Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Bluing of Virginia Advances

From the live coverage I've been reading about RPV convention, it appears that the social conservatives are firmly in control of the party and are determined to take it over a cliff this November and well into the future.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Democratic Party is enthusiastically united behind Mark Warner and with good reason. Below is his first ad.

This a great ad, reminding Virginians of the condition that Jim Gilmore left this state in when Warner took over as governor. The Republicans are going to try to hit Warner for "raising taxes" but the truth is when Warner took over, he faced a $700 million deficit (actually, that's the public figure that Gilmore would admit to, but privately his critics say it was closer to $3 billion).

Warner not only turned that around but left the state with its Triple A bond rating in tact and Virginia has been declared one of the best states for business by Forbes Magazine every year since, including under Tim Kaine's stewardship.

In other news, the RPV has elected Jeff Fredrickson its new chairman. John Hager stepped aside and asked that Fredrickson be declared the new chairman by acclimation. (h/t) to RK for the report. Actually, Grey Havens says it best: "The RPV death spiral accelerates." And Too Conservative calls it Apocalypse Now.

I suspect our chances of furthering the bluing of Virginia is still on schedule!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Painful Decision

Literally. I have not been posting as frequently as I used to, or as I would like to. The reason is that I have been nursing an inflammed tendon in my wrist. The technical term for it is tendonitis. It's similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, but the tendon is on the inside wrist and my wrist and thumb hurt. They hurt badly.

You know how when you stub your toe you will involuntarily cry out or gasp? I had been doing that every time I moved my wrist or thumb in certain ways. I kept making those involuntary gasps or "ouches" while drying my hair, washing dishes, lifting a coffee pot - in short all the every day activities that I usually take for granted. Suddenly, they became very painful.

Since one possible cause of tendonitis is overuse, brought on by too much keyboarding, among other things, I am going to give my hand a rest for about a week or two in the hopes that it gets better. So far, I've been icing it and wearing an Ace brace, which seems to be helping.

I type a lot at work as well as coming home and blogging. So far, in the past week, with the assistance of some amazing co-workers, my keyboarding activities have been light as they've stepped in to help me. I also found that removing staples from items that I need to copy or scan in to my computer was an irritant. So, the person who opens the mail has begun using paper clips rather than staples to keep envelopes and attachments together. Then I just staple it all together when I'm done, using an electronic stapler. It's amazing the movements in an office environment, which we also take for granted, that can cause repetitive stress injuries.

Anyway, in addition to all those work place adjustments, I've decided to take some time away from my home keyboard to maximize the chances of getting this thing better quickly. So, I beg your indulgence while I take a needed break from blogging. I'll be back in about a week or two, and I hope you will still be here when I do return.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Tyranny of The Large

I have absolutely no doubt that the continually rising gas prices are caused by supply and demand. Countries with emerging economic prosperity, like China and India, are increasing the demand for oil and are competing with us for a dwindling supply of this non-renewable resource.

It's also probably a good thing that the markets are working to encourage greater conservation. For too long, the United States has been a major beneficiary of low energy prices and has gobbled up precious resources.

All that said, the record high profits of the oil companies cannot just be attributed to greater supply and demand on a free market. There's good old price gouging and an attempt to run their own gas stations out of business to create an even greater sense of scarcity and to create even more demand artificially. In short, big oil is working hard to eliminate competition at the retail level by leaning hard on their franchisees, who are small business people, as this article in today's Washington Post shows.
Every time Sohaila Rezazadeh rings up a sale at her Exxon station on Chain Bridge Road in Oakton, her cash register sends the information to Exxon Mobil's central computers. If she raises the price of gasoline a couple of pennies, chances are that Exxon will raise the wholesale price she pays by the same amount.

Through a password-protected Web portal, Exxon notifies Rezazadeh of wholesale price changes daily. That way the oil giant, which is earning about $3.3 billion a month, fine-tunes the pump prices at the franchise Rezazadeh has owned for 12 years.

Now, however, Rezazadeh says she cannot stay in business. Credit-card fees are eating her profit margins. Exxon, which owns the station land, last week handed Rezazadeh a new lease raising her rent about 30 percent over the next three years. She stuck a copy on the window of her station to show customers who are angry about soaring pump prices. Rezazadeh has told Exxon that she cannot make money with the rent that high. Her territory manager's reply, she said, was simple: When you go, leave us the keys.
The article goes on to describe how Exxon is nickel and diming the small businessmen in mom and pop gas stations who sell their product.
Rezazadeh, who fled to the United States from Iran in 1979, is part of the long chain that links motorists with the big oil companies. Major integrated U.S. oil companies -- which produce crude oil, own refineries and sell gasoline -- have been reaping billions of dollars in profit from high oil prices over the past two years, but they are still working to extract every penny they can from the marketing end of the business. Exxon Mobil doesn't break out its earnings from marketing alone, but its 2007 profits in worldwide refining and marketing -- known as the downstream part of the oil business -- reached $9.6 billion, 43 percent of that coming from the United States.
Although Exxon owns and operates few stations anymore -- less than 10 percent of the 12,000 Exxon outlets in the United States -- it uses franchise agreements to maintain tight control over stations that bear its brand. The company dictates everything from the number of pumps to hygiene practices to the placement of food on convenience store shelves. "They monitor everything," Rezazadeh said.
It's obvious that the only people growing rich on the oil shortages are the big companies, the stockholders, and the CEOs. Not only don't they share the profits down company with ordinary employees, their greed is causing them to even the squeeze the profits from their own franchisees. They are not pro-business. They are simply in favor of themselves with no sense of accountability to the public, the consumer, or the small businessman who is supposed to be their partner. This isn't free enterprise, it's galloping greed and extortion.

Ironically, in the same edition of the Washington Post, there was an op-ed about the role of sensible regulations in helping law abiding business people with integrity. It's by Tony Perez, Maryland's Secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Here's how he begins.

There is a pervasive belief peddled in the halls of Annapolis and on Capitol Hill that regulation is inherently bad for business. In Maryland, we heard it from the previous administration during clashes with state lawmakers. And we've seen it at the federal level for seven years.

But recent regulatory breakdowns at the state and national levels, and even globally, have shown that effective regulation and a positive business climate are not mutually exclusive. Inadequate regulation is not only dangerous for consumers but also detrimental to the health of entire industries and our economy as a whole.

Take some recent events at our nation's airports. After years of regulatory negligence, revelations about potentially unsafe planes led to increased scrutiny of Southwest, United, American and Delta airlines, causing flight cancellations and delays nationwide. The chaos that ensued was a public relations nightmare for an already struggling industry. Certainly the years of nonexistent regulation that led to the mess did not improve the climate for the airlines.
He then goes on to cite other failures, like last year's fiasco over unsafe products from China, which broke the consumer's trust with major companies, especially toy corporations. We came to fear every product from dog food to toothpaste. Other regulatory failures, which he didn't mention, include all the cases of food borne illness caused by unsanitary conditions in food processing plants that went unreported due to lack of support and resources at the USDA and FDA. Meaningful regulation of our nation's food supply just isn't a priority for our federal government under the Bush administration.

As Secretary Perez points out, there are many honorable business people who want to conduct business honestly and with integrity but when other firms cheat or cut corners in unsafe ways, it puts them at a competitive disadvantage. Proper regulation levels the playing field for the good guys.
Effective regulation is critical to building a sound business climate -- a fact illustrated during the recent session of the General Assembly. In response to foreclosures in Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley called lenders, brokers, real estate agents, housing counselors, consumer advocates and government officials to the table last year to find consensus on aggressive yet necessary reforms for the mortgage industry. The resulting legislative package received overwhelming bipartisan support.

We've seen the consequences of allowing industry to operate like the Wild West. O'Malley recognizes that it is possible, and imperative, to adopt policies that are both pro-consumer and pro-business.

We do no favors to the business community, or to our broader community, by neglecting our responsibility to protect workers, consumers and law-abiding businesses.
Kudos to our neighbor to the north, Maryland. What we can learn from them is that unregulated markets do not produce freedom and prosperity for the average person any more than lawlessness and anarchy in the streets promote freedom for the majority of people. To be truly free, people need to be safe. Without law and order, people aren't free to leave their homes, the most basic of liberties. Likewise, without proper regulation, there is anarchy, not freedom, in the markets.

The trick is to get the balance right between too much regulation and too little. Right now, that balance has tipped towards tyranny by the large corporations under the guise of free enterprise.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Statement of Support for RK's Change of Logo

Just a housekeeping note. Given the recent controversy about Governor Tim Kaine's endorsement of Gerry Connolly, many in the progressive blogosphere, who supported him enthusiastically in his 2005 gubernatorial race, are understandably upset with his decision. My own personal feelings are in this post.

Out of respect for the RK community, which has altered its logo to read RK, I have changed their name on my blogroll to support their decision. If they ever change it back, so will I.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

More From John McCain's Forked Tongue Express

John McCain used to be a straight talker and a truly decent guy back when he fought for campaign finance reform and when he called Christian Right leaders, like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and John Hagee, "agents of intolerance.

Indeed, as this article points out, back in 2000, he said:
"The politics of division and slander are not our values," McCain said in Virginia. "They are corrupting influences on religion and politics and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country."
But that was then. This is now and here's what ABC News reported this morning.

As you can see, from the video, McCain seems to disagree with Pastor Rod Parsley's highly inflammatory statements, yet he also said he was proud to have the controversial preacher's endorsement.

The problem is you never know which John McCain you're going to get anymore.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reflections on Kaine's Endorsement and the Opportunity He Blew

It appears that Gov. Tim Kaine just lit a match, threw it on a pile of kindling and ignited a fire on the blogosphere. In other words, he endorsed Gerry Connolly in the 11th CD primary. According to today's Washington Post, he said:
"Gerry brings passion and integrity to public service and a deep sense of commitment to all he undertakes," Kaine said in the statement. "I believe that this race has attracted four worthy and capable candidates, but for me, Gerry Connolly is the standout. He will serve the 11th Congressional District with honor and distinction. I fully endorse and will actively work for his election, and I encourage voters in the 11th Congressional District to do the same."
I'm not sure I agree with the "integrity" part, unless the good governor has a different definition of that word than I do.

But, as the blogosphere's favorite Northern Virginia reporter, Amy Gardner, points out:
In a statement released yesterday, Kaine said that Connolly, who is chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, is the strongest candidate among the four competing in the June 10 primary. Kaine said Connolly has been a "partner" on a range of issues, including strengthening the economy, toughening environmental standards, fully funding schools and fighting for a Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport.

"As a former elected local official, I appreciate Gerry's practical approach to problem-solving," said Kaine, a former mayor of Richmond.
What appears strikingly apparent to me is that much of this mirrors the Jim Webb-Harris Miller primary in 2006. The state legislators and the firefighters' union lined up with Miller while the progressive blogosphere and activists went with Webb. This is a continuation of the rivalry between the moderate pro-business Chamber of Commerce picked candidate and the more liberal elements, including the majority of unions, who are once again lining up with the more progressive candidate.

Meanwhile, Ben and Lowell are definitely infuriated. Indeed over at Raising Kaine, the logo has been removed from that blog. I don't blame them one bit for the sense of betrayal they all feel over there.

Kaine began splitting off in a direction that has roused the ire of environmentalists for quite some time. He supported the elevated Metrorail track through Tysons Corner rather than the underground Tysons tunnel, which disappointed the RK crowd, along with a lot of others who understand that the tunnel provides the best option to turn the crowded Dulles corridor into an environmentally sustainable, mixed use business-residential center. The tunnel would encourage development of a walkable "downtown" area.

Not only is that a better environmental and business option for the area, but many health professionals believe that our increasing suburban sprawl, with spread out highways and parking lots and no walkable downtown centers, is a leading cause of the obesity epidemic in this country.

In addition, Gov. Kaine has shown an appalling lack of concern for the health of Virginia residents by his continued support of coal. I am very sympathetic to the union support he gets for this because, for labor, it's a matter of protecting jobs. Indeed, I've played Devil's advocate over at RK, in the past, on this issue, trying to present labor's point of view.

The truth, though, is that protecting the fading jobs of a dying industry rather than investing in the careers of the future, including green technolgy, is a foolish choice. That's especially true when that dying industry has been quite literally responsible for the deaths of so many of its own employees through diseases like black lung.

Here, I have to admit, is one of the few times that I break with organized labor, which remains committed to protecting those jobs. Again, I sympathize with them but think it's only a costly delay of the inevitable, which is green energy and technology. The governor and labor would do better if they instead supported investing in the infrastructure for green technology and job retraining for displaced coal miners. That would create a healthier state environment and safer jobs in the long run.

The governor also would have done well to stay out of the 11th CD race. Then, whoever won, he could have been a healing and uniting force. I generally don't fault those who support a different candidate than me and I'm not about to end friendships with people I respect, like Kris Amundsen, the Bulovas, and the Marsdens over it. But the governor is not just wrong but by jumping in where he didn't need to be, he blew a valuable opportunity to be the party's uniter in November.

Sometimes, Governor Kaine, it's good to be a statesman rather than a politician.

Friday, May 16, 2008

George Bush and the Republicans' Embarrassing Flirtation With Fascisim

By now, the whole world has seen the following video of George Bush, on foreign soil, Israel’s Knesset to be exact, comparing Barack Obama to those isolationists who sought to appease Adolph Hitler. It was an outrageous statement that brought immediate and furious reaction not only from Democrats but also, as this video shows, from Pat Buchanan.

H/t to Raising Kaine (and as Lowell observed, “It’s pretty bad when even Pat Buchanan thinks George W. Bush is nuts.”

Well, not only is Bush nuts, and his statements inappropriate and completely out of the bounds of decency, but the examples he used ought to embarrass any Republican who knows his history. Let’s look again at Bush’s statement:

As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American Senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’
First of all, talking to a world leader, even a dictator, is not appeasement. It’s diplomacy and negotiation. Every effective administration does that. Appeasement is caving in to a dictator and giving something of value - such as Czechoslovakia - to him. No American candidate, Republican or Democrat has suggested acquiescing to any tyrant's demands. That's not how effective negotiation works, and everybody with any common sense knows it. That's why Condi Rice has been attempting to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian agreement and why Bush has sought negotiation with North Korea.

But even more telling, Bush, perhaps, might want to reconsider his example because that quote about talking to Hitler was made by Idaho Senator William Edgar Borah, a Republican isolationist. He and fellow Republican American Firster, Senator Gerald Nye, opposed America’s entry into World War II to stop Adolph Hitler.

In addition, George Bush’s own grandfather, Prescott, was believed to have been part of a coup attempt, along with America’s most prominent business leaders, in 1933 to oust Franklin Roosevelt because they believed that the best way to combat the Great Depression was for America to adopt a system like that of Mussolini and Hitler. (Again, h/t to Grey Havens at RK for this information)

That may have been the first time wealthy and prominent Republicans expressed admiration for fascist policies but it certainly wasn’t the last. As Paul Krugman documents in his book, The Conscience of a Liberal, William Buckley wrote, in 1957, in his newly formed journal, The National Review,

General Franco is an authentic national hero. It is generally conceded that he above others had the combination of talents, the perseverance, and the sense of righteousness of his cause that were required to wrest Spain from the hands of the visionaries, ideoglogues, Marxists and nihilists that were imposing on her in the thirties, a regime so grotesque as to do violence to the Spanish soul, to deny even, Spain’s historical identity. (from “Yes and Many Thanks, But Now the War is Over,” The National Review, Oct. 26, 1957)
As Krugman points out, “The regime so grotesque overthrown by Generalissmo Francisco Franco – with critical aid from Mussolini and Hitler – was, in fact, Spain’s democratically elected government.”

Perhaps, Republicans grew too comfortable for their own good at hurling charges of “socialist and communist” at Democrats. But toxic labeling is not an argument. It's a slur. And it's usually pretty ineffective at make one's case.

But when they upped the ante by trying to accuse Democrats of appeasement and compared us to Hitler sympathizers, they treaded on even more dangerous ground – the ground of their own embarrassing historical flirtations with fascism and Nazi sympathy.

Call me crazy but perhaps they should have quit while they were ahead. After all, a quick look back at 2005 illustrates how well invoking Hitler against a Democrat worked for Jerry Kilgore.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Leslie Byrne Calls for End to Waste and Fraud in Defense Contracting

The following is a statement by Leslie Byrne, congressional candidate for the 11th CD, on the Senate Democratic Policy Committee oversight hearing on waste, fraud and corruption in the Iraq War. It's about time somebody stood up to the contractors and the Bush administration culture of corruption, which has viewed the war in Iraq as a business opportunity to pad their pockets.

Byrne: “It’s time to end waste, fraud and abuse in defense contracting”

On Monday, May 12, 2008 at 2:00 p.m., the Senate Democratic Policy Committee will hold an oversight hearing on waste, fraud and corruption in Iraq. The following is a statement from Leslie Byrne, Democratic candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 11th District, on ending the abuses in Iraq contracting.

“I am encouraged to see the Senate Democrats take the lead on investigating the impact of waste, fraud and abuse on our efforts to end the bloodshed in Iraq. And I’m outraged that there is a need for such an oversight hearing.American taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill for unethical defense contractors who want to bolster their bottom lines at our expense.

“The American people are being asked to continue spending billions, perhaps even trillions, on the war and reconstruction efforts in Iraq, and far too much of that money has been disappearing. According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, approximately $10 billion has already been lost-- $4.9 billion through contract overpricing and waste.
“The Iraq War has cost over $456 billion through fiscal year 2007. Taxpayers in Virginia’s 11th congressional district will pay $2.1 billion of the total Iraq War spending approved to date. For the same amount of money, we could have provided 592,123 people with health care or paid 30,786 new elementary school teachers. We also could have hired 33,420 port container inspectors or 45,160 public safety officers, doing much more to actually promote our national security.

“No more swindling of the American taxpayer. It’s time to end the waste, fraud and abuse in defense contracting. I wholeheartedly endorse the War Profiteering Prevention Act. In the event that it is not approved by the Senate, I will actively work to pass it again in the 111th Congress.

“The people of the Virginia 11th deserve a representative they can trust, and who is free of any conflict of interest, to see this fight through. I’ve been publicly opposed to the Iraq War since the very beginning, and as a signatory to the Responsible Plan to End the War I am part of a coalition with practical ideas on how to heal the wounds our invasion has caused. Throughout my years in the House of Delegates, the State Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives, I have never been afraid to stand up for what I believe. After years of public service, Northern Virginians know I can be trusted to do what’s right.”

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tom Perriello: Politics as Community Service

Teacherken, one of my favorite Virginia bloggers, has a great diary at Raising Kaine, highlighting Tom Perriello, congressional candidate from the 5th CD, who is running against Virgil Goode. Tom has made a unique proposal. He will tithe ten percent of volunteer hours from his campaign to the community.

From a press release Perriello sent out, here's the explanation:
May 12, 2008—Danville, Charlottesville, and Collinsville, VA—With events in Danville, Collinsville, and Charlottesville, the Perriello for Congress campaign launched its volunteer tithing initiative, unprecedented for a political campaign. The campaign will tithe 10% of all its volunteer hours to community service projects around the district. The campaign has logged more than 1,700 volunteer hours in total; over the weekend, volunteers kicked off the initiative by tithing 42 volunteer hours and moving forward, will tithe 10% of its hours.

"I was raised to believe that a strong faith is a lived faith that must be made clear by our deeds. I want my campaign for Congress to reflect those same values," said Tom Perriello. "That is why we are asking our campaign team to commit 10% of their volunteer hours to local charities to reflect the value of service to community and to country."

Perriello campaign volunteers launched the volunteer tithing initiative in three locations around the district. In Charlottesville, volunteers worked on constructing a house for Habitat for Humanity. In Collinsville, they brought groceries to the local post office for the "Stamp Out Hunger" food drive. In Danville, they served food to the hungry at a local church.

Tom Perriello is the Democratic candidate for Virginia's fifth congressional district. Born and raised in the district, he is a national security analyst and has founded faith-based organizations
In his own words, here's Tom Perriello explaining it in a video he released to further elaborate on his novel plan to incorporate his faith into his politics.

Teacherken, who is one of the most knowledgeable bloggers when it comes to religion; ethics; and politics, explained it this way:
The 5th CD, which stretches from the Charlottesville area to the NC border, is an area with a strong commitment to religion. But Tom's taking this action is in no way a pander - it is symptomatic of how Tom has approached a life of living his deep Catholic faith, which has included working to end atrocities in the West African countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone, which had suffered long civil wars fueled by blood diamonds, and serving as a national security analyst for the Century Foundation. He has worked inside Darfur and twice in Afghanistan.

It is not unusual for our Congressional candidates to be so involved with their communities - after all, we all remember our own Ron Shepston fighting a forest fire near his home, and perhaps a few remember like I do how Pat Murphy used his campaign website and office to help gather and coordinate assistance to people who suffered from heavy floods in Bucks County in 2006.
I can only add to that my own observation that faith must be observed in tangible action. It's not enough to invoke God and to talk about good intentions, or even to quote Scripture. Real faith must be lived daily in the trenches where real life, real suffering, and real hope abide.

What Tom is doing is part of the Prophet Tradition, shared by Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faith traditions alike. For a Catholic, nobody summed it up better than Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, who is one of my heroes.
"The mystery of the poor is this: That they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for Him. It is the only way we have of knowing and believing in our love. The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love."

—"The Mystery of the Poor" by Dorothy Day. The Catholic Worker, April 1964. Found in "Dorothy Day Library on the
Giving back to the community, as Tom is proposing to do, is acknowledging that which is of God in all, even the most humble.

Friday, May 09, 2008

John McCain Falls Off the Straight Talk Express and Splits His Tongue

It’s now forked, as in “he speaks with forked tongue.” And Arianna Huffington exposed that new, less than straight talking politician in this May 5th report on the Huffington Post.

She has taken a lot of flack for her diary, in which she exposes the fact that John and Cindy McCain told her at a dinner party that they had not voted for President Bush in 2000.

According to Ms. Huffington, she decided to go public with this conversation because the John McCain she once admired – the genuine straight talker and reformer – was long gone. Candidate John McCain, in the 2008 race, has embraced the social and religious conservatives he once decried, and who shunned and slandered him in 2000. To win this year’s presidential election, McCain has flip flopped on issues such as immigration reform, tax cuts, and the environment.

Yet the media have given him a free pass on his reversals on these issues and even his close and personal ties to powerful lobbyists. As Arianna Huffington wrote in her post (all emphasis in this and subsequent quotes is mine):
McCain's fall has been Shakespearean -- and really hard to watch for those, like myself, who so admired and even loved him. His nobility and his true reformer years have given way to pandering in the service of ambition.

But a large portion of the electorate hasn't noticed the Shakespearean fall. How else to explain The 28/48 Disconnect -- wherein only a die-hard 28 percent of voters still approve of Bush, but 48 percent say they'd vote for McCain, who is running on the "more of the same" platform?

The thing is, these voters clearly still think of McCain as the maverick of 2000, a straight shooter who would never seek the embrace of a man he couldn't bring himself to vote for, nor accept the regular counsel of Karl Rove, the man behind the vile, race-baiting attacks on him during the 2000 campaign.

And the main reason for The 28/48 Disconnect is the mainstream media's ongoing membership in the John McCain Protection Society. They too continue to party -- and report on McCain -- like it's 1999.

Look at the slack they cut him after his infamous stroll through a Baghdad market was revealed as an utter sham. James Frey was eviscerated for far less. Or the slack they cut him after his repeated confusion of Sunni and Shia. Or the slack they cut him when his promise to run a "respectful" campaign ran aground on his sleazy attempt to connect Barack Obama and Hamas.

Every time McCain screws up, the media jump all over themselves to make it better, as if grandpa had said something embarrassing at the dinner table and it needed to be smoothed over as quickly as possible.
Almost falling all over themselves to prove her point about the media giving McCain a pass, Howard Kurt, in covering the Huffington Post diary for the Washington Post blog, The Trail, concluded with a quote from Tucker Bounds, a McCain spokesman:

"It's not true, and I ask you to please consider the source."

Asked why Huffington would make up her story about McCain not voting for Bush, longtime McCain aide Mark Salter -- who has previously tangled with the Huffington Post -- ripped into her. "Why would she make something up? Because she's a flake and a poser and an attention-seeking diva. And that's on the record."
Jack Tapper, from ABC-TV News, on his website, Political Punch, asks readers, “Do you believe her?”

Of course the implication from both Kurtz and Tapper, in their original reports, was that readers shouldn’t. The current media meme is that John McCain is the trustworthy one, not his critics, such as Ms. Huffington.

The problem with that media narrative, though, is that Arianna Huffington was telling the truth, not John McCain, Tucker Bounds or Mark Salter. It turns out there were witnesses at that dinner party, which was at the home of actress Candice Bergen.

Brad Whitford and Richard Schiff, two actors who starred in The West Wing and who were present, heard McCain’s remarks. As reported in today’s New York Times:

Mr. Whitford, who played Josh Lyman, the deputy White House chief of staff on the NBC series, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that he was sitting across from Mr. McCain and next to Ms. Huffington at the small dinner and that he was startled to hear the senator sharply criticize Mr. Bush. The senator has long blamed the Bush campaign for smear tactics against his family in the 2000 South Carolina primary, but by the end of the campaign Mr. McCain was publicly supporting his rival.

McCain was just sort of going off on how much he disliked Bush and the horrible things that the Bush campaign had done to his family in South Carolina, and his exasperation with Bush about his ridiculous tax cuts and he really wanted to talk to him about it, but he said the guy doesn’t have the concentration, and you talk for 10minutes and then the guy wants to talk about baseball,” Mr. Whitford said.
And the Washington Post:

Both men said they were struck by McCain's openness at the dinner, which was -- in Whitford's words -- "deep in the belly of the Hollywood liberal beast." But they added they were disappointed at his subsequent embrace of President Bush.

"It's clear what he's doing; he needs the Republican Party in order to get elected," Whitford said. "The only thing is, that's just being a politician, not being a straight talker."
And that’s why this whole kerfuffle matters. It’s not whom McCain and his wife voted for in 2000 – heck, I’d commend him for not voting for Bush. But his denial of it and willingness to paint Arianna Huffington as a liar and a flake is part of the new 2008 John McCain. He’s the one who fell off the Straight Talk Express, split and forked his tongue, embraced his party’s hard right, and will say and do anything to get elected.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Farewell To Mildred Loving, Civil Rights Trailblazer

She was a small town girl who simply wanted to marry her childhood sweetheart. What could be more all American than that?

Well, back in 1958, if the small town was in Virginia, or much of the South, and if you were black and he was white, it was against the law to marry. But Mildred Loving, a quiet, self-effacing woman wouldn't accept that. And because of her and her husband, Richard Loving, the laws changed.

In 1958, the 17 year old, Mildred Jeter, and her 23 year old fiancee, a white construction worker, traveled 90 miles to Washington, DC to get married. She didn't realize that it was illegal. According to this article in today's Washington Post:
"I think he thought [if] we were married, they couldn't bother us," she said.

Nevertheless, when they returned to Central Point, Va., between Richmond and Spotsylvania, to set up their home, someone called the law.

Caroline County Sheriff R. Garnett Brooks rousted them from their bed at 2 a.m. in July 1958 and told them the District's marriage certificate was no good in Virginia. He took them to jail and charged them with unlawful cohabitation. They pleaded guilty, and Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Leon M. Bazile sentenced them to a year's imprisonment, to be suspended if they left the state for the next 25 years.

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix," Bazile ruled.
After that decision the Lovings moved to the District to live with her cousins. But the Lovings missed their rural life in Central Point, Virginia. So they returned.
Five years later, while visiting her mother, they were arrested again for traveling together. Loving, who had been following the 1964 civil rights legislation, wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to find out if the new law would allow the couple to travel freely. The couple was referred to the American Civil Liberties Union and assigned an attorney, Bernard S. Cohen. "It was a terrible time in America," said Cohen, who was at Loving's home when she died. "Racism was ripe and this was the last de jure vestige of racism -- there was a lot of de facto racism, but this law was . . . the last on-the-books manifestation of slavery in America."

With fellow attorney Philip J. Hirschkop, Cohen took the case to the high court. Cohen said the couple didn't understand the importance of the case to anyone other than themselves. "When I told them I thought the case was going all the way to the Supreme Court, [Richard Loving's] jaw dropped. He didn't understand why I didn't go to Judge Bazile and tell him they loved each other and they should be allowed to live where they wished," said Cohen, now a retired state delegate from Alexandria.
Then, in 1967, the Lovings made history and radically altered an injustice and paved the way for people in love to marry and live wherever they pleased in the United States.

On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously declared: "There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy. . . . There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause."
After this landmark decision, the Lovings returned to Caroline County, where they raised three children and lived a quiet life until Richard Loving was killed, in 1975, by a drunk driver. Mrs. Loving lost an eye in that accident.

According to those who knew her, Mildred Loving was a modest woman who never realized just how much she accomplished with her courageous decision to marry the man she loved and return to the South that she also loved. She never quite fathomed the fact that she and Richard really made history and made it possible for other mixed race couples to live openly together.
"To her death, she never felt she had done anything noteworthy. She never considered herself a pioneer."

Others did. Loving's church, St. Stephens Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Va., gave her a certificate recognizing the trailblazing lawsuit.

"The preacher at my church classified me with Rosa Parks," she told The Washington Post in 1992. "I don't feel like that. Not at all. What happened, we really didn't intend for it to happen. What we wanted, we wanted to come home."
Mildred Loving passed away last Friday after fighting pneumonia. The greatest tribute one can give her is to publicly recognize that she left the world a far better place by simply being in it.

Monday, May 05, 2008

What The Christian Right Doesn't Want You to Know

But it’s what you need to know despite them because the political implications of this are significant. The secret that is being talked about in the Evangelical world is that the estimate of how many evangelical, fundamentalist, and conservative Christian “values” voters out there has been significantly overestimated by pollsters and pundits.

Christine Wicker, former religion writer for the Dallas Morning News, has written a new book, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, and she stumbled upon this startling fact quite by accident. Indeed, she calls it the story all the religion writers, including herself, had missed.

Wicker, who grew up a Southern Baptist, originally set out to write about the phenomena of the seeker friendly mega church movement. But as she was researching her story, she began to hear the mumbling of those she was interviewing about the real story, which was the stagnant growth and dwindling membership of all these churches.

The reason for this, as Wicker soon discovered, is that many churches cook their books, or at least their membership rolls. They’re not doing this intentionally but, as one example, it’s not uncommon for many Baptists to be baptized more than once. So, with each baptism counted as a conversion, the Southern Baptist Church has been over estimating its growth. It isn’t making new converts so much as recycling back sliders. Add to this that all the evangelical churches, not just Southern Baptists, often keep members on their rolls who have stopped attending church or moved away. And many regular churchgoers attend more than one church so they are counted on multiple church rosters. In other words, the inflated membership may be caused by the same people being counted multiple times.

Another reason that conservative Christians are over counted is that secular pollsters often confuse terms. This is something pollster George Barna, himself an Evangelical, discovered.

Secular pollsters and pundits don’t recognize the difference between a fundamentalist, which is a specific type of evangelical, and a born again non-fundamentalist. Then there are Pentecostals, who don’t belong in the same category as fundamentalists. In addition, people, when polled, often claim to be “born again,” or evangelical, but they don’t actually subscribe to the beliefs of conservative Christians. This was another discovery made by George Barna, who claims that only one in ten self-described evangelicals has what he would term a "biblically based world view."

Because of his own religious background, he thought to poll his subject’s actual beliefs, not their self-description. When asked specific questions about their beliefs, many of those who called themselves evangelical picked answers at variance with evangelical tenets, especially when asked if they believed that the only way to be saved and go to heaven was to have a personal relationship with Jesus. A majority actually said they thought it was possible for a good person to go to heaven even without being a Christian. While a laudable idea (I certainly agree with it), it is a direct contradiction of a core evangelical teaching.

Besides the fact that Barna and Wicker make a convincing case that institutional evangelicalism is not only stagnant but may be in decline, the religious right is also taking another hit to its political prominence because even within the community of faithful, there is a nascent religious left challenging its political hegemony.

The media have already noted a new brand of progressive evangelical, led by innovators like Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Philip Yancey, and Brian McLaren. There is also a group called the Emerging Church movement, which is composed of younger, urban and suburban evangelicals, who have specifically rejected both the angry tone and the focus on politically divisive wedge issues that mark the traditional Christian right. This group may be anti-abortion and may consider homosexuality to be sinful, but they prefer to focus on God’s love and inclusivity. They also favor concentrating on issues such as good environmental stewardship and economic justice for the poor, which puts them in the camp of political progressives.

Although they consider Scripture authoritative and historically accurate, they are by no means inerrantists, and they are willing to experiment with a more liturgical and sacramental approach to worship and theology than one typically finds in the reformed Protestant churches, which puts them at odds with older, more conservative Evangelicals. In other words, they are presenting challenges to the old guard on both political and theological grounds. But when asked by pollsters, many of them would still describe themselves as born again or Evangelical.

So, while most pollsters would estimate that the Christian right is a steady 25% of the population, Wicker estimates that it may be as low as 7%. In addition, Wicker argues that the fastest growing group, according to Pew Research’s latest study of religious trends, would be non believers, who have grown from 8 to over 16%.

Indeed, Wicker comments on the recent spate of best sellers by atheist authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, which has spawned a bunch of books by less known atheist authors, including a tome on atheist spirituality, as further proof of the growth of non believers as an audience for this message.

So, what does all this have to do with politics?

For starters, it may be time for politicians who really are secular to stop pandering to religious people and to be honest. Perhaps, we can actually have a dialogue on issues and values that is inclusive of both the religious and the secular – those who don’t belong to churches and have no belief in God are not without moral values.

It may be time to recognize that people can arrive at a set of universal values including compassion, integrity, honesty, concern for the earth, for poor people, for strangers, and a desire for peace without belonging to an organized religion.

Religion provides comfort and purpose in life for many. Some of the greatest movements to improve social conditions, including the abolitionists; women’s suffragists; and the later civil rights and peace movements, have been inspired by religious beliefs. But non believers also have laid down their lives for love of country and for their commitment to freedom and justice. It just may be that a certain type of narrow religiosity needs to be challenged in order for there to be genuine respect for the faithful and the skeptical alike.

Certainly, the very least conclusion that can be drawn from Wicker’s book and Barna’s work is that the religious right no longer calls all the shots, if they ever did. They have simply been an extremely well organized, dedicated group who managed to gain an influence out of all proportion to their actual numbers and it’s time to end their domination of politics. My one disclaimer is they have a role to play and deserve a place at the table, but so do others with differing philosophies. In other words, it’s time to respectfully end their control of American politics and to listen to other voices.

Friday, May 02, 2008

They're Coming to America!

This is another video from Eric Byler and Annabel Park, from their 9500 Liberty Project. I am so impressed by its fairnes and compassion. Especially, Annabel, herself an immigrant, shows so much understanding and empathy for all sides in this fight, currently being waged in Prince William County.

I am inclined to just shut up now and let this video speak for itself.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Antitdote To the October Surprise

Johnny Camacho has a really thought provoking post up on his blog today, where Joe Trippi, writing in Politics, wonders if he did the right thing by keeping his mouth shut rather than urging John Edwards to stay in the presidential primary race.

According the article, Trippi claims he had a feeling that had Edwards stayed in the primaries, he could have picked up 300 or so delegates, forced a brokered convention, made sure that his populist ideas remained at the top of the Democratic agenda, and maybe even come out of it as the compromise candidate in the general election.

It's an intriguing thought that will probably haunt Trippi and even Camacho. Camacho says
Is Trippi right to regret not urging the continuation of Edwards’ campaign? What if Edwards had stayed in the race? Would he now be winning the electability argument? Would he be a voice of reason in the midst of the Clinton/Obama cage match, or would we simply be witnessing an equally nasty Edwards/Clinton/Obama cage match? The fact that I’m giving so much thought to these questions should serve as a pretty good indication of how fatigued I am by the entire Democratic nominating contest as it currently stands.
I sympathize with my young compatriot. But a word to the wise from somebody older and more experienced. Hindsight is always 20/20. Don't drive yourself crazy with this speculation. The primaries will end, we will have a candidate and we may even be a stronger party for it.

While it's frustrating right now, the upside is that in every contested state, citizens are flocking to register as Democrats to take part in the contest. We will have their names and be able to build a database. A ground game is built on that.

Nobody can really know at this point if the seemingly endless primary season will damage our nominee for November. I don't want to seem Pollyana-ish about this. But there is an up side to this, which is that it is building the party.

And another up side is that by the time we reach the general election, each candidate will be so thoroughly vetted that there will be no surprises. Indeed, back at the very beginning, when we had a crowded field, a politically savvy friend pointed to Hillary as the strongest candidate for one simple reason. "What is there that you don't already know about her? What could her opponents possibly dredge up to hurt her that isn't already public knowledge? What's left that would have shock value in October.?"

That's a good point. Both parties really dread the "October surprise." In fact, gleeful as Republicans are with the bloodletting in the Democratic Party right now, I'm sure that the more sophisticated among them is actually a little sad that the Reverend Wright problems have come to light this early.

After all, those videos have been advertised on the church's website for years. Sure the media were lazy and enamoured of Obama's star power and never checked. But don't tell me that Republican operatives didn't know about those tapes. In fact, I'll wager you that there is actually gnashing of teeth in Mudville that all this peaked too soon.

Long, arduous primaries - quite possibly the antidote to damaging October Surprises!

Leslie Byrne's Peace Plan for Iraq

Note: The following is a press release I received from the Leslie Byrne for Congress Campaign:

Leslie Byrne outlines plan for peace in Iraq

Former Congresswoman was one of first to speak out against war

Fairfax, VA-- On the fifth anniversary of “Mission Accomplished,” former Congresswoman Leslie Byrne released her plans for ending the quagmire in the Middle East. She is calling for the swift withdrawal of all of our troops and a new diplomatic and economic offensive in the region.

“For five years, we’ve pursued military options. The current policy has cost more than 4,000American lives and as many as one million Iraqis their lives. Today we’re no closer to a stable democracy in the region. It’s time to give diplomacy a chance,” she said.

Byrne was among the earliest to sign onto “A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq,” which lays out a path to peace through diplomacy and cooperative effort. More than 50 other candidates for Congress and some of our nation’s leading military experts have now endorsed this plan.

“With so many members of the new Congress in agreement on how to repair the damage, we’ll be able to start making progress immediately. We can’t afford to waste any more time dithering about the correct path, and with the ‘Responsible Plan,’ we won’t have to,” Byrne said.

Byrne has been publicly opposed to the war from the very beginning, joining 75 other former congressmen in calling on President Bush to put more effort into diplomacy before the invasion took place. Her leadership on this issue has earned her the endorsements of Senator Jim Webb and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus.

“It was clear to me in 2003 that the White House was rushing to war, and I said so publicly at that time. I’m the only candidate in this race who had the judgment and leadership to take that step,” Byrne said.

Leslie Byrne is a former member of Congress who has fought for economic and social justice in the Virginia House of Delegates, the Virginia Senate, and as the Consumer Advocate of the United states under former President Bill Clinton. She and her husband Larry have two grown children and two grandchildren, all living in Northern Virginia.