Independence Day Open Thread

In spite of our historical cruelties, imperial tendencies, and wealth gap, I do believe that this is the greatest country in the history of the world. It's not because of any sort of manifest destiny, Providence, or exceptionalism. It's because natural resources and ocean borders gave us a unique history, because we are young and thus in a better position to learn from history's mistakes; and because oppressed people tend to do amazing things. It is those oppressed people we remember today, on the Fourth of July.

When King George went a bit too far, a group of impressive men rebelled with one of the greatest visions the world has ever known. "All men are created equal" may be a cliche today, but it was radical at the time. Yes, they were all men, but while the history of America may well be one of sexism and militance, it is also one of righting wrongs and of spreading freedom. We ended slavery before Britain ended its colonialism. We forgave our enemies after WWII and rebuilt Europe out of our own pockets. We elected a minority individual as President only forty years after Jim Crow, and at a time when most other places could certainly not do so. We've got a long, long way to go, but we've already come farther than any other country, and that gives me hope.

We can say anything we want in print and at public meetings, legally worship however we choose, and visit millions of acres of public land. We are the freest people on earth. Happy Fourth.

Ridiculous Repub scheme to bump Pelosi

This is ridiculous. From Roll Call:

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) is trying to foment a long-shot Democratic rebellion against Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that would install House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in her place after the November elections.

The scenario, as Simpson sees it, runs like this: Democrats lose a bunch of seats but cling to a narrow majority. If a handful of Democrats withhold their votes for Pelosi, Democrats would have to put up another candidate, or else Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) would become Speaker.

“I’m trying to help Steny,” Simpson said with a smile. “If it gets close enough, six or eight Blue Dogs could make the difference." ...

“Mr. Hoyer is focused on keeping the House in Democratic hands and being Majority Leader in the next Congress,” Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant said. Hoyer, indeed, hasn’t given any hint of challenging the Speaker.

This scheme is ridiculous. First, "six or eight Blue Dogs" might be a large part of the Blue Dog caucus, given that, like in 1994, it won't be House liberals who lose this fall. Most of their districts are safe; any voter anger at liberals will more likely take out Democrats in vulnerable districts, who are mostly the conservadems. Most pundits don't get that, and apparently neither does Simpson. Second, Dems are very loyal to Pelosi. She helped get many of them elected, lets them off the hook for tough votes when she knows she has the margin, and most importantly, is extremely effective at passing their agenda. The House health bill was better than the Senate health bill; financial regs are being watered down because of folks like SENATOR Scott Brown; climate legislation and tax extenders have passed the House but failed in the Senate.

Nancy Pelosi is a very partisan figure who knows how to hold a grudge, and I don't like that. But given her effectiveness, Democratic lawmakers aren't about to send her packing. Mike Simpson, get a life.

(Since this attempt will go nowhere, the only reason this story warrants any attention at all is that it gives one the chance to emphasize the fact that it's the Blue Dogs who will suffer, not the progressives. It caught my eye not because of the leadership "challenge" but because of the Idaho connection. Simpson is the state's other Congressman, ie, not mine, but is a big figure in western funding and politics.)

New VoteVets ad calls out "oily" Senators, and BP takes your questions

This might be my favorite ad of the year (though Dale Peterson runs a close second, for different reasons). VoteVets is adapting this ad for oil regulation and clean energy laws in several different states:

Another VoteVets ad is below the fold. It's a more positive ad featuring an Iraq vet who now builds wind turbines, and thanks Senators who are already trying to hold the oil companies accountable. Their website is soliciting donations to keep the ads on the air.

On another oil spill note, Google, YouTube and the PBS NewsHour are sponsoring a live interview in 45 minutes, at 1:30 EDT, with BP's Bob Dudley, Chief Executive for BP’s Response. You can submit and rate submitted questions here. I submitted two questions: "Why is BP preventing photo-journalists from accessing public lands, and how is this legal? Why does BP think up-front transparency will harm it more than the truth coming out later will inevitably do?" And on a lighter note, "Per your pre-disaster contingency plan, how many walruses has BP relocated from the Gulf since the explosion?" The second one is clearly a joke, but I'd like to see their answer to the first one.

There's more...

Does Rand Paul Want To Abandon NATO?

A new Rasmussen poll shows Democrat Jack Conway just seven points behind Repub Rand Paul in KY-SEN, 49-42. The news of this flimsy lead comes on the heels of a failed money bomb attempt where Paul raised far less than he had been able to do before his comments regarding the Civil Rights Act and the BP oil slick.

Paul just doesn’t know when to stop digging. From the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul said Wednesday that the United States needs to continue rolling back its defenses in Europe and allow counties there to foot the cost of defending the continent.

"You know, it's been 70 years since World War II and I think that the expense for defending Europe really should be borne by Europeans and there should probably be changes as to how many troops" are deployed there, Paul said in response to a question on Germany on WHAS radio's Mandy Connell show.

First of all, though we haven’t “defended” Europe in decades, doing so would be part of our NATO treaty obligations, and asking NATO to step up its commitment to our defense in Afghanistan makes this the wrong time to criticize our role in the organization. Second, many if not most of our installations in Europe are about deployment and logistics, not European defense. As the Courier-Journal article goes on to point out, Germany is home to “Landsthul Regional Medical Center, the largest American hospital outside the United States and the destination of seriously injured soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Either Rand Paul is suggesting we abandon NATO, which would make sense given his father’s criticism of the UN, or he doesn’t know a thing about policy but is still willing to run off his mouth, which would make sense given Sarah Palin’s endorsement of her.

Paul’s opponent, Jack Conway, has been a part of our Act Blue page since before the primaries. It’s almost as easy to support him as it is to oppose Paul.

Only 4 Hours Left

- Bumped one last time. -N

Books close tonight at midnight EDT for the FEC’s second fiscal quarter. As the third quarter is traditionally the weakest for fundraising, this is our last best shot to show progressive strength before November. That’s why MyDD features eight candidates who are Going On Offense at ActBlue. We’ve got four Senatorial candidates, two Gubernatorial candidates, and two House candidates. 5 of the 8 are running for open seats and one is challenging a Repub incumbent. Please help by donating $5 or more to at least two of them - and if that's too much to ask, you can still share this post on Facebook and Twitter with the gadgets below!

If you’re a fan of MyDD on Facebook, you’ve seen our recent fundraising appeals for Alan Grayson, Jack Conway, Matt Dunne, and Bill White. I've also featured White (TX-GOV) and Paul Hodes (NH-Sen) in full posts of their own. While I have personal affinities for Hodes and Dunne, my two favorite races are KY-Sen and TX-Gov. These races hold both symbolic and practical importance. Winning in KY-Sen would keep Rand Paul out of office (not to mention that Conway was my favorite primary candidate), and winning in TX-Gov would allow us to undo the corrupt redistricting legacy of Tom DeLay once the 2010 census is complete. Plus, think about the message progressive victories in Texas and Kentucky in an allegedly anti-Democratic year would send!

Other Going On Offense candidates include Robin Carnahan in MO-Sen, Russ Feingold in WI-Sen, and Tom White in NE-02. For descriptions of these candidates, visit the ActBlue page, and please pick at least two to support. Even just $5 each means a +1 in the contributor list, and that goes a long way. Please give before tonight’s deadline.

Bill White (TX-Gov) $
Matt Dunne (VT-Gov) $
Jack Conway (KY-Sen) $
Robin Carnahan (MO-Sen) $
Paul Hodes (NH-Sen) $
Russ Feingold (WI-Sen) $
Alan Grayson (FL-08) $
Tom White (NE-02) $

Laugh of the Day

100 vuvuzeals blowing at BP hq all day long - is this not the coolest thing ever?

Activist Adam Quirk has an idea for how to compel greater action from BP where threats of federal regulation and President's Obama $20 billion escrow fund have not succeeded. Quirk is raising $2,000 -- he's just over halfway there -- to stage the ultimate World Cup-inspired protest. "In order to put a bit of public pressure on them, we plan to buy 100 vuvuzelas and hire 100 vuvuzela players off Craigslist to play in front of BP's International Headquarters in London for an entire work day. Ideally, the players will keep coming back every day until they fix the gusher," Quirk writes.

Only half of the raised funds will go towards vuvuzela-related activities. The other half is meant to be donated to a Gulf recovery fund by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Reasons to vote no on Wall Street reform don’t hold up

Wall Street reform looks to be in as much trouble as the energy bill. Though the bill was passed out of conference, it’s actually now losing votes on the Senate floor despite the addition of Maria Cantwell. Robert Byrd’s death is one and Repub Scott Brown is two, and four others are threatening to walk.The original vote was 59-39 with Specter and Byrd not voting. Factor them in, and we can only afford to lose two votes after gaining Cantwell's. If Russ Feingold continues to filibuster, then we need all four of the remaining waverers lest the 2007-8 status quo stands and Wall Street brings down the economy again.

Brown is opposing the bill and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and the Maine twins are threatening to oppose it because of a $17.9 billion fee on big banks from the House version. Democrat Evan Bayh has also grown wishy-washy.

This is ridiculous. Big financial firms and banks have caused trillions of dollars worth of damage to this country - $700 in TARP funds, $787 billion in the stimulus, two consecutive quarters of 6% decline in US GDP, 10% unemployment – yet Repubs would risk it happening all over again rather than tax these crooks a paltry $18 billion? Puh-leaze! It's even more hypocritical when one considers the anti-bailout bleating of most of these Repubs. Here’s our chance for another Main Street bailout, and yet just as with the stimulus and unemployment extension, they’re saying no. Any good will Brown generated by introducing Elena Kagan to the Judiciary Committee yesterday is gone now.

Dodd and Franks have made some small changes to address these petty concerns, but that won't solve all the bill's political woes - and not just because Brown is still playing coy. Democratic Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin is also planning to vote against the legislation, as he did before conference. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) also voted against it in May, but her concerns about derivatives seem to have been addressed. Feingold, however, is almost taking the position that unless we end too-big-to-fail (and it is too bad that the bill doesn't), then we should leave the current system in place exactly as it its.

I truly admire Feingold and am happy to fundraise for his re-election campaign, but I think he's making a terrible mistake here. If the bill’s strength is already losing it votes, holding out for something better will lose even more. Give Feingold what he wants and not only do the four Republicans firm up their opposition, perhaps we lose not only Bayh but Ben Nelson as well, who voted against an initial procedural motion. That takes us from a possible 61 and passage to a ceiling of 56-57 and failure.

It made sense to filibuster in May when there was still a chance to strengthen the bill, but we’re in the end game now. Either we pass this bill or one very close to it, or we don’t pass a bill at all. This wasn’t the case before conference when the August recess was still far away, but it is the case now. If Feingold and others want to register discontent, they should vote for cloture and against the bill, but a vote against cloture is a vote for Jamie Dimon and a vote for the 2007-8 status quo.

NH-SEN: Support Paul Hodes Before Tomorrow's Deadline

One of our ActBlue Going on Offense candidates is Paul Hodes of New Hampshire, a two-term Congressman running for an open Repub Senate seat. I met Hodes on several occasions while going to college in New Hampshire. He's a good guy with a love of his state and a thorough dedication to progressive principles, but needs our help to win this seat.

Howard Dean sent a fundraising e-mail to Hodes supporters yesterday. The progressive champion writes:

From our small business economy to our individual liberties and our precious natural resources – there’s a way of life we fight to protect here in New England. Unfortunately it’s become painfully clear that the Republicans are more interested in protecting Big Oil, Big Banks, and any other special interest that comes their way.

That’s why I’m doing everything I can to send Paul Hodes to the U.S. Senate to represent New Hampshire. Paul will tackle the tough fights - like protecting our environment. We can count on him to stand up to Big Oil, to hold BP accountable for cleaning up the Gulf, and to work towards ending our dependence on fossil fuels.

But if Paul is going to win in November, he’s going to need your help too. The crucial end-of-quarter filing period is upon us, and Paul has to meet his fundraising goal so he can compete with the onslaught of special interest money. Please be one of the 100 donors that Paul needs to make a donation before midnight June 30.

New Hampshire's a neat place. Manchester is increasingly a glorified Boston suburb, but you also get miles and miles of rugged wilderness in the North Country and the White Mountains. A state that arms itself, wears flannel, and obsesses about its motto ("Live Free or Die") like no other state yet still votes for progressive Democrats is okay by me. And vote Democratic it does - in 2006, Dems took back both houses of the state legislature, both House seats, and the state's five-member Executive Council. In 2008, a Republican Senator was tossed out and Obama carried the state's electoral votes.

But now those gains are in danger, and to an inept candidate. State attorney general Kelly Ayotte has faced criticisms for her handling of a major financial case; here's Hodes' ad summing up the scandal.

If Ayotte isn't the nominee, it's because a tea party candidate gains steam in the last few weeks before the September primary. This seat was supposed to be one of our easiest pick-ups, yet Paul is now behind in every poll. This remains a crucial race to stopping the tea party flood, but Democrats won't win without Netroots help. Please, give to Paul Hodes before tomorrow's FEC deadline.

Kagan Hearings, Day One

Yesterday was day one of Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination Senate hearings. If confirmation hearings are about cameras, yesterday was the worst – nothing but introductory speeches, first from the Senators, than from Kagan herself.

Most analysis of confirmation hearings centers around the fact that they’re little more than wasted opportunities – political fluff. As Ranking Doofus Jeff Sessions (R-AL) pointed out today, Kagan herself has said as much: “Ms. Kagan has called previous confirmation hearings "vapid" and "hollow," and has argued that nominees for a lifetime position owe a greater degree of candor and openness to the committee. I agree that candor is needed, and I look forward to that kind of exchange this week.”

Unfortunately, it has rarely been the nominees’ fault that their hearings lack candor or substance. Senators are mostly to blame for asking pointless questions. Sessions himself indicated that he is likely to do just that, focusing his statement on the hyperbolic, non-judicial issues of military recruiting at Harvard and accusations of socialism.

The ideal hearing would not get bogged down in politics and made-for-tv speeches. It would instead inform Americans about the true and proper role of the Court and would explore the various acceptable judicial philosophies and legal theories. If there are any senators who offer hope for such a hearing, they are likely to be found among the Judiciary Committee’s most junior members: Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Al Franken (D-MN). Franken’s opening statement was a very articulate explanation of how the Supreme Court affects ordinary lives in dramatic ways:

I was less impressed with Whitehouse’s statement, but he did give a solid pre-hearing interview to columnist E.J. Dionne, who also cited Whitehouse and Franken as the committee’s best hopes.

Whitehouse, formerly his state's attorney general, was one of the most outspoken voices during Justice Sonia Sotomayor's hearings last year. He battled -- largely in vain -- against Republican efforts to turn the hearings into a rally on behalf of a definition of "judicial restraint" that would have judges approve whatever items happen to be on the conservative agenda.

It's amazing how often conservative judges use the "original intention" of our Founders to conclude that Jefferson, Hamilton and Madison were simply card-carrying members of the American Conservative Union.

This time, Whitehouse told me he plans to focus on how conservative courts have limited the rights of plaintiffs to challenge corporations before juries by restricting the right to sue and on the evidence that can be brought into play.

"Corporations hate juries," Whitehouse said. "It's the one part of government you can't buy." He will link this argument with a challenge to the Supreme Court's appalling Citizens United decision, which gives corporations virtually unlimited rights to spend money to influence elections. Invoking the baseball umpire metaphor made popular by Roberts, Whitehouse observed that "corporations have a different strike zone in the Supreme Court than regular people."

I look forward to hearing Whitehouse and Franken’s questions for Kagan, and to mocking Sessions’. But to be fair to the Repubs, I will say, it was kind of neat to see Scott Brown join John Kerry in introducing Kagan to the committee.

President Pro Tempore Byrd Dies At 92

By now you likely know that Senator Robert Byrd passed away this morning. Other than pointing you to this article on West Virginia’s strange succession laws, I don’t have much to add to the news, but it would feel wrong not to mark it in some way. The natural death of a 92 year old man is never a tragedy, but our thoughts and condolences are with his family, friends, and colleagues today.

Byrd, who was raised in coal country and lost his mother when he was just one, was the longest serving Member in Congressional history and perhaps the greatest master of Parliamentarian rules in the country. The man served in the Senate for so long that when I gave tours of the Capitol Building as a Senate intern in 2008, I mentioned him by name at three points along the way: at an exhibit of an old-school subway car, the amendment room, and the Appropriations suite. No other Senator mattered along the tour that way – when you serve for that long, you become a part of the building itself.

I always admire a man who can admit his mistakes, and his was a doozy: he joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1942. But to his credit, he was renouncing it as early as 1952, well before membership in the Klan was a liability in a place like West Virginia and well before national civil rights laws were passed. Of course, a renouncement isn’t a denouncement – that would come much later, but come it did. “I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times... and I don't mind apologizing over and over again. I can't erase what happened.” And, "My only explanation for the entire episode is that I was sorely afflicted with tunnel vision -- a jejune and immature outlook -- seeing only what I wanted to see because I thought the Klan could provide an outlet for my talents and ambitions.” Those were Byrd’s words in 2005. He didn’t need to say them; he did not face a serious re-election challenge in 2006. They were heart felt.

Here is part two of his floor speech regarding the Iraq War, from 2003.


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