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

Saturday, February 24, 2007

This Really Exists?

Man, if conservatism wasn't actually real, nobody would believe it. They made a conservative version of Wikipedia called Conservapedia. I'm late to this party, and humorous takedowns are everywhere. But it's almost impossible to ridicule conservatives anymore when they have this much of a gift for self-parody. They actually define judicial activism as either when liberal judges make laws that conservative don't like, or when liberal judges don't strike down laws they don't like. And the invisible hand definition is loads of fun:

The "invisible hand" is a force that ensures the highest economic prosperity in an unregulated system. When a man is looking out for himself and accomplishing his own ends he is inadvertently contributing to the invisible hand. Consider the following scenario: Joe, an average guy, wants peanut butter with which to make himself a sandwich. Bill, the grocer, wants peanuts with which to make and sell peanut butter. Frank, the farmer, grows peanuts. Frank will sell his peanuts to Bill who will make peanut butter and sell that to Joe who will make himself a sandwich. Frank and Bill have worked together and contributed towards Joe’s sandwich without even communicating! This is the essence of the invisible hand: that the economy can continue, even flourish, without government aid or interference, and do so at maximum efficiency.

Except Bill the grocer gets undercut out of the market by General Foods and other multi-mega-corporate peanut butter manufacturers, and Frank's farm was taken over by the bank because agribusiness kept him out of the market. So Joe has his sandwich, but won't give his change to Bill and Frank, who are out begging by his house, because they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

I'll be charitable and say that their intelligent design definition is pretty sound in calling it "an irrational religious-backed campaign to reject the teachings of the Theory of Evolution." But the article discussing the theory of evolution is frankly hilarious, in that the more sane conservatives are ripping the true crazies apart.

This is the first entry I checked out to see what Conservapedia was like, and to see if it's really the quality source it claims to be. Sadly, it is not. What a terrible, unscientific, irrational, and ideological understanding of the Theory of Evolution. Conservatives should be ashamed to have this be a representation of Conservative understanding of scientific issues. Thoughtful conservatives who want the straight science of evolution need to look elsewhere. I won't be back.

There's too much information to counter in this entry, but let me just leave you with this: Dogs can't turn into cats? No, and modern squids won't turn into people, either. But we can look back at the evolutionary history and see where different species branched off from a common ancestor. Cats and dogs are closer to a common ancestor than people and squids are. That is, unless someone produces evidence that overturns our understanding. That would be pretty powerful evidence. Kind of like if someone discovered that there's really no gravity.

Conservapedia: now hated by liberals and conservatives! What unity!

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He's Not In The Loop


“Dozens of high-level officials joined in a White House drill [today] to see how the government would respond if several cities were attacked simultaneously with bombs similar to those used against U.S. troops in Iraq. … President Bush went on a bike ride [this] morning and did not take part in the test.”

It'd be distressing if we were this much of a rudderless ship. But the head rudder is literally NOT NECESSARY. Amazing.

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A Group of Paranoids

("Time is running out," said [John Birch Society founder Robert] Welch in 1951. "Evidence is piling up on many sides and from many sources that October 1952 is the fatal month when Stalin will attack").

-Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, 1964

In Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, there are certain beliefs concerning the cosmic struggle at the end of time--Gog and Magog, anti-Christ, Armageddon, and for Shiite Muslims, the long awaited return of the Hidden Imam, ending in the final victory of the forces of good over evil, however these may be defined. Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22. This was at first reported as "by the end of August," but Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement was more precise.

What is the significance of Aug. 22? This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (cf Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind.

- Bernard Lewis, "August 22," The National Review, 2006

Given the belligerent talk over Iran in recent days, I thought it should be known that to this breed of far-right authoritarian fearmongers, the next attack is ALWAYS around the corner. The enemy is ALWAYS moments away from a bomb, or an attack, or whatever. We ALWAYS have to get them before they get us. This is core wingnut DNA stuff, and it has been for 50 years or more.

And this is why any attempt to negotiate or speak with whoever they determine is "the enemy" can never happen. Because peace is unacceptable. And even it were, money trumps peace.

The above link about Condi Rice, Israel and Syria is really shocking. The US put a stop to even introductory talks between Jerusalem and Damascus. Yes, we deliberately shut down peace negotiations between two foreign entities. Mainly because it would hurt our position against Syria. Because, I guess, they're minutes away from attacking us.

This is the deranged, paranoid mind that is currently running the country. Words like "weakness" and phrases like "sending the wrong message" rule the discourse. And they're sending us headlong into another catastrophe. Help to stop the Iran war by clicking on the link.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

CA Clean Money Update

We all know it's going to be a long, hard slog to get a Clean Money Bill through the California Legislature along the lines of what's been implemented in Arizona, Maine and Connecticut. Heck, the CDP took a neutral position on the Clean Money initiative in 2006. And it got obliterated at the polls.

But nevertheless, things are moving forward. This week Assemblywoman Loni Hancock has re-introduced AB 583, essentially the same bill as the one which passed the Assembly last session. So far there are 4 co-sponsors. You can read all about the bill here. It's a public financing system for all statewide elections for candidates of all parties, provided they show a base of support with a set number of $5 contributions.

What I thought was interesting was this, from the CA Clean Money Campaign's email:

Also exciting is the news that State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) will be introducing a pilot project bill to set up a Clean Money system for the Insurance Commissioner.

Interesting that they would pick the Insurance Commissioner race, no? I mean, considering that the current officeholder contributed $13.5 million of his own money to win the job. A pilot program may be the way to test the system that will be needed to prove its viability.

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Dept. of Not Smart Republican Presidential Candidates

You shall be known by who you hire for your campaign. Case in point number one, from long-shot Duncan Hunter:

In his latest appeal to the Republican base, Duncan Hunter has named Dr. Henry Jordan as his South Carolina campaign co-chair. This Henry Jordan:

COLUMBIA, S.C. (May 16, 1997 12:25 p.m. EDT) -- A state Board of Education member, talking Tuesday about displaying the Ten Commandments in public schools, had a ready suggestion for groups who might object to it.

"Screw the Buddhists and kill the Muslims," Dr. Henry Jordan said during the board's finance and legislative committee meeting. "And put that in the minutes," he added.

The remarks made Tuesday were expunged from the written minutes, but were recorded on tape. The (Columbia) State obtained the tape under the Freedom of Information Act.

Jordan, a surgeon who failed in a bid to get the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in 1994, said Thursday he thought the meeting was over and members were engaged in private conversation.

His apology was "Is this thing on?"

Case in point number two, from Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas:

Exclusive: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee plans to make a splash on Capitol Hill on Friday with the surprising announcement that Rep. Don Young of Alaska has signed on as congressional chairman of his Republican presidential exploratory committee.

In a letter to House Republicans, Young says Huckabee will help produce “a reawakening of the conservative values that make our country a land of opportunity.”

What The Politico doesn't mention, because it would require actual reporting and analysis, is that Don Young is the same guy who called for the summary execution of 250 members of Congress on the House floor, claimed that the quote came from Abraham Lincoln when it didn't, and then refused to correct the record even after acknowledging that the quote was false.

Huckabee's supposed to be the sharp dark-horse candidate, right?

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Digging In Our Heels

I think that the idea behind this surge is to make Iraq MORE dependent on the United States military, not less, and to make the consequences of pulling out more grave. The idea is literally to force us to stay in the fight, not to "win," whatever that means. Newsweek's Michael Hirsh has written a column that expresses this belief:

The British are leaving, the Iraqis are failing and the Americans are staying—and we’re going to be there a lot longer than anyone in Washington is acknowledging right now. As Democrats and Republicans back home try to outdo each other with quick-fix plans for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and funds, what few people seem to have noticed is that Gen. David Petraeus’s new “surge” plan is committing U.S. troops, day by day, to a much deeper and longer-term role in policing Iraq than since the earliest days of the U.S. occupation. How long must we stay under the Petraeus plan? Perhaps 10 years. At least five. In any case, long after George W. Bush has returned to Crawford, Texas, for good.

But don’t take my word for it. I’m merely a messenger for a coterie of counterinsurgency experts who have helped to design the Petraeus plan—his so-called “dream team”—and who have discussed it with NEWSWEEK, usually on condition of anonymity, owing to the sensitivity of the subject. To a degree little understood by the U.S. public, Petraeus is engaged in a giant “do-over.” It is a near-reversal of the approach taken by Petraeus’s predecessor as commander of multinational forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, until the latter was relieved in early February, and most other top U.S. commanders going back to Rick Sanchez and Tommy Franks. Casey sought to accelerate both the training of Iraqi forces and American withdrawal. By 2008, the remaining 60,000 or so U.S. troops were supposed to be hunkering down in four giant “superbases,” where they would be relatively safe. Under Petraeus’s plan, a U.S. military force of 160,000 or more is setting up hundreds of “mini-forts” all over Baghdad and the rest of the country, right in the middle of the action. The U.S. Army has also stopped pretending that Iraqis—who have failed to build a credible government, military or police force on their own—are in the lead when it comes to kicking down doors and keeping the peace. And that means the future of Iraq depends on the long-term presence of U.S. forces in a way it did not just a few months ago. “We’re putting down roots,” says Philip Carter, a former U.S. Army captain who returned last summer from a year of policing and training in the hot zone around Baquba. “The Americans are no longer willing to accept failure in order to put Iraqis in the lead. You can’t let the mission fail just for the sake of diplomacy.”

"Stand up, stand down" is no longer operative. The Iraqi police forces and security forces have worn out their welcome with the public, so they are being sidelined. There is no political reconciliation being attempted; you can see that with Prime Minister Maliki's handling of the rape allegations this week. We are now the Iraqi army, the Iraqi police.

What's astonishing about this is that we're undergoing this process without the proper amount of forces to do so. We're moving forces off of bases and into encampments (making them more vulnerable), but we're trying to pacify a city of 6 million with barely 17,500 additional troops. Political cowardice and a foreknowledge that nobody in the US really wants this war dictates that leaders have to lie and say "it's a matter of months, not years." The first time I heard that was 2003. It's now 2007.

I don't think this is a likely victory strategy. We don't have the numbers, and we certainly don't have the loyalty of the people. We are undoubtedly seen as better than death squads, but that's hardly an endorsement. And this entire project is a house of cards, because unless you are conscripting hundreds of thousands of Americans into the Iraqi police force permanently, this will never take hold once we inevitably leave. Jim Henley is right:

Look, let’s for the sake of argument stipulate that “redeployment” and “regional diplomacy” are only and entirely “code-words for defeat.” Dissenters nevertheless do not have to “propose other strategies for victory” to be serving the national interest. Sometimes nations lose wars. Nations can come to ruin by carrying on too long in a losing cause. The best course for the overall health of a nation can be to lose this particular war in a smaller way now than a bigger way later. Hell, sometimes nations achieve small victories but come to ruin by pursuing a larger, unattainable one.

The point is, countries have, at some point, to end whatever wars they’re involved in. That means recognizing the current situation as better than spending more blood and more treasure in pursuit of a different one. The theory of representative democracy is that wisdom is dispersed among the population’s regions, factions and interests and the political process exists to uncover a kind of collective wisdom by disputation, to cook off folly in the crucible of argument. Nothing, but nothing, in the Constitution suggests that the founders viewed war policy as distinct from domestic policy in benefitting from checks, balances, debate and dialectic. Arguments to the contrary come from partisans of presidents trying to avoid being called on their shit.

You don't have to agree with this, you don't have to like it, you can keep screaming that victory is the only option while employing what you call "defeat" as a strategy for the Iraqis to take their own responsibility. But what you cannot do is simply wish a victory into being. We have two options at this point; fight a civil war by proxy for ten years and then leave a region to chaos, or leave the region to chaos now, try to buttonhole it and manage it, and save many lives in the process. To me, it's no contest.

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Bloggers Getting Respect? Perish the Thought!

Just got this in an email:

Steve Geissinger, Capitol reporter for MediaNews and president of the Capitol Corresspondents Association, reports that the association board is proposing new rules that would allow bloggers into the organization, making them eligible for the legislative credentials needed to access the Senate and Assembly floors and to attend many Capitol news conferences. Under the old rules, if a reporter didn't work full time for a major print, radio or TV organization, he or she couldn't be credentialed. But the association board, wishing to integrate bloggers into the press corps and under pressure from the Legislature and bloggers themselves, has called for a membership vote on the proposed new rules, Geissinger said. The new rules are in the form of amendments to the association by-laws and to its official membership application, and were developed largely by the association's secretary-treasurer, reporter Laura Mahoney of the Bureau of National Affairs. Given that bloggers are not necessarily full-time reporters, the new rules require that applicants for credentials must, as before, be covering state government news but also must derive "at least half" their earned income from "media jobs," a term broad enough to cover web postings. Applicants then are required to list those jobs, including self employment, on their applications. And they are notified that a "willful misrepresentation" could cost them their credentials. Mahoney said the board developed the new rules after much thought and work and that they are taken largely from rules already adopted by reporters covering the US Congress.

I don't think this goes far enough, actually. We all know that acquiring half your income from blogging is pretty restrictive. But it will apply to some, and push the door open a crack for more. California has typically been ahead of the curve on this issue, at least on the Democratic side, allowing bloggers to attend the CDP Convention in 2003 (which kind of kicked off the Dean campaign). Let's hope this gets passed, and is a gateway to treating online media the same way as offline media. You can review the proposed changes here.

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Thanks Early Primary System and Big Money!

We're getting Presidential candidates who are dropping out in February:

Democrat Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who built a centrist image, abandoned his bid for the presidency on Friday after struggling against better-known, better-financed rivals.

"It is money and only money that is the reason we are leaving today," Vilsack told reporters at a news conference, later adding, "We have a debt we're going to have to work our way through."

Vilsack, 56, left office in January and traveled to early voting states, but he attracted neither the attention nor the campaign cash of his top-tier rivals — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record) and John Edwards.

In the most recent financial documents, Vilsack reported raising more than $1.1 million in the last seven weeks of 2006 but only had around $396,000 in the bank. Some campaign finance experts contend candidates will need $20 million by June 2007 to remain viable.

Vilsack kind of sunk his own ship by calling for the indexing of Social Security to prices rather than wages, which would essentially kill the whole program as a retirement safety net. But that just happened two days ago. Surely that wasn't the reason for his dropping out.

The reason was that we have this crazy primary schedule that rewards only the celebrity candidates. There is no better example than this. Vilsack is a moderate governor of a swing state. There's not much of a difference between his background and that of, say, Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. But he simply cannot compete and has to leave a year early. This is crippling to democracy, that you have to be a rock star before even thinking about running.

I finally saw Idiocracy last night (which is a killer premise that I think you actually can't make into a good film), and the President in 2505 is a former wrestling champion and porn star. I'm not saying that's EXACTLY where we're headed, but certainly there's this move toward candidate-as-celeb that is really disturbing. I wasn't really a Vilsack supporter - he chaired the DLC at a time when they shouted down any antiwar Democrats, and then he tried to claim he was against the war and demanded the Congress to do more? - but it's how the process is going that bothers me.

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Friday Random Ten

This looks to be a deep-album-cut special:

Leif Erikson - Interpol
O Green World - Gorillaz
I Don't Live Today - Jimi Hendrix
Rag Mama Rag - The Band
The Last One Standing - Ladytron
Rhythm Section Want Ad - They Might Be Giants
Steppin' Out - Fantastic Plastic Machine
Madeline and Nine - Mike Doughty (live)
Survival Car - Fountains of Wayne
Nightclubbing - Iggy Pop

Bonus track: Fools Gold - The Stone Roses

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Quick Hits

A lot of little things floating around out there.

• Fox News will host a Democratic Primary debate (undoubtedly they'll call it a "Democrat Party" debate). There's no earthly reason for this; the last time they hosted a Democratic debate, they cut away before the end to go to Bill Bennett slandering all the candidates. The BlogPAC folks are fighting back. Go sign their petition. Also check out Fox Attacks.

• Headline writer's block: Robots could soon be calling the shots? Um, no, they can't. If I have to read one more article where Ray Kurzweil predicts singularity (and the target date always keeps going further and further back) I'm going to shoot myself, or have a robot do it for me.

• More on the changing times in America: an abortion ban bill doesn't make it out of committee in South Dakota, even after it was modified with exceptions for rape and incest and the life of the mother; and the Republican Speaker of the House stops a gay marriage ban bill in committee in WYOMING. The times, they are-a changin', and all that.

• I didn't really emphasize this enough in the blogger breakfast I attended with Sen. Durbin, but Mark Kleiman does, and yes, it was pleasantly surprising.

There we are, sitting around a table, mostly talking Senate inside baseball, which Durbin talks very cogently and entertainingly indeed. A lull falls in the flow of questions, so Durbin is able to bring up a topic on his own initiative.

What he wants to talk about is — no, I wouldn't have gotten it in three guesses, or thirty for that matter — Darfur [...]

The thought that the #2 guy in the Senate, unprompted, sitting around with a bunch of political junkies, wants to talk about how to save the lives of people who aren't going to vote for him or contribute to his campaign is enough to make me teary-eyed with gratitude for the results last November. It sure wouldn't have occurred to Trent Lott.

• I keep forgetting to post about this breathless bit of stupidity, where Chris Hitchens decides that we have to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities before the earth, moves, under their feet:

CH: Well, one thing to think about that is something that hardly ever gets mentioned, which is the following. Ask any seismologist you like. Iran has a huge earthquake coming sometime in the next few years. We don’t know exactly when, of course, but we know, we can study these faults and these fault lines quite well, and Iran is very, very high on the list for a very, very major earthquake. It will be a gigantic tragedy when it hits, by the way, because as someone who’s been in Tehran, I can tell you there isn’t a single building there that’s up to code in any way. It’s a mess of traffic jams and corruption. It’s built on a spider web of faults. I mention this because when it hits, the fact that there’ll be underground nuclear facilities will be not the least of the problem, and no one’s doing enough thinking about this, and I think it should be up to the United States government to say something in public, to the world, and to the Iranian people, saying that’s not an internal affair for you. This is going to concern us all, and we know about seismology, and indeed how to protect against earthquakes.

Because there's nothing that would be better to avert a seismic disaster than a surgical nuclear strike, right?

Satellite radio companies to merge. Well, I didn't think the business model could make it anyway, so I guess they have a better shot at it together. I still don't understand the market that wants to pay for radio. And I've been aware of XM and Sirius since I visited both facilities for interviews in 2001.

A second rape alleged in Iraq? You just know there are more than two and that this is a long-simmering issue. Things like these have been since the dawn of war. "Rape and pillage" isn't exactly a new phrase.

• They played a find the Racist College Republican Nutjob contest today on the campus of NYU. OK, actually the College Republicans played a game called "Find the Illegal Immigrant," but the effect was the same.

• Net neutrality ought to be a big thing in 2008. We need to make sure that the Internet is completely free and open. Mark Leno introduced a bill at the state level to ensure Net Neutrality in California. That would be an enormous step forward. Because if that's the standard here, it will almost have to be the standard nationwide.

Australia going to fluorescents. As I said, great idea, but they need more sizes. Half the lamps I have don't take fluorescent bulbs because they won't fit.

• I actually didn't even notice this until tonight, but who the hell is this guy and how is he a sitting judge in any court in this nation?

• Call off the Eurovision Song Contest. Morrissey will not participate this year. Actually Eurovision is one of the greatest things ever: 24 countries send a band to a giant song-off? Makes American Idol look like some crappy variety hour from the 50s.



Poor George

George Will today:

Regarding Iraq, the Democratic-controlled Congress could do what Democrats say a Democratic president would do: withdraw U.S. forces. A president could simply order that; Congress could defund military operations in Iraq. Congressional Democrats are, however, afraid to do that because they lack the courage of their (professed) conviction that Iraq would be made tranquil by withdrawal of U.S. forces.

AP tonight:

Determined to challenge President Bush, Senate Democrats are drafting legislation to limit the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq, effectively revoking the broad authority Congress granted in 2002, officials said Thursday.

While these officials said the precise wording of the measure remains unsettled, one draft would restrict American troops in Iraq to combating al-Qaida, training Iraqi army and police forces, maintaining Iraq's territorial integrity and otherwise proceeding with the withdrawal of combat forces.

The officials, Democratic aides and others familiar with private discussions, spoke only on condition of anonymity, saying rank-and-file senators had not yet been briefed on the effort. They added, though, the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record) is expected to present the proposal to fellow Democrats early next week for their consideration.

The plan is to attempt to add the measure to anti-terrorism legislation that scheduled to be on the Senate floor next week and the week following.

Will would say that his column and the Democratic action is not mutually exclusive; he thinks that the Congress lacks the power to interpret military missions. But if Congress declared the war, or gave the President the authority to do so, Congress can just as well revoke that authority, no? Joe Biden and Carl Levin seem to think so, that's why they've crafted this amendment.

Congress giveth, Congress taketh away. And George Will sits their blubbering because the Democrats called his bluff, and he's sitting there with a perfectly irrelevant op-ed.

...adding, this is good policy and great politics. The Democrats are handing the Republicans an anvil over and over again. They're actually doing the kitchen sink strategy, forcing the GOP on the record with a vote (and everybody understands that cloture IS the vote in this case). This is what a good majority does, especially if they want to expand their majority.

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This might be the lamest story I've ever read (h/t TPM Muckraker). Start the sappy music... now:

Rep. Gary Miller (news, bio, voting record) grew up poor. Even though he's now worth more than $13 million, he says he's still worried about his family's financial security.

So, while federal authorities investigate some of his real estate transactions, he says he'll keep on making deals.

Thirteen million doesn't go far in this go-go world of ours, you see. I mean, just think, his great-grandchildren might have to GO TO WORK!

There's more, if you can stand it...

Miller, a fifth-term Republican representing conservative inland Southern California, said in an interview that he had put his real estate investment activities on hold upon entering politics, only to find that "I was worth less money every year."

"Some people are arguing I shouldn't have the opportunity to make an investment that every other American citizen has an opportunity to make," he said. "I've got kids, I've got grandkids, and it'd be nice, when I get ready to go, when they're older, if I can help them."

Yes, it'd be nice if they could burn $100 bills to light their cigarettes the way I do. It'd be nice if THEY could have an ice sculpture in the shape of a swan for their 14th birthday. It'd be nice if THEY would need a hand-cart for shopping at Barney's instead of just a small bag. I mean, think of my CHILDREN! They've never known how to not be rich!

Miller makes $165,200 a year sitting in Congress, by the way, so he's not exactly destitute even if he had to sell off his developer business tomorrow. That, and the $13 million in the bank.

Here's one of my other favorite lines from the article, where this guy's defender goes, "Hey, it's not like he broke the law, he just stretched it a bit. Until it broke."

To Miller's defenders, the whole controversy amounts to a bum rap.

"Any good businessman's going to push the envelope from time to time," said Frank Williams, executive officer of the Baldy View Chapter of the Building Industry Association in California. "That's part of dealmaking. It's not illegal."

Shorter Frank Williams: Breaking the law is not illegal.

And then there's the coup de grace:

Miller got into politics, he said, because he wanted to do something about government regulation on businesses...

Yeah, eliminate it.

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Why Do I Know More Than People Who Do This For A Living?

These guys at The Politico report BREAKING NEWS!!1! Lieberman may switch parties! Why what someone MIGHT do is news, I'll never know.

But what really gets me is this line at the bottom of the article: "Republicans have long targeted Lieberman to switch – a move that would give them control of the Senate."

The Politico is wrong, this move would NOT give Republicans control of the Senate. The only reason that the Jeffords switch did is that, in the interregnum between Clinton and Bush's Presidencies, when the new 50-50 Congress was in session but with Al Gore as its President, the Democrats had the majority for 17 days, and they wrote in particular rules mandating that, in the event of a party switch, the Dems would take over. No such thing was done in the organizational rules of the 110th Congress in the Senate, and however the organizing rules are written at the beginning of the session stand. There is indeed precedent for the party with less members still holding the majority, in 1953. Now, why do I have that information pretty much immediately, and the people at The Politico, whose entire living is devoted to covering politics, don't?

A Lieberman switch would certainly make it more difficult for the Democrats to function, but Harry Reid would still be Majority Leader, and the heads of all the Committees would be Democrats. In fact, the biggest thing that would arise from this is that Lieberman would be tossed OUT of the Chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee. Which is why he'll continue to talk about doing it, but won't.

Lieberman is a political animal who more than anything craves power and attention. He wouldn't get any in the Republican caucus. He wouldn't be as much of an anomaly there. Dave Weigel says it best:

More pivotal reason why this switch won't happen: If Lieberman becomes a Republican no one will care about him anymore. A pro-war liberal Democrat is a media curio and a useful guy to have on your side when you're promoting a new resolution or a speech at AEI. A pro-war liberal Republican is... George Voinovich. Stay ornery, don't switch parties, and people will care about you. This is the trick Zell Miller mastered, and Chuck Hagel has figured out pretty well, for all of his absolute uselessness.

For some reason the press buys into this, despite it being completely silly. But I don't expect them to quit, and I'm sure Lieberman doesn't either. Ipso facto presto change-o, Lieberman's not going anywhere.

UPDATE: Via the comments in this thread, it appears that about the only way the Senate could actually flip is if the Republicans invoke the nuclear option to do it, eliminating the filibuster. There's a long-winded explanation for this, but that's the short version. There were specific rules in the organizing resolution in 2001 that made a party switch easy; none of them apply to this Congress.

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Reporting The Good News Out Of Washington

Yesterday I threw a little fit about the Democrats and 2008. I do understand that the battle of the progressive movement to take the country back is a long-term process, and nothing's going to happen right away. The rise of the big-money elites in the Presidential primaries is worrisome. But closer to home, on the legislative side, there are some encouraging developments, one of the biggest being that the Speaker of the House is prioritizing the Employee Free Choice Act (h/t Randy Bayne):

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed today that passage of the Employee Free Choice Act will be a top priority when Congress returns from the Presidents Day recess.

In a press conference in San Francisco, Pelosi said House Democrats, as part of their first 100 hours agenda, passed an increase in the minimum wage and now it’s time to restore the right of American workers to join a union without harassment from employers.

The San Francisco event was part of a weeklong series of actions around the nation as workers met with members of Congress and community leaders to push for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800).

I remember talking to a lot of people saying that EFCA had no shot of passing this year. Obviously Pelosi believes in it enough to try and get it through the House, and I think she'll succeed. Of course everything slows down in the Senate. But there are more progressives and populists there than ever before, and I think this could be a vote that, if we can't win, we can at least pin on the other side.

Another positive is the extent to which Barney Frank gets it about the economy:

MARKETPLACE: If you look at the numbers, sir, if you just look at unemployment, and inflation, and gross domestic product, the economy seems to not be doing so badly. Why do you feel the need for this conversation now?

FRANK: Well, because the economy and the people in the economy are not identical. Then, we have this problem with even President Bush acknowledged last week that inequality has been increasing. Now, inequality is necessary in the capital system. It performs a lot of important functions. But the problem has been that the real wages, take home pay for the average worker, and I'm talking about the great majority of workers, has been somewhat negative. It's actually declined a little bit. We have a good Gross Domestic Product. But it has unfortunately . . . the increase has gone disproportionate to a very small number of people.

There's little solace average folks can take in growth if they never see any of it. I'm heartened to see the head of the House Banking Committee understand this.

And look at this:

Lawmakers moved to rein in the insurance industry Thursday by introducing legislation in the House of Representatives and Senate to repeal the industry's federal antitrust exemption.

Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., a fierce critic of the insurance industry's response to Hurricane Katrina, joined Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking member Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., on the Senate floor to introduce the bill. In the House, Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., Rep. Pete DeFazio, D-Ore., Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-La., Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and others announced the introduction of identical legislation.

"Federal oversight would provide confidence that the industry is not engaging in the most egregious forms of anti-competitive conduct - price-fixing, agreements not to pay and market allocations," Leahy said. "Insurers may object to being subject to the same antitrust laws as everyone else, but if they are operating in an honest and appropriate way, they should have nothing to fear."

Bipartisan support! Incredible!

And there's this:

real leadership shined through Thursday morning in Washington when Senator Byron Dorgan, Chair of the Democratic Policy Committee, backed by Senators John Kerry and Patrick Leahy, followed through on his commitment to rein in contracting fraud and abuse that has been the hallmark of the Bush/Cheney/Halliburton outsourcing of their private war in Iraq.

At Thursday's press conference, Senator Dorgan announced introduction of the Honest Leadership and Accountability in Contracting Act of 2006.

The bill follows months of hearings led by the DPC when the Republican controlled Senate patently refused even to hear that Halliburton, Blackwater, CACI, Titan and others were raping the taxpayers of this country while making an ill-planned invasion into a full-fledged disaster, assuring that the only real winners in Iraq would be those companies that had sufficiently close ties to the White House to earn them a free ride in a war that leads us daily closer to the brink.

These are tangible differences between the DLC Third Way style of governing and the way the current majority in the Congress is going about their business. I don't know if we'll see all of these, or any of these, come to pass: but I am glad that there is more room in Washington for progressive policy ideas. This will only grow over time, as the dead weight either shapes up or ships out. You will see a gradual evolving of the Democratic majority into a progressive majority over the next decade, because the progressive movement is holding them accountable. When this will rise to the level of Presidential politics, I don't know. But a new farm system for the major leagues is coming into DC, so the odds are good that some prime prospects will be allowed to go to the show.

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Plamegate for Dummies

I think as a public service I will replay Jane Hamsher's summation of what the Libby trial is all about.

1. The administration lied us into war and tried to abuse its power to punish the whistleblower who told the American public the truth.

2. Scooter is the firewall to Shooter (Cheney -ed.).

3. Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby and other members of the administration conspired to keep federal investigators from uncovering their crimes.

4. The media was complicit in spreading administration propaganda rather than doing investigative journalism, and are now helping to set the table for a pardon.

5. The journalistic standards that have been exposed in the case (witness Tim Russert, Judy Miller, Andrea Mitchell, Robert Novak and others) are reprehensible, and have undermined the public trust in the media.

6. The degree to which this story about the lies that lead to war has been ignored by the media (relative to the feeding frenzy over a Clinton blowjob) left a huge opening that the blogs have filled.

And that's why this trial about perjury is so important, and why it would otherwise be nothing but a historical footnote if it weren't for a group of people like Jane who decided that this needed to be on the front page.

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Why We Fight (the Wrong Enemy)

Let's take a look at the nature of the attacks in Iraq as of late.

Enemy fire felled an eighth US helicopter yesterday, and a ninth downing is being investigated. The Mujahedin Army took credit for yesterday's attack. The US military acknowledges that these have been pulled off by insurgent Sunnis.

In addition, Iraqi insurgents are now using chlorine gas bombs as chemical weapons, in addition to the explosives they use in truck bombs. This is also the work of Sunnis. An excerpt from the article:

The attacks offer a sweeping narrative on evolving tactics by Sunni insurgents who have proved remarkably adaptable.

Military officials worry extremists may have recently gained more access to firepower such as shoulder-fired anti-aircraft rockets and heavy machine guns — and more expertise to use them. The Black Hawk would be at least the eighth U.S. helicopter to crash or be taken down by hostile fire in the past month.

The gas cloud in Baghdad, meanwhile, suggests possible new and coordinated strategies by bombers trying to unleash toxic — and potentially deadly — materials. "Terrorists are using dirty means," said Brig. Gen. Qassim Moussawi, an Iraqi military spokesman.

Now, ask yourself: who is supplying the Sunni insurgents with the funding, weaponry, and technical know-how? Is it Shiite-dominated Iran? Or is it wealthy Sunnis in Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and Jordan?

And then, ask yourself how, once again, the United States could have the source of terrorist aggression exactly backwards.

And then you'll understand why acts of terrorism have increased seven-fold since the beginning of the war on terror. And even EXCLUDING Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorist acts have increased 35%. We have let old rivalries and older loyalties color our ability to confront actual threats. We are losing the war on terror.

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A David Broder column I totally agree with, except for the gratuitous shot that Democrats are more to blame for the front-loading of the primary calendar.

Their indulgence of this breakneck competition among the states means that someone is likely to put a death grip on each party's nomination before most Americans have begun to size up his or her capacity to be president. The second consequence is a numbingly long general election campaign: a nine-month marathon that leaves contenders and voters exhausted.

It also drives the cost of the election right through the ceiling -- and makes the candidates spend untold hours courting those with the wealth to finance their campaigns. Serious students of the process proclaim this to be the first billion-dollar election and predict the old system of partial public financing, with its spending controls, will be shattered to bits by the runaway money chase [...]

This is madness. There is no way that candidates can really communicate their qualifications, their aspirations and their policies to millions of people in widely scattered locales in a week's time or less. The campaign will be reduced to 30-second TV spots, sound-bite debates and airport tarmac rallies.

I really hope that everyone will see the primary schedule for 2008 as such complete and unmitigated madness that the system will be blown up for 2012, with some kind of different way to get to a Presidential nominee. The party out of power will certainly push for it, because giving the next President from February to the conventions to define the opponent is like target practice.

The states have no reason to stop inching up their primaries, but the nation has a very good reason to get everyone to stop. We are picking Presidents with less circumspection than how we pick the American Idol.

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20% of State Prisoners are Mentally Ill

This is a must-read piece by Steve Lopez today on the makeup of our state's prison population.

In the ongoing flap over prison overcrowding in California and what to do about it, little consideration has been given to inmates such as Stephan Lilly.

I wrote about the Los Angeles man late last year, when his conviction on charges stemming from a scuffle with a security guard were counted as a third strike. Despite a years-long battle with schizophrenia, and the fact that one of the three strikes was a threat that involved no physical contact, Lilly got 25 to life.

California's prisons are jammed with thousands of mentally ill inmates who didn't get help before their incarceration and aren't likely to get much while locked up. Not only is that like a chapter out of the Dark Ages, but the high rate of repeat crimes among parolees is costing taxpayers a fortune.

Hear, hear. Why are we sending people who need medical treatment to rot in jail? Why are these mentally ill people, who make up 1 out of every 5 inmates, given little or no treatment while incarcerated?

Fortunately, Sen. Darrell Steinberg wants to do something about it.

Tomorrow, state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, will introduce a bill that calls for a complete overhaul of mental health care behind bars, with the goal of putting a big dent in both the overcrowding problem and the high recidivism rates.

"I would argue very strongly that it's the missing element of corrections reform," Steinberg said. How can you talk about getting a handle on overcrowding, he asks, without doing something about the fact that an estimated 20%-25% of the state's 170,000 inmates are bipolar, schizophrenic, clinically depressed or otherwise afflicted?

You want to build something in this state? Build more mental hospitals. Bring in more psychologists and psycho-therapists. Build something that will help permanently reduce the impact on the prison system.

Please read this article. It's a damn shame that most legislators are so obsessed with law and order that they won't take the simple steps necessary to relieve this crisis and move the state forward.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger is not that great on the environment

It's darn near impossible to compete with the PR machine of a global action superstar. If he says "I'm taking the lead in fighting global warming," most people will believe it - and never look at the details. So I applaud Senate Democrats for making the valiant effort to set the record straight.

Impatient with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's leadership in combating global warming, leaders of the Democratic-controlled state Senate plan to unveil a sweeping legislative package today that would impose new regulations on industries and government agencies.

The measures reflect long-standing tensions between Schwarzenegger and the Legislature over how best to reduce greenhouse gases produced by vehicles, electricity suppliers, landfills and other sources.

The point here is that Schwarzenegger has foregrounded market-based solutions that aren't even in AB32, the environmental law passed last year. Carbon trading is fine as far as it goes, but the Governor is completely stonewalling on other elements of the law, reasonable regulations that would go much further in stopping the creation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Leading Senate Democrats successfully fought inclusion of a mandatory market trading system in last year's law, Assembly Bill 32, but now contend that the Republican governor is promoting it while moving too slowly on regulation.

They and Assembly leaders also objected when Schwarzenegger signed an executive order last fall placing his appointee, state Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Linda Adams, in charge of climate policy. Legislators pointed out that AB 32 specifically gave the independent Air Resources Board authority for implementing the policy, not Cal/EPA.

That's called breaking the law, and when the President does it with a signing statement, it's a subversion of democracy. For some reason, when the star of "Last Action Hero" does it, fugheddaboutit because he's practically a Democrat? Wrong.

It's good to see Don Perata being this forceful.

"The implementation of Assembly Bill 32 is getting bogged down in arcane discussions over intercontinental trading schemes, 'carbon markets' and free 'credits'…. That may work for Wall Street traders and Enron economists, but it doesn't work for Californians."

According to drafts of the bills obtained by The Times, the proposed regulations would ban methane releases from garbage dumps and sharply curtail black carbon spewed from trucks, school buses and construction equipment.

Utilities could be ordered to increase the amount of energy acquired from renewable sources to 33% from 20%.

State and local transportation agencies would be required to draw up plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions in their jurisdictions, funded in part by bond money approved by voters last year.

"Senate Democrats are unveiling new bills to ensure our climate program actually cleans up the air, reduces asthma and reduces greenhouse gases without market gimmicks and trading schemes," Perata said.

If Schwarzenegger wanted to only solve climate change through market-based solutions, he shouldn't have signed AB32. There were regulatory standards set into that bill on which the governor is simply dragging his feet in favor of soaking in the adulation.

The bottom line is that if you give business an opt-out, they're pretty likely to opt out. And without applying regulatory pressure, they can cap and trade to their heart's content, but still spew pollution into the air, whether in California or elsewhere. The Chamber of Commerce will not support any regulatory standards; they want to give their corporations a convenient out. Unless cap-and-trade is global, it's ineffective. You need something with real teeth.

Interesting that Fabian Nuñez, who was instrumental in crafting AB32, was fairly noncommital on the Senate's aggressive approach.

A Nuñez spokesman was noncommittal, saying, "The pioneering global warming bill we passed last year with the governor's support is the gold standard in reducing greenhouse gases. If these measures dovetail into what we've done, are practical and don't hinder the process that's been hammered out, then they may well win support in the Assembly."

The governor (and maybe the Speaker) are likely to skate on this, considering that the image is implanted in everybody's mind that they are pro-environment. But when you look at the facts, it's hard to actually believe that.

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All Spin Zone

Within moments of the British announcement that they're pulling out of Iraq, Vice President Cheney (who is bravely supporting his closest confidant and friend by spending the final portion of his trial halfway around the world) stepped to the microphone to claim that this was wonderful news, that it shows that Basra and the southern portion of Iraq is stable and secure enough to hand over to the Iraqis.

Nobody then asked that, if the southern part was stable enough for the British to leave, why couldn't their forces be moved to Baghdad where help is needed?

And then came this report:

Britain’s decision to pull 1,600 troops out of Iraq by spring, touted by U.S. and British leaders as a turning point in Iraqi sovereignty, was widely seen Wednesday as a telling admission that the British military could no longer sustain simultaneous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The British military is approaching “operational failure,” former defense staff chief Charles Guthrie warned this week.

“Because the British army is in essence fighting a far more intensive counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, there’s been a realization that there has to be some sort of transfer of resources from Iraq to Afghanistan,” said Clive Jones, a senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Leeds, who has closely followed Britain’s Iraq deployment.

“It’s either that, or you risk in some ways losing both,” he said. “It’s the classic case of ‘Let’s declare victory and get out.’ “

Shiites have been engaged in intra-faith massacres down there, and the British garrison was getting shelled nightly. They're doing what WE should be doing: moving the emphasis away from the intractable civil war in Iraq, and fortifying forces in Afghanistan, where troops are actually fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda enemies.

So trying to call the fact that the British garrison was forced out of Basra "a good thing" and "part of the whole plan" is deeply dishonest.

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Theatrics and Loyalty

Ted Wells, Scooter Libby's lawyer, wins the award this Oscar season for worst supporting actor. Not only did he start crying at the end of his closing argument, he did so after cutting in to his fellow defense lawyer's time, pissing him off. Marcy Wheeler has a great recap.

Wells really does have a schtick, one that the journalists who have seen him before all recognize. He finishes the rational part of his case. Then he spends the last 20 minutes or so summoning rage for his client. He brings all the emotion summoned for his client to a crescendo. And then he weeps, demonstrating clearly to the jury how deeply he believes that his client has been wronged.

But remember that 20 minutes that Zeidenberg goaded Wells into wasting? Well, it meant that Wells had no time to get into character, and he went immediately from a rushed but rational argument about memory into his emotional appeal.

Don't sacrifice Scooter LIbby for how you may feel [about] war in Iraq or Bush Administration. Treat him the way he deserves to be treated. He worked every day to be NSA for this country. Analyze it fairly. Fight any temptation for your views if you're Democrat whatever party. This is a man who has a wife [and] kid[s]. He's been under my protection for the last month. Just give him back. Give him back to me, give him back.

Followed by an abbreviated choke, a catch of his brreath. Without the crescendo, it sounded more like a death rattle than any truly felt emotion. And compared to the real rage Wells had shown earlier in the day, it looked fake. Utterly, completely fake.

Because Wells reacted to Zeidenberg's barbs, he showed the jury true emotion that made all his elaborate schtick--the thing that Wells does best, normally--look like an act.

And Patrick Fitzgerald played off this perfectly. As they say, read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, is anyone else amused by the fact that while the Vice President's former chief of staff awaits his fate from the jury, his ex-boss is LITERALLY halfway around the world?

Don't tell me that wasn't by design.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What Balanced Budget?

More debunking from the reality-based community, this time about Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget for California:

LAO (Legislative Analyst's Office) Bottom Line. Based on our revenue and expenditure projections, we estimate that the adoption of the Governor’s budget plan would result in a $726 million deficit in 2007-08 (compared to the administration’s January 10th estimate of a $2.1 billion reserve). The difference in these numbers is due principally to our lower estimates of revenue in both the current and budget years, but also due to higher expenditure estimates, primarily related to Proposition 98. Adoption of the plan would also leave the state with large operating shortfalls in future years, unless additional corrective actions are taken. Thus, the Legislature will face major challenges in crafting a budget for the coming year. We believe that the primary focus should be on finding additional budget savings and/or revenues to address the near- and longer-term shortfalls. Should these solutions be insufficient to cover the full magnitude of the budget shortfall, however, the state can also achieve some near-term savings by reducing the amount of supplemental repayments on deficit-financing bonds relative to the $1.6 billion proposed in the budget.

We're also not getting in the tax revenue in California that way we were a year or two ago. The 2008-09 deficit under this plan would balloon to $3.4 billion. And yes, deficits matter. They matter in service cuts, they matter in forcing the constant borrowing that shifts the burden to future generations, they matter for the state's credit rating, they matter for all sorts of reasons. And remember, this is BEFORE factoring in Arnold's health care proposal, which relies on $3 billion in federal funding that the Congress simply will not give.

Juls has more, including a look at the warped priorities of this Governor:

Arnold is attempting to balance the budget on the backs of UC and CSU students. There is no reason to have increases that high, when expenses are not increasing at the same rate. The expenditure growth rate provides another strong argument for a fair contract between the California Faculty Association and the state. After watching years of huge tuition increases and massive executive's pay hikes, it is past time to bring CSU faculty's compensation into line with similar institutions in other states.

Shorter Arnold: I believe that children aren't our future.

Here's the whole report. These Democrats who said "Schwarzenegger's one of us" during the campaign ought to read it.

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One Line, No Waiting

One of our great new Democratic Representatives, Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), to the GOP chairman in her state who criticized her Iraq vote:

"If Fergus Cullen has the courage of his convictions, he should go enlist, because they're having trouble meeting their quota. He's young, he's single and he's healthy. If he needs to know where the recruiters are, call me."

They just lowered the standards, too, so I'm sure even Fergus Cullen could make it through basic. Strap on a backback and get yourself a rifle, dude.

P.S. This is what supporting the troops means, from someone who's been there.

Senator Jim Webb said this week that expanding educational and training benefits to post-9/11 veterans is "critical both to achieving fairness for our men and women in uniform and strengthening the nation's economic foundation."

The Senator introduced the "Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007" (S.22) on his first day in office. The legislation seeks to provide veterans of the 9/11 era with educational benefits parallel to those provided to service members at the end of World War II, when the GI bill spurred economic growth and expansion for a whole generation of Americans.

"I have strong feelings about the need for those men and women who have been serving since 9/11 to get a GI bill that is worthy of their service," said Senator Webb at Tuesday's hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. "The Montgomery GI Bill served this nation well during peacetime, but during times like these, it has its limitations."

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No Fat Chix

Michael Medved used to host the low-rent Siskel and Ebert with Jeffrey Lyons, the one that told me precisely what content was unsafe for kids in each movie, causing me to immediately change the channel. Funny story, turns out he's insane:

Tim Hardaway (and most of his former NBA teammates) wouldn’t welcome openly gay players into the locker room any more than they’d welcome profoundly unattractive, morbidly obese women. I specify unattractive females because if a young lady is attractive (or, even better, downright “hot”) most guys, very much including the notorious love machines of the National Basketball Association, would probably welcome her joining their showers. The ill-favored, grossly overweight female is the right counterpart to a gay male because, like the homosexual, she causes discomfort due to the fact that attraction can only operate in one direction. She might well feel drawn to the straight guys with whom she’s grouped, while they feel downright repulsed at the very idea of sex with her.

Cuz, fat chix like totally dig on hott NBA playurz and stuff!!1!

How come, in Medved's mind, all women are automatically attracted to NBA players? How come such supposedly unrequited attraction automatically causes "discomfort"? This is the type of logic that losers who think they're God's gift to women assume everybody uses. They think no women could possibly resist their manly urges. And they LOVE being uncomfortable about thinking that they'll have to shoot down some woman who likes them. They get off on the cruelty. The discomfort comes in when they have to think about their own inadequacy.

Quite the bank shot, insulting gay men and obese women at the same time. Well played.

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"The most important anti-poverty movement is the labor movement."

John Edwards said this today at the AFSCME candidates' forum in Nevada, and it is so very true. Saying that we need a strong labor movement in this country is no different from saying we need a strong middle class. Lou Dobbs hasn't done a thing for working people other than decide he was their self-appointed leader. On the other hand, unions have brought you the weekend, the 40-hour work week, a ban on child labor, health care, pensions, and so much more.

Some labor leaders haven't grown with the times, or understood that their focus has to be on resuscitating their dwindling membership numbers, above everything else. The House took a giant step in that direction by passing the Employee Free Choice Act through committee. The bill has 233 sponsors in the House and is sure to pass. The Senate will be more difficult, and the President has threatened a veto. That doesn't mean it's not worth the fight, because it's too important to let go.

Majority sign-up has been an option for workers and employers for 70 years under the nation’s labor laws, with no evidence of problems for workers or employers. Major employers such as Cingular and Kaiser Health Systems allow workers to form unions through majority sign-up, with less workplace conflict and disruption than the contentious NLRB process.

As several workers describe on the AFL-CIO’s Employee Free Choice Act website, the current election process allows employers to coerce, intimidate and harass employees. When workers try to form unions, 25 percent of employers fire at least one employee for union activity, 75 percent hire consultants to make it harder for workers to form their union and more than 90 percent require workers to attend mandatory anti-union meetings.

It's like a free election, only you have to go to meetings for one party, and their hired goons threaten to fire you if you don't vote their way!

This embarrassing piece from the LA Times continues that paper's anti-worker tradition (though at least they balanced it with a pro-EFCA article on the same page). Kevin Drum thrashes just a piece of it, the dishonest idea that "some janitors make $20/hour!" so unions aren't useful. In the Republican worldview the labor market sets prices, but that's only in a perfect world. In our increasingly unregulated world, it's a race to the bottom. And only through collective bargaining can workers receive a modicum of dignity and respect.

Some facts on union activity in America:

Employers that illegally fire at least one worker for union activity during organizing campaigns: 25%

Chance that an active union supporter will be illegally fired for union activity during an organizing campaign: 1 in 5

Employers that hire consultants or union-busters to help them fight union organizing drives: 75%

Employers that force employees to attend one-on-one meetings with their own supervisors against the union: 78%

Employers that force employees to attend mandatory closed-door meetings against the union: 92%

Employers that threaten to call U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during organizing drives that include undocumented employees: 52%

Companies that threaten to close the plant if the union wins the election: 51%

Companies that actually close their plants after a successful union election: 1%

Workers in 2005 who received back pay because of illegal employer discrimination for activities legally protected under the National Labor Relations Act: 31,358

I will be looking at Presidential candidates that support unions. I will be looking at the House debate to see who supports the Employee Free Choice Act. You should too.

P.S. A little troubling that Obama skipped the AFSCME debate, but AFSCME is an old-school union (and Edwards probably has their endorsement locked up), and he's more of a new-union guy:

"Barack Obama has stood by us at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He's walked our picket lines and supported legislation to preserve our jobs and win the wages and benefits we deserve."

I don't have any problem with Obama's commitment to unions.

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Taste Of Your Own Medicine

It's amazing how crazy these right-wingers get when forced to defend their own beliefs. Case in point: the Instapundit.

It's finally happened.

The mainstream media finally sees Putz for what he is: not a moderate, reasonable "non-partisan" -- but a hard-right extremist. Columnist Paul Campos not only takes Putz to task for his assassination fantasies, he does so by equating him Ward Churchill -- exactly the right analogy.

See, Reynolds claimed that we should be quietly killing Iranian atomic scientists, as if that's possible. And now Paul Campos calls him on it.

Murder is the premeditated unlawful killing of a human being. Glenn Reynolds, the well-known University of Tennessee law professor who authors one of the Internet's most popular blogs, recently advocated the murder of Iranian scientists and clerics.

Of course Iran is not at war with America, but just as Reynolds spent years repeating Bush administration propaganda about Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, he's now dutifully repeating the administration's claims about supposed Iranian government involvement in Iraq's civil war.

Moreover, even if Iran were at war with the United States, the intentional killing of civilian noncombatants is a war crime, as that term is defined by international treaties America has signed. Furthermore, government-sponsored assassinations of the sort Reynolds is advocating are expressly and unambiguously prohibited by the laws of the United States.

Instapundit's amazing first reply is that Iran in fact HAS been at war with the US since taking hostages in 1979. Scott Lemieux gets this exactly right:

My question: when does he start calling for Michael Ledeen to be put on trial for high treason for helping to sell arms to a country the U.S. is at war with?

Ledeen and half the Reagan Administration, you mean.

Insty's second reply was printed today in the Rocky Mountain News, and Blue Texan does a nice job of eviscerating it.

Your false dilmmea! ("I'm just sayin'--isn't it really more reasonable to kill a few scientists and mullahs than nuke the whole country?"):

Campos chose to devote an entire column (“The right’s Ward Churchill,” Feb. 20) to a blog entry of mine from last week, in which I wondered why the Bush administration wasn’t acting covertly to kill radical mullahs and atomic scientists, rather than preparing a major attack on Iran. (Silly me, I thought this was advocating a less warlike approach).

Your apples-to-oranges comparison! ("Heads of state and terrorists" = "scientists and religious leaders"):

History first: There’s nothing beyond the pale about suggesting assassination and covert action as an alternative to warfare. In 1998, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Joseph Biden, D-Del., asked the government to look into assassination as a means of dealing with terrorists; Sen. Chuck Robb, D-Va., suggested assassinating Saddam Hussein the same year. On Jan. 3, 2001, Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., introduced legislation to facilitate the assassination of terrorists.

And finally, your bogus WWII analogy! ("Just look at what we did to those Nazis when our nation was at war with them!"):

“Similarly, the September 1944 Allied bombing raids on the German rocket sites at Peenemunde regarded the death of scientists involved in research and development of that facility to have been as important as destruction of the missiles themselves. Attack of these individuals would not constitute assassination.”

This might be the first time Reynolds has been called out as a violent extremist. It's something he employs on a regular basis, and he can't take being on the other side. Especially when it was done in such a fact-based way. We've had a similar imbroglio with Mark Steyn, who said this...

Why did Bosnia collapse into the worst slaughter in Europe since World War Two? In the thirty years before the meltdown, Bosnian Serbs had declined from 43 percent to 31 percent of the population, while Bosnian Muslims had increased from 26 percent to 44 percent. In a democratic age, you can't buck demography -- except through civil war. The Serbs figured that out -- as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can't outbreed the enemy, cull 'em. The problem that Europe faces is that Bosnia's demographic profile is now the model for the entire continent.

And then tried to backtrack and say he wasn't ENDORSING ethnic cleansing there, just predicting it as an outcome. Charming man. Humorously, one person that leapt to Steyn's defense was Instapundit himself, who has said in the past that genocide is "unavoidable."

It's amusing to see these people try to run away from their own words. They've been tarring their enemies with the foulest rhetoric for years, even decades, and now it's coming back to haunt them.

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The Courage of John McCain

He's always willing to say what he believes... before apologizing for it:

HOST: Republican presidential candidate John McCain recently lashed out at Cheney and his friend, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Today, Cheney fired back.

HOST: You probably heard John McCain again come out and say that, your friend, Donald Rumsfeld, is perhaps the worst Secretary of Defense ever. What do you make of that?

CHENEY: I just fundamentally disagree with John. John said some nasty things about me the other day and then next time he saw me ran over to me and apologized. Maybe he’ll apologize to Rumsfeld.

Can anyone believe the utter contempt these Republicans hold for their constituents, when they talk out of both sides of their mouth like this? And it's not just McCain either, how about Mitt Romney, who just got his membership in to the NRA in August, just in time for campaign season. How about this trip down memory lane, which isn't ancient, it's from freakin' 2002:

If I'm an evangelical voter, or a conservative, and I'm looking at these clowns, how can I in good conscience vote for them when they do nothing but lie to me?

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The Rich People Primary

It took me until February 21st of the year before the election to get completely sick of 2008. Especially because I see the machinery of democracy being set back 100 years, as unelected rich people who think they control everything are running the campaign on a higher plane, like a new Gilded Age, and completely shutting out the voting public. This Hillary/Obama/Maureen Dowd/David Geffen feud is obscenely idiotic. We already know that MoDo's MO is to stir things up deliberately like the catty old Beltway Heather she most certainly is. So she relishes any opportunity to pick another fight among celebrity Democrats. It sells papers. It makes rich people cluck their tongues. It's supposed to put us all to sleep.

Matt Stoller:

This is pathetic. Obama supporter David Geffen launches a bevy of insults at Hillary Clinton on Maureen Dowd's column. Some of them are reasonable, some of them are not. But Maureen Dowd? The woman who calls your candidate 'Obambi'?

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton puts out a formal statement from her campaign.

"While Senator Obama was denouncing slash and burn politics yesterday, his campaign's finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband...


Meanwhile, Wes Clark is launching a site with Votevets called Stop the Iran War.

Priorities, people.

I live in Hollywood. A lot of people out here think they run the world because they got a producer credit on "Night At The Museum." Many are sincere, but many have had smoke blown up their ass by assistants and people who want jobs for them for so long that they're convinced of their own brilliance. It's the same with any other rich clique. This Arianna Huffington post made me want to puke. This is about rich people vying with one another to be the smartest and most forward-thinking rich person. The public is not part of the conversation, and because the money is being raised at such insane levels, they won't be.

Stoller thinks "That's not where the country is anymore." But I'm not so sure that even matters. While things like the MySpace primary are cute and all, it also largely reflects the opinion of a bunch of upper-class elites. In fact, this entire primary battle is being waged at the $2,3000-per-person level, instead of capitalizing on the small-donor revolution empowered by the Internet in 2004.

Why is it, after grassroots donors gave hundreds of millions of dollars to Dem presidential candidates in the 2004 cycle, that you are now completely ignoring them in this cycle? I'm not saying you shouldn't be courting large donors. But instead of spending ALL your time between high-dollar fundraisers and donor "call time," why not just spend at least 15 or 20 minutes per day doing things to win the hearts of the mass base of Democratic donors and activists?

And sorry, but your online videos and cool websites do not win hearts. Only genuine attention and creativity from you, the candidates and campaign managers, will do that.

It was genuine personal attention and creativity by both Howard Dean and Joe Trippi that created the conditions in which their campaign raised something like $40 million online [CORRECTION: $27 million!]. You had Dean speaking from the heart, every day, in a non-phony way, about the base and its centrality to the campaign. It wasn't just that he said the things he did--it was that he really meant them. He had somehow (and I still don't understand how it happened) made a break with "normal politician mode" and switched over to normal human being mode. (Yes, of course, the night of the Iowa primary, when the presidential campaign switched from its base-phase to its national-phase, that would have been a great time to start acting a little more like a "normal politician," but that's another story.)

For his part, Trippi was making almost all his big campaign strategy decisions with the goal of winning over and mobilizing the base as his top priority. (And yes, it would have been better if he had made a few traditional decisions better, such as fixing the Iowa field operation. But that's also another story.)

But in this cycle, all of you seem to be acting as though Dean and Trippi proved nothing. And so today I'm making a prediction--one that I hope you'll prove wrong: no Democratic candidate will be beat Dean's record of raising around $25 million or so online before Iowa.

People who have $2,300 to give for a rubber-chicken dinner and a photo-op have different priorities. They have the kind of priorities that enable individual families to get $32 billion in tax breaks. They're selfish and self-absorbed and they don't understand - or care about - the plight of the majority of the public.

On the same day that Britney was shaving her head, a guy I know who works in the office of Senator Bernie Sanders sent me an email. He was trying very hard to get news organizations interested in some research his office had done about George Bush's proposed 2008 budget, which was unveiled two weeks ago and received relatively little press, mainly because of the controversy over the Iraq war resolution. All the same, the Bush budget is an amazing document. It would be hard to imagine a document that more clearly articulates the priorities of our current political elite [...]

Sanders's office came up with some interesting numbers here. If the Estate Tax were to be repealed completely, the estimated savings to just one family -- the Walton family, the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune -- would be about $32.7 billion dollars over the next ten years.

The proposed reductions to Medicaid over the same time frame? $28 billion.

Or how about this: if the Estate Tax goes, the heirs to the Mars candy corporation -- some of the world's evilest scumbags, incidentally, routinely ripped by human rights organizations for trafficking in child labor to work cocoa farms in places like Cote D'Ivoire -- if the estate tax goes, those assholes will receive about $11.7 billion in tax breaks. That's more than three times the amount Bush wants to cut from the VA budget ($3.4 billion) over the same time period.

We have legalized bribery for rich people and a gutting of the structures that allow government to function as an institution that can promote the general welfare and allow all its citizens to pursue happiness. And yet we have a Presidential primary system that enables it, where only the rich and famous can be recognized, instead of those who may be the most qualified for the position. This is not an endorsement of Bill Richardson, but he's a two-term governor from a swing state, is a former Congressman and UN Ambassador and Energy Secretary, and just BROKERED A GODDAMN CEASE-FIRE in Darfur in his spare time last month. Problem is, he's not a celebrity.

In retrospect, however, Bush was less the last of the governor presidents than a transition to the new era in which, to be president, you need to be a famous celebrity. Mayors of New York City are always famous, because the people who run the media live in New York. Hence, Rudy Giuliani is a serious candidate (and even Michael Bloomberg is considered a more serious possibility than he should be). John McCain spent all of 1999, 2000, and 2001 chasing positive press and became famous in the process -- so he's a serious candidate. Barack Obama has an extremely interesting personal story and was one of the only Democratic successes in 2004, so he became famous and now he's a serious candidate. John Edwards got famous running on a national ticket, so he's a serious candidate. Hillary Clinton's husband used to be president (you may have heard), so she's famous and she's a serious candidate. Most absurdly, Mitt Romney happened to preside over the Massachusetts gay marriage controversy, thus becoming famous and, therefore, a serious candidate.

Basically, though, you need to be famous. Democrats won a whole bunch of state houses in 2002, which made many think the party would have a bumper crop of presidential contenders in 2008. Richardson, Katherine Sebelius, Rod Blagojevich, Ed Rendell, Janet Napolitano, etc. Instead, none of them are running except Richardson, and his campaign is a joke. If you look at any one of these people, perfectly plausible explanations for their lack of viability can be constructed. The overall pattern, however, is a striking change from the past. What's more, the change seems driven almost entirely by the national media, which simply decided unilaterally some years ago to only cover people who were already famous.

It's the Access Hollywood style of campaign coverage. And then the goal is to create a Lindsay Lohan-Paris Hilton catfight among the rich and famous, because we love to see rich people tear each other apart. It fills our vacuous lives for five minutes while we flip through Entertainment Weekly and eat trans fats straight out the jar.

This is incredibly dangerous and it threatens to undo the growth of the grassroots progressive movement that has exploded over the past several years. These candidates are going to chase the big money because they have to, and the media is only going to cover the celebrities who get the big money, and the big money donors are only going to give to the celebrities because they're the only ones the media covers. As if we didn't have pressing matters or issues that need to be addressed right now, like a President who wants to do a "third time's a charm' war, or a planet that's melting like an ant under a magnifying glass. But issues are icky in the celebrity primary. In the rich people primary. What we have is the return of the smoke-filled room.

The candidate who says "Shut up, shut up, shut the fuck up" to the elites and actually meets people where they live, addresses concerns that they have, could actually win. The problem is that approximately none of them are going to do that. And even if they did, it'd be on page B-34.

UPDATE: Wow, Digby says pretty much the same thing (only better, of course), and unearths this quote from David Geffen:

I think that America was better served when the candidates were chosen in smoke-filled rooms.

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Our Man In Baghdad

The Bush Administration has put a lot of faith in Nouri al-Maliki to hold up his end of the bargain in the new security plan for Iraq. The plan was supposed to deal with all militias similarly and try to bring unity to the government.

With Maliki, that will never work.

On Monday, a 20 year-old Sunni woman went on Al Jazeera to say that she had been raped at the hand of three Iraqi policeman the previous day (the police force is overwhelmingly Shiite). The incredibly rare spectacle in Iraq of a woman publicly and graphically describing her rape immediately turned the case into a major scandal. (The New York Times does a very good job of telling the story.) [...]

After initially issuing a statement promising a full investigation, Maliki suddenly issued a second statement a few hours later, declaring that the woman was a liar and a wanted criminal, and that the three officers were to be rewarded:

“It has been shown after medical examinations that the woman had not been subjected to any sexual attack whatsoever, and that there are three outstanding arrest warrants against her issued by security agencies.... After the allegations have been proven to be false, the prime minister has ordered that the officers accused be rewarded.”

So you're the head of a country, trying to hold together disparate factions. And in a high-profile event, you take sides with your on ethnic bretheren, reward officers accused of rape, claim that the woman is a propagandist, and obtain her private medical records in an attempt to prove it.

You also may have told your Shiite militiamen to go hide for a while until everything blows over:

The Iraqi Prime Minister advised the Mahdi Army leaders to hide in Iran, revealed a leaked letter from the office of the prime minister and posted online by the Kurdish website peyamner on Tuesday.

A letter issued by the office of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, with the coordination of the Iraqi National Security Advisor, Muwaffaq al-Rabii, advices Muqtada al-Sadir to hide the leaders of his militants, the Mahdi Army, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, in case they are “arrested or killed by the American forces”. Al-Maliki, in his letter states, “The current situation requires to keep the leaders of the Mahdi Army, who are affiliated to the organisation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, away from the front line.”

The letter, dated 14 January 2007 and signed by Iraqi Prime Minister, is written after a telephone conversation between Muqtada al-Sadir and the Iraqi Prime Minister. The Iraqi National Security Advisor, Muwaffaq al-Rabii appears to be part of the operation. The letter is classified as confidential, private and immediate.

Riverbend has more on this rape, calling the victim "the bravest Iraqi woman ever" and predicting Maliki's response. She also adds this:

She’s just one of tens, possibly hundreds, of Iraqi women who are violated in their own homes and in Iraqi prisons. She looks like cousins I have. She looks like friends. She looks like a neighbor I sometimes used to pause to gossip with in the street. Every Iraqi who looks at her will see a cousin, a friend, a sister, a mother, an aunt…

And yet, as the situation continues to deteriorate both for Iraqis inside and outside of Iraq, and for Americans inside Iraq, Americans in America are still debating on the state of the war and occupation- are they winning or losing? Is it better or worse.

Let me clear it up for any moron with lingering doubts: It’s worse. It’s over. You lost. You lost the day your tanks rolled into Baghdad to the cheers of your imported, American-trained monkeys. You lost every single family whose home your soldiers violated. You lost every sane, red-blooded Iraqi when the Abu Ghraib pictures came out and verified your atrocities behind prison walls as well as the ones we see in our streets. You lost when you brought murderers, looters, gangsters and militia heads to power and hailed them as Iraq’s first democratic government. You lost when a gruesome execution was dubbed your biggest accomplishment. You lost the respect and reputation you once had. You lost more than 3000 troops. That is what you lost America. I hope the oil, at least, made it worthwhile.

We lost because we willed ourselves to believe in fantasies. Like the one that a Dawa Party loyalist like Maliki would be an honest broker. Like the fiction that there's anything resembling honor in this occupation. Like the misguided nonsense that Sunnis and Shiites would live together in peace, as they haven't for 1300 years.

We lost. The sooner we admit it the better.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Dealbreakers and the GOP Primary

Food for thought:

An intriguing new poll contains some slightly sobering news for at least three of the 2008 Presidential hopefuls: It appears that Americans are more willing to vote for an African American or a woman than they are for a Mormon, someone who's advanced in years, or someone who's been married three times.

Black — 94% would vote for, 5% would not
A woman — 88% would vote for, 11% would not
Mormon — 72% would vote for, 24% would not (Romney)
Married for the third time — 67% would vote for, 30% would not (Giuliani)
72 years of age — 57% would vote for, 42% would not (McCain)

Wow, McCain comes in dead last in that reckoning. And if they added "raised taxes while governor," which is Huckabee's sore thumb, among Republicans that "would vote for" number would be around 10%.

It's going to be a long primary season for Republicans...

...adding, to me, none of this stuff is a dealbreaker, though Mormonism is pretty much a con game, albeit one involving magic underpants.

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