Bill Boyarsky

Trump’s mendacity is a threat to public safety — here's why

On Monday, July 15, the day after President Donald Trump threatened about 2,000 undocumented immigrants with arrest and deportation, his mendacity was exposed for all to see at the Los Angeles federal building downtown. What soon became clear was that the so-called arrests were just another con to frighten immigrants and their families.

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Here's what the 2020 election really hinges on

Last week, I visited the Venice Family Clinic in Los Angeles near a public housing project in a poor neighborhood. Two days later, I drove to a South Los Angeles area where pollution from the freeway—not to mention mold, rat droppings, dust and cockroaches—infest crowded apartments, causing asthma that sends children to the nearby St. John’s Well Child and Family Center.

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Bernie Sanders bets big on Medicare-for-All

The 2019-model Bernie Sanders has aged well, looking as spry as he did four years ago. His speeches are the same, too. But where they were once dismissed as too radical, they are now mainstream, clearly focusing on the ills of an America that has grown more inequitable since he last ran for president.

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Tronc: A Corporate Media Monstrosity

“Am suffering a strange, precise dyslexia. I keep misreading 'tronc' instead of 'Trump,'” tweeted Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times reporter Diana Marcum.

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Why Bernie's Health Care Plan Is Very Realistic and Achieveable

Hillary Clinton wants incremental improvement in Obamacare to fix its imperfect and increasingly costly collaboration between the federal government and insurance companies. Bernie Sanders wants Medicare for all—Berniecare—with Americans given full medical benefits financed by a moderate tax increase for most people and heavier taxes for the rich.

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Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan: Hiding Cruel Policies Behind the Smiley Faces

Let’s hope the news media catch on to Paul Ryan. Behind his reasonable appearance and intellectual pretensions are right-wing policy proposals that would intensify poverty and deprive countless women of the right to abortion.

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How the Epitome of Californians' Hopes and Dreams in the '50s Literally Crashed into the Sea

A new book about an old seaside amusement park, gone for a half a century, set me thinking about a favorite subject, the boom-and-bust quality of California, a place of constant invention and reinvention, of dreams shattered or attained.

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Peddling Nonsense Is Now at the Heart of What the Big Media Operations Are About

When I was a daily news reporter, politicians, campaign managers, public officials and others would occasionally ask me whether they could review their quotes or even read my story before publication.

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Super PACs Super-Size Campaign Corruption

Given time and enough money, the super PACs and other secretive political campaign funds are capable of causing corruptive influence that could reach from the presidency down to the lowest ranked members of the House.

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Obama's Immigration Conundrum

One of the worst messes facing the Obama administration is the disgraceful state of the federal government's immigration detention centers.

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The Newspaper Industry Is Dying Before Our Very Eyes

As we know, the death of the American newspaper is fast approaching.

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Todd Palin: If You Thought Cheney Was Bad, Watch out for the "First Dude"

Todd Palin seated behind a White House desk and shaping national policy could be one of the most dangerous aspects of a potential Sarah Palin presidency.

An overlooked part of the Alaska state trooper investigation is its finding on the influence of Gov. Palin's husband, Todd -- the "First Dude" or, as he is known around the Alaska statehouse, the "First Gentleman."

This is crucial in view of the age of the Republican nominee, John McCain, 72, and the fact that he has suffered from melanoma skin cancer. His doctors have pronounced him in excellent health, but his age and the serious nature of this type of cancer should focus attention on his running mate and her operating methods.

A fascinating picture of Todd Palin's influence in Alaska's capital is provided in the report of a legislative investigation that concluded that Gov. Palin unlawfully abused her power in seeking the firing of a state trooper once married to her sister. The report, released Friday, also criticized Palin for allowing Todd Palin to push hard for the dismissal of Trooper Mike Wooten.

Wooten had been married to the governor's sister. Their divorce was messy. So, apparently, was Wooten's career as a trooper. He had been accused of illegally shooting a moose, drinking beer in a patrol car and using a Taser gun on his stepson. He was disciplined before Palin became governor and was allowed to remain a trooper. 

When Palin took over, the Wooten case was high on the family agenda, with Todd Palin leading the effort to get rid of the trooper. As Associated Press writer Mike Apuzzo put it in his story on the report, Todd Palin had "extraordinary access to the governor's office" and he "used that access to try to get [Wooten] fired."

His target was Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan, who said he lost his job because he refused to fire Wooten.

The report, by investigator Stephen Branchflower, a retired state prosecutor, shows how Todd Palin operates.

Monegan's secretary, Cassandra Byrne, said that on Jan. 4, 2007, she received a phone call from the governor's office. An aide told her "the First Gentleman would like to have a meeting with Commissioner Walt Monegan. At the time, I was not familiar with the term 'First Gentleman.' So I kept asking 'Who?' and she eventually said 'Todd Palin.' I said, 'Oh, OK,' so we set the time and the place which was the governor's office in Anchorage. "

Investigator Branchflower said that when Monegan arrived there he was directed into the governor's office. Todd Palin, wearing a business suit, was alone, waiting for him. "Mr. Palin was seated at a large conference table and invited Mr. Monegan to sit," the report said.

Monegan said, "What I recalled was Todd sitting there. He had three stacks of paper in an array in front of him" dealing with the Wooten case. One was from the Department of Public Safety, under which Alaska state troopers serve.

Monegan told Branchflower that he got "the impression that Todd was not happy with the investigation [that the department had made before disciplining Wooten].

"He told me that he [Wooten] just got a few days off [suspension] and didn't think that was enough. And this guy shouldn't be a trooper."

Describing Todd Palin, Monegan said, "I saw someone who was somewhat animated. Not certainly out of control but he was passionate about how he was addressing the issue.

"And my impression was that he was venting. I mean there was a complaint, the troopers investigated it and that they had come up with a conclusion and that he was not happy with the conclusion."

The telling vignette shows Todd Palin's position in the governor's office. Dressed in a business suit, seated behind a big conference table with state documents in front of him, he tried to tell the state's top cop how to do his job.

This is a man who was a member of the Alaskan Independence Party, a radical group advocating Alaskan secession from the United States. Gail Fenumiai, director of the Alaska Division of Elections, told TPM Muckraker that Palin registered as an AIP member in October 1995 and continued in that status until 2000, when he registered as undeclared for a few months. He registered as an AIP member again and remained with the party until 2002, when he registered as undeclared. 

What other radical ideas are percolating in the mind of a man who is now portrayed in the media as sort of a lovable guys' guy?

If Sarah Palin ever becomes president, it is safe to assume that the First Gentleman of Alaska will slip into the role of First Gentleman of the United States with as much access to the Oval Office as he has to the governor's office in Anchorage.

That is a truly scary thought.

Governor, You're No Harry Truman

He was boring. She was vapid. They were a perfect couple for the one and only 2008 vice presidential debate.

Gov. Sarah Palin survived, much to the disappointment of Democrats who hoped she would crumble as she did in her interview with CBS anchor Katie Couric. But she ducked tough questions, gave canned answers, tried to smile her way out of tough spots and cheerfully distorted Sen. Barack Obama's record.

Sen. Joseph Biden was, of course, better prepared. All those years in the Senate taught him something. What a creature of the Senate he was, working his way through the details of his legislative record, even invoking the name of a long departed hero, Sen. Mike Mansfield, who gave him advice he never forgot. Even if it was hard for listeners to concentrate on everything he said, the man knew what he was talking about.

In the contest for who was best qualified to be president, Biden won by a landside. In the contest for who won the debate, Palin illustrated a lesson that Willy Loman learned in Arthur Miller's old play, "Death of a Salesman": It takes more than a smile and a shoeshine to be successful.

She couldn't smile her way out of trying to explain what Sen. John McCain would do about the financial crisis that is dragging the country down.

Instead, she relied on anecdotes and folksy examples. She described how she and her husband, Todd (the "First Dude" of Alaska), would sit around and talk about how government is not the solution for the troubles of the middle class. She blamed "corruption and greed and Wall Street" for the nation's troubles and wrapped herself in the mantle of First Mom. "I think a good barometer here, as we try to figure out, 'Has this been a good time or a bad time in America's economy?' is go to a kids' soccer game on Saturday and turn to any parent there on the sideline and ask them, 'How are you feeling about the economy?' " Palin said. "And I'll betcha you're going to hear some fear in that parent's voice."

That's not a helpful answer, Governor, and by the way we all noticed the lakefront house you and Todd have up in Alaska when Charlie Gibson interviewed you there. Pretty nice, especially with Todd's airplane parked out back.

Palin was a total wild card. Nothing Biden said had any impact on her. She treated him graciously, as if he were an odd but pleasant newcomer to Wasilla, having just moved there from the lower 48. He showed she was often factually wrong, but she ignored him with a smile. Finally, he was reduced to repeating his points. "Let me say it again," he said on a couple of occasions.

She was a difficult opponent for Biden, who rose through Delaware politics and the Senate, where discussion and debate are conducted in the back-and-forth manner of traditional politics.

Biden seemed to practice the art of brevity Thursday night. In an effort to tone down his sometimes ungovernable enthusiasm, he was often plodding. But he was loaded with facts.

In response to Palin's touting of alternative energy, Biden said McCain had voted 10 times against such proposals. Biden went into a lengthy explanation of Obama's votes on Iraq. "Your plan is a white flag," Palin said.

After a while, though, smiles and cutting lines annoy or even bore an audience.

Biden slogged along, one fact after another, treating his foe with congenial respect. He knew more than she did but didn't make a big thing of it. That was all he had to do.

The main purpose of the debate was to show the American people who would be best qualified to take over if the president died.

Palin likes to cite the example of Harry Truman, who was a farmer and an unsuccessful haberdasher before going into politics and becoming president after Franklin Roosevelt's death. But Truman was an accomplished senator before Roosevelt chose him to be vice president. He was the nationally known chairman of a committee which unearthed corruption by World War II contractors.

Palin showed she could get through a debate without being rattled, after days of preparation in McCain's house in Arizona. That's all she showed. Aside from sharing small-town roots, Sarah Palin is no Harry Truman.

Beyond NH: Campaign Promises Are Empty Until the War Ends

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- When Hillary Clinton, seriously set back by the Iowa caucuses, landed in New Hampshire to resuscitate her presidential campaign, the first question from the audience was unsparingly blunt: "When will the troops come home?"

She replied, as she has done before, that she hopes to begin bringing them home a brigade or two a month, but will leave enough troops in Iraq to protect themselves, American civilians and Iraqis who have helped the United States. That's not too much different from what has been proposed by Barack Obama and John Edwards.

In other words, no matter who wins, Democrat or Republican, get ready for an extended war, a nagging pain that won't go away. That simple, infuriating thought has been lost in the deluge of analysis, vote figures, handicapping and moments of drama that accompanied the Iowa caucuses and are carrying over into the New Hampshire's primary.

Neither the weekend's debates nor Clinton's furious effort to reduce Obama's lead in the polls gave comfort to Americans who want to end the war. For those of us who do, the most significant article of the weekend appeared on the back page of The New York Times Week In Review, saying "numbers don't lie: for those in uniform, 2007 was the deadliest year since the invasion." The centerpiece was a powerful chart, in color, breaking down the 2,592 recorded deaths suffered last year by American and other coalition troops, Iraqi security forces and Kurdish-controlled militias.

And as the candidates invoked the vague phase change, also lost in the process was the important point that a decent health insurance plan and the war are intertwined. In other words, the war is so expensive that it will be impossible for a Democratic president to keep campaign promises regarding federal health insurance while the conflict continues.

The man who asked Clinton about the war opened a question-and-answer session that lasted considerably longer than her speech. She clearly was determined to reintroduce herself in a state where she once had a strong lead in the polls.

She spoke in a large hangar at the Nashua airport, north of Manchester, after finishing third to Obama and Edwards in Iowa. It was a damaging finish, made worse for her by the size of Obama's win and by his powerful, moving victory speech afterward.

Her New Hampshire staff had labored to give the hangar the ambiance of victory. A big American flag hung on the closed doors of the chilly building. A bus was to the right of the flag, painted in blue, red, gray and white, with a slogan on the sides: "Big Challenges, Real Solutions." It was there to take the Clintons -- Hillary, Bill and Chelsea -- off on a New Hampshire tour that the senator hopes will save her campaign. "We got in at 4:30 [a.m.]," the former president told the crowd, which occupied almost half the large hangar. "I think my girls look good, don't you?"

I was happy that the first question was about the war, and that it was asked in such a direct way. When the campaign began, the war was a critical issue. But it has come up less and less frequently in past weeks as Democratic candidates concentrated more on health care and other domestic issues.

There are reasons for this. Casualties are down. TV news directors and their counterparts in the print media and online have a short attention span and suffer from war fatigue. The economy is troubled, home foreclosures are growing, and health care horror stories abound. The polls show increased public concern about the domestic issues.

Yet, as the University of Michigan's Juan Cole pointed out in his blog Informed Comment, the fact that the war "is tied with health care does not mean it isn't important to voters. It means it is as important to them as the health of themselves and their loved ones, which is to say it is very important."

The war's cost is tremendous. Economist Scott Wallstein estimates it so far at close to $1 trillion. Economists Linda Bilnes and Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate and former Clinton administration adviser, said the figure is twice that much. A 2006 study by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service put the cost at $2 billion a week.

Universal health care would also be very expensive. Various studies by advocates estimate the cost over several years at between $34 billion and $69 billion. Even so, it would be cheaper than the war.

The issue is tremendously important here in New Hampshire. The state is recovering from an industrial decline, with high-tech business coming in. "It started in the '90s," Mike Vlacich, director of the New Hampshire Division of Economic Development, told me.

But I got a gloomier view from Jay Ward, political director for the Service Employees International Union, which is supporting Edwards in the state.

It's true, Ward said, that high-tech jobs have increased, but not enough to take up the slack from the loss of manufacturing, particular the paper mills in the northern part of the state. "These jobs allowed people to work 40 hours a week and send their kids to college," he said. The unemployment rate remains comparatively low, he said, but the jobs are in retail and service -- low paying and with minimal benefits. "There's underemployment, which means you have three jobs," he added.

These people need a system of Medicare for all -- a form of which is advocated by Obama, Clinton and Edwards, the three real post-Iowa survivors among the Democrats.

There are differences in their plans, but they are all good.

The candidates also say they are against the war and want our troops out. But Clinton wants withdrawal in phases and wouldn't have most troops out until 2013. After that, she would keep a residual force in Iraq. Edwards would withdraw 40,000 to 50,000 immediately and all within nine or 10 months, another phased pullout. Obama, who -- unlike Clinton and Edwards -- opposed the invasion, would withdraw all troops before 2010, again in phases.

All these plans would leave troops there for a substantial time. And that's assuming that the winner can keep a withdrawal promise. It's easy to imagine what will happen when the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the so-called wise men and women of the Washington foreign policy establishment start "talking sense" to the new president, urging him or her to keep a strong force in Iraq to guard strategic interests and oil supplies in the Middle East and to protect Israel. Only Bill Richardson and Dennis Kucinich favor an immediate pullout.

Republicans John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney all support the war and oppose even setting a timetable for withdrawal. And none of them favor a decent federal health insurance plan.

These Republican ideas are not acceptable. But the Democratic candidates must recognize we can't have speedy action on better health insurance while our troops remain in Iraq.

Iowa Caucuses: Not the Battle of the Century

DUBUQUE, Iowa -- In these final days before the Iowa caucuses, John Edwards' chance for the presidency comes down to people like Jim Clifford, trudging up an icy driveway to persuade Leo Oswald, a shipping clerk at the Georgia Pacific plant here, to turn out and support Edwards.

Clifford is among the many volunteers for the various presidential candidates who visit homes and make phone calls to get supporters to the caucuses. They are the unknown warriors of the campaign, but their work will make the difference between victory and defeat in Iowa.

I trudged alongside Clifford, a union member from California. Oswald was shoveling ice and snow from his driveway. He, like Clifford, was a strong Edwards and union man. But he explained that he will miss the caucus. Oswald works the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift and he'll be napping and getting ready for the job when caucuses are held at night. "Just won't have time," he said. As a matter of fact, he said, probably just 10 percent of the 125 union members at Georgia Pacific will attend the caucuses.

That is in line with a Des Moines Register poll estimate of 12 percent Republican and 10 percent Democrat attendance at caucuses around the state. That figure is substantially above the numbers for past caucuses reported by Just 5.5 percent for Democrats in 2004 and 3.9 percent for Republicans in 2000. That is a tiny percentage of the 57,204 people living in Dubuque and the 2,944,062 residing in Iowa. Such a low level of involvement makes me wonder about news accounts that portray this as the battle of the century.

(At this point, I must digress. The caucuses are a travesty of the American political system. They are so undemocratic, unfair, unrepresentative and overly complicated that they deserve an entire column, which I will do soon. For this piece, all you have to know is that small groups of Democrats and Republicans get together in caucus meetings and select convention delegates pledged to various candidates.)

On television, the campaign appears to be as well plotted as an episode of "The West Wing." In real life, it's disorganized and random. When I return confused to my hotel room in Des Moines, I have to turn on CNN to get a sense of order, even if it's a false one. Correspondents, aided by producers and other support personnel in the CNN campaign bus and at headquarters, summarize the candidate's activities. Frequent recitation of polls, buttressed by interviews with voters and an occasional academic, give the reports an appearance of accuracy.

I encountered a much more uncertain story when I hooked up with Clifford and his co-worker, Donna Norton, a nurse at the Kaiser hospital in Vacaville, Calif. Norton is also a United Health Care Workers West leader and a mental health counselor at Kaiser in San Diego. I thought they were admirable -- true believers who left family and friends in California during the Christmas season to work for a presidential candidate.

We met in a coffee and sandwich shop in the nicely restored downtown section of Dubuque, a blue-collar city in northeast Iowa on the Mississippi River. It took more than three hours to get there, a trip slowed by fog.

Using lists given them by the Edwards campaign and the union, Clifford and Norton work 12 hours a day making phone calls to potential Edwards supporters and visiting them at home.

With Clifford at the wheel and Norton checking lists and me in the back seat, we drove through neighborhoods covered by snow. The homes were attractive, ample and unassuming. The people, said Norton, are Democratic, "very Catholic and very pro-life." If the pro-choice Edwards opposed abortion, she said, he would run away with the votes here.

They stopped whenever they came upon a house occupied by a prospect. Night shift worker Leo Oswald was our first call. Undeterred by Oswald's inability to attend a caucus, Clifford cheerfully engaged him in conversation. He got Oswald to talk about his workplace, and it turned out to be a story of multinationals, the villains in some of Edwards' speeches. One corporate owner after another, each one bigger than the last, putting the Dubuque plant further down the corporate ladder. "So it goes," said survivor Oswald.

There was a purpose behind Clifford's conversation. Even if Oswald could not attend the caucus, Clifford's friendly manner might persuade him to urge a co-worker or relative to go.

Clifford and Norton visited three other houses on their list of prospects, but nobody was home. They left campaign literature on the doorsteps.

Their day had the haphazard quality of the city council and legislative campaigns I used to cover. But the Edwards national campaign apparatus, like all the others, is trying to give outsiders like me the impression of order.

That was clear when Clifford, Norton and I visited the Edwards headquarters in Dubuque. Four young men were punching computers and making phone calls. I sat down and asked them questions. Nothing tough, just their names, what they were doing and what was Dubuque like.

One of them said I would have to call the press person at state headquarters. They were not authorized to talk to the media. I assured them that I could figure out what they were doing just by watching. I did. It was boring. My experience has been that low-level campaign workers enjoy talking to reporters. But these four were under unusually strict control.

Obviously, more important than the doggedness of campaign workers are the candidates' own appearances on television and in person in winning the hearts of the activists who will attend the caucuses. The other night, I heard Sen. Chris Dodd, an underdog, speak to a union crowd at a Des Moines tavern, the Star Bar. His wife, Jackie, came along, carrying one of their daughters.

Dodd, from Connecticut and a pol familiar with campaigning in union halls and bars, knew how to talk to the crowd. "I think we can surprise the world," he said. He added that "I want a ticket out of Iowa," a nicely put way of describing how a surprising showing here would propel him into later races. "I am going to win the Democratic nomination."

Afterward, Dodd moved through the crowd of men and women, a senator used to being in charge. But he doesn't know what these people will do Jan. 3. It is out of his control. None but the most naive would be deceived by polls and analysis. Control is in the hands of the volunteers making phone calls and trudging up driveways.

John Edwards Steps into Big Shoes in Crusade Against Poverty

They're closing a hospital in my city, but I'm sure nobody in the rest of the country gives a damn.

If Robert F. Kennedy were alive and running for president, he'd tell America about the demise of Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital in South Los Angeles and what it means to America. He'd make Americans give a damn.

If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive, he'd be speaking at the hospital. After hearing his words, people across the country would realize Los Angeles' loss was also their own. Dr. King would make them give a damn.

One of the most important, now forgotten, aspects of the tragic year of 1968 was the way Sen. Kennedy and Dr. King saw the relationship between the Vietnam War and poverty at home. If the war continued, poverty would too.

They carried this message throughout the country. It was not popular. Even some of those who loved him thought Dr. King should stick to his subject: civil rights. And too many opponents of the war thought Kennedy was muddying up the antiwar campaign by diving into the complexities of poor brown and black America.

But the two persisted, and if Kennedy had been elected in 1968, more Americans would have been persuaded to care. Assassination -- King in April and then Kennedy in June -- silenced them.

Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital is located around 120th Street and Wilmington Avenue in the heart of South Los Angeles, where the population, once almost all African American, now is also heavily Latino.

The hospital was built after the 1965 Watts riot. Watts is a relatively small community near the hospital, but its name became attached to a riot that raged widely through South Los Angeles.

In those days, Los Angeles, which liked to consider itself enlightened, had many of the attributes of the Old South: a brutal, heavily white police department, a rotten public transportation system that did not serve poor areas, and segregated housing and public schools. There was no hospital for miles around. That's what sparked and fed the riot.

King was built by the county to remedy the situation. But over the years, it became a victim of the dysfunctional politics of poor areas. The hospital offered jobs and was a boon to the then-dominant black population. After a time, jobs became more important than standards.

First in the 1980s and then in 2004, the Los Angeles Times exposed bad conditions in a hospital that had become known as "Killer King." An incompetent county Board of Supervisors did nothing. Federal authorities investigated. Last week they cut off federal aid, and now the hospital is closing.

This is the kind of issue that John Edwards is talking about in his presidential campaign, just as Robert Kennedy did in 1968.

Edwards speaks out more strongly than any of the other Democratic presidential candidates on the direct link between the Iraq war and the increasingly desperate plight of the poor, as well as the growing financial troubles of the middle class.

In July Edwards replicated a tour Kennedy took in 1968 through an Appalachia that remains impoverished. The national political reporters and commentators greeted him with the cynicism, scorn and irony so popular in a mainstream media trying desperately to sound up to date.

They commented on his tactics: They were so irrelevant, so outmoded, so 1968. Newsweek's Jonathan Darman said, "By the time the tour reached its halfway point, Edwards was barely making the national papers." In the bored and world-weary tone of many American political journalists, he commented, "[T]o a weary nation worried about the war in Iraq, the threat of terror and the health of the planet, his words sound like more empty promises from a politician."

I think reporters such as Darman should be required to spend several days exploring the area around Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital. It is an area where "the threat of terror" is daily and immediate -- gang bullets, uninsured drunken hit-run drivers, and drug dealers in control of streets.

To people in South Los Angeles, "the health of the planet" is a somewhat vague concept compared with immediate health concerns of diabetes, poor nutrition, high rates of cancer, high blood pressure, gunshot wounds and other afflictions associated with poor neighborhoods.

And if the reporters don't want to travel to California, let them visit Grady hospital in Atlanta, where my daughter, a nurse, encountered the same conditions as she worked in the emergency ward. Or they could go to any other public hospital and the surrounding poor neighborhood in urban America.

I am not dumb enough to believe poverty is curable. But it can be ameliorated, and a big step toward helping the poor would be some sort national health insurance -- preferably Medicare for everyone. Edwards was the first to come out with a comprehensive healthcare plan and, while not perfect, it's the best that's been offered.

With patients covered by national health insurance, public hospitals like King could become private or community hospitals run by independent administrators, not captives of a government bureaucracy. They could impose strict standards on doctors, nurses and the other caregivers, free from interference by bureaucrats and their politician bosses.

And national health insurance, with everyone carrying a Medicare card, would permit the poor to get the examinations -- breast, colon, prostate, heart and the rest -- that help prevent long-term and severe illness. The ill could go to any hospital. Those suffering from cancer, for example, could choose the hospital with the most experienced cancer specialists.

We can't do this unless the war ends. There isn't enough money. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. saw the connection. If they had been around today, their words would have been so powerful that the political journalists couldn't ignore them. Kennedy and King would have led, and the country would have followed.

Airing Gonzales' Dirty Laundry

Since Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' inept stonewalling before the Senate Judiciary Committee shed no light on the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, let's dig into one of the real reasons -- the Republican effort to stop voter registration campaigns in poor neighborhoods.

The assault is an early battle of the 2008 presidential campaign. Republicans are trying to limit registration of African-Americans and Latinos in a number of states that Democrats have a chance of carrying. It's not the only reason that attorneys were fired, but it is the most reprehensible.

U.S. attorneys are political appointees. When a new president and his party take power, the old are swept out for the new. But once in office, the attorneys usually work with local law enforcement and lawyers and are not often micro-managed from Washington. There have been exceptions to this. The power of local segregationists sent Kennedy administration lawyers into action to take over some law enforcement in the South during the civil rights movement.

This operation is different. The Kennedys wanted to give African-Americans rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The Bush crowd is trying to exclude African-Americans and Latinos.

One of the fired attorneys is David Iglesias of New Mexico, who was dismissed after state Republican officials complained that he wouldn't prosecute registration fraud allegations.

(The state produced another, unrelated, example of Republicans using the Justice Department to win elections. Republican Sen. Peter Domenici complained that Iglesias was too slow in prosecuting a political corruption case that would have helped the campaign of Rep. Heather Wilson, a Republican who eventually won a tight race.)

In 2004, President Bush beat Sen. John Kerry in New Mexico by just a single percentage point, 50 percent to 49 percent. In 2008, the state's five electoral votes are within Democratic grasp. Although that's not a lot of votes, the Democrats' near success in 2004 reflects the party's hopes of big gains throughout the Southwest and Rockies next year.

Another U.S. attorney firing was linked to efforts to stop a Democratic registration drive in Washington state. Kerry carried it in 2004, but a Republican came within 129 votes of the Democratic winner in last year's election for governor. U.S. Attorney John McKay, who was appointed by Bush, was dumped by Gonzales after Republican officials complained he would not investigate supposed registration fraud.

The Republicans' main target in New Mexico, Washington and other states is a progressive grass-roots group, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, ACORN. It has chapters in more than 100 cities engaged in organizing the poor for a living wage, improved housing, jobs, healthcare, better schools and child care.

What angers the Republicans are ACORN's voter registration efforts, mostly in poor African-American and Latino neighborhoods. In the last few years, it has registered about 500,000 voters in poor communities.

ACORN members tend to be tough and focused. They organize poor families ignored by the politicians, the big contributors and the reporters and pundits who dominate today's political dialogue. While political writers report on the so-called money primary -- the contribution competition among the top contenders -- ACORN is signing up voters in neighborhoods where the major candidates and journalists seldom venture.

It's the hardest kind of political organizing. The organizers -- invariably low paid -- must convince the overworked and poor to give up a portion of their limited time to activities such as staging marches, visiting city halls and state capitols and organizing registration drives.

Professor Peter Dreier, director of the Urban and Environmental Policy Program at Occidental College in Los Angeles, told me that "of all the organizations in the country that represent the poor, except for the labor unions, ACORN is the most effective." With a good political research operation and a grasp of local, state and national politics, ACORN targets its work in swing districts, "registering voters who are likely to be Democrats," Dreier said.

ACORN's success woke up New Mexico State Republican Chairman Allen Weh and other state party officials. They accused ACORN of fraud in the 2004 drive that registered 35,000 potential voters, according to The Albuquerque Tribune.

U.S. Attorney Iglesias investigated the complaints. He formed a task force that took a close look at more than 300 of them. In fact, some ACORN workers, who were paid for each person they registered, weren't too fussy about whom they signed up. ACORN fired a worker for registering a 13-year-old boy.

But in January 2005, The Albuquerque Tribune reported that the U.S. attorney's office had said most of the complaints were "not criminally prosecutable."

Unhappy about this, Weh met with Iglesias over coffee. "I told him there were well-known instances of voter fraud and people expect them to be prosecuted," Weh told the Tribune. Weh said he then took his complaint to an aide to Karl Rove, President Bush's political brain. "The next time I saw that [Rove] staffer, I said, 'Man, you guys need to get a new U.S. attorney. This guy is hopeless,' " Weh said.

When he saw Rove at a White House function a few months later, Weh asked him about Iglesias. Rove replied that Iglesias was "gone," Weh told the Tribune.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings revealed what had happened. A firing list was assembled in the White House and the Justice Department, and Iglesias and McKay were on it.

The accusations were phony. On April 12, The New York Times reported that the Bush administration campaign had turned up virtually no evidence of an organized operation to fix elections. In the last five years, only 120 people, most of them Democrats, have been charged. Only 86 were convicted. Most of the offenses involved mistakes in filling out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules.

Iglesias and McKay refused to use the tremendous power at their disposal to bring indictments on the basis of flimsy evidence. Unlike the attorney general, and the president, they would not abuse their authority. Of course they had to be fired.

Adultery Is a Ho-Hum Issue for '08 Candidates

Remember how the country held its breath while the Senate voted on Bill Clinton's impeachment and he survived by just a few votes? He paid a high political price for violating the no-nonsense commandment "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery" and lying about it.

The era of the Scarlet A in politics seems so long ago, especially today, as the three top candidates for the Republican presidential nomination are confessed violators of the commandment, yet their sins are relegated to surprisingly low positions in news stories about their prospects.

Not until the 11th paragraph of the Wall Street Journal's rave story on Newt Gingrich ("He's Back") was there a mention of "two messy divorces," and not until the 17th paragraph were there more details, tactfully presented. The admitted violations by John McCain and Rudy Giuliani are dealt with in similarly restrained fashion. In each case, they are treated analytically, as political problems to be overcome. There is hardly any condemnation from the Republican religious right.

It's easy to say this is hypocrisy. There is a good amount of hypocrisy on the part of the media and the religious right. But I think there is something else at work.

First, let's talk about the media. Seldom have so many reporters been roused to such investigative intensity as those on the Clinton adultery trail, first in Little Rock and then the White House. Pursuing tips from various anti-Clinton Arkansans and right-wingers, reporters eventually nailed him.

That was OK. But the journalism establishment was incredibly sanctimonious about its scandal-chasing, just as it had been several years before in pursuit of Sen. Gary Hart. In both cases, the pursuit was justified by invoking that often self-serving press motto about "the public's right to know."

Having been trained in the rough, raffish and competitive world of San Francisco Bay Area newspapers many years ago, well illustrated by the movie "Zodiac," I've always thought it was more honest to talk about the overriding right in journalism--the owners' right to sell newspapers. Once, while suffering through a panel discussion on journalistic scandal-hunting, I asked why we don't admit we chase stories because they are hot and we don't want to get beat by a competitor. A couple of the panelists sneered their contempt.

For reasons I haven't quite figured out, the Gingrich, Giuliani and McCain stories aren't hot. Maybe they're too old. Maybe the media, after the nation failed to jump on the Clinton impeachment bandwagon, have figured out that adultery doesn't sell as well as it once did. But such considerations don't explain the comparative silence of the religious right.

Where are the battle cries against secularism, such as the declaration of Pat Buchanan at the 1992 Republican National Convention after he lost his campaign for the party's nomination?

"There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America," he said. "It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself."

Although he lost the nomination, Buchanan invigorated the religious right, giving it the raw meat it wanted.

President George H.W. Bush could not do that, which may have contributed to his loss to Clinton; nor could the sardonic, worldly, divorced 1996 nominee, Bob Dole.

Bush's son understood much better. With his adviser Karl Rove, Bush snared the right with his opposition to abortion and gay rights and his advocacy of an intolerant and puritan form of family values. The religious-right voters powered him to victory in two elections. They seemed to be the monolithic base Rove had envisioned.

Meanwhile, a much stronger current was building. In the prosperous years produced by Clinton's economic policies, Americans had the leisure to debate what was happening in other people's bedrooms. The war in Iraq changed that. Rove tried to work his dark magic during the 2006 election. The Republicans once again sought to mobilize their religious base. They tried to paint the war as a success. Military funerals were downplayed, and the president surrounded himself with cheering troops in his appearances, rather than amputees and brain-damaged survivors of the war.

But it didn't work. When Bush visited Montana during the campaign, usually a huge news event, the lead story in the local paper was the return of a local soldier killed in the war. As reservists and National Guard personnel returned from duty, and were recalled, word spread through the Midwest and the South--the Bush heartland--as well as along the two coasts.

There's a rule in politics that when times are good, people have time to fret about social issues, such as same-sex marriage. It's a rich subject for an argument. It gives cable television guests and commentators a chance to scream at each other.

At this moment in history, there something more important going on: a war to stop.

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