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

Friday, July 14, 2006

Cell Phone Pic Of The Day

Taken at a Santa Monica Exxon station as I was paying $3.25 a gallon today:

Enjoy your $100 a barrel oil! Just months away!


The Do-Nothings: Cheaping Out On Our Security

Our current homeland security is a total joke. Five years after 9/11, after upsurges in terror attacks worldwide, we still refuse to allocate resources where they're desperately needed. Sure, we'll sink hundreds of billions into Iraq, but in three distinct instances this week, the Republican-led Congress wouldn't bother to fund our most basic security needs.

Whether they were perpetrated by Al Qaeda or Kashmiri militants in Pakistan like Lashkar-e-Taiba, the deadly Mumbai train bombings reflect a pattern of targeting public ground transportation that goes all the way back to Israeli buses. So will the Do-Nothings in the Senate bother to increase rail security funding?

One day after the mass transit rail bombings in India, the U.S. Senate was asked to increase funding for rail security in this country. The majority said no.

The vote was 50-50, one vote shy of providing extra money to beef up security on U.S. railroads.

Republicans said there was already enough in the homeland security budget. But Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware was outraged, warning senators that if the bill didn't pass, "We will regret this." [...]

"Twenty thousand people in a relatvely confined space at any one time, sit in a alumninum tube in tunnels where there's virtually no protection," says Sen. Biden.

And by the way, that includes Sen. Biden, who takes Amtrak into Washington from Delaware every day. He keenly understands the vulnerabilities, not only to the country, but his own person. The Do-Nothings? They don't care. We spend nine dollars per passenger on airplane security, and less than a penny per passenger on rail security. It's like we're running in slow motion, able to work on preventing the LAST attack while doing nothing for the one that comes next.

And then there was the Sen. Dodd Amendment to deliver urgently needed funds to first responders like firefighters and emergency personnel, paid for by reducing the tax breaks for millionaires. Guess how the Do-Nothing Senate handled that one?

Not one Republican voted for this bill. NOT A ONE. That's because it would mess with the Holy Writ of 21st-century conservative ideology: don't make the rich pay for anything. We all remember during the 2004 Presidential debate, when the President said in reaction to John Kerry's plans to fully fund homeland security and protect its citizens:

"I don't think we want to get to how he's going to pay for all these promises. It's like a huge tax gap."

And it's not only that the Do-Nothings want to cheap out on our security. It's not only that they would preserve every last dollar for millionaires while leaving us vulnerable to attack. The money they DO spend on homeland security goes to exactly the wrong spots. Just this week the Do-Nothing Senate decided petting zoos in Indiana are more threatened than the Big Apple:

The Senate refused yesterday to restore $750 million in anti-terrorism funds that have been taken away from New York and Washington and shifted to smaller cities thought to be at lower risk of attack.

By a vote of 53 to 47, the Senate killed an amendment by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and others, who protested the 40 percent funding reduction for New York this year and a 43 percent cut for Washington in homeland security grants.

"New York City and Washington, D.C., remain at the top of any [threat] intelligence we get, but they were given drastic reductions," Clinton said. Had Clinton's amendment been embraced by the Republican-controlled Senate, federal grants for protecting bridges, monuments and other possible targets of attack in New York and Washington would have been restored next year to their 2005 levels.

Sen. Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, acknowledged that he was "surprised and quite shocked" when he heard of the funding cuts for the two cities that were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. But he said that adding $750 million to a $32.8 billion domestic security bill for fiscal 2007 would "bust the budget."

The current budget deficit is nearly $300 billion. $750 million is not even 1/3 of 1% of that. It's far smaller in relation to the budget as a whole. And there's a very easy way to keep the spending budget-neutral. Stop putting your money and attention into the Amish Country Popcorn Factory and the "Beach at the end of a street," and shift it to the ACTUAL terror targets.

This is so completely wrongheaded and dangerous that it almost defies description. The Republicans have worshipped at the holy altar of low taxes for so long that they literally can't even protect the country if it means the rich won't get their tax cuts. And they've instituted so much pay-to-play and earmarks run amok on the Hill that every small town in the country is having a free-for-all with Homeland Security dollars, taking that pool of cash away from where it's needed the most. It's so shocking that it almost feels like it's by design.

They don't want to pay to keep the nation safe. They don't want to inconvenience millionaires. In fact, they want to make sure the nation is NOT safe, from a political standpoint, for only through fear do they succeed.


The Lawsuit

Yesterday Valerie Plame decided to sure the Vice President, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and 10 unnamed staffers in civil court for leaking her CIA status and destroying her career. I've heard the lawsuit alternately described as "a strong case" (John Dean) and "a real longshot" (Jeffrey Toobin & Lawrence O'Donnell). I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not going to argue on the basis of the statute. But the facts of the case that have come out in the grand jury does suggest that there was a whispering campaign to discredit and provide payback to Joe Wilson by outing his wife, to send a message to anyone else in the CIA who would maybe want to speak out against the Administration. The facts are legion, and poking around the Internet you can find those facts assembled in easy-to-read prose.

The timing is not at all surprising, as today is the 3-year anniversary of the infamous Robert Novak column outing Plame, and that's the end point of the statute of limitations. As emptywheel notes, that's why Novakula was trotted out this week, in a kind of pre-emptive strike, to tell his side of the story before the Wilsons came out with their lawsuit to tell theirs. And Novak's defense just doesn't hold up:

Thanks to Tom Maguire for reminding me of this old post of mine in which I cite Timothy M. Phelps and Knut Royce's Newsday article of July 22, 2003, 8 days after Novak's column outing Valerie Plame was printed, in which he is quoted as saying,

Novak, in an interview, said his sources had come to him with the information. "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," he said. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."

Now he says he got it from Who's Who and no one in the Administration told him her name.

It also doesn't much matter if Novakula got Plame's name from "Who's Who," as the entry didn't say "Valerie Plame is a CIA agent" on it, and the complaint is about outing her profession, not her name. In fact, this makes Novak look worse, as he look like he's digging around for the dirt himself. In this spirit, the great Eric Alterman calls the Douchebag of Liberty a traitor to his country and his profession:

The upshot here appears to be that Novak lied to everyone in order to betray his country on behalf of Rove and company. First he revealed the name of an active CIA officer, blowing any and all operations with which she has ever been involved, costing the country millions, and possibly endangering lives despite the specific request from the agency that he not do so. That's all here.

Next, he played Joan of Arc by insisting he would never reveal the names of his sources to Mr. Fitzgerald while simultaneously doing just that. Why in the world is The Washington Post continuing to stand by this scoundrel? Is it all because he's a member of the club and insiders protect their own? It worked for Kim Philby and I'm beginning to think it's working here too.

Don't forget that in a later article Novak also revealed that Brewster Jennings was a fron company, endangering everyone in the CIA who used it as cover. The man has no conscience.

I don't profess to know where this lawsuit is going. But I certainly think I know why the Wilsons filed it. Any cash reward will be donated to charity; this is about justice. This is about holding to account those that would damage national security solely because their grip on power was challenged.


One Quick Point About Liberal Academia

This is a familiar talking point on the Right, that our colleges and universities are bastions of elitist communist homo cheese eating wine drinking libruls, out to convert our children into Murca-hating lefties. Chief among those universities offered up for scorn is Cal-Berkeley. You'd think Professor Che Guevara was still teaching there to hear the Right.

Here's the faculty profile for John Yoo, the man most responsible for the idea of unitary executive power that has led to secret prisons, multiple acts of torture, suspension of habeas corpus for detainees, illegal military commissions, signing statements that overturn Congressional statutes, and warrantless wiretapping, just to name a few of the more damaging instances that have put our Constitution in crisis.

He teaches at Berkeley.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

The End of Iraq

Even on the surface, Iraq has really spun out of control and into civil war this week. The Prime Minister is calling his reconciliation plan "one last chance" for peace. The US Ambassador is finally acknowledging that the biggest threat in the country is not al Qaeda but sectarian violence. The US commander George Casey is calling for additional troops to be moved into Baghdad. In fact, we've already added 15,000 additional troops in the city, and it hasn't done a thing. Even the Defense Secretary dropped into Baghdad to huddle with officials over the situation. Now, of course, his rose-colored glasses haven't come off:

An upbeat Rumsfeld said he was confident Iraq would emerge from the violence as a "fine success" for the region.

Look, not EVERYONE'S going to change their views based on events on the ground. You'd have to have a conscience to do that.

But what's even more terrifying are the stories we're not hearing in the US media. If you only watched CNN or Fox News you'd think Iraq was in pretty bad shape. If you read Iraqi blogger Riverbend's recent entry, you'd think Iraq was a steaming pile of nightmares without hope or end:

The day before yesterday was catastrophic. The day began with news of the killings in Jihad Quarter. According to people who live there, black-clad militiamen drove in mid-morning and opened fire on people in the streets and even in houses. They began pulling people off the street and checking their ID cards to see if they had Sunni names or Shia names and then the Sunnis were driven away and killed. Some were executed right there in the area. The media is playing it down and claiming 37 dead but the people in the area say the number is nearer 60.

The horrific thing about the killings is that the area had been cut off for nearly two weeks by Ministry of Interior security forces and Americans. Last week, a car bomb was set off in front of a 'Sunni' mosque people in the area visit. The night before the massacre, a car bomb exploded in front of a Shia husseiniya in the same area. The next day was full of screaming and shooting and death for the people in the area. No one is quite sure why the Americans and the Ministry of Interior didn't respond immediately. They just sat by, on the outskirts of the area, and let the massacre happen.

This is the point. There's absolutely nothing that US forces could possibly do in a civil war. The options are this. Either we help out one side over the other, basically facilitating genocide; we try to segregate the two sides from each other, in which case we become an overt occupier and the target; or we sit by, helpless, watching Shia and Sunni killing each other. Like this person:

At nearly 2 pm, we received some terrible news. We lost a good friend in the killings. T. was a 26-year-old civil engineer who worked with a group of friends in a consultancy bureau in Jadriya. The last time I saw him was a week ago. He had stopped by the house to tell us his sister was engaged and he'd brought along with him pictures of latest project he was working on- a half-collapsed school building outside of Baghdad.

He usually left the house at 7 am to avoid the morning traffic jams and the heat. Yesterday, he decided to stay at home because he'd promised his mother he would bring Abu Kamal by the house to fix the generator which had suddenly died on them the night before. His parents say that T. was making his way out of the area on foot when the attack occurred and he got two bullets to the head. His brother could only identify him by the blood-stained t-shirt he was wearing.

It's important to read the personal stories of loss to really understand the catastrophe we have wrought over there. This is a lost city in a failed state, and anybody that can get out is doing it.

The news the world hears about Iraq and the situation in the country itself are wholly different. People are being driven out of their homes and areas by force and killed in the streets, and the Americans, Iranians and the Puppets talk of national conferences and progress [...]

Buses, planes and taxis leaving the country for Syria and Jordan are booked solid until the end of the summer. People are picking up and leaving en masse and most of them are planning to remain outside of the country. Life here has become unbearable because it's no longer a 'life' like people live abroad. It's simply a matter of survival, making it from one day to the next in one piece and coping with the loss of loved ones and friends- friends like T.

This was corroborated by an absolutely horrific report in the Times of London. We're about to have a severe refugee crisis on out hands in one of the poorer areas of the world. The Times story demands to be read in full; there are stories of midnight gun battles in Baghdad, Shia death squads, bodies piling up in the morgues. But I want to excerpt the portions about those who are fleeing. It's a long excerpt and I hope it's OK:

Hundreds — Sunni and Shia — are abandoning their homes. My driver said all his neighbours had now fled, their abandoned houses bullet-pocked and locked up. On a nearby mosque, competing Sunni and Shiite graffiti had been scrawled on the walls.

A senior nurse at Yarmouk hospital on the fringes of west Baghdad’s war zone said that he was close to being overwhelmed. “On Tuesday we received 35 bodies in one day, 16 from Al-Furat district alone. All of them were killed execution-style,” he said. “I thought it was the end of the city. I packed my bags at once and got ready to leave because they could storm the hospital at any moment.” [...]

A local journalist told me bitterly this week that Iraqis find it ironic that Saddam Hussein is on trial for killing 148 people 24 years ago, while militias loyal to political parties now in government kill that many people every few days. But it is not an irony that anyone here has time to laugh about. They are too busy packing their bags and wondering how they can get out alive.

Those that can are leaving the country. At Baghdad airport, throngs of Iraqis jostle for places on the flights out — testimony to the breakdown in Iraqi society.

One woman said that she and her three children were fleeing Mansour, once the most stylish part of the capital. “Every day there is fighting and killing,” she said as she boarded a plane for Damascus in Syria to sit out the horrors of Baghdad.

A neurologist, who was heading to Jordan with his wife, said that he would seek work abroad and hoped that he would never have to return. “We were so happy on April 9, 2003 when the Americans came. But I’ve given up. Iraq isn’t ready for democracy,” he said, sitting in a chair with a view of the airport runway.

Fares al-Mufti, an official with the Iraqi Airways booking office, told The Times that the national carrier had had to lay on an extra flight a day, all fully booked. Flights to Damascus have gone up from three a week to eight to cope with the panicked exodus.

Muhammad al-Ani, who runs fleets of Suburban cars to Jordan, said that the service to Amman was so oversubscribed that that prices had rocketed from $200 (£108) to $750 per trip in the past two weeks.

Despite the huge risks of driving through the Sunni Triangle, the number of buses to Jordan has mushroomed from 2 a day to as many as 40 or 50.

Abu Ahmed, a Sunni who was leaving Ghazaliya with his family and belongings, said that he was ready to pay the exorbitant prices being charged because his wife had received a death threat at the hospital in a Shia area where she worked.

“We can’t cope, we have to take the children out for a while,” he said.

In one of the few comprehensive surveys of how many Iraqis have fled their country since the US invasion, the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants said last month that there were 644,500 refugees in Syria and Jordan in 2005 — about 2.5 per cent of Iraq’s population. In total, 889,000 Iraqis had moved abroad, creating “the biggest new flow of refugees in the world”, according to Lavinia Limon, the committee’s president.

And the exodus may only just be starting.

A mass exodus like ths doesn't happen because of a low-grade civil war, or a nascent civil war, or a country on the brink of a civil war. It happens during a civil war. No qualifications. That's where we're at in Iraq, and no solutions for the country can safely ignore this fact.

I'll tell you why the Republicans are so upset at a DCCC Web video which shows flag-draped coffins coming home from the region. It's because they understand that Americans see Iraq as an unspeakable tragedy. People aren't stupid. To the extent that Iraq is the issue in the midterms, it won't be a contest. The Republicans first tried to bully their way through, demagoguing the issue by intimating their opponents are in league with terrorists. Now, as DarkSyde notes, they're starting to wonder about that strategy, which foregrounds Iraq as the biggest issue in the elections. It would be fine if the Democrats just rolled over and played dead, but as the video shows, they're clearly not. For once, the Dems are calling the bluff.

It's of course crass to discuss the political ramifications of the nightmare in Iraq. But since that's the only way to minimize the horror for our soldiers and their families, it must be said. Minimizing the death and destruction for the Iraqis? It may now be too late.


Ladies and Gentlemen, The President of the United States

In case you thought he was going to help with the upcoming conflagration of war. From Froomkin:

Stopping off in Germany on his way to the G-8 summit in Russia, Bush reserved his greatest enthusiasm for tonight's pig roast -- technically, a wild-boar barbecue -- bringing it up three times. "I'm looking forward to that pig tonight," he gushed [...]

Here's an exchange toward the end of the session:

"Q Does it concern you that the Beirut airport has been bombed? And do you see a risk of triggering a wider war?

"And on Iran, they've, so far, refused to respond. Is it now past the deadline, or do they still have more time to respond?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: I thought you were going to ask me about the pig.

"Q I'm curious about that, too. (Laughter.)

"PRESIDENT BUSH: The pig? I'll tell you tomorrow after I eat it."

We're all going to die. And I for one am not going to be a Gloomy Gus about it; I'm looking FORWARD to it!


President Agrees to Do His Job, As Long As He Doesn't Have To Answer For Not Doing His Job Earlier

Great news!

Like all of the "great news" that's come down the pike this week, the Administration has agreed to do something that they should have done in the first place, and only consented after getting some key concessions. Arlen Specter was jubilant that he got the White House to agree to a FISA review of the warrantless NSA wiretapping program, in a story that made me skeptical by the FIFTH word:

The White House has conditionally agreed to a court review of its controversial eavesdropping program, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter said Thursday.

Specter said President Bush has agreed to sign legislation that would authorize the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s most high-profile monitoring operations.

“You have here a recognition by the president that he does not have a blank check,” the Pennsylvania Republican told his committee.

Do you? I mean, the word "conditionally" is in the first sentence. According to Think Progress, the legislation is crafted in such a way that it gives the President the OPTION of submitting the program for judicial review. An option I'm sure he'll be falling all over himself to initiate. Um-hm. Specter says he has the President's "commitment" to do that. If he reneges, I'm sure the Senator from Pennsylvania will write him a strongly worded letter.

The President is already required by law to go to the FISA court and get a warrant for whatever spying and wiretapping inside the US he undertakes, within 15 days of said spying. This legislation giving him the "option" to do what is required of him actually weakens the initial law. Furthermore, as Glenn Greenwald and Atrios nicely amplify, this bill would provide amnesty for any illegalities committed by the executive branch SINCE 1978, essentially taking the Bush Administration off the hook for violating federal statutes, making such criminality legal. The FISA court would be ruling on the Constitutionality of warrantless wiretapping, not on whether "unitary executive power" trumps Congressional action. And they would only do it once, allowing future Presidents to skirt judicial review completely. What a nice parting gift.

The Democrats on the Judiciary committee are pretty circumspect:

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee’s senior Democrat, said Bush could submit the program to the court right now, if he wished. He called the potential legislation “an interesting bargain.”

“He’s saying, if you do every single thing I tell you to do, I’ll do what I should have done anyway,” Leahy said.

Oh, and then there's this affront to the legal system:

The administration official, who asked not to be identified because discussions are still ongoing, said the bill also would give the attorney general power to consolidate the 100 lawsuits filed against the surveillance operations into one case before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Specter did not explain to his committee that detail, which is likely to raise the ire of civil liberties groups.

At a point where the Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has basically said there are more illegal programs out there that we don't even know about, this seems hardly the time to completely legalize executive lawbreaking over the illegal programs about which we do know. Not that Chairman Hoekstra's a hero; he's mainly unhappy because he wasn't told about the new stuff, not because he holds the rule of law in any kind of esteem.

The Democrats should not give in to this sham legislation and call the executive branch to account for their utter contempt for US law.


One Million Stories... the naked blogosphere. I do my part to cover a few of them.

• Doomed incumbent Michael Pitzpatrick's anti-MySpace bill gets a rough reception in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Patrick Murphy, his opponent in PA-08, posted a competing plan on MyDD, which is solid (though I wish there was some First Amendment defense in there). Hopefully Murphy will take this message right to the social networking sites themselves, and let them know the stakes in his election. I have no doubt that would work.

• Steven Bradbury, a deputy attorney general in the Justice Department, inadvertently gives up the entire Bush Administration approach to law enforcement: The president is always right. You can watch the video here.

That's basically what the entire last 5 1/2 years have come down to.

• There's an Office of Lessons Learned in the White House. That's either the busiest office in the executive branch, or the busiest office that never actually produces anything, since they never learn their lesson. Rahm Emanuel had a snarky reaction to this:

"Maybe I can save the taxpayers $100,000 by running through a few of the lessons this White House should have learned by now.

"Lesson 1: When the Army Chief of Staff and the Secretary of State say you are going to war without enough troops, you're going to war without enough troops.

"Lesson 2: When 8.8 billion dollars of reconstruction funding disappears from Iraq, and 2 billion dollars disappears from Katrina relief, it's time to demand a little accountability.

"Lesson 3: When you've 'turned the corner' in Iraq more times than Danica Patrick at the Indy 500, it means you are going in circles.

"Lesson 4: When the national weather service tells you a category 5 hurricane is heading for New Orleans, a category 5 hurricane is heading to New Orleans.

• Saudi Arabian Prince Bandar (a.k.a. "Bandar Bush") is asking $135 million for his house in Aspen, Colorado. Madrassahs and terror organizations around the world should expect a nice check in the mail once that sale goes through!

This story from The Hill shows that Congressman Steve King of Iowa thinks very highly of our neighbors to the south:

It was prop time on the House floor Tuesday night when Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), making the case for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, showed a miniature version of a border wall that he “designed.” [...]

But it got really interesting when King broke out the mock electrical wiring: “I also say we need to do a few other things on top of that wall, and one of them being to put a little bit of wire on top here to provide a disincentive for people to climb over the top.”

He added, “We could also electrify this wire with the kind of current that would not kill somebody, but it would be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it. We do that with livestock all the time.”

I think Border Patrol agents should be able to turn the electricity on and off, and raise the level if they see some Mexican within range. Then it could really be like a bug zapper!

• House Republicans are still trying to gut The Voting Rights Act, one of the foundations of modern civil rights legislation. Democrats are hanging tough on this one and they should. The seedy, ugly underbelly of the Southern Republicans ought to be exposed.

(UPDATE: the renewal passed the House. The Senate is apparently ALSO planning to stall. Call 'em up!

• Democratic House candidate (and former FBI whistleblower) Colleen Rowley offers a very good piece on universal healthcare. I'm glad that at least one Democrat isn't shrinking from this option, which is in place in practically every civilized democracy in the world.

• Another sad, nasty story of rendition and torture. This is the type of torture that the White House is trying to save as an option in Congress. We have a Vice President who's lobbied for torture. "May you live in interesting times," as the proverb says.


Designed Failure

Yes, it's significant that Iranian proxy group Hizbollah moved into Israel on the same day that Western leaders decided to move the Iranian nuclear situation into the UN Security Council. It's also significant that the referral came on the heels of a story sounding upbeat about the ongoing talks:

The European Union said on Friday it expected a "substantial response" from Iran at talks next week on a package of incentives to end a nuclear standoff, describing an initial meeting as constructive.

"It's a good start for what we expect will be a positive meeting on July 11," Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said of his meeting late on Thursday with Iran chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.

"We expect on Tuesday that they will be able to give us a substantial response," she said by telephone on Friday of a second round of July 11 talks on a package of technology, trade and other incentives for Iran to halt uranium enrichment.

What happened between July 7 and July 11? That'd be a good question by an enterprising journalist. And I'd direct it to the United States. Because, as the great Arthur Silber noted in a recent post, diplomatic failure would not be seen as a setback by many in the White House, but a great victory.

1. As (Seymour) Hersh points out and has been obvious since it began, this latest effort at diplomacy directed by the U.S. is designed to fail. We are demanding that the Iranians concede the major point in dispute -- Iran's right to enrich uranium -- before the negotiations even begin. This isn't diplomacy. This is issuing an ultimatum: "You will do exactly as we say -- or else."

2. No one could legitimately expect this diplomacy to succeed, so what's the point? The point is precisely the same one achieved by the U.S.'s phony dance with the U.N. in the leadup to the Iraq invasion: to provide cover for a decision that has already been made. When the U.S. begins bombing Iran, Bush will say: "We tried diplomacy. No one wants war, which is always the last resort. But they refused to engage in diplomacy, so they left us no choice. After 9/11, we cannot permit threats to our country to grow unchecked. I will not allow the American people to be attacked again. An Iran with nuclear weapons was too great a danger, and it had to be stopped." At that point, as devastation begins to spread through the Middle East and Iraq explodes into even greater violence, no one will remember that we made it impossible for Iran to engage with us diplomatically, and that Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons and won't have any for at least five to 10 years -- and our media will never remind us of what actually happened.

3. Consider the unreality of what's happening here. Iran is fully entitled to pursue the non-military enrichment of uranium under the terms of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty -- to which it is a signatory. We make exceptions and give enormously valuable aid to countries like India that are not signatories to the treaty -- while we demand that Iran give up rights it indisputably has under the same treaty. Given the stakes involved, it doesn't even begin to capture the madness involved in this approach to describe it as incoherent and self-contradictory. As we stand on the brink of a military catastrophe -- one that we will have begun for no reason at all -- this is simply insane.

4. The overall pattern at work here is exactly the same one utilized for Iraq: phony diplomacy, then U.N. action which will similarly make compliance by Iran impossible, then a few speeches accusing Iran of defying the will of the "civilized world" and of being too great a threat to be tolerated -- and then the bombing. And almost no one will be heard to say that the "crisis" was created out of thin air, and that in fact no crisis exists at all. As I have pointed out a number of times, all of this is calculated to reach its climax sometime in the fall -- precisely so that it will have the greatest possible impact on the coming elections.

5. Note this sentence in the news story: "Western powers suspect Tehran has a secret programme to build nuclear weapons." As the Hersh article makes clear in detail, no one has any intelligence about Iran's nuclear program at all. Suspicions are all we have -- and they are suspicions based on precisely nothing.

Let us state the final conclusion boldly and unmistakably, so we may appreciate its full horror: the Bush administration has already decided, and probably decided some time ago, that it will attack Iran. They want a wider war. Everything that is now going on is simply the cover for the moment when the bombing begins, intended to provide what will be accepted as "justification" for the attack by the American public and the world.

We're certainly being set up for this scenario to play out again. Many have seen it before and understand what needs to be done to combat it: Harry Reid's resolution to force the President to back up any intelligence claims with evidence is a good start. But it is especially significant to understand what's happening, especially since the Israeli-Lebanese conflict going on right now is a parallel situation, and may be used to permit a strike on Iran without US involvement, though with a wink and a nod. The military, as Sy Hersh notes, is balking at an American attack on Tehran. That won't stop the neocons, who are of the same mind as the Israelis on this score anyway. Thus they get to have their cake and eat it too: a strike against Iran without putting American lives at risk. At least not initially.


The Warbloggers Get Their Next War

As I've written earlier, World War III has broken out, in a region of the world far more strategically significant than the impetus for WWI, the Balkans. Israel is fighting a two-front war, responding with as much force as possible because their untested leader needs to show strength. And reports are that the Hizbollah militants are spiriting the kidnapped soldiers into Iran. This report comes from Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev, who spent 5 years as the spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington. How convenient that someone who's been in the US that long agitates about Iranian involvement, making justified a rocket attack on Tehran's nuclear facilities.

And this all comes as fantastic news to the warbloggers. For a while there it seemed like they were out of business. Iraq is in chaos, Afghanistan faces a Taliban surge 5 years after the start of fighting, and the American public appears to be turning away from war as a problem-solving tool. This was anathema to the warbloggers. They simply had to have another war.

This begs the question of why. It's clear that the warbloggers, many of whom I read today cheerleading for Israel's hits on Lebanese facilities, wanted to jettison the failures in Iraq as soon as humanly possible, and another war offers them the perfect opportunity to demagogue, demonize, and celebrate the carnage. Iraq is SO last season. Afghanistan is positively ANCIENT. They've moved on from those wars, which weren't successful because the US was too restrained, anyway. It's the familiar reason for dropping George Bush - he wasn't ever a real conservative, anyway. Conservatism hasn't failed, it's never BEEN TRIED. And the wars of the 21st century weren't lost, they haven't been prosecuted with enough force. Same argument. Same argument as Trotskyites who aver that true Communism hasn't been attempted either. Well, neocons all spring from that tradition, anyway.

So shirking responsibility for one of the most disastrous foreign policy blunders in modern history, one that harmed US credibility the world over, is certainly on the agenda. But there's something else. I think that the warbloggers in general legitimately believe that overriding force is the only way to stop the threat they perceive from radical Islam. I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with people of this ilk that before long descend into the definitive statement "you have to hit them hard in the mouth because that's all they know." In so many ways that's what drove this initial neocon foray into Iraq. It's what motivates the original PNAC document. If you project massive American military might globally, nobody will fuck with you. It's the "king of the hill" bullyboy doctrine writ large.

Nobody's saying that Israel has no right to retaliate for incursions into their territory. But cheering it on, with spittle dropping from the corners of mouths, is the kind of bloodthirsty mania that the world could do without. "We didn't ask for this war, but we will finish it," they say. Bullshit. You've been asking for war since our greatest threat was the CCCP. You think war is a tool to solve problems. And as there will always be problems in the world, you will always want war. You won't want to GO to war, mind you, but you'll want to whoop and holler from the sidelines.

John Dean's study of the authoritarian impulse in what has become the conservative movement is very revealing:

JOHN DEAN: I ran into a massive study that has really been going on 50 years now by academics. They’ve never really shared this with the general public. It’s a remarkable analysis of the authoritarian personality. Both those who are inclined to follow leaders and those who jump in front and want to be the leaders. It was not the opinion of social scientists. It was information they drew by questioning large numbers of people — hundreds of thousands of people — in anonymous testing where [the subjects] conceded their innermost feelings and reactions to things. And it came out that most of these people were pre-qualified to be conservatives and this, did indeed, fit with the authoritarian personality.


OLBERMANN: And the idea of leaders and followers going down this path or perhaps taking a country down this path requires — this whole edifice requires an enemy. Communism, al Qaeda, Democrats, me… whoever for the two-minutes hate. I overuse the Orwellian analogies to nauseating proportions. But it really was, in reading what you wrote about, especially what the academics talked about. There was that two-minutes hate. There has to be an opponent, an enemy, to coalesce around or the whole thing falls apart. Is that the gist of it?

DEAN: It is one of the things, believe it or not, that still holds conservatism together. There is many factions in conservatism and their dislike or hatred of those they betray as liberal, who will basically be anybody who disagrees with them, is one of the cohesive factors. There are a few others but that’s certainly one of the basics. There’s no question that, particularly the followers, they’re very aggressive in their effort to pursue and help their authority figure out or authority beliefs out. They will do what ever needs to be done in many regards. They will blindly follow. They stay loyal too long and this is the frightening part of it.

We know that the enemy must be destroyed because we're told their the enemy and all enemies must be destroyed. And the footsoldiers in this movement are those warbloggers who glorify any act of war, who roar with approval at suffering and carnage, who fail to take foreign policy seriously but view it as a game where their team must utterly devastate the other side. Meanwhile, those in power take advantage of the simple-mindedness of this approach by amping up the rhetoric, providing fresh meat for the warbloggers to blog, and giving some sort of approval to madness.


Some Great Polling

(bumped to the top)

The true poll is in November, so this is no time to let up. But July is close enough that these numbers are starting to matter. And I've seen a bounty of really good numbers this week, in races for the House and Senate all across the country.

Rep. Bob Ney, who's listed on 5 indictment reports related to Jack Abramoff and others, is down 11 points to Democratic challenger Zack Space in Ohio's 18th District (OH-18).

Former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler leads the incumbent Rep. Charles Taylor in NC-11 by four points.

In the heavily Republican OH-2, which Paul Hackett just missed nabbing in 2005, Vic Wulsin is tied with Mean Jean Schmidt, the freshman Rep. who called John Murtha a coward on the House floor.

Sen. Robert Menendez is up by 6 in New Jersey's Senate race.

Jim Webb has been tearing Sen. George Felix Allen a new one, and a new poll shows Webb within striking distance despite having a far lower name ID.

Claire McCaskill is running neck and neck with Sen. Jim Talent, Mr. Stem Cell Flip-Flop, in Missouri.

Jon Tester, he of the flat top, leads corrupt incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns in Montana.

And I haven't seen a poll this week, but last I heard Rick Santorum was down by 18.

There may be more, but these are just the ones I've seen in the last 48 hours. And these are tangible examples, proof that Democratic candidates are getting it done. The generic ballot poll results are nice, but you don't vote for a party, you vote for people. And these people are great candidates, from all sides of the ideological spectrum, who are winning all over the map.

UPDATE: 2 more.

Rasmussen, more of a lean-Republican outfit, incidentally, is reporting that Phil Angelides leads Arnold by 2 points in California, which kind of stuns me.

And they have Rod Blagojevich comfortably ahead in Illinois, which, considering his troubles, is also kind of shocking.

These two results point to some kind of Democratic wave. When even the less successful candidates are caught up in it, something's going on.


While You Were Sleeping...

World War Three just broke out:

Israel intensified its attacks against Lebanon on Thursday, blasting Beirut's airport in its heaviest air campaign against its neighbor in 24 years. Four dozen civilians had died in the violence following the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, officials said.

After warplanes punched holes in the airport's runways just south of Beirut, Israel's army chief Brig. Gen. Dan Halutz warned that "nothing is safe" in Lebanon. He said Beirut itself — particularly offices and residences of Hezbollah officials — would be a target.

This gets added to the fighting in Gaza, the "Saving Private Ryan" move to recapture the kidnapped soldier. It's a two-front war against Hamas and Hizbollah. There's no doubt that this is going to escalate. Maybe Israel needed to finally act to rid the Lebanese border of terrorist groups who operated with impunity. I support them protecting their citizens from rocket attacks But maybe there are consequences to that which will have long-term effects in the region.

As a Jew, I'm not supposed to criticize Israel. Ever. That's how I grew up.

Let me just say that I have no faith in the current leaders in Jerusalem. I don't think they have a clue what they're doing. The Defense Minister was a longtime labor organizer. The Prime Minister was a mayor. Their foreign policy and diplomatic experience is extremely limited, and this lashing out, however appropriate, is a dangerous game (and to many warbloggers in this country, it is a game). Hizbollah has said they'll hit Haifa. Israel has decided Beirut is a legitimate target. The last time they went into Lebanon they were there for 20 years.

World War I began in the Balkans. It was far more strategically insignificant than the Middle East. Case in point; oil's up to an all-time high, almost $76/barrel.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Beach at End of a Street

The Federal Even-yeared Anti-terror Response (FEAR) Unit is at it again, making the nation safe for Republican democracy y protecting the essential sites without which this nation would go to pieces:

It reads like a tally of terrorist targets that a child might have written: Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo, the Amish Country Popcorn factory, the Mule Day Parade, the Sweetwater Flea Market and an unspecified “Beach at End of a Street.”

But the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, in a report released Tuesday, found that the list was not child’s play: all these “unusual or out-of-place” sites “whose criticality is not readily apparent” are inexplicably included in the federal antiterrorism database.

The National Asset Database, as it is known, is so flawed, the inspector general found, that as of January, Indiana, with 8,591 potential terrorist targets, had 50 percent more listed sites than New York (5,687) and more than twice as many as California (3,212), ranking the state the most target-rich place in the nation.

Go ahead, laugh, but when the terrorists blow up "beach at end of a street," will you ever have egg on your face. And sand.

FEAR Unit's just doing their job, folks. Making sure everyone knows that they're five minutes away from a fiery and unspeakable death. Unless the GOP keeps Congress, that is.


Still Killing the Party

Thanks, Joe, founder of Lieberman for Connecticut, for refusing to respect the primary and putting the seat in play.

[former state police commander on gambling issues Bradley] Beecher, who was familiar with Schlesinger, says the Republican nominee told him he is, in gambling parlance, a card counter who has been thrown out of the Mohegan Sun casino. Schlesinger told Beecher and others he plays under an assumed name, Alan Gold. Beecher shared details of his startling conversation with Schlesinger in an email to Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell and others around the state.

Republican state chairman George Gallo has conferred with Schlesinger and is concerned about the implications of the brewing gambling scandal. Schlesinger confirmed to Gallo that he gambled under the name Alan Gold because he wanted to accrue points on his "Wampum card" at the Foxwoods casino operated by the Mahantucket Pequots.
According to Gallo, who sounds like he is ready to force Schlesinger from the ticket and find a replacement, "Our mistake is that we only vetted candidates using their real names, not aliases."

The Republicans are gutting their weak candidate because they see an opportunity. Rell probably wrote that email for Beecher.

This is no different that what happened to Jack(?) Ryan in Illinois in 2004, only then the pathetic IL GOP couldn't find a credible candidate and had to turn their lonely eyes to Alan Keyes.

Time to DRAFT KEYES FOR CONNECTICUT! 2 states down, only 48 to go!

Seriously, I think they have someone waiting in the wings. Someone credible enough to get 35-40% of the vote and win a three-way race. Is it Chris Shays? Rob Simmons?

Clearly, CT Republicans are licking their chops. They don't have a whole lot of time, however. But Lieberman is once again enabling them.


Brother, Can You Spare A Government Contract

Considering the impeccable source they have on the inside, Halliburton must have just screwed up royal to get this treatment:

The Army is discontinuing a controversial multibillion-dollar deal with oil services giant Halliburton Co. to provide logistical support to U.S. troops worldwide, a decision that could cut deeply into the firm's dominance of government contracting in Iraq.

The choice comes after several years of attacks from critics who saw the contract as a symbol of politically connected corporations profiteering on the war.

Under the deal, Halliburton had exclusive rights to provide the military with a wide range of work that included keeping soldiers around the world fed, sheltered and in communication with friends and family back home. Government audits turned up more than $1 billion in questionable costs. Whistle-blowers told how the company charged $45 per case of soda, double-billed on meals and allowed troops to bathe in contaminated water.

The Right does a peculiar thing when faced with this kind of news. They'll say something like, "See, the system works! Chimpy McHitlerburton isn't a king, and cronies aren't getting paid off!" They said it when the Hamdan decision came down, that it proved we weren't living in a fascist dictatorship.

Talk about setting the bar low! Halliburton delivered substandard service for years and years and years, raking in billions and billions for projects all across the globe, particularly in Iraq, and now, when troop drawdowns are looming and reconstruction is being abandoned, when most of the contract work in Iraq is wrapping up, NOW the Army gets religion and moves away from Halliburton, and I'm supposed to be cheered by this?

Too little, too late.

And also, they're not even completely out the door:

Army officials yesterday defended the company's performance but also acknowledged that reliance on a single contractor left the government vulnerable. The Pentagon's new plan will split the work among three companies, to be chosen this fall, with a fourth firm hired to help monitor the performance of the other three. Halliburton will be eligible to bid on the work.

And if they don't get it, I'll eat a shoe.


A Day Without A Blog

Looks like that's what it's going to be, folks. Lots of deadlines.

Here's a random ten to satisfy you:

Rag Mama Rag - The Band
Pink Bullets - The Shins
I Can't Live Without My Radio - LL Cool J
The New - Interpol
Fly Away - Black Eyed Peas
Prevenge - They Might Be Giants
King of the Rodeo - Kings of Leon
Thank You (Falletin Me Be Mice Elf) - Sly & The Family Stone
Tomorrow Comes Today - Gorillaz
Neighborhood #4 - The Arcade Fire

And do visit the members of the blogroll in the right-hand column. And listen to my podcast!

Thank you.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Please Don't Let Them Breed

This guy at the March Together for Life blog unintentionally makes an excellent argument for the lack of intelligent life in the universe.

He critiques a 1999 Onion article with the title "I'm totally psyched for this abortion!" as if it's the real thing.

THEN, after he gets completely toasted for it in the comments, he responds with a follow-up post that CONTINUES to claim that the "author" of the Onion piece is a real person, who just happened to write a "satirical" article.

When you encounter stupidity this deep and this thick, it makes you wonder what's so especially great about being "pro-life," after all.


Quick Hits

I've got a million things to let you, the heroes, in on:

Very sad news in India, as close to 150 die in a series of coordinated bombings. This looks to be a continuation of Kashmiri militants terrorizing the Indian people.

• In more of the "good news" department, we've decided that we're going to defeat the Taliban, who we've been fighting for close to 5 years and who we've defeated twice before, if we are to believe Bush and Rumsfeld.

• Last week an Italian magistrate ordered a former President to stand trial for embezzlement, false accounting, tax fraud and money laundering. President... trial... why is this judge teasing me and my fellow citizens?

• Yesterday Christy at Firedoglake posted about the ethics-free zone of the Senate:

Say you have two United States Senators, who are not only officials elected to a high office in the legislative branch of our government who are sworn to uphold the Constitution in the performance of their duties, but both men are also attorneys, highly trained — one a former United States Attorney and one still a current JAG attorney.

Now imagine that both of these men have attempted to defraud the highest Court in our nation by staging a bogus colloquy on the floor of the United States Senate after hours so that it could be inserted into the Congressional Record as if others were around for a debate (which they were not). And that said colloquy was staged solely to provide cover for their argument on the legislative history of the particular law in question — in other words, such behavior was designed solely to shore up their argument and for no other reason whatsoever, and only after the fact when it was clear that their argument was headed for failure.

Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina ought to be ashamed of themselves. But more than that, they should be facing state bar sanctions, and an ethics investigation in the Senate. Both Kyl and Graham issued a press release after the Hamdan decision came down but, not surprisingly, it has no mention that both of them were fraudulent liars who tried to skew the results in the Supreme Court.

Read more about this here. These guys staged a play to try and sway the opinion of the US Supreme Court. It didn't work, and they should be held accountable.

• I didn't get to this last week, but this story, about an online campaign that ended in running a Jewish family out of a small town in Delaware, is pretty significant. The Stop the ACLU group openly seeks to expose plaintiffs in ACLU cases, printing their personal information, leading to harrassment and threats. If you keep reading the link you'll find that the head of "Stop the ACLU" was "pleased" about the results of their pogrom.

We're living in a country where too many people think nothing of posting personal information which leads to this kind of verbal and in some cases physical violence. Online predators are a problem no matter who is targeted. We have laws about targeting children but none about this kind of behavior. It's sickening.

• Is it possible that Rick Santorum has become crazier?

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il "doesn't want to die," according to U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. "He wants to watch NBA basketball."

Pennsylvania's junior Republican senator offered that assessment in explaining why he thinks Iran poses a graver threat than North Korea.

Rick Santorum doesn't want to lose his Senate seat. He just wants to watch all the episodes of "The Dog Whisperer" that he's missed.


Hard Out Here for a Shill

It's not enough for a city to have a Representative in Washington, they need to pay a lobbyist as well.

Since 1998, the number of public entities hiring private firms to represent them in Washington has nearly doubled to 1,421 from 763, as places like Treasure Island, population 7,514, have jumped onboard with behemoths like Miami that have long had lobbyists.


Enlisted almost exclusively to land earmarks, lobbyists for local governments have boomed alongside a broader explosion in such appropriations, to 12,852 items worth $64 billion last year from 4,219 pet projects totaling $27.7 billion in 1998. The prolific earmarking does not change the overall budget's bottom line, but how the pie is cut: dollars are doled out, often in secret, at the whim of a lone legislator -- often under the influence of a lobbyist -- rather than through a competitive process.

Rep. Jerry Lewis of the San Bernardino area recommended a lobbyist for his own district. Because he can't be bothered to get things done for them himself.

All of this is why lobbyist contracts are up to $2.36 billion dollars annually. This is what the Republican "pay to play" system breeds; as time goes by, clients have to pay more and more for lobbyists, who justify these fees by pointing to the legislation they're getting from the lawmakers, who they reward with extravagant contributions or outright bribes. Everybody gets richer: the politicians, the lobbyists, the private business clients, everyone but the American people, that is. Washington has become a place where legislators print money to give to their friends, who then give some of it back to them.

So absolutely nobody should be surprised that a Republican Congressman and his wife have refined the process so much that, instead of the Congressman handing cash out to wealthy contributors, he just gives it to her:

In the past two years, campaign and political action committees controlled by Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.) paid ever-larger commissions to his wife's one-person company and spent tens of thousands of dollars on gifts at stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany & Co. and a Ritz-Carlton day spa.

The use of such committees, especially "leadership" PACs, for purposes other than electing politicians to Congress is a common and growing phenomenon, but campaign finance watchdogs say Doolittle has taken it to new heights.

Doolittle's wife, Julie, a professional fundraiser, has collected 15 percent of all contributions to Doolittle's leadership PAC and additional commissions on contributions to his campaign committee -- a total of nearly $140,000 since 2003, according to Federal Election Commission records.

"I don't know if there's anything comparable," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a watchdog group that called last month for an investigation of Doolittle by the House ethics committee. "If this is okay, it is a road map for how to convert substantial sums of campaign money to personal use."

She's just skimming off the top of campaign contributions, and getting fat and happy off of it. This is the worst kind of campaign fund abuse, but it's not substantially different than cutting lobbyists in on the take after pushing through legislation that they wrote. And, using "leadership PACs" as a personal slush fund is a growing practice:

Kenneth A. Gross, a campaign finance lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, said "personal use" restrictions that govern campaign committees do not apply to leadership PACs, which lawmakers set up largely to help other candidates fund their campaigns. Because of the lack of regulations, leadership PAC expenditures have regularly generated controversy.

The leadership PAC of Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.) lists $22,896 in hotel expenditures for donors and $320 worth of baseball tickets. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) received attention in February when the news media reported leadership PAC expenses at a Starbucks near his Virginia home that totaled $558 since 2001, as well as payments to Wal-Mart, Burger King bills totaling $50 and 11 meals at Arby's worth $118.

"Leadership PACs are the Wild West of campaign money; they are the political slush funds of this decade," said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.

The Doolittles ought to be sent home rather than continue this personal aggrandizement worthy of a kleptocrat. Charlie Brown is Doolittle's opponent this year, a 26-year Air Force veteran involved in every US conflict from Vietnam to Desert Storm. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Mr. Brown at Yearly Kos, and his district deserves his voice in the Congress. Charlie has been blogging about the race, and he's now challenging Rep. Doolittle to debates. See his campaign site for more.


Mickey Maus

That cartoon character over at Slate writes: (oh, wait, I'm giving him too much credit, he didn't write it, he stole it)

Kos mocks Sen. Lieberman for naming his ad hoc independent party "Connecticut for Lieberman:"

"It's still about him. It's always about him."

Hmm. What's the name of Kos's site again? Daily Netroots? Daily People Power? ... [Stolen from reader C.]

I appreciate Mickey's keeping watch for hypocrisy. I'd expect nothing less from the writer of KausFiles.


Tap Dancing As Fast As They Can

Great news everyone! Every man, woman and child in the country is only down a thousand dollars now in the latest budget!

Today, the Office of Management Budget projected a $296 billion federal deficit for fiscal year 2006. Bush held a press conference arguing that this is a vindication of his economic policies.

Actually, it would be the fourth largest deficit of all time. Here’s the top five:

1. 2004 (George W. Bush) $413 billion
2. 2003 (George W. Bush) $378 billion
3. 2005 (George W. Bush) $318 billion
4. 2006 (George W. Bush) $296 billion (projected)
5. 1992 (George H. W. Bush) $290 billion

I don't think people recognize the difference between the budget deficit and the national debt, and they're certainly not getting any help from the media. The budget deficit represents current acounts for the fiscal year, whereas the national debt reflects money owed by the government to banks or lending institutions or other foreign nations. That's running at about eight trillion dollars, which is $28,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. Yesterday it got $1.7 billion dollars bigger. Today it will again.

Incidentally, we're supposed to celebrate this.

We're also supposed to celebrate the fact that detainees at Guantanamo and other US prison sites will be entitled to full Geneva convention protections. This of course represents a shift in policy, which said earlier that enemy combatants did not fly under a foreign flag and were not subject to Geneva. Which means that this statement presupposes that we were at some point not giving those protections to detainees. So we're supposed to celebrate that we're NOT torturing people anymore.



Monday, July 10, 2006

Wedge Issue Update

I like to take a look at these so-called "liberal wedge issues," which actually are sensible policies which play to American hopes (whereas by and large, most Republican wedge issues play to American fears) which Democrats have consistently supported, and are making sure everybody knows it in an election year. Last week the Republicans suggested they would buckle in an attempt to defuse a top wedge issue, raising the minimum wage for the first time in a decade:

With Democrats plotting to make the minimum wage a major issue in this fall's congressional races, House Republican leaders are conceding that they may have to yield to pressure for an increase to the federal standard, which has been frozen for nearly a decade.

Faced with elections that could cost them control of Congress, John A. Boehner, the House majority leader, acknowledged Thursday that Republican leaders are likely to reverse course and hold a vote on a proposed minimum wage increase. Though Boehner said it was a "cynical ploy" for Democrats to make it a campaign centerpiece, polls indicate that voters clearly favor an increase in the wage, and Boehner acknowledged that GOP leaders are "probably going to have to find some way to deal with it."

Yes, it's a cynical ploy to support the basic idea that if you work 40 hours a week in this country, you should be paid above the federal poverty line. How cynical to side with millions of poor people!

But as grudingly accepting as Boehner was, just a few days later the Republican agenda had no minimum wage hike on its list, although there was a lot to warm the cockles of James Dobson's heart:

Besides a potential series of votes on family tax breaks, the legislative lineup for the weeks ahead included initiatives that would prohibit any government from using federal money to confiscate guns during emergencies; ensure that local governments do not have to pay damages or lawyer fees in court battles over public expressions of religion, and protect the Pledge of Allegiance from being found unconstitutional.

The agenda also includes a measure to ban human cloning and one requiring that those performing late-term abortions inform women seeking the procedure that the fetus could feel pain and could receive anesthesia. House Republican leaders also plan a vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, even though it could not be adopted in this Congress because it has already been rejected by the Senate.

These would be the top problems facing the country, were the country suddenly relocated to Pluto. Here on planet Earth, where we have an intractable occupation of a country in civil war, and rising energy costs, and Army bases that can't keep the lights on, and catastrophic climate change, and where the soaring price of healthcare and college education compounds itself almost daily, these booga-booga issues don't mean a damn. And the most endangered Republicans know it:

"It was stupid and gross," said Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut. "They have this obsession to satisfy conservative Republicans who will probably be re-elected no matter what happens. They get job satisfaction, but they are making it more difficult for me to win my race."

Mr. Shays and others said the announcement of the agenda took them by surprise, particularly after House Republicans seemed to be back on track after a few strong weeks of emphasizing new fiscal controls and a push on national security issues.

But even on those issues where the Republican Congress reluctantly votes to get something done for the American people, they face a brick wall in the executive branch:

President Bush will likely cast the first veto of his presidency if the Senate, as expected, passes legislation to expand federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, White House aide Karl Rove said today.

"The president is emphatic about this," Rove - Bush's top political advisor and architect of his 2000 and 2004 campaigns - said in a meeting with the editorial board of The Denver Post.

The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed the legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, and Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del. If the Senate approves the bill it would go to the president's desk.

This is going to be the stand, the first veto of the Presidency, a vote against science and promising medical research that hopes to save lives, not destroy them. There haven't been any vetoes before this because of the end-run Bush has made of the signing statement, but apparently when you are faced with saving lives or saving blastocysts that would be thrown into the dumpster behind the IVF clinic, it's time for a veto.

Because they play to hopes, and they are about getting something done for disadvantaged Americans, these wedge issues don't go away once elections end. They continue to come up month by month and year by year. But the Democrats would do well to continue to highlight them as we head toward November.



This could be potentially giant news:

Two Latino radio hosts credited for mobilizing hundreds of thousands this year in pro-immigrant protests said on Friday they would join the drive to increase the Hispanic and immigrant vote in the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

Los Angeles disc jockeys Piolin (Tweetybird) and El Cucuy (the Bogeyman) said they will work with the National Council of La Raza and other organizations to push Latino immigrants living in the United States to become U.S. citizens and register to vote in time to cast ballots in 2008 [...]

National Council of La Raza president Janet Murguia said Spanish-language radio DJs could help add at least another 3 million Latino voters to the 7.5 million who cast ballots in 2004, helping to elect more pro-immigration politicians.

"With the huge march on March 25, the Los Angeles DJs showed the power to mobilize the community," said El Cucuy, whose real name is Renan Almendarez Coello, referring to the 500,000 marchers who rallied in Los Angeles on March 25 in what is believed to be the nation's largest pro-immigrant protest.

"The big difference now is that we are united and fighting for the same objective," said Piolin, also known as Eddie Sotelo.

It makes sense to demonize brown people if there aren't any consequences. 3 million extra voters=consequences. If the Republicans want to make immigration their signature issue in the midterms, those on the opposite side of the debate have the right and the duty to mobilize. It's been a long time, since the glory days of unions, since the Democratic Party had such a mobilized base at their fingertips.

I don't think Karl Rove wanted to push his party in this direction, considering that if you look at demographics it could lead to a long-lasting minority in the same way the Civil Rights Act of 1965 did for Democrats. But the hardcore Republican base wasn't interested in thinking more than one step ahead. Fighting for their political survival, the Tancredo faction may have signed their party's death warrant.


Neocons Getting Bluffed

In further proof that the media has an uncanny ability to spin ANYTHING bad by this Administration into a positive, David Sanger writes in today's New York Times about the kinder, gentler foreign policy of the Bush Administration:

As he leaves for Europe and Russia this week, where the simultaneous nuclear standoffs in Iran and North Korea will top the agenda, Mr. Bush finds himself struggling to square his muscular declarations with the realpolitik of his second term after the invasion of Iraq. At every turn, and every provocation, he finds himself in an unaccustomed position: urging patience.

"These problems didn't rise overnight, and they don't get solved overnight," he told reporters during an hourlong news conference in Chicago on Friday. At another point, he said: "You know, the problem with diplomacy, it takes a while to get something done. If you're acting alone, you can move quickly." Underscoring the idea again, he said, "It's painful in a way for some to watch because it takes a while to get people on the same page."

Those quotes do make it painfully clear that the President is not urging patience because he wants to. He'd be perfectly content to slash and burn his way through Pyongyang and Tehran if the National Institute of Health would only finish their plan to clone soldiers. Other articles this week try to portray this foreign policy shift as a deliberate "strategic makeover" by the White House. But Sanger is a little more... sanguine than that, and he doesn't describe a wise and patient President, willing to let diplomacy run its course, but a frazzled leader whose missteps and incompetence have cornered him into such a stance, limiting his options and leaving him no choice but to negotiate. In fact, it all goes back to that 800-pound Mesopotamian gorilla:

To Mr. Bush's critics, the question goes to the heart of the new argument over pre-emption: whether Mr. Bush, in focusing on Iraq in 2003, missed his chance. It was in January of that year, as American forces were flowing toward the Middle East, that North Korea threw out the international inspectors who had been watching over its stockpile of nuclear fuel, and withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The action did not have the drama of a multiple-missile launchings. But unlike the test-firings, it was a clearer violation of international law. (Any country has a right to exit the treaty with 90 days' notice, but the North evicted the inspectors before that period expired.)

But Mr. Bush made no effort then to seek sanctions at the United Nations Security Council, or to rally China and Russia to impose economic sanctions. One senior former official who was involved in the discussions said Mr. Bush was briefed on his military options to strike at the nuclear facilities before the spent fuel rods were moved — but the options looked bad, and he turned back to the Iraq invasion plan.

Administration officials still defend that decision, saying that Saddam Hussein lived in a more volatile neighborhood and needed to be dealt with first. But as one senior American diplomat who was involved in the Iraq decision conceded late last week, "The decisions we made then narrowed our options now."

It's not that Bush is switching tactics because he is learning from his mistakes, but that he is discovering his initial forays into the doctrine of pre-emption were a FAILURE - and their effects are still being felt today. He's pissed off and boxed in, as Josh Marshall says. And with good reason: the neocons he trusted got jobbed. If it was poker, they'd be out of the tournament before the first blinds got raised.

It seemed like it wasn't so long ago that there was something of a coherent foreign policy in the White House, whether you liked it or not. They even had a name for it. The Bush Doctrine. "We will make no distinction between terrorists and those who harbor them." "We will act pre-emptively to secure our nation." "Oceans can't protect us from harm, so we will not be isolationist." "Freedom is God's gift to every human being on the planet, and we will bring the fires of freedom to every darkened corner of the globe."

These were very real policy statements. They didn't always abide by them (like letting tyrannical governments in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and Egypt and... OK, they pretty much didn't abide by them), but they were there. And they sprung from a decades-in-the-making strategy of muscular intervention which said that projecting American power across the globe was the only way to maintain hegemony. They applied them in Afghanistan. Then we set off on a misadventure that was conceived years earlier, to saber-rattle our way into Iraq and force a confrontation. This sent a consistent message to the world: get on America's shit list and you'll get squashed.

And indeed, this bolstered the other countries listed on the Axis of Evil's commemorative stemware set to get with the (nuclear) program as a means of self-protection. If you had WMD, the theory went, the United States would negotiate; if you were SUSPECTED of having weapons, bombs away!

Billmon has an unrelated-yet-somehow-related post up about how acting all angry-like and unilateral and getting in the world's face and stuff during the run-up to Iraq has set an expectation for how this Administration deals with threats, and emboldened other world leaders, particularly in the wake of the Iraquagmire, to call our bluff.

This is something the Vulcans probably should have thought about before they took their shiny new doctrine out for a test drive to Baghdad. When you launch an aggressive war after going through the motions of diplomacy, your opponents are entitled to assume you're likely to do it again in a similar situation.

Indeed, such expectations themselves can make war more likely. Believing your diplomatic gestures completely insincere, your opponent may choose defiance, forcing you to either follow through on your "doctrine" or suffer an enormous loss of credibilty -- the coin of the realm in international relations. This, in turn, can lead other players (like those pesky global energy markets) to ratchet up their perceptions of the risk of war, which in turn provides ammunition to those on your side who argue (or like Frum simply imply) that war has become the lesser of two practical evils -- i.e. if you want to bring those oil prices down, you gotta send in the Air Force.

So, for example, North Korea perceives our weakened state, and acts aggressively, shooting off a bunch of missiles and forcing us to either retaliate or look foolish. We can't even get a UN resolution through without deays. Iran perceives our weakened state and shoots its mouth off, daring us to strike or look like a paper tiger. On the sidelines are the neocon media team, agitating for attack.

North Korea is firing missiles. Iran is going nuclear. Somalia is controlled by radical Islamists. Iraq isn't getting better, and Afghanistan is getting worse," says William Kristol, a leading conservative commentator and editor of The Weekly Standard. (You forgot Darfur, Bill, where fighting is now WORSE since the rebels and the government made a peace deal- ed.)

"I give the President a lot of credit for hanging tough on Iraq. But I am worried it has made them (the White House) too passive in confronting the other threats."

But the reality on the ground is that the White House doesn't have the resources, doesn't have the international cooperation, doesn't have the intelligence, doesn't have the leverage, and doesn't even have the moral high ground to do much of anything. And the entire reason for this passivity concerns those 138,000 US troops in the midst of civil war in a haphazardly designed country that has never known peace. The Iraq policy wasn't just a horrendous decision because of what is going on in Iraq; it has all kinds of extrapolations and permutations that have made us less safe.

Kristol is right that Iraq has made the White House passive. But not for the reasons he thinks.

To close, I give you Kevin Drum, who gives the definitive statement on the inflatable raft that is coming apart in the foreign policy pond at the White House:

The Bush administration literally seems to have no foreign policy at all anymore. They have no serious plan for Iraq, no plan for Iran, no plan for North Korea, no plan for democracy promotion, no plan for anything. With the neocons on the outs, Condoleezza Rice at the State Department, and Dick Cheney continuing to drift into an alternate universe at the OVP, the Bush administration seems completely at sea. There's virtually no ideological coherency to their foreign policy that I can discern, and no credible followup on what little coherency is left.

As near as I can tell, George Bush has learned that "There's evil in the world and we're going to stand up to it" isn't really adequate as a foreign policy for a superpower but is unable to figure out anything better to replace it with. So he spins his wheels, waiting for 2009. Unfortunately, the rest of us are left spinning with him.



I want to know how stories like this show that Iraq is "sliding towards civil war" and not already in one.

On Sunday, masked Shiite gunmen roamed Baghdad’s Jihad neighborhood, dragging Sunnis from their cars, picking them out on the street and killing them in a brazen series of attacks. Police said 41 people were killed, although there were conflicting figures that put the death toll at more than 50 and as low as nine.

Sunni leaders expressed outrage over the killings, and President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, appealed for calm, warning that the nation stood “in front of a dangerous precipice.”

Not "in front" of a precipice, but over it, through it, and headlong into the valley below. The top aide to President Talabani has acknowledged this.

Juan Cole calls it "the worst wave of of faith-based violence ever perpetrated by [Iraq's] sectarian militias in one day." But of course the militia that some call the Iraqi Interior Ministry has been raping and pillaging the country for some time. And they've been doing it in a particualrly sectarian way. So this is just the latest battle in an ONGOING CIVIL WAR. I don't understand why it's so hard for the media to just print that. Clearly that's what's happening.

Grim joke of the day: if you live in the "Jihad district" of a city, isn't violence going to come to you at one point or another?

I will add, to satisfy the beliefs of how bloggers blog, according to the US Air Force, that I can't believe this happened.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Breaking the "No Agenda" Myth

I'm getting completely sick of this zombie myth that the Democrats have no clear vision of the future, that they cannot articulate a clear agenda, that they don't have any ideas. It's not only completely untrue. It's unbelievably damaging, particularly when said not by partisan Republicans or their media mouthpieces, but by liberal or nonpartisan voices.

Now, Steve Lopez of the LA Times is a good columnist. His articles on the plight of the homeless, particularly at Skid Row in downtown LA, is some of the finest work I've seen in a major American newspaper about the lower classes since the days of the muckrakers. He presents them as real people, and it's powerful, affecting stuff that has actually started to provoke change in the system.

But this piece of tripe he writes today is so stupid, so unimaginative, and most importantly so INTELECTUALLY LAZY, that it really puts a chink in his credibility armor.

The entire column describes a fundraising letter Lopez receives on behalf of the DSCC, written by Ted Kennedy. Lopez is upset because the four-page letter didn't offer an alternative vision for the Democratic Party.

Page 1, however, contained no such clues. It just fired more bazooka shots at the president and his "extreme right-wing allies," so I figured the fresh ideas from the Dems had to be on Page 2.

Wrong again. Page 2 was nothing but groveling for money for contested races in Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Minnesota. ("It's urgent for each of us to do as much as possible as soon as possible!")

Page 3 suggested the Republicans will burn in hell for sins against humanity ("They've poisoned our air and water"), and Page 4 warned, "They'll never stop unless we stop them. They're shameless!"

That's quite a cavalry call, but it seems to me the Democrats are once again rushing to the front lines with empty muskets.

Apparently fundraising letters to committed Democrats must contain a detailed agenda of what specific pieces of legislation will be enacted should the Democrats get the majority. I didn't know that DSCC fundraising letters should be directed at swing voters.

By virtue of getting a mailer like that, you've obviously either given money to Democrats in the past or made the effort to get on the mailing list or registered Democratic or did something to show your Democratic bona fides. Letters like that aren't sent out to the population as a whole. And as such, they aren't designed to change anyone's mind who's on the fence for November. They're designed to solicit funds so they can go out and change OTHER minds.

Lopez is upset that there was a bumper sticker in the mail along with the letter, and its message, "HAD ENOUGH? Vote Democrat in '06," wasn't substantive enough. Really. I mean, I'm sure they could find a printer willing to use 4-point Helvetica type and etch in as many policy prescriptions as possible on the thing, but would that really get people in traffic to break out their magnifying glasses and go "Hmm, cutting student loan costs in half, that's a good id... oh crap look out for that tree!" It's a frickin' bumper sticker, Steve. Substance ain't it's thing.

As for the "no alternative vision" frame, which we've seen Republicans so relentlessly play for decades, it's a rich and steaming pile of garbage. You need only spend 15 minutes on any number of campaign websites, or a quick jaunt to the THOMAS site, or There's Progressive States, which seeks to get progressive bills through state legislatures, or even right here at this website, and you'd unearth a slew of policy ideas and progressive legislation. It may not get in the local paper, but I wouldn't blame that on Democrats as much as I would the likes of Steve Lopez. Because the Dems have certainly put out what seems like hundreds of focused and specific plans and strategies, all of which were much-ballyhooed, with large press events and plenty of fanfare. You don't have to agree with their message, or even their presentation, but you can't deny their existence. Yet a four-page letter to PARTISAN DEMOCRATS who presumably wouldn't be getting the letter if they weren't already on board and with the program is enough to make that claim of a lacking alternative vision. Democratic leaders have pushed and pushed and pushed to get these agenda items in print, but it doesn't match with the zombie narrative that "Dems have no vision" so it falls by the wayside.

Lopez then asks a couple politicos about this terrible problem that the Democrats have in articulating their program. See if you can spot the problem with the politicos he asks...

Craig Smith, a former speechwriter for Gerald Ford and the first President Bush, said the Kennedy letter is a direct response to polls that show declining support for the war in Iraq and for the president....

...My decision was endorsed by Ken Khachigian, the GOP consultant who worked with Reagan....

No doubt you're going to get an honest assessment of what's happening in the Democratic Party from those two!

Smith decides to offer the Democrats a little advice:

There's an intellectual distinction to be made in the essence of what it means to be a Republican or a Democrat, Smith said, and Democrats ought to embrace the difference.

"For me, it always goes back to this: If you put a gun to a Republican's head and say, 'Choose between individuality or equality,' they'll pick individual freedom. A good liberal will pick equality over individual freedom."

Has this guy been paying attention to what's been happening in the country the last 5 years? Does he happen to notice the erosion of civil liberties in the Bush era, and how the Republicans - not theoretical conservatives that would fit his neat little political science test - have been so frightened by the boogeyman that they've willingly given up freedoms left and right?

I know that Smith is making more of an argument about the free market, but painting Republicans as the party of freedom in this era is absurd.

Democrats, he said, need to get back to the social agenda. They ought to put healthcare reform back at the top of their to-do list, and not cut and run the way Bill Clinton did.

They ought to be screaming about wages that keep millions in abject poverty, and they ought to put up or shut up on education, doing something more than attacking Bush's "no child left behind" program.

I love how this suggests that the Democrats haven't been doing that at all. This, just a couple weeks after the Senate Minority Leader vowed that there will be no Congressional pay raises without a rise in the minimum wage. This, just a few weeks after the first item on one of the aforementioned Democratic plans includes a proposal to negotiate lower drug prices with pharmaceuticals through repealing that barrier in the prescription drug plan, and investing in stem cell and other medical research (NOTE: this isn't single-payer, sure. The Dems could maybe do more here). This, while ignoring the TEACH Act and the PACT Act and Rahm Emanuel's call for universal college education and the proposal to cut skyrocketing student loan rates in half.

Here's the thing that these naysayers, these slugs that want to be constantly spoonfed with policy diktats over and over again, always fail to understand: democracy demands participation. Over 40 years ago John F. Kennedy said that you should ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. Now Steve Lopez asks "What are you going to do for me, and could you put it in writing every day so I can see it over and over and over?" I'm sorry, but that's unbelievably lazy. The information is out there, and it doesn't even take much of an effort to get it. The corollary to this is that you, Y-O-U, are not an empty vessel in this effort to cast an alternative vision but a full participant as a member of the Party. You want change? You want an agenda? Be the change you wish to see. Ask Brian Keeler. Ask Ned Lamont. Ask Patrick Murphy. Ask Jon Tester. Armchair quarterbacks who piss and moan about the lack of a Democratic vision don't seem to realize, if they're Democrats, that they can actually articulate a vision themselves, simply through talking with friends and neighbors, right on up to taking back Democratic committees and precincts and running for office. That's the crash of the gate that's so bewildering to the traditional media types.

Reasonable people can disagree about the effectiveness of the Democratic agenda. Only those willfully blind and unwilling to do the work can say it doesn't exist.