In the latest dispatch from the seismically unstable mansion known as the California Republican Party, former aides of Rep. Garry Miller accuse him of turning them into butlers. The aides say Miller required them to help his children with schoolwork, search for rock concert tickets and send flowers to family members and friends. "There was never a clear line in the office between what was congressional business and what was just business," one former aide told the LA Times. "The expectation was that you would do both." Miller is also accused of new self-dealing involving real estate (a longstanding theme), which I won't bore you with here, except to say that he paid himself $75,000 in rent for the use his real estate development firm as a campaign office, which, it appears, wasn't used for much campaigning.
The theme of gilded excess at the California GOP was dusted off last year when former California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham admitted he'd conspired to take bribes that included a Rolls Royce, a yacht and a 19th Century Louis Philippe commode. Of course, Miller has built on the notion of GOP graft with all the embellishment of a Fisherman's Wharf caricature artist. Voters showed they care about such things by ousting Rep. Richard Pombo in November for, among other things, his associations with Jack Abramoff, but the carnage Out West left plenty of other sketchy legislators standing. See MJ's November article, Washington's Shadiest Shoo-ins, for a shout-out to SoCal's indomitable Jerry Lewis.
One might hope that Republicans, being the perpetual underdogs in California, would at least serve as the party of conscience, as advocates of balanced budgets and moral probity. At times they've been known to fill this role, such as last year, for instance, when former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley was implicated in a money laundering scandal and a Republican appointee replaced him (for a few months at least, until he lost this year's election to a Democrat). That the Democrats rebounded from the scandal so quickly underscores how much the Republican voice of conscience has lost its credibility, or been replaced by pillow whispers with the powerful.
Newly elected Democrat Chris Carney of Pennsylvania is the only member of Congress with a background doing pre-war intelligence on Iraq. A New York Timesprofile today looks at whether he'll aide congressional investigations into the flawed intel that led to war. Not likely:
Mr. Carney is not enthusiastic about the possibility of a new Congressional investigation of prewar intelligence, which he said would be a major distraction. For Mr. Carney, there is an element of been there, done that to looking back at the now-familiar cast of prewar characters, including Mr. Feith; Mr. Tenet; Paul D. Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary; and Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi opposition leader who was a prewar favorite of many in the Defense Department to take the reins of a future Iraqi government.
"Let's win the war first, then maybe look at how we got into it," Mr. Carney said. "The more energy spent on answering Congressional investigations, the less time will be spent on winning the war."
The Times story makes passing mention of Republican efforts during the campaign to smear Carney for his intelligence work, which, ironically, had been part of a pre-war intel review led by high ranking members of the GOP (a group first covered by Mother Jones). Also, for an early rundown on the swift boating of Carney, and his response at the time, see my MJ story, Swift Boating the Fighting Dems.
Just in time to face down Washington's new regulatory mavens, the two major Wall Street lobbying groups, representing securities and bonds traders, have merged this year into a behemoth. Reports the Washington Post:
The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, with a budget of $80 million, is the main mouthpiece for the financial services industry, the biggest corporate player in national politics. Only organized labor donates more to candidates for federal offices.
When added together, SIFMA's political action committees gave more than $1 million during the 2006 election season, putting the organization in the top 25 of all PACs. Its combined $8.5 million in spending on federal lobbying last year placed it in the top 30.
The association will need all that and more. It's already at the center of some of the most heated, high-stakes battles on Capitol Hill. It has begun to question the regulatory requirements under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and wants to extend the temporary, multibillion-dollar tax breaks for profits garnered from stocks and bonds.
Don't expect Democrats to shoot this new K-Street Kong off the ramparts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's top campaign donors? Securities and investment companies. Her supporters in Silicon Valley have argued Sarbanes-Oxley creates too many roadblocks to taking companies public. The Speaker supports reforming the law. Look for proposed administrative changes to Sarbanes by the SEC in a week or two.
Does this mean the Christmas carol is now an anti-war chant?
DENVER (AP) -- A homeowners association in southwestern Colorado has threatened to fine a resident $25 a day until she removes a Christmas wreath with a peace sign that some say is an anti-Iraq war protest or a symbol of Satan.
Some residents who have complained have children serving in Iraq, said Bob Kearns, president of the Loma Linda Homeowners Association in Pagosa Springs. He said some residents have also believed it was a symbol of Satan. Three or four residents complained, he said.
''Somebody could put up signs that say drop bombs on Iraq. If you let one go up you have to let them all go up,'' he said in a telephone interview Sunday.
The Service Employees International Union yesterday won a tentative agreement for higher pay and health insurance for its new members in Houston, who have been locked in an acrimonious, monthlong strike at the city's largest cleaning companies. It's a major victory for the SEIU, which set out last year to organize part-time, often-undocumented Hispanic workers in a region of the country that hasn't typically embraced organized labor. Houston is likely to become a model for the union's efforts in other Southern cities: Beyond using the same quiet educational efforts, noisy protests and hardball negotiating, organizers are sure to be on the lookout for another Ercilia Sandoval.
Rosy-cheeked, clad in a wig and leopard print headband, and suffering from laryngitis that had reduced her voice to a whisper, Sandoval met with me in her small apartment last month, sitting down at a table beneath a print of the Last Supper. She told a story of leaving three of her children in San Miguel, El Salvador ten years ago to pursue an illusory American Dream. "I promised them that, at most, I would be gone a year," she whispered, "and then I would bring them here." To this day she hasn't seen them. Instead, she has struggled to make ends meet laboring for a tortilla factory, then an Episcopal church, and finally a major janitorial contractor working in downtown skyscrapersone of five companies targeted by the SEIU. Preoccupied with sending money to her family, she might have never involved herself in the union's struggle if she hadn't decided she'd nothing to lose.
Last September Sandoval began feeling worn out on the job. She scrubbed bathroom fixtures through headaches and fevers, emptied trash cans with sore arms and a tight back. Lacking health insurance, she couldn't afford to see a doctor. Nearly a year passed before she forked over $200 for a consultation. A mammogram confirmed her worst fears: she suffered from an advanced stage of breast cancer. Yet hospitals in Houston wouldn't treat her because she was uninsured. She waited two months to be approved for state disability coverage. In June, Doctors finally began chemotherapy treatments but say she probably has only a few months to live.
Just as her cancer was spreading, she met an SEIU organizer at her Episcopal church who was looking for janitors. The organizer found in Sandoval someone looking to harness her outrage and despair. "Some of the workers were afraid," Sandoval says, "but often I said, 'Afraid of what? We are not going to lose a good job. We are not going to lose a good salary-- we don't have benefits, we don't have anything." As Sandoval's health deteriorated, her resolve strengthened. In September, she accepted a spot alongside the SEIU top brass at the negotiating table. Her job: to convince the cleaning companies to provide her and 5,300 fellow janitors with health insurance in the union's first contract.
On the day of the negotiations, Sandoval was the last person to talk. She feared she'd be just another person asking for something. She stepped into the bathroom to steel her nerves. Returning to the conference room, she asked the executives and lawyers if they were looking at her. "And I looked them all in their eyes," she said. "I assured myself that they were all looking at me. And I took off my wig."
Sandoval saw a group of men who were shocked. "Some were crying. Others sat with their mouths open. Other ones just couldn't even blink their eyes.
"And that," she said, "is what I wanted."
Sandoval's display was only the beginning of a struggle this fall that led to the strike, solidarity protests around the country, and ads featuring her bald visage. But it was clearly a defining moment for the movement and Sandoval's own sense of transcendence. "I'm not just fighting for me," she told me. "I'm fighting for everyone. Because why not rise up? Why not try?"