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Nation Now Alerts

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Sheriff Joe's Show

Just what we needed. The flamboyant Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County (the Phoenix area), will now have his deputies start arresting illegal immigrants.

More precisely, Sheriff Joe is deploying his volunteer -- and fully armed -- posse to do the job.

The detentions will be made under a new and controversial law that the Sheriff says renders the undocumented guilty of smuggling themselves illegally into the county.

Arpaio has been making headlines for the last decade: first by locking up his prisoners in a primitive tent city; then by issuing them pink underwear, striped uniforms and green-colored bologna sandwiches.

When I interviewed him a handful of years ago he got angry with me when I referred to him as only the meanest Sheriff in the country. He slammed his desk and corrected me saying, "I'm the damned meanest Sheriff in the world!"

That same night I went out on patrol with some of his then newly-formed volunteer posse members. They drove fully-equipped police cruisers, purchased with their own funds. They wore uniforms identical to sworn deputies and carried new Glock 9mm pistols. The unit I went out with -- led by the-then GOP County Chairman-- ran down and cornered a couple of vice suspects in the parking lot of a seedy motel. With drawn guns pointed at them by the volunteer posse, the "suspects" identified themselves as undercover agents working with the Phoenix Police Department.

Now the posse is going to be out hunting illegal aliens. Heaven help us.

Kaiser Kidney Fiasco

If the confusion and miserable performance that has resulted from the Republicans' Prescription Drug giveaway to the HMO's and insurance companies wasn't enough to demonstrate the private sector's incapacity to meet our medical needs, then check out this horrifying investigative report by the Los Angeles Times.

Kaiser Permanente forced more than 1500 patients awaiting kidney transplants to transfer "to a new transplant center run by Kaiser itself -- the first ever opened by the nation's largest HMO."

The patients were moved from established programs into its "fledgling program" in San Francisco with "a waiting list [that] ranked among the longest in the country…. The patients didn't know it, but their odds of getting a kidney had plummeted."

The numbers tell much of the story: in the first year, "Kaiser performed only 56 transplants, while twice that many people on the waiting list died…. In each of the two years before Kaiser opened its program, UC San Francisco and UC Davis medical centers together performed at least 168 transplants on Kaiser patients."

In hundreds of cases Kaiser neglected to record the amount of time patients had already spent on waiting lists at other hospitals. Consequently, many were wrongly placed at the bottom of the new waiting list – even if a patient was close to receiving a transplant at a previous hospital.

Dr. Stephen Tomlanovich, medical director of UC San Francisco's renal transplant service, has tried repeatedly--"by phone, fax and e-mail"--to contact Kaiser about 220 patients who have not been credited with time already spent on its waiting list. He also noted that Kaiser representatives denied 25 patients "the chance for new kidneys that were nearly perfectly matched" because the company would not authorize UC San Francisco to do the transplants. To make matters worse, Kaiser failed to do the paperwork necessary to transfer those same patients into its own program--the patients were "stranded."

67 patients formerly treated by UC Davis inherited another setback due to the transfer: organs are allocated regionally, and the waiting time in the concentrated San Francisco area is nearly double that of the Sacramento area.

The financial motive for Kaiser's decision is readily apparent. "The San Francisco hospital's open-heart surgery program was shrinking as less-invasive procedures became more popular. Kaiser was left with unused beds and operating rooms."

"The timing was perfect," according to Dr. Bruce Blumberg, the chief physician at Kaiser's main San Francisco hospital.

Aside from the statistics on patient care, the personnel records are also revealing: "10 permanent employees have quit or been fired out of a staff of 22."

In January--prior to being placed on administrative leave--kidney specialist Dr. W. James Chon wrote, "On the outside, the program seems to have settled into a reasonably functioning unit. However, a closer look at the program will show that it is suffering from very serious and potentially explosive problems."

Indeed, it is explosive problems such as these that have led an overwhelming majority of Americans to support national health care, as well as The Nation and columnists like Paul Krugman who called for Medicare for all Americans in his Death By Insurance op-ed this week.

The 2006 and 2008 elections must be defined by three issues: The Constitution--DEFEND it; the war in Iraq--END IT; and national health care--PASS IT. The Kaiser kidney fiasco reemphasizes the urgency of taking health care out of the hands of private companies concerned first and foremost with profits not people.

Sham Reformers

Yesterday the Washington Post offered a prescient warning about the pathetic lobbying "reform" bill passed by the House 217-213 last night.

Democrats tempted to vote for this sham because they're scared of 30-second ads that accuse them of opposing lobbying reform ought to ask themselves whether they really think so little of their constituents. As for Republicans willing to settle for this legislative fig leaf, they ought to listen to Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn). "I happen to believe we are losing our moral authority to lead this place," Mr. Shays said on the House floor last week.

The GOP leadership wanted to claim the mantle of reform without actually enacting any reforms. Sadly, eight Democrats--enough to switch the outcome on a razor thin vote--took the bait. They are:

Barrow, Boren, Boswell, Cuellar, Marshall, Matheson,Melancon,Taylor (MS)

Of the anti-reform eight, seven are conservative Blue Dog Democrats, six voted for the bankruptcy bill, five voted for the GOP energy bill and so-called tort reform and two members (Cueller and Matheson), voted for all three, plus CAFTA. At least Cuellar got a primary challenge this election cycle.

The Democratic leadership tried its best to keep members united. But at the end of the day, the seventeen Republicans voting nay were braver than the eight Democrats voting yea.

Thank You Jack, May I Have Another?

To understand what the sham lobbying "reform" bill that the House will likely pass today will do, you need to understand what it won't do. The only reason Congress is talking about lobbying reform is because of Jack Abramoff and his Fedora-studded guilty plea last January. Yet the so-called reforms in the "Lobbying Accountability and Transparency Act" will do absolutely nothing to prevent the next Abramoff, as this valuable chart from Public Citizen shows.

Moreover, as Public Citizen recognizes: "Corruption by lobbyists and lawmakers does not begin or end with Abramoff; it is a systemic problem. There are many more Jack Abramoffs peddling their wares on the Hill."

Yes. Don't forget about prostitutes at the Watergate servicing Republican members of Congress and CIA aides. Abramoff may be too technical, but hookers everyone can understand.

UPDATE: The final bill passed around 5:30 on a 217-213 vote. Nineteen Republicans voted with the Democrats in opposing the bill. Eight Dems voted with the GOP leadership. Will post their names once I have them. If those eight held the line, sham bill might've failed.

Ney's Day is Coming

At least one GOP lawmaker is paying attention to L'Affair Abramoff: Ohio Rep. Bob Ney. Time is running out for the former "Mayor of Capitol Hill."

Dennis Hastert pushed the Ohio Congressman from his House Administration Committee chairmanship following Abramoff's DC indictment in January. Since then, a game of wait and see has transpired between Ney and the law.

Ney's statute of limitations in the Abramoff Sun Cruz casino fleet investigation expired last Thursday, with the Justice Department opting for an expanded corruption probe. Ney's lawyer says his client will learn in "a month or two" whether he faces criminal charges. Multiple guilty pleas from Abramoff and his aides ID'd Ney as the bribe-taking "Representative #1."

That's probably why $96,500 of Ney's 250,098 campaign dollars last quarter went toward legal fees. Or why Congressional Quarterly recently changed Ney's re-election prospects from "Lean Republican" to a tossup, with internal GOP polling showing Ney losing to either of his Democratic challengers. Or why the pretrial motion in the federal investigation into indicted Bush Administration official David Safavian argues that Ney underreported the cost of his golf trip to Scotland with Abramoff and Safavian by $12,000.

Like his former mentor Tom DeLay, Ney's got some 'splainin to do. With the Ohio primary approaching tonight, National Journal reports that "well-placed Republican strategists say it's time for House Majority Leader John Boehner to tell Ney to resign."

Walk-outs, Rallies and Other Strategies

In the hours before the kick-off the Day Without Immigrants activities,it feels like today's protests are going to be once again of historicproportions.

Here in Los Angeles, the probable epicenter among the 60 or cities inwhich events are planned, officials are expecting crowds that couldsurpass the half-millon who rocked the city on March 25. Several majorthoroughfares are scheduled to be shut down. Numerous employers arealso shuttering for the day.

As the case in other venues, there are mixed views here about whatstrategy should best be pursued. The local Catholic cardinal, theMayor, organized labor and the most prominent among immigrant advocategroups are supporting an after-work rally and march (a position thatoverlaps with mine). A coalition of smaller groups are advocating awalkout from jobs and schools and a noontime rally. Beneath thesurface of that disagreement is a mostly un-reported struggle forleadership over the mushrooming movement.

Most likely, however, these differences will be over-ridden by sheer,massive numbers. The media is not very likely to make much of adistinction between the two camps (nor will most of the participants).That's OK. And rather inevitable, given what I also think will be abreathtaking turnout both here and Los Angeles and nationwide.

This next wave of demonstrations--a movement way and I mean way beyondthe control of any single force--comes as new polls show continuingevolution of public opinion in favor of comprehensive immigrationreform. That shift raises the stakes of the May Day demos. My fingersare crossed that they will go off as peacefully and as effectively asthe big demos of the past weeks. Some wild cards are students who arelikely to ignore the calls of the Cardinal and of Mayor AntonioVillaraigosa to not blow off school. As a former young person myself, Ican readily attest to youthful impetuousness!

There's also a fringe of "revolutionary" sects who traditionallycelebrate May Day by trying to wrestle with the LAPD. These groupletshave attached themselves to today's events--but let's hope they don'twreck it for others (as masterful they are in the fine art ofwrecking).

There's no question in my mind that we are in the midst of an historic,new social movement. It's taken decades to build and reach criticalmass and it is still going to take years to mature and fully pay off.So far, the cool-headed long-term strategists have dominated. My wishis they continue in the leadership of the movement.

The political establishment is still, for the most part, clueless.Entrenched hypocrisy has so long been the official policy that fewpolitical leaders are fully prepared to deal with this emgergingreality. And not just the establishment, I might add. Much of theliberal and progressive left is having difficulty getting their armsaround all this. The ignorance and confusion, for example, surroundingthe notion of a guest worker program is simply stunning. A whole loadof lefties are stuck believing that this is a proposal for a newbracero program. Their ideological stiffness has blocked them fromdoing any real research on the matter and learning, it should bestressed, that liberals from Ted Kennendy to Raul Grijalva have beentoiling away to make these program proposals smart, comprehensive andguarantors of labor rights (Oh well, I'm not gonna go on about this. Ifyou haven't read enough of this elsewhere to understand what'shappening, I'm not about to convince you with one blog past). I willnote in passing that at this weekend's past state Democratic Partyconvention the issue of immigration never came up! During his numerousconvention appearances, the words immigration and immigrant didn'tcross the lips of Phil Angelides, the state treasurer and gubernatorialcandidate officially endorsed by the Party (his rival, Steve Westly,however, forthrightly endorsed legalization of the undocumented alreadyhere).

In short, if there are no severe disruptions or provocations, today'scoast-to-coast demonstrations should be more compelling, undeniableevidence of the integral role that "illegal aliens" play in our veryvibrant economy and societal fabric. With some luck they will help moveforward some concrete, achievable, practical and sensible measures thatwill help legalize those whom we allow to work for us but whom werefuse to recognize or acknowledge.

P.S. The always wonderful-to-read Gustavo Arellano weighs in with thismini-profile of self-proclaimed boycott leader Nativo Lopez. Required reading.

Bracing for the Immigrant Boycott

Los Angeles is expected to be the epicenter of toay's nationwide "Day Without Immigrants" protests and rallies. Local officials have said they are bracing for a turnout perhaps larger than the mega-rally of March 25, which brought a half-million pro-immigrant demonstrators into downtown Los Angeles.

Similar demos and rallies are planned Monday for some sixty cities. And in many of them--as in Los Angeles--there's an active internal debate over which tactics should predominate. Organized labor, the Catholic church and some of the leading immigrant advocate groups in LA have argued to ignore and eschew calls for an economic boycott and a school walk-out, claiming they might be politically alienating at a time when public opinion is shifting in favor of immigrants. These groups have organized their own after-work rally to compete with the pro-boycott events scheduled for midday and organized by smaller groups.

The internal movement debate, however, seems likely to be blurred and overridden by sheer numbers. The call for a May 1 action seems to have struck a nerve and, according to various reports, there are many employers (including major meatpacking and poultry companies) who will be voluntarily closing their doors for the day.

Any way you cut it, we seem to be amid a rapidly building and historic social movement whose scope and contours seem impossible to anticipate. Keep tuned here from an on-the-scene report from colleague Jon Wiener.

John Kenneth Galbraith, 1908-2006

John Kenneth Galbraith died at the age of 97, shortly after 9:00 on Saturday night.

America has lost a great and iconoclastic economist, thinker, writer and political figure.

As William Greider wrote in The Nation last year, the striking quality about "Ken" Galbraith--the man and his work--" is how forcefully the books he wrote across nearly fifty years speak to our present circumstances."

Read Galbraith "to recognize the many important matters--society's condition, for instance--excluded from the brittle, math-obsessed economics that poses as hard science. Study Galbraith's critical voice in the serious public policy debates of his time to appreciate what is missing from today's politics and media. Listen to Galbraith address such taboo subjects as corporate power to understand what honest economists and politicians should be confronting now."

Galbraith, who never shied away from the (relentlessly demonized)term liberal, was also a man of wonderful and droll wit whose fluid prose and pithy notes delighted and inspired.

As Richard Parker's fine biography, John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics reminds us, Galbraith never lost his critical-minded, unconventional and truly liberal-minded temperament--a quality that ensures so many of his books (a staggering forty-eight) remain remarkably relevant to the present.

As we wrestle with his loss to our society and politics, let's celebrate how this great man (and at 6 foot seven he did seem great in so many ways) never ceased to act on behalf of the common good, common sense and powerless people.

Bruised & Battered

Even figuring out the terms of debate for legislation is a tough task for Republicans these days--as the fight over lobbying reform in the House illustrated yesterday. First the GOP leadership introduced a rule to prevent reformers from offering amendments, then they pulled the rule from the House floor fifteen minutes later. They didn't have the votes. Then they did. When they reconvened to vote again, no one knew for sure. At the end of the day, the rule passed 216-207. Translation: Republicans 1, Democracy 0. A supposedly "open government" bill will come to a vote next week under closed debate. For those interested in backroom legislative minutia, here's yesterday's (sub-only) synopsis from National Journal's Congress Daily:

A last-minute agreement between House Speaker Hastert and Appropriations Chairman Lewis salvaged the lobbying and ethics overhaul package Thursday, but not before exposing divisions across the Republican Conference.

Following a two-hour afternoon Conference meeting, Hastert and Majority Leader Boehner were prepared to pull the trigger on a procedural vote that appeared destined for failure amid opposition from a united bloc of GOP appropriators.

The decision to put the rule up for a seemingly hopeless vote was against the wishes of Rules Chairman Dreier, who crafted the legislation at Hastert's request, and Majority Whip Blunt, who has never lost a procedural vote on the floor.

However, GOP leaders and appropriators appeared at a stalemate after appropriators balked at a commitment Dreier made to Lewis Wednesday that a bill would not come out of conference that did not include changes agreeable to the spending panel.

     ....

Tensions flared in leadership after the Conference meeting as leaders and their aides scrambled to reach an agreement just as debate resumed on the floor--with the widely held expectation that the rule vote would fail.

Several GOP leadership sources said Hastert was furious with Lewis and appropriators who remained opposed to the bill despite commitments to extend the overhauls in conference.

Defeating the rule would make it increasingly difficult for the House to pass a bill in the future, and Hastert has put a high priority on the legislation. Leaders were also concerned that the failure to pass the rule would open the door to a barrage of Democratic criticism and undermine the GOP leadership team.

"That case was made," said Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce of Ohio. "Not only [would it undermine] the leadership, but the whole majority."

An hour before the vote, Hastert and Boehner huddled in another meeting with appropriators, including Lewis and Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas. This time, Lewis accepted the commitment to fix the bill in Conference.

Walking out of the meeting, Lewis remarked, in classic Washington-speak: "The Speaker is a very persuasive man."

GOP Retreats on Reform

In the ongoing fight to clean up Congress, the reformers won a minor victory when the House Republican leadership was forced to yank its bogus lobbying "reform" bill off the House floor today.

The move came shortly after Democrats Louise Slaughter and Jim McGovern, both on the House Rules Committee, spoke out against a rule to close debate on a supposedly "open government" bill. When Chairman David Dreier realized he didn't have the votes to pass the rule, he simply yanked it from consideration. As Slaughter told Dreier at a Rules hearing yesterday, "Everybody in this town has beaten up on your bill."

Members of the House Appropriations Committee, led by powerful chairman Jerry Lewis, wanted earmark reform to extend to tax and spending bills. GOP moderates, led by Chris Shays, were unhappy about the steady weakening of an already-toothless piece of legislation. Democrats were virtually united against its passage. And Republican Rep. Joel Hefley, who Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert booted as chairman of the House Ethics Committee in February 2005 after the panel rebuked Tom DeLay three times, was going to speak on the Democrats side.

Rather then face another humiliating defeat for the House Leadership, Dreier pulled the plug. No word yet on when it will resurface. As McGovern, a stalwart progressive, said today: "The Republican Leadership's so-called 'reform' bill deserves to collapse under the weight of its own hypocrisy."

UPDATE: House just reconvened to debate lobbying reform rule for one hour.

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