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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Mess that Pelosi Left for Obama

This article was originally published on on Tuesday, November 4, 2008:

If we are so lucky as to have a fair election despite the voter suppression, hackable voting machines, and intimidation, Obama is going to inherit a hell of a mess. He might have to be almost as superhuman as many of his swooning fans think he is to straighten it out, and I blame Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that the task has remained so gigantic.

She was handed her mission in Nov. 2006 and chose not to accept it. Despite her frequent claim that legislative “priorities” left no time for impeachment, under her leadership Congress did not stop the war, repeal the Patriot Act, curb global warming, protect our privacy, ensure the integrity of elections or pass other important legislation. I believe that is precisely because she refused to impeach. Her weakness emboldened Republicans and certainly encouraged the White House to thumb its nose at the legislative branch.

Since she hasn’t been impeaching and she hasn’t been passing much-needed laws, what has she been up to? It seems she has been principally devoted to posturing with superficial outrage at the Republicans, while letting things get as bad as possible so a Democrat can win the White House.

But electing Obama isn’t enough. Trusting that he won’t be like Bush and send troops off to war on outrageous lies, or spy on his own people, or censor government science, or fire U.S. attorneys resistant to voter suppression, or rebuff pleas for federal resources during an epic natural disaster, or defy the Geneva Conventions, habeas corpus, the Bill of Rights, or hundreds of new laws with ‘signing statements’ – isn’t enough. These crimes that have happened to the American people have to be answered. We deserve it and democracy requires it. Otherwise it can happen again.

Though millions of people certainly want to shake off the shackles that the radical right-wing coup inflicted on the country in 2000, there are others who actually have no idea what’s been going on for eight years. Even Oliver Stone, emerging from some sort of coma, is under the impression that Bush is just an incompetent dum-dum. A portion of the populace actually still maintains that Bush was fantastic, because they still believe Iraq was in league with al-Qaeda and involved in 9/11; they heard Bush speak many times of a link, but missed it when he finally admitted there was none. There are people who have no idea that the whole propaganda operation on the American people to authorize the Iraq War was a deliberate deception; they haven’t read the books by former prosecutors Vincent Bugliosi and Elizabeth de la Vega, and they don’t know that the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded the intelligence had been manipulated to gain support for the war – that’s manipulated, not misunderstood. The culture has settled into a kind of mythology that the war was just a mistake. Again, even Oliver Stone and his W. screenwriter Stanley Weiser believe that Bush had good intentions. This is very dangerous to leave uncorrected.

A sizeable number of crazies, hyped into a slavering frenzy by the McCain/Palin campaign, are going to raise a ruckus -- possibly on Nov. 5th – but almost certainly as soon as Obama tries to bring the troops home, close Guantanamo, halt global warming, tax the rich, or various other big changes. If he decides on talks with Iran, for instance, imagine the fuss there’ll be.

Oh, how much easier it would be for Obama if Congress first cleared the way by setting the record straight on how different the world and America really are from what Bush and Cheney have made us believe. America frequently does undergo mass delusions -- it used to believe slavery was justified, for instance, and communist witch hunts – and when these delusions are not firmly corrected on a national level, they persist for generations and lead to other delusions.

If Congress doesn’t get it on the record that so many dozens of things the Administration did were completely illegal, then there’ll be more trouble the next election and on down the line, and there’ll also be a very bad precedent that will just encourage repeats. The fact that LBJ got booed out of office but not booted out of office for leading the nation into Vietnam on the false Gulf of Tonkin incident laid the way for Reagan’s phony MIGs crisis in Nicaragua, his fabrication of a weapons cache in Grenada, and Bush Sr.’s fake claims of satellite photos showing Iraqi troops along Saudi Arabia.

Obama is very unlikely to lead any charge against the Bush criminal gang, having run on a platform of co-operation. But Rep. Dennis Kucinich has recommended a truth and reconciliation commission, and there’s still a big movement that wants to see prosecutions. Bugliosi says any state prosecutor could prosecute Bush.

I just hope that enough people in California’s 8th district vote for Cindy Sheehan to let Pelosi know that they are pissed at her. Her last opponent, running for the Greens, got 8% of the vote. If Sheehan can get more than that so Pelosi doesn’t think it’s just par for the course, if it’s a noticeable number, maybe a crack will appear in that bubble she has encased herself in so determinedly. If Pelosi would just stop standing so firmly in the way of those in Congress who want to see justice done, maybe something could happen.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Thanks for Changing the Climate, Here's Your Reward

This article was originally published on on Monday, November 3, 2008:

Congress, worried that the war on Iraq might actually end one day, has turned its attention to funding the war on the environment. This week the House acquiescently passed the auto companies' bailout -- or as we are supposed to call it, "bridge loan" - memories already dimmed of the auto execs' flying to D.C. in private jets last month.  The only reason the auto giants are not getting a check on Monday is that the Republicans in the Senate have since voted against the bill.

But, like the unpleasant memories in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Democrats' memories seem to have been erased, and we heard nary a peep about all the times the car companies have sued and testified and spent a lot of energy to defeat any government limits on their planetary destruction. California has been especially affected by their litigiousness, as the state has tried to lead the way with progressive standards to curb auto emissions. In fact, the auto companies are in litigation against California right now. State Attorney General Jerry Brown asked Congress to place a very reasonable restriction on the bridge loan: that California and other states be ensured the authority to set auto emissions standards at the California level, which would make the lawsuit against the California government groundless.

This is not a minor lawsuit that the attorney general's office doesn't have to devote many resources to -- it's a monster lawsuit in which 21 car companies have joined forces, and that definitely includes the Big Three who have had their hands out: GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler. (And don't rest too easy on the Prius good vibes; Toyota is part of it, too.) It sure seems that if car companies are going broke  after years of Machiavellian scheming to stave off fuel efficiency -- as depicted in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? -- then the very least their sugar daddy should require is that they don't waste millions on a lawsuit to avoid having to follow the law. If the bailout is altruistic and intended to help the 'little people', then the California government should not be having to spend money to defend the right to enforce its own laws when clinics and schools are hurting for funds and people are losing their homes.

GM is one of the companies claiming to be on the verge of bankruptcy right now, and they figure prominently in Who Killed the Electric Car, as they aggressively remove their own electric cars from the road, hide them, and then physically crush the vehicles for fear that people might actually buy them. After finalizing auto bailout legislation for the Senate on Weds., Senator Chris Dodd (the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs) issued a public statement: "I wish that these companies had not gotten themselves into this situation." Yes, and we also wish that they had not gotten us and the planet into this situation, Senator.  Is that the best you can do? Reward them for it?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can never remember that she herself actually is a California representative, under the impression instead that she's Head Chauffeur at the ranch in Crawford, so maybe it shouldn't be surprising that she came out in the forefront announcing the need for this particular handout. It wasn't Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Bush didn't have to pre-empt prime time; she was the mouthpiece. Since the White House has threatened to nix the auto bailout if there's any tough love in it, and Pelosi seems to think the White House is doing us a favor, she decided not to rock the boat. Now that the Republicans in the Senate have refused to fall in line, she's whining to about the Senate vote: "To have just 32 Republicans, you think, 'Why don't we write our own bill?'" In short, she's disappointed that Democrats' sacrifices weren't appreciated.

I think we're all scratching our heads wondering why you didn't write your own bill, Congresswoman, instead of passing a bill for the White House's tastes. This is the White House which, amidst so many other offences it's almost impossible to keep track, directed the EPA to oppose California's emissions law in the first place. Because California was proposing tougher restrictions than the feds, the state needed a waiver to bypass the federal law, and the EPA refused, even though 17 other states wanted to follow the same standards. The Bush White House's environmental policy, in short, is to actively violate states' rights in order to aid the oil and auto companies in their quest to pollute. (One would think the purpose of the waiver requirement was to grant some allowances to states having trouble meeting strict environmental standards, not to stop them from protecting the environment.) Bush's EPA has strenuously fought to do everything possible to enhance global warming, even against a Supreme Court ruling that put the P back in EPA. With all of this back and forth motored, if you will, by the auto companies, you would think Pelosi would be concerned, especially since fellow Northern Californian Barbara Boxer, Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, publicly demanded that EPA head Stephen Johnson resign back in July, and also requested U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey begin a Dept. of Justice perjury investigation against him.

Instead, Pelosi's complaint to Politico about the Republicans' obstruction of the auto bailout bill highlighted how she tried to accommodate the White House. It's Dec. 12, 2008, and she's still under the impression that bending over backwards for the least popular president anyone can recall is a virtue! Will somebody please tell her there's a Democratic majority in both houses? About to be replaced after the holidays by an even larger Democratic majority in both houses? Oh yes, and I think the new president is a Democrat, too?

But it gets better. The other anti-environment White House proviso to which Pelosi buckled under is that the auto company rescue be paid for from a fund to build greener cars.

I'm not kidding.

Not only was Pelosi fine with giving money to an industry that considers one of its business expenses a protracted lawsuit against California taxpayers, but she is actually letting the White House plead poverty now (though they never did when demanding that Congress fund the war, reward reckless Wall Street operatives, or cut rich people's taxes). But now all of a sudden it's necessary to raid the fund set aside to produce cars that are more environmentally friendly. Granted, Pelosi initially "resisted using" the green fund, ABC News reports, and I'm sure she'll be the first to mention that when asked about it (unless she's able to avoid answering the question.)

However, afraid that she wouldn't get the job as Silverware Burnisher at Bush's new home in "whites-only" Dallas suburb Preston Hollow, she "changed her mind under White House pressure."

Not to criticize ABC News (not about this story, anyway), but they could have just borrowed their reporting from any report filed about Congress during the last two years: Isn't "Pelosi resisted but changed her mind under White House pressure" always the theme? I think we could add a word to the dictionary: PELOSI, v.: "to initially resist and then change one's mind under White House pressure." We could install a Commemorative Barometer at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and name it "the Pelosi", so its reading can change with White House pressure in perpetuity. In years to come, any political history scholar who is able to find a single instance during the Bush Administration when Pelosi did not "change her mind under White House pressure" will automatically become famous.

By contrast, Jerry Brown showed what bold, creative leadership actually looks like shortly after being elected state attorney general by launching a lawsuit against the car companies for contributing to global warming. A judge dismissed the suit, but you don't have to win every struggle to make the attempt worthwhile. The pro-war crowd certainly believes in the nobility of fighting to the finish on the battlefield. (The Democratic 'leaders' in Congress, whose arguments against the Iraq War were based on what they thought would make the smoothest sound bites, argued only that we were losing, not that the war is immoral or illegal, thus allowing the 'fighting against the odds' mentality to perpetuate the war.) And now the Republicans in the Senate have just shown an astonishing ability to make a stand -- only 10 of them voting for the auto bailout - even against their own President.

It seems as if, were it not for the Republicans, the next thing we'll see is Big Tobacco asking for a handout, complaining that the cost of damaging public health has really put a crimp in their style.