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Hastings graceful, Pelosi careful as she steps over ethical land mine November 29, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in U.S. Congress.
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In a statement (published in the Miami Herald), Representative Alcee Hastings, the former front runner for head of the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence in the 110th Congress, takes his rejection gracefully- even allusively. The candidate said in a press conference that while he was obviously disappointed with the decision… we learn in Ecclesiastes, however, for everything there is a season.

And given the thin Democratic majority, the ethical hue and cry surrounding the stillborn Murtha fracas , and the need to starve the right-wing slime machine of material insofar as it is possible to do so, it is definitely not the season to appoint a formerly impeached official to the chair of this important committee, no matter how able he might have been. Of course, that is no reason to leave Jane Harmon in the seat of power. Harmon, a conservative Democrat, appears to many to have endorsed the Bush regime’s reign of secrecy and executive privilege with far too much enthusiasm.
Keep looking, Nancy, Surely the talent pool provides more choices than a formerly impeached official, competent though he may be in the tasks ahead, and a Bush regime collaborator,.

Tags: YEARS | statement | meeting | PELOSI | nancy | hastings | Congress | California


The High Cost of Jailing the Mentally Ill November 27, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Health and Science Policy, Seattle Politics.

Keith Ervin of The Seattle Times reports today that someone booked into the King County Jail will usually stay an average of 9-35 days, but if the offender is mentally ill , the stay is usually about 158 days. And the cost to the county is $15,000 , or much more for the severely ill, based on a daily cost of $98.00 and a booking charge of $180.00. The Metropolitan King County Council, understandably alarmed by these numbers, is mounting a campaign to establish more treatment programs, get inmates out of jail faster, and ideally, prevent them from going there in the first place. The first order of business is to establish a funding mechanism for the effort, and to this end the council is studying the feasability of a one-tenth of one percent increase in the sales tax.

If approved, this tax would raise about 50 million dollars per year, an amount that would be used to provide housing and treatment, as well as to expand the services of the Drug Court and the Mental Health Court.

Of course, these estimates do not include the deleterious effects of jail on the mental state of patient-inmates. County Councilman Bob Ferguson (D-Seattle) has rightly noted that this argument from efficiency is not the only dimension to the problem He calls the “warehousing” of the mentally ill in jails a “moral wrong”. The jail as become the second largest (after Western State Hospital) mental-health facility in the state. Larry Gossett ( D- Seattle) also supports the measure, but Kathy Lambert (R- Seattle) is cautious. She is afraid that the additional tax burden , coming right after a new bus tax, might jeopardize Sound Transit’s plans for a new tax package on the November 7th ballot and endanger funding of a regional highway tax.

Ferguson introduced a motion requesting Sheriff Sue Rahar, County Executive Ron Sims, Prosecutor Norm Maleng, judges, and public defenders to submit a plan by next May to improve services and reduce jailings and visits to emergency rooms. No action will be taken until the report is received.

So the process is underway, but ever so slowly- and why does “voter fatigue” always come up when human services are involved?

Will Pelosi Replace Harmon with Impeached Judge? November 27, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in U.S. Congress.
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Nancy Pelosi should know how the right wing slime machine works- in fact, she should know that as well as she knows her own name. There was an enormous hue and cry over her plan to elevate the unindicted Murtha over less fishy rivals. Now, it appears from several news sources that she plans to replace Jane Harmon( D-California )as the head of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence with one of only seven federal judges in American history to be impeached by the Senate and removed from the bench.This individual, one Alcee L.Hastings of Florida , is to replace Harmon, who garnered the ire of Democratic leaders with her Republican like stands on national defense, and particularly on the controversial wiretaps authorized by the Bush administration. According to Marc Shepperd, Pelosi is angry in part because Harmon was invited to the confidential White House briefings on the domestic spying programs, and refused to breach confidentiality.

Tom Hayden sets out the resentments against Harmon pretty clearly. Harmon agreed to keep the proceedings confidential before she went to the meetings, and could have refused an unconditional promise of secrecy. That she chose not to could be viewed as an ethical lapse, not in the keeping of her promise but in the making of it. A persuasive case for any reasonable national security measure is often its own guarantee of confidentiality. When people agree that a national security issue is one, they usually do not have to be compelled to secrecy. And as recent history has shown, public knowledge of extra-legal security measures is no longer sufficient to kill them.

The real problem here, as Hayden points out, is not that Harmon is a conservative pro-war democrat. Rather, the difficulty lies in the nature of a state that has gone one step beyond the military industrial complex. The state is now corporate-military-industrial, and Hayden cites Robert Kagan to good effect:

“The best infromation strategy is to avoid  attention-getting divided confrontations in the first place and to keep the public’s attention as divided as possible . We can dominate the world only quietly”

Hayden goes on to point out that Harmon is unprepared to take on this state-within-a- state because she shares so many of its assumptions. That rings true. The United States is the world’s imperial hegemon now, and there is good evidence that the growth of the military-corporate establishment is so well embedded in American life that it cannot be checked by the usual democratic means. With a collaborative media and a public content to live with an effective political spectrum defined by two right hands, the moderate right and the far right, the chances of our collective political leadership being able to think far enough outside of this frame are becoming remote indeed.

None of this is, of course, sufficient to explain Pelosi’s intentions. Harmon’s imagination and political will are too limited to make her the right person for the job. She is almost completely a creature of the ruling elite, with all of the foibles of vision and lack of imagination that this entails. But given the right’s substantial media power and Hastings’ flawed ethical credentials, his appointment would be a disaster, even though it is probably true that he would make an excellent, hell-raising Committee chairman. Note the coercion here- the ruling framework of politics, its rhetorical and instutional infrastructure, simply does not allow a once impeached person to be correct on anything, or good on anything else. Hayden is correct- the machine is strong, and conditions choices in ways that are forceful, stealthy, and nearly irresistable. It is no more correct to damn Hastings in advance than to say Rush Limbaugh is always wrong because he takes the odd recreational painkiller. Limbaugh’s opinions are nearly always wrong because of their intrinsic qualities, not because of the notorious drug habits of their author. And Hastings might make a fine contribution to the Committee, despite his past. But should Pelosi stand against the iron rules of this new political order now, on this issue, with this candidate?

No-regrettably- no. She should look elsewhere for this appointment.

Toady Duel: Senator Allen Fires Last Shot and Webb Uses Starting Pistol In Curious Political Battle November 25, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Butter and Guns.
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One might expect the nearly departed Senator George Allen (lately R- Virginia) to fire at least one shot in anger, and he has promised to do so by honoring one of his campaign promises to the Virginia Gun Owners’ Coalition. His parting shot will be to introduce legislation permitting the use of concealed weapons in U. S. national parks. What is perhaps (and only perhaps) a little more surprising is Jim Webb, his victorious and gun-lobby unendorsed Democratic opponent , also promised to introduce similar legislation on October 30. In one of those curious configurations which mark political contests, the incumbent now appears to have lined up on the finish line and taken aim , while his opponent did so from his position on the starting line, days before his victory. The situation calls for a mixed metaphor: in their duel over who will shoot the national (parks’) foot first, the combatants are seemingly engaged in a race for the Lobby Toady Trophy.

We might have the beginnings of a great idea here, and it is not to permit guns in national parks. The chances of being stalked and killed while visiting the bears exist, but are inifitesimal, as are the chances of the victim being able to off a determined killer by first accurately assessing the motive, removing said constitutionally protected method from its concealment, and then using same in a highly stressful situation. But, let me emphasize, the chances of such an event do exist. They are dwarfed , however, by the much more likely scenario of accidentally killing a bear, a racoon, or the obnoxious guy in the neighboring campsite who seems determined to cook his hotdogs on your grill while beating his girlfriend regularly and in the wee hours. Or he might just shoot you or one of your children instead.

No, the great idea is to convert the existing firing sqaud into a tetrad. Have Webb, Allen, a representative of the N.RA. , and a spokesperson for the Virginia coalition to form a circular firing squad, deep in the woods where their antics will probably go undiscovered until they become cold cases, and rescuers arrive to remove their rusting weapons from their cold, dead… you know the rest.

A Reform Road Map: GAO issues first oversight recommendations to 110th Congress November 23, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in U.S. Congress.
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In advance of what is expected to be the start of a busy season of congressional investigation and oversight by the new Democratic majority next year, Congress’s independent investigation agency has produced a roadmap the new committee chairmen could use as a starting point.

Jeffrey Young

The Government Accountability Office is the “independent” research service of the federal government, and its new report on Suggested Areas of Oversight for the 110th Congress suggests that the need for reform in certain areas is urgent . In its 80 year history of providing documents to Congress and the public, the GAO (renamed and reorganized in 2004) has never issued a specific set of recommendations for oversight to a Congress. It is , as Jeffrey Young claims, a roadmap that could be used as a set of agenda points for the newly Democratic Congress. And both House and Senate Democrats would be well advised to use the report in just this way- as a set of points for intelligent reforms that would, by the bipartisan nature of it’s authorship, bolster claims of bipartisanship and militate against too many distractions, provincial concerns,and the destructive ad hominem politics of recent years.

The report was deliberately delayed until after the midterm elections, a move that might be interpreted cynically were it not for the fact that David Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, and his team sought a bipartisan consent to the delay. The report is divided into three sections, as follows, with specific topics( slightly abbreviated) listed under each.

Topics for near term oversight:

1. Reduce the tax gap
2. Address government acquisition and contracting issues
3. Transform the business operations of the Department of Defense
4. Ensure the effective integration and transformation of the Department of Homeland Security
5. Enhance information sharing within and improve oversight of the nation’s Intelligence agencies
6. Enhance border security and enforcement of immigration laws
7. Ensure the safety and security of all modes of transportation and the adequacy of funding .
8. Strengthen efforts to prevent the proliferation of chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons, as well missiles.
9. Ensure a successful transformation of the nuclear weapons complex
10. Enhance computer security and deter identity theft
11. Ensure a cost effective and reliable 2010 census
12. Transform the Postal Service’s business model
13. Ensure fair value collection of oil royalties produced from federal lands
14. Ensure the effectiveness and coordination of U. S. international counterterrorism efforts
15, Review workplace safety.

Policies and Programs in need of Fundamental Reform:

1. Review efforts to stabilize and rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan
2. Ensure a strategic approach to catastrophic events
3. Reform the tax code
4. Reform Medicare and Medicaid to improve integrity and sustainability
5.Ensure the adequacy of energy supplies and infrastructure
6. Reform immigration policy
7 Assess military readiness and existing plans to assure the sustainability of the all-volunteer military
8. Assure the quality and competitiveness of the U. S. education system
9. Strengthen retirement security through Social Security reform, pension savings, and promoting financial literacy
10 .Examine the costs, benefits, and risks of key environmental issues
11. Examine housing programs
12. Insure the equity and integrity of farm programs
13. Review efforts to improve the image of the United States

Governance in the 21st Century:

1. Review the the need for budget controls and legislative process revisions in view of long-term fiscal imbalances.
2. Pursue the development of key national indicators
3. Review the impact of management reforms enacted in recent years
4. Review the effectiveness of the federal audit community
5,. Modernize the Federal government’s organizational and human captial models
6. Re-examine the Presidential (political) appointment process
7. Ensure transparency of executive policies and operations
8. Monitor and assess corporate financial reporting

Of course, everyone will have something to add to the subsections of this list: I would like to have seen , for example, an entry in the short term objectives about climate change,. but as a starting point, this document has virtues. It is long on the general and short on specifics, and that will be useful when legislators begin to snipe at each other’s programs for being irrelevant or unimportant, as will certainly happen in this ideologically split Congress. When the growling and backstabbing begin, legislators can keep trundling rhetorically to assert that their issues are “in the Oversight report”- one written by the closest thing we have to an independent Federal watchdog.

Download or read the full report

Tags: chairmen | Democratic Party Agenda | Congressional Agenda | roadmap | report | produced | oversight | Majority | investigation | independent | expected | CONGRESSIONAL | Committee | agency | advance | walker | Iraq | Government | GAO | DEMOCRATIC | DEM | afghanistan

Firm on the Family: Bush Appoints Anti-Contraception Advocate to Top Position November 22, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Health and Science Policy.
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“Keroack’s professional history makes clear he should be stamped with a warning label against women’s health and safety,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Appointing an individual who has crusaded against birth control to head the nation’s family planning program makes a mockery of women’s health. Keroack’s appointment ought to be pulled immediately.”

All American Patriots

His positions on Donald Rumsfeld, the war in Iraq, and fiscal conservatism aside, never let it be said that George W. Bush is not firm on the issues. On Monday, he appointed one Dr. Eric Keroack to head up the Title X program that provides reproductive health and assistance to millions of poor women. The appointment immediately drew fire from several professional associations and sparked a letter from Planned Parenthood , based on what, in Bush’s view, qualifies Keroack for the position. The good doctor is the medical director of A Woman’s Concern, a network of pregnancy crisis centers in the Boston area. Under his enlightened regime, AWC does not distribute or encourage the use of contraceptive devices. And some of the information that Keroack promulgates is patently false, such as the contention that condoms “”offer virtually no protection” against herpes. He also claims that premarital sex interferes with oxytocin secretion, a hormone that he assumes to be physiologically important to successful marriages.

Despite the already shrill opposition, Bush will likely leave his appointee in place, and the choice is not subject to Congressional approval.This time, Bush will hold fast- against logic and empirical evidence, against women’s rights, and against the will of the American majority..

Tags: Keroack | Anti-Birth | program | prevent | makes | Washington | title | services | Secretary | REPRODUCTIVE | provider | planned | PARENTHOOD | Oversee | Leavitt | leading | Health | Federation | CALLS | appointment | America | advocate

Rangel Renews Call for Draft: Time to Ask Alfred November 20, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in U.S. Congress, War Policy.
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The incoming Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said yesterday that he will push to renew the military draft, as lawmakers in both parties sharpened their criticisms of the situation in Iraq and struggled for consensus and solutions.

Charles Babington, Washington Post, 11/20/06

It is clear that the war in Iraq is a resounding failure of both conception and execution. Yet Charles B. Rangel(D-NY) has been calling for a renewal of the draft for quite a long time now. That he has renewed his call after a narrow Democratic victory in the recent elections, a victory that was made possible by discontent with the war speaks to something- but what on earth could it be?

Rangel believes that if the risk of being conscripted is spread equally throughout society and not confined to the children of the poor (as it primarily is with our present volunteer system), lawmakers will be reluctant, out of sheer self-interest, to export their own youngsters to the combat zone. A politician as canny and experienced as Rangel probably does not believe his proposal will pass. His proposal is a consummate rhetorical and political gesture, designed to draw attention to the glaring fact that the children of the political elite do not face the same set of social circumstances as the rest of us. The argument seems to be that the prospect of their own children going to a modern war would be enough to cause legislators to be cautious.

This strikes me as a variant on one of the oldest, and least credible arguments found in the history of war. Alfred Nobel, for example, believed dynamite was a weapon so terrible that it might guarantee world peace. Rangel seems to believe the same of his policy.

Of course, as the Nobel argument and many like it illustrate, there is very little that puts people off war, and a draft is unlikely to do so, particularly in a polity where the chief legislators do not have conscript-aged children.. There are precious few instances in history where increasing the capacity to make war leads to peace. And political regimes, particularly enlightened ones susceptible to rational arguments of self-interest, are often in power for only fleeting moments, while the machinery of a bureaucracy such as is necessary to conscription is the very devil to eliminate. The last 12 years, and particularly the last 8, should be testimony enough , but if not, Mr. Rangel can go ask Alfred what the outcome will probably be of new weapons or fearsome policies designed to end war by increasing a government’s ability to wage it.

Tags: troops | struggled | situation | sharpened | Renew | Parties | levels | LAWMAKERS | incoming | Fighting | Draft | criticisms | consensus | chairman | Ways | uproar | Rangel | means | Iraq | DEMOCRATIC | Committee

Seattle Solution: Mayor Advised to Take Charge of Schools November 20, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Seattle Politics.
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“It’s an idea only a few cities have dared to try.

But advisers to Mayor Greg Nickels are urging him to take at least partial control over Seattle schools.

The conditions, they say, are dire.”

Bob Young

Seattle is consistently rated one of the most literate cities in the United States, and recently its population was listed as one of the most educated. But you wouldn’t know that by looking at the situation in the public schools. A school closure plan has divided the city, and at a recent board meeting the air filled with ethnic slurs and an arrest was made. The school superintendent has resigned, and the voters are probably not inclined to approve some $900,000,000 dollars in education funding measures.

The solution , according to some community activists, is to imitate Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia, where mayors were given power to appoint some or all new board members. Reports have been positive and while Washington State law does not permit appointments, state Representative Ed Murray , D-Seattle, will sponsor a bill in the upcoming legislative session to give both the mayor and the governor such powers.

The problem is that the mayor has excluded both Seattle School District and teacher’s union leaders from meetings on the subject. They oppose any measure to replace elected boards. They claim that elected leaders represent the concerns of students and parents better than appointees.

Nickels is reportedly moving very cautiously on this topic, and declined to be interviewed by the Seattle Times for the story. Before he does takes steps toward this more authoritarian solution to a divisive issue, he would be well advised to open his meetings to all of the relevant stakeholders.

Tags: urged | mayor | Education | Community | advisers | Activist | superintendent | Seattle | NICKELS