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

Friday, January 27, 2006

Loony Liberal Soft on Defense Flip Flopper

Yep, that President Bush sure is out-of-touch with heartland American values:

President Bush's endorsement of a plan to end the nuclear standoff with Iran by giving the Islamic republic nuclear fuel for civilian use under close monitoring has left some of his supporters baffled.

One cause for the chagrin is that the proposal, which is backed by Russia, essentially adopts a strategy advocated by Mr. Bush's Democratic opponent in the 2004 election, Senator Kerry of Massachusetts.

"I have made it clear that I believe that the Iranians should have a civilian nuclear power program under these conditions: that the material used to power the plant would be manufactured in Russia, delivered under IAEA inspectors to Iran to be used in that plant, the waste of which will be picked up by the Russians and returned to Russia," Mr. Bush said at a news conference yesterday. "I think that is a good plan. The Russians came up with the idea and I support it," he added.

In an interview published in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mr. Bush also said he proposed the idea to offer nuclear fuel to Iran and agreed with Moscow on the subject.

During the election campaign, Mr. Kerry urged that the international community offer Iran nuclear fuel in attempt to test whether Iran was serious about pursuing a peaceful nuclear energy program or intent on manipulating such a program to produce plutonium for weapons. "We should call their bluff and organize a group of states that will offer the nuclear fuel they need for peaceful purposes and take back the spent fuel so they can't divert it to build a weapon," Mr. Kerry said during a June 2004 speech in Florida.

At a debate in September, Mr. Kerry faulted Mr. Bush for not agreeing to engage the Iranians with such an offer. "I think the United States should have offered the opportunity to provide the nuclear fuel, test them, see whether or not they were actually looking for it for peaceful purposes. If they weren't willing to work a deal, then we could have put sanctions together," Mr. Kerry said. "The president did nothing."

Of course, the President backed himself into this corner. He took all his bargaining chips off the table by fighting unnecessary wars of choice, and outsourced the Iran problem to the EU, which couldn't possibly provide the leverage to get the job done. In this environment, the rhetoric of isolation was seen as empty and toothless. So Bush has little choice but to capitulate.

What's funny is that the neocon drum-bangers and warbloggers, who deny reality on a daily basis, are so upset that the President would take a Kerry proposal and put it to use. They didn't realize that their ideas are impotent in a time of crisis, especially with an overextended army at the breaking point. The President has ended up agreeing with Kerry on foreign policy more than once. But it always takes so long for him to wind around to the idea that he deals from a position of weakness. So too on Iran. And the last thing we want to do is give Ahmadinejad another victory.



I can't say I'm that surprised by the Hamas victory in parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories. After all, this is a group who has capitalized on national unrest and oppression by quietly enacting major social services programs to win the hearts and minds of the people. The West (not just the United States, but Europe as well) has been woeful in this regard, and Hamas and other groups like it have picked up the slack. It's much to our detriment that our plan to remake the Middle East has been simply to roll out elections and leave it at that. This strategy has put a hardliner in control in Iran, a terrorist organization in Palestine, an Afghan parliament that includes warlords and former Taliban members (and a central government leader reduced to asking the Taliban leadership to engage in peace talks), no change at the top in allegedly corrupt elections in Egypt, and a Shiite theocratic republic in Iraq.

Winning hearts and minds is as fundamental to victory in this war against radical jihadism as anything else. We tried once before to win hearts and minds, in Vietnam, but our actions belied our words to such a degree that it was transparently just rhetoric. Now we seem to have dispensed with even the rhetoric. The quiet end to reconstruction funding in Iraq is an example. We never got any major reconstruction projects built to an acceptable level, the funding for these projects was quite blatantly stolen, and Iran is stepping into the breach, pledging to support Iraq reconstruction efforts with cash outlays.

When we made a major effort to help rebuild during the tsunami I thought we were finally on the right track. Then we lifted nary a finger for the catastrophic earthquake in Pakistan. I know it came on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, but for chrissakes, national security money should have been diverted there. Because it would have been in the national security interests of the country. Our once-prominent position as the idealistic leader of the world has been decimated by human rights scandals and corruption. We can't expect to roll in to any country on Earth and say "We're the United States" and have the citizens follow us. We have to do it through actions. Otherwise you end up with Hamas winning elections. And by the way, that's not meddling in foreign affairs. It's providing context for our supposed spread of democracy.

I fear that the consequences for Israel will be grave. It seems very likely to me that the hardline Likudniks will return to power now, in a defiant show of force. The rhetoric will escalate, and the cease-fire will be in danger of breaking. It's a very difficult time for the Middle East (as if there's ever been a time of sunshine).


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Laying in the Reids

Despite media reports of a coronation there's still a lot of uneasiness in conservative circles about the Alito nomination. I have no idea what the Democrats plan to do and I think that's a good thing. Despite early efforts by Feinstein to the contrary they have not tipped their hand. Apparently John Kerry's itching to filibuster (perhaps to get the liberal wing of the party excited about a re-nomination effort?), and Mary Landrieu isn't (because it'd be too time-consuming, I think she said... yeah, you're right, a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land should be knocked out over the weekend). Three Democrats have signaled their willingness to vote for Alito. Four Republicans have yet to signal anything.

I don't know where Harry Reid is taking this thing, but the uncertainty is great. Any gambler knows that you don't telegraph. You keep your opponent guessing up until the very last minute. The unusual force of the speechifying by the Republicans, and the length of their speeches, signals that they're worried. Lincoln Chafee might just wet his pants; at this point WHATEVER he does will hurt him in his rough re-election bid to come.

I've been fairly agnostic about what the Democrats SHOULD do. It's easy to say filibuster and fuck the consequences but those consequences are real, and the best way to block radical judicial nominees is to win elections by explaining the progressive narrative to the American people. A nuclear option showdown right now is something neither side wants because it's so unpredictable. I don't think it would hurt Democrats so much as incumbents, but that could damage our standing in several key races.

What I don't want to see is confirmation before the State of the Union. The President views the speech as a political document; he's as much as said so. In that case, make him expend some of that political capital whining about the Alito confirmation. It makes him look weak, and it's time in the speech that would be elsewhere spent saber-rattling for an Iranian war or something.

Should be an interesting couple of days...



OK, that's fucking brilliant.

Many years ago I (along with occasional contributor Cosmo) wrote a parody text adventure game that lasted almost 200 pages. It was 198 pages too long, and it should have read like that one.

Much praise heaped upon thee.


Time for a Cover-Up

Another thing I noticed in today's Presidential press conference was how blithely Bush dismissed reports of pictures of him and Republican felon and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff (pictures that apparently Abramoff himself is trying to sell to the media). "I take pictures with a lot of people," he said. I really wanted him to keep going. "I take pictures with a lot of people six times. I get invited to a lot of bar mitzvahs! Just because I go that doesn't mean I'm friends with the guy! Maybe it means I like lox! I'm in a lot of people's Top 8 on MySpace! That doesn't mean we're friends! It means we're online friends! That's completely different!"

But beyond the quick and nonchalant brush-off, Josh Marshall suggests that the White House is actively destroying the photos:

Earlier this month, we were alerted to the existence of a series Abramoff photos at the website of Reflections Photography, a studio that does photo shoots for many Republican political events and sells copies to the individuals who attended the events and other members of the public through an online photo database. Reflections was an official photographer for Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign events and for the 2005 inauguration.

One of those photos was of Abramoff and Ralph Reed at a party for the launch of Reed's Century Strategies DC office in 2003. We contacted Reflections Photography and purchased the rights to publish that photograph and did so on January 11th.

Things weren't so simple with the late 2003 photograph of Jack Abramoff and President Bush.

When we went to the page for the photograph of President Bush and Abramoff, the page in question had disappeared from the site. Indeed, in the sequence of photographs from the event in question, each had a unique identification number in perfect consecutive order. All were there on the site, in sequence, with the exception of the one that was apparently that of President Bush and Abramoff.

I called back Reflections Photography and spoke to the woman who had earlier sold us the licensing rights to the other image. I told her there was another photograph we wanted to purchase the rights to publish but that it appeared no longer to be on their website.

She told me that sometimes pictures going back as far as 2003 had not been transferred over to the online catalog.

I told her that as far as we knew the photograph had been available on the site until quite recently. Then I asked if the photograph in question were available in their offline archives and whether I could purchase it that way.

She said that it was and that the CD in question was available for purchase.

I asked her if it would be possible for her to pull the CD. Then I could describe the photograph with the identification number in question to her to verify that it was the same picture.

The woman, who was helpful and friendly throughout, said she could and asked me to wait a few minutes while she retrieved the CD in question.

After a few minutes, she returned and proceeded to pull up the photo in question on the CD. Then, to her audible surprise, she told me the "photo was deleted" from the CD.

That, as you'd imagine, caught my attention. So I asked what that meant. The woman from Reflections told me that that this sometimes happened when the White House wanted to prevent the public from accessing certain photographs of the president.

Later, he calls the President of the company, who admits having scrubbed the CD:

I talked to company president Joanne Amos. We went back and forth over various questions about whether photographs at the site were available to the public and why some had been removed. When she, at length, asked me who it was in the picture with the president. I told her we believed it was Jack Abramoff.

Amos very straightforwardly told me that the photographs had been removed and that they had been removed because they showed Abramoff and the president in the same picture. The photos were, she told me, "not relevant."

When I asked her who had instructed her to remove the photos, she told me she was the president of the company. She did it. It was "her business decision" to remove the photographs. She told me she had done so within the last month.

It's never the crime, it's the cover-up. And this is not a crime. It's just a picture of Bush and Abramoff. Like Bush says, it's just something taken at a holiday party and he takes pictures with a lot of people. So if it's no big deal, why go to all this trouble to keep them out of the public eye? It makes you wonder what else is being covered up, if something this innocuous has taken this much effort.


Strong Condemnation

Last week when I mentioned Paul Hackett's steadfastness in linking the Republican Party with the radical right agenda of the likes of Pat Robertson, my resident wingnut commenter countered that the White House had "strongly condemned" Robertson's remarks about how Ariel Sharon deserved a stroke for dividing God's land.

How's this for condemnation? (via The Carpetbagger Report)

When President Bush launched his "faith-based initiative" in 2001 to funnel federal money to religious groups, Pat Robertson was skeptical, calling the idea a "Pandora's box" and a "narcotic" that would ensnare religious organizations in government red tape.

Those misgivings notwithstanding, the federal government has become a major source of money for Operation Blessing, Robertson's international charity, under the Bush initiative. In two years, the group's annual revenue from government grants has ballooned from $108,000 to $14.4 million.

This is a classic case of tut-tutting and marginalizing with one hand, while paying off with the other. Meanwhile this charity of Robertson's doesn't always funnel its money into helping the needy:

Operation Blessing, with a budget of $190 million, is an integral part of the Robertson empire. Not only is he the chairman of the board, his wife is listed on its latest financial report as its vice president, and one of his sons is on the board of directors.

Back in 1994, during the infamous Rwandan genocide, Robertson used his 700 Club's daily cable operation to appeal to the American public for donations to fly humanitarian supplies into Zaire to save the Rwandan refugees.

The planes purchased by Operation Blessing did a lot more than ferry relief supplies.

An investigation conducted by the Virginia attorney general's office concluded in 1999 that the planes were mostly used to transport mining equipment for a diamond operation run by a for-profit company called African Development Corp.

And who do you think was the principal executive and sole shareholder of the mining company?

You guessed it, Pat Robertson himself.

Robertson had landed the mining concession from his longtime friend Mobutu Sese Seko, then the dictator of Zaire.

Investigators concluded that Operation Blessing "willfully induced contributions from the public through the use of misleading statements ..."

After the investigation began, Robertson placated state regulators by personally reimbursing his own charity $400,000 and by agreeing to tighten its bookkeeping methods.

Separating Operation Blessing from Robertson's many politically oriented endeavors is not that easy, however.

The biggest single U.S. recipient of the charity's largess, according to its latest financial report, was Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. It received $885,000 in the fiscal year ended March 2004.

At least they're strongly condemning the guy PUBLICLY, though! The funneling of millions of tax dollars to a phony charity stuff, well, we'll just have to live with that.


I Agree With The President

Speaking in his press conference about the astonishing victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, President Bush said this, praising the Palestinian people for participating in democracy (paraphrase):

"If there's corruption, people will vote to remove corruption. If there's incompetence, people will vote in response to that."

I agree with the President.

And this is an ad waiting to happen.

Bush's words, with images of Katrina, the Medicare debacle, Abramoff, Sensenbrenner gaveling closed that hearing, all of it.

At the end, a title card: "We agree, Mr. President. Vote Democratic."


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Public Enemy Number 1

The Right is now attacking a guy whose prior claim to fame was showing up on a bunch of "I Love the 80s" shows.

I'm not a fan of Joel Stein. Far from it. For years, his favored tactic has been to try and figure out what the most wrong thing to say is, then argue it, and insert references to Paris Hilton or popular MTV shows in place of any kind of trenchant analysis. He's the worst public face for my pop culture-obsessed generation. He's an entertainment hanger-on and serial attention-seeker who has written more bad comedy than an imagined country full of Mark Russells.

In fact, when everybody was yelling about Robert Scheer getting fired from the LA Times opinion page and being replaced with Jonah Goldberg, I was more upset that Stein was moving to a weekday column. His Sunday column was the most universally disliked weekly piece of writing I've ever seen in a major paper. Every week there would be four or five letters saying "Who the hell is this Joel Stein idiot? Why is he in the opinion section?" And I agreed with them. He's unreadable.

And I knew that he'd get a swelled head from this move to weekdays, and that he'd move from writing about Lindsay Lohan or Tom Cruise and into the political arena, where he has no credibility and no clue, and I knew he'd say something totally stupid, and then people like Glenn Reynolds and Michelle Malkin would take this dink's words and suggest that he speaks for all liberals everywhere.

And exactly what I feared would happen, has happened.

Really, conservatives, you can have Joel Stein. Use him as the test case for your re-education camps. With any luck, he'll be Dean Esmay in no time.


The Last Refuge of the Truly Guilty


They're actually pushing back at calling this domestic spying because the call would be charged at an international rate. This is The Chewbacca Defense to the nth degree.

I guess that's because Glenn Greenwald nailed them to the fucking wall yesterday.

In June, 2002, Republican Sen. Michael DeWine of Ohio introduced legislation (S. 2659) which would have eliminated the exact barrier to FISA which Gen. Hayden yesterday said is what necessitated the Administration bypassing FISA. Specifically, DeWine's legislation proposed:

to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to modify the standard of proof for issuance of orders regarding non-United States persons from probable cause to reasonable suspicion. . . .

In other words, DeWine's bill, had it become law, would have eliminated the "probable cause" barrier (at least for non-U.S. persons) which the Administration is now pointing to as the reason why it had to circumvent FISA.

And the executive branch blocked this amendment in a summary which said, among other things, that the FISA court was working just fine, and that modifying the standard of proof wouldn't "pass constitutional muster."

Lies and the lying liars. Read the whole post. Or, you can just read your local paper, which will likely have this story in it tomorrow, thanks to one intrepid blogger who tracked this down in the Congressional Record. But wait, I thought no truth came from the blogosphere! I thought it was all a Wild West show!


The Ultimate Sacrifice

The world's most endangered incumbent, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, did something absolutely astounding the other day, and he did it on local television.

He compared his election campaign to soldiers fighting abroad:

"And yet we have brave men and women who are willing to step forward because they know what's at stake. They're willing to sacrifice their lives for this great country. What I'm asking all of you tonight is not to put on a uniform. Put on a bumper sticker. Is it that much to ask? Is it that much to ask to step up and serve your country?"

There's video at the link.

I would consider it the ultimate sacrifice to put a Rick Santorum bumper sticker on my car. I mean, I have a history of back injuries. What if I should throw out an L-2 disc while fastening the "Vote Santorum" message to the bumper?

Sure, over in Mesopotamia they're dodging IEDs, but seriously, we're talking about PUTTING A BUMPER STICKER ON here! That's hard work!

Please, Pennsylvania, make me proud of my home state and throw this bum out... although his challenger isn't exactly earning his party's praise either with recent statements. Why is Bob Casey so myopic to overlook Alito's record on worker rights, supposedly one of Casey's major concerns? Puzzling.

UPDATE: Apparently Santorum just freaked out at a reporter for asking a question about the K Street Project while getting off a train. Jeez, somebody's on edge. Relax, Rick. After the cooling-off period, I'm sure K Street will hire you once you involuntarily retire from public service.


Conservatism is Dead. Pass it on (to the Dems)

One line stuck out of Harry Reid's brilliant, largely-uncovered speech yesterday:

Republicans run good campaigns, but when it comes to actually governing and protecting Americans, they have a record of incompetence.

This is an excellent start on the way to telling the truth about the Republican brand. But I say Reid needs to go one step further, to say that which all of us have seen objectively:

Conservatism is dead.

Americans of all parties and ideologies killed socialism as a viable political system through an onslaught of demonization of the objective corruption and incompetence of socialist regimes throughout the world. Whether this has more to do with dictators like Stalin and less to do with the system is immaterial. We pointed out over and over again the failure of planned market economies to provide for its people, the desperation with which citizens in these countries lived their lives, and reasoned that the problem not lie with the particular practitioners, but the system itself. We continue to do this (while demonizing the leaders at the same time) with North Korea and Cuba. The end result of all of this was to make socialism a dirty word. As Kurt Vonnegut said on NPR a couple days ago:

Of course, socialism is a bad word now. But it wasn't so long ago that the stock market crashed, in 1929, and capitalism wasn't looking so good.

I'm not advocating for the end of capitalism. It's the peculiar brand of American conservatism we see running our country into the ground today that I come to bury.

A Government Unresponsive to the Needs of Its Citizens

Many had a notion of this during the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, which is ongoing and still woeful. One of the stated goals of conservatism is to shrink the size of the federal government, to (as one leader famously put it) "get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." Well, congratulations. You're pretty much there. We now know that the government had a 48-hour head start on the disaster, and they still couldn't marshal the resources. Is that because of the cronies running the system, or the SYSTEM ITSELF?

The slow-motion, public health crisis Medicare Katrina reveals another side of the conservative failure. Conservatism seeks to reward business in the belief that a prosperous business sector will trickle down to everybody else. They are wary of big government programs, and think that if those programs are put in the hands of private companies, the magic of the free market will create efficiencies and correct mistakes. This way of thinking has created a situation where old people are begging in the streets for their medicine, where pharmacists are digging into their own pockets to pay for treatments for dying patients, where confusion reigns and the entire process is unbelievably inefficient. Is the problem with the head of Medicare, or with THE SYSTEM ITSELF?

The Abramoff scandal (you know him, he's that Republican felon that personally gave a couple hundred thousand dollars to Republicans) is part of the conservative system. Pay-to-play on K Street means that, if you work hard, you too can afford to have the government you desire. There are barriers to entry for those without the means to petition their leaders for redress of grievances. This is perfectly logical from a conservative standpoint. The experts in the various fields of study have more of a stake and more knowledge about that which the government attempts to legislate. Furthermore, conservatism believes that there shouldn't be any regulations on business, they stifle competition and innovation. They don't want to police the Congress because they DON'T BELIEVE IN IT.

We see how the recent mining disasters had at least something to do with lax federal oversight. On last week's Meet the Press, Paul Begala mentioned his father's favorite excerpt from his new book:

And it was interesting—he picked up on something that I’d forgotten was in the book, he said, ‘The thing that troubles me most’—and this is a guy who voted for Ronald Reagan and spent his career in the oil business in Texas, he’s no liberal—he said, ‘What bothers me the most was that President Bush hired a lobbyist from the mining industry to be the number two guy in the Interior Department.’ And that he says, in the book, he says, ‘My goal is to turn out the lights on the mine safety agency.’

Those are the stated goals of this conservative movement. Little or no regulation, shrinking government, no social safety net, every man for himself. And there are real-world implications of all of this that compel the answer: "This doesn't work."

This is very important. Self-proclaimed moderates and independents respond very strongly to brand identity. Republicans have spent 40 years branding Democrats as weak, soft, radical, you name it. The name has come to brand conservatism for what it is. Dead. Unworkable. A failure. Success in the 2006 elections depends on hammering this point, stronger than we have so far.

Also on Meet the Press, Russert actually deserved a kudo or two for nailing Mary Matalin on precisely this point:

MR. RUSSERT: Well, let’s talk about that, because that’s an important point. In the Wall Street Journal, which is hardly an organ for the Democratic Party, wrote this, “When Republicans took control of the purse strings in 1995, the federal budget was $1.5 trillion dollars. It’s now $2.55 trillion dollars, or $5 million dollars a minute. And the latest Treasury data reveal that fiscal 2005 federal outlays grew by another $179 billion dollars, an 8 percent increase, and more than twice the rate of inflation.” And then they added this to the editorial, “The smell of bacon.” In ‘95, when Republicans captured both houses of Congress, there were 1439 earmarked projects, the special projects you talked about, they cost $10 billion dollars. Ten years later, nearly 14,000 specific earmarked projects by individuals congressmen and senators, $27 billion dollars. Republicans control both houses of Congress.

Matalin blubbered and spattered "B-B-But the Democrats" but she knew she was beat. Conservatives don't hold to their ideals for exactly one simple reason: their ideals don't work. They're also not popular. But mainly, they don't work. And we need to say this loudly and proudly.


More Memory Lane

BriVT goes into the wayback machine and gives a brief history of the left blogosphere, right up to today's battle with Chris Matthews and the Washington Post. Here's his point:

Oh, sure, the WaPo shut down comments and will tread much more carefully in any future attempts to solicit reader feed-back. But the damage is done. They opened the gates of the castle for just an instant and caught sight of the angry  mob outside with torches and pitchforks. Closing the gate won't rid them of the knowledge that we're out here, angry and connected.

And that's a very big step. A lot of the problems of the establishment media really boil down to a lack of perspective. "News judgement" is an amorphous thing, and it mostly comes down to what the people in the editor's experience would think are important. For years, the right-wing in DC has twisted that perception, giving the impression to news folks that impeachment of Clinton is a valid story, but impeachment of Bush is not. Or that treating claims of Democratic ties to Abramoff as valid can be considered good news judgement.

But those days are ending. The Internet community of the reality-based community has grown stronger and stronger. Our voices are being heard, practically in real time. There is still a long way to go; that Hiatt editorial is still a break from the usual narrative on those pages. But we are changing the narrative in demonstrable ways. We're finally breaking through.

Just to see the layout within his post of the old dailykos was pretty amazing. What a different time! I stumbled over into the blog world from This Modern World. Almost every day Tom Tomorrow was linking to Kos or Atrios or some other blogger and saying "this is a must-read," and finally I ended up going to the sources.

I remember watching hearings on C-SPAN about exactly how and where we're going to attack Iraq, months before the invasion, months before the IWR even, and thinking "Has everybody gone crazy? Are we really doing this?"

And then I found this refuge online where people were actually investigating the WH spin and finding it full of holes. I lurked for a long long time before mustering up the gumption to participate. And the "and then you win moment" has really been coming for some time, like when we singlehandedly dipped Sinclair Broadcasting stock, or got Jeff Gannon out of the WH press room.

Fighting back will inevitably balance the see-saw of the traditional media. The question is, however, will that make them better or worse? Already they're reduced to stenography for the sake of balance: will they now abdicate any attempt to investigate for fear of offending either side? Will they run screaming from real news and into nonpartisan stories of scandal and missing white women? It's an interesting question to ponder. If the traditional media manages to get more irrelevant, we'll all be worse for the experience. The other side loves truthiness. We need the truth.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Memory Lane

This was a week ago, but Jon Cohn at The New Republic does something so rare in our political discourse: he remembers what happened before:

So what happened on the day that this complex program (Medicare) was implemented? Thousands of senior citizens simply went to the hospital and got the health care they needed. "There were no crises that I remember," says Yale University political scientist Theodore Marmor, who worked in the office overseeing Medicare implementation and went on to write The Politics of Medicare, the program's definitive history. Newspaper accounts from the '60s back him up. Under the headline "medicare takes over easily," a Post writer described the program's first day as "a smooth transition, undramatic as a bed change." Three weeks later, the Times affirmed that "medicare's start has been smooth."

When you get a party in power who holds government in contempt, how can you be surprised that they bungle government programs and services? Like Harry Reid said today (making up for that puzzling apology last week), "Republicans run good campaigns, but when it comes to actually governing and protecting Americans, they have a record of incompetence."

Kevin Drum adds:

There's nothing inevitable about the chaos we're seeing with the prescription drug rollout. If the program had been designed with patients in mind, it would have rolled out smoothly. But it wasn't. It was designed to benefit corporate special interests and to provide a test bed for crackpot free market theories.

And a big payout to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, let's not forget that. Heck, the WaPo reported the other day that Congress just saved the insurance industry $22 billion in the budget by changing the technical language of the bill in the middle of the night.

I keep coming back to this prescription drug thing because, well, first, you have old people in the streets begging for their medicines. But also, this is a bright light shining on a political party that views everything in political terms, that simply has no idea how to govern and no interest in doing so. They consolidate power for the sake of consolidating power. This isn't about changing the country. It's about winning. And making each other rich. Nothing else.


It's Up to 53

There's really something happening in the Democratic Party, completely outside the establishment, with little or no help from the national party or leaders in the House and Senate, that is going to make 2006 an absolute nightmare for Republicans. It has to do with the fact that there are now 53 House candidates on the Democratic side that are veterans. At least 9 of them are Iraq war veterans.

53. There are only 435 seats, and the Democrats hold 202 of those. These Fighting Dems aren't running in any of those, so that means that potentially one out of every four challengers to GOP seats will be a Democratic war veteran. In a time of war (as the President never misses an opportunity to tell us we're in), that will resonate.

Brand of Brothers 2006 has a rundown of every single one of these guys. Why one of them isn't giving the rebuttal to the State of the Union Address is beyond me.

If you're wondering, the number of Republican veterans running this year? Uhh... 2.

P.S. Here's a profile from USA Today.


Poison for the Troops

Today the Pentagon reported that our Army is stretched unreasonably, almost to the breaking point. I wonder if the reason there has been such a recruiting slump is that, not only are there myriad dangers in the New Iraq, but you can't even trust the contractors:

Troops and civilians at a U.S. military base in Iraq were exposed to contaminated water last year and employees for the responsible contractor, Halliburton, couldn't get their company to inform camp residents, according to interviews and internal company documents.

Halliburton, the company formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, disputes the allegations about water problems at Camp Junction City, in Ramadi, even though they were made by its own employees and documented in company e-mails.

"We exposed a base camp population (military and civilian) to a water source that was not treated," said a July 15, 2005, memo written by William Granger, the official for Halliburton's KBR subsidiary who was in charge of water quality in Iraq and Kuwait.

"The level of contamination was roughly 2x the normal contamination of untreated water from the Euphrates River," Granger wrote in one of several documents. The Associated Press obtained the documents from Senate Democrats who are holding a public inquiry into the allegations Monday.

While bottled water was available for drinking, the contaminated water was used for virtually everything else, including handwashing, laundry, bathing and making coffee, said water expert Ben Carter of Cedar City, Utah.

The Euphrates River routinely has dead Iraqis floating in it. This is what Halliburton has been giving our troops.

This movie Why We Fight that's out now looks very intriguing to me, because it documents the rise to prominence of the military-industrial complex, and how decisions on foreign policy have more to do with what the contractors want than national security. You have to wonder why the Army has contracted out so much of the work in Iraq. Defense budgets are still sky-high; instead of the money going to the military, it gets shuttled to private contractors. This is supposed to REDUCE corruption and mismanagement, we're told. Iraq is the poster child for both.

We owe it to the troops not to make them sick. We owe it to them to provide them with body armor that could save their lives. We owe it to them not to tell them to take off this life-saving body armor or risk losing medical benefits (this is the most shocking; it's almost like somebody doesn't WANT these guys to come home).

And incidentally, the GOP isn't exactly getting off their asses to fix this:

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who will chair the session, held a number of similar inquiries last year on contracting abuses in Iraq. He said Democrats were acting on their own because they had not been able to persuade Republican committee chairmen to investigate.

Support the troops my ass. How many times have I said that?


Hijacking the Internet

This is potentially an important issue that merits a few minutes of your time. Apparently telecommunications companies are considering ending their practice of "network neutrality." In plain English, that means that individual telecom and cable companies would charge Internet companies a premium fee to have their content delivered quickly to users. If Google doesn't pay AT&T, suddenly it would take a half-hour to do a Google search on one of AT&T's high-speed lines.

This is hijacking, pure and simple. The telecom companies have seen tech companies get rich and are now whining that they want a piece of the action. They already own the telephone lines (which they monopolized for decades) and the high-speed fat pipe, but they want more. Their deciding what websites will be delivered quickly and what won't will crush innovation and small-scale sites and turn the Internet into a pay-for-play operation not unlike Congress has done with Washington lobbyists.

It's actually pretty amazing that the Internet became the way it is: decentralized, unencumbered, where everybody with some html code gets a fair shake to put their product on the Web and see if everybody likes it. Now that it has evolved to this state, the telecom companies want to put the genie back in the bottle. That's absurd, and overwhelming majorities of the public will not want that to happen.

There are a bunch of action items at this Free Press site. Let's save the Internet, and give it an opportunity to reinvent itself over and over without interference.

P.S. I would be remiss if I didn't say that this is a free speech issue, where major corporate conglomerates want to expand their profit margins by charging for speech. That's not how it's supposed to be done in this country.



Another resounding bipartisan victory for Team Bush.

It used to be that there was such a thing as bipartisanship in Washington. That was before one of the heads of the conservative movement said that "Bipartisanship is another name for date rape."

We didn't start this war, but we'll finish it. Of course, first we have to get into the battle.


Monday, January 23, 2006

Open Letter to Chris Matthews

I signed on to the Open Letter to Chris Matthews in the pretty early stages, and now 50,000 people have left comments demanding that Tweety Boy apologize for his comparison of a terrorist murderer to an American filmmaker. This is what progressives simply have to do to work the refs, th way the Republican Noise Machine has done it for 40 years. Another example of this is the Deborah Howell saga (read the litany of posts about it for yourself), the Washington Post ombudsman who printed the lie that Jack Abramoff gave money to Republicans and Democrats, then got mad when readers (for whom she's supposed to advocate, as an ombudsman) got mad about it, to the extent of censoring comments at the Post blog.

You can be polite or shut up and take it or you can work the refs, and hope for some semblance of balance as the end result. Of course, the media is going to stamp their little feet about it because they're not used to the OTHER side taking a stand. But the press is too important to let it off the hook when the other side wouldn't dare let anything go unquestioned.

In the meantime, the Open Letter takes us back in time with some of the greatest Tweety Bird hits. My favorites (and this is coming from a supposedly nonpartisan journalist):

MATTHEWS says Bush sometimes "glimmers" with "sunny nobility" (Hardball, 10/24/05)
MATTHEWS suggests Bush may "belong on Mount Rushmore" (Hardball, 12/16/05)
MATTHEWS insists "everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs" (Hardball, 11/28/05) (64% of the people are apparently whack jobs -ed.)
MATTHEWS praises Bush for a "brilliant" speech, before it was delivered, while attacking Democratic critics as "carpers and complainers" (MSNBC, 11/30/05)

And then this classic, winner in the "Best Erotic Fiction by a Political Chat Show" category (thank you Digby:)

MATTHEWS: Let's go to this sub--what happened to this week, which was to me was astounding as a student of politics, like all of us. Lights, camera, action. This week the president landed the best photo of in a very long time. Other great visuals: Ronald Reagan at the D-Day cemetery in Normandy, Bill Clinton on horseback in Wyoming. Nothing compared to this, I've got to say.

Katty, for visual, the president of the United States arriving in an F-18, looking like he flew it in himself. The GIs, the women on--onboard that ship loved this guy.

Ms. KAY: He looked great. Look, I'm not a Bush man. I mean, he doesn't do it for me personally, especially not when he's in a suit, but he arrived there...

MATTHEWS: No one would call you a Bush man, by the way.

Ms. KAY: ...he arrived there in his flight suit, in a jumpsuit. He should wear that all the time. Why doesn't he do all his campaign speeches in that jumpsuit? He just looks so great.

MATTHEWS: I want him to wa--I want to see him debate somebody like John Kerry or Lieberman or somebody wearing that jumpsuit.

Mr. DOBBS: Well, it was just--I can't think of any, any stunt by the White House--and I'll call it a stunt--that has come close. I mean, this is not only a home run; the ball is still flying out beyond the park.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know what, it was like throwing that strike in Yankee Stadium a while back after 9/11. It's not a stunt if it works and it's real. And I felt the faces of those guys--I thought most of our guys were looking up like they were looking at Bob Hope and John Wayne combined on that ship.

Mr. GIGOT: The reason it works is because of--the reason it works is because Bush looks authentic and he felt that he--you could feel the connection with the troops. He looked like he was sincere. People trust him. That's what he has going for him.

MATTHEWS: Fareed, you're watching that from--say you were over in the Middle East watching the president of the United States on this humongous aircraft carrier. It looks like it could take down Syria just one boat, right, and the president of the United States is pointing a finger and saying, `You people with the weapons of mass destruction, you people backing terrorism, look out. We're coming.' Do you think that picture mattered over there?

Mr. ZAKARIA: Oh yeah. Look, this is a part of the war where we have not--we've allowed a lot of states to do some very nasty stuff, traffic with nasty people and nasty material, and I think it's time to tell them, you know what, `You're going to be help accountable for this.'

MATTHEWS: Well, it was a powerful statement and picture as well.

Somebody hose him down.


Rule #1: Know What You're Defending

It's hard to shock me at this point, but the fact that the head of the National Security Agency doesn't know jack shit about the Fourth Amendment is pretty close:

QUESTION: Jonathan Landay with Knight Ridder. I'd like to stay on the same issue, and that had to do with the standard by which you use to target your wiretaps. I'm no lawyer, but my understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures. Do you use --

GEN. HAYDEN: No, actually -- the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But the --

GEN. HAYDEN: That's what it says.

QUESTION: But the measure is probable cause, I believe.

GEN. HAYDEN: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But does it not say probable --

GEN. HAYDEN: No. The amendment says --

QUESTION: The court standard, the legal standard --

GEN. HAYDEN: -- unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: The legal standard is probable cause, General. You used the terms just a few minutes ago, "We reasonably believe." And a FISA court, my understanding is, would not give you a warrant if you went before them and say "we reasonably believe"; you have to go to the FISA court, or the attorney general has to go to the FISA court and say, "we have probable cause." And so what many people believe -- and I'd like you to respond to this -- is that what you've actually done is crafted a detour around the FISA court by creating a new standard of "reasonably believe" in place in probable cause because the FISA court will not give you a warrant based on reasonable belief, you have to show probable cause. Could you respond to that, please?

GEN. HAYDEN: Sure. I didn't craft the authorization. I am responding to a lawful order. All right? The attorney general has averred to the lawfulness of the order.

Just to be very clear -- and believe me, if there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth. And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment. And so what you've raised to me -- and I'm not a lawyer, and don't want to become one -- what you've raised to me is, in terms of quoting the Fourth Amendment, is an issue of the Constitution. The constitutional standard is "reasonable." And we believe -- I am convinced that we are lawful because what it is we're doing is reasonable.

Right next to my desk is a faux-parchment scroll of the Bill of Rights (only the finest for yours truly). Seems to me that the Fourth Amendment has something to do with "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Or something like that.

P.S. Don't tell the part about "particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized" to Sam Alito. That way he can still authorize strip searches of ten year-olds even if it's not in the warrant.


I'd Prefer a "Terrrorist Capturing Program"

There's a newly minted term for breaking the law needlessly and unnecessarily by wiretapping American citizens without a warrant. It's called the "Terrorist Surveillance Program." And the PR campaign is on:

The president told an audience at Kansas State University in Manhattan that the congressional resolution passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks that authorized the invasion of Afghanistan and other counterterrorism measures gave him the legal authority to initiate the program.

Bush also said he kept key members of Congress informed.

"You know, it's amazing that people say to me, 'Well, he was just breaking the law.' If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?" Bush said, apparently referring to former Vice President Al Gore's accusation last week that he was "breaking the law" by authorizing the program.

I don't call sitting down a precious few Senators and Representatives, telling them "This is what we're doing, and don't breathe a word of it to anyone" a briefing. Leaning on the 2001 AUMF resolution as a legal basis has little legal standing, even in conservative circles. This is especially true if you read Tom Daschle's insider report that the White House ASKED for domestic force operations in the AUMF and was rebuffed. Why would they base the legality on a document that the Senate Majority Leader at the time specifically rejected from the document?

You can't break the law on account of being inarticulate. If the President and his staff explained why they needed this authorization, or why FISA was moving too slow for them, or why technology necessitated a change in the law, a Republican majority in Congress would have passed it, especially considering his approval ratings were in the 80s at the time. You can't just bypass Congress. That's what's at stake here.

And let's not forget that this White House was already having a hard enough time with legal surveillance:

The September 10 intercepts, details of which were provided to CNN on Wednesday, came from conversations in Arabic between individuals in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia that U.S. officials believe were connected to al Qaeda. The intercepts, however, were not analyzed until September 12, the day after terrorist attacks on New York and Washington killed more than 3,000 people.

Congressional and other sources said that in one communication intercepted by the NSA, a person said, "The match begins tomorrow." In another intercept that same day, a different person said, "Tomorrow is zero hour." In both instances, the two people who said those words were in Afghanistan, speaking to others in Saudi Arabia.

This is all part of the Rovian plan to forcefully push the national security issue forward for the 2006 elections. I agree with John Kerry that 2006 is not 2002. I hope the Democrats have the stomach for this fight. It's going to be hard enough wading through the "fair and balanced" media muck to get that message out there. But it's amazingly simple: the President broke the law. He's still breaking the law. We'd like him to stop breaking the law.

And while he's at it, getting focused on catching Osama bin Laden would be nice.


America Loves the Gay

Via TBogg, I see that the much-malinged, won't-play-in-the-red-states "Brokeback Mountain" actually won the box office last Tuesday and Wednesday. This was when it was only in 600-some theaters, a fraction of the average blockbuster. This weekend it added a bunch of screens and ended up in fifth place with a 7.8 million take. Overall it's at about 42 million and we're not even into Oscar season, which will undoubtedly give it a boost.

I usually don't give a rat's ass about box office results (nobody at Paramount reads my pay stub to see how much I made last week), but it's oh-so-satisfying to see a hack like Mickey Kaus, who loudly predicted failure for the gay western, get his comeuppance. He's still unable to admit defeat, and keeps hacking away, while acknwledging his own hackery. Earlier he predicted that Brokeback wouldn't reach $50 million. His editor interrupts yet another one of his screeds about the movie:

[You're still at it aren't you? This film is going to do $65M in domestic business, easy--ed. $65 million is not a "runaway phenomenon" (Frank Rich's words)! It's Barbershop 2. $100 million would be a phenomenon. The English Patient, another doomed-romance film, did $110 million, adjusted for inflation. Fahrenheit 9/11 did $119 million, unadjusted, without having any discernible effect on the red states. I'm moving the goalposts!]

"I'm moving the goalposts! I'm an ass! I'm never wrong because once I misread the answer, I change the question!"

Jeez, can this guy sleep at night...


BushCo: The Healthcare People

It appears that the central policy point of the State of the Union address will be health savings accounts. Of course, Social Security privatization was the central policy point of last year's State of the Union, and a mission to Mars the year before, and we all know how well they went over, so maybe we shouldn't care what the President goes on about next week. But one interesting point, which Josh Marshall makes, is that this Administration, which has let millions more Americans go uninsured during its tenure, which won't expand coverage to all of our children, which is mired in one of the worst public health crises in recent memory with this prescription drug disaster, is going to use HEALTHCARE as their theme of the biggest policy address of the year. How can they possibly expect to have any credibility on the issue?

As for the question of "what are Health Savings Accounts, exactly," Ezra Klein takes up this question:

Bush's major proposals encourage the spread of Health Savings Accounts and render most out-of-pocket spending tax deductible (attentive news junkies will note the dissonance with the November recommendations of Bush's tax commission, which sought to limit health care deductions). This is a rethink of the entire health care system: no more risk pooling; instead, you sock away cash in tax-advantaged accounts, spending it only when you get sick. So no (or very low) premiums. But when you fall ill, there'll be no insurance company defraying the costs, not until you've spent $10,000 or so.

The idea here is simple. Conservatives believe Americans have too much health insurance, that they spend heedlessly and wastefully on care, procedures, and medications they would simply forego if insurance plans didn't pick up the tab. Ergo, HSA's, which end risk pooling, forcing care to come directly from pockets. Newly responsible for their medical bills, consumers will be spurred by the Magic of the Market to make smarter decisions, show more prudence, lead healthier lifestyles, smile more often, and smell springtime fresh. It's gonna be awesome.

At least if you're healthy. Because what HSA's really do is separate the young from the old, the well from the sick. Currently, insurance operates off of the concept of risk pooling. Since health costs tend to be unpredictable and illness isn't thought a moral failing, we all pay a bit more than we expect to use in order to subsidize those who end up needing much more than they ever thought possible. The well subsidize the sick, the young subsidize the old, and we all accept the arrangement because one day we will be old, and one day we will be sick, and no one wants to shoulder that alone.

But HSA's slice right through this intergenerational, redistributionist arrangement: they're a great deal for young, healthy folks because they don't force subsidization. Just don't get sick. And if you're already sick, don't think you can hide by remaining in traditional insurance plans: when the healthy rush towards HSA's, older plans will hold only the ill, and insurance companies will send premiums skyrocketing to recoup the difference.

This gang has never lifted a finger to promote saving in this country; indeed, they've mandated shopping as part of one's civic duty. The national personal savings rate is next to nothing, and I don't think the idea of saving for health care because it's tax-free would do anything to enhance that (there are retirement plans that you can spend on ANYTHING when you get older that do the same job). It's a virtue to live off of home equity and credit card bills. Being in debt is part of the American psyche these days, from the federal government to the average family (who owe roughly $10,000 on their credit cards). And certainly the credit card companies, who have doubled their monthly minimums and made it nearly impossible to declare bankruptcy, aren't going to make it any easier to save either.

HSAs are really no different that the shift from private pensions to 401(k) plans - both move from a defined benefit to a defined contribution (and it's unclear whther or not employers will even have to contribute to HSAs). What they do is remove risk from insurers and place it on the backs of working people.

Conservatives seem to think that HSAs will halt unnecessary care which causes costs to soar. What they call unnecessary care others might call preventive care. If all the money's coming out of our pockets, will we be as willing to have that checkup every year? Get a mammogram? Check the prostate? Less preventive care means more catastrophic care that could have been avoided.

This is maybe the worst idea to hit healthcare in a while in that 1) it doesn't solve a single problem facing the industry, 2) it adds instability to Americans' already unstable lives, and 3) it's coming from the most incompetent Adminstration on healthcare issues in a century.


Sunday, January 22, 2006

Busts of Ronald Reagan... We're Practically Giving Them Away!

We've seen that the Republican's response to the massive public health crisis they created while bungling the implementation of Medicare Plan D has been a PR offensive. Not to fix the problems, not to create any legislation to remedy the system, but to charm the pants off of seniors so they'll forget that they're in constant agony because their painkiller costs $500 now.

But this little nugget, buried in paragraph 24 of an LA Times story on the failures of Plan D and how it may hurt the GOP, has to take the cake.

...Republican congressional leaders have been urging their rank and file to talk up the benefit to constituents. House leaders are offering rewards — a bust of Ronald Reagan — to lawmakers who make extra efforts to reach out to their constituents and explain the program in town hall meetings, mailings and more.

(sound of head hitting computer desk)

You're telling me that it isn't enough that a Congressman's own constituents are forced to choose between medicine or rent? He won't go to his district and talk to them unless he GETS A BUST OF REAGAN???

I don't think you can find an instance of government that's more unresponsive to its citizens than this. Republicans ramrodded this "giveaway to Big Pharma" plan through the Congress with threats and lies, eventually admitting that they undervalued the true cost of the plan. Despite worries that moving 6 million people onto dozens of private plans without their knowledge could be a clusterfuck, they assured everyone it would work just fine. Now, by even the rosy admission of the plan administrator Mark McClellan, 20% of the information in the database is wrong, affecting hundreds of thousands of people.

And the Congress can't get off their collectively fat asses and talk to those in trouble? They have to be bribed to do it?

This is a majority party that is completely out of touch with ordinary Americans and what they go through on a daily basis. They don't even recognize the consequences of their bungling actions. And as Rahm Emanuel notes, this issue won't go away:

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, predicted that complaints about the program would intensify as seniors bumped up against a limitation on benefits known as the "doughnut hole" — a gap in coverage of drug expenses. "If you think they are mad now, you ain't seen nothing yet," Emanuel said.

Democrats, for their part, have offered legislation to fix the gaps in the system and reimburse the 20 states that have stepped in to provide emergency funding for seniors. The Bush Administration wants that states to try and get that money from the private insurance companies adminstering the various plans. Good luck with that.

The other thing that occurs to me, slightly off topic, is: do the Republicans just have a bunch of Ronald Reagan busts collecting dust somewhere that they give away like the President gives away Medals of Freedom? Is it a sign that you've "made it" in DC if you get your very own Reagan bust?

It would be funny, if hundreds of thousands of elderly Americans weren't suffering. I think they'll all have something to say about this plan in November. And nobody will have to offer them a Ronald Reagan bust to get them to the polling place.


Turn Out The Lights

This bit from Paul Begala on today's Meet the Press caught my eye:

‘What bothers me the most was that President Bush hired a lobbyist from the mining industry to be the number two guy in the Interior Department.’ And that he says, in the book, he says, ‘My goal is to turn out the lights on the mine safety agency.’

It's simply unconscionable that this industry isn't safer. We're a long way from the near-criminal era of neglect of the turn of the century, but we could be so much further along. Enforcement with $60 fines is a paper tiger, and it's starting to manifest itself in human lives. We're almost at 2005 levels for worker deaths and it's January 22.


The Education of John Kerry

Just turned off This Week with George Stephanopolous, and it was a very good end to what was a difficult week for Democrats. John Kerry was absolutely off the chain. You could sense an urgency and a passion in his voice that I never heard in all of 2004. Kerry actually posted on Daily Kos a couple times this week, and clearly he's trying to be more forceful as a public speaker. While not changing the ideas or the policies, he's changed the presentation. And his framing was exquisite.

I've got a paraphrased transcript right here:

Kerry on This Week (4.00 / 2)
(paraphrased as fast as I can type)

We had OBL cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora and this administration has misled the public and did not do everything they could to capture him. There were forces that could have been brought in.

They're trying to claim that they're stronger and better on the war on terror. The fact is, they had a chance to capture OSL and they didn't do it. Things are going backward in Afghanistan... Lack of genuine leadership there.

One of the reasons we haven't been attacked here is that they've been so successful attacking us in Iraq and elsewhere. Look at our lack of options in North Korea, we're overextended, this administration is not effectively fighting a war on terror.

It's a great mirror image of the "fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" talking point we've heard for so long. Incidentally, we were attacked on out soil maybe 1 time (unsuccessfully) in the sixty years between Pearl Harbor and 9/11. I don't remember other Presidents taking credit for that part of their job.

[clip of Karl Rove]

Kerry: OBL is going to die of kidney failure before he's killed by Karl Rove and his crowd. All he does is divide America over this issue and exploit it. What he's trying to pretend is that Dems don't want to eavesdrop appropriately to protect the country. That's a lie. We're prepared to eavesdrop, but we can do it without ignoring the Constitution.

Come to the Congress and tell us why you can't do what you need to do under the FISA law. 19,000 warrents issued, only 5 denied. Court is set up to respond in a matter of minutes.

This is typical of the way they've been managing this city. A culture of arrogance and corruption that's been allowed to take over Wash DC, evidenced also by the Abramoff scandel. Billy Tauzin puts together the prescription drug law, gets a million dollars (and then becomes the head lobbyist for Big Pharma -ed) . There are billions of dollars missing in Iraq. They're not even looking for them.

They don't want to catch Osama bin Laden. They want to use him, politically.

Steph: Al Gore says it may be an impeachable offense and is calling for a special counsel to investigate. Do you agree?

Kerry: I agree we ought to have a special counsel investigate, because this Congress has proven itself unwilling to do what's necessary. And the greatest example of that is intelligence comm in Senate which has been stonewalling effort to look at intelligence leading up to the war. Need to go further on anti-corruption efforts...

Steph: Are you worried that they are right on the politics and this issue really is going to work for Reps?

Kerry. No. Not in the least and I welcome the debate. I want to have that debate every single day. We will show America. A lot has happened in the last year and a half. Katrina stripped away the air of competance of this administration. The curtain got pulled aside and there isn't even a wizard behind it. And they found that these people are incompetant. In addition, what they've seen in Iraq. Our troops still don't have the armor they should have. I can't tell you how angry... how disgraceful that is.

I'm going to have a longer post on this, but I'm very chastened to find that John Kerry has figured this out. Conservatism is dead. It has been laid bare for all to see. Not only with Katrina, but this prescription drug debacle. It doesn't work. It's not responsive to the needs of its people. It's not a workable system of government.

Now if only the rest of the Democrats would understand this and stop apologizing for their beliefs.

Steph: Republicans say Dems are implicated in Abramoff as well. [Kerry laughs] How do you respond?

Kerry: I would say that's another one of their swiftboat tactics where they try to throw up mud and stick it, and I'm gonna stick it right back at them. I've never met Jack Abramoff. I've never had a dime come to me from Jack Abramoff. And I'm not going to stand suggesting that because somewhere somewhere in the country gave my campaign money that we somehow are implicated. This is a Republican scandal. They run the House. They run the Senate. They have the WH. They're controlling who goes on the judiciary. They have not done the things necessary to press forward on this. The fact is that they encouraged with their K Street project, going out there, asking that people get fired because they're Dems, because they aren't on the team. The purchase of access...

Steph: That's not the president.

Kerry: The president sets the tone. Let me tell you something. This president hasn't vetoed one piece of legislation for 5 years. Should tell congress, if there's junk in this bill, I'm going to veto it until you take it out. It's been an absence of leadership. You call the leadership down and tell them I'm not going to stand for this. The business of our nation is not getting done. GM is laying of thousands of workers. People don't have health care. People are losing health care. Wages are going down. America's behind in science and technology. Pakistan and India are racing forward, investing in infrastructure. The US is taking it for granted, with leadership that is more concerned, as evidenced by Karl Rove, by how you divide America rather than lead America.

It's really shocking to see a presentation from this guy THAT forceful, THAT direct, and THAT on the money.

Kerry went on to say that he would vote against Alito, and left open the possibility for a 2008 run at the Presidency. I don't care about any of that. I'm just happy to see this week bookended by two speakers - Al Gore and John Kerry - who have learned from the past. Marc Cooper said this week that the best politicians are defeated politicians. All I know is that the Democratic party needs its leaders to speak honestly, directly, and passionately to the American people. We've had two great examples of that this week.

Now if we can stop Harry Reid from apologizing, we'd get somewhere.