Howie Gets … Something

If you remember the late, great site Media Whores Online, you might remember the place of honor held there by Howard Fineman. He was 2002 (I think) Whore of the Year for his sickeningly obsequious commentary on George W. Bush. Had MWO remained online, he might well have taken the title in 2003 and 2004 as well. He certainly earned it.

Today, although Howard is far from shrill, he seems to be struggling toward some approximation of reality.

Calling the Abramoff scandal “the biggest influence-peddling scandal to hit Washington in recent times,” Fineman lists winners and losers. Among the losers:

The Republican Party: The semi-conventional wisdom here is as follows: Some Democrats are likely to be stained by ties to Jack Abramoff; polls show that the public has a plague-on-both-your-houses attitude toward wrongdoing in Washington; therefore, the GOP won’t be hurt in November. I don’t buy it. Republicans are the incumbent party in the Congress. They are led by a less-than-popular president in the traditionally weak sixth year of his presidency.

Wow, that’s … right. Way to go, Howie.

Other losers are the DeLay-Hastert Crowd — “Look for a major shake-up in the GOP House leadership, perhaps soon.” — and the Bush-Rove White House — “Rove will have a hard time claiming now that he didn’t know how the machinery worked, especially since Abramoff himself became a major contributor to Bush’s re-election campaign.”

Among the winners is a third-party reform movement. I found this startling until I read Fineman’s description–

If Sen. John McCain doesn’t win the Republican presidential nomination, I could see him leading an independent effort to “clean up” the capital as a third-party candidate. Having been seared by his own touch with this type of controversy (the Keating case in the ’80s, which was as important an experience to him as Vietnam), McCain could team up with a Democrat, say, Sen. Joe Lieberman. If they could assemble a cabinet in waiting — perhaps Wes Clark for defense, Russ Feingold for justice, Colin Powell for anything — they could win the 2008 election going away.

McCain-Lieberman. Gag. Feingold-Clark … now, there’s a ticket.

Still, Howard has shown other flickering moments of promise. In another recent Newsweek column, he wrote,

As controversy rages over the war in Iraq, as his poll numbers shrink to new lows, as American leadership of the West comes under fire in ways we haven’t seen in a generation, you have to wonder: who does Bush think he is?

Now he asks.

These are murky times in Washington, when getting a handle on the truth seems especially difficult.

What do the Pentagon generals really think about how Iraq is going? Are Condi Rice’s denials about CIA torture camps to be taken at face value? What is really happening in Iraq outside the Green Zone in Baghdad? Bush and Vice President Cheney insist that American forces will stay until the war there is “won.” But what do they really mean by victory?

Hey, Howard, see that door over there? The one marked “Shrill”? Go ahead and walk through it. You know you want to. We’ll be waiting for you on the other side.

Dark as a Dungeon

I come from a long line of stone cutters and miners, and I grew up in a small mountain mining town. I don’t know if this gives me any unique insight into the Sago mine tragedy, however. Our mines were lead mines, which are not nearly as hazardous as coal mines since lead is not combustible.

As a small town girl, though, it’s not hard to imagine the impact of those 12 deaths on the small town of Sago. In small towns everybody knows everybody, so everyone in town will have known somebody who died. The impact of the disaster on Sago will be as heavy as the impact of 9/11 on New York City.

Why are we still hearing about coal mine disasters? Surely by now technology exists that would minimize the dangers. And if not, why not? Is cheap coal more important than the lives of miners? Oh, wait …

In small mining towns, everyone’s lives depend on the benevolence of the mine owners. Mining towns tend to be one-industry towns, and if you don’t work for the mining company you will have a sales or service industry job that depends on the mining salaries that flow through the community. Thanks to unions, most miners get decent wages and benefits and have something to say about working conditions. But unions aren’t what they used to be, and in a one-industry town the one industry gets cut a lot of slack.

Joby Warrick reports in the Washington Post that the Sago mine had a history of safety violations. The current owners took possession of the mines only two months ago, but it seems the previous owners allowed conditions in the mines to deteriorate rather badly. And the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration wrote citations but was, apparently, helpless to force the company to actually do anything.

In today’s Boston Globe, Peter Rousmaniere writes about the erosion of worker safety. He is writing about Massachusetts, but most of what he says applies to the nation.

When they sustain a serious work injury they are less able to access the protections of our four-generations-old workers’ compensation system.

It has become easier for employers to cut corners on their legal obligations. If Congress succeeds in criminalizing undocumented worker status, it will become even easier.

This puts a wrinkle on mining safety that hadn’t occurred to me before. Mining jobs have tended to go to the children of miners; in one-industry towns, most young people go from high school to the mine company’s employment office. I haven’t seen a list of the dead, but I expect many of the names are British, and that many of the miners could trace their ancestry back to Welsh, English, and Scottish miners who immigrated in the 19th century. But after reducing the power of unions and weakening federal regulations, I guess the hiring of illegals to work the mines will be the next step.

Although he wasn’t writing about mining, Harold Meyerson’s WaPo essay, “A Gentler Capitalism,” goes along with this story. Meyerson said one thing that pops out — “The American people have a lot more power as voters than they do as workers.” This correlates to what I was ranting about yesterday, that when righties talk about limiting the power of government to regulate business, what they’re really talking about is limiting the power of the people, otherwise known as workers or employees. Take that away, and workers will have no protection at all. Sweatshops and sharecropping, here we come …

Update: See The Super at American Street.

More Liberal Bias

I read rightie blogs so you don’t have to … to their writers’ credit, the majority of rightie blog posts I skimmed through this morning acknowledged that what Abramoff and associates did was very, very bad, and that Washington politicians had better clean up their act. To their discredit, they are to a blogger clinging to the fiction that this is a bipartisan scandal (example).

It ain’t. Although it is possible a few Dems will be caught in the indictment net, the fact is that the Abramoff operation was a GOP operation. Jack is their boy.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and Dan Balz write in today’s Washington Post:

Jack Abramoff represented the most flamboyant and extreme example of a brand of influence trading that flourished after the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives 11 years ago. Now, some GOP strategists fear that the fallout from his case could affect the party’s efforts to keep control in the November midterm elections.

Abramoff was among the lobbyists most closely associated with the K Street Project, which was initiated by his friend Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), now the former House majority leader, once the GOP vaulted to power. It was an aggressive program designed to force corporations and trade associations to hire more GOP-connected lobbyists in what at times became an almost seamless relationship between Capitol Hill lawmakers and some firms that sought to influence them.

A few paragraphs down, Birnbaum and Balz add,

With an eye on November’s elections, Republicans have sought to limit the damage to themselves by portraying the scandal as bipartisan, describing Abramoff as an equal-opportunity dispenser of campaign cash and largess.

So far, the public has not identified corruption as solely a Republican problem. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in November asked Americans whether they thought Democrats or Republicans were better on ethical matters; 16 percent said Democrats, 12 percent said Republicans, and 71 percent said there was not much difference between the parties.

But Republicans worry about two possibilities. The first is that Abramoff, known for his close ties to DeLay, mostly implicates Republicans as a result of his plea agreement. That could shift public attitudes sharply against the GOP. “People are uneasy about what else is out there,” said one GOP strategist who requested anonymity to speak more candidly about the possible political fallout.

This strategy is working well so far, as Digby notes. Most of the media dutifully is reporting the scandal as bipartisan. Dat ol’ libruhl bias strikes again. “The press is surely under tremendous pressure from the Republicans to report this as a bi-partisan scandal and they are already buckling under,” says Digby. “But that doesn’t change the fact that this is a GOP operation from the get — and they know it.” But you know if journalists start reporting facts, the rightie hoardes will swarm upon them and devour them, à la Dan Rather and Eason Jordan. If you don’t have the truth on your side, sheer nastiness will do. In fact, nastiness trumps truth most of the time these days.

And the circle of corruption extends beyond Abramoff. James Wolcott has a lovely time poking fun at Chris Matthews’s smarmy commentary on Abramoff on yesterday’s Hardball:

His performance this afternoon after the announcement of the Jack Abramoff plea was a power-bottom tour de force. He gave the Republican establishment a complete pass. He insisted against all evidence under heaven and stars that this was not a partisan scandal, that 99% of elected officials were honest and upright, that “Duke” Cunningham was sort of a lone wolf, and that Abramoff was a Vautrin-like villain and corrupter of souls.

But there are ties between Abramoff and Matthews, says John Aravosis. Tweety helped Abramoff raise money for one of his phony charities. Funny; I don’t believe Tweety mentioned that on yesterday’s show.

Jane Hamsher found another cause for concern. Alice Fisher, the assistant attorney general in charge of the corruption investigation, is a career Republican, a former lobbyist for the Frist (as in Bill) family healthcare company, and she has ties to Tom DeLay’s defense team. If she had an ethical bone in her body she would have recused herself. She didn’t. So much for a fair investigation.

Be sure to read Juan Cole’s “Abramoff and al-Arian: Lobbyist’s ‘Charity’ a Front for Terrorism.” Here are details you aren’t likely to see on Faux Nooz. Probably not anywhere else, either. Roger Ailes the Good also surveys rightie sites. Think Progress’s “The House That Jack Built” is a vital resource for understanding the scandal. For a quickie rundown on some major players, see John Dickerson, “Jack Attack,” at Slate.