Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Making a Difference

While walking along the beach, a man saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up, and throwing it into the ocean. As he came closer, he saw thousands of starfish the tide had thrown onto the beach. Unable to return to the ocean during the low tide, the starfish were dying. He observed a young man picking up the starfish one by one and throwing them back into the water. After watching the seemingly futile effort, the observer said, "There must be thousands of starfish on this beach. It would be impossible for you to get all of them. There are simply too many. You can't possibly save enough to make a difference." The young man smiled as he continued to pick up another starfish and toss it back into the ocean. "It made a difference to that one," he replied.
--Author Unknown


"There is a terrible forest fire. All the animals are fleeing the conflagration except Hummingbird, who is flying back and forth, scooping up little slivers of water from a spring and dumping them on the flames. 'What do you think you're doing, stupid little bird?' the other animals ask derisively, and Hummingbird says, 'I'm doing what I can"
--Wangari Maathai, Nobel Prize-winning founder of Kenya's Greenbelt Movement


(Thanks to Terry Clark for these, and so may other great quotes!)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Do the Right Thing

I know there are those (including Democracy for America) who are calling for the Congress to use reconciliation to pass a health care bill, but I find Paul Krugman's argument (see below) even more compelling, that the House should just pass the Senate's version of the bill, flaws and all, and then they can set to work improving on it, including with the use of reconciliation, where that's appropriate.

Here's what you can do now, to make this happen.:

Call toll free to any Congressional member 1-800-828-0498
Send an email to your congress member here:

and tell them to pass the Senate's Health Choices Act.


January 22, 2010

Do the Right Thing


A message to House Democrats: This is your moment of truth. You can do the right thing and pass the Senate health care bill. Or you can look for an easy way out, make excuses and fail the test of history.

Tuesday’s Republican victory in the Massachusetts special election means that Democrats can’t send a modified health care bill back to the Senate. That’s a shame because the bill that would have emerged from House-Senate negotiations would have been better than the bill the Senate has already passed. But the Senate bill is much, much better than nothing. And all that has to happen to make it law is for the House to pass the same bill, and send it to President Obama’s desk.

Right now, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, says that she doesn’t have the votes to pass the Senate bill. But there is no good alternative.

Some are urging Democrats to scale back their proposals in the hope of gaining Republican support. But anyone who thinks that would work must have spent the past year living on another planet.

The fact is that the Senate bill is a centrist document, which moderate Republicans should find entirely acceptable. In fact, it’s very similar to the plan Mitt Romney introduced in Massachusetts just a few years ago. Yet it has faced lock-step opposition from the G.O.P., which is determined to prevent Democrats from achieving any successes. Why would this change now that Republicans think they’re on a roll?

Alternatively, some call for breaking the health care plan into pieces so that the Senate can vote the popular pieces into law. But anyone who thinks that would work hasn’t paid attention to the actual policy issues.

Think of health care reform as being like a three-legged stool. You would, rightly, ridicule anyone who proposed saving money by leaving off one or two of the legs. Well, those who propose doing only the popular pieces of health care reform deserve the same kind of ridicule. Reform won’t work unless all the essential pieces are in place.

Suppose, for example, that Congress took the advice of those who want to ban insurance discrimination on the basis of medical history, and stopped there. What would happen next? The answer, as any health care economist will tell you, is that if Congress didn’t simultaneously require that healthy people buy insurance, there would be a “death spiral”: healthier Americans would choose not to buy insurance, leading to high premiums for those who remain, driving out more people, and so on.

And if Congress tried to avoid the death spiral by requiring that healthy Americans buy insurance, it would have to offer financial aid to lower-income families to make that insurance affordable — aid at least as generous as that in the Senate bill. There just isn’t any way to do reform on a smaller scale.

So reaching out to Republicans won’t work, and neither will trying to pass only the crowd-pleasing pieces of reform. What about the suggestion that Democrats use reconciliation — the Senate procedure for finalizing budget legislation, which bypasses the filibuster — to enact health reform?

That’s a real option, which may become necessary (and could be used to improve the Senate bill after the fact). But reconciliation, which is basically limited to matters of taxing and spending, probably can’t be used to enact many important aspects of reform. In fact, it’s not even clear if it could be used to ban discrimination based on medical history.

Finally, some Democrats want to just give up on the whole thing.

That would be an act of utter political folly. It wouldn’t protect Democrats from charges that they voted for “socialist” health care — remember, both houses of Congress have already passed reform. All it would do is solidify the public perception of Democrats as hapless and ineffectual.

And anyway, politics is supposed to be about achieving something more than your own re-election. America desperately needs health care reform; it would be a betrayal of trust if Democrats fold simply because they hope (wrongly) that this would slightly reduce their losses in the midterm elections.

Now, part of Democrats’ problem since Tuesday’s special election has been that they have been waiting in vain for leadership from the White House, where Mr. Obama has conspicuously failed to rise to the occasion.

But members of Congress, who were sent to Washington to serve the public, don’t have the right to hide behind the president’s passivity.

Bear in mind that the horrors of health insurance — outrageous premiums, coverage denied to those who need it most and dropped when you actually get sick — will get only worse if reform fails, and insurance companies know that they’re off the hook. And voters will blame politicians who, when they had a chance to do something, made excuses instead.

Ladies and gentlemen, the nation is waiting. Stop whining, and do what needs to be done.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


For anyone who said there was no difference between Gore and Bush, or Kerry and Bush, or who thinks Obama is just the same as a Republican would be, here in is the difference, that is, the make up of the Supreme Court. We will be living under the Bush regime for as long as his appointments are in the majority.

(Take action here: )


Manchurian Candidates:
Supreme Court allows China and others unlimited spending in US elections

By Greg Palast
Thursday, January 21, 2010

In today's Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court ruled that corporations should be treated the same as "natural persons", i.e. humans. Well, in that case, expect the Supreme Court to next rule that Wal-Mart can run for President.

The ruling, which junks federal laws that now bar corporations from stuffing campaign coffers, will not, as progressives fear, cause an avalanche of corporate cash into politics. Sadly, that's already happened: we have been snowed under by tens of millions of dollars given through corporate PACs and "bundling" of individual contributions from corporate pay-rollers.

The Court's decision is far, far more dangerous to U.S. democracy. Think: Manchurian candidates.

I'm losing sleep over the millions - or billions - of dollars that could flood into our elections from ARAMCO, the Saudi Oil corporation's U.S. unit; or from the maker of "New Order" fashions, the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Or from Bin Laden Construction corporation. Or Bin Laden Destruction Corporation.

Right now, corporations can give loads of loot through PACs. While this money stinks (Barack Obama took none of it), anyone can go through a PAC's federal disclosure filing and see the name of every individual who put money into it. And every contributor must be a citizen of the USA.

But under today's Supreme Court ruling that corporations can support candidates without limit, there is nothing that stops, say, a Delaware-incorporated handmaiden of the Burmese junta from picking a Congressman or two with a cache of loot masked by a corporate alias.

Candidate Barack Obama was one sharp speaker, but he would not have been heard, and certainly would not have won, without the astonishing outpouring of donations from two million Americans. It was an unprecedented uprising-by-PayPal, overwhelming the old fat-cat sources of funding.

Well, kiss that small-donor revolution goodbye. Under the Court's new rules, progressive list serves won't stand a chance against the resources of new "citizens" such as CNOOC, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Maybe UBS (United Bank of Switzerland), which faces U.S. criminal prosecution and a billion-dollar fine for fraud, might be tempted to invest in a few Senate seats. As would XYZ Corporation, whose owners remain hidden by "street names."

George Bush's former Solicitor General Ted Olson argued the case to the court on behalf of Citizens United, a corporate front that funded an attack on Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primary. Olson's wife died on September 11, 2001 on the hijacked airliner that hit the Pentagon. Maybe it was a bit crude of me, but I contacted Olson's office to ask how much "Al Qaeda, Inc." should be allowed to donate to support the election of his local congressman.

Olson has not responded.

The danger of foreign loot loading into U.S. campaigns, not much noted in the media chat about the Citizens case, was the first concern raised by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who asked about opening the door to "mega-corporations" owned by foreign governments. Olson offered Ginsburg a fudge, that Congress might be able to prohibit foreign corporations from making donations, though Olson made clear he thought any such restriction a bad idea.

Tara Malloy, attorney with the Campaign Legal Center of Washington D.C. says corporations will now have more rights than people. Only United States citizens may donate or influence campaigns, but a foreign government can, veiled behind a corporate treasury, dump money into ballot battles.

Malloy also noted that under the law today, human-people, as opposed to corporate-people, may only give $2,300 to a presidential campaign. But hedge fund billionaires, for example, who typically operate through dozens of corporate vessels, may now give unlimited sums through each of these "unnatural" creatures.

And once the Taliban incorporates in Delaware, they could ante up for the best democracy money can buy.

In July, the Chinese government, in preparation for President Obama's visit, held diplomatic discussions in which they skirted issues of human rights and Tibet. Notably, the Chinese, who hold a $2 trillion mortgage on our Treasury, raised concerns about the cost of Obama's health care reform bill. Would our nervous Chinese landlords have an interest in buying the White House for an opponent of government spending such as Gov. Palin? Ya betcha!

The potential for foreign infiltration of what remains of our democracy is an adjunct of the fact that the source and control money from corporate treasuries (unlike registered PACs), is necessarily hidden. Who the heck are the real stockholders? Or as Butch asked Sundance, "Who are these guys?"
We'll never know.

Hidden money funding, whether foreign or domestic, is the new venom that the Court has injected into the system by its expansive decision in Citizens United.

We've been there. The 1994 election brought Newt Gingrich to power in a GOP takeover of the Congress funded by a very strange source.

Congressional investigators found that in crucial swing races, Democrats had fallen victim to a flood of last-minute attack ads funded by a group called, "Coalition for Our Children's Future." The $25 million that paid for those ads came, not from concerned parents, but from a corporation called "Triad Inc."

Evidence suggests Triad Inc. was the front for the ultra-right-wing billionaire Koch Brothers and their private petroleum company, Koch Industries. Had the corporate connection been proven, the Kochs and their corporation could have faced indictment under federal election law. As of today, such money-poisoned politicking has become legit.

So it's not just un-Americans we need to fear but the Polluter-Americans, Pharma-mericans, Bank-Americans and Hedge-Americans that could manipulate campaigns while hidden behind corporate veils. And if so, our future elections, while nominally a contest between Republicans and Democrats, may in fact come down to a three-way battle between China, Saudi Arabia and Goldman Sachs.

Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." Palast investigated Triad Inc. for The Guardian (UK). View Palast's reports for BBC TV and Democracy Now! at

Take Action Now
Six bills have been filed in Congress to reverse this assault, the "Save Our Democracy" package. Sign this petition today, and show your support for saving our democracy:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Jim DeMint fears unions more then terrorist

By Megan Carpentier for Air America

Republican Senator Jim DeMint cares more about whether security screeners can unionize than whether bombs get on planes--or at least that's what his legislative record shows. Ben Smith of Politico reports that even as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was plotting his attack on the United States, DeMint was holding up the confirmation of the new head of the Transportation Security Administration to try to make sure the people who are in the front lines of securing America's skies can't unionize. For DeMint, the unionization of the people paid to keep terrorists and their weapons off planes is a greater threat to this nation than the terrorists plotting the deaths of Americans.

And DeMint's not the only one who thinks that the GOP's pet projects and their personal feelings are more important than the safety of individual Americans. Leading House Republicans including Minority Leader John Boehner, Michigan's own Pete Hoekstra, Indiana's Mike Pence, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Michelle Bachmann, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Darrell Issa of California, and Joe "You Lie!" Wilson voted against the appropriations bill that would have provided money to the Transportation Security Administration--including for increased bomb detection--out of a sense of pique over a procedural disagreement that they lost. I'm sure that seems quite important now.

So, will DeMint release his hold on the TSA nominee? His appearance on "Fox News Sunday" indicates that, to this say, he believes unionization to be as big a threat as ever and, until he isn't faced with the possibility of TSA screeners collectively bargaining for pay increases to keep this nation safe, he's not going to let any Obama nominee take the helm of the agency charged with keeping the skies safe. One must have one's priorities, after all.


If you think Jim Demint should stop playing politics with our safety, let him know:

Senator Jim DeMint
340 Russell
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-6121
Fax: 202-228-5143
or by email:

Here are some more articles on the blocked appointment:

Who's Running the TSA? No One, Thanks to Sen. Jim DeMint
Monday 28 December 2009
by: Margaret Talev | McClatchy Newspapers

Washington - An attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day would be all-consuming for the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration — if there were one.

The post remains vacant because Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has held up President Barack Obama's nominee in opposition to the prospect of TSA workers joining a labor union.

As al Qaida claimed responsibility Monday for the thwarted attack and President Barack Obama made a public statement about it, Democrats urged DeMint to drop his objection and allow quick confirmation of nominee Erroll Southers, a counterterrorism expert, when the Senate reconvenes in three weeks.

Obama, speaking from Hawaii, where he and his family are vacationing, told Americans, "We will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable."

Obama warned anyone plotting against the U.S. from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere that he doesn't intend to rest at simply strengthening defense.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee announced a hearing to be set for next month to examine how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian whose name was in a terrorism database, boarded a plane with explosive material.

"Why aren't airline passengers flying into the U.S. checked against the broadest terrorist database and why isn't whole body scanning technology that can detect explosives in wider use?" said committee chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent.

Meanwhile, Florida Republican Rep. John Mica said in a statement that the TSA had grown lost and bloated in bureaucracy and called for a review.

Mica also said Congress "must change the process by which TSA administrators serve. There has been no TSA administrator for nearly a year and the next one will be the fifth in eight years. Running a security agency with a revolving door is a recipe for failure."

Janet Napolitano, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, of which the TSA is part, made the rounds of morning television news programs on Monday, backing away from her initial stance that the system had worked in averting attack.

She told NBC that "our system did not work in this instance. No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is under way."

Southers, a former FBI special agent, is the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department assistant chief for homeland security and intelligence. He also is the associate director of the University of Southern California's Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, and he served as a deputy director of homeland security for California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Two Senate committees have given Southers their bipartisan blessing. An acting administrator is in place pending his confirmation.

Marshall McClain, the president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association, said that the Senate should have acted sooner to confirm Southers.

"Friday's terrorist attack on U.S. aviation makes it all the more imperative that there be no further delays in filling this crucial position," he said.

DeMint said in a statement that the attempted attack "is a perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA." He wants Southers to clarify his stand on unionizing the TSA, a shift that Democrats support.

Without collective bargaining, DeMint said, the TSA has "flexibility to make real-time decisions that allowed it to quickly improve security measures in response to this attempted attack."

If organized labor got involved, DeMint said, union bosses would have the power "to veto or delay future security improvements at our airports."

He urged Obama to "re-think" supporting unionizing the TSA "and put the interests of American travelers ahead of organized labor."

DeMint also wants a Senate floor debate and roll call votes, not confirmation by consent as the Democrats sought.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hadn't scheduled a floor vote for Southers before the Senate left town on Christmas Eve.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Monday that the majority leader is working with the White House to get Southers confirmed "as quickly as possible" and charged that "Republican obstructionism has prevented TSA from having the leadership in place that the organization deserves."

DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said that Obama didn't nominate Southers until September, and he charged that Reid "has been too busy trading earmarks for votes on health care" to deal with DeMint's concerns.

DeMint's objection creates a procedural hurdle that could take three days of debate and test votes to overcome, or could potentially be limited if Democrats offered DeMint a compromise. No one was taking conciliatory stance on Monday, however. Manley called DeMint's opposition "disgraceful."

(Lesley Clark contributed to this article.


December 29, 2009
DeMint defends blocking appointment of TSA chief
Posted: December 29th, 2009

Washington (CNN) - Elected officials on Capitol Hill are planning to hold hearings in January to investigate the safety gaps in airline security, made more pronounced since the attempted bombing over Detroit on Christmas Day.

But one important officeholder, the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, likely won't be present at any of the hearings - simply because his nomination is being blocked in the Senate.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, has been holding up the confirmation of Erroll Southers to be TSA chief, in an effort to prevent TSA employees from joining a labor union. Southers is a former FBI special agent and counterterrorism expert.

"The attempted terror attack in Detroit is a perfect example of why the Obama Administration should not unionize the TSA and allow our airline security decisions to be dictated by union bosses," DeMint said in a statement. "I hope this incident will lead the President to re-think this policy and put the interests of American travelers ahead of organized labor."

DeMint points to inefficiencies that will arise from the organizing of TSA employees, which he says may ultimately jeopardize the safety of Americans, such as the inability of rewarding exceptional screeners and firing those who are underperforming, the inflexibility to change protocols as emergency situations arise, and the need to require more collective bargaining as new safety mechanisms create new job descriptions.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid contends that Democrats "have been trying to confirm Mr. Southers" since his nomination was approved by two separate Senate committees.

"Sadly the Republican obstructionism of just one person, Senator Demint, prevented TSA from having the leadership in place that the organization deserves," said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.

But the largest organizer of transportation security officers, the American Federation of Government Employees, disagrees with DeMint's central claims against unionization – citing the unobstructed cooperation by union members of both the New York City police and fire departments in the aftermath of the September 11attacks.

"This is not an issue of security. There is no evidence that labor rights have any effect on transportation security officers," said Emily Ryan, spokeswoman for AFGE.

AFGE represents 12,000 of TSA's nearly 40,000 transportation security officers in many personnel matters, while also overseeing the broader collective bargaining of nearly 40,000 other government employees at the Department of Homeland Security, including the Coast Guard, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"This is a dedicated workforce who see their jobs as important to the security of the nation," said Ryan.

While Southers' nomination is being blocked, there is an acting administrator of the TSA running the agency.


White House defends nominee to head TSA, says delay is based on politics

HONOLULU (AP) — Acknowledging he has given inconsistent answers to Congress, President Barack Obama's pick to lead the Transportation Security Administration wrote to lawmakers to explain a reprimand he received for running background checks on his then-estranged wife's boyfriend two decades ago.

Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent whose nomination has been delayed by Republicans for unrelated concerns, sent a letter to senators in November to correct what he called a distortion of his record. As Democrats push for his speedy confirmation, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said he maintained faith in the nominee.

"I am distressed by the inconsistencies between my recollection and the contemporaneous documents, but I assure you that the mistake was inadvertent, and that I have at all times taken full responsibility for what I know to have been a grave error in judgment," he wrote in a letter to Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine.

"This incident was over 20 years ago, I was distraught and concerned about my young son, and never in my career since has there been any recurrence of this sort of conduct."

In an October affidavit for the Senate committee, he initially said he asked a San Diego police employee to run a background check on his then-estranged wife's boyfriend and was censured by his FBI superiors 20 years ago for what he said was an isolated instance.

But a day after the committee approved his nomination and sent it to the full Senate, he wrote to the senators and told them that he was incorrect, that he twice ran background checks himself.

In the letter correcting the record, Southers also said he downloaded law enforcement records and shared them. He said he forgot the incident in 1987 or 1988.

The letter was first reported by The Washington Post's Web site on Thursday. The letter, which was distributed to all members of the Homeland Security Committee and whose contents were verified to The Associated Press by a Democratic source, was dated Nov. 20.

Lieberman aide Leslie Phillips said the senator continues to support Southers.

"Twenty years ago, Mr. Southers committed a serious error in judgment," Phillips said. "He admitted that error and was disciplined for it. He went on to develop broad knowledge and build an excellent reputation in the areas of security and law enforcement. Mr. Southers was forthcoming about his past censure during his nomination process and about errors he made in recalling the details."

White House officials lined up behind Southers' nomination to head a Transportation Department agency that lacked a confirmed chief when a suspected terrorist failed to destroy a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.

"Southers has never tried to hide this incident and has expressed that these were errors he made in judgment that he deeply regretted and an error that he made in an account of events that happened over 20 years ago," said Nick Shapiro, a White House spokesman traveling with Obama on vacation in Hawaii.

"Southers' nomination has not been held up over this as he has been entrusted with significant and increasing responsibilities in the area of homeland security over the years since, but he is being held up by Sen. (Jim) DeMint over a political issue."

Southers' nomination has been delayed by DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, who said he feared TSA employees would join unions with Southers' support. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would force a vote on Southers by the full Senate in the new year, his spokesman said.

Southers' nomination secured the backing from former colleagues, including the Republican governor of California who nominated him as his No. 2 homeland security adviser and has known Southers for 30 years, back to his days as a Santa Monica police officer.

"Erroll brings vast homeland security experience at the federal, state and local levels, along with hands on airport security expertise," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "California is safer and better prepared because of his hard work and dedication. Erroll is a committed public servant and highly qualified for the role."

His former boss also praised Southers' character.

"He is a man of unquestioned integrity who, for the past 30 years, has dedicated his life to public service," wrote Ronald Iden, now chief security officer for the Walt Disney Co., who brought Southers on as his deputy at the California homeland security office in 2004. His was among the letters sent to the Senate in support of Southers' nomination.

Southers is the assistant chief of the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department. He previously taught at the University of Southern California, was a security consultant and a police officer.,0,4279848.story