Thursday, December 31, 2009

UDP's Decade in Review

I've been trying all day to think of what my last post(s) of 2009 should be about, and coming up with nothing. It's been a crazy (couple of?) year(s). Yesterday on KVNU FTP, Tyler, Jon and I discussed the ways politics have changed over the past decade. Some feel things are too polarized now. Some feel there isn't enough honest debate. Some (me!) feel that the electorate is still too complacent and uninvolved in a very important aspect of all of our lives.

But one thing seems to be a constant in all of the year end and decade end recaps populating the Tubes the past week: everything is always changing. I think these final paragraphs of Aught 9 from UDP Executive Director Todd Taylor are perfectly put:

Meanwhile on the campaign front: a decade ago no one had heard of Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, ActBlue, Constant Contact, Google blasts; McCain-Feingold hadn’t upended federal campaign financing; there was still some local news media on radio and television that was allowed to cover politics and help us get to know the candidate and our choices; mail and telephone were the kings of local elections; and, while we all paid lip-service to door to door canvassing Gerber and Green hadn’t proved its effectiveness. In fact, we all thought that voters made rational decisions instead of undergoing different “heursuitics” and other neurological process and emotional connections as identified by microtargeting.

It is a marvel that the most popular television program of the decade was “American Idol” and, yet, a local version like Eugene Jelesnick's “Talent Showcase” would never be considered for airtime. There is no room for local heroes anymore. The loss of local celebrity has hurt the political world as much as any other endeavor. It continued its long decline to the point where over 50% of Utahns couldn’t tell you the name of the Governor when he was recently inaugurated. Fewer than 10% can name either of their state legislators, and even the professional politicians can’t name their school board representative. I doubt more than 3% could name just one member of the State Supreme Court. So, here’s to Ed and Elizabeth Smart, David Archuleta and Ken Jennings! At least Utahns got to know someone local during the past decade whether for triumph or tragedy.
For triumph or tragedy, indeed.

If I could only wish for one thing for the politics of 2010 and beyond, it would be the implementation and adoption of new avenues of information by both elected officials and voters, for a better informed and engaged public.

As a backup wish, I want to see the media bitch-slap anyone blatantly full of shit (Sarah!) or making something up (Death panels!) rather than feed it with vague coverage.

And as a backup to the backup, I want to see Newt Gingrich take a hockey puck to the groin. Televised.

That said, I think the current state of politics -- though frustrating on many levels -- is headed in an encouraging direction. I think it just might be possible that the "gap" defined in Taylor's post can be overcome. Or at least shrunk.

And Todd... Chief Justice Christine Durham. I didn't even have to Google it.

Here's to 2010. 

(Read the entirety of Todd's decade review here)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pop Culture in the Aughts

A rare a-political post here, but this dialog between Yglesias and Rosenberg over pop culture, 2000 to 2009, is thought provoking.  Particularly interesting: the discussion over the "rise of fan culture."  Which leads me back to politics... (more on that later)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Prepping for 2010 Legislative Session (Wimmer, Dayton Warming Up the Dumb)

If you have any inkling that this legislative session is going to be all about the budget, or how much more we can gut from services and education, think again.  Here are some advance highlights of ways in which our most flagrant ideologues and legislative visionaries plan to lead Utah into the (tea-party) future:

Margaret Dayton's There's a World Outside of Utah?! I Live On an Island of Obtuse! Gun Bill (via Bob Aagard):

A personal firearm, a firearm action or receiver, a firearm accessory, or ammunition that is manufactured commercially or privately in the state to be used or sold within the state is not subject to federal law or federal regulation, including registration, under the authority of Congress to regulate interstate commerce.
Oh Margaret.  Isn't there an education program somewhere you could be hatin' on instead?

Meat Head Carl Wimmer's Forced Health Care Opt Out Bill:
A Utah legislator, Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, said he backs Shurtleff's position. Wimmer is sponsoring a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would require Utah to opt out of any federally mandated health care reform.

"Health care reform should be conducted at the state level," Wimmer said, "and not be forced upon us by the people in Washington, D.C."

In May, Wimmer organized Utah's branch of the conservative Patrick Henry Caucus, which boasts close to 40 of the state's 104 lawmakers on its membership rolls. 

Well, except for the state's auto insurance mandate, Carl, but who's paying attention.  And yes, yes, if you don't like the auto insurance mandate, you can just not own a car.  Unfortunately, people can't just decide to not get sick, in the real world at least.  Not that we assume you're living there, of course.  Poor in Utah?  Get ready to be Patrick Henried.  The Carpetbagger AG is signing on to this brilliant idea too.

Wimmer also has a backup bill, should the first not prove wingnutty enough. 

I'm sure this is just the tip of the iceberg -- as Noel and Stephenson have yet to reveal much of what they've got for us -- but it's enough to prove reckless anti-tax pledges and the gutting of higher education and services won't be the only party games played in the upcoming session.  There's also the food tax, the possible (ssssh!) addressing of the Flat Tax that's done us so right so far, and of course (BIGGER SSSSH!) ethics.

All in all, it looks to be another documentary worthy circus session, even if Chris Buttars manages to somehow, someway keep his foot out of his mouth.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dueling Press Conferences

For all the bad you can say about Matheson on health care, you have to give him credit for this:

U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and EnergySolutions Inc. are going public with their complaints about one another, with dueling press conferences and mailers.

EnergySolutions also aired a television ad this week on four television stations to attack what the Salt Lake City radioactive waste company calls the congressman's "playing politics with Utah jobs" and "catering to left-wing fringe groups."

"Everything we put into our ad is factual," said EnergySolutions President Val Christensen, whose company's Tooele County disposal site serves as the sole disposal site for low-level radioactive waste from 36 states.
Matheson aired the 60-second advertisement at a news conference Wednesday. He called it a "vicious" response to his newsletter, which did not mention the company by name but focused instead to his efforts to get a federal import ban on low-level radioactive waste.
Matheson is the only member of our federal delegation with the spine to stand up to The Corporation the Legislature Just Loves to Love (and you can still eat it with a spoon!).

Listening to Afghanistan

What a novel approach!

Big Test for Matheson

Jim's kind of in a corner on the health care bill.

The Senate version is much closer to what he wanted in the first place (i.e. nothing to bold, nothing that really does much of anything... just something you can call reform, with exchanges, and faster payouts to rural doctors or course!).

Now it's coming back to the house for another vote.  Many (including me) suspect that Blue Dogs opposed reform legislation for purely political reasons, to distance themselves from an agenda they are going to own anyway (yeah, I know, doesn't make much sense to me either).

So the big question I have now: What's Jim going to do?

Will he get behind a watered down, toothless "starting point" for reform that can be "fixed later"?  Or will he show us that for him, this was always about opposing the Obama Agenda from the get go?

What's it going to be, Jim?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Challenging the "This Bill or Nothing" False Choice

C & L's RJEskrow takes on the idea that our only two choices are kill this bill or pass this bill:

There's a basic structural flaw in the Klein/Cohn/Krugman position [pass it, fix it later], too:  that it's either this health bill or nothing.  I believe that's a false choice.  Opponents of the Senate draft don't all believe that no reform is better than this bill.  But they should act as if they do.  Once you say the Senate bill is good enough, the negotiations with the left are over. 

The Senate health bill has been improved in some areas, including strengthening the Medicare cost containment commission and - most critically - once again lifting lifetime caps on coverage.  Like McJoan, I believe that's a direct result of the outcry on the left.  Fear of a progressive backlash has already improved this bill, and it may continue to do so - if we don't back down too soon.  In a very practical sense the Deans, Hamshers, and Taibbis are accomplishing more than any other progressives to get a better bill.

There are many people who disagree vehemently with that statement.  By all means, let's keep talking about it.  But let's do so openly, with all the information at our disposal, and without either hostility or manipulation.  I'm not out to antagonize anyone here.  I'd really like to see debate that's based on data and grounded in strategy - and not in false choices.

DC Pattern Interupt

Jerome Armstrong makes the case that (as I believe) there is more at stake in fighting for a better bill (whether that be through pressure to make it better through House leverage or scrapping it altogether for a better bill) than simply stronger reforms.  It's also about 2010, and breaking the pattern of corporatist "conservative" Democrats superseding populist progressives in each and every policy debate:

This is not just bad policy, it's bad politics. ...There are many reasons for hoping the current Senate bill doesn't become law. But the biggest reason of all is the desperate need for a DC pattern interrupt. The desperate need to draw a line in the sand against the continued domination of our democracy -- and the continued undermining of the public interest -- by special interests.

The pattern that Arianna Huffington points out, with its anti-populist basis, really is the root of our affliction.
Kevin Drum sets up the blame of expected losses in '10 as being due to the progressive fighters like Jane Hamsher, if ("...they decide to keep campaigning against it, that could do some real damage..."). It's actually just the opposite. Has the reportage approach of quasi-partisan bloggers like Drum, Nate Silver, Ezra Klein and others, of sitting back and offering a detached perspective on the HCR proceedings, over the past 8 months, helped the progressive cause at all? No, if anything, this type of passive reportage has represented the lulled progressive assumption that all that's necessary is to "believe" the right thing will happen. Complete with Valarie Jarrett prompting to the base to just nod in agreement: have faith in Obama.

In my view, the last two weeks, the swing of Markos/DKos, Howard Dean,, DFA/PCCC into a more antagonistic activist-based approach has been long overdue. FDL, Glenn Greenwald, David Sirota and others, have been there waiting too; understanding that the politics of the Lieberman/Nelson/Lincoln approach demand that progressives be willing to lose a battle in order to win concessions. RJ Eskew is right: "In a very practical sense the Deans, Hamshers, and Taibbis are accomplishing more than any other progressives to get a better bill."
I think it's dangerous to not also admit the electoral damage possible with no bill passage, but for me this is a much stronger argument.  Increasing progressive influence, and breaking the pattern of undermining public interest (often defended by "what's possible" arguments that only ensure a continued status quo both in policy making procedures and the policy produced by that machine), when considered from the point of view of electoral boost/damage, stands to position Democrats much better in 2010 and 2012 than passage of a bad bill, and trying to convince the base to defend it.

I'm not sold on the black and white of "this bill or no bill" yet.  I think there is opportunity to pressure a better bill and even guaranteed dates and expectations for "fixing it later' (just not much later... say January/February), but I understand why activists must frame opposition as "kill the bill" now to even have that influence going forward.  I don't think it will come to that, but even if it does, that is an easier defense to mount in 2010 than massaging support for another corporate handout with no attempt at cost controls.

2010 will end up being about jobs and the economy, and the opposition will still be talking about Marxism and tea parties.  Why assume this easy target in bill form, with little defensible argument in the way of "reform"?

The (Finally!) Tea-bag Free Health Care Debate Continues (Silver/Burner on Hardball)

This really has been like the surprise Christmas present for me.  While the debate is centered around the Senate bill, and sparring between liberals activists who want to kill it, and liberal policy wonks who want to pass it with a promise to "fix it later," it's turning out to be the best debate -- to date -- on health care reform overall.  Death panels and SOCIALISM! have been replaced with debating the actual language of the bill, and the very goals of health care reform.

It's extremely refreshing (and also provides a dire statement on what the GOP and right-wing activists are offering to our national dialog... which isn't much).

Here's video from one such debate just last night:'s Nate Silver, and progressive activist Darcy Burner on Hardball with Tweety.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Testing the Progressive Machine

In my previous post, I sided with Jim Webb's opinion that things may have played out differently had Obama provided a starting point for health care reform, rather than just a mandate to achieve it left up to the machinery of congress to make a reality.  I still agree.  But TAP's Mark Schmitt fills out another aspect of the reform effort equally as true: this started long before Obama even announced his candidacy for the Oval Office, and the President's role only goes so far.

[...] even world-historical figures color within lines that they do not draw themselves. What presidents, governors, or even legislators are willing and able to do is defined by forces and efforts outside of themselves. And for progressive politicians, those factors include the condition and power of the progressive coalition and its organizations -- its ability to generate and refine ideas, as well as its organizational capacity to bring pressure to bear on the political system. Every success or failure can be seen as a measure of the strength or weakness of that infrastructure.

Consider, for example, the widely predicted possibility that the only major accomplishment of the current Democratic majority before the midterm election will be an imperfect version of health-care reform, while financial reform, cap-and-trade, and long-term economic-investment strategies are blocked or delayed. If that occurs, is it simply that the president didn't give enough priority to those other causes?

That's one possible explanation. Another would be that the work underlying the current health-reform effort began years before Obama even announced his campaign for the White House. Drawing on the lessons of past failures, when reform had no organized constituency, advocates and funders put massive resources into groups such as Health Care for America Now. They picked up political scientist Jacob Hacker's idea of a public plan within a structured insurance marketplace and developed it to give progressive advocates of a single-payer system something politically realistic that they could get behind. And they worked to ensure that all the Democratic candidates for president (with the exception of single-payer stalwart Rep. Dennis Kucinich) converged around roughly the same basic model. Years of health-reform-policy development, projects to improve public awareness of health reform, and advocacy campaigns were able to lay the groundwork for health reform well in advance. It was never going to be easy, but the best possible mechanism for achieving the long-thwarted goal was constructed for the president to flip the switch.
This is why the backlash from progressives is more important than even influencing the Senate's health care bill.  On that, their vocal opposition to it's current form may garner a few small concessions, but in the end progressives will probably stop short of killing the bill.  Despite that, the opposition is important to change the precedent set that they will be the first this administration expects to role over for passage of legislation.  As Schmitt writes, it's a test of the progressive machine at this point.  Will they be able to assert enough influence in the process to ensure that in the next legislative battle, the first concessions come from the conservative members of the body, rather than default on progressives from the get go?

To even have the chance for that power struggle, progressives have to be serious in their threat to "kill the bill," even if everyone knows that isn't going to happen.

Simply, they have to be willing to make as much noise and difficulty for the administration as Lieberman, Snowe, and Nelson have.

Somewhere Between "Kill It" and "Get it Done"

Since the Senate announced a passable compromise, I've tried hard to decide where I stand on the bill.  I don't like it.  It's weak.  Compromise(d) is the best way to describe it.

When Howard Dean shouted "kill it," I agreed.  When he said he wouldn't "vigorously" campaign for the president if the bill passed in current form, I thought he went too far.  He's walked that back now, thankfully.  When Ezra Klein pointed out that there are still important reforms in the bill as stands, I agreed.  But when others have suggested progressives shut up and accept the deal, I found it arrogantly dismissive.  When Axelrod says the bill will control costs in current format, I roll my eyes.  And when Jane Hamsher says "we're all tea-baggers now" in opposition to it, I cringe.  There may be populist similarities between those who oppose the bill and tea parties, but I've yet to hear anyone opposing the bill from the left calling Obama a Marxist, railing against non-existent tax increases, or seeing ACORN conspiracies in the breakfast cereal.  Extremes on both sides.  But I think it's all part of a necessary parlay to better legislation.

Dean is doing what he's always done best as a movement leader.  Axelrod is doing what he's always done best in selling Obama's agenda.  Those who have defended passage of a bill they admit is very flawed also make sense to me.  Social Security and Medicare were hardly perfect when first passed, and have been improved greatly in subsequent years.  But they had to start somewhere.  And it's still worth pointing out that the back and forth between Senate Democrats and activists/policy wonks has produced the most substantial health care debate to date, with the bullshit of the GOP, "death panel" exaggerations, and screaming tea-baggers finally taking a back seat to an actual adult discussion.

I think there's a healthy dose of kabuki theater in both the opposition and the support for this bill.  It's politics.  There always is.  Activists, justifiably frustrated by an administration they helped to elect, and a Democratic majority they fought hard for have every right to feel spurned by the Senate and the President over capitulation once again to the self-serving immaturity exemplified by Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson.  Wonks are equally as justified claiming that no bill passage will risk repeat of Clinton's health care crash and burn, and yes, it is possible to "fix it later."

In the end, I hope the bill passes.  I also hope that progressives stir up enough dust and ire to ensure improvements in conference, and secure future improvements in 2010, not 2014.  In the opposition, there should also be fight against the precedent set first by the stimulus debate -- where "moderates" like Snowe, Collins, and Lieberman also effectively undermined the legislation -- and now playing out again in health care reform.

For supporters of passing this legislation, it's all well and good to toss the word pragmatic around, and there's a lot of truth in their views of legislative possibilities and practicalities.  But as the cliche goes: the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  If progressives hope to gain larger influence -- and, specifically, more influence than short sighted "moderates" -- criticism of the Senate bill is important.  Progressives have accepted compromise after compromise, Reid and Obama shrugging and pointing at Snowe and Susan Collins repeatedly as in "what can we do?  Our hands are tied."  Well, no.  They aren't.  You just held back at the wrong time.  The administration hedged, demanding movement on reform but supplying no starting framework for a congress to build on.  In hindsight, fears of branding this Obama's reform lacked merit.  The GOP spun it as Obamacare, and no one cared.  Reid hedged as well, allowing Baucus to piss away a month of debate time building a coalition that wasn't and probably never could have been just so he could assemble a pretense of bipartisanship only beltway insiders care about.

Concentrated and consistent opposition to the bill, with at least the threat of blocking it's trip to the president's desk, could turn the framing on it's head, forcing habitual "middle roaders" to accept a compromise now and then.  It's how legislative coalitions and power brokering works.  Cap-and-trade is up next.  So is the midterm.  A little progressive influence now could go a long way toward better odds on both.

Health care is one of the most important issues this administration will tackle, but still have a few agenda items left to attend to that aren't insignificant even in comparison.  If progressives roll over and accept what they are offered by a dysfunctional Senate and an administration seemingly afraid of owning an issue outright, the pattern of compromise will only continue.  If they push to far and effectively kill the bill, they may assert a more effectual role in legislative battles, but we won't see health care addressed again to after 2012, at the very soonest.

So pass the bill, but hold your nose and demand improvements while you do it.  It's time for progressives to flex a little muscle.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Orrin Hatch Thinks You're Stupid

Hatch via Twitter:

@OrrinHatch: In addition, many on the left are starting to recognize
that the individual mandate is just bad policy:
#tcot #utpol

So let me get this straight, Or. You oppose all cost control
mechanisms that would make a mandate effective in bettering the
choices and shared risk of consumers, and then tought that "even the
left" now sees the mandate you helped to strip the teeth from is nad

Perhaps you should stick to songwriting. Honest discussion doesn't
appear to be your strong suit.

Finally, A Real Debate Over Health Care Reform

Just an observation many seem to be missing in the heat of the rushed Senate vote on #hcr.

Nobody is paying attention to the Republicans.

I'm not saying this to gloat or demean, only to remind.  The GOP has never had much to bring to this debate, and tea-baggers far less.

As the media meme has become the "infighting!!!" in the Democratic Party, America is finally getting a real debate about the bill(s), what they actually say and do, and reasons to support or oppose their passage.  After a spring of merely superficial hints at what legislation would contain, a late summer/fall of nothing but idiocy from screaming tea-baggers, and supporting intellectual dishonesty from GOP leaders, those who have no legitimate content to contribute have been pushed to the fringe where they belonged all along, and -- though still a result of the media's obsession with ratings and drama -- we're finally hearing some real information about the reform proposal trickle down to the average news consumer.

It's like the kids have been sent outside so the adults can have a conversation.

I'm not sure if the lesson here is for the GOP for offering so little intellectual substance to policy making, or the Democrats for continuously taking them seriously enough to even give them the time, but either way it's worth noting.

As for the debate itself, this is an interesting take on the divisions between online activists and policy wonk bloggers:

If bloggers belonging to a particular grouping are exposed to a common factor that is external to the group, they may become like each other, or indeed come to identify more strongly as a group (social identities are frequently imposed from outside). This may lead to important differences between groups. If one group of bloggers is ‘taken seriously’ by powerful actors in the political mainstream, while another group is ignored or treated with hostility by these actors, we might plausibly expect divergences in these groups’ attitudes to mainstream politics over time.

My best guess (and it is no more than a guess) is that #2 is a key causal factor in the current split. Very few bloggers in either of these groups familiar with the intricacies of the current health care proposals, but most of them believe it to be important. Given that (a) it is costly to acquire the relevant information (it is technically dense and complex), but (b) bloggers want to be on the right side of the argument, they are likely to turn to trusted sources in order to tell them ‘how’ to think about the proposals. All of us outsource important parts of our thinking to other people - we couldn’t function otherwise.But whom one considers to be a trusted source will often depend on which network you are embedded in. Hence, I suspect, the very stark differences between the netroots and the wonkosphere on the topic. Not that the persistent snubs from the Obama campaign helped the netroots’ attitude any either...
And this back and forth between Nate Silver and Markos, and Nate Silver and Firedoglake provides some of the best information about the current policy to date.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cherilyn Eager's TeleTown-hall, Webinar, Tea-Party Thingy

Sat in on Eager's teletown-hall, just for fun.  Not much worth repeating (insert your stereotypical teabaggn' rhetortic, and you'll have the gist), other than a few questions near the end:

"Explain your stand on the Fair Tax."

Eager's answer: If we want to curtail what's happening with illegal immigration, take a look at the effect the Fair Tax could have on that.  Fair Tax is one time, at the point of sale.  Anyone who buys a commodity in this country will be paying that tax.  [Illegals] Won't be getting a free ride.
"What important attributes should a candidate have?"
Eager: A factor of trust that you've been consistent.  I'm unique because I've been working with coalitions with conservative groups.
More comments:
"This [earmarks? spending? or something] is taking away the sovereignty of our state.  It is corrupting the system."

"This [nuclear waste] should not be a federal issue, should be a state issue.  Interstate commerce clause [A federal law!] should come into play."

"Want to bring your attention to a few points here... we could use your help, give your children and grandchildren a Christmas gift and donate to this campaign."
Overall, I'm impressed with the tools Eager is implementing in her campaign, and she deserves credit for creativity, if not lucidity.  But those feelings are quickly undermined by the mindless rhetoric that seems to summarize her campaign.  She seems to be operating in a world of black and white ideology, seemingly unaware of economic realities and the complexities inherent in governance.  That her message gains support says more about the low expectations of Utah conservatives than it does her qualifications as a leader.

And with that, I hope she wins the nominations.  Sam Granato vs. Wingnut in 2010 would be endlessly fun to watch.


Utah.  The proving ground for losers?  Warchol:

2012 may be a long way off, but Mitt Romney, Utah's favorite presidential candidate, is launching a counter-attack on would-be opponent Sarah Palin. Romney will arrive in Salt Lake City March 13 for a mega-book signing to promote his “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness,”  Mitt's "Why I Should Be President" essay.

The number of people who show up for Mitt, compared to the Palin crowd at Costco, will provide the first straw poll of the presidential campaign season.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

While We Were Out...

The health care debate has justifiably sucked all the air from the room for what seems like years now.  And in doing so, Nate Silver points out, liberals may be missing some of the still proud moments of 2009 (and -- fingers crossed -- 2010), policy wise.  Specifically, in economic terms:

Perhaps, if the unemployment rate has improved by sometime next year, with the economy adding something like 300,000 or 400,000 per month, then liberals will start to more vigorously defend the White House's economic policy, while the conservative critique will be somewhat mollified. But I'm not holding my breath. Liberals (and certainly conservatives) have tended to shortchange the successes that the White House has had thus far, and I would expect them to continue to do so.

This is for understandable reasons: the financial crisis was extremely traumatic; the economy is a complex system that does not lend itself well to snap judgments and punditry, and many liberals have concerns about the economy (such as the increasing inequality of wealth and income) that extend far beyond the recession of 2007-09. Nor, partly through their own doing, have the optics been especially favorable to the White House: the jobs-creating effects of the stimulus have tended to be swimming upstream relative to the underlying conditions of the labor market; there were some notable PR failures like the AIG bonus "scandal", and the White House has been strangely reluctant to embrace populist rhetoric at a time when it would square well with the political zeitgeist.

At the end of the day, however, the piling-on in liberal circles does not match the objective evidence about the economy. And if it sets any precedent, you may have a robust recovery by the middle of next year, but with neither the White House's conservative nor liberal critics willing to give them much credit for it. Voters may stay away from Democrats as a result, pushing the country toward more conservative economic policy and ensuring that liberal critics of the economy aren't lacking for greivances any time soon.

Real ID Implementation Deadline for States: December 31 2009

Taking a second (third, fourth, one-hundre-and-ninety-eleventh) seat to the health care reform debate is this nasty little bit of Orwellian Bush legacy...

The official deadline for states to comply with the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) final Real ID rule is December 31, 2009, and an estimated 36 states will not be in compliance by then, leading to some ambiguity for many citizens. For example, will residents of Montana be able to board planes in January 2010 with only a driver’s license (a state-supplied, technically non-compliant document) and without a passport (an identity document issued by the federal government)?

Past history strongly suggests that DHS will issue last-minute waivers to states that have not amped up their drivers licenses to adhere to Real ID. Early in 2008, states that actively opposed Real ID received waivers from DHS, nominally marking the states as "compliant" despite strongly-stated opposition to ever implementing Real ID.

But waiting in the wings is PASS ID, a bill that attempts to grease the wheels by offering money to the states to implement ID changes. Despite having the appearances of reform, PASS ID essentially echoes Real ID in threatening citizens' personal privacy without actually justifying its impact on improving security. For this reason, PASS ID is not popular -- privacy advocates refuse to support the bill because it still creates a national ID system. It still mandates the scanning and storage of applicants' critical identity documents (birth certificates, visas, etc.), which will be stored in databases that will become leaky honeypots of sensitive personal data -- prime targets for malicious identity thieves or otherwise accessible by individuals authorized to obtain documents from the database. And on the other side, short-sighted surveillance hawks are unhappy with the bill because they support the privacy violations architected into the provisions of the original Real ID Act.
If only the valiante tea-baggers weren't so busy fighting mock-tyranny and "die-ing in" all over the place, they could save us!  As it stands, we're going to have to hope organizations like EFF, the ACLU, and others taking the lead of the 24 states already wise enough to place a ban on implementation of this misguided "plan."

Sidetrack 2.0

Okay, that's a little bit of an overstatement.  We changed the color of the sidebars.  Whoopdedoo.

Actually a lot more has been going on here.

Things had gotten stale.  When Craig, Jeff (not Bell) and I fired this clunker up in 2005, it started with a few questions we all had, several things we all had to say, and a deep seeded, healthy loathing of the media bent on keeping voters stupid, happy, and voting against their own self interest.

We had grand, unrealistic dreams.  Still do.  We were going to change everything.  Still are.  And to some extent, that hasn't been a complete failure.  Over the ensuing years, personal activism has really taken on a life of it's own outside of what you read here (and sometimes at the cost of what you read here), and the relative involvement in local and national politics has brought returns and disappointments, friends and enemies (at least we like to think so), and a more committed -- if pragmatic -- desire to make a difference.

But it'd grown a little stale and musty.

Personally, I have the attention span of a 2 year old watching CSPAN.  Craig has this day job thing (I have one of those and a radio show, he just pays a lot more attention to his, despite complaints), and Jeff... well Jeff moved to Tacoma, WA, the land of Darcey Burner and apparently NO CELL PHONE SERVICE or email.  Somewhere in there is a personal life for each of us too.  I think.  The SideTrack wouldn't exist if the three of us didn't talk, but politics have changed, blogging has changed (ask any conservative... it's all about The Twitter and the 140 character mindless talking point, right?), and we've changed. 

So the visible adjustments made here are meager, and not meant to impress.  Behind the scenes is where SideTrack 2.0 is happening.  Several new projects in the works.  Some just to keep us (me?) entertained and challenged, some that hopefully a few other yokels will join in with us on in 2010 (put me in your spam folder now, or consider it an opt-in).  Maybe it'll change something relevant and lasting, maybe it will just serve as a continued outlet for angst and defiant idealism.  Either way, I'll be happy.  Hopefully, we'll be a bit more focused for the last two weeks of brainstorming (thanks to those who listened, at length) and have more to say, more of that irreplaceable wit you've come to depend on us for while saying it.

Every time Carl Wimmer or Orrin Hatch post something moronic and mind numbingly trite on Twitter, I remember why I think online activists have a role in Utah.  So, several times a day, that.  Every time Steve Urquhart whines about the local "liberal media," I remember why having even a minor soapbox isn't something to take for granted.  And every time Chris Buttars speaks... well, the way I was raised, you should never waste comedy.

There are very serious kids in Africa, etc.

Looking forward to the next chapter of this lil' bloggin' experiment.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Amy Goodman on Direct Action

Democracy Now's Amy Goodman discusses activism, Tim DeChristopher, and (one of my favorites) The Yes Men.  Via

(Watch the entire program or her comments on DeChristopher here)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fightin' Words

McCain on Palin: 'She's irrelevant'

[...]"She's irrelevant, but they can't continue to attack her. I'm so proud of her and the work that she's doing," McCain told NBC's David Gregory Sunday.

Download video via

Friday, December 4, 2009

Blumenauer (D-Ore) Calls GOP Lawmakers' Bluff

Witty. Rep. Earl Blumenauer sends up a bill:

“Until health reform is enacted,” Blumenauer [D-Ore] added, “Members of Congress should get to experience the tender mercies of our fragmented, complex and exploitative health care system.”
Blumenauer's bill will go nowhere, of course, but it drives a valid point home.

Grandstanding GOPers, what with their faith in the wonderful "market" of our current health care system -- evidenced in their mindless desire to protect it -- should be willing to dip their own toes in the status quo they seek to maintain.

Redstate's Google Conspiracy Theory

Crazy is exponential over there:

Conservative accuses Google of manipulating auto-suggests: 'You are exposed, Google'

We knew Google was part of the liberal mafia when they allowed George W. Bush to come up first when you searched "miserable failure" (but the editors did away with this search result in 2007).

But a conservative at the Red State blog has taken it one further: he believes that Google is manipulating "auto-suggest" results to hide an email scandal that skeptics say undermines the science of climate change.

"Google wants us to believe nobody is searching for Climategate despite it being such a big story, but I have evidence that it's merely a coverup for political purposes," Red Stater Neil Stevens wrote Thursday. [...]

The Alternate History of Sen. Orrin Hatch

Methinks the fine Senator grows senile. Hatch on the Senate floor yesterday:

I dream some day of having the Republicans have 60 votes. I’ll tell you one thing, I think we would finally have the total responsibility to get this country under control and I believe we would. But we never come close to that. There are essentially no checks and balances found in Washington today just an arrogance of power with one party ramming through unpopular and devastating proposals on after the other.
He has a dream. And a lofty dream it is. It requires departing from the recent history of his party, and his voting record -- which deviates from his party, never -- in forming your "understanding" of legislative reality, but no matter. It's pompous and vacuous grandstanding that makes a leader, not track record, right? Wonkroom:

Republicans controlled Congress for 12 years — eight of which had a Republican president — but their agenda of tax cuts for the super rich did little to “get this country under control,” so to speak. Throughout the Bush administration, “the median household income declined, poverty increased, childhood poverty increased even more, and the number of Americans without health insurance spiked.”

Republicans ignored the health care crisis. Throughout the years of Republican dominance, the rate of uninsurance grew and employer-sponsored insurance continued to erode. “When Clinton left office, the number of uninsured Americans stood at 38.4 million. By the time Bush left office that number had grown to just over 46.3 million, an increase of nearly 8 million or 20.6 per cent.” Between 2001 and 2005 — when Republicans had majorities in both chambers of Congress — the number of uninsured employees grew by 3.4 million and employer-sponsored health insurance premiums grew by no less than nine percent each year, while wages only grew between 2.2% and 4.0% each year. (In fact, the share of Americans who received health insurance through their employer declined every year of his presidency.)

Orrin isn't an anomaly amongst Republican leadership, or even party activists. Though he may be the most obnoxiously whiney.

There is something they are completely incapable of wrapping their heads around: Obama and the Democratic Party legitimately won the White House and House majorities because they weren't Republicans. They, quite simply, spoke to, and continue to better represent a majority of voters in this country. (See 2006, 2008, and -- upcoming -- 2010 for reference)

Republicans had more than a decade to address actual problems. They chose not to. They still have an opportunity to contribute real content to the narrative. They choose not to. The Party Orrin hails from and heralds as savior squandered their years in power on hubris, and selling out to corporations and the highest bidders.

Life's a bitch, Orrin. Elections have consequences. Manufactured indignance and demagoguery aren't a legislative platform or a template for a return to power. Holy Wars of obstruction and tired, ineffectual talking points do not equate to inspiring leadership outside of tea-bagging festivals and Palin's book selling stunts. Temper tantrums at facing consequence aren't an attribute, and quite frankly are becoming a bore.

Your words speak more to your age, and a leave from reality then they do any semblance of earning the office you occupy.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Take This Advice

Oh please oh please oh please oh please!

Costco Does Sell In Bulk

Next Wednesday there's a special on wing nuttery. It's a good thing for the GOP that she quit her job to lead conservatives to the principled core values of buying her book.

And if you're in line be sure to take note of Cherilyn Eagar's mad dash to go even further right than she already was.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Log Cabin Republicans Blame Democrats

Log Cabin Republicans Blame Democrats

Although today's vote in New York to legalize same sex marriage did not receive a single Republican vote, the Log Cabin Republicans issued a statement blaming Democrats:

"Today we share in the frustration and disappointment that the Senate did not pass the marriage equality bill. We are deeply saddened that the Democratic Conference failed to secure the votes they promised, undermining the possibility of a credible bipartisan vote of conscience on the merits of marriage equality. Winning marriage equality in New York requires the Democrats to keep their promises, and Log Cabin will continue to work to ensure that Republicans vote their conscience when that finally happens."
They're gay Republicans. Can't be too surprised when they don't make any sense.

Keepin' it real... or something

Something strange happened here at SideTrack HQ about 10 days ago. In the middle of the holiday prep and finishing up of last minute work, the well of witty rejoinders and insight-without-compare I'm sure you all come here for just, kinda, dried up.

Everyone said, at the end of the longest Presidential campaigns in the history of mankind, that we'd burn out. We didn't. Everyone said as news cycles slowed over the summer we'd take a break. We didn't. Everyone said trying to be activists, bloggers, and Democrats in Utah at the same time would drive us insane... It didn't. Maybe.

Mocking tea-baggers alone is reason enough to fire this thing up every day, but there's been a lot more than that. And becoming increasingly involved in "offline" activist efforts has given the people who make up The SideTrack even more to talk about (though ironically, less time to do so... I call this the Active Geek Paradox). And it's not like there is ever really a shortage of news to either enrage, engage, or make us laugh hysterically.

No, what's happened here is we've grown complacent, lazy, and maybe even a little stagnant. We've been doing this since 2005, and have not yet once even considered a site redesign, or a switch to Wordpress (not gonna happen... too many clickey things, we get confused), or even changing the font in the posts. So we're looking to make some changes. Something more challenging, and more dignified for this little blog we've become pretty proud of as the years go on. Something to keep aging minds active, like those little rubber balls you get for dogs you can hide the Milkbone in. Something just above "puzzle" and just below "astro-physics" to up the ante, and keep us fresh.

We'd of course welcome any ideas, and we have some of our own we'll be testing out. Until then posting may slow a little bit, but you can still follow us on Twitter, and of course hear me wax politic on the airwaves Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, 4 to 6.

Don't worry, we won't be gone long. Morgan Philpot (who's tea-baggn' tweets were sadly deleted over the weekend when his account was hacked and he started spamming us IQ quiz links... but trust us, they were tea-baggery!) is considering a run in UT-2, and we wouldn't miss that comedy gold for the world.

P.S. Democrats: Please don't primary Jim while we're gone. For F#$k sake, if you have the candidate and the energy for a primary, run somebody against Bishop instead. Two birds, one stone.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

‘Liberals Quake With Fear...'

GOP comedy via TWI:

'Liberals Quake With Fear at the Mention of Your Names'

Here's the Tea Party video of the week, so far: Singer/songwriter Lloyd Marcus (of "American Tea Party Anthem" fame) re-writes the lyrics of "My Girl" to pay tribute to conservative women. [...]

Someone's giving Hatch a run on the wingnut music career.

CBO on Stimulus


The Congressional Budget Office, Monday.

The stimulus bill enacted earlier this year has resulted in as many as 1.6 million jobs saved or created this fall, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said Monday evening. [...] Additionally, the CBO said, gross domestic product (GDP) was as much as 3.2 percent higher than it would have been in the absence of the stimulus.

Remember, not a single Republican in the House voted for the stimulus bill.
Tea baggers? (