As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, December 30, 2005

Ultimate Friday News Dump

Had meant to sign off with that last post, but this is too big to go unreported:

WASHINGTON - Federal prosecutors and lawyers for Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff consulted briefly Friday with a federal judge in Miami as they put the finishing touches on a plea deal that could be announced as early as Tuesday, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

The plea agreement would secure the lobbyist's testimony against several members of Congress who received favors from him or his clients.

Abramoff's cooperation would be a boon to an ongoing Justice Department investigation of congressional corruption, possibly helping prosecutors build criminal cases against up to 20 lawmakers and their staff members.

This has the power to blow the Republican Congress sky high. Is this really how the GOP wanted to kick off its 2006 election campaign?

Happy Abramoffukkah!


Friday Sign-Off

From the ACLU:

(click to enlarge)

Happy New Year.


Friends in Low Places

Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose:

Iraqi Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum has been temporarily released from his post amid a dispute over the government's petrol pricing policy.

He is to be replaced for 30 days by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi.

Yeah, that Ahmed Chalabi. The same guy that got 0.89% of the vote in preliminary returns, which probably won't even land him a seat in the Parliament.

This is only for 30 days and not permanent. But it's amazing how, despite setback after setback, this guy keeps popping back into influential positions in the Iraqi government. It's almost like he has a kind of patron somebody behind the scnes that's watching over him...


Award Winner!

I'll need to dust off the mantle, as this blog is up for its very first award. Speak Out California has nominated one of my posts in its Best California Posts of 2005 Contest. I find myself wholly unworthy for this honor but quite thankful to Speak Out CA. There doesn't seem to be any mechanism on the site for voting, but you can add comments about the posts. The only comment so far is a wholly negative reaction to my post.

The post was about a Prop. 75 focus group I did a few months back. I criticized the messaging for the anti-Prop. 75 ads we were shown, saying they were too vague and didn't explain WHY to not vote for it, instead of that you simply shouldn't. The critic said that the election results obviously showed that the messaging was dead-on, as Prop. 75 failed.

In retrospect there was a major anti-Arnold wave that drove all his props to defeat. And more of that messaging entered into the ads they eventually put on the air. However, Prop 75 came the closest of all the initiatives to pulling out a victory. It got 46.5% of the vote after $100 million in union campaign funds were dumped into the state. It almost beat the parental notification law.

That seems to me to be because bashing unions has become a too-effective strategy, and we're trying to compete against it on the margins.

In addition, this issue is not dead. The LA Times noted last month that a new anti-union measure will hit the ballot next year.

It will be modeled after a Utah law called the "voluntary contributions act." That law forbids public employee unions from spending any dues on politics. All politicking must be funded through a political action committee. And governments are prohibited from collecting PAC money with payroll deductions.

As long as we don't defend unions strongly and unequivocally, the forces of big business will continue to try to minimize their effectiveness.

I think the point of all of this is, I WAS GIVEN AN AWARD!!!! Suck on that!


Borrow and Spend Republicans

Republicans can't stop their addiction to borrowing:

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to ask for an infrastructure bond issue of $25 billion to $27 billion, the Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday, quoting administration sources.

The celebrity Republican has already signaled he is seeking massive spending on infrastructure in the nation's most populous state. But he has not given a final amount after his administration hinted at a number as high as $50 billion.

A bond issue in the $25 billion-$27 billion range would far outstrip a $10.3 billion infrastructure bond proposal from State Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata, a Democrat.

State Treasurer Phil Angelides, a Schwarzenegger critic and Democratic candidate for governor, has stepped up warnings about the danger of issuing new debt.

They can't stop borrowing. They borrow and borrow and borrow. They need treatment.

(Incidentally, this is exactly what the Gubernor has said over and over again about state Democrats, if you replace "borrow" with "spend." If you're Ahnold, you can borrow AND spend! See how easy that is?)


Slow Wheels of Justice

The Justice Department is putting the full weight of its office behind an effort to investigate who leaked the existence of the NSA spying program to the New York Times.

A leak, mind you, that the Times had for a year.

And the White House knew they had it the whole time.

But they didn't investigate it then, and this leaker (or whistleblower, you decide) purportedly remained in his office, since otherwise there wouldn't have to be an investigation.

Now tell me again how this isn't politics?

What a joke.

In other news, Justice will not be investigating the legality of the actual program, because they lost their Constitution a few years ago and can't seem to find a spare one anywhere else in the government.


Monkey See...

Here's the short version of what's left unsaid by today's LA Times article about US forces stepping in to restrict the increasingly sectarian Iraqi police, who are accused of torturing and killing Sunnis throughout the country:



BOY walks in to find his FATHER taking his marijuana cigarettes out from under the bed.

Dad, I can explain...

Where did you learn to do this, son? WHERE DID YOU LEARN TO DO THIS!?!?

You, all right? I learned it from watching you!

The father is chastened as the boy leaves the room.


Quit Crying and Lead

Digby is, as usual, absolutely right.

A party that is described as fumbling, confused and scared is unlikely to win elections even if they endorse the wholesale round-up of hippies and the nuking of Mecca. People will listen to us if we can first convince them that we know who we are and what we believe in.

I'm of the mind to adopt "give me liberty or give me death" as my personal motto. If I have to kowtow to a bunch of childish Republican panic artists who have deluded themselves into believing that fighting radical Islam requires turning America into a police state, then it's just not worth it.

I have seen with my own two eyes perfectly reasonable people turn into simpering "hold-me-daddy" September 12th Republicans, where they remain out of comfort four years later. I'm no longer interested in having a dialogue with chumps who would literally allow the executive branch to sacrifice young children if it would only make us safe. These whiners would immediately move to the periphery if Democratic leaders (besides Russ Feingold, I mean) would step to the podium and simply say "You know what, there's something called liberty. You did a paper on it in 6th-grade civics class, remember? Now get your head out of your ass and come on board!"

Digby is also right in saying that the public hand-wringing Democrats do with every issue seeks to reinforce the stereotype of having no principles. Consequently they are bullied by the Right into believing every issue "spells trouble for Democrats." Um, if you don't have a single branch of government, how much more trouble can be caused? Quit crying and lead. We're desperate out here. If the Democrats can't get on the side of "give me liberty or give me death" our of fear, then they deserve what electoral failures they'll surely get.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Your Minimum Credit Card Payment is Going Up

There is a very underreported story that is bound to have a major under-the-radar effect on the US economy. The Toledo Blade sticks it in their business section today:

Shoppers might be in for a rude awakening Sunday when all credit-card companies are expected to have raised their minimum monthly payment.

Some credit-card companies have already raised their minimum payments, as part of the U.S. Treasury Department's effort to try to keep people from sliding further into debt each month.

The higher minimum payments will reduce interest expenses because balances will be paid down faster, which in turn will stop cardholders with large balances from paying just the minimum and find their principal balances still rise.

"This is going to be a good thing in the long run," said Gail Hillebrand, senior attorney in the West Coast office of the nonprofit Consumers Union. "If you owe $10,000 in debt, you'll be able to pay that off in 14 years versus 41 years."

Which is great, but in the short run, people up to their eyeballs in debt will have their main bill, their credit card statement, doubled. The real answer to stopping consumer debt is for banks to not give out credit cards like they're samples at Hickory Farms. But banks rely on those with scattershot credit histories to run up huge debts on their plastic and be indebted to them for life. The $10,000 example above is only true if you stop adding money to the card. That is simply not reality for people who have made mistakes and gotten into a never-ending cycle of debt.

The obvious effect on the economy turns on the fact that the nation's retailers practically rely on the debt treadmill to keep their annual growth humming along from year to year. They need belt tightening like they need the plague. But something as simple as doubling monthly minimums could send this entire house of cards economy tumbling. Every actor in this economy requires racking up huge debts to satisfy corporate boards who demand perpetual growth. It's not realistic, and it ends up hurting those at the lowest of the economic ladder. But this doubling is the ultimate blowback: if the lowest-income members of society stop buying, their aggregate buying power will stagnate growth and slow the economy. The boomerang effect of this throughout all sectors will be troubling.

Add this to the news that short-term interest rates rose above long-term rates, a curiosity known as "interest rate inversion" that normally presages bad economic times.

What worried some investors and traders Tuesday was a relatively rare occurrence in the bond market: The yield, or interest rate, on the bellwether 10-year Treasury note declined to a level that equaled or was slightly below yields on shorter-term Treasury securities.

Normally, longer-term bonds pay more than shorter-term issues to compensate investors for the risk of tying up their money for an extended period.

When long- and short-term interest rates converge, it often is a sign that bond investors believe the economy will slow — so they're locking in long-term yields in anticipation that rates overall soon will level off or even head lower.

"We should be worried" about the economy, said Michael Cheah, who manages $2 billion in bond assets at AIG SunAmerica Asset Management in Jersey City, N.J.

Sounds like it. The "strong economy" of the last few years was always strong for little more than the investor class anyway. Wages were flat and prices were volatile. If the investors are now sufficiently worried we're in for it.


In Bed With Uzbekistan

This is just great. Another set of secret documents out of England suggest that we've outsourced torture to arguably the worst dictatorship on the globe:

Letter #3


OF 220939 JULY 04




1. We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence services, via the US. We should stop. It is bad information anyway. Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same war against terror.

2. I gather a recent London interdepartmental meeting considered the question and decided to continue to receive the material. This is morally, legally and practically wrong. It exposes as hypocritical our post Abu Ghraib pronouncements and fatally undermines our moral standing. It obviates my efforts to get the Uzbek government to stop torture they are fully aware our intelligence community laps up the results.

3. We should cease all co-operation with the Uzbek Security Services they are beyond the pale. We indeed need to establish an SIS presence here, but not as in a friendly state.

Uzbekistan is a horror show. People are boiled there. You read it right, BOILED. And we're propping them up:

SUBJECT: US/Uzbekistan: Promoting Terrorism

US plays down human rights situation in Uzbekistan. A dangerous policy: increasing repression combined with poverty will promote Islamic terrorism. Support to Karimov regime a bankrupt and cynical policy.


The Economist of 7 September states: "Uzbekistan, in particular, has jailed many thousands of moderate Islamists, an excellent way of converting their families and friends to extremism." The Economist also spoke of "the growing despotism of Mr Karimov" and judged that "the past year has seen a further deterioration of an already grim human rights record". I agree.

Between 7,000 and 10,000 political and religious prisoners are currently detained, many after trials before kangaroo courts with no representation. Terrible torture is commonplace: the EU is currently considering a demarche over the terrible case of two Muslims tortured to death in jail apparently with boiling water. Two leading dissidents, Elena Urlaeva and Larissa Vdovna, were two weeks ago committed to a lunatic asylum, where they are being drugged, for demonstrating on human rights. Opposition political parties remain banned. There is no doubt that September 11 gave the pretext to crack down still harder on dissent under the guise of counter-terrorism.

Yet on 8 September the US State Department certified that Uzbekistan was improving in both human rights and democracy, thus fulfilling a constitutional requirement and allowing the continuing disbursement of $140 million of US aid to Uzbekistan this year. Human Rights Watch immediately published a commendably sober and balanced rebuttal of the State Department claim.

Again we are back in the area of the US accepting sham reform [a reference to my previous telegram on the economy]. In August media censorship was abolished, and theoretically there are independent media outlets, but in practice there is absolutely no criticism of President Karimov or the central government in any Uzbek media. State Department call this self-censorship: I am not sure that is a fair way to describe an unwillingness to experience the brutal methods of the security services.

But allowing a single NGO, a token prosecution of police officers and a fake press freedom cannot possibly outweigh the huge scale of detentions, the torture and the secret executions. President Karimov has admitted to 100 executions a year but human rights groups believe there are more. Added to this, all opposition parties remain banned (the President got a 98% vote) and the Internet is strictly controlled. All Internet providers must go through a single government server and access is barred to many sites including all dissident and opposition sites and much international media (including, ironically, This is in essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for example, in Mugabe's Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any judicial independence would be impossible here.

Karimov is a dictator who is committed to neither political nor economic reform. The purpose of his regime is not the development of his country but the diversion of economic rent to his oligarchic supporters through government controls. As a senior Uzbek academic told me privately, there is more repression here now than in Brezhnev's time. The US are trying to prop up Karimov economically and to justify this support they need to claim that a process of economic and political reform is underway. That they do so claim is either cynicism or self-delusion.

We do this because they'll beat the living shit out of our prisoners and they'll let us have airbases there. Talk about undercutting the message of "spreading freedom and democracy." If it's all a Great Game, and realpolitik is in fact the way to protect national interests, then don't spoonfeed me this idealistic garbage that is clearly meaningless and insulting to my intelligence.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Red Scorpion

Drawing on today's Abramoff story, shouldn't he be put away just for bringing this into the world?

At the same time, Abramoff dabbled as a Hollywood producer, shepherding an anticommunist movie, "Red Scorpion," starring Dolph Lundgren, filmed in Namibia, which was then ruled by South Africa. Actors in the film said they saw South African soldiers on the set. When the film was released in 1989, anti-apartheid groups demonstrated at the theaters. The movie ran into financial difficulty during and after production, but Abramoff produced a sequel, "Red Scorpion 2."

By the way, Abramoff didn't just produce it, he wrote it.

The article is full of little nuggets like this, showing exactly how power can spring up in so many forms in the desperate search for cash. Abramoff was working for the Pakistani military at one point. Susan Ralston, now Rove's personal secretary, used to work for him. He had Congressional wives on the payroll. He funded a sniper school for Israelis in the West Bank though a foundation supposed to give money to inner city kids. He had a slush fund set up as a nonprofit where he was taking money from Sudan, Malaysia, and others. He bought a cruise line of gambling ships from a guy who turned up dead (gangland-style) a couple months later. One man arrested in that case was an associate of the Gambino crime family.

The guy was bad news. And he was hooked into every Republican politician in Washington.


Educate Yourself

WaPo gives you everything you need to know about Jack Abramoff. OK, not everything, but there's a whole lot here. I'll post more about it tomorrow.

UPDATE: All right, maybe in some places a bad education. As Atrios notes, the authors downplay the relationship between Abramoff and DeLay. On October 18 they wrote that DeLay considered Abramoff "one of my closest and dearest friends," yet here, they say the Hammer "didn't know what to make of him." Which one's the truth? Well, considering the sources for this part of the story were "associates" of the two men, I'd go with the former.


I Guess I'm in the Majority

64% of Americans, according to Rasmussen, believe the National Security Agency (NSA) should be allowed to intercept telephone conversations between terrorism suspects in other countries and people living in the United States.

Again, this is why I don't link to polls all that much. Because this is A MEANINGLESS QUESTION. I believe the NSA should be allowed to intercept these kinds of calls. I do not believe the President should, or even needs to, break the law in order to do so. And he's admitted to breaking the law. These are just the kinds of numbers that idiots on the Right take and run with, because they think that they view their hero in a good light. But the question has nothing to do with the issue. The issue is whether or not the President is above the law.

The other number in the poll shows that the Noise Machine on the Right has gotten out in front of this issue and spun it.

Is President Bush the first President to authorize a program for intercepting telephone conversations between terrorism suspects in other countries and people living in the United States?

Yes 26%
No 48%

It's also meaningless, since the FISA court was set up in 1978 for, among other things, precisely this purpose. Congress authorized that program in 1978. It's the "without a warrant" part, conspicuous by its absence in all the Rasmussen questions, that's the crux of the issue. But the Mighty Wurlitzer of the news media will now print these numbers uncritically, even though, as Americablog points out, this is a terrible number for this broad a question. And it HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ISSUE.


Big Trouble At Big E

Ladies and gentlemen, we have another flipper:

Enron's former chief accounting officer, Richard Causey, has struck a plea bargain with federal prosecutors and will avoid going to trial with the fallen energy company's two top executives, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

Causey, 45, agreed to testify against his former bosses, Enron Corp. founder Kenneth Lay and former CEO Jeffrey Skilling, in exchange for a much lesser prison sentence than he would receive if convicted on all counts.

Causey is charged with fraud, conspiracy, insider trading, lying to auditors and money laundering for allegedly knowing about or participating in a series of schemes to fool investors into believing Enron was financially healthy. The company imploded in late 2001 amid disclosures of complicated financing schemes that gave the appearance of success.

According to the article, that's now 16 former Enron executives who have pleaded guilty in the case of the energy giant's collapse. Despite the CRS (Can't Remember Shit) and Sgt. Schulz (I know NOTHINK! I see NOTHINK!) defenses, Kenny Boy Lay and Jeffrey Skilling's collective geese seem cooked.

The news cycle is not going to get any better for Republicans heading into the new year. In January, we're going to have the Enron trial (although defense lawyers may push for a postponement to March), the Jack Abramoff trial (or plea bargain), the DeLay trial, the House in total recess because of the DeLay trial (they want to hold off until a hopeful acquittal so he can get his leadership post back), and hearings in the Senate on domestic spying. That State of the Union speech had better be a whopper.


Thanks Guys

By breaking the law and running roughshod over the Constitution, the Bush Administration has now put a good deal of their terrorist criminal trials in legal jeopardy:

Defense lawyers in some of the country's biggest terrorism cases say they plan to bring legal challenges to determine whether the National Security Agency used illegal wiretaps against several dozen Muslim men tied to Al Qaeda.

The lawyers said in interviews that they wanted to learn whether the men were monitored by the agency and, if so, whether the government withheld critical information or misled judges and defense lawyers about how and why the men were singled out.

The expected legal challenges, in cases from Florida, Ohio, Oregon and Virginia, add another dimension to the growing controversy over the agency's domestic surveillance program and could jeopardize some of the Bush administration's most important courtroom victories in terror cases, legal analysts say.

The question of whether the N.S.A. program was used in criminal prosecutions and whether it improperly influenced them raises "fascinating and difficult questions," said Carl W. Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who has studied terrorism prosecutions [...]

Government officials, in defending the value of the security agency's surveillance program, have said in interviews that it played a critical part in at least two cases that led to the convictions of Qaeda associates, Iyman Faris of Ohio, who admitted taking part in a failed plot to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge, and Mohammed Junaid Babar of Queens, who was implicated in a failed plot to bomb British targets.

David B. Smith, a lawyer for Mr. Faris, said he planned to file a motion in part to determine whether information about the surveillance program should have been turned over. Lawyers said they were also considering a civil case against the president, saying that Mr. Faris was the target of an illegal wiretap ordered by Mr. Bush. A lawyer for Mr. Babar declined to comment.

Did anyone else snicker that we've caught a terror suspect named Babar? Did we get the rest of his elephant family?

Now, if the lower courts did reverse or hold up some of these terror convictions, the Bush Administration would be faced with a dilemma: do they accept the decision and let a terrorist suspect go free on a technicality, or do they appeal to the SCOTUS, getting a precedent-forming ruling on Presidential power, potentially risking the dismantling of their entire domestic spying operation?

It's no different than illegally gaining intelligence through torture, which is a prime reason why so many enemy combatants haven't been charged with anything, because their convictions would almost certainly be overturned on the basis of imadmissable evidence.

In both cases, the legal hurdles were completely avoidable if the Administration decided to act under the law rather than go around it, a choice which would have impacted none of these investigations in the slightest. You have to ask yourself why they would want to keep something so secret that they would jeopardize their own cases. You have to ask what else they were doing.


Thundering Herd of Stupidity

If this is the best he can do, I don't think Trent Duffy will be getting the press secretary job once Scotty Mac has his inevitable caniption fit:

In Crawford, Texas, where Bush is spending the holidays, his spokesman, Trent Duffy, defended what he called a "limited program."

"This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner," he told reporters. "These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings, and churches."

Yes, people who have a history of blowing up trains, weddings and churches should definitely be MONITORED. Not captured, not jailed, not brought to justice for their crimes, but we should, you know, keep an eye on them. And they should be monitored secretly, because no court in the world would give you a warrant to monitor a train-bomber. I mean, that's like asking to spy on the Queen of England.

And, if we are to believe recent reports, the subjects of this spying numbered in the millions. I don't remember all the press accounts of a million weddings being firebombed in the past couple years, but I'm sure my overlords in the White House can dig them up for me.

Trent Duffy, don't quit your day job to become the press secretary. Wait, on second thought, quit your day job too.


Really Really Horrendously Bad News

Hate to be the pessimist (no I don't), but this is bad bad news:

Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.

Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren't gaining traction. Instead, some troops who are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.

The soldiers said that while they wore Iraqi army uniforms they still considered themselves members of the Peshmerga -- the Kurdish militia -- and were awaiting orders from Kurdish leaders to break ranks. Many said they wouldn't hesitate to kill their Iraqi army comrades, especially Arabs, if a fight for an independent Kurdistan erupted.

''It doesn't matter if we have to fight the Arabs in our own battalion,'' said Gabriel Mohammed, a Kurdish soldier in the Iraqi army who was escorting a Knight Ridder reporter through Kirkuk. "Kirkuk will be ours.''

We're seriously screwed if this happens. Turkey will leap with both feet into this brawl to resist an autonomous Kurdish state on their borders. Iran, who has already signed tentative agreements to aid Iraqi security, would likely come in on the side of the Shiites. The Sunnis would feel the pinch from both sides, but still have allies in the region. This could spark a much wider war, and we simply do not have the boots on the ground to stop it. As Kurdistan has been relatively calm during the war, our forces are not heaviuly deployed in the area.

It appears all sides of this conflict are expecting, even hoping for chaos, which will then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The rise of sectarian militias, Trojan horses embedded within the Iraqi security units upon which the US has placed their entire victory strategy, is deeply disturbing. If there is no loyalty to Iraq above ethnic identity, there's absolutely no hope for anything but civil war or a tripartite partition.

American military officials have said they're trying to get a broader mix of sects in the Iraqi units.

''The Ministry of Defense recently sent me 150 Arab soldiers from the south,'' Naji said. ``After two weeks of service, we sent them away. We did not accept them. We will not let them carry through with their plans to bring more Arab soldiers here.''

This article is frightening.


Republican Wedge Issues, Part I

Looks like those antigay amendments aren't as popular when you hit the coast:

One of two groups competing to put a gay marriage ban before California voters in 2006 has bowed out of the fight for now, saying the timing and political climate are not right to get such a measure passed.

Tuesday was the deadline for to submit the signatures needed to qualify for the June primary ballot one of two overlapping initiatives that would outlaw same-sex marriage and restrict domestic partnership rights.

Andrew Pugno, the group's legal adviser, said the signature drive had fallen about 200,000 voters short of the requirement for 591,105 signatures.

I think one reason this failed to gain any traction is that it's been two years since the brouhaha about protecting traditional marriage, and the much-ballyhooed breakdown and chaos simply hasn't happened. Massachusetts has the only true gay marriage rights in the country and, not paradoxically, the lowest divorce rate. Married couples have more to worry about understanding and communicating with each OTHER rather than fearing the great scourge of gay people in their midst. I oughta know - the dissolution of my marriage, I can attest with near-100% certainty, had nothing to do with the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" folks.

As Martin Luther King said, "the long arc of history bends toward justice." Eventually anti-gay marriage laws will be as much of a sad relic of the past as anti-miscegenation laws. That they couldn't even get a marriage amendment on the ballot in California suggests that the tide may be turning.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Top 10 Myths About Iraq

Fellow Wolverine Juan Cole has a must-read post up. The best writing challenges your expectations, and everybody reading this piece will be surprised with something that they find. And that's EVERYBODY. In the same post is:

4. Iraqis are grateful for the US presence and want US forces there to help them build their country. Opinion polls show that between 66% and 80% of Iraqis want the US out of Iraq on a short timetable. Already in the last parliament, some 120 parliamentarians out of 275 supported a resolution demanding a timetable for US withdrawal, and that sentiment will be much stronger in the newly elected parliament.


8. Iraq is already in a civil war, so it does not matter if the US simply withdraws precipitately, since the situation is as bad as it can get. No, it isn't. During the course of the guerrilla war, the daily number of dead has fluctuated, between about 20 and about 60. But in a real civil war, it could easily be 10 times that. Some estimates of the number of Afghans killed during their long set of civil wars put the number at 2.5 million, along with 5 million displaced abroad and more millions displaced internally. Iraq is Malibu Beach compared to Afghanistan in its darkest hours. The US has a responsibility to get out of Iraq responsibly and to not allow it to fall into that kind of genocidal civil conflict.

then closes with something you'd never hear a politician say, because it's true but difficult:

Iraq's situation is extremely complex. It is not a black and white poster for an American political party. Good things and bad things are happening there. The American public cannot help make good policy, however, unless the myths are first dispelled.

The sloganeers, on both sides, need to internalize this, and instead of saying "They're not reporting the GOOD NEWS from Iraq" or "Those insurgents are freedom fighters," they need to constructively figure out the best course of action from a series of not-so-attractive options. The internecine warfare in this country, if unchecked, will take all of these options out of our hands, as Iraq will set its own dangerous course.


Anatomy of a Takedown

To underscore the point that the blogosphere on the right has a little more institutional funding than the left, Markos asks for a little help:

So I'm getting a little frustrated with the Bay Area real estate market, and for the first time in years I'm casting about the rest of the nation to see if there's anywhere else where I could possibly live.

This is the guy with more traffic than anybody. It's not exactly wine and roses on the internets.

This idiot thinks he sees an opening for a smackdown:

How ironic,a guy who supports a party that promotes Fannie Mae,Freddie Mac,land-use restrictions,zoning,open space laws,and unions is unable to buy a house in the very Blue area of Northern California.All this from a guy who's got a law degree.What is it about Blue America that hates people that aren't rich??? Attention Markos Moulitsas Zúniga :did it ever occur to many in Blue state America that Houston(that doesn't have zoning) is a lot more affordable than let's say Berkeley,California.Also,Houston residents don't have a state income tax that they are paying.It appears Kos can't afford the very values he promotes,which is regulation of markets which leads to artificially high real estate prices.

Of course Mr. "I don't generate ideas, I DISTRIBUTE them!" the Instahack links approvingly. Then, to show you what a REAL smackdown looks like, I give you Roy Edroso:

We leave the response to Mr. Bobby Dupea:

I'm sittin' here listenin' to some cracker asshole lives in a trailer park compare his life to mine. Keep on tellin' me about the good life, Elton, because it makes me puke.

For further related information, see Supply & Demand, Law of.

That last line made me laugh out loud. I know this is going to come as a major shock to Instahack and his minions, but some people (and by some I mean 38 million) DESIRE to live in California, and the resultant desire makes hoe prices go uppity-up-up-up. That, and rampant real estate speculation, which I don't think is a granola/vegan/pinko/hippie phenomenon.


Liberal Wedge Issues, Part I

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center identifies not two, but nine discrete political ideologies which they call "typology groups." Included are liberals and conservatives, but also "enterprisers" (rich supply-siders), the "disaffecteds" (the alienated) and "bystanders" (the disinterested). There are even sharp differences within the conservative (social v. fiscal) and liberal (conservative Democrats v. disadvantaged Democrats) labels. It's a great study, you should all read it to see the diversity of opinions in the country.

But they all agree on one thing.

An increase in the minimum wage, from $5.15 an hour to $6.45 an hour…

Nationwide Total: 12% oppose, 86% favor

Enterprisers: 49%-46%
Social Conservatives 18%-79%
Pro-Government Conservatives 5%-94%
Upbeats 11%-86%
Disaffecteds 13%-84%
Bystanders 7%-92%
Conservative Democrats 6%-92%
Disadvantaged Democrats 3%-95%
Liberals 5%-94%

Only the old-money "Enterprisers" oppose raising the minimum wage, and only by a thin plurality. With every other group it's 79% and higher support.

That's the makings of a major wedge issue for the Democrats, and they appear to be taking notice. The state parties have taken the lead: (via The Next Hurrah):

More states are raising their minimum wages, pushing hourly rates above $7 in some and shrinking the role of the federal minimum wage, which hasn't gone up in eight years.

Eleven states have raised their rates since January 2004, and Wisconsin will become the 12th on Wednesday. Employers there must pay at least $5.70 an hour through June 2006, when the minimum wage rises again to $6.50 an hour.

In all, 17 states and the District of Columbia — covering 45% of the U.S. population — have set minimums above the federal rate of $5.15. That has helped cut the number of workers earning the minimum or less (for those earning tips) from 4.8 million in 1997 to 2 million last year, or 2.7% of hourly earners, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says.

“The federal government is not living up to its responsibility, so the states are acting,” says New Jersey state Sen. Steve Sweeney, a Democrat who sponsored a law that will raise the state's minimum...

And it looks like the national leaders are understanding how to play the wedge-issue game:

New Year's Day will bring the ninth straight year in which the federal minimum wage has remained frozen at $5.15 an hour, marking the second-longest period that the nation has had a stagnant minimum wage since the standard was established in 1938.

Against that backdrop, Democrats are preparing ballot initiatives in states across the country to boost turnout of Democratic-leaning voters in 2006. Labor, religious, and community groups have launched efforts to place minimum-wage initiatives on ballots in Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Arkansas, and Montana next fall.

Democrats say the minimum wage could be for them what the gay-marriage referendums were in key states for Republicans last year -- an easily understood issue that galvanizes their supporters to show up on Election Day.

This is a moral values issue that doesn't demonize a member of society for who they are or what they do with their private life. This is a simple issue that says "if you work for a living, if you're on time every day and you satisfy your obligations for 40 hours a week, you should be able to have enough money to buy food and put clothes on your back." That is not pie-in-the-sky hippie logic: it's simply an expression valuing the work that's done in this country. We all come into contact with many minimum-wage workers every single day. An effective ad campaign would highlight that.

Battlepanda noted last month that the doomsayers who predicted job cuts and economic hardship as a result of Florida's 2004 minimum wage increase
were, er, wrong:

Seventy-one percent of Florida voters passed the increase, and since the new minimum wage was implemented in May, retail stores and restaurants have added tens of thousands of employees.
"I don't think it's going to kill jobs because you need the people to do the work no matter what," said Walter, owner of Highland Park Furniture, which has a license to use the trade name Macy's Furniture & Mattress Clearance Center. "But it might hurt profits, and it sounds better to say it's going to hurt jobs than hurt profits."

Success stories like this are hard to rebut. I'd rather try to squeeze the other side by asking that people be paid a fair wage for their work than by demanding that gay people not be allowed marry. That's why I'm a Democrat.


Danger: Right-Wing Spin Machine Dead Ahead

Wingers will undoubtedly try to make hay of this revelation that the FISA court modified a substantial number of warrant requests coming out of the Bush Administration. No question they'll use the information to argue that the FISA court was obstructing ongoing terror investigations, and therefore needed to be circumvented. But that only makes sense if you read just the headline and not the article.

Here are the actual details:

The 11-judge court that authorizes FISA wiretaps has approved at least 18,740 applications for electronic surveillance or physical searches from five presidential administrations since 1979.

The judges modified only two search warrant orders out of the 13,102 applications that were approved over the first 22 years of the court's operation. In 20 of the first 21 annual reports on the court's activities up to 1999, the Justice Department told Congress that "no orders were entered (by the FISA court) which modified or denied the requested authority" submitted by the government.

But since 2001, the judges have modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for court-ordered surveillance by the Bush administration. A total of 173 of those court-ordered "substantive modifications" took place in 2003 and 2004 -- the most recent years for which public records are available.

The judges also rejected or deferred at least six requests for warrants during those two years -- the first outright rejection in the court's history.

For one thing, this "obstructionism" resulted in the FISA court modifying 3.2 percent of the requests it received, and rejecting 0.1 percent. A rubber stamp by any other name is still a rubber stamp.

But here's the more important point. 173 of the 179 modifications occurred in 2003 and 2004. This is well AFTER the President, by executive order, authorized the secret NSA wiretapping program. There can be no cause and effect here, since the order came BEFORE the Administration got any resistance from the FISA court.

It's crucial to set the record straight here. The President broke the law, and subsequently got used to the law being broken, such that only AFTER the executive order did the FISA court start getting suspicious of warrant requests, and seek to modify them.

This is an incredibly important distinction to make and we need to focus all our energies on it. The right-wing narrative will now be "FISA wasn't a rubber stamp, they were trying to stop effective combating of terrorism, and Bush had no choice to do what he did." This is NOT the case. Media outlets need to hear from their readers and viewers to ensure that they don't buy the GOP spin.


What Arab Spring?

As democracy in Iraq tries to cobble together a fragile peace, with no idea if it will hold, I thought it would be instructive to take a look back at the notion of "The Arab Spring," the idea expressed earlier in the year that Iraq indeed was a beacon of freedom and democracy that was spreading its wings far and wide across the Arab and greater Muslim world. You'll remember that President Bush described this in his Second Inaugural Address (jeez, that's painful to write) this way:

By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well as a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power; it burns those who fight its progress. And one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.

Kind of an unfortunate metaphor, fires of freeedom, particularly in the wake of our firebombing freedom into at least two corners of the globe recently. POW! "Look at the fires of freedom consuming that hospital!"

This notion of the Arab Spring was expressed by Townhall columnist Jeff Jacoby:

Iraq's stunning elections have given heart to would-be reformers across the region. In Beirut, tens of thousands of anti-Syrian demonstrators brought about the fall of Lebanon's pro-Damascus quisling government. (As of last night, however, the Lebanese Parliament was poised to restore the ousted premier.) Saudi Arabia held municipal elections, the first democratic exercise the Ibn Sauds have ever allowed. On Monday, hundreds of activists demanding suffrage for women marched on Kuwait's parliament. Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak has promised a genuine (i.e., contested) presidential election. And Syria's military occupation of Lebanon is drawing such international condemnation that Bashar Assad, the Syrian dictator, has begun to pull his troops back to the Bekaa Valley.

It is being called an ''Arab Spring," and Bush's critics are right to give him credit for helping to bring it about.

So how's that going, then? What's REALLY happening in this Arab Spring?

Well, in Egypt, a court sentenced secular reformer Ayman Nour to five years in jail for forgery. This comes after his party was resoundingly defeated in the Presidential and Parliamentary "elections" there, where Hosni Mubarak ended up with 89% of the vote. The arrest was clearly a move to silence the only credible opposition voice to the Mubarak regime, and while it was met with scattered protests and US condemnation (rightly so), these are not expected to change anything. In the Egyptian Parliament, nobody gained so much as the radical Muslim Brotherhood, leaving the country with a Hobson's choice between a dissent-crushing fiefdom and an Islamic Republic.

This similar choice in the Palestinian elections has led Israel to call for a removal of Hamas from the ballots, threatening to close East Jerusalem to voting if their demand is not met. Hamas is likely to do very well in these elections, an outcome which Ariel Sharon believes would be "an end to the peace process." One would hope that Hamas' entry into the political arena would be a moderating influence. But continued rocket attacks out of Gaza (leading Israel to install a 3-mile a security zone) are a bad sign.

Meanwhile, Iran elected an Islamist who has denied the Holocaust and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

Steven Spiegel summed this up a couple weeks ago in an LA Times op/ed:

Since the invasion, other Arab governments have spoken in favor of Middle East democracy. But most of those statements, especially in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have amounted to nothing more than talk intended to assuage the Americans. Only in Lebanon and Palestine has democracy made substantial advances. In both, the breakthroughs can be attributed more to the deaths of Syrian and Palestinian leaders than to the invasion of Iraq.

Everybody on the right was very willing to jump on this notion of the Arab Spring because it would validate their beliefs and justify the invasion. But wishing doesn't make it so. This is a long-term project in the best interest of the United States, and if there were an actual push for democracy that was succeeding I would be the first to hail it. So far, it appears to be sound and fury signifying nothing, and projecting democracy on a region where it's artificial actually hurts the cause. If Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Pakistan are allowed to get away with simply paying lip service to democracy, then THAT will be the great lesson for the Arab world, not the fractious democracy project in Iraq.

So the Right will continue to strain themselves trying to connect Bush Administration policies to a flowering of democracy that is a mile wide and an inch deep. Meanwhile governments in the region, faced with no accountability, will continue to jail dissenters, terrorize citizens, deny women's rights, and lead to nothing so much as a burgeoning of theocracy, a kind of Islamist Spring.

The "Arab Spring" idea was another facile projection of hopes and dreams that remain, sadly, firmly outside of reality.


Right-Wing Welfare Queens

Jane's post about the new paradigm of the right blogosphere, which has become more of an extension of "pay for play" Armstrong Williams-type media than anything else, was spot-on. While those on the left are paid little or nothing for their efforts, the right has set up a structure (and received plenty of seed money) where they can parrot talking points all the live-long day and get cash for it, from the same institutional outlets that have funded the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute and the rest of the Noise Machine since time immemorial. And they aren't generating any more hits for their money.

This was pretty instructive for me:

About two weeks ago, Pajamas Media AND TBogg linked to blog posts of mine in the same week. (Guess that makes me the fucking best moderate in the world!!!! Except I'm, um, not that moderate.) The Pajamas link caused a slight ripple in my traffic. TBogg got me record hits by a factor of 5.

Of course, the Pajamas guys get paid. Tbogg doesn't. Shouldn't pay for bloggers be merit-based? What's up with all these welfare queens on the right doing nothing and earning all this bread? Talk about a system that needs reforming!


Monday, December 26, 2005


Good. The government should not be investigating people who ask for books out of the library. The triumphalism on the right about this reminds me of the Chris Rock joke, where he hears people say with pride "I take care of my kids!" when that's what they're SUPPOSED to do.

"We don't spy on kids who take books out of the library!" Yeah, um, we're not supposed to. Keep moving the goalposts back, guys, but we're on to it.



Over the weekend, the same New York Times authors that broke the initial domestic spying story confirm what a lot of us in the blogosphere thought: this was a massive data mining operation.

The National Security Agency has traced and analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States as part of the eavesdropping program that President Bush approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity, according to current and former government officials.

The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries, they said.

As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications, the officials said.

Thank you Verizon! Thank you AT&T! The American people welcome your commitment to privacy!

I think only the most forgiving of apologists would think that a computer data-analysis program on this scale would be foolproof 100% of the time. We have no idea what patterns of words or phrases the computer is screening for: and we can be fairly certain that the computer is unlikely to detect sarcasm or just two people discussing terrorism in the course of current events. This results in a KGB-era surveillance operation in which everyone is a potential suspect, everyone's phone is being tapped, and everyone needs to watch what they say. There's a difference between the old "yelling-fire-in-a-crowded-theater" and making a joke (or simply stringing a certain pattern of words together that would raise a white flag) in the midst of a private conversation. This complete abrogation of civil liberties and the right to privacy has led even Bush-friendly publications like The Chicago Tribune to lash out at the policy:

President Bush is a bundle of paradoxes. He thinks the scope of the federal government should be limited but the powers of the president should not. He wants judges to interpret the Constitution as the framers did, but doesn't think he should be constrained by their intentions.

He attacked Al Gore for trusting government instead of the people, but he insists anyone who wants to defeat terrorism must put absolute faith in the man at the helm of government [...]

But the theory boils down to a consistent and self-serving formula: What's good for George W. Bush is good for America, and anything that weakens his power weakens the nation. To call this an imperial presidency is unfair to emperors.

What will come out of next month's Senate hearings on the issue will be a bill, a bill re-affirming privacy rights, possibly re-affirming the jurisdiction of the FISA court, and ordering an end to illegal wiretaps. If the President vetoes it and continues the practice, that's when we'll be at a constitutional impasse.