The Happy Leftie

For lefties and other normal people who have considered suicide when the mainstream 'news' was enuf

Giving you something to be happy about for over 40 days • Stop by often and get your 'happy' on!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Internet fundraising giving Dems big boost

According to the Washington Post -- and Ken Mehlman -- Democrats are competitive with the Republicans in fundraising this year because of the internet:
RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, whose committee has seen a 10 percent fundraising drop, compared with 2004, said Internet fundraising has allowed Democrats to reach a new group of liberal donors and narrow the GOP's edge with individuals. But he said his party still holds a solid financial lead because of money raised by state parties.

Still, the trends at the national level are diminishing what in past years has been a powerful GOP asset: the ability to overpower opponents with expensive television advertising and voter-mobilization campaigns in House and Senate races.
It's a whole new world.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Blackwell Gets Brunt of Registrants' Anger

He denies trying to disenfranchise voters.

Democrats and representatives of voter-registration groups accused Secretary of State Ken Blackwell on Monday of trying to rig this November's election by publishing draconian new rules governing the activities of people who register voters.

Testifying at a hearing chaired by Judy Grady, Blackwell's director of elections, lawyers for ACORN, Common Cause, the Ohio Democratic Party and other groups said training documents drafted by Blackwell's office are so vague that they subject registrars to felony penalties for even inadvertent violations.

As a result, ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has drastically cut back its voter-registration efforts while its lawyers review the new rules, Katy Gall, Ohio ACORN's head organizer, said in an interview.

Gall said ACORN has registered 35,000 voters in six Ohio cities since February. Its goal is 130,000.

Samuel Gresham, an attorney for Common Cause, charged that the rules are "part of a consistent pattern, intentionally so," by Blackwell to disenfranchise black, low-income and Democratic voters.

Blackwell's actions, Gresham and others said, are intended to suppress Democratic voter turnout in what is shaping up as a closely contested governor's race between Blackwell, a Republican, and Democratic US Rep. Ted Strickland.

"It appears that Ken Blackwell finally figured out how to deal with long lines on Election Day," said state Democratic Party spokesman Brian Rothenberg. "He's just trying to outright deny people the right to vote now."

Those criticisms brought a scathing response from Blackwell's campaign spokesman, Carlo LoParo.

"That's outrageous," LoParo said. "The Blackwell campaign is making a very focused effort to gain the votes of Ohio's urban voters, but particularly Ohio's African-American voters, and that's because Ken Blackwell is the only candidate in this race that can articulate their concerns."

In contrast, Strickland is so out of touch with black voters, LoParo said, that "before this campaign, his idea of diversity was opting for Neapolitan ice cream at the congressional buffet."

The rules were drafted to comply with a new state election-reform law. The focus of most of the voter-registration activists' ire is a provision that says registrars must return applicants' forms "directly" to the secretary of state's office or a county board of elections.

Peg Rosenfield, elections specialist for the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said a strict interpretation of that rule means that the person who registers a voter can't even turn the form over to his supervisor for review.

Angered by the passage of a similar law in Florida, the League ceased all voter-registration efforts and sued Florida elections officials last month with the assistance of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. A lawyer for the Brennan Center also testified at Monday's hearing in Columbus.

State Rep. Kevin DeWine, the legislator who sponsored the election-reform law, said he believes Blackwell's office faithfully drafted the rules to comply with the bill.

However, he said the law "might need a fix" because lawmakers didn't intend to subject registrars to criminal penalties if they turn their forms over to a supervisor for review instead of directly submitting them to the secretary of state.

Friday, June 02, 2006

GOP Base Not Swayed by Bush's Stance on Gay Marriage

The campaign against gay marriage is scheduled to get the administration's special treatment on Monday — words from President Bush at the White House, an array of VIPs assembled to hear him, a bank of television cameras on hand to broadcast the proceedings.

Such marquee billing aims to confer the grandeur of the office on the push for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. But even before administration officials announced the event, some of the invitees, far from swooning at the honor, denounced it as a sham.

"I'm going to go and hear what he says, but we already know it is a ruse," said Joe Glover, president of the Family Policy Network, which opposes gay marriage. "We're not buying it. We're going to go and watch the dog-and-pony show, (but) it's too little, too late."

Such comments have raised the prospect that the debate on gay marriage — designed to galvanize one of Bush's most important constituencies, social conservatives —could instead exacerbate the president's political headaches.

The White House gathering will serve as a prelude to the Senate debate next week on the proposed constitutional amendment.

Supporters acknowledge they have little hope of reaching the two-thirds threshold -- 67 votes -- the measure would need to pass in the 100-member Senate. Indeed, they likely will fail to clear the 60-vote hurdle needed to shut off debate and force an up-or-down roll call tally on the proposal.

Two years ago, when Republicans brought the amendment to the floor less than four months before the 2004 presidential election, only 48 senators voted to end debate. The GOP gained Senate seats in the '04 election, but not enough to appreciably improve the chances of reaching the 60-vote mark.

Even if the measure were to pass the Senate — and then win a two-thirds majority in 435-member House, the arduous process for amending the Constitution could derail it. After clearing Congress, the proposal would require ratification by three-fourths of the 50 states to take effect.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., adhering to a pledge he made months ago, is bringing up the amendment for debate anyway. Many Republicans on Capitol Hill argue that even if its short-term prospects appear bleak, spotlighting its merits could lay the groundwork for eventual passage.

Democrats complain the real reason behind the push is to rally conservative activists in advance of this year's congressional elections.

"Our country faces great challenges: record high gas prices, skyrocketing health-care costs and an intractable war in Iraq," Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada said. "Yet instead of addressing these issues, Sen. Frist has chosen to put the politics of division ahead of real progress by pushing for a debate on a divisive amendment that will write discrimination into the Constitution."

But if pleasing a key element of the Republican Party was the aim, the effort doesn't appear to be working.

"Social conservatives are disappointed that there hasn't been more action on the issues that were highlighted in the 2004 election," said Gary Glenn, head of the American Family Association of Michigan.He added: "Increasingly, social conservatives expect real action, not just politically timed attempts to motivate and organize the base."

Others complain that Bush, despite Monday's event, has not put the full heft of the presidency behind the bid to outlaw gay marriage.

"President Bush's position is actually quite good on many . . . life and family issues, but he needs to get out front on them," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, wrote in a message to supporters last week. There is also dismay among some activists over the wording of the amendment.

At least two prominent social conservative groups -- Concerned Women for America and the Traditional Values Coalition -- believe that the language contains a loophole that would create a right for gays to seek civil unions.

The amendment reads: "Marriage in the United States shall consist solely of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."

Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, and others argue that the second sentence leaves open the option that gays and lesbians could enter unions other than marriage, and that's a deal breaker for them.

On its Web site, the Concerned Women of America says the group "does not support the Marriage Protection Amendment as currently worded because the second sentence is open to differing interpretations."

Other social conservative groups, notably the powerful Focus on the Family headed by Dr. James Dobson, support the amendment, despite what they consider flaws in it.

"We would prefer stronger language, but we're content with this language. It leaves the issue of civil unions to the states. We recognize that this is the best we're going to get at the federal level," said Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family's director of public policy.

White House officials sidestepped questions about the issue for most of this week. On Friday, White House spokesman Tony Snow insisted that the president has been an active opponent of gay marriage since he announced his support for the constitutional amendment in 2004. And Snow dismissed criticism that the president had done little in the interim to make it a priority.

"I don't know how you define what a priority is," Snow said. "The president has made it clear what he wants. He would like to see the Senate pass" the amendment.

Republican strategists are unsure how much the gay marriage debate will help the beleaguered GOP in November's elections.

"There is a significant amount of disenchantment, but most of the disenchantment is on the economic side" of the administration's performance, said veteran Republican strategist Eddie Mahe.

Who's responsible for this mess? Everyone who voted for W in '04, that's who

Florida isn't Podunk. How we vote really affects all of America. So, it's atonement time for some of us.

If you voted for George W. Bush only in 2000, you may be partly forgiven. Six years ago, Der George claimed to be a "compassionate conservative," appeared no more dangerous than the loser first-born of a CEO who takes over the family business when daddy retires. Back then, no one really expected him to wind up in the White House or figured he'd be in charge if he did; Der Dick would pull the strings. Falling for W's carefully crafted facade, naïve voters couldn't imagine he'd ruin the country.

But if you're a Floridian who could see the damage Der W did during his first term and still voted for him and other R's in 2004, you knew what you were doing.

So, you are personally responsible for all the president's misdeeds: massaging intelligence to invade Iraq, the chaos post-Saddam, the death and maiming of our soldiers and Iraqi civilians, our crushing national debt, unauthorized wiretaps and domestic spying, trampling on our constitutional rights, flouting Congress and the courts, claiming "it's legal because we say it is," failing to respond to Hurricane Katrina, gutting our social infrastructure, pandering to the Radical Right, concocting an energy plan with Big Oil, failing our schools.

Floridians who voted Republican also fostered the culture of corruption in Congress that emboldened Tom DeLay, "Duke" Cunningham, Jack Abramoff and a long list of others who'll soon be indicted.

And, in one of the biggest boomerangs of all, Floridians whose native language is not English and who voted Republican are responsible for electing a president and Congress whose recent English-only initiative is designed to energize their radical right-wing base, while it shafts legal immigrants and citizens. (Cubans who haven't voted Democrat since the Bay of Pigs might wonder who their friends really are.)

In short, to have voted for the Gang of W in 2004 was to have been a knowing accomplice in implementing everything from misplaced, mean-spirited priorities to "high crimes and misdemeanors" -- what some people have already dubbed the worst American presidency ever. All of you are Karl Rove, and Karl Rove is you.

If it were possible to impeach the public, Floridians who voted Republican would already have been convicted, along with a president who probably should be and could be.

Typically, Americans think that all we have to do to fulfill our civic duty is show up at the polls. Not enough of us understand that voting in a representative government may be dangerous. With your ballot, you are sanctioning what elected officials do in your name, once in office. (The prez has tanked in the polls. But public disgust with him is also an indictment of everyone who elected him.)

Predictably, these days, it's harder and harder to find anyone who confesses to having voted for W. But, if you're honest enough to admit to it and did so only in 2000, you may be forgiven -- if you promise to look yourself in the mirror every day until Election Day 2008 and repeat, "I have sinned and promise never to do it again."

But if you voted for W in 2004, you've got to repent big-time, with no guarantee of absolution. For starters, put your life on the line in Iraq, or get your son or daughter to do so. Start a chapter of Republicans Anonymous to deal with your addiction to electing bad people who make bad policies. Publicly repudiate wedge-strategies that divide the nation over bogus social issues. And pledge to vote for Democrats -- to curb a renegade White House and rubber-stamp Congress.

Elections are games that focus on the players. But even if we aren't running for office, we're never just idle spectators. As voters, we are responsible for who's on our team and how they play the game -- for their perfect shots and their foul plays. When we're right, we're right. But when we're wrong, we know the only honorable thing to do -- or else.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Republicans Filibuster the 'Bible bill,' Alienate Evangelical Voters

Evangelicals leaving the GOP

The Republicans were filibustering the Bible bill. On a Tuesday afternoon in early February, Republican legislators in Alabama took to the crimson-carpeted floor of the state house to oppose legislation that would authorize an elective course on the Bible in public high schools. The recommended curriculum for the course had been vouched for by Christian Right all-stars like Chuck Colson and Ted Haggard, but so far as Republicans were concerned, there was only one pertinent piece of information about the bill: It was sponsored by two Democrats. And now Republicans were prepared to do everything in their procedural power to stop it, even if that meant lining up to explain why they could not—could not!—stand for this attempt to bring a class about the Bible into public schools.

When I came to Montgomery to watch the debate over the Bible literacy bill, I had expected something pro forma, a Bible love-fest. Alabama is, after all, God's country. On the drive from Atlanta, I sampled some of the area's many Christian radio stations to catch up on the Christian rock that doesn't get played as often in Washington—some classic Amy Grant, a little Third Day, and a new group, Jonah 33 (think 3 Doors Down, but with more Jesus lyrics). Outside, it looked like the good Lord could have reached down and molded Adam out of the red clay. This is the state that produced Judge Roy Moore and the Ten Commandments statue. Martin Luther King Jr., pastored his first church here, Dexter Avenue Baptist. In Snead, a convenience-store owner offers free coffee or soda to anyone who recites the Bible verse of the month, and people do it because it's a two-fer: Learn the Bible and get a free Dr. Pepper.

As far as people around here are concerned, you can always use a little more Bible. It's not taught in the schools very often because the Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that public schools couldn't hold devotional classes, and many school boards—unsure of how else to teach about the Bible—don't want to get sued. But when some local leaders learned last summer about a curriculum package produced by the Bible Literacy Project out of Fairfax, Va., the problem seemed to be solved. The course presents the Bible in a historical and cultural context—giving students a better understanding of biblical allusions in art, literature, and music. More importantly, it has been vetted by conservative and liberal legal experts to withstand constitutional challenge.

One of the leading advocates of the Bible course, Dr. Randy Brinson, met me at entrance to the state house. Brinson, a tall sandy-haired physician from Montgomery who speaks with a twang and the earnest enthusiasm of a youth-group leader, is a lifelong Republican and founder of Redeem the Vote, a national voter registration organization that targets evangelicals. Since discovering the Bible literacy course, he has successfully lobbied politicians in Florida, Georgia, and Missouri to introduce bills that would set up similar classes. But it is here at home that he's encountered the most resistance. “You should see who's against this thing,” he told me, shaking his head.

Indeed, when Brinson and the other supporters—including several Pentecostal ministers, some Methodists, and a member of the state board of education—entered the state house chamber to make their case, they faced off against representatives from the Christian Coalition, Concerned Women of America, and the Eagle Forum. These denizens of the Christian Right denounced the effort, calling it “extreme” and “frivolous” and charging that it would encourage that most dangerous of activities, “critical thinking.” The real stakes of the fight, though, were made clear by Republican Rep. Scott Beason when he took his turn at the lectern. “This is more than about God,” he reminded his colleagues. “This is about politics.”

Actually, it's about both—a fight over which party gets to claim the religious mantle. Nationally, and in states like Alabama, the GOP cannot afford to allow Democrats a victory on anything that might be perceived as benefiting people of faith. Republican political dominance depends on being able to manipulate religious supporters with fear, painting the Democratic Party as hostile to religion and in the thrall of secular humanists. That image would take quite a blow if the party of Nancy Pelosi was responsible for bringing back Bible classes—even constitutional ones—to public schools.

The holy skirmish down in Alabama, with its “GOP blocks votes on Bible class bill” headlines, may seem like just a one-time, up-is-down, oddity. But it's really the frontline of a larger war to keep Democrats from appealing to more moderate evangelical voters. American politics is so closely divided that if a political party peels off a few percentage points of a single big constituency, it can change the entire electoral map. To take the most recent example, African Americans, who represent 11 percent of the electorate, cast 88 percent of their ballots for Democrats nationally. But Bush was able to get those numbers down to 84 percent in key states like Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2004—and kept the White House as a result. Republican strategists recognized that a significant number of black voters are very conservative on social issues but have stayed with the Democratic Party because of its reputation for being friendlier to racial minorities. The GOP didn't need a strategy to sway the entire black community; it just needed to pick off enough votes to put the party over the top.

Democrats could similarly poach a decisive percentage of the GOP's evangelical base. In the last election, evangelicals made up 26 percent of the electorate, and 78 percent of them voted for Bush. That sounds like a fairly inviolate bloc. And, indeed, the conservative evangelicals for whom abortion and gay marriage are the deciding issues are unlikely to ever leave the Republican Party. But a substantial minority of evangelical voters—41 percent, according to a 2004 survey by political scientist John Green at the University of Akron—are more moderate on a host of issues ranging from the environment to public education to support for government spending on anti-poverty programs. Broadly speaking, these are the suburban, two-working-parents, kids-in-public-school, recycle-the-newspapers evangelicals. They may be pro-life, but it's in a Catholic, “seamless garment of life” kind of way. These moderates have largely remained in the Republican coalition because of its faith-friendly image. A targeted effort by the Democratic Party to appeal to them could produce victories in the short term: To win the 2004 presidential election, John Kerry needed just 59,300 additional votes in Ohio—that's four percent of the total evangelical vote in the state, or approximately 10 percent of Ohio's moderate evangelical voters. And if the Democratic Party changed its reputation on religion, the result could alter the electoral map in a more significant and permanent way.

That's why, insiders say, the word has gone forth from the Republican National Committee to defeat Democratic efforts to reclaim religion. Republicans who disregard the instructions and express support for Democratic efforts are swiftly disciplined. At the University of Alabama, the president of the College Republicans was forced to resign after she endorsed the Bible legislation.
A few states away, a Missouri Republican who sponsored a Bible literacy bill came under criticism from conservatives for consulting with Brinson and subsequently denied to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter that he had ever even heard of Brinson. But as for Brinson himself, he's already gone. “Oh, they're ticked at me,” he says. “But it's because they're scared. This has the potential to break the Republican coalition.”

Willing to play ball

Three years ago, Randy Brinson would have been the first to tell you that he was an unlikely political player and an even less likely Democratic collaborator. While his father had been a classic southern Democrat who shifted with George Wallace and made the leap to the Republican Party with Reagan, Brinson, who grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., had come of age in the new Republican South. He had worked on the campaign of the first Republican to be elected governor in South Carolina when he was in boarding school there and was an early Reagan supporter at college in Georgia in the mid-1970s. When Brinson moved his family to Montgomery after medical school, he naturally got involved in local politics, and in the late 1990s, he was a health-care advisor to the Republican governor Fob James.

But he was essentially an unknown figure until, in 2003, he figured out a way to combine his three passions—religion, politics, and music. He had already been part of a group that started WAY-FM (as in, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”), a Christian radio station based in Montgomery and carried in 44 markets. With an upcoming presidential election, Brinson realized that a religious version of MTV's Rock the Vote would have the best chance of reaching young evangelicals and getting them involved in politics. Using his own money at first, he created a non-profit called Redeem the Vote and hired the media firm that marketed Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, giving him instant access to their contacts throughout the evangelical world. Through partnerships with more than 30 Christian music acts and summer concerts like Creation East and Spirit Coast West (the Christian equivalents of Lilith Fair or Lollapalooza), Redeem the Vote registered more voters than all of the efforts of the Christian Right heavyweights—Focus on the Family, the Southern Baptist Convention, American Family Association, and the Family Research Council—combined.

Suddenly, Brinson was on the radar of national media like The Washington Post and “Nightline,” and catching the eye of fellow conservatives. With such an impressive showing his first time out and direct access to young evangelicals, the most coveted of resources, Brinson could have been on track to become a major player in the Christian Right. The old guard—figures like James Dobson, Chuck Colson, Don Wildmon, James Kennedy, Phyllis Schlafly—are all in their 70s; the future of the movement lies with people like Brinson, who are 20 or 30 years younger and have credibility with the grassroots.

So when religious conservatives convened a meeting at the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington a few weeks after the election, Brinson was invited. The room was full of men who had played some role in keeping the White House in Bush's hands. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention sat at Brinson's table. Rick Warren, author of the bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life, wasn't far away. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) came over from the Hill to talk with the group. The mood was celebratory, but with an aggressive, hostile edge. They had won, and now they wanted to collect.

The main item of business that day was what to do with Santorum's colleague, the pesky pro-choice Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.). Specter held a crucial position as chair of the Judiciary Committee and had recently outraged this group by telling the press that he would apply “no litmus test” to judicial nominees. Now they wanted him gone, ousted, stripped of power. When, in the midst of escalating rhetoric, Brinson spoke up to suggest that perhaps punishing Specter wasn't the wisest decision, the idea wasn't well received. “That,” he says, “was my first inkling that I wasn't one of them.” If being a player in this world meant calling for the heads of moderate Republicans and ginning up fake controversies like a supposed “war on Christmas,” Brinson wasn't terribly interested.

Not long after, while Brinson was still turning the taste of disillusionment around in his mouth, a Democrat called from Washington. The immediate post-election conventional wisdom was that Democrats lost because they couldn't appeal to so-called “moral values” voters. Democrats immediately embarked on a crash course in religious outreach and sought out people who could teach them about evangelicals. Brinson, who had caught the attention of the Democratic youth-vote industry, seemed like an obvious choice.

As for Brinson, when the Democratic chief of staff on the other end of the line asked whether the doctor would be willing to meet with some Democrats, he thought about his recent experiences with the other side and decided “maybe it wouldn't be so bad to talk to these Democratic people.” In quick succession, the lifelong Republican found himself meeting with advisors to the incoming Democratic leaders—Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)—field directors at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and aides to Howard Dean at the Democratic National Committee. What they found is that their interests overlapped: The Democrats wanted to reach out to evangelicals, and Brinson wanted to connect with politicians who could deliver on a broader array of evangelical concerns, like protecting programs to help the poor, supporting public education, and expanding health care. It had seemed natural for him to start by pressing his own party to take up those concerns, but Democrats appeared to be more willing partners. They even found common ground on abortion when Brinson, who is very pro-life, explained that he was more interested in lowering abortion rates by preventing unwanted pregnancies than in using the issue to score political points.

Those Democrats who had initially been wary about working with a conservative evangelical Republican from Alabama found Brinson convincing. They also realized that conservatives had done them an enormous favor. “Listening to him talk,” one of them told me, “I thought, these guys bitch-slapped him, and he's willing to play ball.”

At about this time, with Bush just entering his second term, his support among evangelicals began to slip. They had turned out in record numbers to give him nearly 80 percent of their votes. And for what? Conservative evangelicals didn't like the fact that their demand to oust Specter was ultimately denied. Nor were they pleased that the Harriet Miers nomination had been bungled after it was peddled to them as a way to put one of their own on the high court. The Abramoff scandal didn't help either, with its manipulation of Christian Right leaders to support gambling interests and email messages referring to evangelicals as “wackos.”

For their part, more moderate evangelicals soured on Bush for many of the reasons that lowered his approval ratings across the board: an unpopular Social Security plan, a lack of progress in Iraq, and the failed response to Hurricane Katrina. The right-of-center magazine Christianity Today ran an editorial declaring that “single-issue politics is neither necessary nor wise.” One-third of the students and faculty at Calvin College in the heart of conservative western Michigan signed a full-page ad protesting Bush's Iraq policy when he gave a commencement address there. Many moderates were dismayed when the old guard refused to join protests against federal budget cuts that fall disproportionately on the poor in favor of what James Dobson called “pro-family tax cuts.” These moderates had supported Bush despite often disagreeing with his specific positions. But in 2005, according to an Associated Press poll, the percentage of them who believed the country was headed in the right direction dropped by 30 points.

Big business v. believers

The newly converted are the most zealous, sharing the good news with gusto to any and all comers. Every few days, Randy Brinson calls me with another revelation. Republicans? “The power structure in the Republican Party is too entrenched with big business. It's not with evangelicals—they're a means to an end.” The Christian Right? “They just want to keep the culture war going because it raises a lot of money for them.” Abramoff? “Evangelicals were being used as pawns to promote a big money agenda.” His fellow evangelicals? “Can't they see that Republicans are just pandering to them??” He once was blind, but now he sees.

What sets Brinson apart from other disgruntled evangelicals is that he has an infrastructure at his disposal. Although Redeem the Vote is still engaged in voter registration activities, Brinson has expanded its mission, branching out into issue advocacy and using the organizational capability developed during the campaign to mobilize evangelicals at a moment's notice. Last year, when a Republican state senator led an effort to shift money from Alabama's education trust fund to more conservative causes, Brinson generated nearly 60,000 email messages—nearly half of the state senate district. It didn't take long for the legislator to cry “uncle” and leave the funds for public education.

It's for this reason that Brinson has not been completely shut out of conversations in the Christian Right, and officials at the White House continue to take his calls. He has numbers behind him, and they all know it. In an uncharacteristically boastful moment, Brinson crows that Republicans “are sweating bullets because they know what we can do.”

While Brinson has been working with Democrats in Alabama on the Bible literacy bill, other evangelicals are having their own road to Damascus moments. One of them is Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), and a frequent subject of profiles on “kinder, gentler” evangelicals in outlets like Newsweek and USA Today. Cizik has spent years trying to get evangelicals invested in what he calls “creation care,” the idea that God gave them responsibility for tending to the earth. His hope has been that a Republican administration would be more likely to pay attention to lobbying from its own base on issues like carbon dioxide emissions than from liberal environmentalists.

In early January, I talked to Cizik about his efforts to get evangelicals to take a stand on climate change, a move that would place considerable political pressure on the administration to take the problem seriously. The NAE represents 52 denominations with 45,000 churches and 30 million members across the country—getting them all to agree on something is no easy task, but Cizik had made impressive strides and was optimistic. Convinced that his only course of action was to work with Republicans, he spent an hour patiently explaining why evangelicals were better off trying to change Republican attitudes about the environment rather than working with Democrats who already embraced his position. Not able to help myself, I argued back. It's not as if the Bush administration doesn't support environmental policies because they hate trees. It's because they have powerful business supporters who don't like regulation. Still, Cizik held firm, insisting that evangelicals had to change “our own party.”

A month later, I ran into Cizik at the National Prayer Breakfast. That morning, he had opened up his Washington Post to find an article based on a letter to his boss from the old guard—Dobson, Colson, Wildmon, and the rest—suggesting, in the way that Tony Soprano makes suggestions, that the NAE back off its plan to take a public position on global warming. “Bible-believing evangelicals,” the letter-writers argued, “disagree about the cause, severity and solutions to the global warming issue.” The leaked letter was a blatant attempt to torpedo Cizik's efforts, and it had worked. The NAE would take no stand on climate change.

There was no doubt that the administration had prevailed on the more pliable figures of the Christian Right to whack one of their own. Cizik was beside himself. It was hard to resist the “I told you so” moment, and I didn't. But when I suggested to him that this was an example of the way that business seemed to win out most of the time when religious and business interests came into conflict in GOP politics, he stopped me. “Not most of the time,” he corrected. “Every time. Every single time.” And he's no longer sure that can change. “Maybe not with this administration.... We need to stop putting all of our eggs in one basket—that's just not good politics.”

Cizik wasn't the only example of this shift at the Prayer Breakfast. At the main event earlier in the day, keynote speaker Bono (of U2 and antipoverty crusading fame) enjoyed a far more enthusiastic reception than President Bush, whose applause was, several conservative religious leaders told me, surprisingly weak. (“He got a standing ovation when he entered, but that's because you have to stand,” observed one evangelical.) It could have had something to do with the fact that Bono highlighted this tension between what's good for corporate interests and what serves the cause of justice. He went through a litany of examples—trade agreements that make it harder for Third-World countries to sell their products, tax policies that shift debt to the next generation, patent laws that raise the price of life-saving drugs—and then put the challenge to his audience: “God will not accept that. Mine won't, at least. Will yours?”

Evangelicals—particularly centrists—are increasingly answering, “No!” Rick Warren has recently started a campaign to end global poverty, reminding his followers that “Life is not about having more and getting more—it's about serving God and serving others.” Groups like the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) are taking up Cizik's cause; 63 percent of evangelicals in a recent survey released by EEN said that global warming was an immediate concern. Half went even further, agreeing that steps needed to be taken to reduce global warming, even if it meant a high economic cost for the United States. Former National Review writer Rod Dreher has a just-published book that urges religious conservatives to question negative consequences of the free market.

The list of issues these evangelicals care about extends beyond the social hot-buttons that win elections. And yet, as Cizik notes, when they try to promote concerns that threaten the interests of big business, evangelicals are stymied every time. Observers date the latest round of religious/business tensions to the mid-1990s disagreement over whether to continue China's Most-Favored-Nation trading status. Although the issue split Democrats, the most serious dispute was within the Republican Party. Religious conservatives, led by evangelicals, argued that the United States should not trade with a country that had serious human rights abuses, including persecution of Christians. But their concerns were overridden by corporations who lusted after China's vast, largely untapped market.

More recently, evangelicals and other religious leaders have met with officials at the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to request government action to protect children from receiving pornography over wireless devices. This was a cause the Bush-Cheney campaigned trumpeted during 2004 as proof of its commitment to help parents protect their children from harmful cultural influences. That was before wireless companies weighed in to oppose the regulation, however. In their latest meeting with federal agencies, the religious leaders were politely but firmly rebuffed.

Even a simple measure to protect the rights of workers to wear religious garb such as the hijab in the workplace or to swap work schedules with a colleague on religious holidays like Good Friday hit a brick wall when business interests got involved. For 10 years, Republican congressional leaders—and, since 2001, the Bush White House—have refused to support the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (cosponsored by John Kerry and Rick Santorum) because the business lobby, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opposes the idea that employers should have to make accommodations for religious workers. In a November 2005 hearing on the legislation, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), angrily dressed down the Chamber's witness, declaring himself “incredibly disgusted, as well as disappointed” by her testimony. This earned him a rebuke from the committee chair, who reminded Souder that “private business... has the right to set the rules.”

This is hardly a new tension in the Republican coalition. In 1984, Sidney Blumenthal wrote a fascinating article in The New Republic, detailing how Reagan's political advisors struggled to sideline the religious conservatives who had put them into power. A “strategy of repressive tolerance,” he wrote, was the work of economic conservatives who found the agenda of the Christian Right inconvenient and often embarrassing. The battle plan sounds very familiar today: The Christian Right rallied its followers around issues like abortion and school prayer; the White House offered “insincere gestures of support” while instructing congressional leaders to place relevant legislation in permanent limbo; and White House aides made sure the Christian Right constituency was “maintained in a state of perpetual mobilization.”

The flaw in this strategy, Blumenthal noted, was that “The White House served as an incubator for the movement it was trying to contain.” After eight years of this, religious conservatives wised up. And when televangelist Pat Robertson entered the 1988 presidential primaries, his strong early showing stemmed in large part from the support of frustrated evangelicals. Back then, of course, the issues that the White House was working to avoid were conservative favorites like abortion and school prayer. That's still a problem for the Bush administration, but now they face dissent from the other side as well. The first time around, of course, Robertson failed to get the nomination, and most evangelicals—faced with the choice between the Episcopalian George H.W. Bush or the avowedly secular Michael Dukakis—drifted back to the GOP. What will happen in 2008 is now an open question.

Giving Karl Rove heartburn

Like an abusive boyfriend, Republicans keep moderate evangelicals in the coalition by alternating between painting their options as bleak and wooing them with sweet talk. You can't leave me—where are you going to go? To them? They think you're stupid, they hate religion. Besides, you know I love you—I'm a compassionate conservative. The tactic works as long as evangelicals don't call the GOP's bluff and as long as Democrats are viewed as hostile to religion.

Randy Brinson is proof that some evangelicals are willing to take their chances and cross over to see what Democrats have to offer. There is a growing recognition among mainstream Democrats and the once-quiescent Religious Left that they can reframe issues they care about in terms that appeal to religious voters. But winning over moderate evangelicals—or moderate religious voters generally—will take more than just repackaging old positions. It will require aggressively staking out new positions that can be used to demonstrate the tension within the GOP's religious/business coalition—embracing, for instance, the Workplace Religious Freedom Act. And it means forwarding new ideas that can counter the conservative-promoted image of progressives as anti-religious—ideas like Bible-as-literature courses in public high schools, which might anger some secularists on the left but are perfectly consonant with liberal values.

A sign that Democratic leaders are beginning to get it is the plan—promoted by leaders such as Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton—to lower abortion rates by preventing unwanted pregnancies. Full-throated support of this effort, and a recognition that abstinence education plays a role in lowering teen pregnancy rates (along with birth control), puts Democrats alongside the majority of voters on this difficult issue, and it is especially appealing to moderate evangelicals. They're not looking to punish everything outside of procreative marital sex; they just want to see fewer abortions take place. And because evangelicals generally don't have the same opposition to contraception that Catholics do, Democrats can promote the kind of plan that would truly reduce abortions, something Republicans—with their reliance on right-wing Catholics—can't afford to do.

Despite all of the punditry about a “God gap” at the voting booth, this is a better moment for Democrats to pick up support from religious moderates than any other time in the past few decades. That's because evangelicals themselves are the ones who are broadening the faith agenda, insisting that there are issues they care about beyond abortion and gay marriage, connecting Gospel messages about the golden rule and the Good Samaritan to the policies they want their government to support.

For 30 years, the Republican advantage among religious voters has come from being able to successfully control the definition of “religious,” conflating it with “conservative” and encouraging the media to do the same. Measured against that yardstick, most Democrats come up short. But when the standard is more complex, when being religious also means caring about the environment and poverty and human rights and education, the plane levels. Soon enough, Republicans start to miss the mark, and Democrats get a little closer.

This is what gives Karl Rove and the other GOP headcounters heartburn. A third-party candidacy by Roy Moore would be troublesome, but conservative evangelicals are ultimately loyal to the Republican Party. And while it might irritate business supporters, the administration could probably toss moderate evangelicals a few crumbs on the environment or global poverty. But once that door is opened, it can't be shut again. Whether or not large numbers of moderates migrate to the Democratic Party, if they succeed in expanding the scope of “religious issues,” the GOP will lose its lock on faith.

And so Republicans revert to the only tactic they have left: fear. The fight down in Alabama has shown that they will do whatever they have to in order to prevent Democrats from claiming a piece of the religious mantle, even if it means taking what could be portrayed as the “anti-religion” stance themselves. On the same day that Alabama Republicans launched their filibuster of the Bible literacy bill, state GOP chairwoman Twinkle Cavanaugh published an op-ed that charged the Bible curriculum was written by “ultra-liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Council for Islamic Education, and the People for the American Way.” (It was not.) Randy Brinson chuckled as he reported this to me, saying, “This is smokin' them out. Now we see what they really care about. It's not religion; they care about power.” He may have the last laugh. According to convoluted state law, Democrats can revive the Bible literacy bill after the Alabama legis

Wesley Clark Creams O'Reilly

Gen. Clark joined Bill to discuss Haditha and John Murtha. It's nice to see O'Reilly come around on Iraq in his TPM, but he misses the point completely on Murtha and the marines.

Video-WMP Video-QT (low res)

Murtha has said over and over again that these actions happened because of the stress they are under. When Bill tried to say that this type of behavior occurred in conflicts the US was previously involved in; Wesley Clark got a little hot under the collar.

The Real Decider

Uncle Dick — America's Shadow President

Make no mistake about it ~ everyone in the Bush administration reports to Dick Cheney including Bush himself.

Uncle Dick is truly the shadow president and his fingerprints are all over every lie and deception of this corrupt administration.

The Center for American Progress explains how Uncle Dick effects the implementation of Congressional legislation ~ and that Cheney, not Bush, is the ultimate decider in this near fascist administration.


A report this weekend by Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe details the heavy influence Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff David Addington have had in carrying out the administration's controversial "unitary executive" theory.

(Savage previously reported on how President Bush had "quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office.")

The Vice President's office "routinely reviews pieces of legislation before they reach the president's desk, searching for provisions that Cheney believes would infringe on presidential power," Savage reports.

When such flags are raised, Addington is the "leading architect of the 'signing statements' the president has appended to more than 750 laws," asserting Bush's right "to ignore the laws because they conflict with his interpretation of the Constitution." (Read U.S. News's recent comprehensive profile of Addington.)

The Bush administration has "used such statements to claim for itself the option of bypassing a ban on torture, oversight provisions in the USA Patriot Act, and numerous requirements that they provide certain information to Congress, among other laws."

Gagged librarians break silence on Patriot Act

Connecticut librarians spoke about their fight to stop the FBI from gaining access to patrons' library records at a news conference yesterday organized by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and in a subsequent interview with RAW STORY.

The Librarians, members of Library Connection, a not-for profit cooperative organization for resource sharing across 26 Connecticut library branches sharing a centralized computer, were served with a National Security Letter (NSL) in August of last year as part of the FBI's attempt to attain access to patron's records.

The NSL is a little known statute in the Patriot Act that permits law enforcement to obtain records of people not suspected of any wrongdoing and without a court order. As part of the NSL, those served with the document are gagged and prohibited from disclosing that they have even been served.

The foursome of Barbara Bailey, Peter Chase, George Christian, and Jan Nocek were automatically gagged from disclosing that they had received the letter, the contents of the letter, and even from discussions surrounding the Patriot Act.

The librarians, via the national and Connecticut branches of the ACLU, filed suit challenging the Patriot Act on first amendment grounds.

"People ask about private and confidential things in the library settinglike about their health, their family issues and related books they take out these are confidential and we did this to protect our patrons from authorized snooping," said Peter Chase, Vice President of Library Connection."

On September 9 of last year, a federal judge lifted the gag order and rejected the government's argument that identifying the plaintiff would pose a threat to national security.

Yet the government continued to appeal the case throughout the reauthorization debate, passionately arguing that not a single incident of civil liberties violations by the Patriot Act had occurred. By continuing the appeal, the government effectively silenced any evidence to counter their claims.

"This all happened during the reauthorization debate and the government was saying no one's rights were being violated," said George Christian, staff liaison for Library Connection and one of the plaintiffs in the case.

As the debate over the reauthorization of the Patriot Act heated up, the librarians and others gagged by the NSL had to watch in silence, intimately aware of dangers they believed were not being exposed.

"We could not speak to Congress until after the renewal of the Patriot Act," Said Barbara Bailey, President of Library Connection and one of four plaintiffs in the case.

Although the ACLU, representing the librarians, filed the case on August 9 of last year, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales decried any civil liberties violations in a Washington Post op-ed in December, stating that "There have been no verified civil liberties abuses in the four years of the [Patriot] act's existence."

The suit names Alberto Gonzales, Robert Mueller, and an un-named FBI official as the defendants in the case. The plaintiffs are collectively referred to in all court filings as simply John Doe.

"My testimony was informed not only by the successes of the act but also by my personal meetings with representatives from groups such as the ACLU and the American Library Association," wrote Gonzales in his Washington Post piece. During the reauthorization discussion, I asked that certain provisions be clarified to ensure the protection of civil liberties, and Congress responded."

After the Patriot Act was reauthorized in March of this year, the government stopped its appeals. Last Wednesday, the Connecticut librarians were finally allowed to say that they were the John Doe in the case, but they are still prohibited from discussing the case or the NSL.

"There are other people who have been served with these letters. We hope by our testimony that more people are aware of this and people are able to speak out," said Jan Nocek, Secretary for Library Connection and one of the four plaintiffs in the case.

"Our clients were gagged by the government at a time when Congress needed to hear their voices the most," said Ann Beeson, ACLU's lead attorney in the case. "This administration has repeatedly shown that it will hide behind the cloak of national security to silence its critics and cover up embarrassing facts. Every time the government invokes national security in defense of secrecy -- as they've done most recently with NSA wiretapping -- the American public should remember these four librarians."

It is unknown how many NSLs have been served and to whom. A University of Illinois survey conducted in 2002 found that out of roughly one thousand libraries asked, eighty five libraries said they were asked by law enforcement for patrons' records.

According to an ABC News report, Assistant Attorney General William Moschella told members of Congress "that 9,254 National Security Letters were issued in 2005 involving 3,501 people."

But much like his successor, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft claimed that the Patriot Act did not violate civil liberties and said that it has never been used to obtain library records.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department's inspector general issued no less than six reports to the relevant Congressional oversight committees indicating that there were no allegations of abuse and no violations of civil liberties since the original enactment of the Patriot Act days after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

BRADBLOG.COM: Bobby Kennedy, Jr. to Question 2004 Election in Rolling Stone

The stolen election is not NEW news. But it is largely new to mainstream media. Good for Bobby Jr. It's been many months, but okay, better late than never. May this be the first of many exposés of what really went down in Ohio and possibly other states under the political thumb of Karl Rove and his Ohio goon, Ken Blackwell. The main question I have is: What in the hell is up with John Kerry, and does he really believe that by pulling his punches to accept and bless the fraudulent 2004 election count, he will be better off when he runs for prez again? What about all the people who tried to vote for him but were thwarted? What about those who'll try to do that next time? Earth to Kerry! Come in, dude! Or don't even think about '08! -hl

A damning and detailed feature article, written by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., for Rolling Stone and documenting evidence of the theft of the 2004 Presidential Election is set to hit newstands this Friday, The BRAD BLOG can now confirm. The online version of the article will be posted tomorrow (Thursday) morning.

The article — headlined on the cover as "Did Bush Steal the 2004 Election?: How 350,000 Votes Disappeared in Ohio" — has been several months in development and will contend that a concerted effort was undertaken by high-level Republican officials to steal the Election in Ohio -- and thus the country -- in 2004!

Kennedy told The BRAD BLOG this morning that "the best evidence says the Republicans succeeded" in their plan.

He writes in the 10-page long article, and confirmed to us today, that evidence shows Ohio Sec. of State J. Kenneth Blackwell was "certainly in on" the scheme, and there are indications that the effort went all the way up to the White House.

Kennedy, who is co-host of Ring of Fire, a weekend show on Air America Radio, is an environmental attorney and the son of the late Robert F. Kennedy. This is his first public foray into the realm of Election Fraud, Election Integrity, Electronic Voting and, in particular, the questionable results of Election 2004.
A major publicity push is currently in the works to accompany the feature story which is sure to get the attention of more than a few D.C. and Buckeye State pols in addition to the mainstream media who have, of late, begun reporting more frequently on the litany of concerns and now-documented evidence that new electronic voting machines are hackable through a number of means.
Several public appearances are currently being scheduled for Kennedy in the coming weeks, including an appearance on The Colbert Report currently scheduled for Monday, June 12.

Sources have told The BRAD BLOG that Kennedy "does not hold back in this article."

One of the election integrity advocates involved in research and development with Kennedy on the story told us a number of weeks ago that "[Kennedy] essentially says everything that those of us who have been contending there was massive chicanery in the '04 election were right, and the media and politicians who ignored it at the time were wrong."

We'll have more details and information shortly from the story which includes quotes from Democrats such as Howard Dean and John Kerry, as well as pollster Lou Harris who also questions the validity of the 2004 Presidential Election in Ohio according to the article...

A sidebar included with the article calls for an investigation into Electronic Voting machines prior to upcoming elections...More soon...

Keeping in mind that a mere 6 votes registered for Kerry instead of Bush at each precint in Ohio in 2004 would have given the state, and the Presidency, to Kerry, here's a few quotes from the article...

Howard Dean: "I'm not confident that the election in Ohio was fairly decided."

U.S. Congressman from Ohio, Rep. Dennis Kucinich:
"The secretary of state is supposed to administer elections – not throw them."

Pollster Lou Harris of the Harris Poll -- described in the piece as "the father of modern day political polling" -- says: "Ohio was as dirty an election as America has ever seen."

Despite Harris' comments, which may be amongst the most explosive in the article, Kerry himself brings up the rear...

John Kerry: "Can I draw a conclusion that they played tough games and clearly had intent to reduce the level of our vote? Yes, absolutely. Can I tell you to a certainty that it made the difference in the election? I can't. There's no way for me to do that. If I could have done that, then obviously I would have found some legal recourse."


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Kansas GOP Ex-Chair Switches Parties

Republicans have a feeling they're not in Kansas anymore. Well, they are now, but they're one foot soldier out the door. -hl

The former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party jumped ship in a big way Tuesday, switching his affiliation to Democrat amid speculation that he would become Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' running mate.

Johnson County Elections Commissioner Brian Newby confirmed that Mark Parkinson, the state GOP chairman from 1999 to 2003, came to the office and switched his party affiliation shortly before noon.

Parkinson's name has been widely circulated as Sebelius' choice for a running mate as the Democratic governor seeks a second term. Current Lt. Gov. John Moore - another former Republican - is retiring when his term expires in early 2007.

Sebelius spokeswoman, Nicole Corcoran, would not comment about Parkinson, but said an announcement of the governor's choice of running mates was scheduled Wednesday not far from Parkinson's home in Olathe, a Kansas City suburb.

"Traditionally, you do see that the first stop would be in or around that person's home base. It would be safe to assume that she would be choosing someone from the Johnson County area," Corcoran said.

Parkinson didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.

Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison also switched parties from Republican to Democrat to challenge Attorney General Phill Kline, a Republican, in the November election.

Republican House Speaker Doug Mays said he was disgusted by Parkinson's lack of loyalty to the party that made him chairman, but he isn't surprised by the rift.
The Republican Party, which has dominated Kansas politics since statehood, has shifted to the right in recent years and it inevitably will shift back to the left, he said. Instead of defecting to challenge one another, though, Republicans need to find common ground, he said.

'Divine Strake' Nuclear Test Postponed


A huge test explosion was set to take place next month, 90 miles north of Las Vegas. But the project was pushed back and finally indefinitely postponed. Sunday, opponents celebrated.

Opponents said the 700-ton blast would send a mushroom cloud into the sky and possibly spread radioactive dust from previous nuclear experiments. Today was supposed to be a protest against the test. But instead it was a low key celebration.

Nearly 100 people camped in the desert at the gates of the Nevada Test Site. They came from Wyoming, Colorado, California and Utah. Pete Litster was one of the plaintiffs in a suit against the National Nuclear Security Administration to stop the blast.

"Living in Utah and coming from a culture of folks that distrusts the U.S. Government about weapons testing and coming from a culture of people that have been affected by radioactive fallout we wanted to make sure that the U.S. Government was following all the proper procedures," said Litster.

Today's group is a tiny slice of the opposition to the proposed test explosion. It included 42 national and international organizations, university professors and attorneys.

Last week the National Nuclear Safety Administration decided to indefinitely postpone the blast because of questions about possible fallout from the experiment. According to the Nye County Sheriffs Office its been years since this many protesters showed up at the test site. This afternoon, about 75 of those protesters crossed over the fence onto the Nevada Test Site and were arrested.

Gore: Bush is 'renegade rightwing extremist'

Al Gore has made his sharpest attack yet on the George Bush presidency, describing the current US administration as "a renegade band of rightwing extremists."

In an interview with the Guardian today, the former vice-president calls himself a "recovering politician", but launches into the political fray more explicitly than he has previously done during his high-profile campaigning on the threat of global warming.

Denying that his politics have shifted to the left since he lost the court battle for the 2000 election, Mr Gore says: "If you have a renegade band of rightwing extremists who get hold of power, the whole thing goes to the right."

But he claims he does not "expect to be a candidate" for president again, while refusing explicitly to rule out another run. Asked if any event could change his mind, he says: "Not that I can see."

Mr Gore, who appeared at the Guardian Hay literary festival over the bank holiday weekend, is promoting An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary and book detailing the climate change crisis that he warns "could literally end civilisation".

The new levels of attention he is receiving have led some Democrats to call on him to run again for president, while others have responded with anger that Mr Gore did not show the same level of passion in the 2000 campaign.

He has since acknowledged that he followed too closely the advice of his consultants during that campaign, and - before he started to scoff at the idea of running again - swore that if he ever did so, he would speak his mind.

In the years since, he has been a steady critic of specific Bush administration policies. He opposed the war on Iraq at a time when most prominent Democrats were supporting it, and more recently spoke out against what he called "a gross and excessive power grab" by the administration over phone tapping.

In the interview Mr Gore also distances himself from Tony Blair on the subject of nuclear power, which the prime minister has insisted is "back on the agenda with a vengeance". Mr Gore says he is "sceptical about it playing a much larger role," and that although it might have a part to play in Britain or China, it will not be "a silver bullet" in the fight against global warming.

In the US, Mr Gore's environmental campaign has sparked a backlash from some on the right who accuse him of scaremongering. A series of television advertisements, launched by a thinktank called the Competitive Enterprise Institute, argue that carbon dioxide emissions are a sign of American productivity and progress.

Mr Gore's true attitude towards a potential return to the White House - or, at least, a potential battle with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination - remains unknown.

At the weekend, Time magazine reported that he was telling key fundraisers they should feel free to sign on with other potential candidates. The magazine quoted unnamed Democratic sources as saying that the former vice-president had also been asking the fundraisers to "tell everybody I'm not running".

Mr Gore would not find it difficult to raise millions of dollars, if he did decide to run. But while public denials might prove a wise campaign strategy - not least by prolonging the period of positive attention Mr Gore is now receiving - actively turning away fundraisers does suggest a firmer resolve not to re-enter electoral politics.

It is significant, however, that Mr Gore refuses to go beyond saying that he has no "plans" for such a campaign. "I haven't made a Shermanesque statement because it just seems odd to do so," he has said - a reference to the famous announcement by the civil war general William Sherman, who unequivocally refused to stand in the election of 1884. "If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve," General Sherman said.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Religious Liberals Gain New Visibility

The religious left is back.

Long overshadowed by the Christian right, religious liberals across a wide swath of denominations are engaged today in their most intensive bout of political organizing and alliance-building since the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s, according to scholars, politicians and clergy members.

In large part, the revival of the religious left is a reaction against conservatives' success in the 2004 elections in equating moral values with opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Religious liberals say their faith compels them to emphasize such issues as poverty, affordable health care and global warming. Disillusionment with the war in Iraq and opposition to Bush administration policies on secret prisons and torture have also fueled the movement.

"The wind is changing. Folks -- not just leaders -- are fed up with what is being portrayed as Christian values," said the Rev. Tim Ahrens, senior minister of First Congregational Church of Columbus, Ohio, and a founder of We Believe Ohio, a statewide clergy group established to ensure that the religious right is "not the only one holding a megaphone" in the public square.

"As religious people we're offended by the idea that if you're not with the religious right, you're not moral, you're not religious," said Linda Gustitus, who attends Bethesda's River Road Unitarian Church and is a founder of the new Washington Region Religious Campaign Against Torture. "I mean there's a whole universe out there [with views] different from the religious right. . . . People closer to the middle of the political spectrum who are religious want their voices heard."

Recently, there has been an increase in books and Web sites by religious liberals, national and regional conferences, church-based discussion groups, and new faith-oriented political organizations. "Organizationally speaking, strategically speaking, the religious left is now in the strongest position it's been in since the Vietnam era," said Clemson University political scientist Laura R. Olson.

What is not clear, according to sociologists and pollsters, is whether the religious left is growing in size as well as activism. Its political impact, including its ability to influence voters and move a legislative agenda, has also yet to be determined.

"I do think the religious left has become more visible and assertive and is attempting to get more organized," said Allen D. Hertzke, a University of Oklahoma political science professor who follows religious movements. "But how big is it? The jury is still out on that."

"My gut tells me that all this foment [on the religious left] is bound to create more involvement in politics," he said. "I don't know whether there's going to be more of them numerically, but you don't need greater numbers to have a political impact; all you need is to be more active. You already see that in Ohio and some other states, where Christian conservatives no longer have a monopoly on faith in politics."

Conservative Christian activist Gary L. Bauer said the religious left "is getting more media attention" but "it's not clear" that it is getting more organized.

"My reaction is 'Come on in, the water's fine' . . . but I think that when you look at frequent church attenders in America, they tend to be pro-life and support marriage as one man and one woman, and so I think the religious left is going to have a hard time making any significant progress" with those voters, he said.

The quickening pulse of the religious left is evident in myriad ways:

· More than a dozen books have been published in the past year decrying the religious right's influence in politics. Three have been particularly influential in galvanizing activists: Michael Lerner's "The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country From the Religious Right," Jim Wallis's "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It," and Jimmy Carter's "Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis."

· The recently formed Network of Spiritual Progressives is holding a four-day conference that began Wednesday at All Souls Church in Northwest Washington. A thousand participants from 39 states are discussing a new "Spiritual Covenant for America" and spent Thursday visiting their members of Congress. Lerner, the California-based rabbi who founded the network, said the conference is partly aimed at countering an aversion to religion among secular liberals and "the liberal culture" of the Democratic Party. "I can guarantee you that every Democrat running for office in 2006 and 2008 will be quoting the Bible and talking about their most recent experience in church," he said.

· The Democratic Faith Working Group, made up of 30 members of the House and scores of aides, has begun meeting monthly on Capitol Hill to discuss faith and politics, opening each session with a prayer. Its purpose is to "work with our fellow Democrats and get them comfortable with faith issues," said its chairman, Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), a preacher's son who was raised in the fundamentalist Church of God.

· Organizations and Web sites that meld religion and liberal politics have mushroomed since the 2004 elections, said Clinton White House chief of staff John D. Podesta. The think tank he heads, the Center for American Progress, has helped form alliances between some of these new groups -- such as Faith in Public Life, the Catholic Alliance for the Common Good and -- and long-standing organizations, such as the National Council of Churches.

For most of the 20th century -- from the Progressive era through the civil rights movement -- religious involvement in American politics was dominated by the left. That changed in the 1970s, after the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights, the formation of the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, and, on the left, "the rise of a secular, liberal, urban elite that was not particularly comfortable with religion," said Will Marshall III, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington think tank.

According to John C. Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron, and others, the religious left cuts across almost all denominations, drawing in black churches, liberal Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants as well as Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and people who say they are "spiritual" but not affiliated with an organized faith.

It also includes some theologically traditionalist Christians.

Janel Bakker, 28, a graduate student at Catholic University who attends Washington Community Fellowship on Capitol Hill, an evangelical church affiliated with the Mennonite denomination, said she grew up in a "relatively conservative religious home" where "the big issue was considered to be abortion."

But Bakker, who has attended several rallies against the Iraq war, said she now regards poverty, peace and the environment as important spiritual issues ignored by the religious right. "The religious right has assumed that capitalism is the way to go and is the most moral way to organize society," Bakker added. "Young people are questioning that."

Liberal evangelicals are " leaping out of the closet and they are saying 'Enough is enough,' " said Jack Pannell, spokesman for Sojourners, a Washington-based evangelical social justice ministry. "Evangelical Christians are not all white people living in the suburbs and only concerned with abortion and same-sex marriage."

Some groups on the religious left are clearly seeking to help the Democratic Party. But the relationship is delicate on both sides.

"If I were the Democrats, the last thing I would do is really try to mobilize these folks as a political force . . . because I think some of this is a real unhappiness with the whole business of politicizing religion," said Mark Silk, director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

The Rev. Joseph W. Daniels Jr., senior pastor of Emory United Methodist Church in Northwest Washington, said a key question for him is whether the religious left will become "the polar opposite to . . . the religious right" or be "a voice in the middle."

"What this country needs is strong spiritual leadership that is willing to build bridges. We don't need leaders who are lightning bolts for division and dissension," he said.

Nonetheless, some observers doubt that the revitalization of the religious left will lessen the divisions over religion in politics. "I do think," said Hertzke, "that, if in fact this progressive initiative takes off, we will see an even more polarized electoral environment than we did in 2004."

Friday, May 19, 2006

McCain Booed, Heckled, Protested at New School: Honeymoon is Over

THIS is what happens when you don't pre-screen your audience. The graduating class of the New School gave the presumptive front-runner for '08 an unvarnished glimpse of what lies in wait for every single Republican carrying Bush's water — and that includes Joe Lieberman. You made your bed — and put Jerry Falwell in it, McCain. You should've quit while you were ahead and still had that maverick persona. -hl

"I haven't heard anyone aroused about me speaking at the New School," John McCain said in April, defending his decision to address Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

Nobody at all, except for virtually the entire crowd at the New School's Madison Square Garden graduation ceremony in New York City. At the beginning of the event, New School President, and former Senator, Bob Kerrey predicted a raucous affair. "Our founding purpose is proudly liberal," he said. "We began as an act of protest."

The school's tradition of dissent carried on today. Scores of New School students held orange signs, and a few banners, reading "McCain Does Not Speak For Me," and "Our Commencement Is Not Your Platform." What began as mild rumblings of disapproval before McCain's speech soon exploded into boos, catcalls and turned backs.

The spark was provided by undergraduate keynote speaker Jean Sara Rohe, a composed, seemingly innocuous jazz musician and singer. After beginning with a short folk song (true to classic graduation speech form) Rohe quickly tossed aside her prepared remarks to directly address McCain.

"This ceremony has become something other than the celebratory gathering it should be," Rohe said. "The Senator does not reflect the ideals on which this school was founded. This was a top-down decision in which the students played no part." The crowd erupted.

"I consider this a time of crisis and I feel compelled to speak,"
Rohe continued, referencing McCain's speech at Falwell's Liberty University last Saturday.

She paraphrased McCain's words on the folly of youthful stubbornness and ignorance.

"I am young, but I do know that pre-emptive war is dangerous and wrong," she said. "Osama bin Laden has not been found, nor those weapons of mass destruction." The vast majority of the crowd gave her a standing ovation.

"Well, we're having fun now, aren't we?" Kerrey cracked before introducing McCain.

The Senator spoke in a dull monotone, without his usual charisma or charm. He was noticeably deflated by the crowd's harsh reception towards him. Remarks such as "I supported the decision to go to war in Iraq," were met with loud boos.

"I stand that ground because I believed, rightly or wrongly, that my country's interests and values required it."

"Wrongly!" one student boomed from the back. Sitting directly behind us, Maureen Dowd and Adam Nagourney of the New York Times, chuckled.

As McCain droned on, students became increasingly restless. One cried, "This speech sucks!" Several students walked out early.

Summing up the mood of the day, another shouted, "We're graduating, not voting."

Lamont Forces Lieberman to Face-off in Primary

Associated Press

U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman was nominated for a fourth term by state Democrats Friday night, but his anti-war challenger garnered enough delegates to force a primary in August.

Backers of Ned Lamont, a Greenwich businessman who has sharply criticized the moderate senator for his support of the war in Iraq, shouted with delight after learning their candidate will be the first to challenge Lieberman to a primary.

Lieberman won 1,004 of the 1,509 votes cast at the state convention, while Lamont won 505. Lamont captured 33 percent of the delegates, well more than the 15 percent he needed to force the primary.

Sean Smith, Lieberman's campaign manager, downplayed Lamont's delegate support. He said Friday's vote showed that Democrats in Connecticut still back the veteran senator, despite his support of the war.

"I think we're moving into friendlier territory," Smith said of the Aug. 8 primary. "There are 600,000 Democrats who are going to be heard from before this is over."

Lieberman worked Friday night to fend off Lamont's challenge, reminding convention delegates that he stands for more than his support for the war. He held a barbecue for delegates in the parking lot of the Connecticut Expo Center to smooth things over.

Lieberman said he has called hundreds of delegates in recent weeks, talking about the environment, his support of the U.S. Submarine Base in Groton, education and other issues.

"I'm a proud Democrat and I'm going to carry the battle forward," said Lieberman, who had to leave the convention early to observe the Jewish sabbath.

Lamont said he believes the level of support he received at the convention will send a message to Washington that people are fed up with the war.

"They are saying this war was a mistake and bring the troops home," he said. "I think 33 percent of the people in the convention are telling people in Connecticut and Washington they want a change."

Lamont is from an old-money Connecticut family with strong Wall Street ties. He founded his own telecommunications firm, Lamont Digital Systems, in 1984.

Earlier this week, Lamont's campaign manager, Tom Swan, said Lamont's family fortune stands somewhere between $90 million and $300 million, according to a new financial disclosure report.

Lieberman captured the bulk of the delegates in larger cities, such as Hartford and his hometown of New Haven. He lost to Lamont in small towns such as East Granby and Eastford. Lamont had particular success in eastern Connecticut.

The state Democratic convention was to continue Saturday, when delegates will be asked to endorse candidates for governor, attorney general, secretary of the state, treasurer and comptroller.

There is a close battle between New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy for the gubernatorial nod.

Malloy campaign officials appeared more optimistic after learning their delegates in Hartford would not be challenged. There has been a local battle over whether the delegates - the bulk of whom support Malloy - were properly selected.

The bitterness toward Lieberman and his support of the war was evident Friday night. About 60 peace activists protested outside the Expo Center. And some Lamont supporters loudly chanted "Go Home Joe" when U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., nominated Lieberman. Dodd acknowledged the discontent, saying he appreciates people who speak up about issues.

"Unlike the other party, we don't try to stifle those differences. We honor and respect them," Dodd said.

Dodd, his voice hoarse, reminded Democrats of Lieberman's longtime dedication to Connecticut and his support of key issues such as the environment and working to protect the U.S. Submarine Base in Groton from the military's closure plans.

But Lamont supporters said they believe Lieberman has forgotten his roots.

"Lieberman has just deserted the causes that I think make the party strong," said delegate Rona Cohen of New Britain.

Max Medina, a Bridgeport attorney who helped persuade Lamont to run for the Senate, said voting against Lieberman would send a message to the country.

"Our fight for a more just and humane America begins tonight, with you and me. In this place, at this time, you and I have the power to send a message to America, including George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld," he said.

Before the convention, Lieberman said he believes Lamont will hurt other party hopefuls if he continues his battle for the Senate seat.

"I think it's going to be harmful of our party and the chances of our congressional candidates, our Democratic challengers and our gubernatorial candidates," he said. "But it's his decision."

Lamont said there was no reason to pull out of the race.

"Everywhere I go, no one is saying, 'Oh my God, you're hurting the party,"' he said.

State Rep. Tim O'Brien, D-New Britain, a Lamont supporter, said he believes the Democratic primary is fueling interest in all Democratic candidates this election season.

"This is a race about the heart and soul of the party," he said.

The Wreckage Administration

Looking at the wreckage of the Bush administration leaves one with the depressed query, "Now what?" The only help to the country that can come from this ugly and spectacular crack-up is, in theory, things can't get worse. This administration is so discredited it cannot talk the country into an unnecessary war with Iran as it did with Iraq. In theory, spending is so out of control it cannot cut taxes for the rich again; the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bushies is already among its lasting legacies.

As we all know, things can always get worse, and often do. I rather think it's going to be up to the Democrats to hold the metaphoric hands of this crippled administration until it limps off stage. The Republican National Committee has a new scare tactic for the faithful: You must give to the party, or else the Democrats will spend the next two years investigating the administration (horror of horrors). Those who recall the insanely trivial investigations of the Clinton years may indeed regard this as the ultimate waste of time and money (as even Ken Starr concluded, there never was anything to Whitewater), but in fact it could be a therapeutic use of the next biennium. In fact, the offenses are not comparable.

Suppose we really did stop to investigate why and how and who is responsible for the lies, the deformed policies and the inability to govern of this administration. There is a wealth of lessons to be learned about the dangers of ideological delusion and of contempt for governance.

Trouble is, the world is not apt to hold still for two years. It seems to me pointless to impeach Bush. In the first place, the Republicans so trivialized impeachment into partisan piffle, it would look like little more than payback. In the second place, I believe Dick Cheney is seriously off the rails, apparently deeply paranoid -- let's not put him in charge. The minimum we should expect of Bush in return for dropping impeachment (or not) is that he cease breaking the law. Despite the opinions of Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, etc., the president of the United States does not have the authority to set aside the law.

(If Bush were impeached, I would use as evidence his astounding statement in March that the matter of getting American troops out of Iraq "will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq." What a contemptible statement)

It would be easier to contemplate a two-year holding period if Bush hadn't already wasted so much time. Of particular note in this department is "the inconvenient truth" -- global warming. Wasting eight years in the face of what we already knew when Bush came in is not only insane, but also unforgivable. A recent poll showed the majority of Americans feel the war in Iraq will be the overriding issue of Bush's presidency. I suspect future historians will fixate on his global warming record -- not only doing nothing to stop it, but letting the hole get dug deeper, as well.

Barring emergency, I suspect the wisest thing Democrats can do in the next two years is to begin steadily undoing what Bush hath wrought -- on tax and spending, on global warming, and on surveillance and other illegal lunges for power. George W. Bush ran in 2000 as a moderate. He did not bother to inform us at the time that he felt the government of this country needed a much stronger executive above the law. Congress has sat by passively while this administration accrued more and more power. If members of Congress think the legislative branch should be equal, it's time for them to stir their stumps.

Am I jumping to conclusions? Can Karl Rove yet steer his party away from electoral disaster in the fall? I learned long ago never to call elections closer than six weeks out, and normally I stick to that rule. But I do not think George W. can be put together again, so Rove's only option is go negative against the Democrats -- no surprise there. At this point, they could attack Democrats on almost anything, but that would leave the large question, "Compared to what?" And, we must watch out for those voting machines.

It would be interesting to see an election in which Bush is not a factor and the whole fight is over what Tom DeLay and the K Street Project have made of the Congress. If ever a gang of corrupt jerks deserved to be held accountable, this one does.

The Lamest Lame Duck Ever

Forget November, forget '08; president is done.

The great impulse of the punditocracy right now is to look at President Bush's swelling problems with the public and his party in the context of the elections coming up in November and then in 2008. Big mistake.

Short of another disaster on the scale of 9/11, George Bush no longer has the power, credibility or ability to effectively govern for the rest of his term in office. Contrary to what you hear on television, governing remains more important than campaigning. Government is more important than elections - to the extent the two can be differentiated anymore.

Bush's realm of efficacy will be limited to areas where he can make unilateral decisions, mostly in war and foreign policy. The tax cuts that oozed through Congress last week may well be his last "significant" piece of domestic legislation; I put quotations around significant because they are, in fact temporary. The entire menu of Bush tax tinkering is set to expire in 2010 on someone else's watch, an apt metaphor for this administration.

The Bush administration is now locked in a triple-hammer hold that would defeat Houdini.

Public support for this president has evaporated to historic lows. Last week's CBS News/New York Times poll put Bush's approval rating at an embarrassing 31 percent. In this week's ABC News/Washington Post poll, voters trusted Democrats over Republicans to handle all 10 of the major issues the pollsters asked about. That's a new one. The new polling is consistent with a long, relentless erosion of public support.

Faced with his unpopularity, the Republican Party, quite naturally, is fighting. Senate and House Republicans are in almost open warfare. The House is hawkish and loud on immigration policy, the Senate dovish and conciliatory. House Leader John Boehner called Leader Frist's call for a $100 gas rebate "insulting," a week after Speaker Hastert dissed General Hayden, the president's choice for the CIA. In February, the House shafted both the Senate and the House by killing the Dubai ports deal.

On the more distant right flank, the party's Christian soldiers have stopped being such good soldiers. They are furious that Bush and the Republican Congress have delivered lip service but no action on issues like gay marriage, immigration, prayer in school, obscenity standards and abortion.

"I can't tell you how much anger there is at the Republican leadership," Richard Viguerie, a veteran conservative consultant and activist told The New York Times. "I have never seen anything like it."

An influential pocket of conservatives that doesn't have social issues at the front of its agenda is equally irritated and equally vocal. A fine example is Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist long influential in the party, who has just written a book called "Impostor" that skewers this administration for its deficits and unwillingness to deal with the great looming crises in entitlement programs.

The vaunted brilliance and corporate organization of Rove/Bush Inc. has been pretty much blown away in the second term. Rove is fighting off an indictment. From the Dubai deal to the Harriet Miers death march, the White House's political ear seems to be getting tinnier. Porter Goss' appointment to the CIA was a disaster not just politically but substantively. In his second term, the president has never reached outside his core circle for advisers, staff or ideas.

Will all this lead to a Democratic field day in November? Who knows; and not to be flip, but who cares? Polls show Congress is held in low esteem similar to the president's. Democratic gains would simply lead to continued do-nothingism. And the ramifications for 2008, I believe, are nil. 2008 will be about two people, not the performance of congressional Democrats in 2007 and 2008.

But what is apparent, is that George Bush has at his disposal none - none - of the tools presidents have used to turn bad situations around: public support, party support or skilled statecraft. He's a lame duck less than two years in to his second term. You are not being governed.