Political MoJo

Hillary meets the anti-war left: booing at progressive conference

| Wed Jun. 14, 2006 12:12 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton is supposed to have some of the most dedicated factions of the Democratic Party in her corner, but there's a new interest group competing for power in addition to minorities, the teachers' unions and feminist activists: the anti-war left.

And by the often tepid and sometimes hostile response she received at the "Take Back America" conference Tuesday -- including booing -- she has a long ways to go to win over liberals outraged over the war. ( Some lefties even speculated that she welcomed the outrage as her "Sister Souljah" moment to build up her credibility with the general public.) The line that drew that strongest negative response was this effort to create the appearance of centrism in her position on Iraq: "I do not think it is a smart strategy either for the president to continue with his open-ended commitment, which I think does not put enough pressure on the new Iraqi government, nor do I think it is smart strategy to set a date certain. I do not agree that that is in the best interesets of our troops or our country."

That spurred either mostly silence or booing, some of it led by members of the direct action group Code Pink.

In contrast, Senator John Kerry, offering yet another apology for supporting the war and offering a fiery attack on Bush's failed war policies, won strong applause and some favorable online commentary.

But no new politician-hero of the left has emerged at the conference, even as some progressives hungered for the return of the supposedly new and improved Al Gore, riding a crest of (perhaps deluded) hope in his candidacy from a left that is, as Neil Young sings, "Looking for a Leader." On the final day of the conference, Senators Barack Obama and Russ Feingold, one of the left's favorite candidates, address the crowd.

See and hear for yourself what some of the politicians and activists had to offer by going to this complete list of speakers (scroll down to Tuesday for Clinton, Kerry, Pelosi and others), with some videos and transcripts provided.

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Faster, Pussycat! Drill! Drill!

| Tue Jun. 13, 2006 6:54 PM EDT

A while back, Mother Jones' Osha Gray Davidson exposed the environmental m.o. of the Bush administration in a piece focusing on the under-the-radar nature of policymaking in the age of Rove:

"What makes this administration different is the fact that it is filled with anti-regulatory zealots deep into its rank and file...The result is an administration uniquely effective at implementing its ambitious pro-industry agenda-with a minimum of public notice."

Now comes the LA Times with a terrific story illustrating just how this works. In a nutshell, way back when, the Clinton administration came up with a rule that would have forced oil drillers to do more to keep gunk out of the groundwater. The drillers were not happy, and in 2002--when the EPA was still working on implementing the restrictions--a Texas oilman who happens to have been the mayor of Midland and also happened to have once run Reagan's Texas campaign, wrote to his friend Karl Rove to "openly express doubt as to the merit of electing Republicans when we wind up with this type of stupidity."

You know the rest; the rule is history, thanks in part to the folks over at the Office of Management and Budget, who made sure those EPA bureaucrats toed the line. Write the LAT's Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten,

Environmentalists pointed to the Rove correspondence as evidence that the Bush White House, more than others, has mixed politics with policy decisions that are traditionally left to scientists and career regulators.

Ya think?

No to Murtha

| Tue Jun. 13, 2006 6:53 PM EDT

What? Kos wants John Murtha to knock Nancy Pelosi from the Speaker spot should the Democrats retake the House this fall (or, at the very least, Steny Hoyer from the whip position). Now I think all this certainty about the Democrats winning sounds terribly premature, and I'm no fan of either Pelosi or Hoyer, but come on.

A quick glance at Murtha's history reveals that he has the most conservative voting record of any Democrat representing a district won by John Kerry in 2004. So he can't cite his constituents as an excuse for his pro-life and anti-environment positions. Murtha's outspoken against the war in Iraq, to be sure, but I can't imagine it's tough to find other, actually liberal Democrats with similar views that could be put up on a pedestal, if that's what the "netroots" wants. Nor, I think, is the longstanding Democratic fetishization of military vets a terribly good thing on the merits, and getting behind a Murtha insurgent campaign would only further that trend. The netroots: our great "progressive" hope? Really, now.

Next villain, please

| Tue Jun. 13, 2006 6:13 PM EDT

Riverbend, the girl blogger on the Tigris, has a bitter (how would you not be bitter in Baghdad?) take on Zarqawi:

"To hell with Zarqawi (or Zayrkawi as Bush calls him). He was an American creation -- he came along with them -- they don't need him anymore, apparently. His influence was greatly exaggerated but he was the justification for every single family they killed through military strikes and troops. It was WMD at first, then it was Saddam, then it was Zarqawi. Who will it be now?"

Indeed, whom, or what, will we blame now? Killing Zarqawi was probably the only thing the administration could have done in Iraq that was guaranteed to generate positive spin--and the spin won't last. Someone, somewhere, must be thinking about how to follow this act between now and November.

Taking the High Road

| Tue Jun. 13, 2006 5:50 PM EDT

In the middle of Nathan Newman's great primer on unions and why they're important, there's an interesting discussion about the various "high road" and "low road" strategies corporations often adopt, and what that means for organized labor:

The commonest metaphor for how unions strengthen the economy is that they force employers on to the "high road" of production-- concentrating on innovation rather than sweating workers, promoting skilled work versus unskilled low-wage labor, and encouraging investment in long-term productivity rather than short-term profits.

Especially in a world of global competition, "low road" companies will inevitably lose to firms in developing nations which can always undercut them on price, so forcing companies into long-term investments in "high road" production is the only way US economic growth will sustain itself in the longer term. I'd suggest a good example here—New York's garment industry, which, in the postwar era, focused on lowering production costs by colluding with corrupt unions and the Mafia to slash wages and set up sweatshops. But now the industry, whose main selling point is its low prices, faces competition from overseas, where wages are even lower. By contrast, Northern Italy's garment industry—where workers get paid two to three times what they do in New York—has long competed on quality and innovation, and faces somewhat less overseas pressure (although there's still a fair bit). So I think there's something to Nathan's point.

The post also brings to mind an interesting paper by Roberto Fernandez, who looked at what happened when a food reprocessing plant in the Midwest when it "retooled" and upgraded its production equipment. Not surprisingly, the new technology increased wage inequality within the firm: those workers who could do the new, more complicated jobs requiring greater education saw a leap in pay, and those who didn't were left behind. It's evidence that technological change can and probably does lead to greater wage inequality in the United States (although I doubt it's the whole story).

But. There's a "but" here. One noteworthy thing about the plant was that it was unionized, and thanks to that, the plant owners agreed not to fire any workers prior to retooling but instead to retrain them for their new jobs (in this, they were helped by state programs to pay for retraining). Although this didn't eliminate the adverse impact of the retooling on inequality (especially on racial and gender inequality), it greatly reduced it. More to the point, it worked out well for the firm too, since "workers fretting for their jobs or wages can undo many of the benefits expected from new technology." So score one for unions.

SCOTUS and DNA

| Tue Jun. 13, 2006 3:32 PM EDT

Iocaste explains what yesterday's Supreme Court decision on DNA evidence was all about. For anyone, like me, unfamiliar with the "nasty, brutish, and long" world of habeas corpus, it's very much worth reading.

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Suicide Prisoner Had Been Scheduled for Release

| Tue Jun. 13, 2006 3:13 PM EDT

This is a wretched story: "One of the three detainees who committed suicide at Guantánamo Bay was due to be released but had not been told, the man's lawyer said today." It's not hard to see why he was driven to suicide here:

"His despair was great enough and in his ignorance he went and killed himself," Mr Denbeaux said, adding that many other Guantánamo detainees felt similarly hopeless.

"These people are told they'll be 50 by the time they get out, that they have no hope of getting out. They've been denied a hearing, they have no chance to be released," he said.That's just a tad more likely than Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr.'s claim that he was waging "an act of asymmetrical warfare" by killing himself, no? Previous studies have estimated that over 55 percent of Guantanamo detainees "are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies," and the vast majority were captured not by the U.S., but by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance at a time when the United States was offering very large rewards for any "suspected enemies."

Liberal Americans more willing to give post-Katrina aid to white victims

| Tue Jun. 13, 2006 12:00 PM EDT

The Washington Post conducted a study to determine how racial cues presented in Katrina news coverage influenced citizens' response to the hurricane's aftermath. These racial cues were found in both thematic stories that covered the hurricane in general, and in episodic stories that focused on particular individuals.

Participants in the study were given a thematic story that covered the extent of the flooding and the destruction of parts of New Orleans, and one that focused on lawlessness and looting. Participants were also given episodic stories about victims of various races. About 2,300 people completed the study. Of this group, "the sample was skewed heavily" in the direction of Democrats and liberals: Only 12% identified as Republicans. 86% were critical of Bush's handling of Katrina, and 84% had earned at least a bachelor's degree.

The details of the study may be viewed here. Here are the major findings:

People were willing to give assistance to a white victim, on average, for about 12 months, and they were willing to give the same amount of aid to an African American person for about 11 months. A darker-skinned black victim was selected to receive $100 a month less, over a shorter period of time, than a light-skinned white person. Participants who read an article on looting were the least generous toward African Americans.

"We suspect that this group would score at or very near the top of most measures of support for civil rights and racial equality," Post authors said of the study's participants. "The fact that this group awarded lower levels of hurricane assistance after reading about looting or after encountering an African-American family displaced by the hurricane is testimony to the persistent and primordial power of racial imagery in American life."

Head in the Sand

| Mon Jun. 12, 2006 7:36 PM EDT

Best way to ignore global warming? Cut funding for satellite programs "designed to give scientists critical information on the earth's changing climate and environment." It sure is good to be president…

MORE: "The quality and credibility of government research are being jeopardized by inconsistent policies for communicating scientific findings to the public, says an independent group of scientists that advises Congress and the White House."

Americans want change, but can progressives make the sale?

| Mon Jun. 12, 2006 6:04 PM EDT

At the opening of today's Take Back America conference, hosted by the Campaign for America's Future, progressive leaders, pollsters, Robert Redford and even a bland Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid, all argued that the conservative era was over and Americans are ready for change. Campaign for America Future's co-director Robert Borsage and pollster Stan Greenberg released a new poll and strategy manual, a roadmap for progressives (okay, liberals) showing that on issues ranging from using international alliances to build our security to regulating business abuses, Americans favor the progressive solutions over the conservative ones."We were asked with this poll, to find out if the country has reached a tipping point. The answer is yes. The conservative world view is in the deepest trouble at its very core philosophical underpinnings."

But the press releases and web pages don't highlight Greenberg's skepticism about the failure so far of the Democrats to convince the public that they offer a better way. Even though the Republican agenda was now "rubble," progressives haven't won over the public or yet reached them effectively. That's the obstacle this conference can help overcome. Check this space for more details and updates.