Monday, July 31, 2006

Republican Trickery

The minimum wage increase tacked onto the estate tax repeal turns out to not be a minimum wage increase at all, but rather a minimum wage cut for some employees in States like Oregon.
...progressives should be trumpeting that the bill will actually CUT wages for workers in a number of states by preempting state minimum wage laws for tipped workers. (Link and provision courtesy of the National Restaurant Association) So Paris Hilton's tax cut is going to be coming directly out of the lower wages for tipped workers in California and a number of others states.
The federal minimum wage is explicit that states and local governments are free to create higher minimum wage rates than the federal level for any and all groups of workers. While the federal minimum wage allows employers to pay a lower wage to tipped workers, a number of states have eliminated this so-called tip credit on the assumption that consumers pay tips not to subsidize low-wage employers but to actually reward service.

But the new House bill would preempt those state laws and actually cut wages for tipped workers in states like California, Oregon and Washington where tipped workers would see a lower minimum wage rate imposed compared to what they were guaranteed under state law.

This would be an unprecedented move by the federal government to preempt state minimum wage laws. Not only would it hurt tipped workers, it would set a precedent for conservatives to try to preempt all minimum wage rates higher than the federal level.

If that sounds too paranoid, consider this. after a number of cities began enacting city minimum wage laws, about a dozen southern and western states, including Florida, Louisiana and Georgia, passed legislation banning local governments from enforcing local minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage level. Backed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, these "minimum wage repeal acts" are the model for the national GOP going further and preempting state minimum wage laws, just as they recently preempted state class action laws and just as they have preemped state health care and environmental regulation.

Progressives are actually winning a range of battles at the state level and conservatives are increasingly looking to use the federal government to shut those progressive state laws down. This new minimum wage cut for tipped workers is just one more shot in that attack.

Very tricky, it also turns out that this came straight out of the right wing lobby for the National Restaurant Association which routinely opposes all expansions of workers rights.

Saturday, July 29, 2006


Scary stuff in Seattle.
On the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, a 31-year-old man claiming he was upset about "what was going on in Israel" opened fire at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle building, killing one person and wounding five women, one of them pregnant.
The gunman, brandishing a large-caliber semi-automatic pistol, forced his way through the security door at the federation, on Third Avenue downtown, after an employee had punched in her security code.

"He said, 'I am a Muslim American, angry at Israel,' before opening fire on everyone," said Marla Meislin-Dietrich, a database coordinator for the center. "He was randomly shooting at everyone."

The other day I talked about the way opposition to Israeli policies has been twisted to where one can't express any kind of opposition without being labeled as "anti-Israel" and by extention anti-semetic. Lunatics like this guy help to keep that perception strong when they engage in acts of violence against unarmed civilians who have nothing to do with Israeli policy formation. At least they have arrested this nut.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Republicans Bring Back Estate Tax Repeal

House Republicans have brought back the estate tax repeal with a new catch to try to get a few more Democrats to vote for it. After the estate tax repeal failed in the Senate, House Republicans are now trying it again but this time adding in a minimum wage increase to con some Democrats into voting for it.

Democrats who oppose the estate tax repeal should have some patience. They can afford to shoot down this measure and bring a minimum wage increase to the floor on their own terms when they win the House back in November. This is just bait, and it should not be taken. I'm actually wondering if it will peel off as many Republican votes from members who oppose a minimum wage increase but support the estate tax repeal as it will Democrats who support a minimum wage increase but oppose the estate tax repeal.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

On the Israel/Lebanon Crisis

The standard line of thought in the United States while discussing this situation has been the idea that Israel had to respond as they did because Lebanon was not properly containing Hezbollah. I take you back to April of last year, when Syria left Lebanon. This event was much praised in the United States, as it was taken (wrongly) as a sign that because we invaded Iraq the neo-conservative goal of spreading democracy through the middle east was working. No one seemed then to wonder whether the weak state of Lebanon would be able to control Hezbollah, but it was an obvious result, Lebanon lacked resources predictably after years of Syrian control of their country, if anyone had bothered to consider the situation it would have been a bright idea to lend support to Lebanon that would be necessary for them to crack down on Hezbollah militias in the south of their countries. But we sat there and praised the Syrian exit and talked about how wonderful it was that democracy was spreading instead of doing anything to ensure the stability of Lebanon.

Now in response to the kidnappings of several Israeli troops by Hezbollah Israel has decided to bomb the living crap out of Lebanon. Many of the strikes by Israel have been civilian targets, such as their fist one, the Beirut Airport. Foreign nationals have been hit by Israeli airstrikes, and all European countries as well as the United States and Canada have evacuated Lebanon. The casualties have overwhelmingly been in Lebanon, with Israel sustaining about 1/10 the number of casualties as Lebanon.

Israel and its defenders justify this by saying that Lebanon wasn't doing enough to crack down on Hezbollah. By doing so they conflate a sovereign country with a guerrilla force inside that country. Essentially this amounts to Israel bombing the crap out of the country of Lebanon, which serves as essentially a third party to the conflict as they take the brunt of Israeli strikes aimed at Hezbollah. All the while the United States refuses to get involved in any substantive way while we cheerlead the Israeli aggression.

And throughout it all, not a word in the mainstream discussion in the United States of what I have just stated. Not a word of opposition to what Israel is doing, as though speaking ill of Israel is tantamount to support for Hezbollah.

Democrats and Republicans alike seem to be lining up to see who can be more gung ho in support of everything Israel does. On Meet the Press, Newt Gingrich anounced that we were in the early stages of World War Three and his counterpart Joe Biden disagreed with the specific but was almost equally gung ho in his defense of everything Israel does. Olmert is making Sharon look like a pacifist and no one in the American press or political establishment is willing to offer so much as a word of criticism towards Israel. It even goes to the point where Israeli soldiers are not referred to as "soldiers" or "troops" but "defense forces" setting the frame of the debate completely arround the idea of Israel "defending itself" for the rest of the discussion.

This goes deeper than just a conflation of opposition to Israeli tactics with support for Hezbollah but goes down to conflating opposition to Israeli tactics with opposition to Israel itself. Once someone offers a word of criticism they immediately are labeled "anti-Israel" to the point where in order to offer criticism one almost has to begin the discussion with "I support Israel, but..." That should not have to be a prerequisite for criticizing Israel's policies, and for that reason I refuse to do it. It even goes beyond that, once one is labeled as "anti-Israel", that is in turn conflated with anti-semitism. So by the transitive property of politics, opposition to Israeli policies is treated as equal to anti-semitism. So I think Israel is pursuing a harmful policy, and suddenly I'm Hitler. That, my friends, is not a formula for honest open discourse, it creates an environment where everyone is afraid to criticize anything Israel does for fear of being labeled anti-semetic, and that is precisely what is happening right now.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

John Edwards

There is an excellent diary at DailyKos about John Edwards, the essential argument is that Edwards has not been active lately because he doesn't have to be rather than because he's not energetic enough. Furthermore, the primary schedule favors Edwards, we know he can run well in Iowa after the recent poll showing him ahead, and South Carolina where he did well in 2004, and 25% of Nevada's voting population belongs to a union household. Very promising schedule for Edwards. I really like both Edwards and Feingold, the two of them are a cut above the rest of the potential candidates in 2008.

Too Depressing

The world's recent events have been so depressing that I periodically ceased to blog, I'll begin to write here again after having contemplated the state of the world privately since my last post. What a mess our world is in right now.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Specter: A sheep in wolf's clothing

Arlen Specter pretends to defend congressional oversight in regards to Bush's illegal domestic spying program, but all he really does is fold over for exactly what the Bush Administration wants. The fact of the matter is that the Specter deal (which wont pass Congress unchanged since nothing does), would make FISA totally obsolete and remove any requirements of oversight, why anyone would think this a reasonable "compromise" particularly with an administration that has blatantly broken the law, is beyond me.
Gonzales said the bill gives Bush the option of submitting the NSA program to the intelligence court, rather than requiring the review.

An administration official said Bush will submit to the review as long the bill is not changed in ways that he sees as undermining security. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deliberations are internal, said the bill would preserve the right of future presidents to skip that court review.

Give me a break, we go from required review of each case of wiretapping to optional review of the whole program? That's suddenly an adequate check on the executive branch? Give me a break, if anything the actions of the Bush Administration have warranted more, stricter review, not less review that is optional anyway. We've got an Administration that has blatantly violated FISA, and now we're going to react by changing the law to let them do anything they want? Quite frankly the disclosure of the Domestic Spying program by the New York Times in December should have lead to impeachment hearings, instead they seem to be leading to a total Congressional cave in to let the President do anything he damn well pleases.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, said Bush could submit the program to the court right now, if he wished. He called the potential legislation "an interesting bargain."

"He's saying, if you do every single thing I tell you to do, I'll do what I should have done anyway," Leahy said.

This is disgusting, and because of this Specter should be forever remembered as a Bush Adminstration lapdog.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Israel Bombs Lebanon

Wverything is going to hell in a handbasket.
Early this morning, Israeli warplanes fired missiles at the runways at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, shutting the airport and potentially stranding thousands of visitors at the peak of the tourism season. The Israeli military confirmed the strike, saying that the airport was a target because Hezbollah receives weapons shipments there. Israel also announced that its navy would blockade Lebanon’s ports to cut off such shipments.


Monday, July 10, 2006

Mexico: Irregularities

The Guardian reports that a huge number of ballots were officially recorded as having been left blank.
As we found in Florida in 2000, my investigations team on the ground in Mexico City this week found voters in poor neighbourhoods, the left's turf, complaining that their names were "disappeared" from the voter rolls. ChoicePoint can't know what use the Bush crew makes of its lists. But erased registrations require us to ask, before this vote is certified, was there a purge as there was in Florida?

Notably, ruling party operatives carried registration lists normally in the hands of elections officials only. (In Venezuela in 2004, during the special election to recall President Hugo Chavez, I saw his opponents consulting laptops with voter lists. Were these the purloined FBI files? The Chavez government suspects so but, victorious, won't press the case.)

There's more that the Mexico vote has in common with Florida besides the heat. The ruling party's hand-picked electoral commission counted a mere 402,000 votes more for their candidate, Felipe Calderón, over challenger Andrés Manuel López Obrador. That's noteworthy in light of the surprise showing of candidate Señor Blank-o (the 827,000 ballots supposedly left "blank").

The margin of the election was slighly over 200,000 votes, with 827,000 blank, if the packets were reopened for a hand recount, assuming that the 827,000 were not actually blank (why would someone bother submitting a ballot if they weren't going to fill it out?*), Obrador would need to win by roughly 500,000 to 300,000 in order to essentially tie up the race assuming that nothing else changed after the packets were re-opened. The irregularities may be nothing more than simple mechanical errors which happen, but there is sufficient reason to believe that the result might change with the votes recounted by hand.

*All offices were separated and on different ballots, the ballots were not like US ballots in which one votes for President, Senate, House... on a different line on the same ballot, they were actually different ballots. Furthermore we already know that in some areas in the South more votes were recorded for lesser offices than for the Presidency suggesting that either votes were thrown out in these areas, not counted, or counted as "blank" ballots.

**I don't know why the Guardian reports the margin as 400,000, this is just not true, the margin was about 240,000 votes. Perhaps they got their information before the 500,000 ballots not counted until Wednesday were counted which dropped Calderon's lead from slightly over 1% to 0.64%, then the retabulation dropped Calderon's lead to 0.59%, so the Guardian must have had old information regarding Calderon's margin, with the margin less than they think, their case is even stronger.

Graham Fears for Republican Future

Robert Novak looked to fiercely conservative South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham for an analysis of Republican hopes in 2006 and beyond. The argument is that things look pretty bleak for the Republicans yet few in the Party seem to recognize it.
"It's like we think we'll get by with pars on the last two holes when we really need birdies," Graham told me. He referred to the 2006 mid-term election, where he sees a real danger of Republicans losing control of both houses in Congress for the first time since the 1992 elections. Such foreboding reflects Graham's fear that demographic changes in America will extend beyond this year's elections and return the Republican Party to minority status.

Graham's remedy to avert short-term and long-term disaster stresses Republicans returning to fiscal integrity by seriously cutting spending -- a goal to which his GOP colleagues give lip service. He also advocates policies on entitlements, the environment and immigration that he feels are necessary for the party's health but find little GOP support on Capitol Hill and only mixed backing at the White House.

It is not merely lack of enthusiasm for Graham's agenda. Since talking to the senator, I have tested his theories with a dozen prominent Republicans. All feel the tide has turned for them in the last month. Each of them says the American voter will stick with the Republicans after taking a good look at Democrats, a mind-set that often is a precursor of defeat. To follow Graham's metaphor, perhaps they are not reading the real leader board of American politics.

The Republican Party has followed the wishes of the Religious Right and corporate America so closely in recent years that moving where Graham seems to suggest is nearly impossible in the short term, which may be why he has been met with such hostility on these ideas. I think there is an essential rightness to the argument here, that in order to remain competitive in the future the Republican Party must become more Burkian and be a Party primarily of fiscal restraint. As to the environment, that is something that the GOP should be getting behind outside of any possible electoral gains just because something has to be done about fundamental issues like global warming in which strong action must be taken immediately. I don't know if there is an electoral gain for Republicans to start taking those issues seriously, but there is a social necessity to do something that Republicans should back just on its merits alone. But they have tied themselves to closely to large corporations that they cannot bring themselves to help do what must be done and instead deny that global warming is a problem, or even exist and do so at great expense to America and the world. As much as I personally dislike Graham, he understands something fundamental that most of the Republicans simply do not get. America is changing and in the long term the Republicans will be left behind if they don't change their course.
The rising Hispanic-American population not only has transformed California into a Democratic state; freshman Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar looks like the new political face of Colorado, and Arizona is no longer safe for Kyl conservatives.

These demographic changes suggest an end to the gradual political realignment that began in the late '60s and produced consistent electoral success for Republicans. As a South Carolinian, Graham must worry about his party suffering the fate of Democrats in the 1920s. Democrats elected only 20 House members and won no presidential electoral votes outside southern and border states in 1920.

Accordingly, Graham is one conservative Republican who supports President Bush on immigration. He and Bush advisers agree that the immigration hard line may alienate the Hispanic vote with disastrous consequences. But Graham has little backing at the White House for a softened party line on global warming and entitlement reform that includes greater contributions by upper-income Americans.

The xenophobic approach that the Republican Party has taken to immigration will indeed alienate hispanic voters. Census data suggest that hispanics will be the major force in American politics in the coming years as that demographic sees dramatic population growth.

I have argued that hispanics are a fundamentally liberal group by and large, indicated by the rise of the political left throughout Latin America, and Obrador's apparent near win recently in Mexico in spite of some disasterous strategic mistakes by the Obrador campaign that evaporated his lead (not participating in the first debate comes to mind). Recently some inroads have been made by Republicans to cut off hispanic support for Democrats, but those inroads will be lost by the Party that has essentially declared war on immigrants from the South.

Republicans are not the only ones misreading the political landscape however, Democrats are equally oblivious. One popular argument has been that Democrats need a Southern strategy to bite into the "values vote" that dominates the South. But population gains accross the South will come largely from increasing hispanic and black populations which we know to vote heavily Democratic, so the political culture of Georgia or Tennessee or Alabama will be fundamentally different than it is today. Furthermore the region making real gains in population is the Southwest and West where climbs in the hispanic population will be very dramatic. Democrats should be concerned with returning Texas to competitiveness as well as making Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada strong Democrat territory. The West Wing explored this theme showing that a Democrat could win even today before population shifts by sweeping the Southwest. Of course West Wing is fictional, but Santos didn't even have to win California, and the States mentioned above are definately trending Democratic, if Texas becomes competitive once more on the backs of an energized progressive hispanic population the American demographic will look inhospitable for the current Republican Party in 20 years.

For this reason the Democrats should make fighting the xenophobic immigration plans of the Republican Party a top priority, for it enhances this western strategy and sends the clear signal that the Republicans have nothing to offer hispanic voters, but Democrats do.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Federal Judge Says Republicans Cannot Replace DeLay

A Federal Judge has ruled that Tom DeLay is the only person who can run for the TX-22 Congressional seat as the Republican nominee in November. If this stands it is a huge blow to the Republicans forcing them to either essentially concede the seat to Lampson or have DeLay run for an office that he has already resigned from. If this stands Lampson's chances of pulling out a win just got a lot better.

My apologies if this is old news, I just found it a moment ago.

Mexico: Its Getting Ugly

In a sense I think there is some promise to the street marches that have begun over the past few days in that they could help to force a recount of the votes, which should be seen as essential to any election as close as this one is. However, if Lopez Obrador and his supporters do not accept the result of the election after a recount as has been suggested they wont (assuming there is one and that it is open and fair), then the civil unrest they will cause would be far worse than the results of a Calderon Presidency.

It was a bad year for the PRI which ruled Mexico for more than 70 years, as the news cycle this year consistently burned that party, they lost support in Oaxaca thanks to a heavy handed response to striking teachers, new evidence emerged that they had assassinated political opponents in the 1960s. The PRI could recover, overcoming its history of corruption and authoritarian tactics to become a respectable centrist party. But if they do not, the PRD has many votes still to gain from former PRI voters. The PRD should continue to build up its support running strong candidates for all offices over the next 6 years and running another strong candidate again in 6 years, perhaps even Obrador again. Obrador lost this election by refusing to participate in the first debate, which allowed the "Obrador will wreck the economy" frame to dominate the public discussion, it was a huge tactical error. In spite of the loss that Obrador has likely endured, this election was a victory for the political left in Mexico, the PRD gained legislative seats and is a legitimate opposition party, potentially even a majority party if they can align themselves with the PRI (which they were once part of) in the legislature. The fact that we were seriously talking about a legitimately liberal President in Mexico is a huge step forward, if the PRD continues to build in this way I have nothing but hope for Mexico's future, for this was a victory of political legitimacy for Mexico's poor overshadowed in her history only by the Revolution.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Calderon Wins Recount

With 99.52% of the votes recounted Calderon leads by 0.45% over Lopez Obrador, a margin of 150,000 votes. Obrador has anounced his intention to challenge the results in court. There certainly were some irregularities in this election, reports of ballot boxes being thrown out, as well as polling stations not having enough ballots for people who wanted to vote. I have heard nothing of any other ballots that remain uncounted, unless there are uncounted ballots to go back and add to the count the only place Obrador's challenges could go would be for a hand recount of each individual ballot, but that evidently would violate Mexican law.
Luis Carlos Ugalde, head of the Federal Electoral Institute, which is tabulating the results, said Wednesday that he was unsure how long the count would take. The process is complicatedby a law that allows for the contents of the vote packets to be opened only if the tally sheets, or the packages, appear to have been tampered with or damaged. Such packets are then sliced open and a vote-by-vote count is conducted.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Obrador Leads in Recount

In the recount of votes Lopez Obrador currently leads 35.95% to 35.26% with 94.32% of the ballots counted. Other good places to get updates, El Universal, La Reforma, and La Jornada.

Monday, July 03, 2006

More on Mexico

Something very significant has happened in this election, regardless of who comes out the winner in this affair after the recount. The PRI is officially an opposition 3rd Party, they won fewer seats than either the PAN or the PRD in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, and their candidate for President Roberto Madrazo did not win a single State. Something unheard of in Mexican politics over the last 76 years.
Meanwhile, Roberto Madrazo, the PRI candidate, did not win in a single state, garnering 21 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial returns. Mr. Madrazo's performance marked a new low for the party that once ruled Mexico with only token opposition until Mr. Fox's historic victory in 2000.

Even the PRI stronghold of Oaxaca went for Obrador, as the NPR report I referenced two days ago suggested would happen. A very clear regional breakdown on that vote, the Northern States all went for Calderon, and the Southern States all went for Obrador, this is clearly a regional divide between Northern Mexicans and Southern Mexicans choosing radically different directions for their Country.

Mexico Election Update

With Almost all votes in Obrador still trails by just barely over 1%. I'm not sure what's next, I'm guessing that they're going to recount them given that the IFE has stated that they will not declare a winner until Wednesday.

Gap Still Shrinking

Obrador still playing catch up, now down by less than 1%. 75% of votes have been counted, the current numbers:

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Obrador Gaining

A new update from Univision has Obrador gaining ground now with 61.5% of votes counted. Obrador now trails by only 1.4%, a tight tally seems to be tightening even more. The totals:

I should reiterate that no official result is expected until Wednesday. Go Obrador!

Obrador Down with 1/2 of Votes Counted

The Mexican Presidential election is officially too close to call. Univision reports the following results:
46% reporting

Election Day in Mexico

It is election day in Mexico, I'm currently lacking information, I will post here as information becomes available. Here's all I've got right now.
Each one of these sites can only have 500 ballots. One analyst commented that at 8:00 am he tried to go an vote and there was already a line of approximatly 500 people. I was at the Federal Electoral Institute this morning and the representative of the PAN at the IFE German Martinez commmented that even at the special ballot site at the IFE they were having problems... In Guerrero a PRD rep was killed, however, it is being reported that the murder was not associated with the elections. In Oaxaca, striking teachers took over a police station where ballots were being kept... Anyway.. Generally speaking it has been a peaceful election day in Mexico

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Oaxaca Could Become Key Battleground Tomorrow

With the Presidential election tomorrow in Mexico, the race currently polling at a dead heat could turn on the State of Oaxaca, a traditional Institutional Revolutionary Party stronghold. NPR this morning discussed how a recent action by police in that State in response to a teachers protest could swing it towards the Democratic Revolutionary Party and play a key role in the election tomorrow.
Police violently stormed the square on the orders of the Governor Luisias Ruiz using teargas and helicopters... dozens were wounded. Instead of disbanding the teachers ahead of the July 2nd election, the confrontation entrenched them more, and now they're calling for the Governor's resignation, loudly.

The story went on to explain that because of the confrontation people in Oaxaca will not support either the PRI or PAN, the two ruling parties and will instead turn towards the PRD and Mr. Obrador.

The teacher pay issue that sparked the protest has been an ongoing event for some time, when I was in Oaxaca in January I witnessed a protest on this very issue. The teachers swinging left towards Obrador could make a huge difference tomorrow. If you know any Mexicans tell them to vote for Obrador tomorrow, he's going to need all the help he can get.