Thursday, March 12, 2009

Piranhas In Good Form : There Go The Centrists Again! Damn Dem Centrist Ducking Out On Labor While Republicans R.I.P. Their Own.

Piranhas In Good Form : There Go The Centrists Again! Damn Dem Centrist Ducking Out On Labor While Republicans R.I.P. Their Own.


Centrist Dems Dodge Labor Bill

Rep. G.K. Butterfield and Sen. Kent Conrad cosponsored the Employee Free Choice Act when it was introduced in the last Congress. This year? They both seem to have ... other things to do.

“I’m still sorting things out,” says Butterfield.

“I’ve got my hands full,” says Conrad.

The two men are hardly alone.

Caught between Big Business and Big Labor in the midst of a deepening recession, moderate Democrats are washing their cars, polishing their silver, rearranging the pictures on their desks - anything they can do to buy some time while hoping that EFCA somehow goes away.

Eleven Democratic senators and 22 Democratic House members who cosponsored the 2007 version of EFCA - or “card check,” as its opponents call it - have steered clear of the version unveiled this week by Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

In the midst of a recession, moderate Senate Democrats don’t want to tie themselves to legislation that’s been billed as bad for business. But they don’t want to distance themselves from the legislation, either, for fear of alienating their loyal supporters in labor.

Hotsheet: Read a primer on the bill and the arguments made by supports and opponents. ( More…)

Steele 'choice' gaffe sparks GOP revolt

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s series of gaffes turned into something more serious Thursday, as leaders of a pillar of the GOP—the anti-abortion movement—shifted into open revolt over comments in an interview with the men’s magazine GQ.

Steele called abortion an “individual choice” and opposed a constitutional ban on abortion in the Feb. 24 interview,
which appeared online Wednesday night. He echoed the language of the abortion rights movement and appeared to contradict his own heated assertions during his campaign for chairman that he is a committed soldier in the anti-abortion movement.

While he issued a statement Thursday affirming his opposition to abortion and his support for a constitutional amendment banning it, the damage appeared to be done as leading social conservatives publicly attacked the embattled chairman.

“Comments attributed to Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele are very troubling, and despite his clarification today the party stands to lose many of its members and a great deal of its support in the trenches of grass-roots politics,” former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) said in
a posting on his blog. “For Chairman Steele to even infer that taking a life is totally left up to the individual is not only a reversal of Republican policy and principle, but it's a violation of the most basic of human rights — the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a conservative rival who ultimately backed Steele's bid for chairman, also lambasted him in a written statement.

“Chairman Steele needs to reread the Bible, the U.S. Constitution and the 2008 GOP Platform,” said Blackwell. “He then needs to get to work or get out of the way.”

The flap also added to worries generated by a series of earlier, less policy-oriented statements, ranging from insulting radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh to offering “slum love” to Indian-American Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.).

“Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?” GQ’s Lisa DePaulo asked in the interview in his office.

“Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice,” he said, according to GQ’s transcript, which he did not dispute.

“You do?” he was asked.

“Yeah. Absolutely,” he said.

In his statement Thursday, issued through the RNC press office, Steele said, “I am pro-life, always have been, always will be.”

Rendell: Steele's 'Days Are Numbered'

(Another of PA’s Less Than Genius Politicos)

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell predicted on Thursday that Michael Steele's "days are numbered" as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

"He's in trouble because I just think that those who control the Republican Party don't want a big tent," Rendell told reporters during a lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Rendell, a past chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said he believes the approaching special election in New York's 20th Congressional District — to replace Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who was appointed senator — is not likely a make-or-break event for Steele, whom Rendell said also faces more fundamental problems.

"I don't know if they want a chairman who is basically pro-choice," Rendell said, referring to an answer Steele gave to GQ magazine in which he described abortion as an “individual choice."

Steele has since backtracked, saying in a statement to POLITICO, “I am pro-life, always have been, always will be.”

But Rendell said Steele's explanations of that comment and of other recent gaffes may not be enough to save his job, even though Rendell believes Steele could be "effective in time."

"Michael Steele's days are numbered,” Rendell said. “Fortunately for us, his days are numbered."

The RNC had no immediate comment on Rendell’s remarks.

Oh, And The Kids In Alaska Broke Up!

Sad news this morning: Trip will be raised by a single mom, as the shotgun wedding between Levi and Bristol has been called off. Gee, what a surprise; I really thought they had a future…not!


How much of your pro-life stance, for you, is informed not just by your Catholic faith but by the fact that you were adopted?

Oh, a lot. Absolutely. I see the power of life in that—I mean, and the power of choice! The thing to keep in mind about it… Uh, you know, I think as a country we get off on these misguided conversations that throw around terms that really misrepresent truth.

Explain that.

The choice issue cuts two ways. You can choose life, or you can choose abortion. You know, my mother chose life. So, you know, I think the power of the argument of choice boils down to stating a case for one or the other.

Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?

Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice.

You do?

Yeah. Absolutely.

Are you saying you don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade?

I think
Roe v. Wade—as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter.

Okay, but if you overturn Roe v. Wade, how do women have the choice you just said they should have?

The states should make that choice. That’s what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states. Let them decide.

Do pro-choicers have a place in the Republican Party?


How so?

You know, Lee Atwater said it best: We are a big-tent party. We recognize that there are views that may be divergent on some issues, but our goal is to correspond, or try to respond, to some core values and principles that we can agree on.

Do you think you’re more welcoming to pro-choice people than Democrats are to pro-lifers?

Now that’s a good question. I would say we are. Because the Democrats wouldn’t allow a pro-lifer to speak at their convention. We’ve had many a pro-choicer speak at ours—long before Rudy Giuliani. So yeah, that’s something I’ve been trying to get our party to appreciate. It’s not just in our words but in our actions, we’ve been a party that’s much more embracing. Even when we have missed the boat on, uh, minority issues, the Bush administration did an enormous amount to advance the individual opportunities for minorities in our country. In housing. In education. In health care.

How’d you miss the boat?

Well, we missed the boat in that we don’t talk about it. We don’t share that part of the story. We don’t understand and appreciate it enough to actually get out and articulate it. We miss it, we just completely miss it. We don’t see it for what it is, as a part of our philosophy. And so I’d like to see us do more of that, to engage in that conversation.”

In the days between Christmas and New Year's Eve, Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, sat at his desk in Lower Manhattan and reached out to people who had lavished generous donations on his organization during the long, benighted tenure of George W. Bush. It was a heady moment: the era of Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales was winding to a close, and Barack Obama was about to assume office, having vowed to rescind some of his predecessor's more egregious assaults on civil liberties.

But Romero wasn't phoning his supporters to share the joy--he was calling to plead for cash after a season (actually, several seasons) of thwarted solicitations. Throughout the spring and summer, would-be donors had explained, over and over again, that they were too busy writing checks to the Obama campaign. By the time Obama mounted the stage to deliver his acceptance speech in Chicago on election night, many had become preoccupied with something else: the implosion of the economy. As Romero worked the phone from his office on the nineteenth floor of the downtown high-rise, around the corner from the New York Stock Exchange, he could feel the aftershocks of the collapse.

"I'll come back, but I lost it all," one longtime donor told Romero.

"I love you guys, but it's gone--all gone," said another.

The most expensive presidential campaign in history and the cataclysmic financial meltdown of the past few months combined to produce a "perfect storm," Romero told me recently. The storm blew a $19 million hole in the ACLU's budget, resulting in a hiring freeze and the cancellation of various projects, followed by the announcement, in January, that 10 percent of the national staff was being let go. Employees with decades of experience were told to clear out their offices; no department was left unscathed.

Founded in 1920, the ACLU boasts a membership of 530,000 and assets of more than $200 million. However dire the economic downturn gets, Romero, who has weathered his share of controversy at the ACLU but also presided over a period of impressive achievements and growth, can rest assured his organization will be around in a couple of years. It's an assumption a growing number of his peers in the nonprofit world can't make. At a forum in New York City in November, Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University, predicted that "at a minimum" more than 100,000 nonprofit organizations would be wiped out in the next two years. Light asked the audience members whether any of them had tuned in to the recent hearing in Washington on the impending nonprofit upheaval. The room fell silent. Light then admitted he'd missed the deliberations as well, because, alas, there hadn't been any. "We should demand a hearing immediately on the state of the nonprofit sector--immediately," he declared.

Not everyone believes the fallout will be quite so cataclysmic--historically, the nonprofit sector has proved surprisingly resilient, even growing during some recent recessions--but the scale and scope of the current downturn is clearly different. And its reverberations will likely extend far beyond the world of high-profile advocacy organizations like the ACLU. From the arts to education, soup kitchens to housing organizations, nonprofits perform an array of functions that shape the texture of daily life in communities across the country, often by helping people whose situations were precarious even before the economy crashed. Now, with foundations watching their endowments shrivel, many individual donors maxed out and states across the country staring at massive budget deficits, nonprofits are scaling back their services at the very moment when the need for them is escalating.

The Greater Hartford Legal Aid agency occupies the third floor of a boxy glass-and-concrete building a few blocks down from the University of Connecticut School of Law. Its executive director, Elam Lantz Jr., doesn't like to talk about the ripple effects that the financial crisis has had on his agency. "I would not use the word 'ripple'--it's more like a tsunami," Lantz, a mild-mannered man with a clipped gray beard and wire-frame glasses, tells me. "It's more dire than it's ever been--this is a sharp plummet, not a decline."

The main cause of the sharp plummet is a seemingly unrelated development--the decline in interest rates to near zero--that has taken a disastrous toll on legal aid organizations, which, in Connecticut and many other states, receive a substantial share of their funding from the interest on temporary trusts that lawyers hold for clients while carrying out transactions such as real estate deals. This might seem like an odd way to finance such an essential social good, and it is, but the evisceration during the Reagan era of the Legal Services Corporation, the federal agency created in the 1970s to fund legal aid programs and a longstanding target of Republicans, forced states to find creative alternatives. Back when interest rates were 3 to 4 percent, the creativity seemed to be paying off. Now that they've nose-dived, agencies from Ohio to Oregon are scrambling to survive. In Connecticut, the interest on lawyer trusts generated $21 million in 2007; the figure will plunge to under $4 million this year. At Greater Hartford Legal Aid, six attorneys have been let go and more cuts may soon follow. "I have to raise $500,000 somehow," says Lantz glumly, "and then spend some of our operating reserves. That will take us to 2010, and we're just going to have to take it one year at a time."

All this means an already overburdened legal aid system will be that much less likely to help people like Evelyn Colon. A single mother with two young daughters, last year Colon dialed the 800 number in Connecticut that refers low-income residents to attorneys who might be willing to represent them. Colon had just received an eviction notice, even though she'd kept up with her rent, after her landlord's property went into foreclosure. Her case fell to Stephanie D'Ambrose, an attorney at Greater Hartford Legal Aid. D'Ambrose discovered that the author of the eviction notice, Fannie Mae, which weeks earlier had been bailed out by the government, was obligated to treat renters more leniently under the terms of the conservatorship it had entered. After the Hartford Courant ran a story about the case, calls began pouring in from lawyers across the country representing people in similar situations. The mounting legal challenges eventually prompted Fannie Mae to announce a moratorium on all post-foreclosure evictions. At the time, there were 10,000 such cases pending nationwide.

D'Ambrose, a former Peace Corps volunteer whose desk is cluttered with manila folders and thank-you cards from various clients she's served, beams with pride when talking about the case. But she hasn't had much time to savor her success: she is among the lawyers at Greater Hartford Legal Aid who were recently laid off, and she is searching for work while trying to stomach leaving an agency swamped with need. "We already turn away a lot of people; now we'll turn away that many more," she says.

Unlike D'Ambrose, Sudha Acharya, executive director of the South Asian Council for Social Services, hasn't had to thumb through any help-wanted ads lately. She's just taken a 50 percent pay cut that, along with a 15 percent cut imposed on her staff, has enabled her agency to keep its doors open, for now. Located on the ground floor of a brick building on a noisy commercial drag in Flushing, Queens, SACSS is the sort of agency most at risk of not making it through the downturn: a shoestring operation that could disappear tomorrow with few people noticing, save for the hundreds of South Asian immigrants who rely on it for job training courses and healthcare workshops that help clients navigate a byzantine system even many native New Yorkers find impenetrable. (Among people in the state without health benefits, fully half are eligible but either don't know they are or can't figure out how to apply.)

Acharya says her organization stays afloat on a mix of foundation support, corporate donations, individual contributions and community funds but is seeing money from all sources dry up. The agency recently had to scrap an English-language class it had been offering in the Bronx; it has kept other services intact despite receiving no money for them. I ask her who else in her circles is feeling strained. "Everybody," she says with a sigh. One of the groups with which Acharya's agency partners is the Community Service Society (CSS) of New York, a 160-year-old advocacy and direct service organization for low-income residents. Its president, David Jones, describes the forces that are making the work of charitable groups like his seem like an increasingly Sisyphean task: on the one hand, cash-strapped cities and states slashing programs; on the other, private foundations reducing outlays by as much or more. Jones's colleague Frank Kortright works with a network of nonprofits that help tenants in New York City avoid eviction. The network has been fielding more and more calls lately from high-income residents it rarely heard from in the past. Yet CSS recently had its city funding sliced in half. Jones says similar cuts are "in the offing" from foundations. He sits on the board of one that "just voted for a 60 percent cut in their amounts."

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Is the Next Defense Budget a Stimulus Package?


FRIDA BERRIGAN: World War II defense spending helped pull us out of a depression, but don't count on that happening this time.

Rebuilding a Good Jobs Economy


ANNETTE BERNHARDT & CHRISTINE OWENS: In this deep economic crisis, we have an opportunity to set the bar higher. Let's not just stimulate the economy; let's rebuild it with good jobs.

Fixing the Fed


WILLIAM GREIDER: To restore the nation's broken financial system, Washington must reform the Federal Reserve.

» More

Do You Need a Chuckle After All Of Today’s News? Take This!

One day an Irishman who had been stranded on a deserted island for
over 10 years, saw a speck on the horizon. He thought to himself,
"It's certainly not a ship." And, as the speck got closer and
closer, he began to rule out the possibilities of a small boat or
even a raft.

Suddenly there emerged from the surf a wet-suited black clad figure.
Putting aside the scuba gear and the top of the wet suit, there
stood a drop-dead gorgeous blonde! The glamorous blonde strode up to
the stunned Irishman and said to him, "Tell me, how long has it been
since you've ha d a cigarette?"

"Ten years," replied the amazed Irishman. With that, she reached
over and unzipped a waterproofed pocket on the left sleeve of her wet
suit, and pulled out a fresh pack of cigarettes. He takes one,
lights it, and takes a long drag. "Faith and begorra,"said the man,
"that is so good I'd almost forgotten how great a smoke can be!"

"And how long has it been since you've had a drop of good Irish
whiskey" asked the blonde.

Trembling, the castaway replied, "Ten years." Hearing that, the
blonde reaches over to her right sleeve unzips a pocket there and
removes a flask and hands it to him. He opened the flask and took a
long drink. "Tis nectar of the gods!" stated the Irishman. "Tis truly

At this point the gorgeous blonde started to slowly unzip the long
front of her wet suit, right down the middle. She looked at the
trembling man and asked, "And how long has it been since you played

With tears in his eyes, the Irishman fell to his knees and sobbed;,

"Sweet Jesus! Don't tell me you've got golf clubs in there too!"

Try me. I’m 1/2 Irish and I don’t play Golf…no patience!

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