Friday, November 27, 2009

New Obama Policy Bars Lobbyists From Federal Advisory Panels

Finally, some traction on corporate influence.

Lobbyists pushed off advisory panelsWhite House initiative to limit influence could affect thousands.
By Dan EggenWashington Post Staff Writer

Hundreds, if not thousands, of lobbyists are likely to be ejected from federal advisory panels as part of a little-noticed initiative by the Obama administration to curb K Street's influence in Washington, according to White House officials and lobbying experts.

The new policy -- issued with little fanfare this fall by the White House ethics counsel -- may turn out to be the most far-reaching lobbying rule change so far from President Obama, who also has sought to restrict the ability of lobbyists to get jobs in his administration and to negotiate over stimulus contracts.

The initiative is aimed at a system of advisory committees so vast that federal officials don't have exact numbers for its size; the most recent estimates tally nearly 1,000 panels with total membership exceeding 60,000 people.

Under the policy, which is being phased in over the coming months, none of the more than 13,000 lobbyists in Washington would be able to hold seats on the committees, which advise agencies on trade rules, troop levels, environmental regulations, consumer protections and thousands of other government policies.

"Some folks have developed a comfortable Beltway perch sitting on these boards while at the same time working as lobbyists to influence the government," said White House ethics counsel Norm Eisen, who disclosed the policy in a September blog posting on the White House Web site. "That is just the kind of special interest access that the president objects to."

And though lobbyists are unhappy, some good-government advocates say the policy is sound.
"You may lose a lot of expertise, but these people are also paid to have a point of view; they have an agenda," said Mary Boyle, a vice president at Common Cause. "We support what the administration is doing to get deep-seated special interests out of the business of running our government, so this seems like a step in the right direction."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Reality Based Thanksgiving Story

From the Addams Family Thanksgiving. Thanks Susie! via Suburban Guerrilla

Dana Perino: No Terrorists Attacked America On Bush's Watch

I find this truly amazing, but not surprising.

By Ben Frumin via TPM

Former Bush press secretary Dana Perino made a rather odd claim on Sean Hannity's Fox News show last night. Talking about how we ought to label the deadly shooting at Fort Hood -- and implying that the Obama administration was shying away from calling it a terrorist attack out of political concerns -- Perino said no terrorists attacked the U.S. while President Bush was in office.

We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush's term. I hope they're not looking at this politically. I do think that we owe it to the American people to call it what it is.
Perino's claim went unchallenged -- no one on screen mentioned the 9/11 attacks.

Here's the video:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Corporations: The Real Reason Obama is not Making Much Progress

Before you can appeal to America's voters you have to appeal to the corporations
by Johann Hari via Common Dreams

Almost a year after Barack Obama ascended to the White House, many of his supporters are bemused. His healthcare bill is a hefty improvement but it still won't provide coverage for all Americans, and may not provide a public alternative to the over-charging insurance companies - if it passes at all. His environmental team is vandalising the vital Copenhagen conference by saying the US - the single biggest emitter of warming gases - will not sign up to any legally binding restrictions there. He has placed the deregulation-fanatics who caused the New Depression, like Lawrence Summers, in charge of the recovery. Despite the real improvements on Bush - such as the end of torture, the resumption of stem-cell research, and opposition to the coup in Honduras - many people are asking: why he is delivering so little, so slowly?

A pair of seemingly small stories about the forces warping American politics can help us to answer this question. At first glance, they will seem like preposterous caricatures, but the facts are plain. The institutions that are blocking progress on all these issues - Republicans in the Senate, and the mighty corporate lobbying machine that bankrolls both parties - have rallied over the past few months to defend two causes with very little popular support in the United States: rape and slavery. No, really. If we begin to explain how this came to pass, then we might see why the American political system is malfunctioning so badly, even after a landslide victory for change.

Let's start with rape. This story begins in Iraq in 2003. The private military contractors sent by the Bush administration to guard the oil pipelines didn't want to get bogged down in expensive legal cases if anything went wrong. When it came to Iraqis, the Bush team simply exempted them from all Iraqi law, in a move so sweeping one Senator called it "a license to kill". But what about if their employees attacked each other, or other Americans? The private companies insisted all their employees sign contracts saying that, whatever happens to them, they will settle it in in-house, through "arbitration". Why? While representing the company at a real legal trial costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, an arbitration panel costs a few thousand. It saves cash.

This policy came, however, with a different price tag. According to her later sworn testimony, Jamie Leigh Jones - a 20-year-old working for the contractor Halliburton/KBR - was hanging out with co-workers one night in Iraq when her drink was spiked. When she woke up, she was haemorraging blood from her vagina and her anus. Her breast implants were ripped. The damage was so severe she later needed reconstructive surgery on her genitalia. She surmised she had been gang-raped by the seven men she had been drinking with. When she approached Halliburton/KBR, she says they locked her in a metal container with no food or water for 24 hours. A doctor came to see her wounds and took DNA evidence, although it was later "lost." A guard took pity on her and loaned her his cell phone. She called her father, who called the American embassy - and only then was she released.

In an Iraq that was collapsing all around her, there was no chance of the Iraqi police investigating. Halliburton/KBR insisted that her contract required the alleged gang-rape to be addressed by the company's private arbitration process, forbidding any claim in the American courts. (If this was how they treated blonde English-speaking American girls, what did they do if Iraqis said they had been abused?) After Leigh Jones went public, many other American women came forward to say they had similar experiences working in Iraq. Her legal team argues the refusal to allow rape to be pursued through the courts created a climate where it was more likely to happen.

The Democratic Senator Al Franken, when he heard about this, was horrified, and tabled a simple amendment to the law. It demanded that no company that prevents rape victims from having their day in court should receive taxpayers' money any more. Rape is rape. A majority of Republicans in the Senate - including John McCain - voted against the amendment. Why? The private contractors are major donors to the Republican Party, but the Senators claim this didn't affect their judgement. No - they said that Franken's proposal was a "vendetta" against Halliburton/KBR with "political motives". Franken pointed out any company trying to stop rape victims getting justice would be treated exactly the same by this law. The Republicans ignored him. They voted to maintain a system where some rape is not pursuable in a court of law.

At the same time, a group of Democratic senators have tried to amend the latest customs bill to ensure that nothing produced by slaves should be sold in the United States. It sounds uncontroversial - as uncontroversial as punishing rapists, in fact. Yet corporate lobbyists are militating behind the scenes to oppose it. As the private subscription-only newsletter "Inside US Trade" reported: "Business groups are worried by the potential effects", and a source tells them there will be, "a push from lobbyists closer to the Finance Committee mark-up of the bill... US industry groups and foreign governments [ie those that use slave labour] could form ad hoc coalitions to help send a united message." They will fight for their right to use slave labour.

These examples are extreme, but they reveal a powerful undertow that is at work on all political issues (and both main parties) in the United States. To see how, you have to understand two processes. The first is the nature of corporate power. Corporations are structured to do one thing, and one thing only: to maximise profit for their shareholders. No matter how personally nice or nasty their CEOs are, if they put anything ahead of profit, they will be sacked, and replaced by somebody who doesn't. As part of a tightly regulated market, this can be a useful engine for growth. But if it is not strictly reigned in by the law and by trade unions, this pressure for profit will extend anywhere - from trashing the environment to rape and slavery, as these cases remind us. The second factor is the nature of the American political process today. If you want to run for elected office in the US, you have to raise a fortune from corporations or the super-rich to pay for TV advertising.

So before you can appeal to the voters, you have to appeal to the corporations. You do this by assuring them you will serve their interests. Once you are in office, you have to keep pleasing them at every step, or they won't pay for your re-election campaign. This two-step overwhelms the positive instincts the individual politicians may have to do good - and drags the US government further and further from the will of the people.

Obama had to climb through this system, and he is currently imprisoned by it. It explains his relative failure so far. Healthcare is proving so hard because the insurance companies are paying both Republicans and right-wing Democrats in Senate to thwart any attempt to provide universal healthcare coverage. Yes, it would save the 17,000 Americans who die every year because they lack insurance but it would depress their profits. Reducing carbon emissions is proving so hard because the oil, coal and gas companies are paying Senators across the spectrum to crush any moves to reduce oil, coal and gas use. And on, and on.

So far, Obama has tried to co-opt the corporations into his agenda by ensuring they will profit from any changes, but this inevitably waters down the proposals, often to the point of uselessness. The Cap and Trade legislation before Congress, for example, will barely limit carbon emissions at all because it has been gutted to please the polluters.

He will only achieve significant progressive change if he reforms the political system itself - to make it accountable to the American people, not the corporations. He needs to change the rules of the game. Ban big business from making political donations, and replace it with state funding. Shut down the lobbying industry. Make a big populist speech announcing you are driving the money-lenders out of the temple of democracy: it'd be surprisingly popular in a country where people can see they're being ripped off every day. The alternative is to become rapidly complicit in a system where defending rape and slavery is seen as just another day's work in Washington DC.

Johann Hari is a columnist for the London Independent. He has reported from Iraq, Israel/Palestine, the Congo, the Central African Republic, Venezuela, Peru and the US, and his journalism has appeared in publications all over the world.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Obama, NFL Players Star In Thanksgiving Day PSA

by Rachel Slajda via TPM

President Obama and NFL players Troy Polamalu, Drew Brees and DeMarcus Ware are starring in a public service announcement to air during three Thanksgiving Day football games.

The PSA, which promotes Play 60 and United We Serve, encourages kids to exercise and adults to volunteer in their community.

Watch Pres. Obama make a slow-motion catch of a Drew Brees pass while being covered by Troy Polamalu:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Shame of Unaffordable Health Care

By: Teddy Partridge via FDL

Arkansans who speak with our Eve at the Little Rock health fair today are embarrassed that they can’t afford to go to the dentist or the doctor. They seem almost ashamed that they don’t have the finances to pay for health insurance.

We have, horribly, created an entire class of Americans who feel that they need to apologize for not having the money to meet Big Health and Big Insurance’s incessant demands for premiums and fees that have risen faster than wages or inflation. This is an awful development — no one should be apologetic for being unable to stay healthy.

The fault is with this awful system, as today’s health fair clearly demonstrates. And yet every one of the people interviewed by Eve today has conveyed to me, via body language and tone, that they feel the fault lies with them. This is wrong. This is not what America is about. This must change.

Oil: enough energy to melt glaciers!

From David Roberts via Grist

From a sharp-eyed reader comes this ad for Humble Oil (which later merged with Standard to become, yes, Exxon). It may win the All Time Millenial Award for Maximal Irony. It’s from a 1962 edition of Life Magazine, available on Google Books
(Click for larger image)
Hubris - thy name is Exxon-Mobil

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I am so incensed at this travesty of supposedly democratic representation in the House and Senate that I am literally having to stop reading...

...until my anger dissapates and I no longer want to kill.

Harry Reid, and What Happened to the Public Option

Senate Bill Restores Abstinence-Only Funding

There’s Always Money for War


I am 10 million percent more pissed than the average teabagger and I have very good reason, not because of some fucking made-up shit about a birth certificate or nazis... about our elected representitives selling out the American people in favor of lobbying money. IT DRIVES ME CRAZY!!!!!


Update: Poll: Majority Of Republicans Think Obama Didn't Actually Win 2008 Election -- ACORN Stole It!


How to stay alive without killing the planet

Thanks Skippy. This is really trippy and right on message.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

No Mas Presents: Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No by James Blagden

Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter for the Pittsburg Pirates on acid. The reason I post this, besides that it is fun for an old hippie to watch, is so people who were not around in 1970 can get a feel for the cultural differences between now and then. It seems to me we have been moving steadily toward puritanism since 1980. Imagine the shitstorm if this happened today.

The Dark Side of Sesame Street as Reported by Paranoid Right Wing Loons and Demolished by Stephen Colbert

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sesame Street Turns 40

I remember watching this jazz/blues filled segment, produced in 1986, with my kids when they were 3 and 5. We liked it so much we taped it and watched it over and over as kids are wont to do. There are tons of cameos by musicians - Paul Simon, Winton Marsalis, etc. and other known celebs of the time including John Candy, Barbra Walters and Joe Pesci. Worth the 5 minutes. Very Cool.

Happy Veterans Day

Study: 2,200 Vets Died Last Year Because They Lacked Health Insurance

By Alex Seitz-Wald via ThinkProgress

On the eve of Veterans Day, a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School has released a study finding that an estimated 2,266 veterans under the age of 65 died last year because they did not have health insurance. That “translates to six preventable deaths per day” and more than twice the number killed in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.

Being uninsured raises a person’s odds of dying prematurely by 40 percent. The researchers found that 1.46 million veterans between the ages of 18 and 64 lacked insurance in 2008. While most veterans are eligible to receive excellent care from the Veterans Administration, those who were not injured in combat and whose income is above a certain threshold are often ineligible. Others are assigned low priorities, providing them with less consistent and more expensive access to care:

“Like other uninsured Americans, most uninsured vets are working people – too poor to afford private coverage but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or means-tested VA care,” said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a professor at Harvard Medical School. [...]

Dr. David Himmelstein, the co-author of the analysis and associate professor of medicine at Harvard, commented, “On this Veterans Day we should not only honor the nearly 500 soldiers who have died this year in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the more than 2,200 veterans who were killed by our broken health insurance system. That’s six preventable deaths a day.”

Unfortunately, health insurance is just one of many serious problems vets face. Up to one-in-five veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, while male vets face suicide rates double the national average. And, as the VA under President Obama recognized, veterans still account for up to a quarter of all homeless.

The fact that even veterans cannot receive adequate health care demonstrates that the current system is broken and in need of dramatic overhaul. A robust public option will guarantee that vets and all working-class Americans will be able to afford quality health insurance. Still, the study’s authors warn that the health care legislation “would do virtually nothing for the uninsured until 2013” and would “leave at least 17 million uninsured over the long run when reform kicks in,” leaving many veterans without care.

Update: Politico reports, "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) 'illogical' for holding up a veterans care bill Tuesday, criticizing the Oklahoma Republican for supporting war funding while blocking health care funding for veterans."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Poll: Snowe Could Lose 2012 GOP Primary In Landslide To Conservative Challenger

Olympia Snowe is my Senator from Southern Maine. Although I have never voted for her, I will admit that Ms. Snowe has done much good for the State of Maine over the years with the occasional party-line vote mistake like Sam Alito.

Unfortunately, doing good for your constituents has gone out of vogue with the Republican party these days. So, Ms. Snowe, instead of giving up on serving the citizens of Maine who want a public HC option overwhelmingly, just cross over the aisle (like I have wanted you to for years) and become the Democrat you always wanted to be. If not... the Teabaggers will have your head in the 2012 primaries.

They will eviscerate you and dance on the entrails. RINO is the new Liberal. You will lose your primary to some out-of-state funded Palin/Beck/Limbaugh blessed rabid conservative and the democrat will get your seat no matter who it is, so let it be you.

Don't take my word for it - Eric Kleefeld has the numbers:

"A new survey of Maine from Public Policy Polling (D) has some dire news for Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), with the moderate Republican potentially losing her 2012 Republican primary against a generic conservative challenger -- and by a landslide, no less.

The numbers: Conservative challenger 59%, Snowe 31%, with a ±4.8% margin of error. It is of course a long way from the idea of a generic conservative challenger to having an actual candidate, but the potential for success by just such an insurgent is certainly there.

Snowe's overall approval is 51%, to 36% disapproval. Democrats approve of her by 60%-29%, Republicans disapprove by 40%-46%, and independents approve by 51%-33%.

The pollster's analysis notes the importance of her vote for a health care bill in the Senate Finance Committee: "Snowe's numbers are steady with independents but down with both Democrats and Republicans compared to three weeks ago, an indication of the perilous political position she finds herself in. Republicans are mad at her for supporting any Democratic bill, while Democrats still are not completely happy with her because of her hesitance to support a public option."

So, fellow Mainer's, (and everyone else) warm up your dialing fingers and let Olympia know where you stand on Health Care Reform and a robust Public Option.

Wash. DC - Office: (202) 224-5344
Biddeford, ME - State Office: (207) 282-4144

If one is busy, dial the other. Make sure they spell your name right. Be nice!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lies and the Lying Liebermans Who Tell Them

How much longer will our Dem leaders tolerate this bullshit from Lieberman? You can't spell Lieberman with using the word "lie".

Here is a great summary by Bob Cesca:

Joe Lieberman is insisting that the public option adds to the deficit, which, of course, is a total lie.

Ezra Klein:
This has been Lieberman's standard argument for the past few weeks, but he has not, to my knowledge, explained how it works. Every analysis of the public option I've seen has concluded that it will reduce federal, and consumer, spending. Indeed, the stronger the public option is, the more it reduces the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that a public option paying Medicare's rates would save the government more than $100 billion in the first 10 years, and more after that.

I want to hear how Lieberman has knowledge that eludes the CBO.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Jon Stewart Does Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck is one of the most destructive voices from the vast, shrill, fact-challenged right-wing noise machine today, possibly derailing democracy as we know it in favor of ratings - the irresponsible asshole.
Jon does a great job of skewering this shameless freak.

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This is the Most Disconnected Line of Reasoning I Have Ever Heard in My Life!

Goldman One-Ups Gordon Gekko, Says Jesus Embraced Greed. by Matt Taibbi

“The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest,” Goldman’s Griffiths said Oct. 20, his voice echoing around the gold-mosaic walls of St. Paul’s Cathedral, whose 365-feet-high dome towers over the City, London’s financial district. “We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieving greater prosperity and opportunity for all.”

via Profit `Not Satanic,’ Barclays Says, After Goldman Invokes Jesus –

I didn’t believe this story was true at first — thought it had to be a spoof. But it turns out to be true. The great banks of the world have gone on a p.r. counteroffensive in Europe, and are sending spokescrooks in shiny suits into churches to persuade the masses that Christ would have approved of the latest round of obscene bonuses.

Goldman Sachs international adviser Brian Griffiths explains it this way: that Christ’s famous injunction to love others as one would love oneself actually means that one should love oneself as one would love oneself. This seemingly baffling outburst by a Goldman executive in what appears to have been a prepared speech — someone actually wrote this, and thought about it, before saying it out loud — gets even weirder when one tries to figure out what could possibly have motivated this person, and by extension his employer Goldman Sachs, to make such statements in such a place as St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Because there are only a couple of possibilities, and both of them are equally unnerving. One is that they know how preposterous this is and are just saying this shit because they think enough people will fall for it that it will end up being a net plus, optics-wise.

I seriously doubt this and think the converse is much more likely: that they actually believe this to be true, or are trying to believe it is true, and by making the case publicly hope to persuade the world to see the light (and just maybe reaffirm to themselves in the process) and embrace the Orwellian propositions that greed is love and taking is sharing. Read the rest here.

I believe this is a more accurate portrayal. Max nails it 20 seconds in:

GOP Health Plan Would Allow For ‘Sweatshop Insurance’

Republicans want to "Offshore" your health care insurance

By Igor Volsky via Think Progress

Under the Republican health care alternative filed in the House, young and healthy individuals can purchase policies from insurers that don’t abide by local benefit or rate standards.

The Republican bill allows the health insurer to choose a “primary state” “whose covered laws shall govern the health insurance issuer” and sell policies to people in other states without adhering “to all of the consumer protection laws or restrictions on rate changes of the state.”

Over at MYDD, Bruce Webb calls the provision, “Sweatshop Insurance.” This bill goes far beyond merely “stripping states of power over insurance rates and conditions,” he notes. It “explicitly expands the definition of ‘State’ to include not just D.C. and Puerto Rico, which makes some sense in context, but adds BY NAME the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and Jack Abramoff’s favorite client-the Northern Marianas home of the ‘Made in the USA’ Chinese-owned close to slave labor sweatshops.”

From pages 121-122 of the bill:
In 2001, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands famously hired corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff to enlist his support in stopping “legislation aimed at cracking down on sweatshops and sex shops in the American territory.”

“Given the record of corruption in the N. Marianas,” Webb writes, “and the willingness of various Caribbean and Atlantic Island nations to let themselves be used as off-shore banking and tax shelter entities, you can bet Aetna and WellPoint are slavering at the prospect of ‘basing’ their plans out of a PO Box on some tropical nation.”