Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Fat Lady Sang

And it's over. The last steak was served. The last toast was raised. And the last beer was drunk. Fran O'Brien's closed.

I was there Friday night. When I first went in, the place was alive with hope. Our waiter, Tony, told us that there was talk of a reprieve. An extension of the lease by a few months to allow Fran's owners, Marty O'Brien and Hal Koster, to find a new location. The four of us in my party were joyful as we raised our glasses of wine and ordered the ribeye for what we never dreamed was going to be our last time. In fact, Tony urged one of our companions to come back - our guests work just blocks away in the AFL-CIO building.

Indeed, besides the veterans who came every Friday night, Fran's was a lunchtime favorite for many in the AFL-CIO. On any given day, you could see John Sweeney, the president of organized labor, holding forth at a table with many of the other labor leaders.

And at the bottom of Fran O'Brien's website it announced, "proud to be a union shop."

And that was the 500 pound gorilla that nobody really wanted to talk about. Besides being embarrassed to have badly wounded and scruffy looking Iraqi veterans in their lobby, the Hilton was resentful that the restaurant served the likes of Sweeney and other labor leaders.

You see, the Hilton is in a battle with the hotel and restaurant employees' union UNITE HERE. They may even go to strike later this year. Indeed, one of the favorite topics of discussion around the AFL building had been what to do about going to Fran's if HERE threw up a picket line.

The ins and outs of the discussion often reached Talmudic proportions in its minute examination of every aspect of the issue before it was finally pronounced "kosher" to enter Fran's from the street entrance. Fran's has a separate entrance from the Hilton and HERE did not plan to picket that entrance, hence it would not be crossing a picket line.

The Hilton has had some pretty nasty dealings with it employees. It's not known in the hotel business as a particularly compassionate company as this report from Mudville Gazette, one of the military blogs, demonstrates:
"Update: Looks like Lisa Cole, the regional director of communications for Hilton quoted above, is a busy gal:
'About a month after an emergency room visit found Nina Kennedy had Stage 4 colon and liver cancer, her supervisors from Hilton Grand Vacations called her with more bad news.

"They told her she was fired," West Palm Beach attorney Charles Thomas said Thursday.
Kennedy had been the manager of the Plantation Beach Club on Hutchinson Island for 2 1/2 years when she was terminated in December after working 13 years with the company.

Regional directors told her she had been fired because she violated company policy, she said. But in a lawsuit filed in Martin Circuit Court Thursday, Kennedy and Thomas said the company hid its reasons behind a much stronger motive.

"They knew that she had a potentially terminal illness, she would have been out for a while and they didn't want to deal with it," Thomas said. <...>Hilton spokeswoman Lisa Cole said she had not seen the lawsuit Thursday and that, as a practice, the company cannot comment on open cases."

These are not nice people. Not only are they not nice to organized labor, whose leaders can, after all, take care of themselves and find another favorite hangout, but they're not nice to their employees, and they'd rather boot out veterans who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and who came home limbless just to prove a petty point about being anti-labor.

Oh, and their attitude toward the ill and disabled couldn't be more obvious than by the way they treated their own employee. Funny, when my husband had cancer, years ago, his company rallied round him and did everything they could to make sure he knew he would have a job to come back to and that his wife, me, would have anything she needed for however long we both needed it.

Oh yeah, my husband works for a union, not a Hilton.

But is it really a stretch, after reading that, to believe the charge that the Hilton didn't want severely disabled and disfigured veterans in their lobby?

Anyway, farewell Fran's for now. Hopefully you'll be up at a new location soon. Meanwhile, the Italian embassy has offered it's location for the Friday night dinners to continue and a non-profit charity has been set up. I will provide more details as I hear them.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Capitol Hilton: "We Support Your War - But Keep Your Gimps Out of Our Lobby"

Or, at least, that's the impression the Capitol Hilton, at 16th Street, NW, in Washington, DC is giving the world. Last Saturday, this story, by Petula Dvorak, was carried in the Washington Post about the closing of Fran O'Brien's, a popular steakhouse that feeds wounded veterans from Walter Reed Medical Center and the Bethesda Naval Hospital for free every Friday night.

The military blogosphere has been burning up the Internet with stories about the closing of this legendary Washington, DC eatery that has been providing the free steak dinners and limitless drinks.

You can go to these sites for various views and more details about the story:

Mudville Gazette

What the Hell Is Wrong With You

Free Republic

Black Five

In the interst of full disclosure, I should point out that my husband and I are regular customers at Fran O'Brien's. We consider owners, Hal Koster and Marty O'Brien, our friends. We're often there on Friday nights, not because of the soldiers but because it's a few blocks from where we work and it's a great place to go to wait for traffic to die down before we head out for the 14th Street Bridge. But we've seen the limbless, wounded vets many a Friday and it always, always inspires us to see what Marty and Hal are doing for them. So, here's the whole story.

About two years ago, restauranteurs Marty O’Brien, the son of former Redskins offensive lineman Fran O'Brien, who originally opened the restaurant, and partner Hal Koster approached Walter Reed with an offer to feed wounded vets and their families every Friday night. Although the owners of Fran O’Brien’s have sought to keep it low key, several local TV stations have shown up, especially since former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz used to attend the dinners regularly to listen to the soldiers’ experiences, suggestions and complaints. The event intrigued Doonsbury author Gary Trudeau, who made Fran O’Brien’s Steakhouse part of a continuing story line in his cartoon strip. Trudeau still shows up to meet with the vets.

Many of the soldiers who show up have severe wounds, including missing limbs.They are on crutches and in wheel chairs. And to get to Fran’s, which is in the basement of the Capitol Hilton, they have to navigate a steep stairway. Many have to be carried down. Marty and Hal had asked the Hilton to put in an elevator or even a ramp to make their restaurant ADA compliant for the veterans. Since they are renters, it’s not their property and they can’t just do it themselves.

Recently, their lease came due for renewal and Fran’s owners heard nothing from the Hilton, their landlord. They sent emails, made phone calls, etc., and were assured that there were no problems with the lease. Then, suddenly, Fran O’Brien’s received an eviction notice, effective May 1. As has been reported, in the WaPo, and on various military blogs, the Hilton cited a fear of liability issues. They claimed they were afraid they’d be held responsible if one of the already disabled veterans had an accident that led to further injuries on the stairs or in the Hilton lobby. Many, however, believe that the Hilton just doesn’t want a lot of limbless, severely injured veterans being seen in their lobby, especially since their attire is frequently casual and many of the guys don’t look like the stylishly groomed corporate types who usually frequent big city Hiltons.

The Hilton has, of course, denied this. They even claim that they have offered to take over hosting the Friday night dinners at their own restaurant, Twigs, which is at ground floor level.

Well, I’ve seen Twigs. As last Saturday’s WaPo story also points out, the ambience is very different from Fran’s. Fran O’Brien’s is dark, wood paneled, filled with sports paraphernalia and plush leather booths. It has the solid, masculine feel of a hearty steakhouse that caters to people who order ribeyes with scotch or beer. It’s founder, after all, was a Redskins football player. It also has the best steaks I’ve ever had anywhere in the U.S, including Chicago. Better even, my husband claims, than the steaks he’s had in Iowa. In fact, neither of us have ever had a bad meal at all at Fran’s and in addition to steaks, they also serve great seafood and Italian specialties and world-class wine.

I’ve never eaten in Twigs so I can’t comment on their food. But we pass it all the time on our way to Fran’s. It looks like a freaking fern bar. All dainty tables, plants, light wood. It’s a place where you go to get fancy, overpriced tiny portions of frou frou food with white wine, not a good thick, tender steak with a beer. It also doesn’t have the private room where the soldiers can go to let their hair down, relax with their friends and families without being gawked at by the public, and meet with the Pentagon officials who also still show up.

In addition, Hal Koster’s relationship with the veterans goes beyond just throwing together a dinner for them once a week. A Vietnam veteran, himself, he visits them at Walter Reed and Bethesda. He’s given some of them jobs at the restaurant while they’re recovering to ease them back into civilian life. I don’t think the Hilton will do all that.

Meanwhile, all this has struck a sour note with veterans all over the country. Even people who’ve never been there – never been to Washington – are incensed over this. And a couple of websites have posted the email addresses of the Hilton corporate officers who are responsible for the decision to boot Fran’s from the Hilton. Readers and bloggers have jammed their inboxes and shut them down. They’ve also jammed the email address of the Hilton honors program causing that to temporarily shut down too. And they’re planning boycotts of the Hilton chain.

I agree with them that this just isn't right, so I’m passing on the email sites and phone numbers so that others besides the military men and women can let the Hilton know what a PR disaster this is for them. Whether you agree with the U.S. foreign policy and the Iraqi War (personally, I don't) or not, it's just wrong to pull the weekly Friday night dinners away from the vets and it's wrong to close Fran O'Brien's, which is actually a beloved restaurant, not just to the vets but to a lot of Washingtonians in search of a great meal in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Below is a name, phone number and email address for the New York Hilton's corporate offices:

Dan Boyle 212-838-1558

And below is the name and phone number of the General Manager of the Capitol Hilton.

Brian Kellaher (202) 393-1000.

Oh, and for good measure, here's the Hilton Website, including a link to their Honors Program.
And the snail mail address for the Capitol Hilton is 10001 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036

Write on!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Presidential Dreamin' On Such A Lovely Spring Day

Note: This was originally posted on Raising Kaine as a diary. But I think it also belongs back here on my own blog since it's actually more a national than just a Virginia-oriented post. So, Raising Kaine had it first, but I'm takin'it back here too. Also, I'll admit it's a cheap trick - I got home late and don't have time to do something more original - but I will tomorrow night, promise!

Lowell’s post the other day, on Raising Kaine (scroll part way down), about whether Al Gore would run for president in 2008 got me thinking. First, let me issue the standard disclaimer: It’s way too early to even be thinking about the 2008 presidential race – too early for speculation.

Having said that, I’m going to add, it’s what we junkies do. We speculate, hope, wish and dream long before it’s sensible to so. It’s the nature of the particular substance we choose to abuse. So, on with the speculation.

I’ll stand by what I said in the comment’s section of Lowell’s post. I don’t believe that Gore is going to run again, ever again. It’s wishful thinking to assume that he will. He’s already run for national office three times – most people forget or weren’t old enough to remember that the first time he ran for president was in ’88. He was an up and coming senator then who didn’t have a national reputation. He got favorable treatment in the press and nobody expected him to win, least of all him. Dukakis won the nomination and then got creamed in a landslide to Bush, Sr.

Gore, however, made a credible showing in ’88 and everybody understood that that race was for the name recognition. He would have been one of the frontrunners if he’d chosen to run in 1992. But none of the top tier wanted to risk challenging sitting President George HW Bush, who held a 90 percent approval rating at the time of the first primaries. So Bill Clinton, the long shot, won the Democratic nomination and made Gore his running mate.

The 2000 race was Gore’s second run for president, and I think his final one. Besides Gore’s inability to excite the base in 2002 (with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party being dissatisfied that he was too centrist), the press, for its own reasons, viciously vilified him. And his paid consultants seemed too busy arguing about which earth tones he should wear to let him define himself as a candidate.

When he lost that race, he discovered that there was life after elective office and it was fun. Gore had been the presumptive heir to his father’s legacy. Both Al, Sr., once a respected senator from Tennessee, and Gore’s mother, Pauline, had groomed their only son for presidential politics. But deep down I think that it was always an uneasy fit. Now that he’s discovered the freedom of being John Q. Public Citizen, he’s happy. He can finally say what he really believes without fear of the pollsters and the pundits. He never felt secure enough to do that before, which contributed mightily to the impression that he was stiff. He was. He ran for the Senate as a centrist Democrat from a conservative Southern state, Tennessee. Then he served as Vice President to the man who helped found, and once led, the Democratic Leadership Council – also a centrist organization. But Gore always was a Washington liberal at heart. Now he can finally admit to it. And so can Tipper.

I also don’t think that Hillary will run. She’s a realist and she’s already been in the White House. She knows her baggage. She knows her negatives. I do think she’s shrewd enough to leverage the interest in her candidacy into the role of an effective and influential participant in the nominating process. Through her fundraising ability and the loyal support she’s earned, she’ll definitely be a player in helping to shape the party and pick the candidate. But it won’t be her.

I also don’t think it’s going to be Mark Warner. If he runs, I’ll support him as a favorite son. There is the hometown pride. And I like him. But I think his advisers, who sold him a bill of goods that he shouldn’t run for the Senate, were dead wrong. The conventional wisdom was that governors win the White House and those who served in the Senate have too much baggage because of all the votes they’ve cast, the positions they’ve changed, and the compromises they’ve reached. Because of all that, they’re too vulnerable to the charge of flip-flopping. It’s the paper trail.

However, governors leave a paper trail too. They leave positions they’ve taken, vetoes they’ve cast, budgets they’ve submitted and all the speeches they’ve made, not to mention the compromises they’ve had to make to get legislation passed too. And of course their records.

Warner has a great record. He was arguably one of the most effective governors, not just in Virginia, but nationwide. However, the dynamics that created the conventional wisdom have changed mightily. And Warner doesn’t look ready for prime time. The reason is that the debacle in Iraq, the intelligence screw-ups, and the complexity of foreign affairs have all turned the conventional wisdom on its head.

A really good case can be made that we are in this mess in Iraq because Bush, another Southern governor, had no foreign policy experience. He listened to bad advice and couldn’t discern good and accurate intelligence from a con job. After Bush’s abysmal incompetence, next time a candidate is going to need more than just one term as the governor of a relatively modest Southern state.

Ironically, the model of the ideal candidate, in terms of resume, would be someone like former Florida senator Bob Graham. He was a successful governor in the 80s, when Florida was in an economic slump and he led it out of the doldrums. He proved to be an able administrator who could govern a state effectively. Then, in the Senate, he chaired the Foreign Relations committee. He was also a leading critic against going to war Iraq. He had the well- rounded resume that somebody running in 2008 is going to need. Unfortunately, he’s retired from elective office and probably just wants to enjoy his grandchildren. He’s entitled. So, don’t look for him to run again.

Somebody who looks promising to me is John Edwards. He has a credible shot at the nomination. He’s incredibly charismatic and anybody who tells you that that doesn’t matter is either very na├»ve about politics or is lying. His “two Americas” message will resonate even more this time because the middle class has lost even more ground while the wealthy have continued to increase their wealth. The arrogance and cronyism of the rich have grown astoundingly blatant. Meanwhile, the average American is fearful of losing his job, his wages are flat, and he’s losing his pension and health care coverage.

Yet Edwards has more than an angry message. He has an optimistic vision. He doesn’t just whip up anger and demagoguery. Instead he appeals to what’s best in America, our idealism and ability to dream about being a better America for all.

And he now has the foreign affairs gravitas that he lacked a few years ago. I heard him on one of the Sunday morning talk shows a few weeks ago. He had come out against the war in Iraq and he was asked to explain why he had voted for it in the Senate. He came right out and said that he had been wrong. He also said that, at the time, his vote was based on information that we all now know was inaccurate. But he insisted that it had been his mistake and that he had a moral obligation to take responsibility for it. That’s not a flip-flop, folks. That’s having the integrity to be willing to be held accountable for his errors. However, he also strikes me as a man who learns from his mistakes and who doesn’t repeat them. So because he was lied to once, I doubt he’ll be as credulous again.

Now, I’m going to go way out on a limb and pick a real long shot. And one that completely reverses everything I just said about the new dynamic not favoring governors. The one governor, if he indeed wins the governor’s race in 2006, who might make an interesting run for the presidency, is Elliot Spitzer from New York.

I know, I know, it’s crazy. But I’ve been talking to relatives in states as diverse as Tennessee, Florida, Virginia, New Jersey and New York and one thing that comes across is that Spitzer is identified in the public mind with combating corporate crime and special interests. He’s viewed as the fighting prosecutor who is not afraid to take on the biggest boys. And most of the white-collar crime that he prosecutes is incredibly complex. To unwind the schemes, plots, and creative accounting designs takes an analytical mind; so even though he’s slim on foreign policy experience, he could still use that same incisive intellect to cut through the bullshit if he was given bad foreign intelligence. This is a man who has dealt with crooks and liars before. He could probably take on ourNSA, DIA, CIA and FBI and figure out who was lying and who was giving him good solid evidence before he acted.

And I think he fits the fighting populist mold that may be popular in 2008. Again it’s part of the new dynamic. People are angry about the ground they’ve lost. They are looking for somebody to fight for their interests.

But again, that’s a major long shot and not without pitfalls. He still has to win in New York and he may not even want to make a run for national office only two years after that election. To do so could also get him pegged an opportunist fast. And of course, by 2008, that dynamic could change yet again.

And of course, in the end, I could be completely wrong and Gore could run. I don’t think he’d want to. I think the press would dog him again. But the truth is he’d make a great president. He’s had the experience in the White House, he knows the foreign policy terrain and he could put together a good domestic program that would bring jobs back and get our economy going and not just for the wealthiest one percent. In fact, if he just brought former Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin back, I’d follow Gore through fire and over a cliff.

As I said in the comments section of Lowell’s post, if I see Peter Knight signing on to a Gore campaign, I’m so outta here to help.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Perfect Virginia Storm

I am becoming more and more convinced that supporting James Webb for the Senate this year could be the smartest thing Virginia Democrats could do. And backing Harris Miller, by contrast, might be one of the dumbest things they could do.

I don’t mean to trash Miller. I really don’t, and it bothers me greatly that Democrats are getting into a nasty brawl over this because the one thing we are going to need to beat Allen, whoever wins the primary, is unity. And this is getting very personal. And very passionate. And, unfortunately, very nasty. But strong emotions bring out unkindness in all of us, including me.

But there are real and pragmatic reasons to consider Webb the stronger candidate this time. Let me admit that Miller may be a great human being. He’s inspired the loyalty of many of the Democratic leaders that I’ve admired and whose victories I’ve worked for and even whose defeats have made me cry long into the night. So, the strong feelings, the criticism, even the nastiness should be seen as the result of intense zeal and an even stronger desire to win. And here’s the reason why I feel so strongly that this is the Democrats' year.

This election season, there is a series of convergences all speeding together to create the perfect storm. For the first time in years pundits and politicos are seriously thinking the Democrats could take back one of the houses of Congress. Or both.

It’s not a sure thing. The races are competitive and if the Democrats succeed it will be by a hairbreadth victory. And it’s a very big IF.

But that it’s even being dreamed of, let alone talked about out loud, is something.

And if it’s really that close – the difference of a seat or two – right here in Virginia, we could make a difference and have a national impact.

Here are the elements of the perfect storm that are rushing together to create the momentum for a Democratic takeover.

This is the year of the disgruntled veteran disillusioned with the Republican Party. When, for years, has that ever been the case? Democrats had all but ceded the military vote to the Republicans and with good reason: the military is a very conservative and traditional culture. Even women in the military frequently identify more with Republican values such as traditional and orthodox religious beliefs and a strong defense policy. If anybody believes in spending a lot on the military, including fighter jets, missile shields and other hardware, it’s military men and women. They’ve often viewed the Democrats as soft on national security and not sympathetic to their concerns and values.

But this is the year that a bunch of veterans have returned from Iraq, where they endured having to fight a guerrilla war with inadequate armor, an arrogant civilian government that ignored their concerns, and the sight of the cronies and buddies of that same arrogant government making literal blood money off the war with their lucrative contracts. Indeed, Iraq is the war that has been contracted out like never before – it’s not so much a war, in fact, as it is a business opportunity for Halliburton and its subsidiaries.

All this has led to a profound disillusionment in the military. As if to underscore this, according the New York Times and Washington Post, an all-star cast of generals has come out against the Bush Administration’s handling of the war. Not all of these commanders are opposed to the war in Iraq. Some do feel that it was unnecessary to invade Iraq in order to fight against terrorism. But others still believe that it was right to go in and take out Hussein. All, however, are united in their opinion that Donald Rumsfeld has botched the war effort with his arrogant and incompetent theories and his refusal to listen to any dissenting voices. These are not second string malcontents. These commanders were the major players and the recognized heroes of the war effort. And they represent the tip of the iceberg. The reason they are coming forward is because those still serving cannot speak up. Basically, they are confirming John Murtha’s contentions about the demoralization of the military.

That is just one of the elements of the convergence of forces that could signal that this is the Democrats’ year to take back one or both of the houses of Congress.

Another is on the home front. America has anguished while watching jobs being deported to China and India. Outsourcing is the background music to America’s discontent and angst. And if there is background music, then the main event on the movie screen is the Jack Abramoff lobbying and corruption scandal that is reaching into the highest levels of Congress and even the White House. Abramoff’s and DeLay’s pay to play schemes have confirmed the worst suspicions of the average American that the deck is truly stacked against them and there really is a class war waging just as surely at home as the military war is raging in the streets of Baghdad. Corporatism has taken over a government composed of privileged frat brothers and sorority sisters dedicated to the idea that the economy is a game with winners and losers. And they believe the winners are entitled to take all.

So here we have the intersection of a botched war effort, a depressed job market and stagnating wages fueled by outsourcing, and corruption and cronyism among the privileged. Nothing rings more true today than John Edwards’ populist message of two America’s. There’s the America of the wealthy investor and the well-connected CEO, both enjoying record wealth. And there’s the America of the average wage earner, who is battling to preserve his job and his middle class status.

For a Democrat, this would be a good time to be a former military man who can credibly criticize the Republicans for weakening American security. It would also be a very good time for a populist candidate, in the Edwards mold, who can speak to the yearnings and aspirations of ordinary Americans about saving the American Dream by stemming the tide of outsourcing through policies that reward and encourage greater job development at home. Here, I’m not talking about draconian, punitive measures against corporations but innovative ways to encourage cooperation in the U.S. to grow jobs and provide decent health care and pension plans – maybe through tax breaks and other incentives. Perhaps instead of giving huge tax breaks to millionaires, who don’t need them and who don’t really plow the money back into the economy, it would be better to take the same tax break and provide it as an incentive to businesses to keep industry in the U.S. There are many carrots the government can use but the people who make up the government have to be willing and creative. I think Jim Webb, a credible critic of Rumsfeld's policies, also has the creativity and willingness to look for ways to fight to get jobs back to Virginia. At least, he realizes there's a problem here. And we can't just educate ourselves out of it. The jobs being lost are the high tech ones that people went back to school and retrained for. What else is there on the horizon?

On the other hand, this would not be a good time, for either the Democratic or Republican Party, to have a former lobbyist at the top of the ticket this November. In fact there’s a reason that most people become lobbyists after leaving Congress rather than before they run for elected office. Not many people, even in the best of times, actually trust lobbyists to be their representatives. And believe me, these aren’t the best of times for the reputation of lobbyists, whether it’s fair or not. And to be the lobbyist who worked for greater outsourcing and guest worker programs is really about as big a deal breaker as it gets.

In fact, this statement from the AFL-CIO, about the former lobbyist, Harris Miller, running in Virginia, about says it all. They have labeled him anti-worker.

This is an especially bad time – if ever there would be a good time for it – to kick the major part of your base in its collective teeth. It’s a mistake that Karl Rove would never make. Republicans may be lousy at governing but they have been successful at winning elections. And they do it by catering to their base not bludgeoning it. And compared to James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is a voice of reason and moderation. And Virginia labor is far more moderate than Sweeney. Danny LeBlanc, Virginia AFL-CIO President, was a staunch supporter of both Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. And while Virginia's labor movement isn’t about to back Allen; if Miller gets the Democratic nomination, they could and probably will unofficially sit this one out. And it will be a signal to other Virginia progressives to do the same.

But even more than organized labor, the base and other activists, a race between Miller and Allen would be a yawner. Miller’s major platform position appears to be that Allen is really interested in running for president in 2008, while he, Miller, just wants to be a humble senator. Believe it or not, that’s not a platform that’s ever been successful. Americans viscerally don’t begrudge people having ambition and higher aspirations. And some Virginians might actually be tickled that a fellow Virginian might become a presidential candidate. It’s called hometown pride. It could actually help Allen to keep his Senate seat and get the citizens of Virginia rooting for him in a primary rather than making them resent him. In other words, criticizing somebody from Virginia for wanting to be president isn’t a platform, it’s a dumb strategy.

So, why on earth would Fairfax County's Democratic insiders tie both hands behind their backs and run a lobbyist whose major effort was encouraging outsourcing against a former military hero with great national security credentials who doesn't have that other baggage? I don’t know, maybe because they haven’t gotten the memo yet. You know, the one that says beating George Allen is actually a good thing and it’s possible.

Until they do, I’ll keep nagging. It’s still James Webb. He’s the one who can beat Allen this November, not Miller. Miller has baggage. Webb has the perfect storm at his back, pushing the momentum his way.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Being Republican Means Never Having To Say Your Sorry

So, Tom DeLay resigned today. For the good of the party and all, because all those nasty liberals were out to get him and unfairly slandered him by linking him to Jack Abramoff. Tony Rudy, one of his top aides, conducted business out of DeLay's office like it was the back of a truck loaded with hot VCRs. Now, Rudy and Michael Scanlon, another DeLay operative, have both pleaded guilty to corruption charges and they are naming names. It's too early to tell whether they'll actually implicate DeLay or even how involved DeLay is (I know, I know, we all want it to be true - but even he's innocent until proven guilty).

But considering that the State of Texas has a Republican governor, a Republican legislature, and a majority of Republican voters (so far) and considering that the White House, the Congress and the Supreme Court are all in Republican hands, it's pretty much a stretch to claim that the Democrats could bring a man as powerful as DeLay down that easily. They had to have some help - like evidence and a good case.

And in the latest bizarre narrative twist, last week in Washington, DC, a group of so-called Christian rightwingers lionized DeLay as a latter-day martyr who was being persecuted by the liberals for his Christian beliefs. According to them and him, his troubles had nothing to do with his own deals with Abramoff, his support for legalized gambling for certain Indian tribes, his trip to London and the very prestigious St. Andrew's golf course (paid for by Abramoff), or the K Street Lobbying Project.

And these are the same people who lecture impoverished black youths in inner-cities, challenged by substandard schools, broken homes, gangs, drug dealers, and drive by shootings, to take personal responsibility for their actions?

It seems if you're young, black, and poor in America, Republicans demand that you to take personal responsibility but if you're old, rich, white and powerful, you never have to say you're sorry.

No, He Won't Be Swift Boated

The Richmond Democrat ran this open letter from Jim Webb's campaign, answering the very nasty charge that the Harris Miller campaign made recently. Miller has been trying to tar Webb with the racism charge because of quotes taken out of context from Webb's book, Born Fighting.
Webb was simply trying to describe the mindset of some of the Scots-Irish who settled the South - among them my husband's ancsestors. There is no denying the history of slavery or racism in the South. However, it's unfair to accuse modern descendants of the Scots-Irish settlers of racism today. Nobody in my husband's family is racist. You can take that to the bank. And neither is Jim Webb.

Anyway, Webb set the record straight with this open letter. I know he wants his to be a positive campaign, but he's wise to answer any negative remarks thrown his way.

Remember when Tim Kaine was hit with a very nasty ad about his stand on the death penalty, the most effective thing he did was stand up, look the camera in the eye (and it had the effect of looking the viewer in the eye) and tell the truth. And that's what James Webb is doing now.

Setting the record straight, giving a strong response and telling the truth is how the good guys win.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Do the Fairfax Democrats Know They Could Win?

It's a good question. At least, you've got to wonder about the insiders and party regulars. By their choice of candidate, Harris Miller, it almost looks like a kamikaze desire to re-elect conservative Republican George Allen to the Senate and seal his presidential nomination in 2008.

You know, even if Harris Miller didn't morally offend me by his support for outsourcing at a time when American jobs and our whole standard of living are in serious peril, I would still argue from a strictly cold-blooded, objective, and rational point of view that he is strategically a dumb choice for the Fairfax County Democratic Party to support.

One of our biggest issues right now should be the connection of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff to Tom DeLay and his closest operatives Tony Rudy and Mike Scanlon, both of whom pleaded guilty to corruption charges and are planning to testify and name names in Congress. The Washington lobbying scandal is not only not going to go away, it's just starting to heat up.

And while I don't mean to suggest that Harris Miller is any where near as corrupt as they are (in fact, I have absolutely no reason to think he is anything less than honest), at a time when Democrats should be out there with both fists swinging at corruption and lobbying abuses, Harris Miller just can't do that. He may be deserving of a shot at a Senate seat, but this isn't the year for it.

If timing is everything, the timing for his candidacy just isn't now. Why would the Democrats pick him when it would be shooting themselves in both knees and handicapping one of their best issues, which is precisely cleaning up a corrupt Congress that has become beholden to lobbyists run amuck and special interests?

Personally I don't believe that all lobbyists are the bad guys. Point of disclosure, I've been a lobbyist. When I went to visit my Congressman in Washington to get him to oppose the war in Vietnam years ago, I was lobbying him. When I went with church social action groups to lobby for support for programs that aid poor people, for affordable housing, and for a living wage, I was doing just what a professional lobbyist does. I was trying to influence my elected officials on behalf of a cause.

True, I didn't throw around millions of dollars or lavish skyboxes at Nationals and Redskins games on them. And that's where the problem lies. It's not in the legitimate lobbying activities, which are, after all, every citizens' rights, it's in all that money that appears to buy access. And quid pro quo.

And even though the vast majority of lobbyists don't approach the level of an Abramoff, this is just not the year for a lobbyist - and one who lobbied for Diebold at that - to run for office.

In addition, with so many Americans being laid off, this is not a time to run a candidate who was the poster child for both outsourcing and guest worker programs. Miller was a big supporter of the H-IB program, which brings over 60,000 highly skilled computer programmers, technicians, and other high tech employees into this country each year. Back in the 90s the argument was made that this program was needed because there was a huge shortage of skilled high tech employees, which was threatening the economy and the ability of businesses to expand. Miller, lobbying for the tech industry, claimed that jobs were going vacant due to lack to qualified applicants.

And in the heady years of the high tech bubble it might have been true. But that bubble burst years ago. Many high tech jobs are no longer also high paying jobs. Many in that industry have faced several layoffs and despite the fact that large corporations like Microsoft have gotten back on their feet, a glut of skilled workers in this field has led to lower wages - it's simple market economics, the supply of highly qualified workers exceeds the demand for them. So, importing even more workers makes no sense unless it's because you want to keep wages depressed. And guess who would benefit from an overcrowded market of workers and lower wages and cutbacks in benefits for workers? Yup, investors and corporations. H-IB is nothing more than a cost cutting scheme by greedy businesses that care more about their record profits than about paying a decent wage.

With layoffs of companies from the airline industry to GM and Delphi to the continuing stagnation of wages even in highly profitable industries, outsourcing and guest worker programs are another natural Democratic issue. And Democrats usually do come out on the side of protecting workers' interests. Unfortunately, this is another issues that Miller can't use to his advantage. And it already shows.

At a Fairfax County annual St. Patrick's Day party, held by Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Gerry Connolly, Miller lost a straw poll to James Webb, his challenger in the primary.

Although Miller, a former chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC), had the support of all the party insiders, including many normally progressive state senators and delegates, the grassroots activists gave overwhelming support to Webb, much to the consternation of the insiders.

That's because they just don't get it. This is not the year for a Democrat to support a lobbyist whose primary efforts have been to lobby for outsourcing and guest worker programs and also one who has been a supporter of the war in Iraq but who never served in the military himself.

That's another issue. Many people believe that the Republicans have far too many chicken hawks in their ranks, who think it's fine to send somebody else's child to die for a war of choice. Here we could have a decorated military man, a former Secretary of the Navy who turned his back on the Republican Party because he's disgusted with their mismanagement of the war in Iraq and the economy. Instead, Fairfax's Democratic insiders want to pick somebody who is virtually indistinguishable from those Republicans?

Geesh, where's Bob Shrum when you need him? Even he's smarter than that.