Nov 19 2007

From the “Unfortunate Choice of Words” Department.

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

“It takes a Clinton to clean up after a Bush” – Hillary Clinton (Source)

Just don’t get any on the dress…

Nov 19 2007

Just Another Corruption Post

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, corruption, Shelby County

Corruption is something that the people of Memphis have lived with for generations. Over the past several years, public officials from the statehouse down to the City Council have been caught with their hands in the proverbial “cookie jar”. With the recent indictment of former County Commissioner Bruce Thompson, one can only expect that more officials will be ensnared in the federal and state investigations that are currently taking place.

There may be a lot of reasons for these past and current problems facing our city and state, from pure greed, to a misguided sense of entitlement. Regardless of reason, corruption is one of the most destructive things that any democratic government can experience, disenchanting the public that the individuals were sworn to serve. From my perspective, focusing on the public servants who receive the money only deals with one side of the issue. Corruption is a problem of both supply and demand, and until both sides are addressed, we can expect the problem to continue.

In the recent and current investigations of corruption, some have suggested that the sting operations amounted to entrapment. This view only looks at the circumstances of the events, instead of recognizing the behavior. An official that would take money from an undercover agent, most likely has taken money from others. It is this pattern of behavior that the undercover operations wish to expose. Unfortunately, so far they have only served to show that the official in question engaged in corruption in this particular instance. While these revelations may be valuable in curbing corruption in the individuals involved, it doesn’t address the other side of the issue.

Dealing with the supply side of the issue, or the bribers, as it were, is a much more difficult problem to address. Investigators have had no trouble in finding officials that would willingly take money for favors. Finding those who would seek the favors has not yet happened. In order for the supply side to be addressed, a couple of things must happen; 1. Public officials must be willing to expose those who would seek favors, or 2. Those seeking favors must be so brazen and open about their quest that it cannot be ignored. Number 2 runs contrary to common sense. No one seeking to bribe an official would seek to do so “in the light of day”. Unfortunately, so far, none of those convicted seem willing to expose anyone on the supply side of equation.

Elected officials don’t really go out cold calling for bribes. The bribers come to them. Until the source of the money is addressed and the “bribers” are put behind bars, there is no chance that certain elements within the ranks of elected officials will straighten up their acts, the temptation is just too great, apparently. Unfortunately, none of the individuals who have either pled guilty, or been convicted, have shown any public willingness to work with prosecutors to deal with the supply side of the issue. This may be due to the possibility that revelations of further corruption that may lead to further charges on the individuals, though one would think that such revelations would be met with offers of immunity from conviction. On the flip side, it may be more a reflection of the desires of the prosecutors, though certainly they must recognize that, like the drug trade, public corruption relies on the cooperation of both sides. On this point, I cannot make any declarations, though it would be a refreshing sight if prosecutors were able to indict and convict a high powered individual seeking favor for cash. Until this happens, many throughout the city will view these efforts as half-hearted, or only partially successful.

Despite this partial success, I hope that federal and state investigators will continue to investigate those who would use their office or financial might, to usurp the honest functioning of government. These investigations may only net those who receive bribes for now, but eventually someone will roll over in exchange for leniency and expose those who would seek favor. Perhaps the already have.

Nov 16 2007

Senate Republicans Block Troop Funding

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

In a show of brazen partisanship, Senate Republicans voted against cloture on HR 4156, a bill that provides emergency spending for troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The measure, which would provide $50 billion of additional funding, failed on cloture by a vote of 53-45. 4 Republicans, Collins and Snowe of Maine, Hagel of Nebraska, and Smith of Oregon, joined the majority in support of the measure. Smith and Collins face tough re-election battles in 2008, which may have contributed to the break with their party.

In addition to the 44 Republicans, Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) also voted against the measure. Lieberman has long been a supporter of administration policy in Iraq, despite his decision to caucus with Democrats.

In response to the vote, White House Deputy Press Secretary, Tony Fratto said: (Source)

“DOD would have to eat into their annual budget and I believe that still presents difficulties in getting the troops in the field the resources they need to carry out their mission.”

“We’d rather see the Department of Defense, the military planners and our troops focusing on military maneuvers, rather than accounting maneuvers as they carry out their mission in the field,” Fratto said. “I think Congress should send this money, allow these troops to get the equipment they need. There is no reason why they should not get the money. This isn’t like this is a last-minute effort and call for funding.”

In rejecting the emergency spending Senate Republicans have put the security of our military forces, deployed in harsh circumstances, at risk.

This is my attempt to show that news can be spun either way if one so desires. Cherry picking information is easy. Nowhere in the above article did I mention anything but troop funding. This places the Republican minority in a position of defense, which is exactly where they need to be. Our Democratic leaders in both the House and the Senate need to get better at this.

In the same article, Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer are quoted as saying:

“Our troops continue to fight and die valiantly. And our Treasury continues to be depleted rapidly, for a peace that we seem far more interested in achieving than Iraq’s own political leaders,” said Reid, D-Nev.

and:

“The days of a free lunch are over,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

While I support both of these statements, they represent a poor use of the bully pulpit their leadership in the Senate provides. Both of these statements support the frame that we need to get out of Iraq, which we do, however, both need to be followed up with declarations supporting the troops over a disastrous administration policy.

By framing the Republican minority against troop funding we further marginalize the minority and exert pressure on them to change their votes in future conditional funding battles. No it ain’t pretty, but it’s past time that we start playing hard ball, both on the floor and in the media.

Until we start holding their feet to the fire, Republicans will continue their obstructionist maneuvering in the Senate, potentially hampering our ability to maintain the momentum we gained in the 2006 mid-terms.

Nov 16 2007

Someone Needs an Attitude Adjustment

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

Yesterday, I wrote this little number on two of Tennessee’s safest Democrats voting against conditional funding for the troops in Iraq. Newscoma brought to my attention a quote from none other than one Representative John Tanner. In response to questions concerning his vote Tanner’s spokesman stated:

“Rep. Tanner had questions about the political viability of the bill because it may not be something that has the possibility of passing and making it all the way,” said Randy Ford, spokesman for Rep. John Tanner (D-TN), who voted against the bill. “He really wants to continue working on it in a bipartisan way, so the House can insert itself not as one party or another but to have an oversight role.”

Sounds like a winning attitude to me.

It takes bold moves to create positive change, and Tanner, like many southern Democrats just doesn’t seem to have the stomach for that. Had Tanner’s been the conventional wisdom in the 60’s, civil rights legislation may have never passed. Had Tanner been in office in the 20’s, women may still not have the right to vote. Not voting for something because it may not pass, is like not saving for retirement because you might lose money, stupid.

This defeatist attitude calls into question not only Tanner’s judgment, but also his leadership. Tenure does not equal leadership, but as a founding member of the conservative Blue Dog coalition, Tanner has the ear of center right Democrats in the House. Thankfully, nearly two-thirds of these Blue Dogs did not follow his lead this time around.

Last year, the Democratic caucus gained enough seats to take over the House, partly as a result of dissatisfaction with the handling of the Iraq military deployment (as I stated yesterday, it is no longer a war, but an occupation that the Congress has allowed to continue). While Tanner saw no real competition in his district, many Democrats around the country fought long and hard to gain or maintain their seats in the face of a rubber stamp Congress that had done nothing to check the power of the Executive.

Using Representative Tanner’s logic, we should use our new majority to “build bi-partisanship” instead of pursuing the agenda that put us in the majority.

This line of reasoning is utter nonsense.

We were entrusted with the majority because we offered something different. The notion that we should cave to pressure from the minority because it will not pass the Senate is the kind of “playing to not lose” garbage that we have come to expect from both the Blue Dog and New Democrat coalitions. If we want to win, we have to play to win, and that means striking out once in a while, but if we don’t even swing we have no chance.

Representative Tanner, face the facts. You are afraid of the Administration and you are afraid of being in the majority, because being in the majority may bring too much attention to you. You either need to step down, or step it up, because your position of apologist for the Bush Administration is getting tiresome.

Nov 15 2007

Tanner and Cooper Vote Against Troop Drawdown

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

Last night the US House voted to pass HR 4156, a bill that would provide $50 billion for emergency appropriations contingent on the coordinated drawdown of troop levels deployed in Iraq. 15 Democrats, including John Tanner (TN-08) and Jim Cooper (TN-05) voted against the measure.

Tanner and Cooper have consistently voted against measures that would put conditions on funding for the deployments. In the past, Bart Gordon (TN-06) and Lincoln Davis (TN-04) joined them in their opposition to conditional funding. This time around both Davis and Gordon sided with the majority.

Tanner and Cooper need to explain their positions. Back in September, the Commercial Appeal published a fluff piece about Tanner’s struggles with the Iraq question. In the piece, Tanner never backs down from his initial decision, but that decision doesn’t jibe with a statement in the article where he says:

“Yeah, it bothers me. It bothers me a lot because I told myself when I left active duty back in ’72 that, if I ever had anything to say about it, I’d try to keep our country from getting involved in another war where the strategic victory that we sought was not attainable”

Basically, Tanner is saying he wouldn’t support something that we can’t win. The problem with this logic is that we are no longer in the “war” phase, we are occupiers, and have been since our flightsuited President declared “Mission Accomplished” on May 1, 2003. The way you win an occupation is to leave, not stay as long as possible.

The current government of Iraq took office in May of 2006. A year and a half out, and few of the issues facing the country have been dealt with. Military leaders, both active and retired have testified again and again that the issue in Iraq now is a political one that cannot be resolved militarily yet the administration has taken no lead in creating a political environment in Iraq that would expedite negotiations. Our continued military presence in Iraq as it stands now is hindering negotiations and exacerbating the stalemate by providing a crutch for the Iraqi government to lean on instead of taking responsibility for the future of their nation, a task they were charged by their people to complete.

I understand that the issue of funding our soldiers in Iraq can seem complicated. I don’t think anyone wants to see a single soldier injured or killed due to lack of equipment or funding. This bill funds the troops, contingent on removing them from harms way. From my perspective it satisfies the troop safety requirement. This is not a rejection of the troops, but a rejection of administration policy that 70% of Americans believe has careened out of control.

Tanner and Cooper’s decision to vote against this bill puts them in a position of voting against troop safety. This position is untenable when considering the totality of the situation. Both members need to explain themselves, and soon. Voting against a bill because it will be vetoed is not a good enough reason. It is time for the Congress to represent the will of the American people.

In the spring of 2007 MTSU conducted a poll that showed that only 29% of Tennesseans support the current policy on Iraq. Since that time Tanner and Cooper have consistently voted against any funding bill that would call for troop withdrawal. I hope that Tanner and Cooper will reconsider their votes, or at least explain them so we might better understand, or elect someone who is more willing to represent the will of the people in their districts.

Ed Note: It may seem that my position on Iraq has been inconsistent. In truth, this is one of those things that is very difficult for me to put into words. Emotionally, I want our troops home yesterday. Intellectually, I know that a troop withdrawal is necessary, but will be a lengthy and costly process that may result in an explosion of violence in the Middle East.

Since the rhetorical buildup of the war in 2002, I have maintained my opposition to it. The reality that we would be responsible for the aftermath was one of my main strategic objections to the war, never mind the administration’s policy of pre-emption was both ill conceived and contrary to international law. Since the beginning of military action we have consistently failed to stabilize the situation politically and have executed a military plan, which can only be described as inconsistent and understaffed. Both of these situations have been brought on by an administration that is determined to choke any competence out of government for political reasons. I find it disgusting that this situation has manifested itself in this way, but can find blame only in those who would work to maintain it, namely the administration and it’s apologists on the hill. For now, Tanner, Cooper and those who voted against this conditional emergency spending have given themselves this dubious distinction.

Our service men and women have been held hostage to this political agenda, and I feel it is high time that we fight to get them the hell out of there. In doing so, we have to accept that we are leaving with the job half done and that there will be many more lives, American and Iraqi, lost. Additionally, the toll that this action will no doubt have on military morale will be steep. I feel that every bill calling for withdrawal should include language admonishing the Bush Administration for failing to live up to their responsibility, while commending our service members for their sacrifice, and dedication despite the impossible situation the Administration placed them in.

“Support the Troops, Bring Them Home” has been my mantra in the face of Administration rhetoric seeking to paint any opposition as heretical. Still, the part of the equation that needs to be addressed in any re-deployment or drawdown plan is the future of the Iraqi people. In liberating Iraqis from a dictator, we have shackled them to anarchy. It is our responsibility as a nation to correct this situation politically. That responsibility falls on an Administration loathe to admit fault or make any gesture that would expedite the political situation. This is, in my opinion, an attempt to pass on the problem to the next administration, on the backs of our soldiers.

Congress cannot make the Administration fulfill their obligation, but must hold a position that squarely places the blame where it belongs, at the feet of the Bush Administration, and for now Tanner, Cooper and the rest of those who would vote to maintain this Administration’s political agenda. In passing this bill, the House is once again on record. I hope the Senate can muster the intestinal fortitude to also pass this legislation despite the inevitable veto. By continuing to press forward with this agenda, the Congress can take solace in the fact that they have at least made an effort to correct the wrongs of this administration. I hope Tanner and Cooper will come around to this realization and vote for overturning the veto when it comes before the House.