PAGING FEDBLOG

Last week marked the first firing of a gay linguist for violating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during the Obama Presidency. At the same time Obama has disappointed many equality supporters by not rising to the defense of service members attacked for their sexual orientation, his appointment of John Berry as director of the Office of Personnel Management opened the door wider to greater equality for other LGBT employees of the federal government. As my friend Alyssa Rosenberg wrote at the time, Berry is not just the highest-level LGBT federal appointee in our history:

During his time at Interior, Berry worked to create a grievance procedure for employees who experience discrimination because of their sexual orientation, expand relocation benefits and counseling services to the domestic partners of employees, establish a liaison to gay and lesbian workers, and eliminate discriminatory provisions of the National Park Service’s law enforcement standards — including a ban on security clearances for gay and lesbian employees…Leonard Hirsch, international liaison at the Smithsonian Institution and president of Federal GLOBE, which represents gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender government employees, said in a January interview with Government Executive that he thought Berry would reverse OPM’s benefits policy.

I was reminded of both of these stories today after a co-worker brought up Ronald Reagan’s firing of the Air Traffic Controllers a quarter-century ago, a poignant reminder of the power a president’s handling of the federal workforce can exert for good or ill for workers across America, politically and culturally as well as economically. What could a progressive president do today with an equivalent impact?

Another question, as I contemplate the prospect of federal employees gaining domestic partnership benefits while service members continue being fired for having domestic partners: How are the rights and benefits of service members affected by those of the federal workforce? What about vice versa? (As Thomas Frank discusses in The Wrecking Crew, the disparity between public and private sector pay is a battleground in fights between liberals and conservatives over the role of government). Is there a relationship between the pensions of the military and civilian folks working for our government? While soldiers forfeit various rights of other Americans, I wonder how the conditions of the federal workforce affect their social and economic entitlements. And do organized federal employees speak out on these issues? Alyssa?

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ABRAMOFF PLEADS GUILTY

Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty today to charges of conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion under a plea bargain which limits him to ten years in prison. TPM and TPMCafe are Abramoff central today – check out the insight and speculation over there. As Josh observes:

This seems more like the beginning of a long process. They go after Ney first and continue their investigation, with Abramoff’s fate hanging in the balance, depending on how cooperative he chooses to be in providing information on coconspirators and sundry bad acts.

Abramoff is a bad, bad man (more on this from me here, here, and here) who did bad things not – as talking heads will tell you tomorrow – out of simple personal greed but as a devoted cog in a fundamentally corrupt corporate-GOP alliance which continues to wreak havoc on the country. So taking away his toys and using his testimony to go after his proven accomplices is a step – but only a step – in restoring honor and integrity to government.

Max Sawicky offered a sobering reminder that even if we’re facing a “Watergate moment,” Watergate itself, and the Democrats’ response, failed to stem the rising conservative tide in this country:

Watergate ushered in a generation of Democratic politicians with little in the way of ideological commitment other than honesty. Not long after Watergate we got the Reagan revolution. Honesty is not enough.

In response, Josh argued that

the country was in the midst of a broad shift toward the right. The scandals surrounding Watergate upended the political dynamic in the country but not the ideological one…the other side’s scandals can reshuffle the political cards temporarily. But it probably won’t be for that long if the scandals aren’t intrinsically connected to the bases of the afflicted party’s power or if their fall-out doesn’t catalyze a some deeper political and ideological reconfiguration in the country. Nixon’s dirty-tricksterism wasn’t at the heart of the rise of the American right in the late 20th century. So it continued on without him.

Thing is, whether you buy Max’s argument that the attention to Watergate ultimately hastened the rise of Reaganism or Josh’s that it merely failed to do more than slow it, I think the key point going forward is that it’s not just the facts on the ground that determine whether the scandals now inundating the White House are understood as “intrinsically connected to the bases of the afflicted party’s power.” Conservatives, with many in the media in tow, aren’t just trying to obscure the partisan nature of the current scandal crop – they’re trying to obscure the ideological nature of it. That’s because they recognize that this is about more than just the 2006 elections, important as they are – it’s about public understandings of what kind of people are fit to lead the country. So it’s on progressives to expose not just the partisan narrative behind these scandals but the ideological one as well:

Republicans take bribes from men like Jack Abramoff because they are the party of big business, and they represent wealthy elites pushing policies that hurt working families.

Republicans lie about what their intelligence says and how they get it because they need to justify immoral wars that make us less safe and obscure their attacks on our privacy that leave us less free.

Needless to say, these talking points will not win any points from Al From, Chris Matthews, or Joe Klein. But if it’s elections you care about, each of these men only gets one vote. And if it’s ideological realignment you care about, they may get even less.

Nathan’s had a series of good posts recently the kind of social security reform we should all be behind: taking on the regressive income cap on the payroll tax so that Bill Gates no longer can finish earning his payroll contribution for the year long before he wakes up on New Year’s Day.  Payroll taxes are a huge chunk of the tax contributions made by low income Americans in the post-Reagan era, and that a CEO making millions a year pays no more in absolute dollars than an employee making $90,000 is an outrage we should be hearing much more about from the Democratic side of the aisle.  It’s time they did, because it would be good for the country and as Nathan observes, it would be good politics as well:

The argument against talking about a deal is reasonable as short-term politics: when your opposition is stumbling, let them fall on their feet. But that does buy the idea that there’s nothing wrong with Social Security that needs fixing. No, there is no funding crisis, but the reality is that social security is fundamentally a regressive tax…This has been a problem for decades and progressives never took proactive action to improve the situation. Which opened the door for this rightwing attack in the first place…We know that House Republicans won’t agree to elminating the payroll tax cap, so there is no danger that proposing it as a reform will be met with any real negotiation on the issue. But we can slam the conservatives for supporting such a regressive policy.

And since progressives don’t believe there is a crisis, we don’t think there needs to be any new revenue raised TODAY, so any rise in revenue from eliminating the payroll tax cap should be matched with an overall cut in payroll tax rates paid by average workers– probably equivalent to saving them 2-3% of their income. Yes, Dems should be proposing a TAX CUT! You want wedge politics, you’ve got it. Many progressives have pushed for raising the cap to cut payroll taxes over the years (see here), and we should not abandon pushing the idea just as national attention is on social security. Progressives are not going to revive their national fortunes by only playing defense and defending the status quo. They need to play political jujitsu to take ideas put on the national agenda by Bush and use that debate as a vehicle for selling a vision of better, more progressive alternatives. Otherwise, we may win a few rearguard fights, but we won’t move forward in building broader support for the changes WE want.

And as Nathan further notes, eliminating the cap will keep social security solvent for most of a century, while gaining many more voters than it would lost. The polling bears it out as well…

Live-blogging the debate:

0:01 “A few” things is all you want to change about the PATRIOT ACT? Gonna be a long night…

0:03 Bush doesn’t see how you can lead this country if you change your mind…I think a lot of Americans are coming to realize you can’t lead the country so well if you never change your mind…

0:05 Touting that 75% of Al Qaeda leadership captured figure was probably more effective before Condi admitted we don’t know how many Al Qaeda leaders there are. That must be some amazing math…

0:06 “I wasn’t happy when we found out there wasn’t weapons there.” I understand, electorally, why that would be the case, but on some moral level, shouldn’t that be a relief?

0:09 No, he didn’t say “we must pass a global test before we use force” – he said we must pass one after we use force. Not much to tout from that first debate for you, is there?

0:10 Kerry appealing to what voters see about Iraq on TV is much more effective, somehow, than Bush appealing to what he sees about Iraq on TV…

0:13 Bush saying he’s more optimistic than Kerry about Iraq: Effective rhetoric. Bush saying Kerry’s copying his plan: Not so effective rhetoric.

0:15 “I’ve made some decisions that have caused people not to understand the great values of our country.” What? Whose fault would that be? I mean, is that just because the great values of our country are really hard to understand?

0:17 True, people love America who don’t like America’s decisions. That’s why so many of them are hoping Kerry wins. But doesn’t acknowledging the difference between criticism and America-hating remove one of your justifications for ignoring the criticism?

0:18 Calling Bush on broken promises from 2000: Key. Keep at it. And combining that with the firing dissenters angle is a key move too.

0:19 “The military’s job is to win the war. The President’s job is to win the peace.” Amen. Stick it to him for claiming criticizing the policy demoralizes the troops.

0:21 “…Iraq, where there wasn’t a threat,” is probably a poor turn of phrase after repeating that you agreed there was a threat.

0:22 Nuclear proliferation in Russia – hammer on this one. And commititng to halt any kind of development of any kind of weapon during a Presidential campaign is, to Kerry’s credit, a more courageous move than some Democratic Presidential nominees have made.

0:23 So now being a partner to the world, according to Bush, means renouncing nuclear aspirations. Someone should tell that to, I dunno, maybe President Bush…

0:26 “We need to be lighter and quicker and more facile.” More facile? Well, Bush is doing all he can for that goal…

0:27 OK, Kerry, we get that you’ve got a lot of military support…

0:28 Reagan’s foreign policy? Come on.

0:28 George Bush sure does love Poland. Which is heartwarming, especially now that they’ve said they’re backing out.

0:29 Anne is really excited to be at this debate. And not to have been attacked by terrorists.

0:30 “What was it, 1993 or so?” Way to make the Democratic Party’s job harder.

0:31 Slam him on saying tax cuts for the rich are more important than security for everyone. Clobber him. Please. Yes. Keep going.

0:32 “We’re doing everything we can to defend the homeland.” Really?

0:32 “If Iraq were to fail it would be a haven for terrorists.” As supposed to now, when it’s a, well, a…

0:34 “…the tax cut for the middle class.” First-class chutzpah. Did you just say you’re only concerned about working Americans being targeted by terrorists?

0:36 If Bush is for generic drugs, does that mean he’ll be reforming his AIDS policy?

0:37 “The President just didn’t level with you right here again.” Yes. “…into the pockets of the drug companies, right out of your pockets.” Yes.

0:38 Somehow, one President who managed to erode Medicare isn’t an impressive comparison to one Senator who didn’t completely positively transform the Medicare system.

0:41 Is there really polling out there that says that the only Doctors women are concerned about are OB/GYNs? Cause these two sure make it sound like it.

0:42 Did you just call him Senator Kennedy? Much like confusing Saddam and Osama – is this a screw-up or a subliminal message? Or maybe my reception just isn’t so good.

0:43 If “defensive medicine” means being extra careful to stay within regulations, maybe there are worse things Doctors could do.

0:44 Compassionate conservatives: Neither compassionate nor conservative. Disucss.

0:45 “We have a deficit.” How in touch of you. But wait – it’s all Bill Clinton and Osama 0bin Laden’s fault.

0:46 Bush citing today’s economic report? I come from the school of thought that calls that chutzpah (also the one that says if you want to increase demand by giving people money, it has to be the folks who are low-income enough to change consumption habits based on the extra money).

0:48 Kerry channels Robert Reich’s argument that real patriotism requires sacrifice. Or rather, he dances around it. So close…

0:50 Kerry calls Bush on the broken promise of $5 million jobs. And Enron. Nice.

0:51 Kerry’s long stare at the camera to promise never to raise taxes on folks making $199,000 a year, even if necessary to get healthcare for those making a hell of a lot less, is anything but comforting to me. And, I suspect, to a bunch of the low-income folks I registered this summer to vote.

0:54 Has Bush read the jobs report he’s citing?

0:55 Funny thing is, actually he did, by statistical fluke, get named the most liberal Senator because he missed so many votes.

0:56 Bush is actually citing the “Clear Skies Act” as if it helped, you know, clear skies. And now the “Healthy Forests Bill”! He should be slammed for this in, say, 30 seconds.

0:58 Instead, Kerry’s touting how many Republican/Clintonian things he voted for. Oy. Now he’s slamming him though. Somewhat.

0:59 “The halls of Europe”? Wonder what those look like.

1:01 “How can the US be competitive in manufacturing and maintain our standard of living?” “A reviewed, muscular, transnational labor movement.” Sorry – just fantasizing.

1:04 If anyone doubted that Bush’s plan is for the US to compete with third world dictatorships for deregulation and exploitation of labor, well, why did you ever doubt that?

1:05 I’d say “That’s news to me” is one of those expressions Bush should be careful about using, joke or not – it’s a little close to home.

1:06 I really, really wish that we had a Democratic candidate who could do more to comfort the man who’s worried about his rights being watered down than the incumbent is doing right now.

1:09 Well, this is a somewhat better answer on the PATRIOT ACT than we got from Kerry at the beginning. And good call on not letting terrorists re-write the constitution. But when you mention Dick Durbin, my main thought is, “Shouldn’t he (or, say, Barack Obama) be running for President?”

1:11 “Parapeligic” shouldn’t be such a hard word for Kerry to say. But framing the research as a sign of respect for life is a good, George-Lakoff-approved move.

1:13 “Science is important, but so is ethics.” Since when is that the choice?

1:16 If by “allowing personal opinion to enter into constitutional process,” you mean allowing the constitution to enter into the constitutional process, then yes?

1:17 Dred Scott? Newdow is our generation’s Dred Scott? Screw you. And sorry to break it to you, Mr. President, but the mid-nineteenth century constitution wasn’t exactly ideal when it comes to equal rights for African-Americans. Nice to hear Bush doesn’t actually think property rights always have to trump human liberty though.

1:20 Good that Kerry’s tying abortion to class and to international family planning. Don’t particularly need him or his wife counseling me out of abortion.

1:21 If by “reduce the number of abortions in America,” you mean reduce access to safe and legal abortion, then yeah.

1:23 When Kerry explains the problem with Bush’s argument, and Bush responds by saying it’s actually simple and not responding to the criticism, I wouldn’t say straight-shooter is the term that comes to mind.

1:24 Is Bush’s biggest mistake an appointment he made?

1:25 So now, contra Cheney, there may have been little military mistakes made – they’re just not that important.

1:26 And it was apparently a mistake to appoint people principled enough to call him out on his mistakes.

1:27 Ah, the $87 billion. How we’ve missed hearing about it.

1:28 “He wants you kids to pay for it. I wanted us to pay for it.” True that.

1:29 Please don’t screw this up, John.

1:31 Well, no memorable sound bytes in that one for us or for them. And “respected at home and stronger in the world” still makes me groan. But optimism is recommendable.

1:33 Nothing so memorable from Bush’s closing either. Fitting, maybe, for a debate which had fewer “moments” than the two before or, likely, than the last one next week. My immediate reaction is that Bush failed to halt Kerry’s momentum going in. Bush was certainly much, much better than the last time – meaning he wasn’t a train wreck. But Kerry did more to respond to his opponent’s arguments, and to the audience’s questions, than Bush, and did so more effectively. Still, he missed a good share of opportunities – or dropped them half-way. And my last question before signing off would have to be: Right now, walking off the stage, is this the first time in the campaign that Bush is walking into a crowd he couldn’t vet first?

Nathan Newman endeavors to count, and urges to remember, the victims of Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy in Latin America, the Middle East, and beyond. It is, of course, a conservative list, in that it makes no effort to count the victims of the cycle of violence and blowback his actions instigated. Then there are the victims of Reagan’s domestic policy, whether they lost their lives to poverty, to AIDS, or to one of the other evils his administration chose to appease.

Ronald Reagan died today. As Trapper John writes at DailyKos:

…we must never see him solely as a symbol of a shameful era — because his rise was attributable in part to an inertia and lack of vision that gripped our predecessors on the left. It was in part our inability to satisfy the hunger of Americans for positive leadership that caused Reagan and other former liberals to embrace a radical ideology that was before only espoused by crackpots and the prophets of selfishness. So while we rightly condemned Reagan for his extremism and hostility to the egalitarian ideals of his youth, perhaps we should take this occasion not only to remember Reagan’s failings, but also to reflect upon the failings of the left that allowed the ascension of the extreme right.

The real question with Reagan, I would venture, is not how he shifted the times but rather what forces fashioned the historical moment in which the Ronald Reagans – of whom there have always been many – could ascend to a position of political and ideological hegemony – and how we can turn them back.

I have to disagree with Trapper John though when he writes:

Let’s ensure that the same Republican machine that cried about supposedly untoward politicization of the Paul Wellstone memorial service doesn’t use Reagan’s passing as an excuse to play politics.

Reagan left a political legacy, and I see no problem with placing it front and center in his memorial. It’s entirely appropriate that conservatives take Reagan’s death as an opportunity to advance his legacy. And it’s equally appropriate that the rest of us take the opportunity to examine it, to reject it, and to renew our devotion to fighting it.

Kerry promises to screw his base:

He noted that Reagan Democrats were a critical faction in the 1980’s but that Democrats like President Jimmy Carter had trouble attracting Republican votes.

“Fear not,” Mr. Kerry said. “I am not somebody who wants to go back and make the mistakes of the Democratic Party of 20, 25 years ago. Nor am I somebody who believes that Washington has all the answers.”

Some would take from history that Reagan offered a coherent alternative vision, while Carter failed to. But Kerry apparently has learned from history that Democrats are just secretly looking for Republicans to vote for.