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

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Rove-r And Out

Jason Leopold rings the bell for Fitzo de Mayo:

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spent more than half a day Friday at the offices of Patton Boggs, the law firm representing Karl Rove.

During the course of that meeting, Fitzgerald served attorneys for former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove with an indictment charging the embattled White House official with perjury and lying to investigators related to his role in the CIA leak case, and instructed one of the attorneys to tell Rove that he has 24 hours to get his affairs in order, high level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said Saturday morning.

Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, did not return a call for comment. Sources said Fitzgerald was in Washington, DC, Friday and met with Luskin for about 15 hours to go over the charges against Rove, which include perjury and lying to investigators about how and when Rove discovered that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert CIA operative and whether he shared that information with reporters, sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said.

It was still unknown Saturday whether Fitzgerald charged Rove with a more serious obstruction of justice charge. Sources close to the case said Friday that it appeared very likely that an obstruction charge against Rove would be included with charges of perjury and lying to investigators.

Leopold has also said while tracking this case that up to 15 people could be indicted back in October, when only Scooter Libby was targeted. But this article is pretty believable, and given all we know what's been happening, with Rove's 5th appearance before the grand jury and Fitzgerald's stays in Washington, I think this is the real deal.

Furthermore, Newsweek (via Laura Rozen) notes that there are now hand-written notes from the Vice President with direect bearing on the case:

The role of Vice President Dick Cheney in the criminal case stemming from the outing of White House critic Joseph Wilson's CIA wife is likely to get fresh attention as a result of newly disclosed notes showing that Cheney personally asked whether Wilson had been sent by his wife on a "junket" to Africa.

Cheney's notes, written on the margins of a July 6, 2003 New York Times op-ed column by former ambassador Joseph Wilson, were included as part of a filing Friday night by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the perjury and obstruction case against ex-Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

The notes, Fitzgerald said in his filing, show that Cheney and Libby were "acutely focused" on the Wilson column and on rebutting his criticisms of the White House's handling of pre-Iraq war intelligence. [...]

In the margins of the op-ed, Cheney jotted out a series of questions that seemed to challenge many of Wilson's assertions as well as the legitimacy of his CIA sponsored trip to Africa: "Have they done this sort of thing before? Send an Amb. [sic] to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?"

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for Cheney's own notes to be made public. The notes-apparently obtained as a result of a grand jury subpoena-would appear to make Cheney an even more central witness than had been previously thought in the criminal probe. ...

It's so clear that this was an orchestrated attempt to ruin the Wilson family for daring to come up against the White House, and to send the entire CIA a message to shut their mouths or they'd suffer the same consequences. And now everybody's going to have to take a bite out of the shit sandwich created.

Bye, Karl. And your little immigration tack to the right on Monday isn't going to mean a damn thing when your face is all over the papers next week.


Rove's Depseration Move on Immigration

There is nothing Democrats should be more encouraged about than this Monday night speech where President Bush will likely announce the sending of troops to the Mexican border. Personally, I'm sick about it, as I see no way that it could end with anything less than a full-blown shooting war between the National Guard and brazen drug smugglers like those in Nuevo Laredo who killed the police chief moments after he was sworn in.

But what this really signals is a white flag from the Rove administration that the notion of a permanent Republican majority is over. Dead and buried. In the tank.

In the heady days of early 2002, the days of 90% approval ratings, the White House could safely ignore the border situation, be pleased by the fact that his corporatist mates were getting the cheap labor they needed, and push the rest of his agenda through. Key to that agenda was the sham idea of the compassionate conservative, the idea that was going to make Republicans the governing class of the country for the next several decades. President Rove has always been lauded for seeing three moves ahead on the chess board. All you have to do is look at Census Bureau statistics to realize that the Hispanic population growth was outpacing its counterparts, and that if Republicans could combine a winning share of the white vote with just a decent portion of that Hispanic vote, the coalition would be very hard to beat. That's why Candidate Bush was out singing the National Anthem in Spanish during campaign stops. That's why he waved the Mexican flag in Spanish-language campaign ads in 2004. That's why, despite a current disavowal of it from the White House press office, Bush often makes the attempt to speak Spanish. That may be why gay marriage issues were a key wedge in 2004, an attempt to play to the traditional family values that characterize the devoutly Catholic Mexican community.

That's why, until now, President Rove always spoke about guest-worker programs and respecting immigrants who want to come out of the shadows and work hard to feed their families. But as the anti-immigrant rhetoric gre outside of Washington, it became harder and harder to play it both ways: how to appease the corporatists that need the fresh crops of illegals they can pay $8 a day, while still appeasing the anti-immigrant "seal the border" crowd, and continue to come off to Latinos as acting in their interests?

When this issue wasn't a primary focus, it didn't matter. The best course of action was to ignore it. But as 90% fell to 29% (which is really amazing if you think about it) President Rove found himself with nowhere to run. The choice was simple: suffer a humiliating tidal wave of defeat in the 2006 midterms or find a wedge issue large enough to stop the bleeding.

This proposal to put guns and troops on the border is the outcome of that choice. It trades a short-term gain for a major long-term defeat. In a way it's an acceptance of that defeat, that the fractured coalition is not going to hold together in the long-term. The anti-immigrants are men easily led by this kind of symbolic "tough move," and the corporatists will still be able to get their cheap labor if the guest worker program with no earned legalization (in other words, indentured servitude) gets passed. But President Rove had to give something up. In the end he gave up the Latino vote, because it wouldn't help him in 2006. Of course, for the next 40 years, the nation may follow the lead of California and become almost permanently Democratic. But hell, Karl will be in jail by then, so what does he care?

He had to scale back his intentions, mainly because of the rank incompetence and failed policies this Administration has been running for the last 5 1/2 years. The game plan could not be about a permanent majority anymore. It had to be about self-preservation. It had to be about saving the Boy King's ass and the collective asses of those around him. It was time to wave the white flag, throw in with the hardcore base, and hope for the best.

Maybe if the war was going better, or the "booming economy" actually reached anybody in the working class (and you can always tell how the economy is doing among the grassroots by how much people are bitching about "them illegal aliens"), or if there weren't hookers at the Watergate and Target thieves in the policy shop or scandals all around, maybe then things would be different. They could play the same game of dividing on social issues while courting the Hispanic population and eke out a victory. But it couldn't happen.

At least it's out in the open now for the American people to understand. Do you want to live in a country where there are men with guns keeping people out (and keeping people in, too, for the undocumented already here the US becomes a giant prison where they toil in low-wage jobs while in many cases being separated from their families)? Or are we an inclusive society, which welcomes those who want to work hard and contribute to the American experiment? We'll let people choose up sides. In the meantime, we can sit back and understand that there will be no permanent Republican majority in this country, not now, not ever.


Friday, May 12, 2006


Mystery Pollster, who I normally appreciate, does a slipshod job talking about ABC/WaPo's "flash poll" that seeks to gauge opinion within 24 hours on a new aspect to a secret program, the extent of which certainly is not fully known. He's rightly assailed in the comments.

The poll, conducted on the telephone to ask respondents if they don't mind electronic monitoring of their telephone calls, was done hastily, in one night, had a +/- 5% margin of error (high for these kinds of polls), and fails to understand that the kind of people who would turn down giving their opinions in a survey seem to me to be exactly the kind of people who would be uncomfortable with all of their phone calls stored in some database.

Doing a poll on a complex and controversial program like this in a day is just sloppy. We saw with the earlier release of information in this NSA program that the initial polls show a majority in favor, followed by crowing from the right, only to erode as more and more information came out. A poll this early in the game has no value.

UPDATE: see also Greg Sargent's look at the loaded question-wording.


Busting Dusty

The FBI raids his home and office:

Federal agents Friday morning raided the home of Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who stepped down this week from the No. 3 post at the CIA amid accusations of improper ties to a defense contractor named as a co-conspirator in the bribery case of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

One agent told reporters that Foggo was not at the modest home in a quiet suburban neighborhood near the CIA's Langley headquarters and had not been detained. The agents refused to answer other questions about the raid, including what agencies were involved.

A neighbor said the agents arrived about 8 a.m. ET. A white Chevrolet van was backed up to the carport of the split-level brick home and, at one point, a man wearing latex gloves emerged from the house and went around the back.

Curiously, people still think this has nothing to do with the Porter Goss resignation. Uh-huh.


The Part Is The Whole

I've been trying to get my head around this whole NSA data mining operation. I think it's important not only to figure out what the government is doing but why. Why is this helpful to any effort on capturing terrorists? We have to understand the structures at work here.

Basically the government acquired a database of every phone call made on major telecommunications networks over the last several years (yes, that should kind of shock you). That data in and of itself isn't going to get you very far, seemingly. That I called my mother twice last week and four times the week before doesn't seem useful. Where that information goes is into a database that Gavin at Sadly No rightly calls "Enemyster." Bascially it's a large social-networking database that records through phone calls (and emails, text messages, web pages, IMs, etc.) links to terrorist suspects. If my mother talked to someone who talked to someone who talked to someone who talked to Mullah Omar, then I have a certain degree of separation to a suspect, and the more links I have, the more suspect I become.

To me this seems to create connections where none exist, considering everybody in the world is linked together in some way or other, and I could go on a massive wrong number-dialing spree and put my taint all over half the phone book. But the idea, it seems, is to take the suspects with the most connections and then eavesdrop on their conversations, without a warrant. Matthew Yglesias understands now why they didn't seek a warrant fro FISA, because the selection process for eavesdropping was tainted by this program that is very likely illegal:

If the idea was to spy on people with al-Qaeda connections, getting a warrant should have been easy. The problem is that the evidentiary basis for believing the people in question had al-Qaeda connections now turns out to have been illegally obtained evidence from the broader NSA program. And then the problem reiterates itself -- if the listening-in stage of the program reveals anything interesting, you can't use that in a court either. You can't use it to get further warrants, you can't use it as the basis of a prosecution, basically you can't use it at all. So if you want to act, you're going to need to do one of these detention-without-trials deals or maybe a "rendition" or a military tribunal or what have you. And then, once the guy's in custody, if he tells you anything you can't use that either. So the whole process starts again and soon enough there's an entire parallel justice system operating entirely in secret without any oversight or real rules.

Furthermore, this kind of data mining net, focusing on people who know people who know terrorists, is certainly going to sweep up the kind of people that are investigating terrorism... in other words, journalists. As Sadly No's Gavin says:

Christiane Amanpour, for instance, who is Iranian and is chief international correspondent for CNN, would have multiple, perhaps hundreds of high-interest connections lighting up the system like a Christmas tree. We've already heard an intriguing niblet about Amanpour being surveilled. Arianna Huffington, as well, is going to be all up in that shack. And that's where things get very, very interesting.

Here, you're the NSA. You can do this right now. Amanpour is married to James Rubin. Click on a name in James Rubin's profile. Then go to that page and click another name, and so on.

Checking out every single person in the world to find maybe 5,000 terrorists is also woefully inefficient; "If you're looking for a needle, making the haystack bigger is counterintuitive. It just doesn't make sense," as the man at the link says. And it goes against every wack-nut Republican's notion that if we just profiled for Arabs we'd have the problem solved in a few minutes. But I don't expect consistency.

One thing we do know is that this is not a limited program. And that as it continues to unspool we're going to learn just how much more expansive it is. The President and Attorney General have been intentionally misleading the public about this for the last 5 months. If they continue to do so, it's going to only get worse.

P.S. This WaPo article has some good stuff, including a reminder that none of this illegal activity really amounted to anything, presumably:

After the New York Times disclosed the eavesdropping in December, the White House dubbed it a "terrorist surveillance program" and said it involved only international communications by people with "known links" to al-Qaeda and its allies. The Washington Post reported in February that about 5,000 Americans had been subject to eavesdropping under the program and that nearly all of them had been cleared of suspicion.


I Hope It's a Light News Day

Because I'm not going to have much time to comment. Deadlines and all. DON'T LET THIS BE ROVE INDICTMENT DAY!

I will have a substantial post on the NSA deal up later.

In the meantime, you can read read this insanity about how everybody's getting along so well in Iraq that a cell phone ringtone sparked a fistfight in Parliament. National unity government, you see. (which is losing its unity as a major Shia group backs out. Still no government, incidentally.)

And Tony Snow is off to a rousing start, I see. He's also taken to proactively criticizing selected stories in the press. That'll change the tone.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Ninja Explains All

Save the internet, in the name of the poor Hot Dog on a Stick chicks making lemonade.

Save the Internet also has a MySpace profile.

The future of activism is not just going to be writing letters, but innovative techniques like these. I mean, as long as we have a free Internet to use.

This fight is just beginning. Call your congresscritter, if you haven't yet.


Wherein I Bash Democrats and Praise Republicans (a.k.a. The Bizarro World)

Howard Dean had no business trying this gambit and it hurts the "common good" message, plus he looks like a screw-up:

In a Christian Broadcasting Network interview aired on Wednesday, May 10, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said the following in response to a question about gay marriage:

"[On] gay marriage: the platform said marriage is between a man and a woman. That's what it says. I think where we may take exception with some religious leaders is we believe in inclusion. That everybody deserves to live with dignity and respect and equal rights under the law are important. I'm not saying we'll agree with everything between the more conservative evangelicals and Democrats but I think there's more common ground and we're willing to work with the evangelical community." [CBN, 5/10/06]

Dean today issued the following statement:

"I misstated the Democratic Party's platform, which does not say that marriage should be limited to a man and a woman, but says the Party is committed to full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of our nation and leaves the issue to the states to decide. The Democratic Party remains committed to equal protection under the law for all Americans. How we achieve that goal continues to be the subject of a contentious debate, but our Party continues to oppose constitutional amendments that seek to short circuit the debate on how to achieve equality for all Americans."

I don't know why he's trying to reach a group that won't believe him and is likely unreachable for Democrats to begin with. And if he's going to try, he should have his facts straight. This just perpetuates the "say anything to get elected" theme that Republicans use often. Don't move to the mushy middle, Howard: state your beliefs and make sure their consistent with the Democratic brand (once, you know, you come up with what that brand is).

I don't see a mass of Pat Robertson Democrats just itching to show their true colors, either. This is just awful politics.

In addition, while I've been pretty relentless on Bush today, I have to give him credit if he really did have anything to do with breaking the impasse on the immigration bill:

A broad immigration bill that could provide millions of illegal immigrants a chance to become American citizens was revived Thursday when Senate leaders reached a deal.

The lawmakers said they'll try to pass it before Memorial Day [...]

It would be the most comprehensive rewrite of immigration laws since the so-called Simpson-Mazzoli bill some 20 years ago.

Reid acknowledged on the Senate floor Thursday morning that he "didn't get everything that I wanted" in the agreement, but said Frist didn't either. Reaching the agreement is "not easy with the political atmosphere," Reid said [...]

President Bush had helped accelerate progress on the bill after meeting with a bipartisan group of senators last month and stating clearer support for allowing illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

A serious, bipartisan approach to immigration reform is certainly needed, and no matter what the reasons for getting there, anyone willing to engage in compromise in the polarizing atmosphere of Washington deserves some gratitude. Apparently a substantial amount of Democrats will be in the conference committee (many hand-picked by Reid) to help ensure that there won't be any backroom dealing. I'll withhold judgment on the bill until I see the final committee report.

Of course, I can't allow this to be a complete Bizarro world post, as I have to mention the fact that another 70 billion dollars has been taken from future generations today to give to rich people.


Grand Old Police Blotter, Take 984

Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling may have seen their defense go up in smoke yesterday when the judge in the case ruled that "deliberate ignorance" was not a justifiable defense. As if there was a question. "Your honor, I couldn't have defrauded my investors because I told everyone not to tell me ANYTHING about the company! Just because I told the investors the company was going great when it was about to collapse, I'm not guilty, I'm just ignorant by design!"

And the Republican governor of Kentucky was indicted today on three counts of illegally conspiring to hire or fire state workers based on their political affiliations. Which means that he's in line to be the next HUD Secretary.

If I can have a word with the RNC, could you please tell your guys to slow down with the lawbreaking? It's just very hard to keep up with the blogging. It's eating into my personal time. Smack those guys into shape.


Running into the Arms of Terrorists

Asked what it would take to begin talks with the United States to resolve the standoff, Ahmadinejad told Metro TV that Iran "is ready to engage in dialogue with anybody."

"There are no limits to our dialogue," Ahmadinejad told Metro TV station. "But if someone points a weapon at your face and says you must speak, will you do that?"

I think Ahmadinejad is talking for himself, and I'm a little disturbed by the media's insistence on focusing on him, as he controls neither the government or the military in Iran.

And it's more disturbing that he got such a good response in the largest Muslim country on Earth, the nominally moderate nation of Indonesia:

The students who crammed into auditoriums at the Islamic University and, earlier in the day at the University of Indonesia, applauded Ahmadinejad enthusiastically and listened intently throughout his 60- to 90-minute speeches.

They held signs saying "Iran in our Hearts," and "Nuclear for Peace," and some praised him for not wavering in the face of opposition from the United States.

"I loved him, he was very charismatic," said a first-year economics student who identified herself as Deslina. "If it comes to that, they should go to war. If I could, I would fight the United States."

Nobody wants war over this except the most committed neocons. And they're doing the best they can to drive all of the Islamic world into the arms of the terrorists. That would prove their theories about Islam, which are no different than the Wahhabist death cult rhetoric of bin Laden. "Every Muslim wants dominion over the globe," they say. And to prove it, they elminate any possibility for moderation. It's a vicious circle that will lead to the clash of civilizations they desire if we don't keep paying attention.


This Is China

Reading former FCC Commissioner Reed Hundt's take on the NSA story I'm struck by this paragraph:

No one should imagine that what NSA has done, if reports are accurate, is normal behavior or standard procedure in the interaction between a private communications network and the government. In an authoritarian country without a bill of rights and with state ownership of the communications network, such eavesdropping by people and computers is assumed to exist. But in the United States it is assumed not to occur, except under very carefully defined circumstances that, according to reports, were not present as NSA allegedly arm-twisted telephone companies into compliance. That is a topic that can't be avoided in the general's hearing, if he gets that far.

This is what the Chinese government does when they shut down Google searches or censor material written by their citizens. They have state-run control of the telecommunications services, and compliance agreements with the Internet service providers and their attendant dot-com companies. In fact, this is EXACTLY what the right was shrieking abiout lately, when it was revealed that Google and Microsoft had knuckled under to Chinese censors to elminate certain searches from coming up in the Chinese versions of their search engines. Authoritarian control should be resisted, they said. Of course, when it's our country doing the deals with the telcos to monitor tens of millions of Americans, that's suddenly OK. I've seen them try to relate this to what comes on your phone bill, which is nuts. The argument there is that the NSA is collecting all this information simply for safe keeping, that they plan to store it and never look at it again. Wrong. They're gill-netting, running the data through sophisticated databasing software looking for patterns. Of course, the patterns could be the word "terrorist," or they could be the phrase "Democratic National Committee." It's hardly paranoid to suggest that since that's exactly the kind of lawbreaking that caused FISA to be organized in the first place. It's happened before, there's no reason to think that it couldn't happen again.

Furthermore, there are laws that this activity expressly violates, like this one:

1986: electronic communications privacy act
Protects the privacy of electronic communications and transactional data such as telephone records.

The government simply is not allowed to do this. Violating laws in the name of terrorism basically turns this into a police state.


As If This Wasn't Enough

Didja know that the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee is under investigation?

Federal prosecutors have begun an investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis, the Californian who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, government officials and others said, signaling the spread of a San Diego corruption probe.

The U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles has issued subpoenas in an investigation into the relationship between Lewis (R-Redlands) and a Washington lobbyist linked to disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe), three people familiar with the investigation said.

The investigation is part of an expanding federal probe stemming from Cunningham's conviction for accepting $2.4 million in bribes and favors from defense contractors, according to the three sources.

Hey LAAAADDDYYY!!! (that's the best Jerry Lewis impression that can be done with typing) Thank you for the money and the illegal gifts and the hookers and the paying off and the partying and the fat-catting...



He's filed an amicus brief in two cases challenging the illegal NSA domestic spying. 71 Democratic Congressmen co-signed it. He cites the former NSA Director Bobby Ray Inman who has said this:

"This activity is not authorized," Inman said, as part of a panel discussion on eavesdropping that was sponsored by The New York Public Library. The Bush administration "need(s) to get away from the idea that they can continue doing it."

The Right is trying to make Conyers into a boogeyman because he actually understands his job description, a large part of which is providing oversight.

... and, here's Matthew Yglesias:

It's important to link this up to the broader chain. One thing the Bush administration says it can do with this meta-data is to start tapping your calls and listening in, without getting a warrant from anyone. Having listened in on your calls, the administration asserts that if it doesn't like what it hears, it has the authority to detain you indefinitely without trial or charges, torture you until you confess or implicate others, extradite you to a Third World country to be tortured, ship you to a secret prison facility in Eastern Europe, or all of the above. If, having kidnapped and tortured you, the administration determines you were innocent after all, you'll be dumped without papers somewhere in Albania left to fend for yourself.

Pre-9/11 mindset!



I don't think I believe the President when he says this data mining progream is limited, because at the end of the statement today, he said, "I just want to say one thing to Brent Washington of Dover, Delaware... Tammy isn't coming back, all right? It's over! Your buddy Mike's sick of hearing about it, and frankly, I'm sick of hearing about it too! Move on! Jamie was giving you signals at the party last week, she was telling Suzanne all about it!"

OK, he didn't. But he might as well. Now I think I've figured out why he's on vacation so damn much. There's a lot of listening to be done while clearing brush. I hop my calls are on his iPod playlist!


Stopping Oversight

I could just as easily made this another update to the data mining bombshell, but this story from yesterday shows exactly what the White House's game plan is to combat the criticism: maintain that it's legal while stopping anyone from investigating it:

The government has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the National Security Agency refused to grant Justice Department lawyers the necessary security clearance to probe the matter.

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR, sent a fax to Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., on Wednesday saying they were closing their inquiry because without clearance their lawyers cannot examine Justice lawyers' role in the program.

"We have been unable to make any meaningful progress in our investigation because OPR has been denied security clearances for access to information about the NSA program," OPR counsel H. Marshall Jarrett wrote to Hinchey. Hinchey's office shared the letter with The Associated Press. [...]

Hinchey is one of many House Democrats who have been highly critical of the domestic eavesdropping program first revealed in December. He said lawmakers would push to find out who at the NSA denied the Justice Department lawyers security clearance.

"This administration thinks they can just violate any law they want, and they've created a culture of fear to try to get away with that. It's up to us to stand up to them," said Hinchey.

And now that more information is out there, the public will be more wary of their excuses. But if nobody can get security clearance, nobody can investigate. This is the definition of a stone wall.


Mr. President, Tear Down This Database!

Today's revelation that untold millions of domestic telephone calls have been secretly stored in NSA databases didn't strike me as surprising. You just knew that there was more to the program than the supposedly "limited" nature which the White House and its defenders were claiming. In fact, Attorney General Abu Gonzales kind of let the cat out of the bag on this about a month ago in an open House hearing when he said "I wouldn't rule it out" when asked if the President has authority to monitor domestic wiretaps without a warrant. Clearly this White House thinks there is no check on the power of the executive branch in a time of war (a war undeclared by Congress). So this report is nothing more than confirmation of that arrogant, anti-democratic stance.

The President is breaking the law, willfully and without any remorse. He again said today that it's limited and they're not "trolling through the private lives of innocent Americans." Well, then that means we have at least 10 million Al Qaeda members or their sympathizers in the country, in which case we're all screwed. But since that's almost entirely impossible, what the President is doing here is lying. Or at least hiding the truth.

I wouldn't be surprised if the actual number of Americans in that database is PERFECTLY EQUIVALENT to the number of Americans that voted for John Kerry. It'd just be an AMAZING coincidence.

Nixon must be looking up from hell at these guys and thinking, "Well, jumping Jehosophat, even I only bugged a few people and broke into a guy's psychiatrist's office! Be discreet, you maniacs!"

And am I the only one that sees the proposed giveaway to telecom companies in the bill calling for the destruction of "network neutrality" as a giant payback? "OK, thanks for the millions of phone call information, now here's your payoff." That such a bill is orchestrated by Bush's minions in Congress lends creedence to that scenario. Pelosi is pushing against this kickback and the telcos are majorly pissed about it. After all, they're OWED this.

There's a big court battle right now over opening up VOIP services like Vonage (which I have) to this data mining as well. That court challenge could be where the precedent is set that walks this whole thing back. In the meantime, the President must stop this program, which violates civil liberties and is rife with potential for abuse. It is not our duty as Americans to blindly trust the government to work benignly. The Founders distrusted powerful people in powerful places, and created checks on their power. To circumvent them is to end this system of government as we know it, the greatest system of government the world has known.

UPDATE: Qwest Communications, the only telco unwilling to make this Faustian bargain with the NSA, may have been offered bribes to do so:

Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.

In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.

UPDATE 2: The man who ran the NSA when this program was implemented was the nominee for CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden, and according to his own words he personally met with telco executives to get the program going.

I have met personally with prominent corporate executive officers. (One senior executive confided that the data management needs we outlined to him were larger than any he had previously seen). [...] And last week we cemented a deal with another corporate giant to jointly develop a system to mine data that helps us learn about our targets.

He cannot be allowed to remain in government.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Zombie Lies on Iraq

One of the more persistent mischaracterizations we hear from the Right side of our little virtual world is how each passing month in Iraq brings incredible progress. Since it's been that way since April of 2003, if you believed their rhetoric you'd imagine Baghdad was paved in Elgin marble, and the streets were filled with cool bars and record stores, and hot and cold-running oil fountains.

In that spirit we have this report by "All Things Conservative," linked approvingly with a grunt by the Insta-Hack and elsewhere on the Right. The author, Bill Crawford, picks and chooses from a Brookings Institution report on Iraq to make the assessment that "things are improving." As we all know, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. And this condensation of a 50-page report to a few bullet points is a great example of that axiom.

For example, more US soldiers died in April than in the previous six, and May is trending on a par with April. The wounded numbers have been ticking up since January. Out of that data we get this:

The number of U.S. military wounded has declined significantly from a high of 1,397 in November 2004 to 430 in April of this year.

This is what this guy does with every statistic, picking the highest possible month (no matter how long ago it happened, or what current trends reflect) and relating the current statistics to that. It's an obvious statistical trick, and it's meaningless. Here are other examples:

Iraqi military casualties were 201 in April of 2006, after peaking at 304 in July of 2005. (April was the highest month, by a small margin, since last October)
From May 2003 and April 2006, between 1,000 and 3,000 anti-Iraqi forces have been killed each month. (the note admits this is a rough estimate, and the number of estimated insurgents, in a later chart, never changes; typical "winning wars through body counts" logic we've seen since Vietnam)
The number of foreign terrorists fighting in Iraq was estimated at between 300 and 500 in January 2004. That number increased in April of this year, to between 700 and 2,000. (That's been the same estimated number since September 2005)
Actionable tips from Iraqis have increased every month this year. In January, 4,025 tips were received; February, 4,235; and March, 4,578. (the month before his arbitrary cutoff was 4,700)
Crude oil production reached 2.14 million barrels a day (MBD) in April of this year. It had dropped to 0.3 MBD in May of 2003. (it was up to 2.1 million by November 2003, and hasn't moved an inch)
Revenues from oil export have only slightly increased from pre-war levels of $0.2 billion, to $0.62 billion in April. (actually, it decreased dramatically in April, from over 2 billion to 0.62. Actually it's alarming)
The unemployment rate in June of 2003 was 50-60%, and in April of this year it had dropped to 25-40%. (hasn't changed since January 2005, and I'm supposed to be thrilled that the country has ONLY 40% unemployment?)

Meanwhile not one quality-of-life statistic is at the stated goal level, or at its pre-war level, from what I see. Nevertheless, the facts have been spun into a "Glory be to Iraq" cheerleading post.

Crawford also pulls out two selective stats from a January 2006 poll (right after the election, for which there is still no government, and before the bombing of the Golden Dome in Samarra, mind you) to "prove" that Iraqis think the country is headed in the right direction. No mention of the 87% of Iraqis that support a timeline for a US withdrawal, or that 47% support attacks on US forces. Or that the "right direction/wrong direction" numbers are almost as low as at any time in the entire occupation (and this was before the rise in sectarian strife).

And, the report indicates that there are still 75 daily insurgent attacks, almost a car bomb a day, gas lines are still an hour long, there are practically no Iraqi doctors in the country, and the Per Capita GDP (USD) for 2005 is $1,051 (that's a POSITIVE stat to Crawford). And this is three years into the war.

I should also add that there are no statistics in Crawford's glowing study reflecting the real problem these days in Iraq, which is sectarian strife between Sunni and Shiite civilians. There was a report today that 1,100 executions occurred in Baghdad alone in April. Executions of this type don't even turn up in the Brookings study, as far as I can gather. But this statistic from page 16 is significant:

January 2004 2 per day in Baghdad
December 2004 10 per day in Baghdad
December 2005 Up to 30 per day nationwide
March 2006 30-40 per day nationwide

And the note beside it says that "The numbers on this table may be lower than the actual number of kidnappings as the Iraqi
Police suggests that kidnappings are widely underreported."

But my favorite parts of this dishonest post are in the comments. This exchange gives you the same answer Bill Crawford would give me if confronted by these inconvenient facts:

Wow, only 22 car bombs last month. That's less than 1 per day!

Posted by: ab | May 10, 2006 at 02:48 PM

Thanks for the comment ab. Perhaps you didn't notice that I said "progress" was being made, not that Iraq had achieved some state of perfection.

Posted by: Bill Crawford | May 10, 2006 at 03:03 PM

Hey, nobody's perfect! Democracy's messy! Three years goes by in the blink of an eye!

This gives you a good idea of the mentality of the Bush defenders, who simply can't tramsmit bad information:

In other news, 150 Americans dies on the highways today, their scattered remains littering the streets, the lives of their loved ones shattered.

Wished the media would report the daily automobile death count like they do Iraq - would be a lot less traffic.

Posted by: NoDonkey | May 10, 2006 at 03:12 PM

Well said, "NoDonkey." Shucks, 43 THOUSAND (yeah, you read right) people die each year on our highways and approximately 3 MILLION are injured in some way, shape, or form. Approximately 60 percent of these folks are of military age (16-44).

Don't even get me started on firearms incidents or easily preventable home accidents:

Therefore, dangerous as Iraq may be, our troops have a statistically better chance of dying a pointless death in an auto accident or alcohol-related firearms incident, on any given Saturday night.

Posted by: Mark Jaeger | May 10, 2006 at 04:54 PM

There are ten times as many people in the United States as there are in Iraq. This is from the Brit Hume school of ludicrous comparisons. The notion that soldiers are in as much danger in Iraq as they would be on our nation's roads is offensive and asinine.

And here's something from the Buck Turgidson "I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed" school:

Some other numbers to consider:

Under Saddam, an average of at least 83,000 people per year were murdered by the state (conservatively). The war and three years of occupation together have cost less than 50,000 lives by most estimates, while delivering a measure of freedom and democracy virtually unknown in the Mideast.

By that measure, the war has saved over 200,000 lives while freeing 25 million.

Posted by: TallDave | May 10, 2006 at 05:47 PM

The US government estimates a total of 300,000 murders over 25 years of despotic rule. That's horrible, and it hasn't materially changed. Even using the 50,000 number over 3 years, you end up with 400,000 total deaths over the same span.

It's tiresome to have to continue to refute this crap. This spin is sadly predictable, but that doesn't mean we should ignore it. These zombie lies that everything is peachy keen in Iraq is obviously proven false by the reports and images coming out of the country. Americans aren't stupid. However, if we take our eye off the ball and let these go unquestioned we risk this ludicrous distortions from making their way into the conventional narrative. That should not be allowed.


GOP '08 Frontrunners Dropping Like Flies

When I heard that thumbsucker Joe Klein speak a couple weeks ago I distinctly remember him defending John McCain for going to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University to speak because it's good for candidates to "go to their enemies and tell them why you disagree with them." He assumed that McCain would pick a fight after accepting the commencement speech invitation. I wonder what he thinks now that McCain has said this:

Known for his maverick streak, McCain has been burnishing his conservative credentials in recent months as he readies a likely White House run. As part of that effort, he'll deliver the commencement address at the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University on Saturday - an opportunity he described Tuesday as "an honor."

He's not going to engage anybody. He won't even address the points of difference. To suggest otherwise is absurd.

Meanwhile, McCain went into red-state Nebraska and gave his endorsement to the man who everyone considered the most popular politician in the state, former Husker coach Tom Osborne. McCain's imprimatur must mean a lot. Osborne promptly lost the primary. Matt Stoller has more.

So put McCain on the fire along with George Allen and his love of all things Confederate and Bill Frist and his persistent legislative state. (By the way, upon googling that I realized that Will Saletan and Lindsay Beyerstein used that about a year ago during the Schiavo brouhaha. I'm in good company, I guess).

It's going to be bad enough for the GOP just getting to 2008. This suggests it might be worse when they arrive.


Some Facts on Health Care

Bill Frist, he of the persistent legislative state, has christened this Health Care Week in the Senate. He obviously came up with the name before getting a vote count on his medical malpractice bills, which failed again, twice. Similarly, Michael Enzi's bill that would reduce coverage for the majority of Americans on a number of routine procedures is wilting on the floor, and Enzi's struggling to walk the bill back before it gets thrown out altogether.

In this environment I thought it'd be instructive to look at some of the real health care problems in the country, rather than the Republican ideas that we have too much coverage and it's all the lawyers' fault. I've collected a number of articles over the past week to illustrate these points.

-The Medicare Part D program is nearing a May 15 deadline for signup that will affect seniors who do not enroll FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIFE with penalties and fees. This is despite the fact that the plan is extremely confusing and a recent finding showed the Medicare helpline is extremely unhelpful.

Federal investigators posing as senior citizens found that Medicare's operators routinely failed to give callers accurate and complete information about the government's new drug benefit, prompting Democratic critics of the Bush administration program to again request an extension of an approaching enrollment deadline.

The investigators said that about one-third of their calls resulted in faulty responses or no response at all because of disconnected calls. The accuracy rates varied a great deal based on the question, but when it came to one of the most important questions, operators provided the right answer only 41 percent of the time. That question concerned which drug plan cost the least for a beneficiary based on certain drug needs.

Despite this the President has rejected any call to extend the deadline for the 7 million eligible seniors currently not enrolled.

-If the seniors can't get basic answers to how to sign up for Medicare Part D, you can be sure they have no idea that this is coming:

Beneficiaries are going to start paying 100 percent rather than 25 percent of their drug expenses once those expenses reach $2,250, and most seniors at risk will be hitting that lower limit close to Election Day.

Some benefit.

-Meanwhile, you would think that since we pay more for health care than any other nation, our overall health would be greater as well. Not so much.

White, middle-aged Americans -- even those who are rich -- are far less healthy than their peers in England, according to stunning new research that erases misconceptions and has experts scratching their heads.

Americans had higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, lung disease and cancer -- findings that held true no matter what income or education level.

Those dismal results are despite the fact that U.S. health care spending is double what England spends on each of its citizens.

The upper crust in both countries was healthier than middle-class and low-income people in the same country. But richer Americans' health status resembled the health of the low-income English.

Anti-universal health care advocates routinely denigrate the quality of care in England and other nationalized countries. This data seems to disagree.

-So the health care we're getting is more expensive, probably because there are so many middlemen, and less effective. What about the health care we're NOT getting? I'm talking about the 40+ million people who aren't covered by insurance. I'm sure that has a lot to do with this story:

Poor women in America are increasingly likely to have unwanted pregnancies, whereas relatively affluent women are succeeding more and more in getting pregnant only when they want to, according to a study analyzing federal statistics.

Based on nationwide data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics and other sources, the researchers found that from 1994 through 2001, the rate of unplanned pregnancies increased by almost 30 percent for women below the federal poverty line -- now defined as $16,000 annually for a family of three. For women in families comfortably above poverty, the rate of unplanned pregnancies fell by 20 percent during the same period.

The abortion rate also rose among poor women while declining among the more affluent.

Asked what was driving the trends, the authors noted that some state and federal reproductive health programs have been cut or made more restrictive in recent years. State and federal programs have increasingly focused on abstinence rather than contraception, and some analysts have argued that the shift is leading to less use of contraceptives and more unintended pregnancies.

This is cheery to social conservatives who preach abstinence-only education (which doesn't work, we learned this week). But it's also great for economic conservatives, who offer less and less education and health programs to the poor, keeping them ignorant about how to manage family planning.

-And inevitably, at the confluence of those two roads, it leads to this:

An estimated 2 million babies die within their first 24 hours each year worldwide and the United States has the second worst newborn mortality rate in the developed world, according to a new report.

American babies are three times more likely to die in their first month as children born in Japan, and newborn mortality is 2.5 times higher in the United States than in Finland, Iceland or Norway, Save the Children researchers found.

Only Latvia, with six deaths per 1,000 live births, has a higher death rate for newborns than the United States, which is tied near the bottom of industrialized nations with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with five deaths per 1,000 births.

So, more poor people are getting pregnant, they lack access to health care, and the result is more babies dying at birth. Anyone else see the causalities there?

The newborn mortality rate in the United States has fallen in recent decades, the report said, but continues to affect minorities disproportionately.

Only 17 percent of all U.S. births were to African-American families, but 33 percent of all low-birthweight babies were African-American, according to the report.

The research also found that poorer mothers with less education were at a significantly higher risk of early delivery. The study added that in general lower educational attainment was associated with higher newborn mortality.

Tinker said some nations ranked high in part because they offer free health services for pregnant women and babies, while the United States suffers from disparities in access to health care.

-The Senate, during this Health Care Week, won't even bring stem-cell legislation passed by the House to the floor for a vote.

So that's a decent overview of where we are. Not enough people have health care, those who have it aren't getting a whole lot out of it, and advances in technology and human health are being stymied on moral grounds. Republicans really have no ideas to deal with any of this, as evidenced by their "Health Care Week" priorities. It's time to overhaul this system and come up with some real solutions.


Bubbling Up

Great news here in an email I got from Since Sliced Bread:

Big news... Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton just introduced a bill that would link Congressional pay increases to increases in the federal minimum wage. It would require that the federal minimum wage be increased by the same percentage amount as Congressional salaries every year.

What gave the Senator this idea? You guessed it: We told Senator Clinton how important the minimum wage is to SinceSlicedBread community members, and she decided to take action, modeling her bill on an idea from three of you.

Senator Clinton's bill will immediately raise minimum wage to more than $7 an hour, and provide automatic raises, just as Congress receives.

You can ask your Senator to cosponsor the bill at this link.

This is an insanely good idea for so many reasons.

1) the federal minimum wage is currently at $5.15/hour and it hasn't been raised in 8 years. That's a joke.
2) By tying it to Congressional pay it forces those voting against it to essentially be saying "We're not changing our lifestyle for a bunch of poor people."
3) Hillary used the netroots the right way: letting the good ideas bubble up, rather than trying to filter ideas down. The Right has done this through legislative think tanks like ALEC for years. Democrats in Congress should be agnostic about from where they get their ideas (even us rabble on the Internet).
4) SinceSlicedBread is a union initiative (the SEIU) and anyone with aspirations for an emerging Democratic majority should be thankful for anything that strengthens the union brand.

I hope for more good news like this.


Shorter HUD Secretary

"He didn't cancel somebody's contract for political reasons. He just was explaining how he WOULD cancel the contract for political reasons, because that's the way it goes in Washington."

Are they running an executive branch or a loanshark racket up there?


Super Powers

I used to live right across the street from the Scientology Celebrity building in Hollywood. They have a cheap brunch on Sundays that I was warned to never, ever, ever go into lest ye be overcome with entreaties to join the cause.

This story shows me what I was missing. (I double-checked the date, and this didn't come out on April 1).

Matt Feshbach believes he has super powers. He senses danger faster than most people. He appreciates beauty more deeply than he used to. He says he outperforms his peers in the money management industry.

He heightened his powers of perception in 1995 when he went to Los Angeles and became the first and so far only "public" Scientologist to take a highly classified Scientology program called Super Power.

Where in L.A. did he do this?

"Just in Los Angeles," is all Feshbach will say. Super Power is that secret.

That's right. Scientology is giving away super powers. These far-right warbloggers with their focus on Islamo-murder-gangsters are missing the point. You want to demonize a religion for being dangerous to world stability? SCIENTOLOGY IS GIVING AWAY SUPER POWERS! What part of that don't you get?

A key aim of Super Power is to enhance one's perceptions - and not just the five senses we all know - hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell.

Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard taught that people have 57 "perceptics." They include an ability to discern relative sizes, blood circulation, balance, compass direction, temperature, gravity and an "awareness of importance, unimportance."

There are even better ones than that, which the author lists at the back end of the article. My favorites: Timen Sight (huh?), the fact that they break sound down into "pitch, tone, volume, and rhythm" as if those are separate powers, Awareness of awareness (!), awareness of not knowing (!!), Cellular and bacterial position (dude, I could totally know where my CELLS are, man!), Moisture (self), and best of all, Perception of having perceived.

These guys really know an easy mark when they see one, huh? They get rich people to pay to get "super powers" (as part of a training course that can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars) by tricking them into thinking their normal senses and intuition are actually the super powers themselves. Read this, it's rich:

Super Power uses machines, apparatus and specially designed rooms to exercise and enhance a person's so-called perceptics. Those machines include an antigravity simulator and a gyroscope-like apparatus that spins a person around while blindfolded to improve perception of compass direction, said the former Scientologists.

A video screen that moves forward and backward while flashing images is used to hone a viewer's ability to identify subliminal messages, they said [...]

Former Scientologists Bruce Hines and Chuck Beatty, once staffers at the church's international base in Hemet, Calif., said that while on punishment detail, they made chairs of various sizes - ones big enough for a giant, others too small even for a child - that were set up in a room designed to hone one's sense of relative sizes.

Please if there is some higher power in heaven send me a videotape of Tom Cruise making a tiny chair. I won't ask for anything else again. Ever.

As if you need proof of these super-heroes that now walk among us mortal men:

(Feshbach) offered this anecdote:

He had just finished his perceptics training and was at the Los Angeles airport, preparing to fly home to the Tampa Bay area. He stood at a crosswalk with perhaps 20 others, including a woman and her son, an antsy boy 6 or 7 years old.

As the light turned green, the boy bolted into the street, ahead of his mother. Feshbach perceived a pickup bearing down on the boy, driven by a young woman.

He yelled and saved the boy's life by a quarter of an inch, he said.

Coincidence? Feshbach doesn't think so. No one else saw the pickup, he says. He believes that, through the Super Power program, he elevated his perceptive abilities beyond those of the others at that crosswalk. His enhanced perceptions have played out numerous times since, he said.

He "perceived" the "pickup truck" by mystically "turning" his "head" and using his newly powerful "eyes" to see the "two tons of steel thunder" moving "quickly" in their "direction." Just try noticing giant pickup trucks, Catholics!

Having dissed Scientology, I will now find a secure location and hide for seven years.

(hat tip Champagne)


We Will Wonk You

A couple days ago Atrios had a post responding to some general criticism that the progressive blogosphere is more interested in process than policy, making it difficult to provide points of consensus and genuine statements of progressive principles. He sets out a list of policies which he believes liberal bloggers generally agree with.

I want to repost those here, because I think it is important in an election year to understand why we're fighting. On the domestic side:

Undo the bankruptcy bill enacted by this administration
Repeal the estate tax repeal
Increase the minimum wage and index it to the CPI
Universal health care (obviously the devil is in the details on this one)
Increase CAFE standards. Some other environment-related regulation
Pro-reproductive rights, getting rid of abstinence-only education, improving education about and access to contraception including the morning after pill, and supporting choice. On the last one there's probably some disagreement around the edges (parental notification, for example), but otherwise.
Simplify and increase the progressivity of the tax code
Kill faith-based funding. Certainly kill federal funding of anything that engages in religious discrimination.
Reduce corporate giveaways
Have Medicare run the Medicare drug plan
Force companies to stop underfunding their pensions. Change corporate bankruptcy law to put workers and retirees at the head of the line with respect to their pensions.
Leave the states alone on issues like medical marijuana. Generally move towards "more decriminalization" of drugs, though the details complicated there too.
Imprison Jeff Goldstein for crimes against humanity for his neverending stupidity
Paper ballots
Improve access to daycare and other pro-family policies. Obiously details matter.
Raise the cap on wages covered by FICA taxes.
Marriage rights for all, which includes "gay marriage" and quicker transition to citizenship for the foreign spouses of citizens.

I'm pretty much right there on all of these. I would add (and put at the top of the list) an Apollo Project for energy, to find a permanent solution to the inevitability of Peak Oil. That's about 5 years overdue.

On reproductive rights I believe in the 95 X 10 initiative, increased education on contraception and birth control, and generally the attitude of "safe, legal and rare."

And on education (pretty absent here), I would say moving toward a universal college system to anyone who wants it is desirable and would produce many positives. Certainly we need to eliminate predatory student loan financing that puts college graduates in a decades-long hole right from the start.

And increasing H1-B visas for skilled workers to expand the pool of workers in the knowledge economy, increase the tax base, and spur innovation here rather than abroad.

And a "three strikes law" for corporations (which I'll advance in a later post).

This is a very good exercise. Democrats that put their cards on the table will be rewarded.

P.S. There are also these:

Torture is bad
Imprisoning citizens without charges is bad
Playing Calvinball with the Geneva Conventions and treaties generally is bad
Imprisoning anyone indefinitely without charges is bad
Stating that the president can break any law he wants any time "just because" is bad

Yes. And sign Kyoto already.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: This article goes outside the wonk and cites Michael Tomasky's great article on "The Common Good." I think all of the aforementioned policies fit into that, and while allowing a narrative to carry us forward we shouldn't be afraid of the specifics.


The Angry Duke

The guy's in jail on a reduced sentence and still he won't give up what he knows:

Randy Cunningham has not been helping federal authorities as they continue to probe the former North County congressman's web of corruption, a top Pentagon investigator said Tuesday.

Rick Gwin, special agent in charge of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service's western regional office, said he is troubled by the lack of assistance, particularly in light of Cunningham's plea agreement that calls for him to tell all that he knows.

"In my opinion, he has not been cooperative and I have not gotten any information from him to further develop other targets," Gwin said in a telephone interview from his office in Mission Viejo. "I was hoping that from a jail cell, he might become more cooperative, but we just don't have the cooperation that I think we should have."

I expect the feds will turn the screws without delay, and the Dukestir will realize he has few options. Special Agent Gwin agrees:

Gwin said the continuing investigation into three unindicted Cunningham co-conspirators and others who may have assisted them in the awarding of defense contracts is a widespread probe with many different avenues.

"This is much bigger and wider than just Randy 'Duke' Cunningham," he said. "All that has just not come out yet, but it won't be much longer and then you will know just how widespread this is."

Of course, Dusty Foggo, the former number 3 man at the CIA, resigned his post and is about to be indicted for improperly awarding defense contracts to Brent Wilkes (who also bribed the Dukestir). Wilkes is also accused of providing hookers of unspecified gender to Cunningham and possibly a half-dozen other members of Congress at poker games he set up at the Watergate and the Westin Hotels in DC.

Once Cunningham realizes that he has no choice but to cooperate, there's going to be a race to the finish as to whether the Dukestir scandal or the Abramoff scandal will be bigger. I figure it'll be neck and neck right up to Election Day.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I Almost Forgot

David Blaine is a tool.


Feingold, Again

You gotta watch this. It's like he crawled into my brain and figured out what I was thinking, then transformed the grey matter into sentences.

When Feingold surprised everyone with his call for censure the President was at 37% in the polls. The whole of Washington ran away from the proposal, saying the mere mention of it will cause Bush to rebound dramatically. Now the President's at 31% in the polls.

The guy understands that the nation is starving for leadership in a dangerous and confusng world, and that expressing our desire for sound policy, honest government, checks and balances, and accountability is the greatest political winner you can have at this time:

Now, you don’t hear this stand-up language here in this town. The consultants and the pundits and others will tell you these positions are “losers” — I’ve heard that literal language for this — and that it is dangerous to let there be any real light between our position and the White House’s position, or else you’ll get called soft on terrorism. You already hear people saying that the Michael Hayden nomination will be a great opportunity for the White House to show the Democrats are soft on terrorism. And you bet the pundits in this town will somehow suggest that this, too, just like my censure resolution, will cause the President’s numbers to shoot up. You remember that happening, right? It didn’t happen at all, but that’s what they’re gonna say, but it’s not right.

I take a different view, with a major qualification. My view is that we should appeal to basic American values in the post-9/11 era by saying we will stand up to this administration’s mistakes in strategy in the fight against terrorism, and that we will stand up this administration’s unnecessary assault on the rule of law in the guise of the fight against terrorism.

And he calls out exactly the people he needs to call out. I just finished the part in Kos and Jerome Arnstrong's book "Crashing the Gate" concerning Feingold's 1998 re-election campaign, where the Washington consultants ran ads in Wisconsin without Feingold's OK, where they openly dissed his media consultant and tried to foist their own on him. I get the feeling that this one's personal. Feingold went with his guys in '98, got outspent 3:1, and still won.

These consultants are destroying the party from within, and they are accountable to nobody. Bob Shrum's lost at least 7 Presidential elections and you can bet somebody will hire him in 2008. As long as there are Democrats, these guys have a job. It doesn't matter if they win or lose.

I'm desperate to break that cycle. But it's a long-haul effort.


Winning the War on Farming

Those new USDA speeches should be pretty exciting:

Career appointees at the Department of Agriculture were stunned last week to receive e-mailed instructions that include Bush administration "talking points" -- saying things such as "President Bush has a clear strategy for victory in Iraq" -- in every speech they give for the department.

"The President has requested that all members of his cabinet and sub-cabinet incorporate message points on the Global War on Terror into speeches, including specific examples of what each agency is doing to aid the reconstruction of Iraq," the May 2 e-mail from USDA speechwriter Heather Vaughn began.

Another attachment "contains specific examples of GWOT messages within agriculture speeches. Please use these message points as often as possible and send Harry Phillips , USDA's director of speechwriting, a weekly email summarizing the event, date and location of each speech incorporating the attached language. Your responses will be included in a weekly account sent to the White House."

The writer, Al Kamen, actually posted the sample speech lines that the White House sent along to the USDA.

"Several topics I'd like to talk about today -- Farm Bill, trade with Japan, WTO, avian flu . . . but before I do, let me touch on a subject people always ask about . . . progress in Iraq."

"We are helping the Iraqi people build a lasting democracy that is peaceful and prosperous - one that will never again be a safe haven for terrorists, and will serve as a model for freedom in the broader Middle East."

"But significant challenges remain to overcome the devastation at the hands of Saddam Hussein - including the damage done to Iraqi agriculture."

"USDA is providing ongoing support to the new Iraqi Government in its efforts to reconnect with the US agriculture community and meet commercial food import needs. The Iraqis have also discussed specific products, like tomatoes, which they are anxious to export into the world community."

I don't know about you, but whenever I tune in to the latest Department of Agriculture speech on C-SPAN 9, I find myself wondering, "Why are they not discussing their role in foreign policy? I mean, are they out to lunch or what?"

I mean, where is the USDA on North Korea? What are the effects to the kimchee supply? What about Kazakhstan? Sure, there's an oil pipeline there, but really the major burning question on the minds of America is, "What about the beshbarmak?"

This is so pitiful, so irrelevant, and so sad. No wonder this Administration is in the tank. They're worried about happy talk at the Department of Freakin' Agriculture while soldiers remain in danger, while New Orleans remains a disaster area, while health costs skyrocket.

It used to be kind of amusing, but now it's just pathetic. It's like the Stepford Wives have populated the cabinet, robotically muttering talking points that directly contradict reality. And the public can't take it anymore.


Top Diplomat in the Country

I don't know what diplomatic skills got Condoleezza Rice the job as Secretary of State... oh, wait, that's right, skill and talent doesn't get you a job in the Bush White House, only loyalty. Well, that point was cemented home by her response to yesterday's surprise letter from Iran.

I'm not saying that we should immediately respond to all the demands in the letter and kick off an era of friendship with our new Persian brothers. Indeed, the excerpts from the Times Online are largely a rambling mess. But clearly this letter, the first direct contact between the United States and Iran in 27 years, represents a negotiating point from which to launch into substantive issues. Just the fact that Iran is writing to "the Great Satan" is cause for optimism.

What was the top diplomatic official in the country's response to this?

Rice: Iran Letter Doesn't Resolve Standoff

Oh really? One letter didn't wrap the whole thing up in a nice bow? You mean we might have to sit down at a table and TALK to these people?

"This letter is not the place that one would find an opening to engage on the nuclear issue or anything of the sort," the top U.S. diplomat said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It isn't addressing the issues that we're dealing with in a concrete way."


She would not discuss the contents in detail but made clear that the United States would not change its tack on Iran.

"There's nothing in here that would suggest that we're on any different course than we were before we got the letter," Rice said.

I'll tell you what suggests a different course: THE LETTER ITSELF! I can't believe we have a Secretary of State that doesn't value dialogue. Her entire job description is to foster dialogue between the US and other countries.

Diplomacy, of course, is not what these guys want and it's not how they operate. They've deliberately stayed out of negotiations between Iran and the West in the hopes that they would fail. Of course, they would fail, because the only country with anything to offer Iran is the US. Now Iran tries to directly engage, not for the first time I might add (in 2003 they used back channels to try and start a dialogue with the US over Iraq), and our response is the big blow-off.

We simply have to speak with our enemies. That's what diplomacy is all about. Unless we have an endless supply of young boys ready to sign up and die in about 100 foreign wars, we have to resolve conflicts diplomatically. It's just stupid to dismiss these things out of hand.


Cult of Cronyism

Shorter Alphonso Jackson, HUD Secretary: "Kneel before Zod or face my wrath!"

Jackson, a former president and CEO of the Dallas Housing Authority, was among the featured speakers at a forum sponsored by the Real Estate Executive Council, a national minority real estate consortium.

After discussing the huge strides the agency has made in doing business with minority-owned companies, Jackson closed with a cautionary tale, relaying a conversation he had with a prospective advertising contractor.

"He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years," Jackson said of the prospective contractor. "He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something ... he said, 'I have a problem with your president.'

"I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I don't like President Bush.' I thought to myself, 'Brother, you have a disconnect -- the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn't be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don't tell the secretary.'

"He didn't get the contract," Jackson continued. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."

They really have no idea what government is all about, do they? You can't deny a federal contract to somebody because he doesn't like the President. Just like you can't deny a job to a lobbyist if he's a Democrat (which is the entire point of the K Street Project). They continue to act like arrogant pricks, demanding loyalty, stifling dissent, and then they somehow dismiss any criticism as partisan bickering, which is their entire mode of governing. They see everything in terms of partisanship.


About Time Somebody Said It

The reason we have so many Mexican immigrants streaming across the border (or taking a flight in and overstaying their visa, which is a more popular way to sneak in, actually) is because of structural economic policies:

The debate about illegal immigration rarely mentions the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA. That's regrettable, since the flood of illegal Mexicans in 2006 empirically challenges the philosophy that guided NAFTA's design [...]

By raising Mexican living standards and wage levels, Attorney General Janet Reno predicted, NAFTA would reduce illegal immigration by up to two-thirds in six years. "NAFTA is our best hope for reducing illegal migration in the long haul," Reno declared in 1994. "If it fails, effective immigration control will become impossible."

NAFTA succeeded, at least on its own terms. As Jaime Serra Puche, Mexico's former trade minister and chief NAFTA negotiator recently observed, "When you look at NAFTA in terms of what NAFTA was made for, which were trade flows, investment flows, and in general technological transfer and so on, you can say that NAFTA has been a successful enterprise."

Trade now constitutes 55 percent of Mexico's gross domestic product, up from about 30 percent in 1990. Foreign investment in Mexico has increased by more than 225 percent since 1994.

So when you look at the pact in terms of what it was intended to do, based on what those who wrote it said it was intended to do, it has been a smashing success.

At this point, bringing up an old medical adage might be appropriate: "The surgery was successful, but the patient died." NAFTA achieved its intended goals. But the flood of illegal immigrants to the United States is up, and the standard of living of the average Mexican is down.

Real wages for most Mexicans are lower than when NAFTA took effect. And Mexican wages are diverging from rather than converging with U.S. wages, despite the fact that Mexican worker productivity has increased dramatically.

Well, what do you expect when the number-one fallout from NAFTA was companies streaming over the border looking to keep down wages by hiring Mexicans for far less than their American counterparts? Greedy companies and impoverished workers who could no longer live on company wages (which increasingly are the only game in town) passed each other on their way across the border.

Trade is not helping Mexico, at least not ordinary Mexicans. The only thing helping them are remittance envelopes from undocumented immigrants over here. Without global labor and environmental standards, there's no way work will be sustainable in third-world countries, and there's no way we'll be able to stop large portions of third-world workers from seeking a better life. David Sirota understands this too:

Fact: Both political parties have joined hands in recent years to ink trade pacts that have destroyed the Mexican economy and created a supply-and-demand imbalance there. The biggest of these was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) -- a pact sold to the American people as a job creator here, and an economic development tool for Mexico. But, of course, the pact did not include any provisions to protect or increase Mexican workers' wages, workplace standards or human rights, thus all it did was open up a cheap labor pool for companies to exploit.

Fact: A decade after NAFTA's passage, America is still hemorrhaging the good-paying jobs that NAFTA was supposed to create. As for Mexico, the Washington Post's report on the 10-year anniversary of NAFTA told the story: 19 million more Mexicans now live in poverty than before the pact was signed. Similarly, former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich points out, "Mexico's real wages are lower than they were before [NAFTA]." And because NAFTA included no provisions to force companies to improve Mexican working conditions, jobs that were created in Mexico still pay near-slave wages For instance, the Associated Press noted this week that "Many young [Mexicans] have manual jobs on minimum wage of $5 a day."

The corporatists, of course, love cheap labor, and if it flows here, all the better, since they don't have to move their factories. In many ways they're forcing illegals over the border by taking away all their opportunities in their home countries. These people are desperate to provide for their families, and five bucks a day won't cut it. Fixing trade policy, as uncomfortable as that sounds to the "free-trade forever" crowd that rules Washington (Dems and Repubs), is the only way to solve the immigration debate.


Chait and Me

There's been a little dust-up between the progressive blogosphere and New Republic writer Jonathan Chait over this column he wrote that basically says "Joe Lieberman's a really bad senator but I hope he wins because that would embolden the wacked-out ignorant angry Left." This insult was met with a predictable response, followed by Chait writing that the anger over his column PROVED that the Left was angry. This is like punching someone in the nose, seeing them fight back, and saying, "I told you they wanted to fight me!" Greg Sargent calls it blog-baiting.

Chait's kind of an odd guy. I went to college with him, and at the daily newspaper he had a column that was little more than a ripoff of Dave Barry, with no political thoughts in it at all. We ran a parody in our college humor mag that used the phrase "I swear I am not making this up" over and over.

I also knew him through friends, and he was nice enough, although a little insular, like most writers.

He pretty much went right from campus to the New Republic, so maybe that's the disconnect. I couldn't believe he showed up in bylines with Stephen Glass, because he was probably 2 years out of college by then, tops. I generally like his work, it's usually well-reasoned and well-argued. But the "how dare you storm the gates!" tone makes me think his life experience is limited outside Washington. Chait was the writer of the "Diary of the Dean-o-Phobe" in 2004, shrieking that Dean's nomination would kill the Democratic Party. We'll never know. But certainly he's someone that believes that the party should work from the top down, not the ground up; that the party should change from Washington out, not the grassroots in. This is classic DLC "we know better than the rabble" thinking, but Chait mistakes everyone in the blog world as an ideologically obsessed nutcase. There's a lot more nuance than that, and I'd argue the blogs focus a lot more on strategy than purity in policy.

He's a good voice for the party, better than most in Washington, but the whole blogtopia/outsider thing is his weak spot. Instead of fearing the worst, I don't see why these types don't work with the netroots for the best. We're the most committed activists in the party. We're practically the only ones that read your columns. We both share the same goals. There's no need to put up a wall. People without a DC address CAN have a few ideas, you know.


Monday, May 08, 2006

The Game Plan, Interrupted

Karl Rove thinks he has a plan to stop the bleeding in November by playing boogeyman. "The Dems will impeach the President! Booga booga!" And his servants in the press, like the above-linked NYT article and Tim Russert, are certainly pushing this theme. Of course, I've already said that what this amounts to is the Republicans telling their base to vote or else Congress might actually do their job.

Problem is, Karl might have to write the rest of the game plan really fast because it's hard to travel the country and brief state party chairmen when you're under arrest:

Shuster: ...I am convinced that Karl Rove will, in fact, be indicted. And there are a couple of reasons why. First of all, you don't put somebody in front of a grand jury at the end of an investigation or for the fifth time, as Karl Rove testified a couple, a week and a half ago, unless you feel that's your only chance of avoiding indictment. So in other words, the burden starts with Karl Rove to stop the charges. Secondly, it's now been 13 days since Rove testified. After testifying for three and a half hours, prosecutors refused to give him any indication that he was clear. He has not gotten any indication since then. And the lawyers that I've spoken with outside of this case say that if Rove had gotten himself out of the jam, he would have heard something by now. And then the third issue is something we've talked about before. And that is, in the Scooter Libby indictment, Karl Rove was identified as 'Official A.' It's the term that prosecutors use when they try to get around restrictions on naming somebody in an indictment. We've looked through the records of Patrick Fitzgerald from when he was prosecuting cases in New York and from when he's been US attorney in Chicago. And in every single investigation, whenever Fitzgerald has identified somebody as Official A, that person eventually gets indicted themselves, in every single investigation. Will Karl Rove defy history in this particular case? I suppose anything is possible when you are dealing with a White House official. But the lawyers that I've been speaking with who know this stuff say, don't bet on Karl Rove getting out of this.

All hell will break loose at the White House if Rove gets indicted. I think the new chief of staff, Josh Bolten, fancies himself a mini-Rove, only so far his great accomplishments are getting a bunch of people to resign and not changing the downward spiral whatsoever (and completely botching the Goss resignation, mind you). If Rove exits the stage Bolten will really have free reign, and given how he handled the federal budget at the OMB, I wouldn't have much worry about that circumstance.

Of course there would be a bit of schadenfruede at seeing a hint of accountability for the terrible mess we've gotten ourselves into over the last 5 years.


Very Happy To See This

I wrote earlier about how Bill Frist's $100 bribe would be an excellent example to highlight the Republican failure of governance. Ask and I shall receive, at this site from the Environmental Working Group. I caught it as a Web ad on a lot of liberal sites today, so there's at least a little money behind it.

Wow, somebody on the progressive side saw an opening and ran with it. Imagine...

I do wish it was a little more than a petition, but the language is right:

Dear Senator Frist:

I don't want a $100 bribe because Congress failed to develop a real national energy strategy.

You can keep my 100 bucks, and instead:

• GET REAL about developing alternative energy options

• GET REAL about improving fuel efficiency standards

• GET REAL about funding rail and other transportation options

• GET REAL and get rid of tax breaks for big oil




The Importance of Conventional Wisdom

It's now officially a given that Democrats will win seats in the midterms, "at every level of government" according to RNC Chair Ken Mehlman. The only question is "how many?"

Of course, Mehlman is trying to tamp down expectations so that he can manage them. If the Dems do stumble between now and Election Day, Mehlman can pounce by hyping the "incredible surprise". And maybe it's a trick to get the Dems overconfident (but I don't think so; in the age of Diebold, Democrats know they have to act like they're already ten points down). The important thing to note is that it's a given. This will affect the lazy Washington press corps that demands accepted narratives to guide their thinking in election seasons. The press in DC rarely talk to anyone but each other, at least that's what can be gathered from reading their articles. They now fully expect a Democratic victory in November. Everything they write will be positioned through that lens. As long as the Democrats push the narrative.

We see that a lot of recent moves by the White House go back to their game plan of picking partisan fights. Today the President nominated for the post of CIA Director someone who was the front man for the illegal NSA wiretapping program. We learned last week that the theocratic agenda is headed back to Congress:

GOP leaders are gearing up to bring a number of issues on the Christian conservative agenda to the floor of the House and Senate in the next few weeks, including gay marriage, broadcast decency, the 10 Commandments Act, a cloning ban, and laws protecting "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

"There's going to be some trouble down the road if they don't get on the ball," said Dr. James Dobson, in an interview with the Fox News Network on May 1. He's the chairman and founder of Focus on the Family, a Christian organization based in Colorado Springs, Colo., which is helping to organize some 40,000 events for the National Day of Prayer.

There's also a looming fight over judicial nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was part of the "nuclear option" deal last year, but is being returned to the Judiciary Committee for an eventual vote on the Senate floor.

Divisive executive appointments, wedge issues in Congress, judicial nominees. We've seen this before. The idea is to pick a fight, hoping that the base will rally around the President, and will therefore be motivated to vote against Democrats. All of these issues are also ones in which the Democrats will have to take the position of opposition to stop, reinforcing the obstructionist "party of no" frame.

However, there is a difference between the last times these gambits were tried and today. The President wasn't at 31% back then. The White House has gone from a position of ascendancy to free-fall. And the conventional wisdom is on the side of the Democrats.

Given this environment, all the Democrats have to do to win the debate on these issues is to POINT OUT THE REALITY. Every single Democrat has an easy charge to level at the GOP:

"Look, this White House has lost control of its message. It's on the verge of becoming irrelevant. They're desperate to save their skins this November. Everybody knows the Democrats are going to beat their brains in. So what do they do? They come out with something else to divide Americans, hoping that playing everybody against one another will save their failed Presidency."

Nobody picks up on this stuff faster than Russ Feingold:

Sen. Russ Feingold indicated today that President Bush has unnecessarily politicized the position of Central Intelligence Agency director by nominating Gen. Michael Hayden, who has been involved in the administration’s warrant-less wiretapping program.

“We need a situation in this country where everything isn’t politicized,’’ Feingold, D-Wis., told a luncheon audience at the National Press Club during a question and answer session.

This speech is apparently going to be on C-SPAN tonight. There's plenty more to it, but Feingold understands that the way to put the White House on the defensive on these things is by telling the American people to focus on the "why," not the "what." They're nominating Hayden for political reasons. They're bringing a gay marriage amendment to the floor for political reasons. And they're doing that because the politics don't look good for them.

If you characterize these decisions from The Decider in this way, the press corps will do our work for us. They'll write the "GOP in disarray" stories, the "GOP desperate for a win" stuff. Everybody loves a winner, it's an immutable fact in politics as in life. People are running away from this President in droves. The best way to keep that going is to openly state that people are running away from the President in droves. What not to do is to praise Hayden's nomination without taking the politics into account. Democrats too often take everything at face value. Focusing on the why, on the politics, on the divisiveness, will go a long way toward cementing a "loser" label on the Republicans. The rest will take care of itself.