Two New Palin/Couric Clips

I just saw two new snippets from CBS’s Katie Couric interviewing Sarah Palin. Needless to say, they’re disastrous.

First, in a clip that clearly is pulled straight from the image of Sarah Palin that America is getting to know and fear, she is unable to name a single newspaper or magazine she regularly reads.

I lived in Alaska and while getting a copy of the New York Times isn’t as easy in Anchorage as, say, 42nd and Broadway, it’s still doable. On top of that, the Alaskan press is robust for a small state. The Anchorage Daily News, Fairbanks News-Miner, and Juneau Empire are all substantial papers that pull heavily from wire services to fill out national and international news content. Naming these papers would not have signaled a lack of global awareness in my view — they contain much of the same news content that papers across the Lower 48 have. But Palin didn’t name them, or any other paper. It’s startling and it’s not the first time this week Couric has stumped Palin on a fundamentally simple question.

Second, Couric asks Palin if it really was her view that a 15 year old girl who was raped by her father should not be allowed to have an abortion.

Palin’s position represents about as radical a position as any mainstream American politician will hold on any issue. That said, a commenter on YouTube nails Palin for refusing to be clear about what she believes when challenged by Couric:

She says she’s pro-life and then grants that women make their own choice.
I am not convinced she knows what “pro-life” means, as a political position.

Heh, indeedy. Though I think it’s more likely that she is consciously choosing to mask her extremist views from voters who would find them unpalatable and repulsive.

It’s hard to understate how fundamentally qualified Palin is to be a vice presidential candidate.

Don’t Ask for the New Deal, Ask for the Share Our Wealth Campaign

Digby has a great post on the need for Democrats to take the opportunity to proactively push a progressive policy agenda in the wake of current economic turmoil. The Paulson plan and $700 billion for Wall Street has all the hallmarks of conservative shock doctrine: step into a crisis and put through an aggressive policy structure that moves the country drastically rightward while empowering a small handful of interests (in this case, Wall St. financiers and the GOP operatives who provide them with filthy lucre).

Fundamentally speaking, there is zero reason why progressives (or at least Democrats) cannot take the same legislative opportunity to effect a strong move leftward. Digby quotes an emailer who lays out a strong case for doing just this. She goes on to make the case for the how and the why Democrats could take the opportunity in front of them to shift the Overton window of how we think about policy in America for a long time to come.

But the Democrats are failing to take advantage of the complexity of the situation and use simple politics to sell it. They should say that the economy is failing and we need massive government action to solve it. That’s what Democrats do in a crisis like this. But they need to make the political message about the Democratic agenda for restoring the economy not about rescuing “the financial system” which nobody understands anyway...Let’s have the argument and let the American people decide. If the Democrats win it they will have a mandate for real progressive change in the middle of a crisis that demands it. If they play their cards right they’ll end up neutering the failed conservative ideology for a generation, put in place some important and long neglected structural changes and mitigate the worst of this downturn at the same time. There’s no reason that the Shock Doctrine can’t be used for good.

Digby’s emailer and Rick Perlstein both suggest the goal for Democrats should be to put in place a new version of FDR’s New Deal. I hate to disagree with Perlstein, one of our nation’s finest historians, but I wonder if a better model for progressives today (keeping in mind the origination for any policy plan as of now will be in the legislature) would be Huey Long’s Share Our Wealth campaign. Share Our Wealth was a more radical plan than the New Deal, which did appropriate some parts of Long’s vision for how the crisis of the Great Depression could provide opportunity for wholesale change in the American economic system.

Here are the bullet points from the Share Our Wealth campaign:

  1. No person would be allowed to accumulate a personal net worth of more than 100 to 300 times the average family fortune, which would limit personal assets to between $1.5 million and $5 million. Income taxes would be levied to ensure this. Annual capital levy taxes would be assessed on all persons with a net worth exceeding $1 million.
  2. Every family was to be furnished with a homestead allowance of not less than one-third the average family wealth of the country. Every family was to be guaranteed an annual family income of at least $2,000 to $2,500, or not less than one-third of the average annual family income in the United States. Yearly income, however, cannot exceed more than 100 to 300 times the size of the average family income.
  3. An old-age pension would be made available for all persons over 60.
  4. To balance agricultural production, the government will preserve/store surplus. This is made so no food is wasted.
  5. Veterans are paid what they are owed
  6. Education and training for all children to be equal in opportunity in all schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions for training in the professions and vocations of life.
  7. The raising of revenue and taxes for the support of this program was to come from the reduction of swollen fortunes from the top, as well as for the support of public works to give employment whenever there may be any slackening necessary in private enterprise.

Some of the more aggressive policy visions being put out by some bloggers, intellectuals, and unions have scope that goes far beyond the financial markets. Speaking broadly, there are better options than just looking to Wall Street and no further. As David Sirota has noted, no one has yet explained why if we can throw $700b at the financial markets, we can’t spend a comparable amount on health care, education, greening the economy, and the social support system. Now is the opportunity to be the most aggressive in defining what is possible with American public policy and government spending. In attempting to make that definition, we have to look far beyond what may be easily achievable and set out what would be most beneficial, knowing that the GOP and corporate, centrist Democrats will work to undercut the program as much as possible.

To the extent that the Share Our Wealth program created both political demand and political cover for large steps in the government’s involvement in the economy under the executive’s New Deal program, a progressive shock doctrine today originating from the legislature could do the same. Long presented America with a truly populist, progressive economic agenda. The response was strong and Share Our Wealth chapters around the country could well have carried Long through a presidential campaign, taking enough votes from Roosevelt to allow a Republican win (Long projected that four more years of suffering in the Depression under a Republican would bring the country to the point where they would elect him president in 1940 and empower him to enact his policy agenda).

From a political standpoint, the problem with relying on Obama as the author of a policy solution is that he cannot be the left flank as a candidate as he has no power to institute his legislative agenda. What is presented now, then, becomes incredibly important. We shouldn’t hold back or strive to compromise before we even sit down at the bargaining table. We should be presenting the most aggressive progressive economic program we can come up with. It should be pushed by outside groups and championed by key legislators on the Hill (Calling Pete Stark, Chris Dodd, & Donna Edwards). Our congressional challengers should embrace this plan now and make clear to voters that if they want to stabilize the economy not just for next week but for the next 100 years, a dose of progressive shock is in order.

A progressive shock doctrine will not be passed into law while Bush is in office, but we can move the Overton window during the short term of this crisis. That would facilitate the election of Barack Obama. Once in office, Obama could give signal that he’d embrace whatever legislative Share Our Wealth program is created now or he can step forward and do an FDR style New Deal — somewhat less aggressive, but benefitting from the recent rise in populist sentiments supporting large-scale change in government economic policies and social programs.

The strength of the call to action now will determine what is politically possible in January 2009. Let’s not hold back.

Counter-Fast for Equality

Via David Dayen at Calitics, some good progressive folks out in California have responded to the anti-equality “Yes on Prop 8” campaign’s ill-formed relay fast against gay marriage with their own relay fast in an effort to blow up the weak tactics coming from the religious right. Proposition 8 would ban marriage equality in California. If you believe in marriage equality, check out Fast For Marriage Equality and if you’re in California, vote “No” on Proposition 8.

Schadenfreude Qua Economic Solution

Brad at Sadly, No! has an intriguing solution to the financial crisis:

Were I to structure a rescue package for the economy, it would involve locking up the CEOs of financial firms in pillory stocks and letting Americans hurl rotten vegetables and feces at them for $20 a pop. Assuming all 300 million Americans hurl an average of five tomatoes/crap balls at their least favorite corporate execs, that would raise a total of $300 billion, or nearly half of the money needed to buy up worthless assets. This way, the typical voter could at least get some schadenfreude in exchange for their trouble. I call this the Brad Righteously Pissed-Off Revenge Act of 2008. I think it’s a winner.


My friend and former co-blogger Antonino D’Ambrossio has a great article up at SleptOn about how Wall Street firms are seeking to rake American taxpayers over the coals after taking all they could from the economy for years. Here’s a snippet:

In Martin Scorsese’s now classic film Goodfellas, there is a scene where wiseguys Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Peschi) burn down the Bamboo Lounge, a nightclub the gangsters had been using as a way station to house cases of liquor, food, and expensive clothes that they then “flipped” (to turn a huge profit on) on the street. Watching as the U-Hauls pull up and unload the merchandise, Henry Hill sets up the scene with the following voice-over:

As soon as the deliveries are made in the front door, you move the stuff out the back and sell it at a discount. You take a two hundred dollar case of booze and sell it for a hundred. It doesn’t matter. It’s all profit.

Sonny, the club’s owner, is unable to make the payments and soon the debt is insurmountable. The gangsters have been profiting and now they will score one last huge gain by burning the place down and leave Sonny, the owner, with a huge load of debt impossible to repay. Liotta as Hill once again in voice-over:

And, finally, when there’s nothing left, when you can’t borrow another buck from the bank or buy another case of booze, you bust the joint out.

When I read the endless stories of private equity’s record breaking billionaire buyouts in today’s news, this scene in Goodfellas plays like a constant loop in my mind. In essence, private equity companies like KKR, Blackstone, and the Carlyle Group (these names should ring a bell for most folks reading this because they are key players in the sub-prime mortgage catastrophe and the debt crunch that threatens to plow this country deep into recession) have perfected the art of the legal “bust out.” I’m sure the gangster in Goodfella wish they had thought of this greatly profitable scheme. What these firms do is use risky debt-laden business models to earn hundreds of millions a year while allowing their partners to pay a lower tax rate on their huge investment income than nurses have to pay on a $50,000 salary (15% for the billionaire and 35% for the nurse). These companies make exorbitant profits the old fashioned way — they don’t earn it. Instead they make money by loading debt onto the companies they buy, cutting out as much cost as they can (which can mean laying off employees), and then selling the companies for a profit.

Clearly, the private equity “bust-out” business model is threatening an already tenuous 21st-century American democracy. For workers, the buyout and subsequent “bust out” of scores of American companies has helped to stagnate wages, roll back hard-fought labor protections, undermine unionization, inflate the already astronomical price of healthcare, and make it nearly impossible for many to save and build towards retirement or the semblance of a secure future.

Antonino’s whole piece is worth a read. There’s been a lot of talk about how big investment firms and banks holding mortgages are going to benefit from a big bailout. But there hasn’t been much attention on how private equity firms will benefit, let alone how their actions have contributed to the current mess.

What Happened in East Turkestan?

Before the start of the Olympics there was widespread attention to a bombing and attack in Kashgar, East Turkestan (Chinese: Xinjiang). The only reports of the bombing came from Chinese state media, which even then included contradictory and varying accounts of what had happened. No foreign media was reported from Kashgar on the attack and it took a number of days before independent journalists were even able to follow-up with coverage on the aftermath.

Today the New York Times has a long report on the Kashgar attack based on the testimony and photographs of three foreign tourists who witnessed the incident. Their account casts serious doubts on the official Chinese telling of the attack and even raise the possibility that the attack was, at least in part, staged by the Chinese military.

The friend said: “The first thing I remember seeing was that truck in the wall in the building across the street. I saw a pile of about 15 people. All their limbs were twisted every which way. There was a gentleman whose head was pressed against the pavement with a big puddle of blood.”

“I remember just thinking, ‘It’s surreal,’ ” he said. “I had this surreal feeling: What is really happening?”

The tourists said the scene turned even more bizarre.

One or two men dressed in green uniforms took out machetes and began hacking away at one or two other men dressed in the same type of uniforms on the ground.

“A lot of confusion came when two gentlemen, it looked like they were military officers — they were wearing military uniforms, too — and it looked like they were hitting other military people on the ground with machetes,” the friend said.

“That instantly confused us,” he said. “All three of us were wondering: ‘Why are they hitting other military people?’ ”

The photographer grabbed a camera for the first time and crouched down by the window. His first photograph has a digital time stamp of 8:04 a.m., and his last is at 8:07 a.m. The first frames are blurry, and the action is mostly obscured by a tree. But it is clear that there are several police officers surrounding one or more figures by the sidewalk.

The photographer said that there had been two men in green uniforms on their knees facing his hotel and their hands seemed to be bound behind their backs. Another uniformed man began hitting one of them with a machete, he said.

“The guy who was receiving the hack was covered in blood,” he said. “A lot of the policemen were covered in blood. Some were walking around on the street pretty aimlessly. Some were sitting on the curb, in shock I guess. Some were running around holding their necks.”

The friend recalled a slightly different version of the event. He said he had seen two uniformed men with machetes hacking away at two men lying on their backs. “I do kind of remember one of them moving,” he said. “He was definitely injured but still kind of trying to squirm around.”

The relative also saw something different. He said a man in a green uniform walked from the direction of the truck. “A policeman who wasn’t injured ran over and started hitting him with a machete,” the relative said. “He hit him a few times, then this guy started fighting him back.”

After being hit several times by the machete, the uniformed man fell down, and at least one other police officer came over to kick him, the relative said.

It became clear to the tourists that the men with machetes were almost certainly paramilitary officers, and not insurgents, because they mingled freely with other officers on the scene.

While all this was happening, the three tourists said, a small bang came from the truck. It sounded like a car backfiring, the friend said. Black smoke billowed from the front of the truck.

The machete attack lasted a minute or two, the tourists said. One uniformed man then handed his machete to another uniformed man who had a machete, the friend said. One of the photographs shows a man walking around clutching two machetes in one hand. Another photograph shows a uniformed man carrying a rifle with a bayonet, a rare weapon in China. [Emphasis added]

At minimum, the accounts of these tourists and the photos they produced contradict the official Chinese story of a two Uighur separatists running an intense attack with bombs and machetes following the truck crash. The details on all sides are contradictory, but it seems clear that the government line is not what happened.

What did the official line achieve, though? The story of a highly effective attack by Uighur separatists days before the start of the Beijing Olympics generated strong sympathy for China in international circles. It also gave a degree of leeway to the Chinese for their intense military crackdown that was ongoing before and during the Olympics. Coverage of East Turkestan during the Games justified the intense security presence in large part on this attack, though other attacks took place in the same time period, which the Chinese government credited to the East Turkestan Independence Movement — a previously unknown separatist group.

I don’t think it is overly cynical to say that today’s Times story makes a convincing case that the Chinese government exploited the story of this attack and bent it in such a way to increase the attack’s severity. If it even was an attack, which the witness testimony in the article belies. Moreover, because the Chinese government did not give foreign journalists access to material needed to independently confirm the details of the attack after happened, there was no independent confirmation of what state media reported. This speaks to the need for China to lift their restrictions on foreign press in East Turkestan, as well as in Tibet. When the only source of information is the Chinese government, the world is not able to know what is happening inside their occupied territories.