Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Well, I don't know about this...

I like Jonathan Alter, and I see the wisdom in this piece in Newsweek, but I'm not sure I'm patient enough to want to see it through.

Why We Need DeLay to Stay
The midterms should be a referendum on DeLay's America. Stay on the right fringe or move to the center? Let the people decide.

By Jonathan Alter
Senior Editor and Columnist

May 2 issue - A couple of years ago, Tom DeLay was chomping on a cigar at a Washington restaurant with some lobbyists. The manager went over to tell him he couldn't smoke because the restaurant was located on property leased from the federal government, which bars smoking. "I am the federal government," DeLay replied, in words that will follow the onetime exterminator from Sugar Land, Texas, like ants at a picnic.

The line reeks of the arrogance and self-importance that may bring DeLay low, but it also has the advantage of being true: all three branches of the federal government belong to Republicans, and the autocratic House majority leader is the purest representation of the breed. On every issue—ethics, the environment, guns, tax cuts, judges—he is a clarifying figure for anyone who might be confused about the true nature of today's GOP.

So assuming he dodges indictment, DeLay should stay in his post for 18 months, until the 2006 midterm elections. Even if his legendary gerrymandering has made it unlikely that the Democrats will regain control of Congress, at least the voters—who now, finally, have heard of this guy—would have a clearer decision about where the country should go. His potential successors are all just as conservative as DeLay, but they seem colorless and would thus fuzz up the choice. The midterms should be a referendum on DeLay's America. Stay on the right fringe or move toward the center? Let the people decide.

Some Democrats aren't buying. Sure, it would be nice to have "the Hammer" around as a bogeyman for direct-mail solicitations, they say, but he should step down. They claim that his death by a thousand cuts is, as Democratic Rep. Harold Ford puts it, "a big distraction from all that we are trying to do."

Actually, that's an argument for keeping DeLay around. We should want the 109th Congress "distracted" and kept from returning to normal business for as long as possible. Anything the Democrats are "trying to do" won't get done anyway. And what the Radical Republicans are trying to do is usually bad—from cutting taxes further amid monster deficits to immunizing polluters in the energy bill (which won't do a thing, as even proponents admit, to cut gas prices), to subjecting Social Security to the whims of the stock market. It was once conservatives who thought Congress should legislate less. Now this should be the Democratic mantra: Don't do anything. Just stand there!

This will be depicted as obstructionist by the same people who once preached against activist government, but it's the only effective response to the dictatorial way that DeLay's House does business. (Yes, I know the House Democrats could be high-handed during their long years of power, too, but that doesn't excuse the current behavior.) Democrats like Ford don't care to admit that they're utterly powerless; it makes it harder to get up every day and go to work. But their amendments are almost always rejected, and they are excluded from the conference committees that resolve House-Senate differences. So for House Democrats to be "constructive" by engaging in bipartisanship is, with a few exceptions, a sucker's game.

If DeLay goes down, his shamelessness will go with him, which will make it harder to see the GOP's true agenda. Take the assault on federal judges. DeLay first asserted that they must "answer for their behavior" in the Schiavo case. His "apology" consisted of adding: "We set up the courts. We can unseat the courts. We have the power of the purse." At a recent strategy session sponsored by Tony Perkins's Family Research Council and James Dobson's Focus on the Family, discussion focused on getting rid of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which the right wing deems too liberal. Perkins and Dobson reminded the group that they need not impeach judges, they can simply defund them, as DeLay recommends.

Sure, it's wrong when DeLay takes Scottish golf outings courtesy of Indian casinos or lets lobbyists write bills or turns the House ethics committee from a bipartisan panel into his own personal Laundromat, bent on cleaning his reputation. This is the same man who asked in 1995: "Are they [representatives] feeding at the public trough, taking lobbyist-paid vacations, getting wined and dined by special-interest groups? Or are they working hard to represent their constituents? The people have a right to know."

But this smelly hypocrisy—assuming it's not found illegal—merely offends the senses. DeLay's views on muscling the judiciary and ending the separation of church and state (which he believes is a fiction) offend the Constitution. That makes it too important to leave to the media and the rest of the Washington scandal machine to remedy. This job belongs to the voters, who can hammer the Hammer by siding against his many acolytes in Congress. Let's make 2006 a referendum on the right wing. For that, DeLay must stay.

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.
© 2005 MSNBC.com

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Thinking gives me a headache

From my dear friend (and cousin-in-law) Encino Man:

It started out innocently enough.
I began to think at parties now and then -- to loosen up.
Inevitably, though, one thought led to another, and soon I was more than just a social thinker.
I began to think alone -- "to relax," I told myself -- but I knew it wasn't true.
Thinking became more and more important to me, and finally I was thinking all the time.
That was when things began to sour at home.
One evening I had turned off the TV and asked my wife about the meaning of life.
She spent that night at her mother's.
I began to think on the job.
I knew that thinking and employment don't mix, but I couldn't stop myself.
I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thoreau and Kafka.
I would return to the office dizzied and confused, asking, "What is it exactly we are doing here?"
One day the boss called me in
He said, "Listen, I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. If you don't stop thinking on the job, you'll have to find another job."
This gave me a lot to think about.
I came home early after my conversation with the boss.
"Honey," I confessed, "I've been thinking..."
"I know you've been thinking," she said, "and I want a divorce!"
"But Honey, surely it's not that serious."
"It is serious," she said, lower lip aquiver. "You think as much as college professors, and college professors don't make any money, so if you keep on thinking, we won't have any money!"
"That's a faulty syllogism," I said impatiently.
She exploded in tears of rage and frustration, but I was in no mood to deal with the emotional drama.
"I'm going to the library," I snarled as I stomped out the door.
I headed for the library, in the mood for some Nietzsche.
I roared into the parking lot with NPR on the radio and ran up to the big glass doors...
They didn't open. The library was closed.
To this day, I believe that a Higher Power was looking out for me that night.
Leaning on the unfeeling glass, whimpering for Zarathustra, a poster caught my eye.
"Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?" it asked.
You probably recognize that line.
It comes from the standard Thinkers Anonymous poster.
Which is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker.
I never miss a TA meeting.
At each meeting we watch a non-educational video; last week it was "Porky's."
Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since the last meeting.
I still have my job, and things are a lot better at home.
Life just seemed...easier, somehow, as soon as I stopped thinking.
I think the road to recovery is nearly complete for me.
Today, I registered to vote as a Republican...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Democrats must change everything

James Carville and Paul Begala are two of my favorite pundits, as those things go. They have written this Op-Ed in USA Today:
"Houston, we have a problem." With those words, spoken with a calm that masked the gravity of the situation, astronaut Jim Lovell informed NASA that Apollo 13 was running out of oxygen.
The skinny guys with skinny ties back in Houston, and the crew-cut crew in space, acted. They didn't argue. They didn't second-guess. They didn't blame each other. They acted. And most important, they didn't deny that they had a problem.

But today, too many leading Democratic strategists deny that the party we love has a problem. When you lose to an unpopular president with a soft economy and a disastrous occupation in Iraq — a man who lost all three debates and who, when he's trying to complete a sentence, is like a drunk man trying to cross an icy street — you most definitely have a problem.

Let's be clear what the problem is — and is not.

Some think the problem is that Democrats have become too liberal. They point to unpopular positions on partial-birth abortion and other social issues and say Democrats should return to the center.

Others say the problem is that the party has become too conservative. They point to Democrats who supported President Bush's tax cuts for the rich and the crippling deficits they caused, and say the party should return to its progressive, populist roots.

Both are right, but more broadly, both are wrong.

Sure, we'd like it if Democrats were seen as the party of faith, family and the flag. And we'd like it if Democrats would fight corporate interests more and take their special interest money less. But the biggest problem the Democrats face is not that they're seen as standing for too many liberal issues or standing for too many conservative positions. It's that Democrats aren't seen as standing for anything.

The fundamental question for the party out of power is always: What would you change?

Democrats' answer should be, "Everything." On every front, on every issue, Democrats should be the party of reform, change and a new direction.

• The economy. President Bush's weak-dollar, high-debt economic policies have placed our economic destiny in the hands of communist Chinese central bankers and Arab oil sheiks. Democrats should stand for fiscal responsibility, asking the wealthiest to pay their share of the debt — and reform, reform, reform. We should reform trade laws that encourage corporations to ship jobs overseas. We should reform the tax code and replace the current lobbyists' dream with a tax code that is simpler, fairer and more progressive. Above all, we should place middle-class jobs and middle-class values at the heart of our economic policy. Middle-class Americans are working hard and playing by the rules, but they are being ripped off at every turn. They need economic reform.

• Health care. While millions of Americans are debating whether they would want to prolong their life through extraordinary measures, the reality is many Americans will never have that option.

President Bush has proposed crippling cuts in Medicaid (a program that supported Terri Schiavo). The corrupt alliance between pharmaceutical lobbyists and the Republicans resulted in a prescription drug bill that costs twice what we were told it would — perhaps because the new law makes it a crime to negotiate for lower prices. If that law applied to businesses, every manager of every Wal-Mart would be in jail. Democrats should stand for health care reform.

• Foreign policy. Rather than reform our badly broken intelligence services, President Bush and the Republicans have engaged in political purges, rewarding those who were most wrong about the war in Iraq and punishing those few who sounded alarms.

Rather than reforming and modernizing our alliances, President Bush has alienated our friends and emboldened our enemies. Worst of all, our senior government officials cannot always be counted on to tell us the truth when American lives are at risk. It's time to reform our foreign policy.

• Political reform. When House Republicans choose as their leader Tom DeLay, who has been cited and sanctioned by the Ethics Committee more often than any other congressman, it's high time for reform.

When lobbyists are writing legislation, when gambling interests are paying for luxury junkets, when the Ethics Committee itself has been put out of business, it's time for reform. Democrats should stand for cracking down on lobbyists and cleaning up our politics.

Lord Acton said absolute power corrupts absolutely. The absolute power Republicans currently enjoy in Washington has corrupted our economy, our foreign policy, our health care system and our very democracy.

If Democrats can't take on that corruption with a bold and broad agenda of change and reform, then (to paraphrase the late senator Pat Moynihan) we'd better find another country to run in.

Right now it seems to me that the Dems are in a reactive, defensive mode. I think Howard Dean can change that to an active, aggressive program. Here's hopin'.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

An American Hero

A true American hero passed away recently. He stood up to the government when they did wrong. From the San Francisco Chronicle.

In 1998, Fred Korematsu was a fragile reed of a man. But in the East Room of the White House, the septuagenarian stood up straight and tall as he heard President Clinton say, "Plessy, Brown, Parks ... to that distinguished list, today we add the name of Fred Korematsu."

Mr. Korematsu, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for courageously defying military orders calling for the World War II removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, died of respiratory failure Wednesday in San Rafael. He was 86.

Mr. Korematsu's death marks a milestone in the history of American civil liberties. By his simple act of defiance in 1942, for which he was arrested and convicted, the lifelong Bay Area resident became an icon of social justice, not just in his own Japanese American community, but beyond.

"Fred taught us that dissent is sometimes the most patriotic act you can undertake to preserve constitutional rights," said Dale Minami, a San Francisco attorney who helped overturn Mr. Korematsu's conviction. The reversal followed a 1983 federal court ruling that found the internment of 120, 000 people of Japanese ancestry to have been an action based on "unsubstantiated facts, distortions," and racism.

"Fred was a man of quiet bravery -- he wasn't bombastic -- but he really had a deep-seated conviction that the whole internment was a terrible blot on American history," said Peter Irons, a retired UC San Diego professor of political science who found secret Justice Department documents that reopened the Korematsu case.

Mr. Korematsu, born in Oakland in 1919, was a nisei, or second-generation Japanese American. On Dec. 7, 1941, Mr. Korematsu was a 22-year-old welder in San Leandro. Like all West Coast Japanese, the Korematsus were ordered in early 1942 to assembly centers and later incarcerated in camps. But Mr. Korematsu refused to go.

Planning to move to Nevada, he assumed another identity and even had plastic surgery, but was arrested in San Leandro and jailed. Aided by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Mr. Korematsu challenged the exclusion orders in 1942.

The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the conviction by a 6-3 vote in 1944, ruling that military necessity justified the orders. His was one of a handful of legal challenges by Japanese Americans to military orders. But it was Mr. Korematsu's case that became the most well-known -- and is studied today by every law student in America.

Viewed by many constitutional scholars as one of the high court's worst mistakes, the 1944 ruling in Korematsu vs. United States drew stinging dissent from Justice Robert Jackson, who wrote that the "Court for all time has validated the principle of racial discrimination. ... The principle then lies about like a loaded weapon. ..."

Mr. Korematsu's conviction dogged him, making it hard to support his wife and two children. Years later, when Irons came to him with vital documents denying that Japanese Americans were a threat during the war, he reopened his case with the help of a pro-bono team of young, mostly Japanese American lawyers.

U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel threw out the conviction and called the case a "constant caution that in times of war or declared military necessity, our institutions must be vigilant in protecting our constitutional guarantees."

Through it all, say those who knew him, Mr. Korematsu never gave up seeking his rights.

"Fred was an ordinary American with extraordinary courage," said Irons.

Mr. Korematsu is survived by his wife, Kathryn of San Leandro; daughter, Karen Korematsu-Haigh of San Rafael and son, Ken Korematsu of San Francisco.

A memorial service will be held on April 16 at 1:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 2619 Broadway at 27th Street, in Oakland.

Godspeed, Fred. I pray I show the guts you showed when my turn comes. So should we all.