the primary. There's lots of talk right now across the 'tubes about "primarying" the House Dems who voted against H.R. 3962. At the very least, progressives can raise hell and make blue dogs worry about shoring up their left flank. There aren't as many tools available when you're dealing with Republicans, because the coalition they ride to power doesn't really care about anything you care about...unless you're really into lowering minimum wage and safety standards in the workplace, passing a flag burning amendment, or slashing pesky environmental safeguards.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Late Night Health Care Thread

Health reform passes the House 220 to 215
(39 Dem YEAs and 1 Repub NAY)

12:15am ET: Ah, who am I kidding? I've had too much Diet Coke to go to bed. Open Left has the list of the 39 Democrats who voted Nay. There should be political consequences for these people, many of whom rode into office on Obama's coattails, with organized labor's money, in a Democratic wave in 2008, and then vote against the biggest priorities of the President, the labor movement, and the Democratic Party.

Here they are:

1. Adler (NJ)
2. Altmire
3. Baird
4. Barrow
5. Boccieri
6. Boren
7. Boucher
8. Boyd
9. Bright
10. Chandler
11. Childers
12. Davis (AL)
13. Davis (TN)
14. Edwards (TX)
15. Gordon (TN)
16. Griffith
17. Herseth Sandlin
18. Holden
19. Kissell
20. Kosmas
21. Kratovil
22. Kucinich
23. Markey (CO)
24. Marshall
25. Massa
26. Matheson
27. McIntyre
28. McMahon
29. Melancon
30. Minnick
31. Murphy (NY)
32. Nye
33. Peterson
34. Ross
35. Shuler
36. Skelton
37. Tanner
38. Taylor
39. Teague

11:56pm ET: Final update of the evening: This is a big, big win, but we're not home yet. We should take a moment to recognize what an accomplishment this is. American has done nothing this big in health care since Medicare was passed. Passing a major health bill through one chamber of Congress is no small feat. Now the fight moves on to the even more conservative Senate, where every Joe Lieberman in the world will try to grab some last-minute spotlight. I think though that at the end of the day, there is just too much momentum on the side of reform for the defenders of the status quo to stop it. I predict once again that health care reform will pass and the president will sign it into law. More on the political implications of all this in coming posts.

For now, I'll leave it with the words the president so eloquently "tweeted" tonight:
This is history.
11:43pm ET: This is interesting. The AFL-CIO is talking about reducing its contributions to Democrats who oppose health care reform. Well, 39 of them just opposed it on the floor of the House, so let's see if the labor federation sticks to its guns. Even for Blue Dogs, money from organized labor makes up a big chunk of their campaign spending. For 52 Blue Dogs, a plurality of their 2009 contributions came from labor. And then the Dogs go out on the floor of the House and vote against the biggest priorities of working families and unions. I think Rich Trumka, the new AFL-CIO president, is on to something: Demand stuff from Democrats in return for electing them. If they don't give you stuff, don't keep electing them.

11:19pm ET: Here's more info about the one Republican to join Democrats in voting for health care reform. It's Anh "Joseph" Cao (R-LA), elected in 2008 from a heavily Democratic and African-American district.
11:12pm ET: Hey look. One Republican YEA vote! Now they can call it "bipartisan."

Looks like the final vote is 220 YEAs and 215 NAYs. Not much room for error.

11:07pm ET: Got 218! DING DING DING DING DING!!! Wow, 39 maybe 40 Democratic NAY votes.

11:02pm ET: Already 30 Democrats voting NAY. We can afford to lose 40 of them and still win.

10:59pm ET: The final vote is open! Alright, 218 is the magic number.

10:55pm ET: Who the heck are these Democrats joining Republicans on this motion to recommit? With 2 minutes to go, it's already failed, but still, huh? These are probably the same conservative Dems who will vote against the final bill. But fear not, all signs still look good for final passage.

10:50pm ET: Voting now on the "motion to recommit," which is basically Republicans trying to send the bill back into endless debate. But this ain't the Senate, so that ain't so easy. Should go down easily. Final vote should come after that.

10:35pm ET: According to, the one Republican to vote against the Republican "substitute bill" was Louie Gohmert (R TX-01). Don't know who he is or why he did that. Push the wrong button, Louie?

10:32pm ET: Now they're debating a "motion to recommit." I think this is where the Republicans throw in all their final, evil talking points. Several sites I've read said they're going to talk a lot about illegal immigrants. Right now Eric Cantor (R-VA) is rattling on about tort reform. The real vote should be coming soon.

10:27pm ET: The Republican bill is rejected by party-line vote. But who is that one Republican who voted Nay?

10:20pm ET: Stupak Amendment passes easily and is attached to the bill. More than 60 Democrats voted for it. Now they're voting on the "Republican substitute" amendment, which is basically an un-reform bill to take the place of what the Democrats are offering. This one should be an exact party-line vote.

10:07pm ET:
Right now they are voting on the Stupak Amendment, which is a pro-life provision introduced by Bart Stupak (D-MI). There were worries earlier that if this amendment passed, then angry liberal Democrats would actually vote against the bill and help Republicans sink it. But if the amendment failed, conservative Dems were threatening to vote against the bill too. It now sounds like it doesn't matter... enough Dems will come home to pass the bill, Stupak Amendment or no.

Some Light Reading For A Saturday Night

You can read the entire 1,990-page House health reform bill, H.R. 3962, here. I've been skimming through it using the word finder tool. This will be a good way to pass time during commercials and halftime of the Gator game.

C-SPAN is Rockin' Right Now!

If you're near a TV right now, take a look at C-SPAN. The House is moving towards voting on the health care reform bill later today. But first they have to clear several parliamentary formalities. Right now, I'm watching the Republican members interrupt everything they possibly can with objections and "parliamentary inquiries." And the Chair, Rep. John Dingell (D-Michigan), has to answer every one of their BS objections. So you end up having a Democratic Congresswoman, who has the floor, trying to read her one or two-sentence statement of support for the bill, while a Republican Congressman from Georgia yells, "I object! I object! I object! I object!"

The Chair has to stop and basically tell the Congressman to shut up, though of course it's wrapped in parliamentary language. And the process grinds on.

I just think it's especially illustrative of what Republicans stand for to see them doing whatever they can to stop, or at least delay, this bill. The American people are about to expand their access to medical coverage and rein in insurance companies. Republicans object indeed!

Update: Here are some videos of what I was talking about.

Friday, November 6, 2009

"Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards"

Billy Bragg says,
"If you've got a website, I wanna be on it."
You got it, Billy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Year Ago This Week

Ah, the first Tuesday of November. Where were you at this time last year? I just dug up the story, posted below, of my election-night celebrating in downtown DC. An edited version of this actually got printed in my hometown newspaper, in a county where 60% of the votes went to McCain/Palin... Oh snap!
Last night Katie and I literally danced in front of the White House, on Pennsylvania Avenue, with thousands of other people. It was about 2 am. There were drums. Flags. Chants. High fives with strangers. If George was home, he heard us. If he looked out a window, in any direction, he saw us.

We sang to the president:
"Na na na na, na na na na, hey-ey-ey, goodbye!"
"Hit the road jack, and don't you come back no more..."

All over northwest DC, from the Capitol to the White House, even deep into residential areas, drivers layed on their horns. People on the sidewalks jumped up and down. An unceasing ringing of horns and shouts, a constant rhythm of chanting and drums echoed down the streets. And it went on and on. Intersections near the White House were blocked. People were standing on their cars, hanging out windows, waving flags. The police were smiling.

When we finally started heading home, we thought we had left the celebration area, only to drive upon a spontaneous parade of several hundred people marching down 16th Street. Again, drums pounding away. Jubilation. The marchers took up all the southbound lanes, heading toward the White House to join the thousands already there. They stopped for a while to dance in the tunnel under Massachusetts Avenue, where the drums were thunderous.

The size, scope, and duration of the celebration was impressive. Fox News described it all as a couple hundred kids from George Washington University who had "texted, so to speak," their friends from Georgetown. No, it was EVERYONE from at least Capitol Hill to Dupont Circle. We were there around 2 am. The party had been kickin' for a while and showed no sign of slowing when we left.

Did George Bush look out his window? Did he see the entire city dancing, euphoric at the thought of him leaving office, excited to have a president we can be proud of?

George Bush and Karl Rove tried to create a "permanent Republican majority," an alliance between big business and social reactionaries that rested on a foundation of greed and fear. Instead they learned that you can push the people around for a long time, you can knock them down, rob them, deceive them, turn them against one another. You can push people around, but eventually...


Sunday, November 1, 2009

As America grows more democratic, it grows more Democratic.

There's an excellent post over at today that looks at how the 2008 election might have turned out in several different alternate histories. Specifically, they slice up the real 2008 results to see how much of the vote Obama would have gotten if you rolled back each layer of voting rights expansion over the last 200 years.

The chart below shows four things:
1) Six sequential "eras" of American voting rights,
2) Which group(s) of people could generally vote in each era,
3) What proportion of the 2008 electorate was made up of that group,
4) How much of that group's votes went to Obama.
Colonial Era: Adult white protestant landowning males
12% of the 2008 electorate. 31% voted for Obama (if you use an income cutoff of $50,000 as a substitute for "landowning").

Jeffersonian Era: Adult white landowning males
21% of the 2008 electorate. 40% voted for Obama.

Jacksonian Era: Adult white males
32% of the 2008 electorate. 41% voted for Obama.

Women's Suffrage Era: Adult whites
69% of the 2008 electorate. 43% voted for Obama.

Civil Rights Era: Adults
95% of the 2008 electorate. 52% voted for Obama.

Post-1971 Era: Even more adults (voting age lowered)
100% of the 2008 electorate. 53% voted for Obama.
It makes intuitive sense that Obama only "wins" when you add in the Civil Rights Era expansion of voting rights. But does it strike anyone else as profound that his numbers go up with each expansion of suffrage? The chart shows that the more democratic America gets, the more Democratic America gets. (Note clever use of lower-case d vs. capital D!) In the long run, given that the parties shift over time, it's more accurate to say that as the country grows more democratic, it grows more progressive.

An interesting follow-up to Open Left's article would be to look at specific progressive legislative victories that were accomplished in each era as a result of a previous expansion of suffrage. For instance, would the victories of the late 1800s and early 1900s--like the direct election of Senators and the creation of a progressive income tax--have been possible without the earlier, Jacksonian expansion of voting rights to include non-landowning white males? Would FDR's New Deal programs of the '30s and '40s have been possible without winning women's suffrage in the '20s? It's also worth noting that each expansion of suffrage listed above probably would not have been possible without the one that came before it. It's a kind of progressive/democratic momentum at work. It's slow but powerful.

Next, let's not make the mistake of thinking that history ended yesterday. The progression of democracy shown in the chart above was the product of the strikes, marches, canvassing, community organizing, pamphleteering, soap-boxing, and campaigning by people who were variously called progressives, radicals, liberals, democrats, and populists. At every single step they were opposed by people who were called conservatives. (This, as much as anything else, demonstrates what conservatives throughout history have been trying to "conserve": undue political power and the wealth that goes with it.)

Should we think that this 200-year tug-of-war between ("small d") democrats and conservatives magically ended right before our current era? Of course not. The conservative movement still has a stake in making America less democratic by restricting our voting rights. Let's look at some specifics. (The list below ain't comprehensive.)

Voter registration - Virtually across the board, Republicans seek to make voter registration as hard as possible. As you can imagine, there are millions of little ways to go about this. Meanwhile, Democrats generally want voter registration to be as easy as possible. Some of the recent progressive victories have been the motor voter laws from the '90s and the number of states that allow people to register the same day as the election.

The act of voting - Republicans also want to make the act of voting and the day of the election as inconvenient and time-consuming as possible. If it were up to them, you'd have to show seven forms of identification at your precinct. They say they're just concerned about preventing fraud. Really they know that studies show that ID requirements are more of a burden for poor and minority voters than for richer and whiter voters. There are also a whole number of lies that Republicans drag out every two years at election time. In recent elections, we've heard of advertisements in black neighborhoods that gave the wrong date for voting. We've heard of announcements going out that voters may be arrested at the polls if they have outstanding traffic tickets or child support payments. In each Democratic campaign I've been involved with, most of the "ground game" in the late stages is spent telling people that it's actually much easier to vote than they've been led to believe.

Disenfranchising criminals - Republicans are also big fans of disenfranchising felons. (I've never understood how we ever allowed this; it just seems like our most fundamental right.) So they make a felony conviction take away someone's voting rights, then they make up what qualifies as a felony. Combine this with other structural inequalities and it adds up to 5.3 million Americans and 13% of black men who are unable to vote. That is absolute gold for Republicans. But Democrats and liberals are always working at ways to restore voting rights for felons and even to register voters in prison.

Disenfranchising our nation's capital - More than half a million residents of Washington D.C. still have no vote in the House of Representatives or in the Senate, despite the fact that we pay federal taxes, fight and die in wars, and are Americans. There is currently legislation moving through Congress that would give DC a vote in the House. I'll let you guess which party is for it and which one is against it.

Importing a voteless underclass - Conservative economics--always seeking a more slave-like workforce--brings undocumented workers across our southern boarder. If disenfranchising felons is gold for Republicans, then importing an entire population of workers who have no rights must be platinum. Think of it: cheap labor, the ability to break union organizing drives with the threat of immigrations enforcement, and the knowledge that the workers cannot vote. But true to its historical legacy, the American Left is working to make these workers into citizens, voters, and union members. And the right wing really, really hates that.

This post ended up being longer than I intended. But I think it's plain to see that the 200-year American tug-of-war between democracy and conservatism continues.