Friday, August 29, 2008

Would you trust me to pick a Vice President? I hope not.

What led John McCain to Sarah Palin?

Two words: Righty bloggers.

Over the past few months right leaning bloggers have launched a 'draft Palin' movement on the internet. To start with, they've thrown out a number of other names as well-- Condi Rice, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Bobby Jindahl (who was actually seriously vetted for a time.) What ties these together is that they all represent a measure of diversity (exposing their own insecurity at the realization that the GOP Presidential field this year was full of nothing but old white guys while the Democratic field was a picture of diversity). Palin is, of course a woman. And they love her because she shoots her own food, denies global warming and is good looking (90% plus of righty bloggers are male, and we will leave it at that.)

And yes, the same righty bloggers are loving it. Today anyway. I have a feeling though that by a few weeks from now the names Walt Monegan, Michael Wooten, Steve Branchflower and Frank Bailey will be pretty well known. They won't love the Palin pick then.

But here is my question: We know that Caroline Kennedy vetted Obama's veep candidates before recommending Joe Biden among a short list of others for Obama to ponder and make his final decision. Who vetted McCain's list? Righty bloggers?

I love blogging. But I'm not qualified to help someone choose the Vice President of the United States. At that, I'm probably more qualified to do something like that than most bloggers, having worked on numerous campaigns for federal, state and local office, and having served as a precinct committeeman, First Vice Chair of a county party and a member of the State committee. But I'm still unqualified.

So what does it say about John McCain when he chooses someone who the right side of the blogosphere adores, but is otherwise unknown and saddled by a burgeoning scandal?

I know he was about to pick Mitt Romney, when McCain's own gaffe about how many homes he owns made Romney (the only guy in the picture who is even richer than the McCains) a sudden liability. So he didn't have a backup choice, but instead turned it over to righty bloggers.

We will see how well this choice holds up. But if it doesn't, then don't blame Walt Monegan when it unravels. Put the blame where it belongs-- on the right side of the blogosphere.

Palin under investigation for misuse of her official powers

Although John McCain is to be commended for bringing the Republican party up to the point the Democratic party was 24 years ago by choosing a female running mate, his specific choice, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, shows stunningly poor judgement.

You'd think that if John McCain picked a running mate who has served as a governor for less than twenty months, the least you could expect is that she would be scandal-free.

But the Republican-controlled Alaska legislature has hired a private investigator to look into evidence that Palin fired Alaska's public safety commissioner because he refused to fire her sister's ex-husband, who is a state trooper.

If the investigator concludes she did, this misuse of her office to settle a petty family squabble could be used as grounds for impeachment. No wonder Palin wants out of Juneau.

How could John McCain screw up something this big, this badly? And what does that say about his judgement?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Now we know how John McCain will answer the tough questions.

Last night on the Jay Leno show, Jay asked McCain again (in a joking way, at that) how many houses he owns.

McCain's response:

You know, could I just mention to you, Jay, and a moment of seriousness. I spent five and a half years in a prison cell, without—I didn’t have a house, I didn’t have a kitchen table, I didn’t have a table, I didn’t have a chair. And I spent those five and a half years, because—not because I wanted to get a house when I got out.

And you thought Rudy was bad with answers that all invoked 9/11.

I guess we can see what McCain will say every time he gets asked a tough question.

Q: Senator McCain, you've taken a hard line stance against the Russians in regard to Georgia, but with our army stuck in Iraq what do you plan to do about it?

A: I was a POW for five and a half years, you know.

Q: Why is it that you never talk about fixing the Social Security system, after favoring privatization for years?

A: I want social security to give me credit for the time I was in a prisoner of war camp.

Q: Senator, you've promised a high level campaign, but you've gotten nasty and negative in your attacks on Barack Obama. Why is that?

A: You should know those prisoner of war camp guards are nasty too.

Q: Do you still stand by the Paris Hilton ad?

A: Now that you bring it up, I spent five and a half years in the Hanoi Hilton.

Q: Mr. McCain, why did you vote against funding research into the development of alternative energy programs for so many years?

A: I was in a prisoner of war camp, and let me tell you I didn't spend those five and a half years just so I could drive a Prius when I got out.

Q: Senator McCain, why does your tax plan give so much money away to the super-wealthy like yourself and give nothing at all to almost half of American taxpayers?

A: When I was in a POW camp for five and a half years, I didn't pay any taxes. And I spent those five and a half years, not because I wanted to pay taxes.

Q: Why did you reverse your stance on giving a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants last year?

A: When I was a P.O.W. for five and a half years, I wanted more than anything to be in America. So now I want to make sure those people have the same opportunity to miss being here that I had.

Q: Senator, you've promised to appoint conservative judges like Alito and Roberts which would give the Supreme Court a solid conservative majority. What do you say to women who are concerned it might overturn Roe vs. Wade?

A: There weren't any women in the prisoner of war camp I was in for five and a half years.

Q: Mr. McCain, why are you promising to veto all pork projects when you yourself sponsored funding for the William H. Rehnquist Center in Phoenix?

A: We didn't get any pork when I was in a prisoner of war camp for five and a half years. In fact, we usually didn't even get enough rice.

Q: Mr. McCain, why are you so critical of the Obama health care plan when your plan can't even guarantee that everyone will be able to buy coverage at any price?

A: We didn't get very good health care when I was in a prisoner of war camp for five and a half years.

Q: Senator, one more question. The Washington Post reported on May 9 that you had pushed through legislation on a Federal land swap deal that benefitted Steven Betts, a longtime campaign contributor. At the time, Betts and his wife were listed on your campaign website as members of the financial arm of your campaign. Have you severed all ties with Betts?

A: I spent five and a half years in a prisoner of war camp.

I don't doubt that McCain suffered terribly during that time, but I want to hear what he would do as President, not have it waved in my face every time he gets asked a question he may not want to answer. Besides, remember what they did to John Kerry? At least John Kerry managed to avoid getting captured by shooting the communist that had the best chance to do it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

John McCain-- too risky to be President.

I remember another summer. Probably a third of a century ago, or maybe even more. I was at summer camp.

Luckily it had been raining, so we were all soaked and miserable, not looking forward to going back to waterlogged tents and sleeping in sleeping bags that would probably be soaked through by the morning. We were all sitting around a campfire trying to get as warm and dry as we could before heading off to bed.

I did say "luckily" it had been raining real hard. Because some IDIOT thought it would be cute to bring along some fireworks that he had saved from the fourth of July and suddenly toss them into the campfire for 'entertainment.' Not just a few either. In those days you could get lots of good fireworks-- strings of firecrackers, black cats, cherry bombs, M-80's, bottle rockets.... well you know the whole list if you were a kid in the 1970's.

Well, it was "entertaining," that I will say. Nobody was bored stiff for the next several minutes. Fireworks started jumping out of the campfire and exploding all around everybody. Bottle rockets were firing off at all sorts of angles, ricocheting off the ground and chasing people across fields. Hot coals jumped up in the air and started pelting people (who quickly got the heck away from the campfire.) Even when the initial burst died down, it still went in spurts-- the odd firecracker here, the odd bottle rocket there would suddenly come shooting out of the ring of counselors who were rapidly throwing dirt and mud on the fire as soon as they could get close.

It's been a long time but if I remember right the camper who brought them was personally driven all the way home late that night by the head counselor.

I relate this story because it reminds me a lot of John McCain. He was against the Bush tax cuts, but now he favors tax cuts for the wealthy (which he needed in order to secure his party's nomination.) He's been on both sides of the drilling issue, and said earlier this year he'd veto the Farm Bill that passed "in a New York minute" if he were President because of the subsidies included in the bill. This of course is popular with the conservative base. But keep in mind that for years, mindful of the Iowa caucuses (which he ended up skipping this year, but didn't decide to do so until late 2007) he not only supported but sponsored several farm bills with much more generous subsidies than this one.

McCain seems to be willing to do anything and say anything to anyone to get a vote. He roundly condemned Pat Robertson in 2000 (once even getting talk-show host Michael Reagan to hang up on him because all he wanted to do was whine about Robertson) but by last year was buddy-buddy with Roberston.

Last year he wrote an illegal immigration bill reflecting how he has always talked about it, but after it failed he quickly wheeled around to reflect the views of the GOP electorate (at least in part) and suggested focusing on securing the border first.

One day he says he will never raise the limit on income subject to the Social Security tax, but the next day he says he's willing to put all options on the table, including raising the limit.

His political grandstanding with regard to the Russian war against Georgia is a new low. His comment that "we are all Georgians" seems clear to mean that we stand with them, but then logically leads to the question of what exactly we plan to do on their behalf and to restore and guarantee their territorial integrity. McCain doesn't answer that question, because he can't. Thanks to how much of our available combat strength is tied down fighting the Iraq war which he has been supporting and the fallout from the Bush policy of unilateralism, there is actually nothing much that we can do about Georgia. His statement is likely to only give the Georgians a false sense of hope. Which is beyond cynical-- it is like selling your soul. The reputation of the U.S. is bad enough now that we don't need to add, 'unreliable ally' to it, which we will if politicians like John McCain continue going around giving false hope around the world or making threats to people like Putin that we can't back up.

Throw in McCain's notoriously explosive temper and you have to ask whether it is safe to consider him for leader of the free world (at least you know Obama will never lose his cool in the Oval office during an emergency.)

The fact is, even conservatives don't know for sure what John McCain will do if he is President. There are days when I wonder if John McCain knows what he will do.

He's just too erratic, firing off in all directions like those fireworks, to be a safe choice for President of the United States.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Obama's 'clean, articulate' running mate

CNN has confirmed what they first reported an hour ago upon learning that the Secret Service was on its way, that Barack Obama will pick Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware as his running mate.

Biden is actually a great choice. When he ran for President last year I wasn't much of a Biden fan, writing him off as just another Senator who had voted for the Iraq war (i.e. John Kerry, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton.) And it is true that Biden voted for the Iraq war. But unlike Hillary Clinton, he's not the kind of guy who will have trouble admitting that he made a mistake when he did so (i.e. that Barack Obama was right, back then in 2002 when he opposed it publically.)

Further, Biden is a scrapper. That much has always been clear, and it was in his political career. Remember he ran for President once before (back in 1988) and was derailed by a scandal that seems a non-issue today-- that he had lifted some lines from a British politician's speech. But he didn't quit after that. He ran and won re-election to the Senate two years later and then clawed his way back until he was in a position of leadership in the Senate (Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee) and was to the point where he could run for President again. And if Republicans want to bring up the plagiarism issue from twenty years ago, then it's fair to go back to the "Keating five" scandal that McCain was involved in during the 1980's.

Biden also helps secure a key state. Not Delware, which he represents in the Senate (and whose three electoral votes Obama will win anyway.) But rather Pennsylvania. Remember that after a six week primary campaign (Pennsylvania being the only state with a primary scheduled in April) Hillary Clinton scored a solid win over Obama in the primary. So I doubt much if Obama is very excited about spending a lot more time in a state where he would be playing defense anyway (Kerry having won it in 2004) after having invested so much time and money there during the primary and still getting beat. However, Democrats have to put it away, and Biden will help for three reasons. The first is because Biden is a Pennsylvanian, hailing originally from Scranton (an area where he still has lots of family, strong ties and is quite popular). In April, Scranton was a Clinton stronghold. The second is that as an important Senator from Delaware, Biden gets a lot of play in the Philadelphia media market. People there have listened to everything from his commercials to reports on what he is doing for years. Philadelphia TV covers the southeastern part of the state, where Democrats have to roll up large margins to win. Obama carried most of it in April, but this is one place where at least politically Biden really does 'complement' Obama. The third reason is that Biden, who grew up in a working class family and still commutes from Delaware to Washington (as one of the poorest men in the Senate monetarily) is exactly the kind of working class Democrat that Hillary Clinton won and Barack Obama has been struggling with.

He also makes it very, very hard for McCain to pick Mitt Romney in particular as a running mate. McCain's $500 shoes and losing track of how many houses he owns have already allowed Obama to cast McCain as an elitist, and if McCain chooses Romney then Obama would make all kinds of hay comparing Biden's working class background with Romney's multi-millionaire background, thereby amplifying the whole 'elitist' label. Further, if Romney is on the ticket then Biden's relatively mild criticism of Obama during the debates would be contrasted to some of the really negative ads that Romney ran against McCain. Since I believe that for a variety of reasons Romney would be McCain's best choice (if he could get past the chemistry issues), I can now almost see Obama thinking, "Go ahead, make my day" to a potential Romney pick (Biden is the perfect guy, especially given McCain's recent flubs, to best neutralize Romney and turn the pick back on McCain if he makes it.)

During the debates, Biden did sparkle, showing both humor and quick thinking, and offering clear answers to questions. He was so far behind that it did him little good but he will certainly have a great opportunity to show the same flair during the veep debate.

One commentator on CNN suggested that Vladimir Putin may have had as much to do with Biden's being picked as anyone else. That may be true. Events like the war in Georgia bring national security to the forefront, and if it is in people's minds going into the voting booth, they are more likely to put aside any misgivings they may have about Obama's relative inexperience if they know that an experienced guy like Biden will be among his closest advisors.

Oh, yeah. And about that 'clean, articulate' comment. I hope that Obama will have the presence of mind tomorrow to refute the people who claim he has no sense of humor and introduce Biden as his 'clean, articulate' running mate. But if he doesn't, you can be sure that Biden will joke about it. He does have a sense of humor, for sure.

liveblogging on the news

I've been invited to join a group of Arizona bloggers to blog during election specials on channel 12 (Phoenix) during the last night of the Democratic and Republican conventions.

I'm looking forward to it. The specials are slated to run from 8-9 on Thursday, August 28 and Thursday, Sept. 4.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

CD-1 primary analysis.

Living in Arizona Congressional District 1, I've decided to do a post on what may be the hottest congressional race in the country (certainly among the top five or so), pitting five Republicans and four Democrats against each other to replace indicted Republican congressman Rick Renzi. FULL DISCLOSURE: I AM ON RECORD AS BEING A SUPPORTER OF DEMOCRAT ANN KIRKPATRICK. I will try to be objective in this post, however. The primary here is late (Sept. 2). Call it the 'Arizona incumbent protection racket.' There is no incumbent in this race though so all the candidates are equally disadvantaged by the late primary.

Let's begin with an overview of the district itself. Prior to 2002, rural Arizona had been divided up among a number of metro Phoenix based districts, so that a map of Arizona districts often looked somewhat like a pizza, with a number of districts in which the majority of the population lived in the Phoenix area with a large, sparsely populated area extending all the way to the far reaches of the state. In 2002 however a citizens redistricting commission replaced the legislature in drawing district lines and they decided to create an exclusively rural district (the largest cities in the district at the time were Flagstaff and Prescott, both considerably less than 100,000 people.) The district includes almost all of rural Arizona, skipping only the counties along the border with Mexico and Mohave county in the northwest. Because of the Navajo-Hopi land dispute and other issues between the tribes, the Hopi reservation is actually not in CD-1 but is represented by the congressman from another district, CD-2 (presently Republican Trent Franks.) This looks like a gerrymander to anyone not familiar with the situation but in fact it is necessary in resolving disputes between the two tribes (maybe working nominally in favor of the GOP since both tribes normally vote Democratic in national elections.)

District 1 does include the Navajo reservation, the nation's largest (and a place where Renzi was able to sizeably dent the democratic base in the district by procuring enormous amounts of pork.) The district also includes a portion of Pinal county. When it was drawn, the district lines very nicely delineated the edge of development in 2002. However since then Pinal county, Arizona's (and one of the nation's) fastet growing county has been filling up rapidly with exurbanites from metro Phoenix and Tucson (which are growing together, with Pinal county as the primary target.) Pinal county now has up to one third of the population in the district. The number of votes from Pinal is somewhat less than a third just because there is a lag time between when people move there and when they get registered to vote. The district as a whole has an eight percent Democratic registration edge, but in fact this district is huge and diverse (being larger in land area than good sized eastern states like Illinois or Pennsylvania) so it would be a mistake to try and summarize it that way. The Republican bases of the district include Prescott, small mostly LDS towns in the east (like the one I live in) and portions of Pinal county (though in 2006 Democrat Ellen Simon almost tied Renzi in Pinal.) The Democratic bases include the reservations (besides the Navajo reservation the White Mountain and San Carlos Apache reservations and several smaller reservations are also in the district), Flagstaff (home of Northern Arizona University) and older towns with a Democratic history like Globe, Winslow and Holbrook. Given that there is no evidence that Rick Renzi's pork-bought popularity will be transferable to another Republican, it seems likely that the decisive votes in the election will be cast by two groups of swing voters-- 1. Pinal county residents (who as I mentioned didn't go as Republican as one would have thought in 2006 and where the mortgage crisis has hit hard) and 2. conservative rural Democrats, especially in places like St. Johns-- so called, 'pinto Democrats' who always vote Democratic for local and county offices but who supported Republicans George Bush, Senators McCain and Jon Kyl and Rick Renzi, but also supported Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Terry Goddard-- in other words for higher offices willing to shuffle their ballot either way.

In the absence of any polling data (which is surprising to me) here is how I see the race unfolding:

The Democratic race is shaping up to be a real barn burner. Ann Kirkpatrick, an anglo who was raised on the Apache reservation and is fluent in Apache has easily raised the most money and is the favorite of many in the party establishment. Kirkpatrick has served as a prosecutor and also in the state legislature (where she represented both Flagstaff and the Navajo reservation.) Kirkpatrick has been very active on education and evnironmental issues in the legislature. She has the endorsement of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups but is a proponent of gun rights (which puts her in good standing with the 'pinto Democrats' for whom guns are a big issue.) I know many people who have known Kirkpatrick for years and they all consider her biggest asset to be that she is honest and ethical. After Renzi's ethical lapses this is a big plus. I know many people who have known Kirkpatrick for years and they all consider her biggest asset to be that she is honest and ethical. After Renzi's ethical lapses this is a big plus.

A few weeks ago I thought that Kirkpatrick had it in the bag, but recently Flagstaff Attorney Howard Shanker has been running very strongly. Shanker represents the Navajos in an ongoing lawsuit to prevent Arizona Snow Bowl from using treated wastewater to make artificial snow on the San Francisco Peaks (considered sacred by the Navajo--- think of the Mapplethorpe exhibit and the crucifix in urine and you get the idea of how they feel about it.) Right now, after several rounds in court that have gone both ways, the ski resort has won the latest round but it is likely to be appealed, maybe even up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Shanker has a lot of enthusiastic volunteers and seems to have boundless energy. I don't think I've gone to a major event in the past two years where I haven't seen either Howard Shanker (often personally) or someone representing him. Working against Shanker are the huge geographical size of the district and the fact that he has been far less successful at fundraising than Kirkpatrick. Shanker is the most liberal of the leading candidates and he has a lot of personal charisma.

The third major Democratic candidate in the race is Mary Kim Titla, a former television reporter. She therefore has high name recognition and a reporter's good looks, style and charm in person (I've met all the Democratic candidates personally this past year.) If elected Titla, a member of the San Carlos Apache tribe, would also be the first native American woman to serve in Congress. However, she is handicapped by the fact that she has been neither as successful on the fundraising circuit as Kirkpatrick nor generated the enthusiasm that Shanker has. Part of the reason may be her position on issues. She is (and proclaims herself to be) the most conservative of the Democratic candidates. This seems calibrated to appeal to the 'pinto Democrats' but in fact Kirkpatrick's pro-gun position deprives Titla of an edge on a key issue and frankly many of her other positions just aren't in tune with a lot of Democratic primary voters. Titla remains within striking distance though (particularly if Kirkpatrick and Shanker go negative on each other, which hasn't happened so far) and if she wins it will only be a mild upset.

Former Kucinich volunteer Geoffrey Brown is on the ballot but he will finish last.

The Republicans had trouble recruiting candidates last year (partly due to Renzi's legal problems, which has made the atmosphere here difficult for Republicans despite John McCain being at the top of the ticket.) It appears they will settle for Sydney Hay, the President of the Arizona Mining Association, an industry trade group. She ran when the district was created in 2002 and finished third in the Republican primary that year. She held a fundraiser that year with Ron Paul and is still friends with Paul and if elected would likely be an ally of Paul on most issues (except Iraq, where she favors staying until 'we win.') She is very conservative on taxes and spending and has a past as an education reform and anti-abortion activist (back when it looked like other serious candidates might be contending for the GOP nomination, Hay already had the endorsements of Phyllis Schlafley's Eagle Forum and of the national Right to Life committee in the bag.) One reason why Republicans are nervous about Hay is because she is so conservative it will be easy to paint her as an extremist. I still expect she will win the primary with around fifty percent of the vote though given that there are no other first tier candidates.

There are two second tier candidates. Sandra Livingstone of Prescott likes to stress that she is the only Republican running who was born in the district (a way of suggesting she is not like Rick Renzi, a carpetbagger who moved here from Virginia only to run for Congress). For a Republican she is very liberal-- in fact I feel she is probably to the left of Democrat Mary Kim Titla, all issues included and is openly running as a 'moderate Republican'. Livingstone hates partisanship and-- taking a gutty position that is sure to enrage the GOP's right wing-- has proposed a policy legalizing undocumented workers who are already working here. She even suggests that in time they could all work towards citizenship. This is amazing to hear coming from a Republican in Arizona. She won't win (though she will be in a close race for second) but if she gets a lot of votes it may underscore the fact that the anti-immigration crew makes a lot more noise than they can deliver at the polls (ask J.D. Hayworth about that.)

Tom Hansen is a school board member in St. Johns. He is more of a standard issue conservative Republican. On virtually every issue he is in line with the party orthodoxy. Given Hay's far right bent and Livingstone's tilt to the left I suspect that if the Republican establishment could choose the candidate themselves with an eye to choosing someone who was conservative but also mainstream they'd go with Hansen. One asset he has is that he is LDS, and has strong support in LDS communities (which represent about a quarter of the GOP vote in the district). The problem is that being from St. Johns he is from the less populated eastern side of the state (there are no cities in at least a hundred mile radius of his home with more than 10,000 residents), has more enthusiasm than money and as a school board member has a long jump up to running for Congress. He will probably contest with Livingstone for second, and together they may get as many votes as Hay does individually.

Baptist Minister Barry Hall and Preston Korn, who has withdrawn from the race will finish fourth and fifth.

In the absence of any polling data I have to make predictions based purely on what my own perceptions are so these run the risk of being completely off base (and of course there are still two weeks to go), but here is what I see right now:

My predictions for the Democrats:

1. Ann Kirkpatrick (37%)
2. Howard Shanker (33%)
3. Mary Kim Titla (28%)
4. Geoffrey Brown (2%)

My predictions for the Republicans:

1. Sydney Hay (46%)
2. Sandra Livingstone (26%)
3. Tom Hansen (24%)
4. others (4%)

Independent Keith Maupin will also be on the ballot in November but I'd be surprised if his presence makes a difference then.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tragically, it happened again. In a different hospital the same sad story.

Remember this post, Death while waiting to be seen about a patient who died in a waiting room after being there for nearly 24 hours while hospital staff just ignored her?

Well, unfortunately something similar happened again, this time at a North Carolina mental hospital.

(CBS/ AP) Investigators say a North Carolina mental patient died after nurses at a state mental hospital left him in a chair for 22 hours and failed to feed him or help him to the bathroom....

Video showed hospital staff watching television and playing cards while Sabock was in the same room. One technician hugged and kissed another staff member and appeared to be dancing.

The staff, who were supposed to be helping him, were making out and playing cards!

Just remember that we had a chance to change the system in 1994. But we lost that battle. Remember? What we got was the Republican-and-insurance-industry alternative. We got it, warts and all. Insurance headaches, bean counters making decisions about your health based on cost, three or four separate bills for the same procedure, massive bills for both insured and uninsured particularly when they are sick, full day long waits in emergency rooms, and (especially and) a system in which patients are just commodities to milk for money, and when they are unprofitable of no more worth than a worn out piece of clothing, and treated accordingly.

True the New York case I discussed in July was at a private hospital and this one was at a state hospital, but the philosophy that led to each death was the same. It is a poisonous philosphy that if a patient is a financial burden, then they don't deserve the time of day, let alone even a minimal level of treatment.

And THIS is supposed to be the best health care in the world?

Who is the 'elitist?'

John McCain had trouble defining 'rich' the other night in the Saddleback forum.

Not that surprising for a guy whose family fortune is in the tens of millions of dollars.

So it is also not surprising that he wears $520 imported Italian loafers by Ferragamo.

Now, he certainly has the right to spend his fortune on anything he wants to. But don't tell me that he has any clue about what life is like for people who have to count their change and take advantage of the 'buy one pair, get the second pair half off' sales at Payless Shoes.

Monday, August 18, 2008

It's not my party (you would cry too if it happened to you)

Republican elected officials dressed to attend a GOP event without being recognized

Boy, it is sure tough to be a Republican Senator these days. They are even ditching their own party's convention so as not to be seen at a Republican event.

The good news for the GOP is that the growing list of Republican Senators who plan to miss their party's convention in Saint Paul did not go up by one today. The bad news for them is that Senator Norm Coleman admitted the obvious in explaining why he would be there and in so doing blew everyone else's cover.

Aside from two retiring Senators-- Chuck Hagel, who refused to endorse John McCain (in fact Hagel announced last week that he won't make any endorsement this year) and Larry Craig (who is not going as a service to his party) many Republicans up for re-election are not going this year. Of course they are claiming it is so they can campaign. Of course. In fact it is to campaign-- and to be NOT seen on television at a Republican event. That is how far the GOP brand has sunk by now. The Republicans who have announced they won't be there include Susan Collins of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Ted Stevens of Alaska and Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina-- all in tough re-election campains this year-- and Kansas Senator Pat Roberts (who according to the last poll was up by about twenty over Congressman Jim Slattery). I guess it's such a bad year for Republicans that even a twenty point lead in Kansas isn't enough to be seen at a Republican convention. A few weeks ago Smith even ran a misleading ad in Oregon in which he falsely left viewers with the impression that he had the support of Barack Obama. About the only thing Smith hasn't called himself is 'a Republican.' Which he is, of course.

Two other Republican Senators facing tough election fights, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, still are mulling over whether they want to go.

And what was the 'good news' today? Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman finally said he will be there. But only because he can't very well escape.

Coleman told Minnesota Public Radio that he's going, but

"If the convention wasn't in St. Paul, I wouldn't be at the convention"

McCain has made a big deal about the fact that Joe Lieberman (I-CT) will be there. Well, Lieberman might as well show up. Because it looks like there will be a lot of elbow room in the VIP section.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Rosa Brooks is right on target on fixing blame for Georgian crisis.

I've never read anything before by Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks, but she sure hit the nail right on the head in her column today on how Georgia got into this situation.

As we know, about a week ago, the Republic of Georgia sent troops into South Ossetia, one of two regions populated mainly by ethnic Russians that have been effectively self-governing for over a decade. Russian strongman Vladimer Putin and his chief underling Dmitri Medvedev were waiting for it, and they launched a full scale assault on Georgia, a former Soviet Republic with a pro-western government.

Brooks asks and answers the question, "how did Georgia make such a foolish mistake?" And she points her finger at two men: John McCain and George Bush.

So where did the Georgians get the silly idea that the U.S. would bail them out?

Maybe from John McCain, Republican heir apparent, whose top foreign policy advisor, Randy Scheunemann, just happens to be a highly paid lobbyist for the Georgian government. Whoops-- correction! Scheunemann usedto be a highly paid lobbyist for Georgia. The McCain campaign says Scheunemann hasn't taken a dime from the Georgians since May 15. (Which is lucky for the Georgians, who are going to need all the spare cash they can get to rebuild all the stuff the Russians just bombed.)

According to the Washington Post, the relationship between Scheunemann and Georgia used to be very cozy (not to mention lucrative for Scheunemann). Between Jan. 1, 2007 and May 15, 2008, while Scheunemann was also a paid McCain advisor, "Georgia paid his firm $290,000 in lobbying fees."

And what did Georgia get in return?... they got Scheunemann's expensive pledge ot garner U.S. support for Georgia's admission into NATO and for its claims to South Ossetia, and his commitment to use his ties to politicians such as McCain to advance Georgia's causes. McCain has sponsored legislation supporting Georgia's claim over South Ossetia, an issue on which he was lobbied by Scheunemann's firm. And as recently as mid-April, Scheunemann was simultaneously taking money from Georgia and actively preparing McCain for supportive calls with Georgian President Mikheil Shaakashvili.

I thought it was illegal for foreign governments to pay U.S. politicians. But I guess it's OK now to pay their chief advisors. Imagine how much of an outcry there would be if, for example, a top advisor to Obama were found, even months after he secured his party's nomination, to be on the payroll for a foreign country.

Brooks goes on....

Is it any wonder that Saakashvili concluded that he had the backing of the Republican power structure when it came to South Ossetia?

But Scheunemann and McCain aren't the only ones who encouraged the Georgians to think that baiting the Russians was going to work out for them.

President Bush shards the blame.... The Bush administration supported [Georgia and others] and denounced antidemocratic crackdowns in Russia-- while making excuses for 'friendly' authoritarian regimes elsewhere.The administration also virtually shut down extensive multi-issue dialogues with Russia that had been maintained by previous administrations, hammering in the message that we didn't care much about good relations with Moscow....

Meanwhile the administration singled out Georgia for "Our Best Buddy in the Caucuses" award..... In return, Georgia sent 2,000 troops to Iraq, and the administration pretended to be deaf when Georgian politicians crowed that their newly improved military would be perfect for teaching those pesky South Ossetian seperatists a lesson.

But it's all gone disastrously wrong for our best buddies, and we're sitting on the sidelines, offering empty reassurances to the Georgians and empty threats to the Russians.

And this is the danger of the continuous saber rattling and bluster that we've seen from the GOP administration the past few years (and continue to see from Sen. McCain).

Putin (just like other potential opponents like Iranian President Ahmadinejad) know darn well that Bush has gotten our military stuck in the quicksand of Iraq and are in no condition to fight a major war right now. So they can be as belligerent and violent as they want to be, secure in the knowlege that we can't do anything about it. Russian oil provides up to a third of what is imported into Western European countries and Putin is well aware of how to use this power of pursuasion.

The danger is not that Bush and McCain may continue to rhetorically project force that in reality they can't back up. The danger is that someone else may do what the Georgians did-- actually believe the rhetoric.

Monday, August 11, 2008

As I discussed in November, it appears we do have a Pyrrhic victory. But don't let the right try to claim it is anything more than that.

Lately, it seems that the righties want to talk about Iraq. They claim that since the surge worked, that somehow that vindicates all the crap they've thrown out there about it during these past several years. Fine, let's talk about Iraq.

I beg to differ with the standard right wing analysis. It is true that violence in Iraq is way down (especially U.S. troop casualties) and that we appear to have driven al-Qaeda out of Iraq. The Al-Maliki government has won several battles against homegrown militia groups and appears to have control over nearly all of the country.

And while the right tends to exaggerate the part of this that is attributable to the surge, there is little doubt that U.S. forces played a major role in routing al-Qaeda and in helping the Sunni militias take control of their regions of Iraq, and also in supporting the government's offensives against the Sadrist militia and other similar groups. If the right is guilty of exaggeration by failing to acknowledge the contribution of former Sunni militias that we bought by the payment of cash as being very important to the overall success as the surge, then often we on the left are guilty of failing to acknowledge the plain fact that the surge worked.

But where the righty argument falls flat is when they try to extrapolate from that back to justifying the original invasion of Iraq. Several months ago I anticipated this argument in a post I wrote entitled, The BEST case scenario in Iraq: A Pyrrhic victory.

Now, as an American I'm glad that starting where we were we have achieved this best case scenario.

However if we add up the costs and gains of the Iraq war we find the following:


1. Saddam Hussein is gone. Of course there are still many bloody dictatorships in the world including the leaders of the country right now hosting the Olympics and we cannot get rid of them all but certainly we got rid of one. In any case, Saddam was gone by six weeks into the war, and had been captured by nine months into the war, so this still doesn't justify the nearly five years we've been fighting since the capture of Saddam.

2. Iraq is now a democracy. And the first thing they did with the democracy we gave them was to ratify a Constitution that states that the official religion is Islam and that Sharia is a source of the law, and elect a parliament full of fundamentalists that immediately passed restrictions on the legal rights of women so that in matters like divorce, inheritance and custody disputes they have even less rights than they had under Saddam. Democracy is like anything else-- it has to be earned to be treasured, not handed down. That is why Poles value their democracy while Iraqis have elected a majority of members of their parliament who are committed to establishing Sharia. Luckily, the political gridlock in Iraq has had the effect of preventing their parliament from getting much done.

3. There are now at best a handful of al-Qaeda members in Iraq. Which is exactly how many there were back in March 2003 when we invaded (Saddam knew who he could trust, which was nobody.) So we've beaten al-Qaeda all the way back to where it was in the first place.

4. We now know for sure that Iraq was no longer making WMD's or stockpiling them. If Bush had waited for Hans Blix to do his job then we'd have learned that at a lot less cost.


1. The five year detour into Iraq have al-Qaeda, almost destroyed (along with their Taliban allies) in Afghanistan by January 2003, a second chance-- and they have come roaring back. They now have far more power in both Afghanistan and in Pakistan than they have had at any time since we put that war on the back burner and went after Iraq instead in March 2003. Righty likes to compare their present status to where they were on September 11. But that is not a valid comparison. Bush could have made the final push in early 2003 to end the earth of the Taliban and rid their Afghan center of power of al-Qaeda (including bin Laden and al-Zawahri) but he chose to relax the pressure and go after Iraq instead. So the nature of our conflict against the Taliban and AQ changed fundamentally in early 2003 from one of offense to one of essentially attrition and guarding certain selected strongpoints (mostly cities and military bases.) This is exactly the strategy the Soviet Union pursued in Afghanistan and it failed then, and it has slowly been failing us over the past five years. Further, the next American President will get to deal with a weak government in Pakistan which is even less willing to support operations and go after al-Qaeda and the Taliban than the Musharraf government was-- and we now have evidence that the Pakistani intelligence service itself is full of Taliban sympathizers, making Pakistan an unreliable ally at best.

2. We have lost the support of the world that we enjoyed virtually unanimously after 9/11. Most righties tend to blow this one off, suggesting that unilateral action is better anyway, but in fact we are overstretched right now militarily (one reason Iran is so belligerent-- they know darn well that as long as we have 150,000 or so troops tied down in Iraq we lack the ground force to seriously threaten to invade them.) Thanks to the poor planning of what to do after the invasion and the years we stayed fighting in Iraq it's a safe bet that next time we need a coalition, be it for political or military reasons, we'll find lots of cheerleaders but very few willing to go out onto the field with us. And incidents like Abu Graib and the use of torture have destroyed a well-earned reputation and given us a black eye that will take decades to fade, even if they are not ever repeated.

3. 4,000 American lives. Yes, this is less than a tenth of the casualty total in Vietnam and only 1% of what we lost in World War II. But then we have to ask: 4,000 lives for what? It's not an insignificant number (for example it is more Americans than died on 9/11) and is it really inconsequential to ask why we had to lose them when there were opponents of Saddam who were willing to fight and die to overthrow him themselves (such as those who rose up in 1991) if we had just supported them?

4. The myth of American military invincibility. There was a time when the armed forces of small countries like Grenada, Haiti, Serbia or even Iraq (during the first Gulf War) would either drop their arms and surrender at the news that the Americans were on the way, or if they fought would be systematically run over and destroyed pretty much at the same rate as if they had dropped their arms. American military casualties from all conflicts that we fought, in total between the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and the start of the Iraq war in 2003 were less than a thousand (and the majority of those were killed in either the Beirut bombing or the First Gulf War.) Because of the perception of American invincibility, we rarely had to use the 'big stick' to get other countries to do what we wanted to. We just had to tap on it a time or two, and they'd get the message. But that is no longer true. Iraq has made it not true. We've had to fight hard for five years just to win a war in a country no bigger than California, so it is little wonder that countries like Iran and Venezuela have become emboldened. In the movie, "Predator," Arnold Schwarzeneggar's character is emboldened when he discovers that he has wounded the alien creature. He says, "If it bleeds, we can kill it." Thanks to Bush's reckless misuse of the finest military machine in the history of the world, other countries will now have that attitude. Even the small wars in the future, we will have to fight them, not be able to win anymore just by showing up.

5. A trillion dollars at least, once all the costs of Iraq are tallied up. Even if our economy was sound, a trillion dollars of new debt (because it was all borrowed from the future) would be a big hit. But in the sick economy we have now, the trillion dollars of new federal debt (and corresponding drop in the dollar) is more than a big hit. It's more like a crippling hit.

6. Geopolitical winners: 1. Iran. Saddam (their biggest enemy) is gone. They have a friendly government in power in Baghdad (and just in case that changes the Badr brigades they had trained for years in case they needed to push an uprising against Saddam, has seamlessly melted into and put on the uniform of the Iraqi army.) The United States (their most powerful enemy) is no longer able to do more than bomb them, because we played the 'invasion and occupation' card. 2. China. As we decline thanks to Iraq (see #4) we should remember that history always shows us that as one power declines, another invariably rises to challenge its place. Just as we rose, reached parity with, and eventually eclipsed the power of a declining Great Britain. Anyone have any doubt as to what the next superpower will be (or maybe already is?)

As I said several months ago, the best outcome that was possible in Iraq was a Pyrrhic victory. Of course that is better than an outright loss (we've got the trophy, right?) but it in no way vindicates or justifies the stupid and poorly thought out decision to go to war in the first place.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Edwards scandal

Today I've heard about little besides John Edwards' affair. The story has even outweighed coverage of the opening of the Olympics and certainly pushed the biggest news of the day, the war now being fought between Russia and Georgia onto the back pages.

As I said in another post about a week ago regarding tabloids, I was initially skeptical of the story but when Edwards was caught visiting a hotel where the woman in question (identified as Rielle Hunter, who went by the professional name Lisa Druck) had a room I quit being skeptical. One of Edwards biggest political assets has been that he was scandal-free. That served him well when he first ran for the U.S. Senate in 1998 against a Jesse Helms protege and the Helms organization, which specialized in digging dirt dug all around Edwards and found nothing. Ditto the Bush-Cheney campaign sleuths four years ago. So they had to find junk like the fact that he made a living as a trial lawyer or the price of his haircut to attack him on. So for him to suddenly become this stupid is dumfounding. And his interview last year, after the affair in which he looked right into the camera and asked that voters judge him on his integrity and honesty is even more amazing.

That said, the press is right not to be giving this much shelf life (I expect by Monday the news will be all about the Olympics, and if much else is talked about it will be the war in South Ossetia, the economy, the Presidential campaign, Bruce Ivins, but likely not John Edwards.) Had Edwards been the nominee of course it would have been huge but the fact is that he is only a former candidate. He lost. The next President will be Barack Obama or John McCain, not John Edwards. The story certainly removes him from the list of potential Vice Presidential candidates (and probably removes him from consideration as Attorney General in an Obama administration, which is good news for Janet Napolitano) but in that regard it is no more significant than the minor scandal around former candidate Chris Dodd regarding his Countrywide home loan. Figure Dodd won't be named as a veep candidate either.

What is interesting here though is that having run the Monica scandal into the ground for a full year in 1998-99, conservatives are howling that this isn't getting more coverage. Why should it? If this is the standard then one has to ask why the media only spent a couple of days on David Vitter (after all he still is in the Senate, right?) Edwards is now just a private citizen, and while the affair happened in 2006 while he was preparing to run for President that is now two years in the past. The issue of 'hush money' (whether paid by a supporter without his knowledge, as Edwards claims or by Edwards himself) may need some more reporting but it's hard to see how it will be a major story by itself.

I'm sure that Rielle Hunter will be featured in some upcoming spread in Playboy or Hustler, but at this point that will probably only be of interest to the guys who read that stuff.

Cohen wins big-- to the disappointment of the right.

In attempting to justify their culture war, right-leaning pundits in America pointed to Nikki Tinker's racist and anti-Semitic ads against Congressman Steve Cohen in a primary election in Tennessee (and yes, this is the same Steve Cohen who I was critical of a couple of months back for making what I considered a sexist comment directed at Hillary Clinton.) Cohen is the only white congressman in America representing a majority black district, and by all accounts he has represented it well, doing everything he could to reflect the views and wishes of his constituents. It would be an understatement to simply call Tinker's campaign 'racist,' as she attacked Cohen in an ad in which she tied him to the Ku Klux Klan and another which targetted him for his Jewish religion. And those were only her official campaign ads. Even worse was a flyer mailed out by Memphis reverend George Brooks (a supporter of Tinker) that made an anti-Semitic attack on Cohen saying,

"Cohen and the Jews HATE Jesus so Memphis Christians must unite and support ONE Black Christian to represent Memphis in the United States Congress in 2008. Simply because this congressional district is predominantly Black. And Christian, in terms of religion, who love and believe in Jesus while Jews do not." The flyer concludes by again calling Cohen "an opponent of Christ and Christianity." (you can click on the link if you really want to see this piece of garbage yourself.)

Hannity and Colmes on right-leaning FOX News profiled the race in arguing that the Democratic party itself was racist. I guess they were hoping that Tinker would pull out a win so they could go at it even harder.

Well, in a race that was considered close (a rematch of the primary from two years ago in which Cohen had edged out Tinker in a race with fourteen candidates) the voters made it known exactly what they thought of Tinker's tactics (and also of Cohen's efforts to represent them.) Cohen won, by a 4-1 margin. He won overwhelmingly among black voters in particular.

I might also add that Barack Obama, EMILY's List (which had endorsed and provided some support for Tinker before she started running an anti-Semitic and anti-white campaign), and former Congressman Harold Ford (who had represented the district for years and had once hired Tinker), all came out with statements condemning Tinker's ads.

Clearly Black voters are not the racists that some on the right have tried to portray them as. So the Republican apologists for the kind of culture war that we see more often directed at Democrats will have to look someplace else for excuses.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

McCain still running away from talking about Social Security, and his own record on it.

It's not often that I feel the need to repost an old post verbatim, but I am doing this now to highlight one of the biggest concerns I have with John McCain: the fact that he is saying virtually nothing about Social Security, one of the biggest domestic issues that we face. In the past two weeks he was asked directly about it, and appeared to contradict himself, first suggesting that he'd be open to raising the limit on income subject to the Social Security payroll tax as one option to make the system solvent, and then reversing himself and saying he'd be against it. That would be all in a day's work for McCain, except that it represents pretty much all he has said about the topic!

So here is the repost of the post that I originally posted on April 19.

McCain has nothing to say about Social Security. But he's already said enough.

In 2005, President Bush introduced a plan to borrow $2 trillion to begin privatizing Social Security. He told us that if Social Security was left as it is now then it would begin running a deficit in 2014 and become insolvent by 2042.

Well, that failed. The President was actually completely correct about the crisis that Social Security is facing, but his solution to privatize the system would have done little to prevent its impending collapse while putting at risk the retirement income of millions of people.

So how does the man who wants to succeed him as Republican nominee and President feel about the issue?

Well, I went to John McCain's website and in his 'search this site' button I typed in, "social security" (quotated so you don't get a bunch of junk about social programs and national security) and

what I get is:

"No documents were found."

Frankly it is frightening that a man who wants to be President of the United States has so little to say about Social Security that the two words don't appear together even one time on his website.

Luckily though there is a record of what he thinks.

On April 1, 1998 he voted, "Yes" to Senate concurrent resolution 86 which would have set up private accounts using the then-surplus.

And in the New York Times on January 11, 2000, an article about McCain's plans for Social Security said:

    "McCain will present today his first comprehensive plan for apportioning the spoils of the nation’s current prosperity, calling for. a program to shore up Social Security through the establishment of individual retirement accounts. McCain also specifically allocates money to help Medicare, which like Social Security faces a financial shortfall as the population ages. He calls for workers to have the option of investing at least 20% of their Social Security payroll taxes in private accounts."

In a 1999 Fox News interview McCain was quoted as saying,

    "Allow people to invest part of their taxes earmarked for Social Security to investment, in investments of their choice. I am convinced that that will make the Social Security system solvent."

In 2005, McCain supported the Bush initiative.

In a GOP debate in Orlando, Florida on October 21, 2007, he was quoted as saying

    "It's got to be bipartisan. And you have to go to the American people and say we won't raise your taxes. We need personal savings accounts, but we got to fix this system."

He wants it to be bipartisan, and his language is a bit more nuanced, but it's clear that he still hasn't given up on privatization.

Now I know why he hasn't said anything at all this year about Social Security. If he hadn't thought about such a major issue, I'd question his qualifications to be President. But he's thought plenty about it, and he appears to agree with President Bush on it. So I'm not questioning whether he's qualified, but rather I'm questioning whether his failure to put in on his website is because he knows darn good and well that many people would view his plans as extreme, as well they should.

It is probably also worth noting that if you go his list of 'pick an issue,' Social Security is not an option on that menu either.

It is indeed troubling to me that a man who wants to be President of the United States has so little to say about such a crucial issue.

Righty bloggers will jump all over Ron Suskind. And probably end up with egg on their faces yet again.

Ron Suskind, a longtime critic and watchdog of the Bush administration has published a book in which he makes the case that the Bush administration went so far as to forge a document supposedly proving that a member of al-Qaeda was trained by Iraqi intelligence agents and which was cited by the Bush administration during the run-up to the Iraq war (but has curiously never been cited since then.)

Now, I know the right side of the blogosphere will jump all over this and claim that Suskind is the one who is telling a lie here.

OK, let's look at what's happened when they've swarmed to Bush's defense in the past.

They produced all kinds of criticism of anyone who suggested there might not be WMD in Iraq. By October 2003 the Bush administration was forced to admit that there weren't any. Yet right up until that time (and even on occasion since then) the righty blogosphere was swearing that there were.

They denied the existence of secret prisons outside of U.S. territory. Once again the Bush administration sawed off the limb the righty bloggers were out on in October 2006 when they reversed course and acknowledged that the secret prisons did exist.

They claimed that no one in the administration had anything to do with Robert Novak's unmasking of Valerie Plame's identity. OK, so then they have trouble explaining why Scooter Libby required a Presidential sentence commutation to stay out of prison for committing perjury in the case. Oh, except that they like to blame the Republican special prosecutor (who was appointed by a Republican Congress) and say it was a politically motivated prosecution (facts be damned.)

They claimed that no one in the U.S. Justice Department broke rules in hiring people for political reasons, nor that any U.S. Attorneys were fired because of ongoing investigations. We've since learned that was wrong on two counts, as Monica Goodling has admitted to the first and the second became public in March of last year.

They followed the Bush administration in denying anyone had been waterboarded. Except that the administration later admitted that at least three suspects had been waterboarded. Once again the branch they sawed off was full of righty bloggers who had followed their lying administration out onto a limb.

So go ahead, righty bloggers. Deny the Suskind allegation if you want. But do it on the record so that if this turns out like it usually turns out when you jump up and down and point fingers at those who dare expose the lies of the Bush administration, we can watch you eat crow later.

Everybody come back, I wanna turn!

John McCain has offered to come off the campaign trail if Congress will go back into session. Congress has adjourned for the traditional August recess.

Why then, has he not been present since April 8? Recall that he had long since locked up the GOP nomination by the last time he cast a vote in the Senate, while Barack Obama, despite having to campaign until June to lock up his nomination has still found the time to come into the Senate and cast several votes during that time, including the medicare reimbursement bill for doctors, a bill that Senator McCain conveniently skipped so he wouldn't have to take a position on a controversial issue.

It seems that if John McCain has 'generously' offered to come off the campaign trail to go to work, then he should have done so at least once in the past four months while the Senate was actually in session. In fact if he'd picked the right day he might even have met Senator Obama while he was taking time off the campaign trail to cast at least a few votes.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Wal-Mart pressuring its employees to vote Republican

I've posted before that I have no love lost for Wal-Mart, which is in trouble every year it seems for various exploitative labor practices. In the past decade or so, Wal-Mart has been caught violating child labor laws, hiring illegals for $2/night to clean its stores, discriminating against female employees, forcing employees to work on their lunch breaks and sending out a memo on how to get rid of employees who have six years working with the company in order to deny them retirement benefits they would have become eligible for when they hit the seven year mark. In most of these cases they've either had to pay a fine or settled out of court, though in the gender discrimination class-action lawsuit they took it all the way through and lost.

And that's not even counting the non-illegal things they've done, including buying products produced in foreign sweatshops, selling products in targeted communities at below cost in order to force local small business competitors out of business, giving employees welfare applications as part of their 'benefits' package, going so far as to close entire stores in order to avoid unionization and only grudgingly, after many years, agreeing to offer health insurance once several states passed legislation which for all practical purposes forced them to.

But now they've gone to a new level: telling their employees how to vote. Oh, of course they say they are NOT telling them how to vote, before telling them how to vote.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is mobilizing its store managers and department supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they'll likely change Federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies-- including Wal-Mart.

In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized.

According to about a dozen Wal-Mart employees who attended such meetings in seven states, Wal-Mart executives claim that employees at unionized stores would have to pay hefty union dues while getting nothing in return, and may have to go on strike without compensation. Also, unionization could mean fewer jobs as labor costs rise....

The Wal-Mart human-resources managers who run the meetings don't specifically tell attendees how to vote in November's election, but make it clear that voting for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama would be tantamount to inviting unions in, according to Wal-Mart employees who attended gatherings in Maryland, Missouri and other states.

"The meeting leader said, 'I am not telling you how to vote, but if the Democrats win, this bill will pass and you won't have a vote on whether you want a union,'" said a Wal-Mart customer-service supervisor from Missouri. "I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote," she said.

It should also be pointed out that Wal-Mart is possibly in violation of the law with these meetings: Federal election rules permit companies to advocate for specific political candidates to its executives, stockholders and salaried managers, but not to hourly employees. While store managers are on salary, department supervisors are hourly workers.

Of course they've been in violation of many laws before and seem to consider the resulting fines to just be part of the cost of doing business.

Now, I know, I know. If you are a conservative your knee-jerk reaction to Wal-Mart pressuring its employees in this way will probably be viscerally positive (i.e. it depends on whose ox is getting gored.) So let me turn it around for you:

Suppose that a publically funded institution were to do the same thing. Suppose for example that employees of a public school were called together and told (by their immediate supervisor, who incidentally has a lot of say about their continued employment) that "I'm not telling you how to vote but you should know that if Republicans win in November then we may face massive budget cuts, so that some of you may lose your jobs or take pay cuts, and you may be forced to work under more difficult conditions. Now remember, I'm not telling you how to vote, but you should understand that this is what will happen if Republicans win the election."

If that happened at a school then you'd be screaming bloody murder. You know you would.

Wal-Mart has the right to donate to political campaigns (which they do, heavily), lobby elected officials for or against legislation and even create a 527 or other organization to advertise directly to the public on political issues (which is fair enough, given that unions do the same thing.) As a publically traded company they can even contact all their shareholders and disseminate their political propaganda.

However forcing their employees to attend a mandatory meeting run by their supervisor for the specific purpose of telling them that voting for Barack Obama may cost them their jobs is both illegal and unethical.
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