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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

January 28, 2005 PERMALINK
Operation Destroy Good Government In Full Effect
(posted Jan. 28 2:30 AM ET)

Back in ‘02, Bush dared to veto a Homeland Security Dept. that didn’t give him what he called “managerial flexibility.”

At the time, LiberalOasis argued that Bush was willing to go so far because, in large part, he was following the Heritage Foundation’s call to gut the professional civil service and politicize the entire federal workforce.

And now, Operation Destroy Good Government is in high gear. From the W. Post:

The Bush administration unveiled a new personnel system for the Department of Homeland Security [Wednesday] that will dramatically change the way workers are paid, promoted, deployed and disciplined -- and soon the White House will ask Congress to grant all federal agencies similar authority to rewrite civil service rules governing their employees

John Gage, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees has it right, telling the W. Post, "They are encouraging a management of coercion and intimidation.”

Furthermore, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, noted the greatly weaken appeals process for employees, saying, “These regulations were designed to ensure there is no outside judgment of what goes on within the department.”

Washington Monthly’s Political Animal wrongly knocked Gage for his comment:

If John Gage thinks that basing pay increases partly on the results of an annual review constitutes "a management of coercion and intimidation," public support for his union will evaporate.

To most people, paying for performance sounds pretty reasonable.

But Gage was making a broader point about the entire proposal when he said that. He was not just talking about merit pay. (He talked more about merit pay to GovExec.com.)

And the “coercion” point is absolutely crucial.

It’s the reason why this issue is not just a union-management dispute, but something that affects the legitimacy and effectiveness of the entire federal government.

As LiberalOasis said last week, we’ve already seen “a management of coercion and intimidation” in action: with the CIA, with the Medicare actuaries, with the Social Security Administration.

And that has corrupted the civil service’s ability to provide credible info instead of politicized info.

Now, the Bushies just want to make such coercion and intimidation easier, by having Congress repeal key civil service protections.

In 2002, the much-derided Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle led the Dems, standing for good government and union rights, refusing to rubber-stamp Bush’s proposal, trying to pass a decent bill.

While Bush gave veto threats and the GOP filibustered, it was Daschle and the Dems that were painted as obstructionists.

And it was Sen. Max Cleland that paid the political price for standing on principle.

(LiberalOasis had contended that it was Bush taking the political risk. Wrong.)

Broken Dems then voted for Bush’s version soon after the ’02 election.

Because of that experience, the Dems’ gut reaction may be to shy away from taking the issue on.

But that would be a big mistake.

The political situations aren’t parallel. The drumbeat for war was far stronger then, and the issue only centered on Homeland Security.

Today, we’re talking about civil service protections throughout the government. Not as easy to attack someone’s patriotism for that.

There would be attacks of course. Most likely, Dems would be accused of fealty to a special interest, the unions.

Dems shouldn’t be afraid of standing with unions, but at the same time, you don’t want to only base your argument on what would be good for a single constituency.

You want to talk about what’s good for the public.

Effective, credible government is good for the public. A politicized workforce is not.

Having said that, Dems should also realize that this issue is a very wonky, very inside baseball issue, not likely to dominate the news.

That only makes it easier to go to mat on it. Read: filibuster.

This is a high priority issue to filibuster, because the damage the GOP would do the federal workforce would take decades to fix.

At the same time, a filibuster would not use up much political capital (for those of you that believe that Dems can only filibuster very sparingly). Most of the public wouldn’t even know the filibuster was going on.

Some Dems are already speaking out. They should be encouraged.

QUICK HIT

Help Rep. Watt

Yesterday on CNN, Rep. Mel Watt, the new chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, inexplicably echoed Dubya’s misinformation about Social Security and African-Americans:

…the current Social Security system does have African-Americans subsidizing the system because we die sooner than white Americans do, and so we pay into the system, we don't get back out of it.

I think -- I hope that's what [House Ways and Means Chair] Bill Thomas was trying to get at in his…comments earlier.

Now, Watt is not in the Fainthearted Faction.

In the interview, he also said privatization would be bad for African-Americans.

But it is not good for any Democrat to be assisting conservatives, intentionally or unintentionally, in their efforts to undermine support for Social Security by spreading misinformation.

Let’s assume that Rep. Watt is merely misinformed himself, and simply needs the correct info.

Contact Rep. Watt, and send him one or more of these links, showing that when you factor in survivor benefits, disability benefits, and the progressivity that’s built-in to the system, there is almost no difference in what blacks and whites get back.

January 27, 2005 PERMALINK
Dems Stand Against Torture
(posted Jan. 27 2 AM ET)

We did it.

Despite the conventional wisdom that Alberto Gonzales would get bipartisan support, the grassroots demanded a crystal clear “No” on torture.

And the Senate Dems on the Judiciary Cmte got the message. Zero defections.

(And Senators, didn’t it feel good to vote your values? It can be very addictive you know.)

The job isn’t done until the nomination goes to the floor. We all should contact our home state Senators and ask for a “No” vote (and thank those on Judiciary).

But after such a strong display at the committee level, and with the Senate Dem leadership organizing an anti-Gonzales vote, we’re in very, very good shape.

The larger question now is how well will Senate Dems handle the politics outside of the Senate chamber, how well will they frame the vote.

The best way is not simply call this a vote against torture, but to argue why we vote against torture, beyond the basic moral reasons,

That winking at torture cripples our ability to spread freedom and liberty, the heart of Bush’s alleged doctrine.

By disrespecting human rights, America risks being perceived as a hypocrite, not an example.

And without credibility, we cannot lead.

If a message like that is drilled repeatedly during the floor debate (as opposed to letting Senators just wing it, which would lead to scattered messaging), Dems are more likely to shape news coverage and draw clear distinctions between the parties.

Republicans should be worried about being painted as the pro-torture party. But if they are, they’re not letting on.

Newsweek reported yesterday:

Republicans argue privately that the politics of the Gonzales nomination is still solidly on their side…

…the issue the Democrats and human-rights groups are bashing him hardest over—the mistreatment and even alleged torture of suspected terrorists—has shown no traction with the voters.

“So they’re going to oppose the first Hispanic attorney general because he’s too mean to terrorists?” cracked one Senate GOP aide about the Gonzales vote.

First off, the message for Dems suggested above is the perfect retort for this sort of attack.

They reflexively accuse Dems of being soft, Dems respond that being complicit with torture sets back the war on terror.

Dems could even go a step further and call the GOP on contradicting Bush’s own rhetoric.

Second, this notion that standing against torture as having “no traction with voters” is bunk.

As noted here (and on CNN) earlier, polls show clear majorities squarely against torture, even of terrorists.

So Dems should not let the GOP head games psyche them out.

Dems go into this floor debate with a very strong hand. They just need to play it well.

January 26, 2005 PERMALINK
Baby Steps
(posted Jan. 26 2 AM ET)
(minor edit Jan. 26 12 PM ET)

A fascinating report from the LA Times today about the Condi Rice nomination:

…Senate staffers said at least 10 and as many as 20 senators were expected to vote against [Rice].

If so, Rice would become the first secretary of State not to win unanimous confirmation since 1981, when six senators voted against [Al] Haig.

But Senate Democratic leaders did not attempt to rally their ranks to vote against Rice.

Instead, the Democratic leadership was reserving its political capital for a stand against...Alberto R. Gonzales.

"Frankly, there is much more angst over Gonzales, and there comes a practical choice: Having been (branded) an obstructionist party for so long, do you lead with Rice ... or do you take on a candidate who is more problematic?" one staffer said.

This is fascinating on a number of levels:

1. This is the first report that Senate Dems are organizing an effort to oppose Gonzales.

2. By reading this article, you might think that Senate Dems were always planning an organized effort to stop Gonzales.

When in fact, it wasn’t that long ago when leading Dems were talking up Gonzales.

And it was even more recent when critical Dems were couching their comments with the prediction that Gonzales would still be easily confirmed.

The turnaround in attitude is a message to the grassroots about the influence they can have.

And it’s also a message to congresspeople to quit gratuitous prognosticating. You’re not paid to be psychics. Just make your damn arguments and let the chips fall.

3. Readers may be annoyed that not enough Dems will vote “No” on Rice, and that no effort was made to “rally” the caucus.

But keep this in mind,

There was no effort by outside groups to lay some groundwork and gin up concern about Rice, like there was with Gonzales.

There probably wouldn’t be any “No” votes if Sens. Barbara Boxer and John Kerry didn’t stick their necks out.

And that move struck enough of a chord that one of the most conservative members of the party, Sen. Evan Bayh, was compelled to declare his opposition to Rice.

From the W. Post:

[Bayh,] a possible presidential candidate in 2008 who voted to authorize the war, said Rice "has been a principal architect of policy errors that have tragically undermined our prospects for success" in Iraq.

"The list of errors is lengthy and profound, and unfortunately many could have been avoided if Dr. Rice and others had only listened to the counsel" of lawmakers from both parties.

"This is no ordinary incompetence," Bayh said. "Men and women are dying as a result of these mistakes."

(That definitely raised some eyebrows in the Beltway. If more than 20 Senators vote “No,” it’ll be because of Bayh.)

Remember, it didn’t even occur to these guys a month ago that it was politically wise to oppose Gonzales.

So consider this late realization from some -- that opposing Condi also makes sense -- another baby step in the Dems’ political maturation process.

Having said all that, a test of the Dems’ mettle will be how they react to the GOP pushback.

On Fox News yesterday, Charles Krauthammer called the Dems “politically very stupid,” claiming that opposing Rice would alienate African-Americans (who knew Krauthammer was so in tune with the black community?), comments that Fred Barnes echoed.

And Drudge is flagging a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraising email, written by Boxer, that discusses why she “took a stand” on Condi, the implication being that it somehow cheapens the stand.

The goal of such pushback is to psyche out the Dems, and make them think twice about continuing an aggressive posture.

It is not to offer helpful political advice.

Note that last month on Fox, Barnes discussed the Dems’ Social Security strategy to argue that there is no crisis:

I'll tell you why this is exactly the wrong response…because…the American people believe that Social Security needs to be fixed, that the program is financially unstable…

…If Democrats are going to block Bush, they're going to have to come up with a better argument.

Yet they seem to be blocking Bush just fine without following Barnes’ “advice.”

Beltway Dems should recognize that pushback from right-wingers is a sign that they’re nervous.

It should not frighten you. It should embolden you.

January 25, 2005 PERMALINK
A Democratic "Contract With America"?
(posted Jan. 25 12:30 AM ET)
(minor edit Jan. 25 9 AM ET)

The Senate Dems (as did the GOPers) announced their top 10 legislative priorities yesterday, under the banner “The American Promise.”

And in doing so, they planted the seeds of a strategy to revitalize the party, and just maybe, to surprise some folks in the 2006 elections.

The package, outlined on a brand new democrats.gov website, can potentially be turned into a “Contract With America” style document, which would allow Dems across the country to run on a unifying alternative vision to right-wing rule.

Having said that, keep in mind that this is not yet a party-wide “Contract With America.”

For one thing, the House Dems have not yet signed on.

For another, the package is designed more as a legislative guide than a campaign guide.

Some may think it’s not ambitious enough, or that it’s not snappy enough.

But the elements are there.

Now, the question should be asked, is it a good idea for Dems to propose something like a “Contract With America”?

It was a radical notion for Newt Gingrich to do it in 1994.

By “nationalizing” the election, committing all GOP House candidates to 10-point platform, the strategy flew in the face of the “all politics is local” adage.

But it seemingly worked, so now everyone thinks it was the greatest idea in the world. Was it?

Not in the way most people think it was.

As The New Republic wrote in 1996:

Most Republicans acknowledged privately that the Contract with America did not play an important role in the election itself.

Even a month after the election and after much ballyhoo about the GOP agenda, a New York Times poll found that 73 percent of voters had never heard of it.

That shouldn’t be all that surprising. Newt unveiled the Contract only six weeks before the election, not a lot of time to explain an agenda to tens of millions of people.

The GOP’s stymieing of Bill Clinton’s health care plan had much more to do with the 1994 takeover than the Contract.

Others have noted that only a third of the Contract actually passed intact, and that the hard-charging attempt to implement the whole thing backfired in the ’96 elections.

Nevertheless, the Contract helped the GOP define itself, and stand for something, when it lost some of its purpose following the end of the Cold War.

And when the GOP faced setbacks, it did not fall into a debilitating shame spiral of doubt and soul-searching.

Instead, it simply pressed on, Contract principles in hand. (After one setback too many, Newt was thrown overboard, but the party’s principles did not markedly change.)

Now, the Democrats are the party in need of definition and clear principles.

They appear to understand as much, and are taking steps in the right direction by proposing “The American Promise.”

And they have a lot more than six weeks to sell their vision to the voters.

QUICK HIT

Gonzales Watch

The NY Times reports:

Mr. Gonzales, whose nomination could be put to a vote in the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, is...encountering sharper-than-expected opposition.

A number of committee Democrats - including Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Dianne Feinstein of California and Charles E. Schumer of New York - say they are leaning against voting for him or rethinking their support.

As a result, Mr. Gonzales could face "no" votes from six or more of the committee's eight Democrats.

The pressure is working. Keep it up. Contact the Dem members of the Judiciary Committee.

January 24, 2005 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Jan. 24 12:30 AM ET)

Biden Leans "No" On Gonzales

The most notable news from the Sunday shows is that on ABC’s This Week, Sen. Joe Biden said his “inclination” is to vote against the nomination of Alberto Gonzales.

That’s the second Dem member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, after Ted Kennedy, to publicly announce their leaning against confirmation.

But Biden’s announcement is much more important than Kennedy’s.

Since Biden is considered more centrist than Kennedy, Biden’s move makes it easier for other “deferential” Dems to stand up to Bush.

Biden may not publicly acknowledge it, but it is doubtful that he would entertain a “No” vote absent pressure from the grassroots.

But while we now have some momentum, we don’t have any “No” votes in hand.

If the pressure doesn’t continue, it is far less likely that the Dems will vote their values -- making it clear which party believes torture harms our nation’s efforts to spread freedom, and which party doesn’t.

The Gonzales vote in the Judiciary Committee is expected to be Wednesday. Don’t let up until then. Contact the Dem members of the Judiciary Committee.

Negroponte Tries To Lower The Bar

Our Ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, was dispatched to all five talk shows yesterday.

And on each show, his first answer included a version of the following:

I think we expect a good turnout in the northern part of the country and in the south.

There may be a couple of problematic provinces in the center.

But in at least 14 out of the 18 governments in Iraq, I think we can expect a very strong turnout.

Translation: violence and low turnout will happen in the middle of the country (those 4 “problematic provinces” make up about 40% of the population).

That’s called “expectations management.”

Clearly, the Bushies are worried that a messy election day in Iraq will splatter on them.

So they need to get ahead of the mess and signal that they fully expect significant problems.

That way, when the election day problems hit, they can plausibly say they are not surprised.

And then, try to get credit for holding any sort of election, arguing that it is still a political advancement for Iraq.

That spin effort may work on the US media in the immediate aftermath of the election.

But it is meaningless in the long-term.

Sen. John McCain bottom-lined it on CBS’ Face The Nation:

…the key to this election is to change the environment which exists today -- which is insurgents vs. U.S. troops and the United States of America -- to insurgents vs. an elected government of Iraq.

Now if we can change that atmosphere so that the Iraqi people believe these insurgents are trying to destroy the government they elected, then we're going to win.

But if it's a continued battle between insurgents and American troops, then we're not going to win.

Now McCain (unlike most) is optimistic that the election will change the dynamic.

But the Iraqi people have the last word whether they view the election as legitimate and unifying.

If they don’t buy in, the insurgency will continue to grow in strength, and Iraq will descend further into chaos.

Negroponte can try to set the bar of success as low as he wants, to try to get the American public to cut the Administration more slack.

But after the election, if the insurgency rages on, the excuses from the Bushies will grow increasingly thin.

Bill Thomas Goes Way Off-Message

Talking Points Memo described House Ways and Means Cmte Chair Bill Thomas’s performance on NBC’s Meet The Press as “incoherent and off-message”.

That’s about right.

Thomas was booked following comments he made earlier in the week that were seen as undercutting Dubya on Social Security.

Thomas tried to dismiss that interpretation, while trying to push his larger point: that we should discuss Bush’s privatization plan at the same time as other crazy ideas for Social Security, taxes and health-care.

For example, Thomas is raising the idea of saving money on Social Security by cutting benefits for women (“gender-adjusting” in his words) because they live longer:

RUSSERT: So if someone is a woman and they live longer, they would get less per year?

THOMAS: It's not that you would do it. It's something that you need to look at.

What Thomas apparently isn’t looking at is the fact that women rely on Social Security more than men, and have higher rates of elderly poverty, because their lifetime earnings and pensions are less than men’s.

Here’s another political winner floated by Thomas:

…we need to look at the way seniors are allowed to use money in retirement…

Someone hasn’t gotten the “ownership society” memo.

In fact, that’s the larger point. No one seems to be getting any memos.

The fact that Thomas is tossing out crazy ideas shows how fractured the GOP is on Social Security, how ineffectual its message discipline memos have become.

As Bush fails at leading his party, his congressional foot soldiers freelance more and muddy his message.

It’s almost sad to watch. Almost.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Baghdad Burning: "We have a saying ... in Iraq, ... 'If you see death, you settle for a fever.' We've given up on democracy, security and even electricity. Just bring back the water."

Center For American Progress: Rev. Debra W. Haffner discusses the "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision"

Salon interviews Sen. Boxer: "Many of my colleagues have different rules when it comes to voting on Cabinet members. I set a bar that's very high because I think these positions are very powerful, and others set them lower because they think the most important thing is that the president gets who he wants. I take "advice and consent" very seriously, perhaps more seriously than others. That's their choice." (via President Boxer)

Tapped: "The tentative consensus among Democrats I’ve talked to is that Frist is bluffing -- that he still doesn’t have 50 votes ready to support [the 'nuclear option']"

Feministing: "[Lawrence] Summers’ mom is top economist, has baffling ability to overcome 'innate' math barrier"

AmericaBlog: Avowed lesbian touches Bible

Angry Bear: "Cheney seems to be admitting that Bush-Cheney has brought back the Imperial Presidency of Nixon-Agnew"

The American Street: Bush inaugural party budget = $40M -- Proposed cut in port security grants = $50M

Blue Lemur: "The Democratic Senate leadership expects to reach an agreement with Senate Republicans for a nine-hour debate on the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice next Tuesday, [said] a senior Democratic Senate source"

Oliver Willis: "On Fox News Channel, you're free to speak about the coronation of George W... unless you've got the nerve to criticize Dear Leader. Then you get a Fox News Meltdown"

Brilliant At Breakfast rips Biden and Obama for voting for Condi

Nathan Newman: "Bush wants to keep expanding the realm of untaxed investment income until nothing is left to tax but the wages of the workers"

BlogPAC unveils a new pro-Social Security grassroots activist site, There Is No Crisis

Salon: "34 Republican scandals worthy of further attention"

Informed Comment: "The potential for trouble for the United States if the Bush administration acts aggressively toward Iran is enormous. It could turn the Iraqi Shiites and the Afghan Hazarahs decisively against Washington. An Iran in chaos ... would be three or four times the problem ... that Iraq is."

Echidne of the Snakes: Why There Are So Few Women in the Hard Sciences? Part I

The SEA-EAT Blog has information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer efforts for victims of the SE Asian tsunami

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Patriotist.com

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