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The Nation

Now Can We Talk About 9/11

While over its tenure, the Bush administration has increased baseline military spending by 30% to fight a global "war on terror," this month with the release of the President's last budget, Bush delivered a final, parting blow to 9/11 victims of terror at home.

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the cost of treating sick ground zero workers has reached $195 million a year, a cost likely to expand. Nevertheless, Bush's proposed budget cuts 2009 funding for 9/11 healthcare to $25 million--a 77% drop from the previous year's appropriations.

Meanwhile this December, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt eliminated plans for the center that would treat the 10,000-plus First Responders suffering health problems as the result of their service after the attacks.

First Responders are rallying today on the West Lawn for Congressional action.

The FCC Debates the Internet’s Future

It seemed an apt coincidence of timing that as legal scholars and industry representatives debated the future of the internet at yesterday's FCC hearing at Harvard Law School, here in Washington, the House was holding somewhat more anachronistic-sounding hearings on railroad antitrust enforcement.

As Tim Wu put it at a Free Press panel on net neutrality earlier this month, at the turn of the century, the railroad was the new technology driving commerce in the United States. Likewise today, high-speed cable internet is the U.S. economy's new highway. So by blocking or discriminating against competitors' content--as both Verizon and Comcast have done--cable giants are not only protecting their own bottom line, they are crippling America's innovation economy, possibly for good. (A particularly odious turnaround when you consider that cable networks were heavily financed by government tax breaks and guaranteed returns.)

Yet net neutrality isn't just a question of whether Comcast allows us to download high-speed online TV, or the size of our monthly cable bills (which, since 1996, have gone up 93 percent). It's also at the heart of what's inspiring about the Internet: its democratic latitude. Yes, it's a political question (it doesn't take more than Verizon blocking subscribers' ability to receive NARAL Pro-Choice text messages to see that); it's also a question of connectivity and communication.

Our modern-day railroad barons would like to turn the Internet into their own private toll roads, the equivalent of cable television, with users reduced to passive content consumers. We can't let them.

The Freak Show

Time magazine political analyst Mark Halperin (formerly of ABC and The Note) has a post up dispensing free advice to John McCain on how he can attack Obama. The pearls of wisdom dispensed include:

5. Make an issue of Obama's acknowledged drug use.6. Allow some supporters to risk being accused of using the race card when criticizing Obama....11. Emphasize Barack Hussein Obama's unusual name and exotic background through a Manchurian Candidate prism.

Aside from this being gratuitous and morally blinkered, I'm wondering what exactly Halperin thought the value-added of this post was. If he wants to be a campaign strategist for the McCain campaign (or any other for that matter), I'm sure he could get a job doing just that. But he's, in name at least, a journalist, with some basic responsibility to provide his readers with insight into the race. There's no insight in this list -- every attack he mentions has been made in the wingnut'osphere and in emails. So, really, what's the point? As far as I can tell it's mostly to burnish a reputation as being a savvy and unsentimental insider. If you were looking for artifacts to collect under the heading Why People Hate The Media, this would be at the top of the list.

Haynes Resigns

Last week, we broke a story about Pentagon general counsel William Haynes, the man charged with impartially overseeing the tribunals at Guantanamo telling a subordinate that "[they]can't have acquittals." Yesterday, came word that Haynes has resigned. We always get our man.

Internet Populist Lessig: Visionary, Realist, But Not Running

Of course it would have been great if Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig had run for an open San Francisco Bay-area congressional seat on the reform platform he proposed.

Lessig, a pioneering battler against digital monopolies in the Internet age, would have been an exceptionally welcome addition to a Congress where senior members still admit that they don't really know how to use computers. And if Lessig had arrived in the manner he imagined -- as a proponent of fundamental reforms in the way the political process operates – it would have been a great moment for those who want the word of the moment, "change," to mean something.

Lessig, brave enough to take on Microsoft and smart enough to challenge federal copyright laws that are as corrupt as they are outdated, might even have figured out how to get the House talking in a serious manner about the campaign finance and ethics initiatives that are the "dreams deferred" of contemporary American politics. And if his "Change Congress" project succeeded, he might even have gotten Congress functioning again, as a check and balance against executive excess, a chain on the dogs of way, a facilitator of the common good and all the other purposes intended by the founders.

Lessig proposed to run in the April 8 open primary to fill a seat vacated by the death of California Congressman Tom Lantos, a Democrat who had represented San Francisco and communities to its south for the better part of three decades. When he began exploring a possible run last week, the popular blogger explained, "My goal is to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on some fundamental principles that need to be reformed so Congress regains the confidence of the people."

Everyone who has known and worked with Lessig on internet freedom issues and for the broader progressive agenda he supported got excited about the prospect of this campaign. A "Draft Lessig" internet campaign raised $35,000 to encourage his candidacy.

But then reality set in.

To make any of the changes he proposed – indeed, even to shake up the system enough to make those changes imaginable -- Lessig would need to be a viable contender for the seat representing California's overwhelmingly Democratic 12th District.

That was unlikely to happen, even in this year of unlikely political developments.

Lessig lacked the name recognition and the broad support that had already gone to the leading contender for the seat, former state Senator Jackie Speier. A veteran local and state official with solid liberal – if perhaps not radical reformer -- credentials, Speier is supported by California U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, as well as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. She even earned an endorsement from Lantos, who had decided not to seek reelection and endorsed her as his replacement before his death.

Even as an author, lecturer and legal champion who is genuinely respected in the Silicon Valley, and as a hero of the "netroots" politicos who got so enthused about his prospective candidacy, Lessig would have had a hard time mounting a serious challenge to Speier, who has a compelling personal story, has won elections in every part of the district and has earned a deserved reputation as a serious consumer advocate.

After a little bit of polling and a lot of consultation with friends and allies, Lessig came to the conclusion that, "Certainly, we would have lost this race in a big way." He also determined that, "My running and losing big would do more harm than good" to the "Change Congress" project he hopes that other candidates will embrace.

"Losing big in the first important battle is not an effective strategy," explained Lessig.

That may be true. And no one who is serious about politics will have much criticism for Lessig's decision.

Still, we should acknowledge that something important has been lost.

The prospect of "Congressman Larry Lessig" was energizing. It inspired hope, as does the potential candidacy of anyone so able and so well intended.

Might it have been the false hope we have heard so much about during the course of the current race for the Democratic presidential nomination? Lessig worried that this could be the case, and he chose to guard against it -- which only made those of us who thought he had the makings of a great congressman think it all the more.

Lessig made a politically realistic decision for which he should be respected.

But it's O.K. to be disappointed.

Visionary realists are rare enough in politics. We can't afford to have too many talk themselves out of running for Congress if there is to be any honest hope of fixing a broken system.

Republicans for Obama

Reagan Democrats played a key role in electing a new present in 1980; now Obama Republicans seem to be emerging as a significant political force - at least in the primaries.

In the Wisconsin primary, almost nine per cent of Obama's vote came from Republicans, according to exit polls. Other states that permitted Republicans to vote in the Democratic primary include Virginia, where almost seven per cent of Obama's support came from Republicans - and the Democrats dream of carrying Republican Virginia in the fall. In Missouri, almost six per cent of Obama's support came from Republicans. Missouri is a key swing state that has voted for the winner in every presidential election since 1904 except one.

The next state where Republicans are permitted to vote in the Democratic primary is Texas.

The Republicans-for-Obama phenomenon is a response in part to the Illinois senator's speech about transcending partisanship - a speech which is not just a naive expression of sentiment, but rather a calculated political tactic aimed at winning independents and Republicans. Many middle-of-the-road Republicans voted for Bush because he claimed to be a "compassionate conservative"; many of them are appalled by the war and concerned about the environment; some of them support gay rights and access to abortion.

A few big-name Republicans have led the move to Obama, including Rhode Island's former senator Lincoln Chafee, a well-known as a moderate; he was defeated in 2004, and Obama campaigned for his opponent. Other Republicans for Obama include Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the president, and Tom Bernstein, a longtime Bush fund-raiser - he was co-owner of the Texas Rangers with Bush.

"Republicans for Obama" has a website and a string of favorable press clips, including a feature story on Monday on page one of the LA Times . At one Obama phone bank in Ohio, the Times reported, four of the 13 volunteers were lifelong Republicans. One of them, Josh Pedaline, 28, who voted for Bush twice, said "I'm a conservative, but I have gay friends. . . I don't feel like Obama is condemning me for being a Republican."

The Austin American-Statesman ran a story on Monday headlined "Obama campaign attracting disenchanted Republicans; 'Obamacans' could be out in force for the Texas open primary on March 4." The Texas paper quoted Jack Holt, a former marine and lifelong Republican who supported Bush and McCain the past, saying "The Republican Party has become so ugly and so arrogant, I don't want to have any part of it."

However as of Monday the Texas Republicans for Obama online petition had a total of 21 signatures. The Ohio petition had eight.

Those pathetic numbers raise the question: how successful can Obama be at winning Republican votes - first in Texas and Ohio, and then - assuming he wins the nomination -- nation-wide in November? Experts caution that partisanship remains a significant force even in 2008, and that registered Republicans are extremely likely to vote for their party in November, despite their disgust with Bush and Cheney.

Of course even small numbers can be significant, as we learned in Florida in 2000. Obama is far more likely to win Republican votes in November than Clinton. John Zogby, the pollster, told the Austin Statesman, "There really is such a thing as an Obama Republican. This group tends to be politically moderate, tired of bickering and even more tired of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. It is part of the unique appeal that Obama has among centrist voters, independent thinkers and those concerned with America's image overseas."

Obama himself often talks about his Republican supporters in campaign rallies. "They whisper to me. They say, 'Barack, I'm a Republican, but I support you.' And I say, 'Thank you. Why are we whispering?'"

What Exactly Will Go Into the Bush Presidential Library?

When George W. Bush's presidential library opens in Dallas at Southern Methodist University (officials announced the site on Friday), expect Bush to do his best to keep his papers shrouded.

While in 1978, the Presidential Records Act made presidential records the property of American people, according to Bush's Executive Order 13233 (signed less than a month after September 11th), current and previous presidents are empowered to withhold their records--indefinitely.

Last March, an act to undo Bush's Executive Order cleared the House by a 333-93 margin. Though the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs favorably reported a companion resolution this June, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) continues to stonewall its Senate passage. (Take action with Public Citizen to pressure Sessions here.)

According to the Dallas Morning News, a "significant portion" of SMU faculty members objected to the potential construction of the Bush library last year, citing concerns about the library's partisanship. Others were more hopeful: As theater professor Rhonda Blair put it, the library would give Americans a chance to figure out "what the heck has happened during the eight years of [the Bush] administration." But unless the Senate steps up to the plate, such an outcome looks unlikely.

Mid-Day Links

1) The stalemate in Afghanistan continues.

2) John Judis on the American Adam.

3) Today, MoveOn.org launched a new Iraq/Recession campaign, linking the money spent on the war to economic woes at home. It's part of a renewed effort to attempt (once again!) to pressure the White House into de-escalation. But the votes look the exact same as they did last year on the Hill. If there's a silver lining, it's that the Democrats actually defied the White House recently on FISA and haven't suffered much in the way of political recriminations. Perhaps it will be emboldening, but that's almost certainly over-optimistic.

FISA and the GOP Fear-Circus

In a radio address this weekend, Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) boiled it down:

The President and House Republicans simply can't have it both ways. They cannot argue simultaneously that the temporary August law was essential to national security, and then turn around and engineer the defeat of an extension of it.

(Last week, Conyers stayed in Washington during the Presidents' Day recess to try and re-negotiate FISA. House Republicans told their staff to boycott the meetings.)

By the way, as a Leahy-Conyers-Rockefeller-Reyes Washington Post oped details this morning, the directives obtained under last August's temporary Protect America Act are still in force until at least this fall. As the Assistant AG for National Security put it, "We'll be able to continue doing surveillance based on those directives." So the White House's current fear-circus is just that: a show.