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Bush to Children: Drop Dead

On so-called philosophical grounds, President Bush opposes health care for children. A bipartisan group of Senators want to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $60 billion over five years, covering 3.3 million additional low-income children. Bush will only except half of that, saying "when you expand eligibility...you're really beginning to open up an avenue for people to switch from private insurance to the government."

So the President is for children's healthcare--as long as we don't spend too much on it and private insurance companies reap the benefits. Anything less will prompt a White House veto.

That came as news to conservative Republicans Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley, cosponsors of the Senate's bill. "It's disappointing, even a little unbelievable, to hear talk about Administration officials wanting a veto of a legislative proposal they haven't even seen yet," Hatch and Grassley said on July 12th. In a follow-up release yesterday, they called the President's proposal a "non-starter."

[UPDATE: The Senate Finance Committee voted 17-4 today to reauthorize and expand SCHIP, in defiance of Bush.]

This is what Bush's presidency has been reduced to: vetoing legislation to help poor children.

SCHIP is not the only successful government program Bush opposes. "I believe government cannot provide affordable health care," he said yesterday. I guess he forgot Medicare and Medicaid.

Should Mothers Work Fulltime?

Oh dear, the bell's been rung on another round of the Mommy Wars. According to a new Pew survey, more Americans think mothers shouldn't work full time, and more mothers think that working part-time would be ideal. And without noticing that this "increase" falls within the statistical margin of error and might not exist at all, the news media have raced in bravely to explain that this means something about the future of a) children, b) feminism, c) America, d), the workplace, or e) all of the above.

I've written about the Mommy Wars and the opt-out myth elsewhere. (Feel free to click over there for some serious media critique.) Meanwhile, here are a few things to think about that I haven't seen written about.

--What do the kids think? This survey was all about adults' beliefs, guilts, and cultural attitudes, not about what the kids want from their parents. The social scientists who do ask the kids find that young adults who grew up in dual-earner households also want their own children to grow up with two working parents. However, those who grew up with full-time, stay-at-home mothers are evenly divided. Could it be that having nothing to do but hover over your kids isn't necessarily good for you or for them? (Check out NYU Professor Kathleen Gerson's research here.)

--The black women surveyed were far more likely than white women to believe that mothers should work full time. Now, here's an interesting coincidence: according to social scientists, there's a great deal of bias against black mothers who stay home--and a great deal of bias against white mothers who work. (I got this from an interview with Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management researcher Amy Cuddy; her results haven't yet been published.) Society thinks it's good if black moms work and white moms stay home ... and so do those women themselves. Could it be that the Pew survey is measuring guilt and cultural pressure, instead of beliefs about what's best for the families involved?

--Part-time dreams are just that: dreams. Workplaces more and more force workers into either/or choices: you can support your family financially, or you can spend time with your family, but not both. Moms are pushed off the job, and dads are pushed to work more. That's loony. Surely it would be better for kids if they could see both mom and dad at home, rather than turning one into a full-time nursemaid and the other into an absentee checkbook.

As a result, the dirty little secret in hiring is that if you post a part-time job, you'll get a slew of overqualified applicants: women who've taken a long maternity leave (say, a year or two or three) and are desperate to re-enter the job market. Part-time jobs are for mothers today what teaching and nursing and being secretaries were for all women 40 years ago: a ghetto for the brilliant woman who's not permitted to follow in her chosen career.

4. Our national anti-discrimination agency, the EEOC, recently issued new guidelines saying that it's illegal to discriminate based on family responsibilities. Check them out. If you feel yourself being sidelined because sometimes you need to take care of someone--your kids, a sick spouse, an ailing parent--you probably don't want to ruin your life by suing, but you should at least know your rights.

Republican Hypocrite Caucus Keeps George Bush's War Going

A night of debate about the war in Iraq yielded two results:

1. Limited progress on getting an honest up-or-down vote on whether to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq on a schedule that might finish before the end of George Bush's presidency.

2. Confirmation that many Senate Republicans who delight in holding press conferences to talk about what's wrong with Bush's war are, in fact, the primary facilitators of that war's continuation.

The cloture vote on whether to allow consideration of an amendment to begin withdrawing troops needed the support of 60 senators.

Only 52 senators voted to get serious about establishing an exit strategy by opening debate on a proposal from Michigan Senator Carl Levin and Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed to begin withdrawing troops within 120 days on a time line that would be completed by April, 2008.

The good news, as Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold noted, is that "a majority of the Senate backed binding legislation with a firm end date to redeploy our troops from Iraq. This shows how far we've come since August 2005 when I became the first Senator to propose a deadline to bring the mistake in Iraq to an end."

The bad news, as Feingold added, is that, "Although a number of Republicans have finally acknowledged that the President's Iraq policy is a failure, their filibuster of the Levin-Reed amendment shows they are still failing to back up their words with action."

The split in the Senate was not precisely along party lines, although there was no mystery about which party was challenging the president and which was doing his bidding.

Voting for cloture were 47 Democrats, Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and four Republicans: Nebraska's Chuck Hagel, Oregon's Gordon Smith and Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Hagel, Smith and Snowe had committed to vote "yes," while Collins had been a possible "yes" vote.

Voting against cloture were 45 Republicans, Connecticut Democrat/Independent Joe Lieberman and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a supporter of cloture who voted "no" in order to retain the ability under Senate rules to raise the issue anew.

What is notable is that a number of Republican senators who have earned headlines in recent weeks as war critics -- or, at least skeptics -- voted with the Bush White House to maintain the war: Minnesota's Norm Coleman, New Mexico's Pete Domenici, Iowa's Chuck Grassley, Indiana's Richard Lugar, New Hampshire's John Sununu. Ohio's George Voinovich and Virginia's John Warner.

If those Republican senators had backed cloture, Reid could then have shifted his vote to reach a total of 60.

Reid's decision to keep the Senate in session all night yielded a measure of clarity. It also drew significant media attention, which highlighted the fact that Democrats and a handful of responsible Republicans are serious about bringing the troops home, while the vast majority of Republicans -- including many who have raised objections to the Bush administration's approach -- are unwilling to make a genuine break with the White House.

Reid and the Democrats ought not be satisfied. They have only begun a process of introducing realism to the debate. One long night is not enough. There will need to be a lot of long nights before Republican senators who have been playing both sides are forced to make a choice between the demands of the administration and those of the great mass of Americans who want withdrawal.

Reid, who has only recently recognize the need to highlight the abuses of the cloture process of Senate Republican leaders, will need to press the issue again -- and again.

But he can't do it alone. And the fight can't just play out in Washington.

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, the national campaign by the Service Employees International Union, MoveOn.org Political Action, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, USAction, Win Without War, Vote Vets, the Campaign for America's Future, Working Assets and other groups, is organizing to "keep the heat on" senators -- especially those both-sides-of-the-mouth Republicans.

That's critical.

"With their decision to filibuster, the Republicans have prevented the Senate from voting to bring the open-ended mission in Iraq to an end, and have once again ignored the calls of the American people," said Feingold.

The Americans Against Escalation in Iraq coalition will be working hard this summer to get Americans to turn up the volume on those calls, and the filibuster fight has provided citizens with all the information they need to target them.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Sleepless in the Senate

Matthew Blake reports from Capitol Hill:

Full disclosure: this humble reporter left the Capitol at 1 am but continued watching on C-Span until 2:30 am before nodding off. The Senate never slept.

Though it was done through the medium of a partly absurd, often tedious "all-night" debate, Democratic politicians have finally seemed to convey what they can and cannot do to stop George Bush's disastrous Iraq War policy.

Last night Democratic Senators talked and talked on an empty Senate floor--and to a Senate park packed with anti-war advocates--about how the chamber must vote now to begin bringing troops home. Not in September when Army General David Petraeus releases a progress report on the "surge" and not in 2009 when a new President assumes office. But antiwar Senators stressed again and again that troop withdrawals cannot happen unless 60 Senators vote to end debate on an amendment that says troops must start leaving Iraq in 120 days.

"We're going to read tomorrow that the Senate voted down the Levin-Reed amendment," co-sponsor Carl Levin of Michigan told a crowd of hundreds of anti-war advocates last night. "No they didn't--they voted to filibuster."

Indeed, the Senate just minutes ago failed to clear the Levin-Reed amendment by a vote of 52 yeas to 47 nays.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who orchestrated the Senate session, had pinned the hopes on ending the war on Senate Republicans like Virginia's John Warner and New Mexico's Pete Domenici, who have spoken out against the war but did vote to end debate on the amendment. For their part, moderate Senate Republicans seem focused on both waiting until September and endorsing the guidelines of the Iraq Study Group Report, which they dismissed not so long ago. "There is a careful sequence of events between now and September," Warner said when he spoke on the Senate floor last night.

While Republicans emphasized careful deliberation and held up copies of the Iraq Study Group Report, some Democrats seemed to have found a new sense of urgency. Patty Murray of Washington state told a story of a soldier she spoke with who just returned from Iraq. "He told me every time I heard somebody contentedly sitting in a coffee shop or restaurant, I just wanted to say 'Wake up!' and that's what we're saying Republican Senators now tonight. And we're staying up all night to tell them that."

Back on the Senate floor, Democrats stood by "Let Us Vote" posters and other visuals that emphasized how Iraq has distracted America from its biggest security threats. Louisiana's Mary Landrieu used additional visuals such as a most wanted poster of Osama Bin Laden with the headline "Priority Number One." Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown spoke beside a poster stating, "The Iraq effect: War has increased terrorismseven-fold."

Much of the curiosity surrounding the event centered on Senators staying up all-night and sleeping on cots. Capitol Hill workers complained about having to bring up dozens of boxes of Chick Filet sandwiches to the Senators.

But, however tangential and monotonous, each Senator spoke about Iraq and national security. A motion to close debate on the amendment failed by eight votes today. But at least Democrats have hammered home exactly where Congress stands on getting out of Iraq. "I don't think spending one night on the Senate debating Iraq is too much to ask," Landrieu said.

Subpoena Watch: Tenth Time’s a Charm

Nine times the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the Bush Administration for the legal justification of its warrantless (and illegal) domestic spying program. Nine times. To no avail. In the end of June, in a bipartisan 13-3 vote, the committee asked a tenth time – and it issued subpoenas to the President, Vice President, Department of Justice, and National Security Council to put an end to the stonewalling.

Today at 2 PM is the deadline to comply with the request. (There is an unconfirmed rumor of an extension, but nothing definitive.) Few will be holding their breath. As Committee Chair Senator Patrick Leahy wrote in his cover letter with the subpoenas, "Our attempts to obtain information through testimony of administration witnesses have been met with a consistent pattern of evasion and misdirection. There is no legitimate argument for withholding the requested materials from this committee."

Indeed the materials requested have nothing to do with the operational details--nothing to make the administration cry "state secrets" privilege--simply the legal rationale behind the program.

If the Administration once again chooses the stonewalling route, the Senate Judiciary Committee should move to hold those individuals in contempt of Congress, just as the House Judiciary Committee is expected to do with regard to Harriet Miers. (Miers was ordered by President Bush not to appear before a committee investigating politicized federal investigations and prosecutions.) As he's done several times before when confronted with the White House's blatant disregard for the checks and balances at the core of our constitutional design, Judiciary Chair John Conyers cut to the heart of the issue, asking, "Are Congressional subpoenas to be honored or are they optional?"

This moment is an important one as small-d democrats look to repair our democracy and defend the constitution. As the ACLU writes in a message to President Bush and Vice President Cheney: "All the Senate Judiciary Committee wants to know is your legal rationale for spying on Americans without warrants."

Tell the President and Vice President you expect them to comply with these subpoenas and the rule of law. And if they don't do it, demand that your Senators move to hold them in contempt of Congress.

Don't Fence in the Web!

The genius of the Internet, from the distant moment of its inception to the present day, has been its tendency toward openness, freedom and equality. On the great frontier of digital communications, there have been no fences. Every website has been treated equally. Once an American logs on, he or she has known that it is as easy to get to Wal-Mart Watch's dissident www.walmartwatch.com site as it is to reach the retail giant's corporate site. It is as easy to go to visit George Bush's official White House location on the Web as it is to visit the folks at www.afterdowningstreet.org, who would like very much to remove the president and everyone he rode in with.

In 2005, however, the Federal Communications Commission, began to attack the Net Neutrality rules that for decades have guaranteed a level playing field for every web site. They did so under pressure from "old-media" telecommunications corporations -- mostly in the cable and phone sectors -- that want to "own" the web. If Net Neutrality, the first amendment of the Internet, is completely eliminated in the manner favored by the telecommunications giants, then cable and phone companies can make a fortune by providing high-speed connections to sites that pay for the the service while discriminating against sites that do not pay.

Eliminating Net Neutrality cuts off the potential of the internet, by opening the way for colonization of the World Wide Web by telecommunications corporations that would amplify the voices of the wealthy and powerful while they effectively silence dissent.

The fear of this prospect has led more than 1.6 million Americans and 850 different groups on the political left and right to call for the FCC and Congress to establish rules that reinstate and protect Net Neutrality.

How intense is public support for Net Neutrality?

Tens of thousands of Americans sent comments to the FCC during the latest period of official inquiry by the agency that ended Monday. More than 95 percent of the comments called on the FCC to establish rules to prevent cable and phone companies from favoring paying Web sites or services over those that do not have the resources to buy a place on the right side of the walls erected by media monopolists.

"We see that thousands of people have submitted comments describing how a free and open Internet benefits consumers and telling you the discriminatory practices planned by their Internet service providers would substantially harm their online experience," U.S. Senators Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota, and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who have sponsored the bipartisan "Internet Freedom Preservation Act," wrote to FCC chair Kevin Martin. "We hope you take note of these thousands of public comments urging you to protect Internet freedom."

Will Martin and the Bush-appointed FCC majority listen to the people who are saying they want the internet to realize its full potential, of will they allow their corporate sponsors to start erecting fences on the Web? That's the billion dollar question -- at least for the cable and phone companies.

It is, first and foremost, a democracy question: Will the FCC, which is supposed to serve the people by promoting open, freewheeling public discourse respond to the overwhelming demand for Net Neutrality? Or will it close the frontier and subdivide what were once vast open spaces into mansions for those who can pay and hovels for those who cannot?

At a time when American democracy is under assault on so many fronts, the internet has been the one place where freedom really did seem to be on the march. The only message the FCC can take from the great mass of comments it has received is that the people want that march to continue. "Internet users want competitive and affordable services. They don't want phone and cable companies to manipulate the free flow of information and distort the Web's level playing field," says Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press, which has coordinated the SavetheInternet.com coalition's fight to keep the World Wide Web wide open. "Now," says Karr, "the FCC must heed demands from people of every walk of life and enforce full Net Neutrality."

(John Nichols is a co-founder of Free Press and the co-author with Robert W. McChesney of TRAGEDY & FARCE: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy -- The New Press.)

Scaife to Bush: Withdraw from Iraq

The conservative movement has cracked apart. If any more evidencewas needed, check out Editor & Publisher's website for an articleabout Richard Mellon Scaife's newspaper and its latest editorial onIraq. It seems that the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, long owned byconservative billionaire Scaife, a stalwart supporter of many rightwing causes, is not only questioning Bush's disastrous war-- buthis "mental stability." Read on.

Conservative-Owned Newspaper Calls for Iraq Troop Withdrawal -- Questions Bush's 'Mental Stability'

By Editor & Publisher StaffPublished: July 16, 2007 3:29 PM ET

NEW YORK The Pittsburgh newspaper owned by conservative billionaireRichard Mellon Scaife yesterday called the Bush administration'splans to stay the course in Iraq a "prescription for Americansuicide."

The editorial in the Tribune-Review added, "And quite frankly,during last Thursday's news conference, when George Bush startedblathering about 'sometimes the decisions you make and theconsequences don't enable you to be loved,' we had to question hismental stability."

It continued: "President Bush warns that U.S. withdrawal would risk'mass killings on a horrific scale.' What do we have today, sir?

"If the president won't do the right thing and end this war, thepeople must. The House has voted to withdraw combat troops fromIraq by April. The Senate must follow suit.

"Our brave troops should take great pride that they rid Iraq ofSaddam Hussein. And they should have no shame in leaving Iraq. Forit will not be, in any way, an exercise in tail-tucking and running.

"America has done its job.

"It's time for the Iraqis to do theirs."

The editorial said it agrees with its local congressman on this:Democratic U.S. Rep. John Murtha.

Scaife has been a loyal backer of Republican politicians and manyconservative causes, and funded a network of investigations intoPresident Clinton during the 1990s.

The Dark Force

When John McCain was running his insurgent campaign against George W. Bush in 2000, he frequently compared himself to "Luke Skywalker trying to get out of the Death Star." But then Luke lost, the Evil Empire won, and John McCain embraced the dark side: Bush in 2004, Falwell in 2006, the surge in 2007.

Or as his friend Lindsey Graham said, trying to reassure conservatives about McCain's second run for president: "This is not Luke Skywalker here. This is a totally different campaign."

Indeed.

Like Bush, McCain built an imperial campaign, spending money like a drunken sailor. Unlike Bush, he could not raise enough cash to overcome his burn rate and had to severely downsize his staff, which in the horserace-obsessed Washington media is even worse than Giuliani having to fire Senator David Vitter for solicitation. (Based on the couple's joint press conference, Rudy should have hired Wendy Vitter instead.)

But it's bigger than McCain. Bush is so toxic right now and Republicans so demoralized that none of the top tier Republican candidates are raising more money than they spend. The Republicans are being crushed in the money game by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

That sound you just heard is the Death Star exploding.

Deconstructing the Benchmarks

Last week the Bush Administration announced that the Iraqi government had made "satisfactory" progress on just 8 of the 18 benchmarks the Administration and Congress set this spring. Yet little attention has been paid to what these benchmarks actually are and whether they matter.

McClatchy newspapers analyzed all 18 benchmarks. The Washington Post summarized the report thusly:

 

The report judged that progress was "satisfactory" in eight of 18 benchmarks, including a review of the Iraqi constitution; legislation to divide Iraq into semi-autonomous regions; the protection of minority rights; and government, military and civil support for the new strategy. But it noted mixed progress on new electoral laws, militia disarmament and the reduction in militia control of local areas.

 

 

Areas receiving unsatisfactory grades included reform of Iraq's de-Baathification laws; enactment of a new law governing oil revenue; the ability of Iraqi security forces to operate independently from U.S. forces; and a range of benchmarks measuring sectarian bias in the government.

 

So the most important targets--curbing sectarian violence, empowering Iraqi forces, cracking down on militias, fairly distributing oil revenues--remain unmet. The Administration has little to show for the $2 billion per week our government is spending in Iraq.

Yet the incessant talk about benchmarks, on both sides of the Iraq debate, misses the point. "By setting 18 benchmarks that will be nearly impossible to reach but saying you won't leave until they are met is a recipe for long-term occupation," says Erik Leaver, an Iraq expert at the Institute for Policy Studies in DC. "There's no need for benchmarks at this point if you believe the war is a failure and can't be won."

Leaver notes that there is no similar mechanism of accountability or official indexes of progress for US troops and reconstruction teams. We didn't benchmark our way into this war and we won't benchmark our way out.