The Boston Progressive - Under The Fold

Recycled news and (hopefully) original commentary from a New England Progressive perspective -- the full text of items shown on the main page

Friday, October 21, 2005

Retrograde Gun Reform

Yesterday the House of Representative passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (S. 397), and the bill is now going to go to the White House for presidential approval. (You can use the THOMAS Search engine to find the bill (use either the title or the bill number) )

This bill, in effect, prohibits all lawsuits against gun dealers, importers, exporters and manufacturers for crimes committed by guns that they have made or sold.

The bill also nullifies all current and pending suits in this area, without giving any recourse to those seeking redress through the courts. The opponents of the bill have already stated that they will seek to overturn at least that portion of the bill after it is signed.

    (a) In General- A qualified civil liability action may not be brought in any Federal or State court.
    (b) Dismissal of Pending Actions- A qualified civil liability action that is pending on the date of enactment of this Act shall be immediately dismissed by the court in which the action was brought or is currently pending

I don't think they will have much luck if they will be relying on any reading of the ex-post facto clause of the U.S. Constitution, since the ex post facto clause is intended to protect against after-the-act criminalization or increases in punishment for an act after the act has been committed.

However, it will be ironic if the bill's supporters try to say that the U.S. Supreme Court's reading of the ex-post facto clause, which many have condemned as "expanding" on the original intent, is now to be relied upon for the basis to protect the provision.

I don't like retroactive bills of any sort, and especially ones that provide no alternative avenue for cases already brought.

I especially don't like this bill because of its breadth -- because of the wording of the bill, acts of negligence by the manufacturer of a handgun, other than strict defective product's actions appear to be barred. As a case in point, there is currently a negligence suit being heard against handgun manufacturer Kara Arms, claiming they were negligent in that they failed to get a background check on an employee working in their plant who stole a handgun, sold it, and the stolen/illegally sold gun was used in a fatal shooting in 1999. The family of the victim is suing .

See the current Boston Globe Article for detail.

Even the Emperor's Propaganda Has No Clothes?

By now we all know that Armstrong Williams was paid to promote the NCLB act, but he "forgot" to disclose that he was doing the promotion for cash. Which, technically, may well be against the law (at least the GAO thinks so). Some of us call that kind of PR, when done for a government, as "propagandizing."

Now, it appears that Williams billed, and was paid for, propagandizing he didn’t, well, actually do.

From an AP item:

WASHINGTON --Investigators at the Education Department have contacted the US attorney's office regarding the Bush administration's hiring of
commentator Armstrong Williams to promote its agenda.

The action was disclosed by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who has pressed for a criminal fraud investigation focused on questions about whether Williams actually
performed the work cited in his monthly reports to the Education Department.

The Government Accountability Office has concluded that the Education Department engaged in illegal "covert propaganda" by hiring Williams to promote the No Child Left Behind Act without requiring him to disclose that he was being paid. The Education Department's inspector general has also reviewed the Williams deal, which was part of a broader contract that the education agency had with Ketchum, a public relations firm.


Now the US attorney for the District of Columbia is investigating whether Williams accepted public money without performing his required duties, said Dan Katz, chief counsel for Lautenberg. The attorney's office has a range of potential remedies, from suing to recover the money to possible criminal charges, Katz said.

"It's bad enough the administration bribed a journalist to promote their policies, but now it looks like taxpayer dollars were handed over for work that was never done," said Lautenberg.

Williams, a conservative black commentator, was paid to produce ads promoting the No Child Left Behind law, and to provide media time to department officials and persuade other blacks in the media to discuss the law. GAO auditors could not find the work Williams listed or could not connect the work they found to his contract."

Williams is not alone in his "pay for play:"

Syndicated columnist Maggie_Gallagher received tens of thousands of dollars to promote the "healthy marriage" inititive of the Bush administration, including during times when she was testifying before the U.S. Congress. She said she "didn't feel the need" to disclose her financial arrangement with the White House, because no one ever asked her. (Well, it looks like *someone* likes the "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy)

Another syndicated columnist, Michael McManus, who also runms the "Marriage Savers" organization, was paid to promote a Bush administration "healthy marriage" inititive to divert funds from welfare to marriage counseling. McManus' column is titled "Ethics & Religion"

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

We're Going To Have A Merry Fitzmas?

By its nature, Blogging has engendered the coinage of new words ("blogs," "trackback," "pingback") and new uses of preexisting terms ("memes" and "viral marketing").

One of the new ephermeral words that have appeared in the "blogosphere" lately is "Fitzmas." A reference to the anticipation, either for "truth, justice and the American Way," cynical anticipation or simple entertainment value, of the indictments expected/hoped-for to be handed down by the grand jury working with DoJ Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald who has been tasked with investigating the events the culminated with "outing" of CIA operative Valerie Plame in columnist Bob Novak's column.

Because of the subject matter, this term will have a very short shelf-life, but it has prompted some houmerous writing.

One that I've found amusing is a clone of the "10 things" lists that comedian/talk-show host David Letterman puts on his show. This list is from a diary writer on the Daily Kos blog:

Ten Tips for Dealing with Fitzmas:

10: Put down the caffeine: For the next 48
hours, cleanse your body of java, aspartame, splenda, and whatever other shit you've been putting in your system. Your body will be producing more adrenaline during Fitzmas than it did when you were a hormone-crazed teenager, so don't fuel the fire.

9: "Refresh" is the AntiChrist: Resist the urge to press "refresh" every TWO SECONDS. Checking into Drudge every minute won't make any indictments come any'll just give him hits and make Drudge's head swell even more. Eww. I put "Drudge" and "swell" and "head" in the same sentence. I just grossed myself out.

8: Gossip Folks: Don't believe anything in the next 24-48 hours. Guess what!! I can report on my blog that Condi will be VP when Dick resigns...and because it's on a blog, it must be true! And my scoop will fly through the internets at twice the speed of sound and I'll be so convincing, Condi herself will hear my scoop and think "Shit. I need new shoes!" and next thing you know New York Daily News will be reporting that Condi was in NY shopping for Jimmy Choo shoes that look "Vice-Presidential" and Teresa Heinz passed her by and called her a "bitch." Get my point?

7: Turn off the TV: Why submit yourself to the torture of watching The Situation Room and listening to Wolf's "I'm-reading-a-script-but-I'm-trying-to-make-it-sound-live" voice in the hopes that some pundit will throw out something like "Rove will be indicted"? You all KNOW that the talking heads don't know shit, and that their dirty little secret is that they really get their info from the, gasp!, blogs, so why waste your time? So, Kristol says Rove and Libby will be indicted. Um...99% of the pajamajadeen have said the same thing for the last couple months. Give your blood pressure a break and turn off the TV.

6: Don't listen to Tip #7: Well, do turn off the TV, but turn it on for Scotty's press conferences. Nothing eases the nerves and apprehension of indictments than watching Puffy McMoonface squirm as he fends off a resuccitated press corps. With Scotty spinning so fast, you KNOW there's some serious shit going down.

5: Don't take off of work tomorrow: Yes, there are some of you who would actually skip work or school to stay home and catch the indictments breaking live. I've confessed to being a Plamegate junkie, but please. Those of you who view CSPAN as political porn need to put things into perspective. The indictments may not break tomorrow...and then what? You spent a whole day, one hand repeatedly refreshing dkos and drudge, the other hand holding a remote and flipping channels between CNN and MSNBC and, gulp, FOX, flipping and flipping and flipping and it'll all be for naught. So treat tomorrow just like any other day, use school and work as a distraction...and, um, did you hear blogging more than once a day can make you go blind?

4: Visit Freeperville: Watch the tension melt away as you read about how Wilson was the leaker, how Fitzgerald is really a closet Dem fucking Hillary at the Watergate hotel, and how Plame orchestrated all this just to get name recognition for 2008. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you might even throw up in your mouth a little bit. But it'll be a great distraction from the anticipation of Fitzmas.

3: Lower Your Expectations: Hey, it worked for Laura Bush. Don't expect too much from this. We don't know what was said in that grand jury room; about all we know definitively is that Karl Rove has a "typical" garage. Fantasies of Cheney being indicted and Bush as unindicted coconspirator are just that at this point--fantasies. Trust the Fitz to do what's right based on the evidence, and trust that the result will be as far as he was legally able to go.

2: Stockpile the Booze: Ok, you've lowered your expectations, but sheesh, don't be downer. No matter what comes down, these next couple of days will be explosive. So chill the Cristal (or the Guinness) and get ready. Also, compile a list of all the emails of your most die-hard GOP friends. Plan on sending them emails after the indictments, perferably after you've depleted your liquor reserves.

1: Enjoy the moment: Take a DEEP breath, and savor the fact that you're witnessing history being made. The outing of Plame was a vicious act, but nothing will be as sweet as watching justice being served.

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Cindy Sheehan is getting more private time?

David Schraub, on Joe Gandleman's The Moderate Voice notes that an article in the Bay area's Tri-Valley Herald says that Cindy Sheehan is planning more "private time." And dismisses her with a "Good Riddance, I say"

I agree that Sheehan may not be everybody's cuppa, but she certainly energized comment in the nation, as few others have been able to do.

Yes, she attracted the wingnuts and the moonbats.

She also attracted a lot of very ordinary people, from both wings of the political spectrum, that allowed them to see that the members of the "other side" were neither demons with forked tails and burning eyes nor drooling morons.

Her primary question to G.W. Bush has always been "What is this noble cause my son died for?"

A question that Bush & Co don't want to attempt to answer to her, at least in person.

From the close of the Tri-City Herald's article:

"Sheehan insists she's following only the dictates of her broken heart.

At Thursday's service for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement — at which no notes or recordings were made, in accordance with the rabbi's wishes — she said she must atone until her dying day for her sin: Not having stood up to oppose the war until after her son died. "

Schraub's snippet can be found here.

Ed Shultz radio show pulled from AFR before Starting

Ed Schultz has a radio show heard across the country, and, for a short time, was slated to be heard on Armed Forces Radio (AFR) as well. Ed had received a signed letter from AFR confirming that his show would be heard on AFR, which, until now, has only had Rush Limbaugh and James Dobson's Focus On The Family radio offering general commentary. That was on 9/29/05.

All seemed to be going well, with the Ed Schultz Show scheduled to start on Oct 17.

That is, however, until someone at the Pentagon noticed that Ed was actually awake and breathing, and able to notice that when the Bush White House tried to build a "Potemkin village" using the U.S. troops in Iraq when Bush recently made a "conference video call" to what was (according to the White House press secretary) an unscripted and unrehearsed dialog between Bush and the soldiers.

Unfortunately for the White House, when specifically asked, they claimed that there would be no scripting, and no pre-vetting of questions. Because of *that* response, it was all the more embarrassing when there was a live cable feed, before Bush started his part of the call, when Pentagon staff went over exactly what the procedure would be, and what kind of questions Bush was going to ask, and who should yield the mike to whom. Including an admonition, at one point, on just what to do if the call got "off the script."

Ed actually had the temerity to make the call that this was contrary to the earlier stated pronouncements by the White House, and mentioned it on his show. And it showed even more gall to actually play a clip of Allison Barber doing the coaching.

Yesterday morning (Monday, 10/17/05) Ed was informed that he would not actually be airing his show on AFR that day after all.

He got a 7:00 AM call from one Allison Barber, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary for internal communications, telling him that his show would not be carried that day.

Think Progress reports the following scenario as to why Shultz's show would not be carried:

"Barber told Holm [of the Schultz Show staff] that the Ed Schultz show would not start on AFR today because her boss, Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita, was out of the country and couldn’t approve it. Barber also said she was going out of the country soon for a week-and-a-half. Holm asked Barber if the show would begin when DiRita and Barber returned. Barber said she couldn't guarantee that. "

If the name Allison Barber sounds familiar, it may be because she was the Pentagon employee who was, you guessed it - coaching the troops before Shrub's conference call.

Now, it *could* be coincidence that the two events -- Schultz's comments on his show about the "unscripted conference call" and the de-scheduling of the show, happened so closely in time

Of course, it's a coincidence. (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. You know what I mean? You know what I mean?)

I really don't know why the White House and the Pentagon have got themselves in a quiver about this. Their practice is commonly to hedge their bets by this kind of event:
- from stage managing parade routes (to put "free speech zones" outside of the sight of anybody actually *on* the parade route);
- to "town hall meetings" with selected rosters of "average citizens" on the podium (and requiring party "loyalty oaths" to get tickets);
- to staffers who will eject or have arrested people with "off-message" t-shirts or signs from "public events";
- to posting a "Mission Accomplished" banner on an aircraft carrier.

If the Administration were to admit the flubs and mistakes the public would not be having more and more doubts about their veracity in *anything* these critters say

You can read the early story on The Moderate Voice site here.

The story has since gotten legs with UPI and the Washington Post. The Pentagon story now (from spokesman Bryan Whitman ) is that no decision had actually been reached, and the letter that Shultz has is just the result of some staffer "getting ahead of the process."

Now, I've done some contracting work for the DoD, and I can safely say that the reliance on the proper initialed entries on the chop-chain before doing *anything* is Pavlovian.

The Moderate Voice website also has an interview with Schultz that was slated to run coincidentally with the start of the Ed Schultz Show being carried on AFR. In the interview Schultz offered an observation about the tension that is sometimes seen between the military and those on the "left:"

"Schultz: My wife Wendy and I went down to Gulfport, Mississippi a few days after the hurricane (Katrina) hit. And we had an opportunity to go out on some supply missions with a Black Hawk helicopter. We were flying with guys out of the Florida National Guard. They had just gotten back from Iraq.

Wendy and I were down there producing a radio show on Labor Day. We got to Talk to the military guys. The liberals do not have a good relationship with military people. It’s all a lot of what they’ve been told and what they’ve heard. I really view this as a real important step forward for our show to have an opportunity to tell the troops and those listening to Armed Forces Radio about how we fight for veterans' benefits and how we care about injured soldiers, proper armor, complete equipment and proper funding. All of those things, they never heard on conservative talk radio. All that has been on Armed Forces is ONE side of the story. It’s no wonder the Democrats have an image problem with the military."

Maybe if we can get the Ed Schultz Show on AFR this perception can change.

The Game Remains The Same

There was outrage at the order suspending federal "prevailing wage" rules for government contractors in there wake of hurricane Katrina, with supporters saying it will get the government more "bang for the buck" and opponents decrying the exploitation of the work force that desperately needs work.

My own opinion leans towards the latter view, with the thought that if you want to get the most for the dollar (if that is to be the primary deciding basis) just bring back debtors prisons and chattel slavery.

At least be honest about what the motivation is -- it isn't really about getting the most effort for the government's dollar, it's about getting the most profit for the "connected" companies. Not far behind the no-bid and sole-source contracts are the "recruiters" who are bringing the migrant and undocumented workers to the reconstruction efforts, and the conditions are as expected, as is the deception, when the "usual suspects" are involved.

From an item in the Boston Globe:

GULFPORT, Miss. -- There's gold along the storm-racked Gulf Coast, where jobs are plentiful, pay is good, and billions of dollars of reconstruction aid are practically dripping from the trees. At least that's what some labor contractors are telling migrant and foreign workers, who are trickling into devastated fields and construction sites from as far away as Florida and Mexico.

But like the fabled streets paved with gold of immigration lore, the promising job market along the Gulf Coast can be illusory. While opportunities abound, many workers are finding a harsh and inhospitable environment, according to their advocates in Florida.

''There's not any housing, even for the people who are from there," said Tirso Moreno, director of the Farmworker Association of Florida, who toured coastal Mississippi to assess working conditions. ''Some labor contractors will bring our people up for two or three weeks of work and then leave them there. Sometimes they are paid too little and sometimes not at all. There's nothing they can do to fight it."

Seventeen migrant workers from Fort Pierce, Fla., learned Friday that two weeks of hard work does not always translate into promised pay. The men had left construction jobs on promises of as much as $150 a day. ''There's a lot of work here. We could go days without working in Florida but there's a lot of work here," said the group's leader, Michael Olvera, 36, as he waited for the van to take him and the others to where they were staying.

While Olvera and the others were promised large apartments and plenty of food, they are living on a Frisbee golf course, in small tents orout in the open without electricity or running water. After two weeks of fixing roofs, carrying plasterboard, and doing everything else that comes with helping restore a storm-torn region, Rafael Jarra, the man who brought them from Fort Pierce in a blue van, paid them $300 each -- one fifth of what they wereexpecting.

Jarra denied promising the men $150 a day and said there was not as much work as anticipated. ''They are angry that they have to live here," he said, pointing to the makeshift camp.

I'd be upset too, both at being cheated of my pay and at being forced to live in those conditions.

But this is actually just an extension of the existing problem that migrant and undocumented workers have faced in Florida, where the South Florida building boom is being made possible largely through the labor of these same workers. But the work isn't always there, so the workers are susecptible to "offers" such as what Olvera took.

Read the full article for more details.

Monday, October 17, 2005

House Republicans Embrace Cuts to Social Services

In the wake of hurricane Katrina the GOP-controlled House have moved to make cuts in a number of programs in order to pay for the rebuild.

There was no apparent stomach for the GOP members to propose rolling back some of the tax cuts that were lavished on the top 2% of taxpayers by the GOP-controlled Congress.

Instead, the public was treated to a variety of press conferences and "events"on the steps of the Capital where members of the House proposed that spending should be cut in programs such as Medicare, food stamps, jobs training programs, PBS and farm subsidies.

The most vocal of those proposing the cuts have been members of the Republican Study Committee
(RSC), who have been stymied under the DeLay leadership.

Tom DeLay (R-TX) has not been eager to embrace the program cuts that the "ideological purists" have wanted, perhaps seeing the prospect of huge cuts in programs pushed too quickly as a danger to the dominance of the GOP in the House and Senate. If the public were to view the party as being too quick to cut the poor, the working poor and the elderly adrift without any resources it could affect the vote in the midterm..

Washington Post brings us the story that the RSC is taking advantage of the lull in leadership in the House, with Delay having to step down from his leadership post due to his impending legal battles in Texas.

Earlier in the month, before Delay had to step down, he tried to squash any big moves to offset the spending for the hurricane relief:

"On Sept... 13, DeLay suggested that "after 11 years of Republican majority, we've pared [the government] down pretty good." Then he issued what conservatives took as a challenge."My answer to those that want to offset the spending is, 'Sure, bring me the offsets,' " he said. "I will be glad to do it, but no one has been able to come up with any yet."

After the RSC announced, without clearing with the House leadership, a news conference to showcase their own package of cuts for the budget offsets to disaster relief spending, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), chairman of the RSC, was an attendee at a closed-door meeting of the House leadership on 9/13/05.

"That afternoon, Pence attended a leadership meeting in Hastert's conference room, where he would get an earful, according to several leadership aides. It was one thing to suggest that Republicans consider budget cuts to pay for Katrina relief, but it was quite another to call a news conference, the leaders told Pence. And to suggest that the RSC was reining in a free-spending party was out of bounds. The deficit for 2005 was coming in nearly $100 billion below initial forecasts, they said, and GOP leaders that spring had muscled through Congress a budget blueprint that ordered up $35 billion in entitlement cuts over five years, the first such effort since 1997."

However, when Delay had to step down on Sept 28, the House dynamic changed. The RSC used to opportunity to pressure the GOP leadership to push for more than the previously aimed for cuts in social programs.

Whether this was a wise move has yet to be seen.

The American public is growing weary of the "take no prisoners" attitude so prevalent in both parties, but much more vocal in the GOP than among Democrats, with more Democrats seeming to give the appearance of "going along to get along," (which is viewed by the ideologs on the left as "wimping out.").

This move by the RSC, born more of arrogance than ideology, has the great potential to hurt the GOP in the upcoming midterm elections, in both the House and the Senate, as most voters view the players as just two (the major parties) rather than four (both parties, in both chambers).

This may be the move that the Democrats, both left and center, need to push their own base to the polls. With the narrowness of the 2004 elections, decided more by who could get more voters from their base to the polls than by successfully wooing the undecided voters, any move by the GOP that could build the anger of the left and center-left cold move those angered voters to the polls.

This arrogance, and dependence on voter apathy on the part of the left, is akin to getting a job that has lots of overtime, and learning to live on that extra income as a standard.

When the extra income gets pulled for any reason, the landing can be pretty hard.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Times is finally on record

The NYT has finally put themselves on record with the stories about Miller, Libby and Fitzgerald.

See the Times story about the whole mess here and Judith Miller's personal take on it here and a timeline for the whole escapade-to-date(from Wilson's trip in 2002 to Miller's release and testimony this week) here (with Miller's personal timeline here).

My personal opinion is that the NYT dropped their shorts on this story, and failed to keep its editorial ducks all in their rows, in how it handled both Miller's relations with the grand jury and about how the paper handled its own reporting of the paper's involvement.

As for Miller, I do not think a reporter of her experience would really not "remember" her source for such an explosive detail as the first reference, in her own notes, to Valerie Wilson's maiden name (to me, the misspelling as "flame" indicates that this was the first reference she had to that name), nor to why her notes, from another meeting with Libby, use Valerie Wilson rather than Plame.

Frankly, I think that Miller is soon going to take a long sabbatical to work on her book, and the NYT editors and publishers need to take a long and hard look at how they allowed themselves to, through Miller's pre-Iraq war coverage, and the attempts by Libby to spin the official White House line about Cheney's non-involvement, to become largely uncritical shills for this White House.

The paper needs to do this as a service to itself, to its readers, and to the thousands of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi soldiers and civilians killed and maimed in this distraction from actually pursuing the people who really attacked the U.S. -- the terrorists.