Saturday, September 29, 2007

General Petraeus, The Sycophant Savior, and the Sounds of Silence on the Right

I nearly spewed my sample latte that the Borders employee had just handed me in one of those little taster paper cups, containing whatever their new fall flavor was, as I was browsing the magazine section. I just took a sip and saw the above-pictured cover. And I just about lost it.

So, why isn’t every conservative blogger going into high dudgeon over this as they did at the MoveOn “Betray Us” ad in the New York Times? Why isn’t the Senate passing another sense of the Senate resolution, to defend the good name of the general and to condemn this shocking attack on the American troops?

Hasn’t this administration been saying since forever that any criticism of its policies in Iraq is tantamount to disloyalty to the troops?

And yet there is silence when conservative author, Andrew J. Bacevich, writing in the American Conservative, Pat Buchanan’s magazine, says basically the same thing that the anti-war critics were saying about General Petraeus’ report. Bacevich’s main point in this article is that the good general, while stating no overt falsehoods, puts too optimistic a spin on the surge, which most people can see is not working. But further, Bacevich criticizes Patraeus, whom he calls a “political general of the worst kind.” Here’s the entire quote:

George Washington, U.S. Grant, and Dwight D. Eisenhower were all “political generals” in the very best sense of the term. Their claims to immortality rest not on their battlefield exploits—Washington actually won few battles, and Grant achieved his victories through brute force rather than finesse, while Ike hardly qualifies as a field commander at all—but on the skill they demonstrated in translating military power into political advantage. Each of these three genuinely great soldiers possessed a sophisticated appreciation for war’s political dimension.

David Petraeus is a political general. Yet in presenting his recent assessment of the Iraq War and in describing the “way forward,” Petraeus demonstrated that he is a political general of the worst kind—one who indulges in the politics of accommodation that is Washington’s bread and butter but has thereby deferred a far more urgent political imperative, namely, bringing our military policies into harmony with our political purposes.

Bacevich then goes on to skillfully make the case, from a conservative point of view, that the troops, going into their second and third tours of duty in Iraq, are too thinly stretched; the U.S. has not been willing to commit the necessary resources to occupy the country; has been unwilling to admit that this is going to be a long term occupation; and in the end, they still have no exit strategy. At no point did this administration level with the American people about the truth or reality of the situation. Nor do they have a clear or realistic mission of what they wish to achieve. Their stated goal of a liberal democracy in the Middle East was never realistic given the culture and history there.

Further, this administration has confused the war in Iraq with the fight against terrorism. In fact, they’ve never actually defined what that fight is. As Bacevich points out, you can’t fight terrorism. You can fight those who use terrorism as a tactic, in this case militant, fundamentalist Islamic radicals. But invading Iraq was not the way to do so.

Finally, Bacevich ends with this scathing criticism of both the politicians and Petraeus:

If the civilian leadership is unwilling to provide what’s needed, then all of the talk about waging a global war on terror—talk heard not only from the president but from most of those jockeying to replace him—amounts to so much hot air. Critics who think the concept of the global war on terror is fundamentally flawed will see this as a positive development. Once we recognize the global war on terror for the fraudulent enterprise that it has become, then we can get serious about designing a strategy to address the threat that we actually face, which is not terrorism but violent Islamic radicalism. The antidote to Islamic radicalism, if there is one, won’t involve invading and occupying places like Iraq.

This defines Petraeus’s failure. Instead of obliging the president and the Congress to confront this fundamental contradiction—are we or are we not at war?—he chose instead to let them off the hook.
Basically, he has said most of the same things the anti-war critics, like MoveOn, have said. And he’s called General Petraeus a sycophant. So, um, this is more patriotic, less defeatist, and not as traitorous as MoveOn’s ad just how?

Why is it that all I can hear on the right are the sounds of crickets chirping?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Update on Troy Farlow Story and It's Not Good

Vivian posted a retraction of her earlier defense of candidate Troy Farlow today. Based on new and more complete evidence, she sadly realized she had been misled. Here’s her quote:
When the story of the hit and run charge against Troy Farlow emerged, I was contacted by the Farlow campaign. The result of that contact was this post. I’ve known Troy for a while but I treat information fed to me by campaigns (all of them) with a hefty dose of skepticism. Even after the post, I continued to question whether this was the whole story and was assured that it was.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am committed to telling the truth and letting the chips fall where they may. I get information from campaigns all the time and almost none of it ends up on this blog. I’m not into innuendo and gossip. In this case, I reported the “truth” as it was told to me. It appears that it just wasn’t the whole truth.

For that, I apologize to my readers.
To err is human, to retract is being a responsible journalist or blogger. Since I too launched a vigorous defense of Farlow, I am also going to apologize to any of my readers whom I misled. And to Vince at Too Conservative. My one plea to him is that next time he gets a story, please, please source it properly and write a fully fleshed out account. You’d be surprised how much benefit of the doubt we’ll give to a fellow blogger, regardless of which side of the aisle he's on, if his reporting is convincing. Unfortunately, Vince gave a sketchy report, with an inflammatory headline, that was short on facts and long on innuendo. It looked more like a hit piece than a factual description of events. But I’ll give Vince the benefit of the doubt. In the rush to get a story out and with a million competing priorities, it’s easy to report in shorthand and think others will be able to fill in the blanks. But we can’t. Anyway, I am sorry for doubting his integrity in my own rush to judgment.

And as this newspaper account, from the Daily Press shows, that judgment was wrong:
Democratic House of Delegates candidate Troy Farlow omitted a crucial element when he described his role in a 1999 hit-and-run case, according to the Virginia State Police.Farlow told the Daily Press last week that after having a "crisis of conscience," he went to authorities and turned in his father, who had driven away from the scene of a collision four years earlier. But Corinne Geller, a Richmond-based spokeswoman for the state police, told the Daily Press Tuesday that Farlow did not approach them until after a felony warrant had been issued for his arrest. In addition, a source directly involved in the investigation told the Daily Press that the state police had contacted Farlow repeatedly seeking his cooperation before obtaining the arrest warrant.
I can’t say I share Vivian’s outrage, though. I’m just sad at the turn of events. But there’s one important difference between me and Vivian. Unlike her, I’ve never met or spoken to Troy Farlow, so I can’t share her very justifiable anger at having been personally misled. I based my post solely on evidence from an earlier newspaper account in the Virginia Gazette, which seemed to support my belief that Troy was a conflicted young man who was simply the passenger in a car when his father hit somebody else and fled the scene. I believed that Troy wrestled with his conscience and eventually turned himself in because he was committed to doing the right thing.

Based on that, I concluded that he deserved a second chance. I believe everybody deserves second and even a third chance. The catch is they need to prove their integrity by coming clean and getting the entire story out, admitting their culpability and apologizing. And then going on to show they’ve turned their life around. Even if Troy had come forward only after he realized he would be caught anyway, if in the eight years that followed, after paying his fine and making amends, he had proved to have a sterling character, I’d say it was time to drop the incident and let him move on.

But the fact that he is still dissembling and still misleading even would be allies, like Vivian, leaves me with doubts about his character. I think both Republicans and Democrats can disagree on a lot of issues but all of us are united in wanting candidates who are honest, have good character and are committed to the public good.

And like Vivian, I am sorry for anything I did to mislead people. And for shooting a messenger whose message I disliked.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

We Are Community, My Thanks To Raising Kaine

As happens so often, yesterday, at the tail end of a very busy day that didn’t end until 9 pm, I found out about the United Auto Workers Strike at General Motors. It’s a nationwide strike, which affects the GM plant in Fredericksburg. I wanted to do a quick post about it with the hope of filling in more details later. And I wanted the announcement to go out to the wider progressive community in Virginia beyond the people who read AIAW. I thought this was important information to share and to get out as quickly as possible even if my grasp of the details was still sketchy. So, I posted what I knew, both here and at Raising Kaine with the hopes of following up today.

It turns out, I don’t have to. Another Raising Kaine diarist, Dianne, posted a comment where she fleshed out the details, complete with a link to local coverage in today’s Free Lance Star. She reminded Raising Kaine readers, in her title, “Labor supports Democrats, Now let’s support Labor.” She even linked to map information, telling readers, “figure out what you can do to show your support for the UAW.”

I am profoundly grateful to Dianne for picking up the ball for me when I was busy. And I’m also thankful to Lowell for providing the graphic to go with the diary – he always finds just the right graphic for me even while chiding me to pay attention to that stuff myself.

This incident made me think more about the value of the Raising Kaine community.

When they began Raising Kaine, Lowell Feld and Josh Chernila, envisioned something fairly new to the blogosphere, which itself is still a new and evolving medium. They wanted more than a blog. They wanted to revive the whole idea of a public square with active and engaged citizens joining in a dialogue. They wanted Raising Kaine to be an organizing tool and something more than that, a place where progressives could go to try out new ideas, encourage one another and even inspire each other.

They created a site where diarists would put up posts, others would comment, and the community could argue or affirm the opinions, positions and tactics under discussion. And above all, they wanted Raising Kaine to be the place where we could share information about campaigns including ideas, message content, and the nuts and bolts details, such as where the phone banking was taking place and what day and time people would be walking the precincts, knocking on doors and doing lit drops. They wanted to get out the practical information such as where to meet and who was having a fundraiser.

So, Raising Kaine became a true community, sharing ideas, information, and even venting anger. I am privileged to be one of the front pagers there, though I don’t post as often as I’d like.

I keep my own blog, this one, too. But when I have an opinion for which I want wider readership, I’ll go over there because not only will more people see it, but it will also generate more discussion. If I want to throw something out for a broader debate, that’s the place I’ll post it. And finally, if there’s news that is important for me to share with a larger audience than AIAW gets, I’ll put it up as a diary on Raising Kaine, as I did last night with that announcement of the UAW strike.

And if I falter in some way, others there will pick up the ball as Dianne and Lowell did last night and early this morning before I had the chance to. We argue with each other and we support each other, exactly as a community is supposed to.

And that’s why it’s important that Raising Kaine find a way to deal with those who would exploit its unique character by running a poorly sourced and misleading attack ad on a candidate that Raising Kaine actually supports, as Tim Hugo did.

Raising Kaine is a community composed of individual diarists. If Hugo found something written there that he feels helps his campaign at the expense of Rex Simmons, he can use it, but he should give it the proper attribution by naming the specific diarist who posted it. He should not leave his audience with the misleading impression that it was the opinion of Raising Kaine.

And Hugo’s deceptive campaign practices should not force Raising Kaine into changing the way it does business. Being a community has great value. Republicans can see that and want to divide us. Hugo’s ad was not just an attack ad aimed at Rex Simmons. It was an attack on Raising Kaine and its vision of a progressive community.

We can’t let that drive a wedge between us. We can and should differ among ourselves on issues, candidates, any number of things. But when a Republican tries to exploit our uniqueness and turn our greatest strength against us for his own political gain, we need to pull together and show what our community is made of.

The best way to do that is to continue doing exactly what we have been doing. We should close ranks behind those we support who have been unfairly attacked and also call out those who have been deceptive and sought to mislead the public about our real positions. And above all, we should insist on staying a community that lifts each member up so that we can further progressive causes.

Thank you Raising Kaine!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Breaking News: UAW Strikes GM Plant

At 11 a.m. today, the United Auto Workers walked out of plants across the nation in a general strike against General Motors. Here’s a statement from the UAW Website:
“We’re shocked and disappointed that General Motors has failed to recognize and appreciate what our membership has contributed during the past four years,” said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. “Since 2003 our members have made extraordinary efforts every time the company came to us with a problem: the corporate restructuring, the attrition plan, the Delphi bankruptcy, the 2005 health care agreement. In every case, our members went the extra mile to find reasonable solutions.

“Throughout this time period," said Gettelfinger, "it has been the dedication of UAW members that has helped GM set new standards for safety, quality and productivity in their manufacturing facilities. And in this current round of bargaining, we did everything possible to negotiate a new contract, including an unprecedented agreement to stay at the bargaining table nine days past the expiration of the previous agreement.”

“This is our reward: a complete failure by GM to address the reasonable needs and concerns of our members,” said UAW Vice President Cal Rapson, director of the union's GM Department. “Instead, in 2007 company executives continued to award themselves bonuses while demanding that our members accept a reduced standard of living.
There will be picketing at the Fredericksburg GM plant. I’ll try to find out more tomorrow.

Tim Hugo: Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell

CORRECTION: Lowell Feld just sent me an email correcting a mistake in this post. I said that Raising Kaine had endorsed Rex Simmons in the primary, which was an error on my part. Raising Kaine originally endorsed Morris Meyers. They do support Rex Simmons fully in the general election. AIAW.

By now most people who are interested in blogs and campaigns have probably caught Tim Craig’s Washington Post story last Saturday, where Raising Kaine objected to a Tim Hugo campaign ad, which Lowell Feld called deceptive.

Hugo aired an attack ad against his opponent, Rex Simmons, and attributed damaging quotes, disparaging Simmons’ integrity, to Raising Kaine. RK endorsed Simmons in the primary and certainly is supporting him in the general election against Republican candidate Hugo. But the ad makes it appear as though Raising Kaine were critical of Simmons.

Nothing could be further from the truth. One diarist at RK, however, did post a critical diary after a bruising primary where his candidate lost. Nate de la Piedra, of Next Generation Democrats, expressed some personal anger in his ill-considered diary, which he later removed.

The main objection by Feld and others is that Tim Hugo did not properly source the quotes used in the ad. The argument is that the quotes should have been sourced to the diarist not simply to RK. It wasn’t that Hugo lied. It’s that he told a half-truth designed to mislead the public.

In the WaPo story, Hugo admitted he knew who had posted the diary and not just that person’s screen name but his real identity. That’s tantamount to making a deliberate decision to mislead viewers.

This controversy has swirled around the blogosphere all weekend with bloggers on both sides of the spectrum weighing in. The rightwing, of course, was simply gloating that it happened to RK. That’s a shame because it will probably come around to them, as all things that go around do. It will be harder for them to whine when they are treated unfairly if they don’t stand up for ethical sourcing now.

Anyway, one of the more rational and principled disagreements with the left, though, comes from Bwana at Renaissance Ruminations. His main point is that while it was probably something he personally wouldn’t do, the diary was fair game as was the blog RK as a whole. His point seemed to be that it’s going to happen to blogs regardless of how much we object to it, so we might was well either get used to it or figure out how to prevent it by changing what we allow to be posted on our blogs.

Bwana is not wrong. You can rail against reality but it’s gonna be reality anyway. Unscrupulous politicians and their campaign operatives are going to continue making unfair and misleading ads as long as they are effective no matter how much we object.

So, we do have to figure out how to slow them down or not let ourselves be taken advantage of.

One obvious way would be for Raising Kaine to change the way it does business. It could go from being a community of progressives, which encourages ordinary citizens to air their opinions in diaries in a free forum to one that polices what goes up on the site. Lowell has always envisioned RK as a citizen’s public square where people meet to consider a variety of opinions. That makes RK more vulnerable than my blog, for example, or Bwana’s. I am, after all, a one-woman show. I’m the only one responsible for the posts on AIAW.

However, I don’t think Lowell, Josh and the rest of the RK management ought to change the nature of RK. It’s a valuable forum. But they have already taken one very simple step that newspapers and even radio and TV stations use when they air differing opinions. RK will now have a visible disclaimer that the views of individual diarists do not represent the views of the entire RK community. Of course, RK will also continue to get out the word that they endorse Rex Simmons and have done so since the primary.

But here’s another suggested way to handle it. Continue to insist loudly and publicly that Tim Hugo ran a misleading and deceptive ad. Get the word out. Turn it around on him. He claimed we can’t trust Rex Simmons.

Well, guess what?

We just can’t trust Tim Hugo. He’ll say anything to get elected. And he doesn’t care whose opinions he misrepresents and how many people he misleads.

Want to discourage dishonesty? Keep pointing it out. Maybe some people think that what happens to RK is the consequence of having a popular public forum that encourages a freewheeling debate. That may be true. But being publicly called out as a deceptive liar is the consequence of being deceptive and lying.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Gerry Connolly Strikes the Right Balance on Illegal Immigration

Kudos to Gerry Connolly for his op-ed piece in today’s Washington Post!

As Connolly shows, while other Northern Virginia municipalities, such as Manassas, and counties like Prince William and Loudon, prefer to exploit illegal immigration for political gain, using it as a wedge issue to whip up fear and prejudice in their citizens, Fairfax County has been quietly working on solutions that benefit its citizens. The difference is that Democratically controlled Fairfax doesn’t have to resort to fear tactics the way Loudon and Prince William do because they are focusing on positive approaches to dealing with the effects of illegal immigration. Here are Connolly’s own words on the topic:
Fairfax County’s approach to illegal immigration is pretty straightforward: We are taking action when we find people behaving illegally, regardless of their immigration status. We are employing local resources in a strategic fashion to address illegal situations in our neighborhoods. Like others in the region, we are cooperating with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), but we are doing so without the specter of racial profiling or inciting fear in our immigrant communities.
As Connolly explains, Fairfax has chosen to concentrate on pragmatic efforts that don’t violate the Constitution or step on the jurisdiction of the federal government. At the county level, the Board of Supervisors has chosen to cut the rate of gang involvement among youth from 5.6% to half that amount by implementing after school programs in county-wide middle schools and working with community partners to provide other constructive opportunities for young people.

In addition, the BOS has set up a rapid response team to crack down on illegal boarding house operations. Thirty-six cases have been resolved, 18 are in litigation and 128 are under investigation. The county’s public safety agencies work with ICE and the sheriff reports up to 50 illegal immigrants a month to ICE for follow up action. In the past fiscal year, the sheriff also housed 338 illegal immigrants at ICE’s request. And Fairfax is looking to expand its partnership with ICE under the federal 287g program.

Fairfax County also requires proof of legal residence for the following programs, housing assistance, food stamps, home energy assistance, medical insurance and refugee assistance.

Connolly pointed out that the county couldn’t deny schooling to the children of illegal immigrants because public education has been exempted by the Supreme Court and cannot legally be denied to any child.

The truth is the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors under Connolly’s leadership has struck the right balance of attempting to enforce laws that protect the quality of life and deny some services to those who are not here legally. It has focused on using legal remedies to create an environment that will discourage illegal immigrants without grandstanding, demonizing people or exploiting fear. And Fairfax has not suffered under this approach. As Connolly points out at the end of his op-ed piece:

This is a complex issue. Forty percent of Fairfax's population belongs to a minority group, and the numbers are equally strong in other parts of our region. As our minority population has tripled in the past quarter-century, we have become the economic engine of the commonwealth, with the nation's highest median income.

Our school system has become the envy of the nation, and our crime rate is the lowest among the nation's large jurisdictions. There should be no arguing that Fairfax County and this region have thrived because of that growing diversity.
We all can recognize the challenge posed by illegal immigration. However, we must not allow politicians to engage in the demagogic politics of fear and intimidation that have so divided us in Virginia's past.

I’ll let that be the last word because I couldn’t put it any better than Gerry just did.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Leslie Byrne Announces Exploratory Committee for 11th CD

H/t to Ben and Lowell for this.

Does anybody doubt where my sympathies lie? First of all, everybody in labor knows Leslie Byrne is the "shop steward's daughter." That means her father was a leader in his union. It makes her family to the men and women in Virginia's organized labor movement.

And, yes, Leslie got out in front and was one of the first Democrats, along with Chap Peterson, in endorsing Jim Webb. So, I think she'll have a lot of union support and a good portion of the progressive blogosphere will be behind her.

That doesn't mean she'll necessarily have the nomination locked up. It just means lots of folks in Viriginia know her, know where she stands and respect her enormously. She starts with a huge advantage.

Personally, I've been an economic populist and a progressive all along so I'll be in Leslie's corner.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Troy Farlow and the Land of Redemption and Second Chances

H/t to Vivian for first exposing the attempted smear job on a fine candidate and bringing us the truth.

America has been called the land of opportunity. It’s the place where people from all over the world come to reinvent themselves. It’s the country that offers a second chance. And that’s a peculiar concept throughout the rest of the world, which respects rigid social caste and hidebound tradition. America, by contrast, is fluid, future looking, and egalitarian.

America is also the place where a young man can wrestle with his conscience, face up to the consequence of past actions, and find forgiveness. Or at least that’s what Troy Farlow thought.

When he was 24, he got into an auto accident with his father at the wheel of the vehicle. His father chose to flee from the scene after making sure that a woman in the car that he had hit had not been injured. Farlow, Sr., also convinced his son, Troy, not to tell anybody. Troy’s father, an insurance executive, feared that if word of the accident got out, he could lose his job.

Troy and his father had been estranged for years and Troy was desperately trying to reconcile with a parent he had never truly known, so he agreed to keep silent. And he did for about four years until his conscience couldn’t take it any more and he got a lawyer and turned himself in.

Despite the fact that nobody was hurt in the accident, a law had been broken when Farlow and his father left the scene of the accident. To reiterate, Troy Farlow was only the passenger. He did not, himself, hit another car. His only culpability was remaining silent. Until he broke his silence, made restitution and agreed to testify against his own father. Ironically, his father was never prosecuted so he’s the only one who actually paid the consequences for breaking a law. And his was a sin of omission, not commission at that.

Nevertheless, he paid his debt to the law and to society. He should have been allowed to move on with his life. Except, unfortunately, he decided to run for office. And he had the misfortune of running against Brenda Pogge, a floundering Republican candidate, who herself is facing a lawsuit for voter fraud.

So, a Republican blogger, Vince Harris, of Too Conservative, decided that the best defense for his failing candidate was to be as offensive as possible in smearing Pogge’s Democratic opponent. So, he dug up this unfortunate incident and blew it up all out of proportion.

Vince Harris received the arrest warrant and court papers, which he posted on his blog. Ironically, Vince also neglected to redact Troy Farlow’s social security number (it’s redacted now) from the documents in his haste to get up his smear post. Redaction is just a fancy word for getting out a black magic marker and crossing the damned social security number out. In an age of identity theft and privacy laws, Vince may himself have run afoul of the law. He certainly violated ethics by not checking the story thoroughly and deliberately leaving his readers with a misleading impression of the events. Ironically, Vince, who has written movingly about his grandfather, a Baptist minister, also probably broke the Ninth Commandment, “Thou shalt not bring false witness against your neighbor.”

But perhaps Vince doesn’t think a young man who makes a mistake deserves a second chance. One he, himself, got last year when another blogger outted him for posting comments to his own blog site under false names. It caused a minor flap and I defended Vince on the grounds that he was young and everybody deserves forgiveness and a second chance.

Unfortunately, Vince, the recipient of a lot of peoples’ willingness to give the benefit of the doubt doesn’t believe in second chances for others, especially if they happen to be Democrats. It’s just not politically expedient at election time when sliming and smearing an opponent takes precedence over ethics. At an important time like this, even redemption must take a back seat to victory in November. Even in the land of second chances.

A Heretic Who Knows Her Bible

Eat your heart out! This is my score.

You know the Bible 100%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

Yup, the heretic is a Biblical scholar.

Ok, I'll admit some of these were lucky guesses - but educated guesses. It's always easier to get a good score in a multipe choice test. Still, it's a fun test and I knew enough so that a lot of the choices made me laugh. And need I add that knowing the Bible doesn't mean you have to believe all of it. I also know the difference between Biblical minimalists and maximalists. I fall in between (naturally). I'm a Biblical squishy moderate :)

h/t to Daily Whackjob for the fun test.

And by the way, I'll probably put them back on my blogroll. I still do disapprove of their being careless with somebody's personal address, but truth is they are too funny to stay mad at permanently.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Doesn't Look Like an Anti-Semite To Me

I’ll be the first to admit that Jim Moran sometimes suffers foot and mouth disease and makes statements that even his most loyal supporters cringe at. And I’ll also grudgingly give Colbert King the benefit of the doubt. He’s supposed to be a highly respected Washington Post columnist. But he’s dead wrong about Jim Moran in last Saturday’s column.

King asserts that Moran’s criticism of the powerful AIPAC Israel lobby, made in an interview Moran gave to Tikkun magazine, which appears in their September October issue, is tantamount to anti-Semitism. Ok, let’s look at exactly what Jim Moran said to Tikkun:

“AIPAC is very well organized. The members are willing to be very generous with their personal wealth. But it’s a two edged sword. If you cross AIPAC, AIPAC is very unforgiving and will destroy you politically. Their means of communications, their ties to certain newspapers and magazines and individuals in the media are substantial and intimidating. Every member knows it’s the best-organized national lobbying force. The National Rifle Association comes a close second, but AIPAC can rightfully brag that they’re the most powerful lobbying force in the world today. Certainly they are in the United States. Not in Europe obviously…
Then in answer to another question, Moran continues:

You’ve touched on a quandary, and it particularly applies to the Jewish American community. Jewish Americans, as a voting bloc and as an influence on American foreign policy are overwhelmingly opposed to the war. There is no ethnic group as opposed to the war as Jewish Americans. But AIPAC is the most powerful lobby and has pushed this war from the beginning. I don’t think they represent the mainstream of American Jewish thinking at all, because they are so well organized and their members are extraordinarily powerful – most of them are quite wealthy – they have been able to exert power.
King and others imply that because Moran criticizes a powerful lobby that happens to be comprised of wealthy Jews, he is playing into the ugly stereotype that all Jews are wealthy and control the media and the government. And that they put the interests of Israel before that of their own country, the United States.

But is that what he is really saying?

I don’t think so. If you read the interview carefully, Moran goes to great lengths to point out that AIPAC does not represent most of the Jewish community and that most mainstream American Jews have been in the forefront of opposition to the war in Iraq.

I happen to disagree with Moran and some other progressive Jews about how influential AIPAC really is, but you can’t fault those AIPAC critics for anti-Semitism. They are simply criticizing one group of rich citizens who have undue access to media and government because of their wealth. That they happen to be a Jewish group that supports right wing policies in Israel is beside the point. The fact is there are many Israelis who also disagree with AIPAC.

But most telling is the context from which Moran’s quotes were taken – I always say context is everything. Moran was giving an interview to a very liberal Jewish publication whose editorial policy agrees with Moran. Jim Moran was speaking freely to friends, who, by the way, happen to be Jewish progressives. The Tikkun crowd dislikes AIPAC and considers them rivals. Tikkun, and its affiliates, have a different view of Israel and Middle Eastern policy, one which seeks reconciliation with Palestinians and a humane, two state solution that protects Israel’s sovereignty while also being mindful of Palestinians’ legitimate rights to self-determination.

I personally think they have a beautiful, idealistic, and na├»ve point of view. Without believing for a minute that Israel is some blameless, perfect society, I could argue that the biggest stumbling block to peace in that region is Palestinian intransigence. Incrementalism and building trust just aren’t part of Hamas’ plan. All or nothing – victory over Israel and pushing it into the sea versus utter defeat – is their agenda. The problem with some liberals is they don’t pay attention to what groups like Hamas actually say. They should.

But while disagreeing with them about the odds of a genuine reconciliation (I’m just more skeptical by nature) I’d hardly call them self-hating Jews or anti-Semites.

King, however, challenged Moran to name specific names and cite specific examples of AIPAC's undue influence and power. Ok, Jim Moran didn't do it. But I will right here.

Let me give you one more quote – and I’m not going to tell you up front by whom it was said:
Let's zero in on AIPAC. It is controlled by right wing, rich Jewish neo-conservatives. As one manifestation of the truth of this assertion one merely has to look at its annual meeting this past month. At a time when Vice President Cheney's popularity has dropped below 20 percent, the 4,500 delegates to the AIPAC convention gave him a standing ovation for almost a minute before he even opened his mouth and then proceeded to give him 48 rounds of applause in a 35-minute speech. (As my colleague Leonard Fein pointed out, that's once every 43.7 seconds). Considering that 75 percent of American Jews voted for Kerry, it is obvious that these people are out of the mainstream of Jewish thought.

At the same conference, preceding the recent Israeli elections, these delegates were addressed by Ehud Olmert (Kadima), Amir Peretz (Labor) and Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) by video link from Israel. Olmert and Peretz received polite applause. The AIPAC delegates cheered enthusiastically for Netanyahu, especially when he presented his hard line that was overwhelmingly rejected by the Israeli electorate. Once a great organization, today AIPAC does not even represent the feelings of the average Israeli, let alone the average American Jew.

This American Jewish neo-conservatism is unhealthy not only for America but for Israel as well. A prime example: The Israeli press reports that Israel is trying to find a way to deal with the Palestinians while not dealing with Hamas. Official public statements aside, they realize that they cannot cut off all contacts with the Palestinians and that the world cannot discontinue financial help; otherwise Israel will find a million starving Palestinians on its border, and this will not lead to peace or security for Israel. Privately, the Israeli government was against the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act (the Ross-Lehtinen-Lantos bill) which recently passed the House of Representatives. It would cut off all American contacts with the Palestinian Authority, even with its president Mahmoud Abbas, who is a moderate seeking peace. Despite Israel's private reservations, AIPAC not only pushed this bill, it was instrumental in writing it. Even though the AIPAC candidate lost in Israel, he won in the U.S. House of Representatives. Hopefully, the Senate and the White House will correct this.

Another example: 400 rabbis, including myself, signed a letter sponsored by Brit Tzedek v'Shalom that appeared in the Forward this past month. It was a mildly liberal statement that proclaimed that "we are deeply troubled by the recent victory of Hamas," but went on to urge "indirect assistance to the Palestinian people via NGO's, with the appropriate conditions to ensure that it does not reach the hands of terrorists." Pretty mild stuff. Yet pulpit rabbis across this country who signed the letter have reported a concerted effort to silence them. The letter has been branded a "piece of back-stabbing abandonment of the Jews of Israel." Synagogue boards have been pressured to silence their rabbis by that loose coalition called the "Israel Lobby."

Just another example of the Jewish establishment stifling any discussion of Israel that does not conform to the neo-conservative tenets of AIPAC and its cohorts. Beware of these self-appointed guardians of Israel and Jewish values. In the end they will destroy everything that makes Judaism a compassionate religion, and if in their zeal they do not destroy Israel, they certainly will not make it more secure.
Satisfied yet, Mr. King? Because basically, the author of those words backs up Jim Moran’s contention. And I’d be willing to bet that King, in his take no prisoners style, would love to accuse him of anti-Semitic remarks too.

Unfortunately, Rabbi Bruce Warhsal, publisher emeritus of the Broward Jewish Journal, respected rabbi and still a columnist for that paper, wrote those words. He felt that pressure from AIPAC first hand. He’s a Jewish progressive to be sure. But anti-Israel – never!

He is, in fact, one of the most respected rabbis and writers in Broward County, Florida, home to one of the nation’s largest Jewish populations.

Indeed, there is a debate going on in the Jewish community between neo-cons, who comprise a minority, and progressives, who, as Rabbi Warshal pointed out, voted in droves for John Kerry in 2004, about what is the best policy to secure Israel’s security, as well as the most moral position on the Middle East. Many Jews argue that rapprochement and reconciliation with Palestine and an equitable two state solution would stabilize the Middle East and provide the real security that Israel and a Palestinian state need to prosper. It may be an unattainable goal. And it’s certainly fair to argue about it.

But AIPAC and its allies – often unwitting allies at that – would rather resort to ad hominem attacks on their opponents than engage in a real dialogue about the best solution. But its opponents – and those who are critical of the so-called Israel lobby, i.e., AIPAC – are not anti-Semites. Just as Democrats, and the vast majority of Americans who oppose our involvement in Iraq are not cut and run defeatists. But the sad thing is that those who resort to slurs, smears and attack have already admitted that they’ve lost the real argument, the one based on facts, evidence and logic. They are up the proverbial creek with only one paddle. When confronted with arguments they can’t respond to, their answer is to batter their critics over head.

Unfortunately, Colbert King took that paddle to Jim Moran. But as I said, he’s dead wrong this time. Because if he’s not, that makes the 75% of Jews, who as Rabbi Warshal noted, voted for John Kerry, consider themselves Democrats, and oppose AIPAC, equally anti-Semitic. And that’s not true.

Mr. King, I respectfully submit that AIPAC is not the Jewish community and represents only a minority view even among Israelis. And, yes, they do assert undue pressure on their perceived opponents. If you haven't felt it personally, it's because you've never been one of their critics. That's ok. But it doesn't make you more pro-Israel than those who don't share AIPAC's particular viewpoint.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

On September 11...

Maybe it's not really that strange. But I'm commemorating September 11 by flying.

I didn't plan it that way. But I'm going to visit my dad for the Jewish holidays so Dan and I are flying out later today. The holiday begins tomorrow at sundown and we didn't want to risk flight delays or cutting it too close and not getting in before sundown.

But I also think it's good, on this day, to do normal things. Certainly, we need to take a few moments to reflect on what happened and to remember those who perished. And those they left behind.

I have family who live and work in lower Manhattan. And on that day, I was stuck in hours long traffic evacuating from DC. As soon as I got home, I tried to call relatives. I called my parents to let them know I was ok. Somehow we all made connections and hearing my loved ones' voices was immensely reassuring. So, on that day, every year, I remember to focus on what I'm grateful for and to take a moment to think about those who lost so much.

But after taking the time for some solemn focus, it's also important to do the ordinary things in life, like flying, to let al Qaeda know that we are not intimidated. All acts of normalcy are acts of courage in the face of the threat of terrorism. That is our fight on the homefront.

La Shanna Tova! See you when I get back.

Janet Oleszek Video

I know a rough cut or outtake of Janet's video showed up accidentally on the Internet a few days ago.

I can only guess why it happened. But this is the real, finished version. As you can see, it's much smoother and more professional.

I'm not a professional videographer, but I do know what dress rehearsals are like from my acting days. Even though a dress rehearsal is usually the night or two before a play, the performance is nowhere near polished.

The same is true in taping a video or commercial. Even the most seasoned performers, speakers or politicans, will flub a line, read a cue card, or need a retake. That doesn't make them incompetent.

Far from it. And in Janet's case, I've seen her speak off the cuff many times at public events. I've had personal conversations with her. She's anything but "dumb as a Hoot."

Anybody who tell you that she is has an agenda. They're being a Republican out to win in November, so consider the source.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Janet Oleszek Fighting for Quality Education in the 37th District

As they say, timing is everything, and it’s time to blog closer to home. Specifically, the 37th District where I live. I know and respect both the candidates running for the Virginia State Senate. Today, I’m going to focus on the challenger, Janet Oleszek, the Democrat who currently serves on the Fairfax County School Board. This is an introduction to her and her positions. Probably a lot of bloggers are already familiar with her, but for those readers who aren’t or who haven’t been focusing on elections until now (not everybody is a political junkie – a lot of people tune out during the summer), here’s some insight into her background and her campaign issues. This is the beginning of a series that will focus on one issue at a time.

Janet moved to the Washington area from California in the 1960s to work in the congressional office of John Moss (D-Calif). She later earned a masters degree in special education at American University and worked as a teacher. While raising her sons, she became active in her local PTA and in 2003, she ran for the Fairfax County School Board as an at-large member. She won the seat with 88,000 votes, a record number for any Democrat running for the school board. So, she’s a proven vote getter and seasoned campaigner.

And she brings years of expertise on education issues, something important to the residents of the 37th district, where voters recognize how crucial a quality education is for their children’s future. And they also are savvy enough to realize that good schools and educated employees are a key to economic development for Fairfax and the entire state.

If elected, Janet will work to see that the Standards of Quality, the minimum educational requirements for the school divisions in elementary and secondary education, are fully funded by the state.

Increasingly, education professionals are recognizing the importance of early education to get children off to a good start in school, so she’ll work for better funded full day kindergarten programs too. Currently, Fairfax pays for its full day kindergarten program with county money. The state picks up most of the costs for all day kindergarten programs in Prince William and Loudon counties. Janet points out that the funding formula is unfair to Fairfax County and she will fight to get more of our taxes back from Richmond to fund Fairfax’s education needs.

In addition, she favors investing in the public schools’ technology infrastructure to produce students able to compete for the high tech jobs this area hopes to continue to attract. And finally, she sees the importance of fighting to increase teachers’ pay. Currently, teacher salaries have stagnated and are below the national average across the state. Until something is done, we won’t be able to compete effectively for the best teachers coming out of colleges. Nor will we be able to retain experienced teaching professionals.

Although Janet Oleszek brings years of knowledge and experience to education, she’s hardly a one-issue candidate. My next post, probably next week as I'll be out of town starting Tuesday, will highlight her ideas on transportation, one of the most important issues facing Fairfax County and the state. In the future, I’ll also write about Janet’s ideas on the environment and health care.

Meanwhile, to find out more, you can go to her website . And while you're there check out volunteer opportunities to help her. Also, if you could contribute some money, that wouldn’t be bad either.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

With Wal Mart What You See Isn't What You Get

I just came across something that surprised even me.

H/t to Mosquito Blog for leading me to this diary on Daily Kos. According to JR Monsterfodder, Wal-Mart’s prices are actually higher than those of other retailers most of the time and by significant amounts.

In fact, Wal Mart charges more money for its goods 80% of the time. Eighty percent to 85% of Wal-Mart’s prices are higher than other store and only 15% to 20% of their prices are lower.

Ironically, the mainstream business media furthers the myth that Wal Mart has the lowest prices and has achieved them by squeezing out efficiencies in stocking, maintaining a vast database and clever inventory stratagems. And Wal Mart is often lauded for using their size and clout to push their suppliers’ prices lower and passing along the saving to consumers.

In addition, Wal Mart is famous for keeping store overhead and expenses low by offering the cheapest wages and poorest benefit packages in the retail industry. They have consistently fought off unionization efforts, hired illegal immigrants, and encouraged their workers to go on Medicaid rather than providing them with health insurance. And, it goes without saying that the suppliers who must keep their prices low are also not paying their own workers good wages or providing other benefits, so Wal Mart creates a chain reaction of poverty, a true race to the bottom for workers. The cost of those cheap prices is that Wal Mart is also the only place that those workers could afford to shop. And actually, their own workers can’t even afford their prices, which is why Wal Mart supported raising the minimum wage. They reasoned that if the minimum wage was higher, it would force their competition to raise wages so Wal Mart could still undercut the salaries Target and Kmart paid their employees.

But the real irony, it turns out, is that Wal Mart isn’t even passing genuine savings on to consumers to justify all the misery they cause their workforce. And their lack of genuine savings means, they can’t even justify the shoddy goods they sell.

So, how did Wal Mart get their reputation for having the lowest prices around? According to a study by Zenith Management Consulting, it’s because Wal Mart uses very clever advertising and marketing strategies.

Their real strategy is to use marketing tactics that create the perception of cheap prices by putting a few high volume items out front, displayed prominently, with very low prices. Here’s what Zenith had to say about Wal Mart’s marketing technique to create the illusion of price savings:

We did nearly half a million-price checks in 300 Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, and national chain grocery and drug stores to find out who really has lower prices.
  • 85% of Wal-Mart's prices are higher than its competitors as a group;
    Wal-Mart's main success-driver is that consumers perceive its prices are lower, which they are not;
  • Consumers perceive that Wal-Mart's prices are lower because of a complex set of perception-altering mechanisms;
  • Wal-Mart's core competence is not logistics or low prices; it is perception-alteration: public relations;
  • Real-world tests show that consumers can be brought back to the other retailers only by addressing the alteration of perceptions;
    Real-world tests successfully brought consumers back to other retailers, and they stayed after 12 months.
But one thing that isn’t an illusion is that their products often are of lower quality. In fact, even some major companies, like Goodyear, produce a special line just for Wal Mart, with lower quality goods.

The other trick Wal Mart is famous for is going into rural areas and starting out with genuinely low prices that produce big savings for consumers. They run out the other competition, usually just the small scale mom and pop shops. But once that competition is gone, Wal Mart’s prices climb. As Wal Mart grew and expanded into more populous suburban and urban areas, that strategy began to fail them. It’s not as easy to drive a Target, Sears, or Kohls out of business as it is a mom and pop shop or a smaller scale supermarket in a less populated rural area or small town.

Wal Mart began to modify their business plan to appeal to a more upscale market. Where they once targeted consumers earning $25,000 a year, they began trying to cut into Target’s and Kohls’ market share, which is consumers in the $40,000 and up salary range. But it hasn’t worked as well as they’d hoped. Wal Mart’s sales have been flat and their investors are unhappy with their recent returns.

And studies like this may educate more buyers that with Wal Mart there is less than meets the eye when it comes to saving money. In fact, the only ones benefiting from Wal Mart’s business strategy are the company’s executives and owners, Sam Walton’s kids.

Focusing On What Really Counts

Last year if anybody had told me that Virginia would actually be the state responsible for the U.S. Senate turning blue, I’d have laughed at them. Sure, I believed passionately in Jim Webb, but the thought that reliably red Virginia could hold the key to tipping the Senate blue would have struck me as just as nonsensical as a baseball movie where the Cleveland Indians beat the Yankees in the final playoff to get into the World Series.

Ok, so Major League spawned two successful movies, the Indians did just that in the late 90s, and on the Jersey Turnpike, stuck in rush hour traffic, in late November of last year, I glared at some idiot honking at me only to see a young man grinning from ear to ear, pointing to my car’s bumper sticker and giving me the thumb’s up. And I remembered a sign I had seen a few days earlier at Jim Webb’s victory celebration in Arlington that said “Virginia Says Your Welcome to America.” And I realized, somebody on a crowded New Jersey highway actually was thanking me for a Democratic Senate.

Because of Webb’s showing, following the success of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, Virginia now is a targeted state. If the Democrats push forward and succeed at taking back the state Senate and gaining seats in the House of Delegates, the national Democratic Party and the AFL-CIO will also target us for the presidential race in 08. It’s an exciting time to be a Democrat in Virginia.

But it’s also a time fraught with peril. Along with great opportunity comes great risk. We’ve got work to do now that it’s after Labor Day and voters are starting to pay attention. We’ve got less than two months to consolidate the gains we’ve made and push further. We can do it.

Between now and Election Day I’m out of the blog wars that have occupied so much of my time. It’s time to put aside the egos, the endless introspection and the equally endless sniping and personality clashes.

If we spend more time absorbed in the melodrama of our own fights to the exclusion of focusing on campaigns and issues, the gate we worked so hard to crash will be rebuilt with us on the outside looking in. And it will be deserved.

The best way to get our ideas and issues taken seriously is to elect the candidates who will listen to us and implement them. And we can’t do it if we are continuously bickering among ourselves.

Especially, I’m done fighting with Republican bloggers, regardless how noble the reasons. I’d rather fight their candidates so that ours will win.

Monday, September 03, 2007


As Democratic Central reminds us.

"Remembering the contributions of organized labor, the people who brought you the weekend."
And more.

If you have an eight hour work day, overtime pay, a pension, health insurance, decent pay, and a two week vacation and some sick days - thank the Labor Movement.

Before workers were able to organize and engage in collective bargaining a 12 hour work day in unhealthy, uncomfortable and dangerous factories was the norm. People worked six days a week (great for family values and spending quality time with kids - and if you think children were better behaved then, no they weren't in slums like Hell's Kitchen, New York, and other squalid places across the country in big industrial cities).

Of course, many will point out that people are working more and longer hours today. We've lost the concept of the 8 hour day as work hours are creeping back up and people now work 60 hour work weeks. And we know that health insurance and pensions are once again becoming out of reach for the average middle class workers.

Consider that union membership in the private sector is at an all time low of 7 percent, compared to the 36 percent in its heyday. If ordinary Americans are losing ground, it could be the decline of organized labor because even non-union members benefitted by the reforms labor fought for.

You didn't have to be a union member factory worker to enjoy an 8 hour day, overtime pay and vacation time a few years ago. Non-union, white collar office workers enjoyed those same benefits because they became customary throughout the workforce. Those were standard working conditions.

You could have a movie called "Nine to Five" even back in the 70s because most workers actually worked those hours and had an hour off for lunch. They also had real paid vacations where they weren't attached to Blackberries and cell phones. They could spend quality time with children without being interrupted by an email in the middle of their child's Little League game.

And contrary to assertions from some anti-union conservatives, most middle class workers recognize the ground they've lost in job security and good working conditons. They tell reporters they would like to have a union to join.

I'll probably have more to report on this, with sources to link to, in the near future.

For now, Happy Labor Day. And hopefully, relief is coming.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

On a Gorgeous End of Summer Weekend

I spent a glorious day visiting a friend in Annapolis. His home is within walking distance of the downtown, although it is a hefty walk. So, Dan and I strolled through lovely old neighborhoods with neatly manicured lawns, old fashioned homes with bay windows and large porches, and friendly neighbors saying hello to our friend, Hugh.

We had drinks in Hugh's favorite Irish bar, the one he goes to after work a couple of times a week before heading home. Then we walked through the downtown, stopping in quaint little antique shops. Finally, we had lunch in a restaurant on the waterfront, sitting on the wooden dock and watching the boats roll up and people hop off to find their tables.

All the while we relaxed in the soft breezes and warm sun of a beautiful end of summer day. Despite the fact that the calendar says its September, it was still not quite fall yet. And those crisp temperatures and changing leaf colors are still a few weeks away. But we are truly blessed with one last long, lazy summer weekend to unwind and mellow out.

So, I'm finally taking off the few days that I thought I would earlier this week. No kidding. No reading or writing on the blogs at least until Monday. Especially since some other friends have invited us to a picnic tomorrow in their backyard.

As Bwana suggested, at Renaissance Ruminations, get outside. It's a gorgeous weekend. And life is far too short to miss one minute of this wonderful weather.