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

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Abandoned City

Peruse this blog from members of the House Democratic Caucus who are touring the Gulf Coast, and ask yourself: 1) why have some of these representatives not known about this devastation beforehand, 2) why have we as a nation let an entire section of the country crumble into ruin without offering a hand to these people to lift them up, and 3) why isn't this generating more attention than the fact that a few people threw beads and drank hurricanes on Bourbon Street this week?


Friday, March 03, 2006

Buon giornio!

My outrage meter is starting to hit red and stay there today. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, locked in a tight battle with a center-left challenger in elections scheduled for a few weeks, gave a speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, addressing a joint meeting of Congress here Wednesday, warned sharply against what he said was a "politically dangerous" tendency in Europe to stand apart from the United States.

 "A conception of European unity founded on a fanciful wish for self-sufficiency would be morally suspect and politically dangerous," he said, according to an English-language version of a speech delivered mostly in Italian.

His comments appeared to be a scarcely disguised slap at the ideas of President Jacques Chirac of France, who has supported the notion of a "bipolar world" in which the European Union and the United States serve as counterbalances.

"The West is, and shall remain, one," Berlusconi said. "We cannot have two Wests. Europe needs America and America needs Europe."
The line brought a standing ovation.

Well, the line probably brought a standing ovation because of the big signs telling the Congress to cheer at selected moments. Because I don't think a whole lot of the Congress speaks fluent Italian. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) pulls the curtain back on this Potemkin speech:

Wednesday the Congress convened in joint session to hear an address by the leader of a major ally -- an infrequent and usually solemn occasion. Instead, I think we were cast as extras in an orchestrated political event for Italian TV.

We set aside legislative business and filed into the House Chamber only to hear right-of-center media billionaire Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi speak in Italian with no interpreter. Organized applause was prompted at certain points from the uncomprehending crowd (Members of Congress plus "blue-coated interns, sent in to fill empty seats").

C-SPAN snubbed the event -- a Joint Session of Congress! (Doesn't C-SPAN cover everything?) But the rousing reception aired live overseas, on Berlusconi's own TV stations, skirting his country's equal-time laws in a tough election cycle.

You may or may not know that Berlusconi owns practically every television station in Italy. When he needs the airtime, he GETS the airtime, even if he has to call in a White House chip to do it.

So to recap: the Capitol is used as a backdrop for a political campaign in a foreign country, and hundreds of Congressmen are tied up for an hour while cameras roll overseas.

Like I said, outrage meter peaking on red.


Afraid of Debate

I've always liked Mike Stark. He's been calling shows like Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Hannity for years, providing a counterpoint to their points. Recently he's started archiving these phone calls at Calling All Wingnuts, a really good, user-friendly site that I've had in my blogroll practically since it launched.

He's recently been hammering O'Reilly over this petition he wrote to the head of NBC asking them to take Keith Olbermann's Countdown show off the air (because Falafel Bill is awfully concerned about the ratings on MSNBC during the time slot with which he competes). Stark has not only been calling himself, but getting a posse of "Wingnut Spinners" to join in the phone fun as well. This is perfectly legitimate; O'Reilly has a radio call-in show, and these guys are calling in.

Well, apparently Fox Radio isn't too happy about the free flow of ideas:

Fox news security is calling Wingnut Spinners - they actually do have our phone numbers (or at least some of them).  I got an email from one who had a message left on her machine.  I called the number and took responsibility for the action.  I asked them to leave individual callers off their intimidation list - but I told them that we wouldn't stop until Bill apologized to Olberman and took down the petition.

Olbermann will apparently devote part of his show to this tonight.

Here's a testimonial from one of the other people who got called by "Fox Security." (incidentally, O'Reilly's radio show isn't even on Fox) The guy lies about how many times this person called O'Reilly, and claimed "you cursed him out" when the caller did no such thing.

What we have here is a public call-in radio show that has now taken to intimidating its listeners and accusing them of harassment, saying "there will be consequences" if you mention someone else's name - not an obscenity, a NAME - on the air. If you're asking for the calls, how could you possibly cry harassment after getting calls? This is par for the course from a bunch of crybabies that can't handle dissent. It's what you'd expect from Mr. "Cut His Mic!"

Here's a transcript of what O'Reilly said about this on the air. What a lunatic. I wouldn't be surprised if a leave of absence was on the way. A little Betty Ford or Mayo Clinic action.


Thoughts on the India Trip

I don't think it's good policy, in an age where everybody agrees that the biggest threat to the country is nuclear proliferation, to reward countries that refuse to sign a Nuclear Nonproliferation Agreement. One of the biggest issues in the Muslim world with Western foreign policy is that "they act with a double standard when it comes to Israel." In other words, countries in the Middle East must not have nuclear weapons, but Israel can, and they don't have to report it. I'm not saying that's right or wrong, but the perception is that the United States and the West plays favorites. This India deal will only perpetuate that, in yet another country with historical animosity to Muslims.

Furthermore, the idea that this deal will dampen India's voracious energy needs is unlikely:

Its pact with the United States on civil nuclear cooperation will help energy-hungry India set up more atomic power plants, but it will take decades to reduce its dependence on oil.

Asia's third-largest economy imports 70 percent of its oil. This is likely to rise to 85 percent over the next 20 years as rapid economic expansion boosts energy demand.

I think what we have here is a nuclear power industry that has been frustrated by its vain efforts to grow in the United States, and so the Administration helped them expand abroad through international treaty rather than free market competition. The public doesn't have as much of a say over where power plants will be built in India. Let's hope for no Bhopal redux.

Futhermore, I'm puzzled by this:

"It's ... important to remember that when someone loses a job it's an incredibly difficult period for the worker and their families," Bush said in a speech in New Delhi.

"It's true that some Americans have lost jobs when their companies move their operations overseas," he said.

"Some people believe the answer to this problem is to wall off our economy from the world through protectionist policies. I strongly disagree."

"The United States will not give into the protectionists and lose these opportunities," Bush said.

"For the sake of workers in both our countries, America will trade with confidence."

But he added that "India has responsibilities as well."

"India needs to continue to lift its caps on foreign investment ... and to continue to lower its tariffs and open its markets to American agricultural products, industrial goods and services."

Shouldn't that be the other way around? Shouldn't it be "India must continue to lower its tariffs and open its markets... otherwise we will wall off our economy through protectionist policies." Isn't that a more likely way of leveling the playing field?

See, the President talks tough on terror, but when it comes to "free" trade, he's as much of a patsy as the CEO class requires.


Inside vs. Outside

In another effort to push candidates from DC rather than the grassroots, lately John Kerry and others have been touting the candidacy of Tammy Duckworth in an Illinois Congressional race. She's in a primary against Christine Cegelis, who got an impressive 44% two years ago against Henry Hyde (who's retiring this cycle, maybe because of Cegelis' push and her immediate announcement that she would run again).

Duckworth is an Iraq war vet who left limbs on the battlefield. She's a great candidate. But she moved into the district once Hyde announced he would retire, I'm assuming at the behest of Rahm Emanuel and the DCCC. Cegelis, who was here all along, is also a great progressive candidate. We'd be fortuante to get either of them in Congress. I don't know what to make of so many prominent Democrats (Kerry, Boxer, Obama, and others) getting this involved in a primary race, raising loads of money online, etc.

What's interesting about this one is that it's almost the opposite of the Paul Hackett-Sherrod Brown affair.  Hackett was the Fighting Dem, with a more conservative stance on the issues.  Cegelis is the progressive stalwart.  Yet they're on the same side on this one.

This puts the lie to notions that the party is being "hijacked by the far left" or "being hijacked by the DINO DLC crowd."  The truth is that we're talking about INSIDE vs. OUTSIDE.  This is about a Beltway consultant class who, along with the DCCC and DSCC, presumes to make choices for the party rather than leave it to their constituents (and by the way, how GOOD have they been at those choices? What's their track record lately?).  Unlike Hackett, Cegelis isn't being pushed out of the race, but there's certainly a concerted effort to push Tammy Duckworth forward.  All four of the candidates in question are ones I'd be proud to vote for.  The problem is that the Beltway establishment doesn't want to give me the choice.

"If you aren't inside, you are outside, OK?" -Michael Douglas, Wall Street


Movin' On Up

Hey, I'm a lowly insect in the Truth Laid Bear ecosystem! I think that represents a positive change from "bacterium"!

Actually, stats have doubled over the last couple months. Thanks to you, gentle reader, for partaking.


Welcome to the TheoDome

Kneel before Christian Zod:

Missouri legislators in Jefferson City considered a bill that would name Christianity the state's official "majority" religion.
House Concurrent Resolution 13 is pending in the state legislature.
The resolution would recognize "a Christian god," and it would not protect minority religions, but "protect the majority's right to express their religious beliefs.
The resolution also recognizes that, "a greater power exists," and only Christianity receives what the resolution calls, "justified recognition."

I, for one, welcome our theocratic overlords! By the way, "protect the majority's right" has to be the up-is-down quote of the decade. 

Speaking of which, I noticed this quote, which saddened me:

Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) said the Catholic Democrats "have decided to stop letting others define us." But Tom McClusky, a Catholic who is acting vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council, predicted they would fail.

"What is at the core of being Catholic is the life issue, and that's something the pope has never strayed from," he said. "While other issues are important -- such as helping the poor, the death penalty, views on war -- these are things that aren't tenets of the Catholic Church."

That's sad for the Church and organized religion as a whole, to distill an entire message of love and compassion down to that.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Carol Leonnig Double Shot!

This enterprising writer from the Washington Post has two articles out today. First, a funny story. Remember that whole NSA spying story, you know, the New York Times revealed it after sitting on it for over a year? Turns out they weren't the only ones:

A classified document that an Islamic charity says is evidence of illegal government eavesdropping on its phone calls and e-mails was provided in 2004 to a Washington Post reporter, who returned it when the FBI demanded it back a few months later.

According to a source familiar with the case, the document indicated that the National Security Agency intercepted telephone conversations in the spring of 2004 between a director of the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and lawyers for the foundation in the District.

Al-Haramain, a Saudi group that once operated in Oregon, sued the Bush administration in federal court this week, alleging it was a victim of President Bush's secret domestic eavesdropping program. Its lawyers asked a judge to privately review the classified material, which the organization contends would help prove its claim [...]

At the same time, an attorney for al-Haramain, Wendell Belew, provided a copy of the document to Post reporter David B. Ottaway. Ottaway was researching Islamic groups and individuals who had been designated terrorists by the U.S. government and were attempting to prove their innocence.

In November 2004, FBI agents approached Belew, and soon thereafter Ottaway, saying that the government had mistakenly released the document. They demanded all copies back and warned that anyone who revealed its contents could be prosecuted.

Aside from showing that once again, reporters disseminate vital information to the public on a need-to-know basis, this document kind of proves that the "limited" NSA program was not so limited. I mean, this document suggests eavesdropping on conversations between a lawyer and a client. A client who is now suing the government. How long until the revelations of spying on journalists?

But that's not all from Ms. Leonnig. She also contributes to this lovely piece which patiently explains just how things go in the New America:

Bush administration lawyers, fighting a claim of torture by a Guantanamo Bay detainee, yesterday argued that the new law that bans cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees in U.S. custody does not apply to people held at the military prison.

In federal court yesterday and in legal filings, Justice Department lawyers contended that a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, cannot use legislation drafted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to challenge treatment that the detainee's lawyers described as "systematic torture."

Government lawyers have argued that another portion of that same law, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, removes general access to U.S. courts for all Guantanamo Bay captives. Therefore, they said, Mohammed Bawazir, a Yemeni national held since May 2002, cannot claim protection under the anti-torture provisions.

Well, we knew that when Lindsay Graham's sham of a "compromise" agreement got wiggled into the torture ban, that it essentially made it unenforceable. McCain got the best of both worlds: he got to say that he forced the White House to repudiate torture, without having to, you know, actually force them to do anything. If anything, his bill LOWERED detainee protections against torture.

This will go up the legal chain, I assume, and the only hope is to have that section of the law invalidated as unconstitutional (I can think of a lot of reasons; cruel and unusual punishment and the Geneva Conventions to which we are a signatory spring to mind).

Some days it just doesn't pay to get up in the morning... I'd thank Carol Leonnig for her writing if I wasn't pounding my head against the keyboard.


I've Now Thanked Obama Twice This Week

This is shrewd, in my opinion: (via The Carpetbagger Report)

Trying to jump-start gains in auto fuel efficiency after decades of inaction, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is proposing an unusual swap for the Big Three U.S. carmakers: Washington would pay some of Detroit's multibillion-dollar health costs in exchange for it making cars that get higher gasoline mileage.

The federal government would pay 10 percent of the $6.7 billion in annual health costs for retirees that are weighing down General Motors, Ford and Chrysler if they'll commit to building more fuel-efficient cars, Obama proposed in a speech Tuesday before a panel at the National Governors Association conference. He called it a "win-win proposal for the industry."

Normally I'd be against corporate welfare, but this is responsible corporate welfare (if there is such a thing) because 1) we get tangible benefits in the energy and environmental sectors in return, 2) we start to chip away at the notion that companies can shoulder the burden of soaring health care costs and remain competitive globally. It's simply not the case. GM has plenty of problems (a failure to innovate beyond the SUV in recent years being the big one) but the main drag on their bottom line right now is that they've become a giant HMO. The benefits they gave their workers at the time were sensible, but the rising costs soon made them ridiculous. And a single-payer health care system is the only way for them to compete, to say nothing of it being a moral imperative.

This is an incremental proposal, asking for CAFE standards to only rise 3% by 2008. But it's a start, everybody gets something they want, and the benefits far outweigh the costs. And, it puts us on the path to the right solution for the broken health care system.


I'd Like To Keep My Job, Please

A couple bloggers I respect are pushing the idea of "a la carte," pay-by-channel cable television, mainly because TV preachers are dead set against it.

The only reason I don't want to see a la carte cable because it would likely put me out of a job. Many, many cable networks would go out of business, primarily the niche ones. The religious programming would be propped up by donations, but the tennis channel, golf channel, videogame channel, and at least two dozen others would have to go. They wouldn't be able to attract advertisers with such meager numbers. If you're in 30 million homes you can say "we're in 30 million homes" even if nobody's watching. But you can't fake "we're in 150,000 homes!" Although if satellite remains the same (still the bulk of the subscription base for young channels) they might try to fake it. However, the end result of a la carte cable supposedly offering "more choices" would be less choices.

It would also be the end of any startup television, period. Name ID would be everything, and the new kids on the block wouldn't have a chance.

I see what these bloggers are sayin' but this would mean the loss of between 3 and 5 thousand jobs, conservatively, in what I like to call "the only manufacturing industry left in America." And it's not like it's welfare or something: advertisers are paying for the product.


Our (Inter)national Shame

Maryscott O'Connor (who I actually met a couple months ago) is absolutely right. Darfur has completely dropped off my radar screen; I haven't posted about it in six months, and that's recent compared to most blogs see. But it's as heartbreaking a tragedy as is happening in the world today.

Worse, we see the architects of this genocide as partners in the war on terror.

But this is not merely a national story. This is a failure among all free nations to step in and support Darfur from the merciless, thoughtless killing spree going on within its borders. With so much pre-emptive and strategic wars going on in the world, wars of humanitarian intervention have taken a back seat.

The New York Times' Nick Kristof has been a champion, trying to call the nation's attention to this madness. But he's been spitting into the wind. It seems hopeless and yet there is hope. The world can do so much to stop the killing in Darfur and bring the murderers to justice, IF THEY WOULD ONLY OPEN THEIR EYES.

Maryscott gives a laundry list of solutions:

First: Financial support for the African Union peacekeeping

Second: Expanded U.N. security force in Sudan

Third: Create no fly zone. Sudan is bombing its own people. Make it a no fly zone and tell them if they violate it we'll bomb the everloving SHIT out of their airplanes. Their AIR FORCE.

Fourth: The House should pass the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, which would impose sanctions and pressure on Sudan to stop the violence.

Fifth, Mr. Bush should use the bully pulpit. He should talk about Darfur in his speeches and invite survivors to the Oval Office. He should wear a green ''Save Darfur'' bracelet -- or how about getting a Darfur lawn sign for the White House? (Both are available, along with ideas for action, from He can call Hosni Mubarak and other Arab and African leaders and ask them to visit Darfur. He can call on China to stop underwriting this genocide.

Sixth, President Bush and Kofi Annan should jointly appoint a special envoy to negotiate with tribal sheiks. Colin Powell or James Baker III would be ideal in working with the sheiks and other parties to hammer out a peace deal. The envoy would choose a Sudanese chief of staff like Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, a leading Sudanese human rights activist who has been pushing just such a plan with the help of Human Rights First.

Our silence is killing innocent Sudanese who have done nothing but had the misfortune to live in the wrong country at the wrong time in history. It's a moral imperative. I support anyone who's willing to do what it takes to stop the killing in Darfur, right or left, liberal or conservative, foreign or domestic.

Thanks Maryscott. I won't forget again.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

You fight the battles worth fighting

The Patriot Act is going to be renewed. Sen. Feingold put up one hell of a fight against pretty impossible odds, and was able to force some concessions. Whether or not those concessions mean anything is a different story. But he raised awareness of the debate, and earned one admirer:

Sen. Robert Byrd, the dean of the Senate and its resident constitutional expert, counts only a few regrets in his 48-year Senate career: filibustering the 1964 Civil Rights Act, voting to expand the Vietnam War, deregulating airlines.

Add to the list a new one from this century: supporting the anti-terror USA Patriot Act after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"The original Patriot Act is a case study in the perils of speed, herd instinct and lack of vigilance when it comes to legislating in times of crisis," the West Virginia Democrat said Monday on the eve of the Senate's final votes on its renewal. "The Congress was stampeded, and the values of freedom, justice and equality received a trampling in the headlong rush." [...]

His position allies him with Sen. Russell Feingold, a relative Senate newcomer who nonetheless foresaw potential problems with the original Patriot Act before Byrd or any other member of the Senate. In 2001, Feingold, D-Wis., cast the lone vote against the new terror-fighting law.

"I wish I had voted as he did," Byrd lamented on the Senate floor.

Taking principled stances, whether popular or unpopular, will help revive the brand of the Democratic Party. Russ Feingold is simply not concerned about how vote will poll, or how it will play to security moms, or whether it will give Republicans an opening to say that he has been hijacked by "the far left issue groups." If he did, he wouldn't have been that one lonely senator casting his vote against the Patriot Act in 2001. Russ Feingold cares about principle. He believes in respecting Americans' civil liberties and is wary of federal power. He believes in the Constitution. Hell, he READ IT, the entire goddamn thing, with the amendments, on the Senate floor yesterday. He also said this:

I am disappointed in this result obviously but I believe this fight has been worth making and my dedication to changing the Patriot Act is as strong now as it has ever been. We have made some progress since October 2001. The public understands the issues better and I think many of my colleagues do too.

Even just a few days ago, I was heartened when the senator from Pennsylvania, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the foremost proponent of the conference report, actually announced that he would essentially take the four amendments that I had opened to offer, the amendments that I was denied the right to offer here in the senate, and combine them into a bill that he will now seek to move through the judiciary committee and enact into law [...]

I want to start with the basic principles. Our nation's strength comes not only from our mighty economy and our unmatched military might but from our constitutional system and our reverence for the rule of law. That is what has kept us free for over two and a quarter centuries in our history as a nation. Millions of patriotic Americans love this country and support our military men and women in their difficult missions abroad but worry about the fate of our constitution here at home.

Our constitutional freedoms, our American values are what make our country worth fighting for as we strive to defeat the terrorists who threaten us. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are documents that we often talk about and less often actually pick up and reread. In light of their central importance to the debate about the Patriot Act, I thought it would be worth reading them today.

Then he went on to read the WHOLE constitution. You can listen to it here.

Feingold understands exactly how to get the Party on the right footing again; forget the consultants, forget the fears of looking "soft on terrorism" (because the other side will paint you that way no matter what), and simply fight for your principles. This quote says it all:

"If Democrats can't stand up on something like this when the president's poll numbers are 34 percent, I just wonder how much right we have to govern this country," Feingold said in an interview Tuesday. "You've got to show people you believe in something, not just that you're gaming the issues."

All Feingold needs is exposure and I think the American people would love him. He understands that you fight the battles worth fighting.

P.S. Indeed it is worth noting that Feingold DID force two months of delay, raised awareness, got concessions (however cosmetic) and received assurances from Judiciary Committee Chairman Specter for new hearings and new bills incorporating the amendments that go even further to protect civil liberties. It wasn't just taking a stand. He accomplished.

P.P.S. Watch Russ' podcast. He frames the issue perfectly.


Go Ciro!

Well, I finally got off my kiester and contributed to Ciro Rodriguez' campaign. He's running for Congress in Texas' 28th district against incumbent "Democrat" Henry Cuellar, who's been endorsed by the Club for Growth (their first-ever endorsement of a Republican). I've blogged about "The Mole" Cuellar here and here. Everyone and his mother is devoting resources to the March 7 race, a Democratic primary in a district with no Republican challenger. The Change to Win labor federation has launched ads, and NARAL has endorsed Ciro as well.

And polling suggests the trend is in Ciro's favor.

I was extremely happy to give some spare change to the race. Nothing will strengthen our party more than to have the Democrats we elect be real Democrats, committed to real progressive values.



Think Progress comes up with a huge find: a letter, publicly available at the "Combating Terrorism Center" website of the US Army, from al-Qaeda officials to the UAE. It dates from May of 2002. It warns the UAE of the consequences of cooperating in the war on terror, and delivers this quote:

"You are well aware that we have infiltrated your security, censorship, and monetary agencies along with other agencies that should not be mentioned."

Now, this could just be boasting on the part of Al Qaeda, a threat to the royals to stop whatever support they're giving to the West. However, there can be no doubt that this letter suggests what we all know: it would be so much EASIER for al Qaeda to infiltrate the UAE, who operate in a morality-free fire zone (as Randi Rhodes put it yesterday) when it comes to doing business. Now giving a state-owned subsidiary of a country like this access to port security sources and methods puts you one step closer to giving those resources to Al Qaeda.

I think reasonable people can still disagree about the effects of this deal, but stuff like this is going to continue to come out for the next 45 days in a drip-drip-drip fashion. The result is horrible for those who defend this policy of putting corporate interests above national security.



Today I've been amazed by several things people in government are saying out loud (like "bin Laden helped me.") Here's another one:

Dear Dr. Dobson,

This is just a short note to express my heartfelt thanks to you and the entire staff of Focus on the Family for your help and support in the past few challenging months. I would also greatly appreciate it if you would convey my appreciation to the good people from all parts of the country who wrote to tell me that they were praying for me and for my family during this period.

As I said when I spoke at my formal investiture at the White House last week, the prayers of so many people from around the country were a palpable and powerful force. As long as I serve on the Supreme Court, I will keep in mind the trust that has been placed in me.

I hope that we will have the opportunity to meet personally at some point in the future. In the meantime, my entire family and I hope that you and the Focus on the Family staff know how much we appreciate all that you have done.

Sincerely Yours,
Samuel Alito

Wow. Just... wow. Officials spend months claiming that this nominee is not in the pocket of the extreme right, and within weeks of his confirmation he out and out thanks the most extreme of the extremists? James Dobson has compared federal judges to Nazis and the KKK. He's at the head of making the federal judiciary as much an arm of fundamentalist religious elements as it is in Iran. I don't see how a member of an independent judiciary can have anything to do with him.

You really don't need any more proof of where Sam Alito's loyalties lie. I hope a copy of this letter gets faxed over to every Democratic Senator that voted for cloture.


Fresh Outrage

I actually don't think this is entirely new; NOAA's Max Mayfield warned the public (and presumably those in charge of emergency relief) several days before Hurricane Katrina made landfall that the consequences were likely to be dire. But having visual evidence tends to focus things:

In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.

Bush didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

The footage — along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press — show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.

This does kind of make you look like an idiot if you, say, go on TV a few days later and say "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees and then-Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.

"I'm concerned about ... their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.

These briefing went on and on for days. And yet the President didn't really have a sense of what was going on in New Orleans until he "saw TV reporters interviewing people who were screaming for help" four days after landfall.

This exchange between Tweedledee and Tweedledum (one of whom, incredibly, still has a job) is emblematic:

A relaxed (DHS secretary) Chertoff, sporting a polo shirt, weighed in from Washington at Homeland Security's operations center. He would later fly to Atlanta, outside of Katrina's reach, for a bird flu event. (ed. note: what kind of event? A welcoming event? A bird flu debutante's ball?)

One snippet captures a missed opportunity on Aug. 28 for the government to have dispatched active-duty military troops to the region to augment the National Guard.

Chertoff: "Are there any DOD assets that might be available? Have we reached out to them?"

Brown: "We have DOD assets over here at EOC (emergency operations center). They are fully engaged. And we are having those discussions with them now."

Chertoff: "Good job."

In fact, active duty troops weren't dispatched until days after the storm. And many states' National Guards had yet to be deployed to the region despite offers of assistance, and it took days before the Pentagon deployed active-duty personnel to help overwhelmed Guardsmen.

Mr. Chertoff, I believe the word you were looking for is "heckuva."

This was a disaster with several days' notice, and the feds couldn't get it together. Yesterday I blogged about Western governors pushing ahead with environmental policies in the absence of national leadership. This is another example of the Irrelevant Presidency. Nation, we're on our own.


Flaunting It

It's amazing that an American President would say this out loud:

Bush said there was intense discussion inside his campaign when the 15-minute (bin Laden) videotape was released (just before the 2004 election), which he described as "an interesting entry by our enemy."

"I thought it was going to help," Bush told the author. "I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn't want Bush to be the president, something must be right with Bush."

Here I figured it was all the phone banking Osama was doing into southwestern Ohio from his cell that put W. over the top.

So let's see... Bin Laden gets out alive at Tora Bora after we pull forces out to prepare for Iraq... his friends at the UAE and Pakistan subsequently become US allies, giving him a couple of hiding places... Bush then attacks Saddam, a major foe to bin Laden in the Arab world...

So out of gratitude, bin Laden puts out a tape 3 days before a close election, which Bush's spinners immediately define as "bin Laden doesn't want Bush to be President," leading him to victory...

These two clowns don't only need each other, they deserve each other.


Grand Old Police Blotter

I never got around to mentioning that Mitchell Wade, the defense contractor who bribed disgraced Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (and Cunningham had a frickin' bribe MENU) pleaded guilty in federal court last week. He also admitted to bribing others:

Wade, former president of defense contractor MZM Inc. in Washington, also acknowledged making nearly $80,000 in illegal campaign contributions in the names of MZM employees and their spouses to two other members of Congress, who were not identified. The lawmakers apparently were unaware the donations were illegal, according to court papers.

Surely they were unaware. I mean, when you get $32,000 worth of contributions, all from the same out-of-district city, from employees of the same company, all on the same day, that would never raise an eyebrow, right? How could they possibly fathom that it was coordinated?

Look, you don't bribe anybody unless they know about it. Otherwise it kind of defeats the purpose of a bribe.

The Congressmen in question have been alleged to be Virgil Goode of Virginia, and (surprise!) Cruella de Ville herself, Katherine Harris of Florida. She denied any knowledge and I believe that much in the same way that a firefighter denies any knowledge of smoke. By the way, MZM Inc., Wade's company, was Harris' largest contributor last cycle.

Cruella might be running for Senate for reasons we didn't expect; not to win there, but to get out of the House before she gets herself convicted.


Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bad Intelligence

Are we going to have to go through this again?

U.S. intelligence agencies repeatedly warned the White House beginning more than two years ago that the insurgency in Iraq had deep local roots, was likely to worsen and could lead to civil war, according to former senior intelligence officials who helped craft the reports.

Among the warnings, Knight Ridder has learned, was a major study, called a National Intelligence Estimate, completed in October 2003 that concluded that the insurgency was fueled by local conditions - not foreign terrorists- and drew strength from deep grievances, including the presence of U.S. troops.

The existence of the top-secret document, which was the subject of a bitter three-month debate among U.S. intelligence agencies, has not been previously disclosed to a wide public audience.

The reports received a cool reception from Bush administration policymakers at the White House and the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, according to the former officials, who discussed them publicly for the first time.

President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and others continued to describe the insurgency as a containable threat, posed mainly by former supporters of Saddam Hussein, criminals and non-Iraqi terrorists - even as the U.S. intelligence community was warning otherwise.

Robert Hutchings, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council from 2003 to 2005, said the October 2003 study was part of a "steady stream" of dozens of intelligence reports warning Bush and his top lieutenants that the insurgency was intensifying and expanding.

"Frankly, senior officials simply weren't ready to pay attention to analysis that didn't conform to their own optimistic scenarios," Hutchings said in a telephone interview.


A former senior U.S. official who participated in the process said that analysts at the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department's intelligence bureau all agreed that the insurgency posed a growing threat to stability in Iraq and to U.S. hopes for forming a new government and rebuilding the economy.

"This was stuff the White House and the Pentagon did not want to hear," the former official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They were constantly grumbling that the people who were writing these kind of downbeat assessments 'needed to get on the team,' 'were not team players' and were 'sitting up there (at CIA headquarters) in Langley sucking their thumbs.'"

Look, media, we KNOW that this Administration doesn't listen to differing viewpoints or negative assessments, all right? We know that they misuse intelligence, cherry-picking it to find the evidence that supports their worldview, and hiding the rest. We know that as a result, they made severe misjudgments in Iraq that led the country down a path to civil war.

We get it, capiche? SO STOP WRITING THESE STORIES! You're either with us or you're with the pessimists. Whose side are you on, anyway?


Lead, Follow, Or Get Out of the Way

6 Western governors have had it waiting for the President to get the message on climate change; they're doing something about it:

Half a dozen Western governors impatient for more federal action on global warming are mounting state campaigns to deal with climate change on their own...

"Under the Bush administration, the United States is ignoring the world's best scientists on climate change," says New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat named in polls as a possible presidential candidate. "The real action ... is at the state and local level."  

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer ordered a climate change advisory board to come up with recommendations by July 2007 to cut greenhouse gases.

Arizona's climate change panel will report by June 30. Oregon and Washington plan to adopt California's limits on auto tailpipe emissions, the strictest in the nation. An Oregon task force could limit power plant emissions.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has set targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and has asked a climate team to recommend by December how to make the cuts.

(Arnold) Schwarzenegger directed a "climate action team" in June to find ways to cut emissions by 2010, with further reductions by 2020. California's climate team is to release its plan in early March. Strategies may include a gasoline surcharge for research on alternative fuels and mandatory emissions reports by industries that generate carbon dioxide...

Oregon and Washington plan to adopt California's limits on auto tailpipe emissions, the strictest in the nation. Arizona established a climate change panel to come up with an action plan by June 30.

Seven states in the Northeast pledged in December to limit emissions from power plants. This month, the California Public Utilities Commission announced plans to cap such emissions as well. Mayors in 202 cities nationwide, led by Seattle's Greg Nickels, have pledged to meet emission goals spelled out in the Kyoto treaty.

State and local governments have always been a policy incubator for both sides of the aisle. This is significant that so many governors (and mayors; 202 of them!) are moving on this issue in the absence of federal leadership. They are by definition not as beholden to the interests who seek to limit federal policy. It's more signs of an Irrelevant Presidency as we move past 2006 and beyond. I strongly support these efforts in the West to get climate change under control. It should come as no surpriose that these states have some of the most open, pristine land in the country. They have the most at stake.


The Undercount

I was almost starting to exhale, thinking that there had been a slight pull back from the brink of civil war in Iraq. I heard enough talk of unity among leaders to have a glimmer of hope. But then I read this, which suggested that nobody's listening to these leaders anymore:

Grisly attacks and other sectarian violence unleashed by last week's bombing of a Shiite shrine have killed more than 1,300 Iraqis, making the past few days the deadliest of the war outside of major U.S. offensives, according to Baghdad's main morgue. The toll was more than three times higher than the figure previously reported by the U.S. military and the news media.

Hundreds of unclaimed dead lay at the morgue at midday Monday -- blood-caked men who had been shot, knifed, garroted or apparently suffocated by the plastic bags still over their heads. Many of the bodies were sprawled with their hands still bound -- and many of them had wound up at the morgue after what their families said was their abduction by the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

By Monday, violence between Sunnis and Shiites appeared to have eased. As Iraqi security forces patrolled, American troops offered measured support, in hopes of allowing the Iraqis to take charge and prevent further carnage.

But at the morgue, where the floor was crusted with dried blood, the evidence of the damage already done was clear. Iraqis arrived throughout the day, seeking family members and neighbors among the contorted bodies.

"And they say there is no sectarian war?" demanded one man. "What do you call this?"

Imagine 13,000 Americans killing each other in a couple weeks. Because that'd be the equivalent, from a population standpoint, to this round of violence. And the military simply has no idea what to do about it. No wonder so many of them want to get out. (why do the troops hate the troops?)

As the nation comes to grips with this failure, you're going to see a lot of recriminations, attempts to shift blame elsewhere. Whether it's time to blame the military brass or the all-powerful antiwar movement, everyone will be looking for a fall guy. thereisnospoon suggests it was a failure to care:

As we concentrate heavily on the horrible emerging violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites in Iraq, we must not forget WHY they are warring.  There's a lot more to it than religion.

It must be remembered that Sunnis and Shi'ites coexist rather peacefully throughout the rest of the Arab world.

Sectarian violence in Iraq today is an excuse to let out their frustrations with their lives...

Iraqis are rioting because 70% of them are UNEMPLOYED.

They are rioting because they have no water or electricity.  They are rioting because gasoline is ten times as expensive as it used to be.

I don't know if I completely agree with that assessment, but clearly there was a failure to care about turning Iraq into anything but a conservative/corporatocratic laboratory, complete with a 15% flat tax, massive deregulation of business, immunity for all US personnel to Iraqi law, and so on. It's really amazing what they tried to pull off. None of this worked, it inflamed the public after basic services couldn't be delivered, and as the occupation dragged on, so did anger and suffering.

This mindset is combined with a rather curious version of the flypaper strategy, which posits that as long as Muslims are killing each other, they can't kill us. To mask one's own fear with a ringing endorsement of ethnic cleansing is morally repugnant, and furthermore I don't think a regional battle between extremist factions in the Muslim world would make any part of the globe safer. There is no safety in chaos.


The Problem with Totalitarians, Pt. 2

I suspected that we'd find this out:

The parent company of a Dubai-based firm at the center of a political storm in the US over the purchase of American ports participates in the Arab boycott against Israel, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Yes, of course the boycott is still in place and is still enforced," Muhammad Rashid a-Din, a staff member of the Dubai Customs Department's Office for the Boycott of Israel, told the Post in a telephone interview.

"If a product contained even some components that were made in Israel, and you wanted to import it to Dubai, it would be a problem," he said.

Moreover, the Post found that the website for Dubai's Jebel Ali Free Zone Area, which is also part of the PCZC, advises importers that they will need to comply with the terms of the boycott.

In a section entitled "Frequently Asked Questions", the site lists six documents that are required in order to clear an item through the Dubai Customs Department. One of them, called a "Certificate of Origin," "is used by customs to confirm the country of origin and needs to be seen by the office which ensures any trade boycotts are enforced," according to the website.

On at least three separate occasions last year, the Post has learned, companies were fined by the US government's Office of Anti-boycott Compliance, an arm of the Commerce Department, on charges connected to boycott-related requests they had received from the Government of Dubai.

US law bars firms from complying with such requests or cooperating with attempts by Arab governments to boycott Israel.

It's not about anti-Arabism and it never was (at least not until politicians thought that'd be a good way to sell it to an easily led public). This is a government whose actions we should not substantiate by throwing dollars at their state-run corporations.

There are more grounded, practical reasons to why we should be cautious of this deal here. Add that to the new evidence that the Coast Guard voiced concerns over the deal. You know the Coast Guard; they're the ones who run security at the ports.

I don't think the White House is going to want 6 more weeks of this drip-drip-drip of bad news during the 45-day review. Look for this deal to be stuck in a file somewhere and thrown out to sea. Then maybe we won't have to hear idiots like Richard Cohen try to shrug off legitimate concerns by crying racism.


Monday, February 27, 2006

The Problem With Totalitarians

They think they can get everything they want. Like getting Lou Dobbs to shut up: (Heck, I'd like to do that sometimes, but it's called free speech!)

Dubai Ports World has actually refused to grant CNN any more interviews from Washington or London, and it's refused to allow CNN to videotape its operations in the United Arab Emirates or Hong Kong, if we were to show you the video on this broadcast. This is not the first time that Dubai Ports World has tried to silence me. Last week a spokesman for the public relations firm that represents the company, Mark Dennis, declared, "CNN won't shut up Lou Dobbs."

One can extrapolate all the different ways this way of thinking could manifest itself in port operations, but one thing is clear: it's not the way we do business in America. At least for the next 45 days.


Now That's What I'm Talking About

Thank you Senator Obama and Senator Lautenberg:

U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today announced he will introduce legislation to better secure one of the most vulnerable gaps in our homeland security-chemical plants.

"There may be no greater failure of our government than the fact that we have done almost nothing to secure one of America's most vulnerable targets - the 15,000 chemical plants in America," said Obama. "These chemical plants represent some of the most attractive targets for terrorists looking to cause widespread death and destruction. Unfortunately, at many of the chemical plants in our nation, the security is light, the facilities are easily entered, and the contents are deadly."

There are 110 facilities in the United States where a worst-case scenario attack on a chemical plant could threaten more than one million people, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Two of these facilities are within Chicago's city limits. Illinois has at least 10 facilities where a large-scale chemical release could threaten more than a million people, and an additional 20 facilities where such a release could threaten more than 100,000 people.

Despite this, security at chemical plants is completely voluntary by plant owners. There are no federal standards to require chemical plants to protect against terrorist attacks. While a number of plants have taken important steps to improve security, there are still major gaps, and there has never been a comprehensive security assessment of chemical plants across the country.

In Chicago, an investigative report by a local television station found major security problems at a number of Chicago plants including broken-down fencing near roads and unguarded access points that allowed people to walk right up to large chemical tanks.

"A successful strike on a chemical plant would require much less sophistication and fewer participants than the 9/11 terrorist plot and could cause a thousand times more devastation," Obama said. "Voluntary homeland security is simply not an option. If the protection of a potential terrorist target that could devastate the lives of millions isn't the federal government's business, nothing is."

Industrial chemicals, such as chlorine, phosgene, methyl bromide, hydrochloric and various other acids are routinely stored near cities in multi-ton quantities. These chemicals are extremely hazardous and several were used as weapons in World War I. An attack on toxic chemical plants is behind only biological and nuclear attacks in terms of possible loss of life, according to a 2002 Brookings Institution Report.

Senator Obama is joining Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to introduce tough legislation that would establish security requirements for chemical plants. The EPA and the Department of Homeland Security would identify high-priority chemical threats and establish security regulations. Each plant would have to conduct vulnerability assessments and develop a prevention, preparedness, and response plan. The Lautenberg- Obama legislation also would promote the use of safer technology in dealing with toxic chemicals.

"Even before the tragedy of 9/11, the security of the nation's chemical plants had come into serious question. Under the Bush Administration, this country's chemical plants have gone largely unprotected, giving terrorists the chance to launch an attack that could cause serious harm," said Senator Frank R. Lautenberg. "Congress must now act in the absence of leadership from President Bush. The safety of the American people is at stake. The Administration's deference to the oil and chemical industries has prevented strong, meaningful chemical security legislation from being enacted."

"Safety regulations can be implemented in a way that is flexible enough for the industry yet stringent enough to protect the American people," Senator Obama said. "It is long past time to put the security of our nation ahead of special interests or politics. Now is the time to act to protect our citizens."

I copied the entire press release because I think it's that important. At this time of heightened awareness on homeland security in the wake of the Dubai Ports World deal, it is crucial that Democrats continue to press the issue of keeping Americans safe. It's not exactly port security but it's in the same sphere. I'd really like to see a comprehensive "Protecting America" initiative that combines port, chemical plant, nuclear plant, and border security in one package.

This is sorely needed legislation that Obama and Lautenberg are bringing to the floor at precisely the right time. Thank them for their leadership, as I have.

Obama's office
Lautenberg's office


Keep the Foot on the Pedal

There will now be a second, 45-day review of the Dubai Ports World deal. It was supposedly intitiated by the company itself; that sounds ridiculous ("Please, investigate me again"), but whatever. I think the Administration has very clearly stated that they see nothing wrong with this deal going forward, so I don't see what an additional 45-day review will accomplish, especially when it's to be undertaken by the same group of people (the Committee on Foreign Investments in the US, or CFIUS) that approved the deal in the first place.

Chuck Schumer is set to introduce a bipartisan alternative, which would give Congress the findings of the CFIUS study and allow them to vote up or down on it. But I think the Democrats are actually missing an opportunity here. While this 45-day review takes place, and while port security is in the front burner of everyone's minds, it's time to propose another bill calling for additional safeguards at the seaports. DP World gaining management control is about POTENTIAL security problems, but there are plenty CURRENT security problems at our ports right now. It would be so easy to slide this debate over to those shortcomings while the nation's paying attention.

Democrats have pressed an advantage here, and Republican fissures helped sustain it. It's time to keep the foot on the pedal and force a vote on port security, if for no other reason than to get it on the record. In the process, we can highlight the dozen other times Democrats have proposed port security enhancements, only to be voted down. I don't think any politician up for re-election would dare try that now.

It's reasonable to disagree about the threat to having Dubai Ports World take control of these ports (I've had those disagreements over the past few days). It's not reasonable to disagree that the ports themselves are already insecure. It's time to take care of this once and for all. More than giving Democrats a legislative triumph on national security, it'll make us all more secure.


Street Fight

I saw the most overtly political of the 5 Academt Award-nominated films for Best Documentary over the weekend. It's called "Street Fight," and the study of the Newark, NJ mayoral race in 2002 has a lesson for all of us who wish to stop the status quo from continuingto rule the roost in the Democratic Party.

The major two candidates for mayor in Newark in 2002 were both Democrats. One, incumbent Sharpe James, was seeking his 5th term, and touting a "downtown Renaissance" in the city. The other, Cory Booker, was a 32 year-old Stanford, Oxford (Rhodes Scholar) and Yale Law School graduate, a city council member in his first term, who sought the mayoralty as an agent of change. The result was perhaps the ultimate matchup between the institutional machine and an outsider, with a large dose of racial politics thrown into the mix.


The James campaign systematically sought to alienate anyone in the city who sided with Cory Booker. Supporters would take down and paint over Booker campaign signage. Businesses with Booker signs in their windows would suddenly be cited for phantom violations and shut down. Some would be shaken down to contribute to the James campaign. The mayor called Booker "too white" (he's light-skinned), an agent of "The Republicans," "The Jews," "The KKK" (how does THAT match up?), and generally a carpetbagger who came to Newark to buy the election (James repeatedly overstated Booker's campaign war chest to make this insinuation). The filmmaker, Marshall Curry, was banned from Sharpe James' public events simply because he was also filming Booker. Booker's campaign headquarters was broken into and lists of supporters stolen. Campaign staff were threatened, the doors of their homes kicked in. Police show up at housing projects to bar Booker from campaigning. You name it, the James campaign did it.

And they won by about 3.500 votes.

Ultimately, you get the feeling that you "can't fight City Hall," especially one this powerful. The movie makes Newark look literally like a different world politically, a throwback to the time of Tammany Hall.

But there is a message of hope. Booker ran a smart and generally respectable campaign in the face of all of these tactics. There's a great scene where the campaign discusses whether or not to go negative at a crucial juncture, and eventually they do. It's an acknowledgement that you have to fight back, a moment of clarity for the "street fight" nature of politics. Ultimately, he was above the fray, trying to focus on the issues that mattered to his constituents.

I feel like this is something all of us in the netroots experience all the time. The establishment slanders us, disparages us as "beholden" to this or that far left cause, and fights to maintain power on their terms. The Sharpe James machine is obviously a pretty ugly example of Establishment power. But metaphorically speaking, the same issues are at play. Do we need new leadership in the Party? Fresh ideas? A removal of entrenched, out-of-touch interests who seek to reward themselves and their friends with the spoils of victory? Certainly. But to wrest power away will take a street fight. The consultants and elected members of the Establishment didn't get to where they are by accident. We need to be relentless in changing the party and making it fit for the future.

Here's what's interesting: this is all going to happen again. Cory Booker is running for mayor again in just 3 months; the election is May 9. And while nothing is official, it appears that Sharpe James will seek a sixth term as well. Maybe 2002 was too soon to crash the gate; 2006 might be just the right time.


Damned hippie Rumsfeld, making us lose this war...

Watch this and see if you can stomach Bill Kristol claiming that the reason Iraq is FUBAR is that Shock and Awe wasn't shocking and awesome enough:

BILL KRISTOL: There would not be civil war if Zarqawi had not spent the last 2 1/2 years – had ex-Saddamists with him, very skillfully going on the offensive slaughtering Shia in Karbala, now blowing up the mosque.

CHRIS WALLACE: They’re there. There are going to be more mosques to blow up. What do you do about the terrorists?

KRISTOL: Kill them. Defeat them.

CHRIS WALLACE: We’ve been trying.

KRISTOL: We’ve been trying, and our soldiers are doing terrifically, but we have not had a serious three-year effort to fight a war in Iraq as opposed to laying the preconditions for getting out.

CICI CONNELLY: I think that really begs the question then: what have we been doing over there for three-plus years? You say there hasn’t been a serious effort to rid that region of the terrorists. I just wonder what secretary Rumsfeld would say in response to that or all the U.S. soldiers who have been over there all this time.

KRISTOL: Secretary Rumsfeld’s plan was to draw down to 30,000 troops at the end of major activities.

This is the "throwing under the bus" moment for the conservative movement, which seeks to remain untarnished by the incompetence and arrogance of the war in Iraq. Watch this metastasize into blaming the all-powerful antiwar movement for shifting public opinion and undermining the effort (you know, the movement that gets coverage on CSPAN-3). It's Vietnam all over again; the generals weren't allowed to fight the war (even though the public statement is that the generals are given everything they need, and only they will determine troop levels, not politicians in Washington). The conservative movement, like a shark, must continue to move forward or it dies. Problems and failures are simply shrugged off, "Bush weas never on the team anyway."

I don't think it will work. There's too much public record of support from places like the Weekly Standard for them to completely disavow it. They should not be able to throw this down the memory hole along with everything else.


Well I Passed 8th Grade Math

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!

Who says we're getting stupider in this country? I struck a blow for American competitiveness!

Now I'll go back to editing shows for middling cable networks and writing silly jokes.

take the quiz


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Fairness Doctrine

Seriously, this is getting ridiculous. Republican John Warner, Republican Peter King and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger on Meet the Press? Is that the full range of American opinion this week?

I guess that if it's conservative, it's Meet the Press.

P.S. exhaustive study on the subject reveals that this is all too normal.