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

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Weekend Dragon Boy Suede Track

Here's a new feature for the site: Every weekend I'll throw up a new song by my man Dragon Boy Suede.

This one's called "You Won't Sass Me Like That When I Can Summon Wolves."

You Won't Sass Me Like That When I Can Summon Wolves

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Joe Klein, Ideological Extremist

The pooh-poohing of those who say poo-poo in the blogosphere continued today with this completely ridiculous post by Joe Klein, where he labels "left-wing extremists" as unnamed people who share an imginary set of characteristics in his own head ("corporations are fundamentally evil," "believes the United States is a fundamentally negative force in the world"). He's so dishonest about this that he has to go all the way back to forced busing in the 70s to find an issue that supports his thesis.

Joe Klein is fighting a war in his head with hippies that haunt his nightmares. He has not updated his take on liberals with any empirical observation since approximately 1972. And as Scott Lemieux brilliantly notes, this leads to ridiculous behavior like this:

To get something constructive out of this, perhaps we can create a more specific typology: the characteristics you're likely to have if you're the kind of respectable pundit who can be the token "liberal" at prominent national publications and Sunday talk shows:

• During the run-up to an exceptionally disastrous war when prescient anti-war voices are scarcer in the mainstream media than people of color at a Nader rally, you can never get around to using your prominent media outlets to clearly disagree with the war, you do find time to suggest that you agree with the war, and yet years after the fact when the war is both an abject disaster and highly unpopular you suddenly start patting yourself on the back for having courageously opposed the war all along.

• Even as you nominally opposed the war after it became easy to do so, you can somehow never find anybody else who opposes it in the right way--"it's easy to assume that they are rooting for an American failure," you claim, never naming any names or giving any quotes--and maintain that another Freidman is somehow always required for people to be Serious.

You claim that people who oppose the Bush administration's illegal warrantless wiretapping program are as "out of the mainstream" as people who think that Terri Schiavo was three days away from walking out of the hospital, despite easily available public opinion data that shows the opposite.

• You make the transparently illogical assertion that the increasing insecurity of the contemporary job market makes the privitization of Social Security more desirable. (I guess this kind of reactionary and unpopular position isn't outside the mainstream--and certainly not comparable to the Schiavo wingnuts--but is "speaking truth to power" or something.)

You claim, based on inferences gleaned from George Bush's alleged "authenticity," that the result of Bush's election would be "'a quiet, patient, and persistent bipartisanship,' with no big tax cuts or Supreme Court ideologues" and suggest that "Bush could easily retain Lawrence Summers at Treasury and Richard Holbrooke at the United Nations."

• You dismiss fundamental economic issues that might matter to people not in your highly elevated income bracket as "jobs, health-care, and blah-blah-blah."

Nobody could hit every one of these, could they?

I'm a little embarrassed to be taken enough by Klein's engagement with the blogosphere to have given him credit. He's clearly a milquetoast hack masquerading as a house liberal while reinforcing deeply conservative ideas about military and economic affairs. And he defends it by separating himself from imaginary "liberal extremists" who pretty much only exist at socialist food co-ops. There are millions of legitimate people who disagree with the neoliberal economic consensus and the neoconservative foreign policy consensus, which are backed up by decades' worth of evidence and data, and they can't be explained away by virture of their saying the word fuck every once in a while or wearing Birkenstocks. Get a clue, Klein.

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Iglesiasgate: Stonewalling and Excuse-Making

The Washington Post gets a scoop about the case of the Prosecutor Purges, where they allege that they personally signed off on the Justice Department firings, and that they were performance-based even though the records show that these US Attorneys all had positive performance reviews.

The White House approved the firings of seven U.S. attorneys late last year after senior Justice Department officials identified the prosecutors they believed were not doing enough to carry out President Bush's policies on immigration, firearms and other issues, White House and Justice Department officials said yesterday.

The list of prosecutors was assembled last fall, based largely on complaints from members of Congress, law enforcement officials and career Justice Department lawyers, administration officials said.

One of the complaints came from Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), who specifically raised concerns with the Justice Department last fall about the performance of then-U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias of New Mexico, according to administration officials and Domenici's office.

Iglesias has alleged that two unnamed New Mexico lawmakers pressured him in October to speed up the indictments of Democrats before the elections. Domenici has declined to comment on that allegation.

This alibi is pretty much incoherent. It ignores the fact that pretty much all the US Attorneys fired were either investigating instances of alleged Republican corruption or not moving fast enough on alleged Democratic corruption (e.g. Iglesias). It ignores the fact that it took the Administration 3 months to come up with this excuse. It simply uses a hot-button issue (immigration) as a red herring to deny the political cast of these firings.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General of the United States, who may have lied to Congress when he said that there was no political context to these purges, has basically shut his mouth:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has indicated he is too busy to answer letters from Democratic congressional leaders about his firing seven U.S. attorneys involved in probes of public corruption, though a lower-level Justice Department official rejected their proposals.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, House Democratic Caucus chairman, had written Gonzales two letters suggesting that he name Carol Lam, fired as U.S. attorney in San Diego, as an outside counsel to continue her pursuit of the Duke Cunningham case. Asked by Melissa Charbonneau of the Christian Broadcasting Network about this column’s report that Gonzales did not respond, Gonzales said: “I think that the American people lose if I spend all my time worrying about congressional requests for information, if I spend all my time responding to subpoenas.”

God forbid that the nation's top law enforcement official pays attention to subpoenas.

On Tuesday, David Iglesias and other attorneys will get to express their side of the story. But this is pretty weak tea from the White House, and I don't think it will satisfy anybody. Plus, they're officially announcing that they personally signed off on firing US Attorneys. That could become problematic later.

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Annals of the Liberal Media

So Adam Nagourney of the New York Times did an entire story on the CPAC conference, including a discussion of Ann Coulter's speech, without bothering to mention that Coulter called John Edwards a "faggot." Nagourney wasn't really alone, as most media outlets chose not to cover Coulter's comments. Joe Sudbay makes a great point:

During the 2004 campaign, comedian Whoopi Goldberg told a joke about George Bush at a fundraiser attended by John Kerry. The right wing erupted and the media went agog over it. The Bush White House led the charge against the comedian trying to keep the story alive. Ken Mehlman was particularly riled up. Then everyone in the right wing demanded John Kerry apologize and rebuke Whoopi, who is, again, a comedian.

Let's review: comedian makes a joke about the President, media frenzy. On the other hand, top conservative calls a Democratic candidate a "faggot" -- an extremely vulgar term that demeans a significant population of Americans and their families -- at an event attended by all the major GOP candidates and the Vice President of the US and it's not even news. Does Dick Cheney approve of that language? You may recall that his daughter is a very prominent lesbian. When Kerry and Edwards mentioned that true fact, the media also went beserk.

And they say it's a liberal media. So many reporters are just patsies for the right wing.

So this obvious media blackout generated enough outrage that Nagourney had to address it. And how did he do so?

In a belated report on right-wing pundit Ann Coulter's reference to former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) as a "faggot," New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney purported to explain a denunciation of Coulter's remark by Edwards, as though it needed explanation. Nagourney wrote:

The question of whether the remark was offensive enough aside, the Edwards campaign saw an opportunity in the remarks of a woman who is about as popular in liberal Democratic circles as [Sen.] Hillary Rodham Clinton [D-NY] is in Republican circles (not very). Mr. [David] Bonior [Edwards' campaign manager] sent an e-mail to supporters last night urging them to make contributions to the Edwards campaign.

Hillary Rodham Clinton? What did she do to deserve a comparison to Coulter? Whether or not Coulter is "[un]popular in liberal Democratic circles," the reasons for liberals' denunciations of her could not be more different from the reasons that Republicans might dislike -- and apparently fear -- Clinton. Last we checked, Clinton had not referred to anyone as a "faggot" or advocated the assassination of anyone. Nor has she, to our knowledge, lamented that Timothy McVeigh did not blow up a news organization.

Not just any news organization, NAGOURNEY'S organization! So we have a writer who tries to literally explain away a pre-planned slanderous remark by saying that the speaker is just like Hillary, and intimates that the Edwards campaign is cynically trying to make use of the controversy.

Gotta love that liberal media.

Glenn Greenwald has a scintillating rant about this entire episode.

But the single most prestigious political event for conservatives of the year is a place where conservatives go to hear Democrats called faggots, Arabs called ragheads, and Supreme Court justices labeled as deserving of murder -- not by anonymous, unidentifiable blog commenters, but by one of their most popular featured speakers.

And after she does that, she is cheered wildly by an adoring conservative movement that has made her bigoted and hate-mongering screeds best-sellers, all while they and their deceitful little allies in the media, such as Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post, write idiot tracts about how terribly upset they are by the affront to decency from HuffPost commenters [in between writing obsequious, tongue-wagging profiles of Coulter's most radical ideological allies, such as Michelle Malkin, who penned a lovely defense of the internment of Japanese-Americans, for which even Ronald Reagan apologized (but, I believe, she never cursed while doing so, which is what matters most)].

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The Most Important California Election of 2007

I've been a little lax in talking about Tuesday's elections in Los Angeles, maybe because I technically don't live in Los Angeles and will not be voting. Nevertheless, it's actually critically important for the future of the state.

Richard Alarcon is running for LA City Council, his 35th office of the year, and he's likely to take it. But the intrigue surrounds the LAUSD school board elections, where Mayor Villaraigosa is essentially taking on UTLA in a battle that may go a long way to determining the future of California.

And I'm fairly serious about that.

This LA Times piece has the details. Essentially there are two races worth watching on Tuesday, where Villaraigosa-backed candidates are matching up against UTLA-backed incumbents. The winner will gain control of the school board, which Villaraigosa would like to push through his power-sharing arrangement to give the mayor most of the power and accountability for the LAUSD.

First, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pushed to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District outright. Then, he crafted a bid for power-sharing. Now, he's trying to get his way by proxy — by winning a school board majority Tuesday that, at last, would give him a powerful voice in the direction of local school reform.

But this is no sure thing either.

Standing in the way is United Teachers Los Angeles, the erstwhile ally of the mayor. The union backs two incumbents whose reelection would preserve the board majority that has thwarted Villaraigosa repeatedly.

In all, four of seven board seats are up for grabs. With one ally on the board already, the mayor needs three wins to secure a friendly majority. (The mayor is virtually assured of picking up two seats -ed.)

In the west San Fernando Valley's District 3, Villaraigosa backs prosecutor Tamar Galatzan against UTLA-favored Jon M. Lauritzen. In District 1 in South Los Angeles, the union favors Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte against charter school operator Johnathan Williams, whom the mayor tacitly supports.

Total spending in the two campaigns is likely to surpass $3 million.

It's not for nothing that this is a big-money set of races. If the 2010 governor's race were held today, Villaraigosa would have to be seen as the front-runner. A loss to the teacher's union would be a blow to his credibility and his ability to push forward his agenda. The mayor has expended a tremendous amount of political capital on taking control of the schools. If he cannot he will have trouble putting together a record of accomplishment, particularly with such challenges as increases in gang violence and an increased homeless problem happening on his watch).

All you need to know is that the LA Area Chamber of Commerce is supporting Villaraigosa's slate, and his favored candidate in District 1 (he hasn't come out and endorsed him) is a guy who built charter schools in South LA. Also on Villaraigosa's side are former Republican Mayor Richard Riordan and billionaires Steven Bing, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Eli Broad, among others. On the side of the incumbents are UTLA, SEIU Local 99, the local Teamsters and others.

Tuesday should very interesting. Stay tuned.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

About the OIl

Earlier this week Iraq's government actually got something done, coming together around the only thing that can unite - money, bushels and bushels of money. And really, this is the same kind of "opening up the country's market" stuff that we've seen crush other nations and put them in near-total servitude to corporate hegemony:

Iraq's government has agreed on a plan to divide the country's oil wealth and open the industry to international investment, a move seen as necessary to a political settlement of the nearly four-year-old war, ministers announced Monday.

"This law will guarantee for Iraqis -- not just now, but for future generations, too -- complete national control over this natural wealth," Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani told reporters at a Baghdad news conference [...]

"This law affirms ... all the revenues will be shared at the federal level and redistributed equitably among all Iraqis," Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told CNN.

Deciding how to distribute the proceeds of the country's oil industry was a key political benchmark laid out by U.S. officials trying to broker a settlement of the country's political differences.

"This is the first time since 2003 that all major Iraqi communities have come together on a defining piece of legislation," said Zalmay Khalilzad, the outgoing U.S. ambassador in Baghdad. "This law is a major pillar of a national compact among Iraqis."

And of course, that sounds good, until you read the fine print. And unfortunately for the corporations, it appears that some Iraqis have.

Barely two days have passed since Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hailed the country's new petroleum law as a "solid base for unity of all Iraqis" — a rare boast these days. President Bush has also trumpeted it as proof that Iraq has a viable future. But parliamentarians and Iraq's oil unions have already begun mobilizing against the draft legislation, arguing that it is a desperate attempt by al-Maliki's government to satisfy Western demands, which could damage Iraq's economic future and speed the country's ultimate disintegration [...]

Under the new law, agreed on Monday by Iraq's cabinet, foreign oil companies will be allowed to cut long-term exploration and development deals with the government for 20 years, renewable for a further five years. Companies willing to operate in a country with high physical risks — insurgents regularly blow up pipelines and kill contractors — will be allowed to export their oil after paying the government a minimum 12.5% royalty, although there are usually also cash signing bonuses to the government, and most "profit oil," extracted after operating costs are met, would likely go to Baghdad. Regional governments — only Kurdistan has one right now — can sign their own contracts under the law, a dizzying change from decades when Saddam dictated the terms and stifled oil production in Kurdistan. A Baghdad-based Federal Council on Oil & Gas will be formed; it will have 60 days to appoint a team to arbitrate a contract, if it has strong concerns.

Despite the grumbling from politicians, it is still unclear whether opposition to the law is strong enough to kill it. Among the parliamentarians arguing against the law are Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc, which fears that foreign oil companies will move into Iraq in force, and stay long after U.S. soldiers have left. But logistically they will have to race back to Baghdad to vote against it. Many parliamentarians, like al-Mutlaq, spend much of their time outside Iraq — al-Sadr himself is frequently in Iran. "I'm going back for this very reason," al-Mutlaq says. "We cannot yet figure out how many people will stand against it." He says he is certain he will find allies among his colleagues, who he says believe that the law is geared to the needs of Western oil companies rather than Iraqis. There has been no public hearing on the draft, whose details have largely been kept secret. Iraqi lawmakers fumed last July when U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman discussed the draft during a trip to the region, "when hardly a single parliamentarian had seen it," says Kamil Mahdi, an Iraqi who is senior lecturer in Middle East economics at the University of Exeter in Britain, and who spent Tuesday discussing the law by phone with several parliamentarians. He said several believe that the government should wait until the war ends before locking Iraq into long-term deals with foreigners, he says. "This draft is totally out of synch with any notion of the interests of Iraq," he says.

And who knew this, but Iraq has oil unions, and they're the strongest voices of opposition to this new law. Since their members are the ones who, you know, actually get the oil out of the ground, I would say this may have an impact.

In one sense this is about Iraqis who are tired of seeing American interests trump their own. But really this is the same grassroots resistance to globalization we have seen since the late 1990s. The whole world has seen the lessons over the past 40 years, where corporations come into the developing world, open their markets, practically enslave their people, and take out all the natural resources (and all the profit) for themselves. The reason Latin America and many other countries have this streak of what is called "anti-Americanism" here is not a foreign policy issue, it's an economic one. Simply put, the Iraqi people don't want their oil stolen from them by multinationals. They don't want to end up like Nigeria. I question the motives of groups like al-Sadr's (who probably want to minimize the amount of oil wealth they must share with the Sunnis), but the language they're using is undoubtedly very appealing to the Iraqi in the street.

Whether they'll succeed is another matter. It may not be that the whole war was fought to open up these oil markets, but as long as we're there, I'm sure the White House considers it a pretty important thing to get done. At some point the bombs will stop dropping and there has to be another way to make money off of Iraq. They've clearly got Maliki in the tank, as he probably knows that upsetting the Americans will cause his government to collapse. It'll be interesting to see if they can ramrod this through the Parliament, which frequently doesn't even show up to meet. Stay tuned.

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And the Ritual of Apology Continues

Although I would say it's warranted this time. You can't go out and call John Edwards a faggot (not as a slip of the tongue, either, but as part of prepared remarks), which is pretty much slander, and not expect people to get upset. Like the Human Rights Campaign.

Today, at the Conservative Political Action Conference sponsored by the American Conservative Union, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter spoke saying, “I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot,’ so I — so kind of an impasse, can’t really talk about Edwards.” The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay civil rights organization, strongly condemned Coulter’s remarks and called on those Republican leaders in attendance to follow suit.

“To interject this word into American political discourse is a vile and disgusting way to sink the debate to a new, all-time low,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Make no doubt about it, these remarks go directly against what our Founding Fathers intended and have no place on the schoolyard, much less our country’s political arena.” [...]

The Conservative Political Action Conference was attended by 2008 Republican Presidential candidates: Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO), Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and former Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA). Vice President Dick Cheney also attended the event.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney spoke before Coulter saying, ““I am happy to hear that after you hear from me, you will hear from Ann Coulter. That is a good thing.”

“We demand that every single Presidential candidate in attendance at this conference, along with Vice President Cheney stand up and publicly condemn this type of gutter-style politics,” continued Solmonese. “If not, then their silence will be deafening to the vast majority of Americans who believe this type of language belongs no where near the discussions about the future of our country.”

Of course, maybe us mean angry liberals don't quite get the point here. You see, "faggot" is NOT on George Carlin's list of the Seven Words You Can't Say on Television, the ones we love to use all the time! So it's perfectly within the bounds of acceptable discourse.

I don't think anyone really listens to Ann Coulter anymore, but what's interesting is the generally positive reaction the line got in the room. She is the mainstream of the modern conservative movement. So keep talking, Ann, until you piss the whole country off and have them run screaming in the other direction.

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The Crackup At Walter Reed

So the Secretary of the Army resigned, and a new permanent commander at Walter Reed will be named later today (READ: Kiley is out). This is a tremendous black eye for the military, and it comes directly out of the fact that we have an Administration that doesn't care about governing. As such, they don't plan for the consequences of their actions, whether it's breaking the National Guard with these repeated foreign deployments, so that they can't respond to homeland emergency needs, or undercounting the troops needed for the escalation by 7,000, because nobody recognizes (or wants to admit) the need for suport personnel, or destroying the veterans' hospital system because no planning was made for the thousands of wounded coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. It shows a tragic short-sightedness, an inability to look past one's own hellish fantasies for how the world should work, and a lack of caring for what happens to the men and women they send into the meat grinder. This is a bigger story about carelessness and obliviousness, more than anything. It's all about the war; they don't care about the aftermath. And that's how George Bush has lived his entire life; somebody else has always cleaned up his messes.

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Chris Dodd's great-great-great-great-aunt hated corn.

Senator now "dead in the water" in Iowa

SIOUX CITY (BP) - The longshot campaign of Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd took a big hit in the Hawkeye State today, when our crack reporting staff found a long-forgotten note form his great-great-great-great-aunt acknowledging a dislike of corn.

"Mama never usually cooks it right," wrote Rose-a-Sharon Millicent Dodd in a diary entry dated March 16, 1835. "An' e'en if she did, it sticks between my teeth like President Jackson sticks to the Indian Removal Act!"

Staffers for Senator Dodd hastily assembled a closed-door meeting to discuss how best to deflect the damage this could do to his nascent campaign. Needless to say, the eating habits of a distant relative twice remove would have a crushing effect in the farmlands of this midwestern state, home to the first caucus in the nation. "If word got out about this, yes, I think you might as well write off Iowa. Corn farmers don't like to be told that somebody doesn't like their product," said Democratic strategist James Carville, who surreptitiously took off his "Hillary '08" button mid-interview.

So far, Sen. Dodd has been largely silent about the controversy, with his only public statement being "Who the heck cares what some ancestor of mine ate for dinner?" But he is not the first candidate trying to live down the sins of his own lineage. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is still reeling from revelations that his great-grandfather was a polgymist, and more recently it was revealed that ancestors of Sen. Barack Obama, former Sen. John Edwards and Sen. John McCain all were slaveowners. Remarkably, none of them have dropped out of the 2008 Presidential race due to these scandals, although it has been rumored that former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack's departure from the fight for the Democratic nomination is due to rumors that his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grand-uncle misfired his musket during the Revolutionary War.

One prominent media critic and writer, Eric Boehlert of Media Matters, questioned why the conduct of long-distant relatives has any bearing on the skills and abilities of candidates today, but he was shouted into silence by a team of journalists who were busily scouring the website for more exclusive scoops. "Of course it matters whether or not Sen. Dodd's great-great-great-great-aunt liked corn," said Howard Kurtz, media analyst for the Washington Post and CNN. "That's like saying it doesn't matter what Hillary Clinton's wrote in her senior thesis in 1969! A President has to be President to all people: corn growers, abolitionists, anti-polygamists, people who don't like thesis papers. If we don't do our job as journalists and dig up all available records on these candidates going back 200 years and try to insinuate that the sins of their predecessors reflect on them, then we've failed the American people."

In a related story, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's mailman hates cheese, dampening his prospects in Wisconsin.

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Meet The New Boss

Worse than the old boss.

Yesterday’s management shake-up at Walter Reed looks increasingly suspect. The Washington Post reports today that the hospital chief who was relieved of duty, Army Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, is “well respected in the military medical community and well liked among the staff at Walter Reed.” He had been at the hospital for just half a year, and “instituted some changes to improve outpatient care.”

Weightman is being replaced for now by Army surgeon general Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley. As ThinkProgress documented yesterday, Kiley has known for years about the neglect and deplorable conditions at Walter Reed. Kiley was personally told about injured veterans who were “languishing and lost on the grounds,” sharing drugs and “drinking themselves to death,” and reportedly did nothing to address the problems. In one stunning case, Kiley took no action when personally informed that a soldier was sleeping in his own urine.

This had the feel of a whitewash, with Weightman being the fall guy. The staff at the medical center, meanwhile, can't stand Kiley, who let the outpatient facilities slip into this disrepair.

Waxman's going to haul both these guys into his committee for field hearings on this at Walter Reed. Those should be revealing. In the meantime, there's no way that Kevin Kiley should be running this facility.

UPDATE: Rules Committee Chair Rep. Louise Slaughter wants Kiley out today:

“The Department of Defense needs to make a choice: does it care about our wounded veterans, or does it care about public relations?” Rep. Slaughter said today. “While I was glad to see that initial steps had been taken to change the leadership at Walter Reed, yesterday’s news of Mr. Kiley’s appointment was simply baffling. How can a man who stood by for years while American soldiers suffered needlessly be expected to enact real reforms?”

“The outrage of the American public over the conditions at Walter Reed will not be pacified by simply shuffling the deck,” Rep. Slaughter said. “Secretary Gates must immediately remove from command anyone who allowed its facilities to fall into such a state of disrepair.”

“Our wounded soldiers deserve nothing less than the best health care this country can provide and the best leadership to ensure they receive that care.”

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Friday Random Ten

What was in my head this morning:

White Light - Gorillaz
We Looked Like Giants - Death Cab For Cutie
Finished With Lies - They Might Be Giants
Seeing Thangs - DJ Shadow feat. David Banner
Egg Man - The Beastie Boys
Stay Away - Nirvana
Train To Chicago - Mike Doughty
Privately - Guided By Voices
Gettin' Wise - Brassy
Rockin' The Bronx - Black 47

And we end with two colloquial "drop the g" songs.

Bonus Track: Phantom Limb - The Shins

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In Search of a Plan

So here are the latest plans from Democrats on what to do regarding Iraq:

House Democratic leaders have coalesced around legislation that would require troops to come home from Iraq within six months if that country's leaders fail to meet promises to help reduce violence there, party officials said Thursday.

The plan would retain a Democratic proposal prohibiting the deployment to Iraq of troops with insufficient rest or training or who already have served there for more than a year. Under the plan, such troops could only be sent to Iraq if President Bush waives those standards and reports to Congress each time.

The proposal is the latest attempt by Democrats to resolve deep divisions within the party on how far to go to scale back U.S. involvement in Iraq. Rep. James Moran said the latest version has the support of party leadership and said he believes it is final and has the best chance at attracting broad support.

And on the Senate side, they won't even dare cut one cent from the precious war budget:

Just hours after floating the idea of cutting $20 billion from President Bush's $142 billion request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan next year, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., was overruled by fellow Democrats on Thursday.

"It's nothing that any of us are considering," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters.

Conrad's trial balloon to cut war funding would have affected the budget year beginning Oct. 1 and was separate from the ongoing debate over Bush's $100 billion request for immediate supplemental funding for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even the Pentagon acknowledges that its $142 billion 2008 war funding request is simply a best guess of Iraq and Afghanistan costs, and Conrad's proposal didn't earn rebukes from Budget Committee Republicans.

But the speed with which it was rejected by his colleagues seemed to reflect Democrats' sensitivity to any accusations of giving shortshrift treatment to funding for troops in battle.

They still listen to their consultants instead of the American people. We have no political will in Washington from Democrats to get hit with the dreaded "you don't support the troops" label. Didn't we WIN AN ELECTION last year despite having that label? Aren't the Republicans not supporting the troops in so very many ways, whether by sending them out without enough guns or training and without a well-defined enemy, or by putting them in prison-like conditions in outpatient facilities at Walter Reed?

I disagree with Matt Stoller, I think the public and the netroots are on the same side now on Iraq. It's just very depressing that the Democratic Congress can't get this inferiority complex out of their heads. They either line up with the American people on this issue, and fight (even if they LOSE, at least they'd be seen as trying), or, as Russ Feingold says they start to risk owning the war.

I would prefer a clean effort to try to eliminate the funding for the war, to actually have a date like we did with Somalia, where the war will end. But the fact is that when I propose a deadline a year and a half ago, people said well, there’s no support for that, even the Democrats are against it. Well, now it’s in all the drafts.

So, the fact is that people come to the realization that if we’re going to end this war, we’re to have use our real power. The power of the purse. And I can tell from you private conversations, the realization is growing that the only way to stop this thing is to use our power. You know what? If the Democrats don’t use their power, when we’re in the majority in both houses, we’re going to start owning this war. It is George Bush’s war, but if we don’t get serious we’re going to start owning this war.

Even the Republicans and the commanders on the ground understand that there's a very limited, swiftly closing window before they face a "Vietnam-style collapse" in public support. There's no need to wait six months, as the House plan does. We've been waiting four years, and the Iraqi government has already missed key benchmarks in deploying their forces. They have no interest in stability, and no control over the vengeful forces in their midst.

There was a Democrat in the White House during Vietnam, and the antiwar movement basically forced him into ignominy. Democrats control the Congress now. The exact same thing has the potential to happen.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Iglesiasgate: The Other Shoe Drops

Via Kevin Drum, sources are now directly charging Heather Wilson and Pete Domenici for tampering with a federal investigation:

Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson of New Mexico pressured the U.S. attorney in their state to speed up indictments in a federal corruption investigation that involved at least one former Democratic state senator, according to two people familiar with the contacts.

The alleged involvement of the two Republican lawmakers raises questions about possible violations of House of Representatives and Senate ethics rules and could taint the criminal investigation into the award of an $82 million courthouse contract.

The two people with knowledge of the incident said Domenici and Wilson intervened in mid-October, when Wilson was in a competitive re-election campaign that she won by 875 votes out of nearly 211,000 cast.

This is huge, and Tuesday's House Judiciary Committee hearing will keep this in the news even more, when Iglesias fingers Wilson and Domenici himself. I heard Iglesias on NPR tonight and he sounded very impressive. He acknowledged that he should have reported the phone calls from Wilson and Domenici to the DoJ sooner, but his candor and his explanation ("I was shocked by the whole thing") sounded human.

There's no way Domenici runs for re-election, I'm predicting it now. He would have had a problem even before this mess, what with all the "I wear pajamas and roam the halls of the Senate aimlessly" stuff.

Josh Marshall is right, we now know that Wilson and Domenici were the first people frustrated with Iglesias, and we know that the Justice Department eventually fired him. Who were the middle men? Who talked to who?

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Investing in the Future

This is an intriguing bill. Some California legislatures would like to provide every newborn in California with a $500 savings account for them to use as they wish when they turn 18 (say, for college, or for the down payment on a home). It's would be a $283 million dollar annual investment in the state's people, an opportunity for kids to lighten their debt burden and use the magic of compound interest to give them a real head start in life. Such a system has been in place in Great Britain since 2002. Interestingly, it's a bipartisan bill (about as frequent in California as a Britney Spears book on proper parenting), promoted by Sens. Darrell Steinberg (D) and Bob Dutton (R).

Fox News' story on the bill made sure to mention that children of immigrants - IMMIGRANTS! - would be eligible for the account, forgetting the fact that children born in this country are American citizens, and that any money for the account would not be available until the child turned 18 (but if illegals came to our country, and waited 18 years... they'd be taking our money!).

One of the biggest problems we have in our society is the negative savings rate, which ensures that everyone in the country is in hock to credit card or student loan companies for most of their young adult years. Giving Californians a chance to stay in the black, and teaching them the value of saving money, is the least we can do for our citizens.

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Jefferson's Movin' On Up

I have high praise for Nancy Pelosi on building a broad-based agenda and acting swiftly to get it enacted. But I don't know what she's thinking here:

The House Democratic Caucus voted on Tuesday night to give Rep. William Jefferson, D-Louisiana, a seat on the House Homeland Security Committee. This comes after the caucus stripped Jefferson of his seat on the powerful Ways and Means committee last June.

Jefferson is entangled in a federal bribery investigation related to his dealings with a telecommunications company. Federal investigators found $90,000 in cash in his freezer in 2005 after Jefferson allegedly accepted a $100,000 bribe from an FBI informant. Despite the investigation, Jefferson was re-elected to a ninth term to his New Orleans' seat in a run-off election in December.

I'm guessing that the Congressional Black Caucus forced this appointment so that one of their members wouldn't be pre-judged. But a hundred grand in a freezer is a hundred grand in a freezer. You could make a credible case that the Justice Department is intentionally dragging their feet to ensure that something like this would happen (it's not like DoJ is never used for political purposes). And sure enough, the GOP House leadership struck quickly with an attack:

House Republicans plan to force a floor vote on the appointment of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), who is the subject of a federal bribery investigation, to a seat on the Homeland Security Committee.

The decision to put Jefferson on the panel was made by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), and House Democrats endorsed the move at a private meeting Tuesday night, but his appointment must be confirmed by a vote on the House floor. Such an action would normally be a formality, but Republicans said yesterday that they would pursue a rarely used maneuver to force a recorded vote on the matter.

"This is a terrible mistake by the Democratic leadership, to take someone with serious ethical allegations against him and put him on one of the most sensitive and important committees in Congress," said Rep. Peter T. King (N.Y.), the ranking Republican on the committee.

Yeah, they're hypocrites about this. Gary Miller just got a subcommittee seat and he's days from being indicted. Pelosi's office even did some pushback to that effect. But why give the Republicans the ammunition? They don't care about being coherent, they just want to attack and attack. There's no reason to give them such an inviting target.

I would have liked to have seen the Democratic leadership hold themselves to a higher ethical standard than the Republicans. Just because Gary Miller got a prime gig is no reason that William Jefferson should get one. He's obviously innocent until proven guilty, but there's a lot of smoke there, too much to reward the man who earlier you stripped from the Ways and Means Committee. I wish that the FBI would finish the investigation and we could all move on. But until then, I think it's a mistake to elevate this guy, considering that his alleged co-conspirators are headed to jail as we speak.

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Iglesiasgate: And Out Come The Subpoenaes

David Iglesias and 3 other former federal prosecutors will be summoned to testify on Capitol Hill by the House Judiciary Committee to explain their assessment of the Justice Department's prosecutor purge. This is a serious abuse of power, and things are looking worse and worse for the White House on this one. Meanwhile, Wilson and Domenici met the press today:

David Iglesias said in published reports this week that he believes he was forced out of office as U.S. attorney after resisting pressure from two members of Congress to push an ongoing investigation of a kickback scheme that might have helped Republicans in the 2006 elections [...]

Iglesias, a Republican, has not named the lawmakers who contacted him. All but Domenici and Wilson said Wednesday that it wasn't them.

In a brief interview Thursday, Domenici also denied the accusation. "I don't have any comment," he told The Associated Press. "I have no idea what he's talking about."

Wilson tersely referred questions to Iglesias' government supervisors.

"You should contact the Department of Justice on that personnel matter," she said.

Or maybe the DoJ will be contacting you. Or at least the ethics committee.

Joe Monahan has much more, and this little tidbit struck me: could Republican Reps. in New Mexico be throwing each other under the bus?

The Alligators were besides themselves over the statement of Rep. Steve Pearce quickly denying that he was one of those congressional reps who Iglesias is saying made improper contact with him before the election.

"Did he really have to issue a statement right away? It could be read that Pearce was isolating Heather as the one who made the call." Argued one political veteran.

It's no secret that both Wilson and Pearce have their eye on the Domenici senate seat if and when it becomes available, so fairly or not, all actions of the two are going to be weighed in that context, this imbroglio being the latest example.

Veddy interestink.

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Employee Free Choice Act Passes The House

241-185. The way that Nancy Pelosi has kept the caucus together for these votes is pretty amazing. This is a good day for the American worker, but the fight is not over.

Ezra Klein has a great riposte to these conservative blowhards who claim that card check deprives employees of their Constitutional right to a secret ballot and increases the chances of union boss intimidation.

Things an Employer Can Do To Keep You From Joining A Union: Force you into captive meetings. Threaten to close your plant/store/site. Threaten to fire you. Actually fire you. Hire professional union busters. Give preferential treatment, either through scheduling or promotion, to employees willing to identify union supporters. Reduce the hours or inconveniently schedule suspected union supporters. Fire union supporters. Reassign you.

What Unions Can Do: Demand you join a union. Ask you to join a union. Threaten to screw you if you don't support the union and one is created.

In other words, a workplace is not a democracy where labor and management stand in for Democrats and Republicans. Management holds all the cards in a non-union environment, and unless workers are free to collectively bargain they have little recourse for whatever management wants to do to them. An up or down vote is the fairest system to ensure a workplace free from intimidation and allowed to organize. We must end the terrible process of union busting in this country. It's debilitating to eliminating poverty and ensuring the rise of the middle class.

The EFCA will have a tough time in the Senate, and the President has threatened a veto. Time to light up the switchboards.

UPDATE: Brilliant stuff from Rep. George Miller (I think he's talking about his namesake Gary Miller at the beginning of this):

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All Apologies

There's this ritual in Presidential politics of the gaffe, or hiring of someone untoward, followed by outrage and recrimination, followed by apology or firing. It's getting to be depressingly routine:

Republican presidential candidate Duncan Hunter has dropped two top South Carolina advisers a week after they were appointed because of their inflammatory statements about immigrants and religious minorities.

Hunter spokesman Roy Tyler confirmed Thursday that former GOP lieutenant governor candidate Henry Jordan and Horry County Auditor Lois Eargle would no longer serve as campaign co-chairs.

Eargle said the California congressman's decision was disappointing.

"I am so disgusted with politicians who do not have the backbone to stand up for the concerns of the American people," Eargle said in a statement provided to The Associated Press.

Does anyone credibly believe that Duncan Hunter was duped into hiring these two xenophobes in the first place? Of course not.

Then there's the case of the inconvenient word:

Republican Sen. John McCain announced his candidacy for president during a TV appearance, and then announced he will announce his candidacy again next month [...]

Discussing the war with Letterman, McCain repeated his assertion that U.S. troops must remain in Iraq rather than withdrawing early even though the war has been mismanaged.

"Americans are very frustrated, and they have every right to be," McCain said. "We've wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives."

In February, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama described the lives of troops in Iraq as having been "wasted" but then apologized a day later for making what he called "a slip of the tongue" that he said was not meant to diminish their sacrifice.

There was the beating of chests from the DNC, followed by a McCain apology. But aside from the facts that everyone in the insanepsphere, who were so riled up about Obama's exact same comment, said nothing about McCain's, has any harm been done here? Whether you use the word "waste" or "sacrifice" (and I would say "waste" is more accurate), doesn't anybody NOT know what you're actually saying?

These bubbles of outrage are very easy for the press to cover and dissect. No reporting is required, just people spitballing back and forth about what the candidate should do and who won what round and will the candidate condemn the comments of such and such. It's a huge game of kabuki and it has nothing to do with the issues people actually need to hear. In some cases the press goes and creates the controversy they so desperately want to see (h/t FDL).

In an article for the March 5 edition of Newsweek about Maureen Dowd's controversial February 21 New York Times interview (subscription required) with Hollywood mogul David Geffen, a longtime donor to former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) who is supporting Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Evan Thomas reported that Dowd told the magazine, in Thomas' words, that during her interview with Geffen, "Geffen did not seem out to get the Clintons," adding: "Dowd says Geffen was initially reluctant to be interviewed for her column. … Dowd says she was the one who brought up questions about Bill Clinton's past as a campaign issue."

I'm a little ashamed that the blogosphere seems to be following the herd on this one, although the spikes in posts that Ezra sees could be attributed to people like me yelling about the meaninglessness of these fake controversies. I just wish we didn't have to go through this ritual of self-flagellation and public disavowal every day, and that we could actually weigh policy matters. And at any rate I think it's far too early to begin with.

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The Fall Guy

Maj. Gen. George Weightman, the top general overseeing operations at Walter Reed Medical Center, has lost his command, and I couldn't think of someone more deserving of a sacking, just based on his statements in the aftermath of the continuing relevations. But it shouldn't stop there.

It turns out that the horrifying conditions at Walter Reed's outpatient facilities have been well known for years to top officials, including the Army's surgeon general. And Weightman was only in command of the hospital for 6 months. So he may be the fall guy, but he's not the sole person responsible. For instance, how about Kevin Kiley?

A procession of Pentagon and Walter Reed officials expressed surprise last week about the living conditions and bureaucratic nightmares faced by wounded soldiers staying at the D.C. medical facility. But as far back as 2003, the commander of Walter Reed, Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, who is now the Army's top medical officer, was told that soldiers who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan were languishing and lost on the grounds, according to interviews.

Steve Robinson, director of veterans affairs at Veterans for America, said he ran into Kiley in the foyer of the command headquarters at Walter Reed shortly after the Iraq war began and told him that "there are people in the barracks who are drinking themselves to death and people who are sharing drugs and people not getting the care they need."

"I met guys who weren't going to appointments because the hospital didn't even know they were there," Robinson said. Kiley told him to speak to a sergeant major, a top enlisted officer.

A recent Washington Post series detailed conditions at Walter Reed, including those at Building 18, a dingy former hotel on Georgia Avenue where the wounded were housed among mice, mold, rot and cockroaches.

Kiley lives across the street from Building 18. From his quarters, he can see the scrappy building and busy traffic the soldiers must cross to get to the 113-acre post. At a news conference last week, Kiley, who declined several requests for interviews for this article, said that the problems of Building 18 "weren't serious and there weren't a lot of them." He also said they were not "emblematic of a process of Walter Reed that has abandoned soldiers and their families."

How about stripping Maj. Gen. Kenneth Farmer of his rank?

Retired Maj. Gen. Kenneth L. Farmer Jr., who commanded Walter Reed for two years until last August, said that he was aware of outpatient problems and that there were "ongoing reviews and discussions" about how to fix them when he left. He said he shared many of those issues with Kiley, his immediate commander. Last summer when he turned over command to Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, Farmer said, "there were a variety of things we identified as opportunities for continued improvement."

In 2004, Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and his wife stopped visiting the wounded at Walter Reed out of frustration. Young said he voiced concerns to commanders over troubling incidents he witnessed but was rebuffed or ignored. "When Bev or I would bring problems to the attention of authorities of Walter Reed, we were made to feel very uncomfortable," said Young, who began visiting the wounded recuperating at other facilities.

And how about firing whoever decided to blame the soldiers for the harsh conditions they face (h/t Nitpicker):

Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media.

“Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media,” one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

It is unusual for soldiers to have daily inspections after Basic Training.

So we're not at the end of the investigation into Walter Reed. We're at the beginning. And nobody should be satisfied with Gen. Weightman being relieved of command. This is a shocking indictment of an Administration who doesn't support the troops, and the VA Secretary as well as every branch of the military should be made accountable for it.

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The Word Police

Conservatives like to think of themselves as the most strong-willed souls in the universe, and yet they hit the fainting couch every time anyone says a naughty word on the Internets.

Hey geniuses: the guy who invented the "7 Words You Can't Say on Television"? He was MAKING FUN OF IT, not proposing an outright ban!

If conservatives think the line between serious and unserious can be drawn by evaluating who uses more curse words, I'll stay on the side with Chris Rock, George Carlin, David Milch and David Mamet, thanks. And fuck you very much.

UPDATE: What The Poor Man said.

And now, with this monumental fuck-up, the Aggregate Fucked-Uppedness (AFU) of the Bush administration can no longer be blithely dismissed by observing that Michael Moore is fat. The situation is now far too serious for such frivolity. From now on, the only acceptable way to blithely dismiss the proven incompetence and/or dishonesty of the Bush administration is to point out that Al Gore uses electricity. If you want to be really, really serious, you could point out that everything evens out because a blogger cussed.

The Editors forget that Al Gore both uses electricity AND is fat, which means that the Bush Adminstration will have to accidentally sell the Pentagon to Venezuela to make up the difference.

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Iglesiasgate: Wilson and Domenici Fingered

Iglesias-gate just got a little hotter.

Via TPM Muckraker, US Attorney David Iglesias, who was fired by the Justice Department in their purge of prosecutors, essentially fingered the members of Congress who called him and pressured him to indict a Democratic former state Senator before Election Day 2006. Until these comments, Iglesias was careful to say "members of Congress" pushed for the indictment, but gave no details. But now he has pretty much acknowledged that it was Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, which makes perfect sense.

U.S. Attorney David Iglesias on Wednesday blamed his firing on failure by his office to bring indictments in the courthouse investigation before the November elections, saying he felt that two members of Congress pressured him to do so.

After his final news conference as U.S. attorney, he confirmed to the Journal that two members of the New Mexico delegation contacted him before the election and asked when indictments would be handed up by a federal grand jury.

Iglesias said he assumes that the members of the delegation were unhappy and complained to the White House, which led to his firing.

This is the first indication that the two members of Congress were definitively from the New Mexico delegation. There are only five members of Congress from New Mexico, and two of them are Democrats. Rep. Steve Pearce's office has officially denied involvement. That leaves Domenici and Wilson, who have both refused to answer any questions on the subject. So there you go.

We all remember that Wilson was in a tough re-election fight last year against former state Attorney General Patricia Madrid, and we remember that a central issue of the race was Madrid's alleged lax attitutde toward state corruption. If the US Attorney would bring an indictment against a former state Senator right in the middle of the campaign, it would further emphasize this point and embarrass Madrid. The senior Republican official in the state is Sen. Domenici, so his involement wouldn't surprise anyone either, especially considering his trying to help save his fellow incumbent.

This is kind of a big deal. We have two members of Congress who are using their position to tamper with a federal investigation, and additionally threatening the livelihood of a federal prosecutor. IANAL, but this seems to me to be a classic obstruction of justice crime. You also have the involvement of the executive branch, who ultimately has the power to hire and fire the US Attorneys, so there needed to be some communication between the offices of Wilson and Domenici and someone either at the DoJ or the White House political shop. AND, Justice Department officials like Paul McNulty LIED TO CONGRESS about why Iglesias and the other prosecutors were fired, citing performance reviews when the reviews themselves give Iglesias high marks for his official conduct.

Pass the popcorn. This one is getting veerrry interesting. And the implications for 2008 are enormous.

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When the Bush Administration first turned themselves to the North Korea question in 2001, they did so with a reflexive anti-Clintonism, one which stated that anything Bill Clinton advocated was necessarily wrong and must be reversed. The White House found their opportunity to do so with Pyongyang, by pulling out of the Agreed Framework, by claiming that North Korea was secretly developing enriched uranium in violation of the agreement. They so wanted to believe this transgression that they willed it into being as a pretext, and severed all ties to the Clinton policy. 6 years later, after North Korea acquired plutonium and built testable nuclear devices, BushCo went back to the bargaining table and essentially re-ratified the Agreed Framework, from a position of weakness, because now the North Koreans had the bomb. Funny thing, though. Turns out that North Korea may have never enriched uranium at all:

For nearly five years, though, the Bush administration, based on intelligence estimates, has accused North Korea of also pursuing a secret, parallel path to a bomb, using enriched uranium. That accusation, first leveled in the fall of 2002, resulted in the rupture of an already tense relationship: The United States cut off oil supplies, and the North Koreans responded by throwing out international inspectors, building up their plutonium arsenal and, ultimately, producing that first plutonium bomb.

But now, American intelligence officials are publicly softening their position, admitting to doubts about how much progress the uranium enrichment program has actually made. The result has been new questions about the Bush administration’s decision to confront North Korea in 2002.

“The question now is whether we would be in the position of having to get the North Koreans to give up a sizeable arsenal if this had been handled differently,” a senior administration official said this week.

Josh Marshall and Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings have great analyses of this story. Suffice to say that we pulled out of the Agreed Framework based on overhyped intelligence, enabling the North Koreans to build a bomb quickly and without international inspection. So we let another country join the nuclear club for no reason at all. Here's a taste of how immensely stupid this is, from Josh:

Because of a weapons program that may not even have existed (and no one ever thought was far advanced) the White House the White House got the North Koreans to restart their plutonium program and then sat by while they produced a half dozen or a dozen real nuclear weapons -- not the Doug Feith/John Bolton kind, but the real thing.

It's a screw-up that staggers the mind. And you don't even need to know this new information to know that. Even if the claims were and are true, it was always clear that the uranium program was far less advanced than the plutonium one, which would be ready to produce weapons soon after it was reopened. Now we learn the whole thing may have been a phantom. Like I said, it staggers the mind how badly this was bungled. In this decade there's been no stronger force for nuclear weapons proliferation than the dynamic duo of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.

And so we put another "L" in the foreign relations ledger for these guys, who have been wrong on every major piece of international policy for the last 50 years. They overstated Russia's defense capabilities, overthrew Mossadegh leading to the Islamic Revolution in Iran, armed Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, thought we would be greeted as liberators and that the Sunnis and Shiites had no history of ethnic strife, called Iran part of the Axis of Evil when they were offering us a deal, allied ourselves with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan when they're the greatest threat to our security, and now let North Korea have nuclear weapons based on a figment of their imagination.

There are probably a hundred more. It's breathtaking when you line them all up like that.

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Fighting for Respect in Sacramento

Also at the Capitol Weekly this week (besides me, fabulous me!) is a good recap of the Capitol Correspondents Association/blogger credentialing flap. Association members are voting today on whether to impose an income test as a condition for getting press access to the Capitol. In the name of allowing credentials for bloggers, the move would restrict pretty much everybody who blogs, as it would require any reporter to earn half their income from media jobs.

Membership does have its privileges. Reporters gain direct access to the floors of both houses, get face time with lawmakers, can mingle with the staffs of the legislators and the committees, and are on the inside watching in real time as policy and politics and power unfold--and unravel. Print and wire reporters, editorial writers, TV reporters, radio reporters, columnists, newsletter reporters, magazine writers, still and action photographers--all carry those laminated photo IDs authorized by the Legislature's Joint Rules Committee, acting on the Association's recommendations.

Traditionally dominated by print reporters, the Association gradually has absorbed other journalistic disciplines into its family. Radio, television, alternative magazines and newspapers, and newsletters all have joined the club over time as each new category was subjected to scrutiny as real newsies.

But the explosion of bloggers has left the association searching for a test of what makes a real journalist.

Like their predecessors, the credentialing dispute reflects tensions between the established media and the new media--of acceptance and credibility--as much as access to the Capitol. The clash is inevitable because the established media make the decision.

It's a classic consequence of letting the gatekeepers make the rules; they're obviously going to be favorable to them and primarily concerned with their own self-preservation.

There are not a vast amount of bloggers with the motivation and the wherewithal to obtain this Legislative credential and do this work. But I want to highlight the real-world impact of this on one of our state's finest online journalists. Frank Russo runs The California Progress Report, one of the few media sources anywhere that covers the legislative process in Sacramento, and he does it with more vibrancy and more earnestness than anybody else around. I often use the CPR to understand what is happening in the Legislature, to get information you simply can't get anywhere else. He is the poster child for the basic unfairness of this ruling.

There wasn't exactly a crush of bloggers seeking credentialing. But one who did was Oakland-based attorney Frank Russo, a Democrat and author of the California Progress Report. Russo was credentialed last year through the speaker's office and sought to renew the credential for 2007, but he was unable to.

When asked why his application was rejected, Russo said: "It beats the heck out of me. When I submitted my application on January 3, I complied with the Joint Rules. I just don't think it's right that you should have to wait two months and then have the rules changed on you." Russo says that few bloggers actually make money off their blogs, thus eliminating them in an income test.

"Frank Russo gets his butt out of the chair and goes out and reports," said Robert Salladay, who runs the Los Angeles Times' political blog, Political Muscle. "Our main task is news gathering. Legitimate bloggers should be engaged, which means picking up the phone, going to events and reporting."

Russo wrote his own article on this decision, and he noted the First Amendment element to this issue.

Last year. I received a press badge from the California legislature. If I'm a "blogger," maybe I've made history. I'm not sure I qualify as a blogger, certainly in the strictest sense of the word as it got started with individuals keeping what they referred to as "diaries." I think of myself as maintaining a website that contains articles and commentary written by me and others about California politics and policy. But I don't think this should make one hill of a bean's worth of difference in my First Amendment rights and that of my readers to be able to get the information I pass on, analyze, and state my opinions about.

In fact, a seminal California Court of Appeals decision O'Grady v. Superior Court 139 Cal. App. 4th 1423; 44 Cal. Rptr. 3d 72 (2006) found that bloggers are journalists under the California Constitution and our state's shield law. As a member of the bar of California, I especially enjoyed reading that decision and the Court's discussion of what has been evolving. In my article about this decision last May, I concluded:

There is a lot more here to this decision. Its reach is huge. If it stands, it will be cited for years to come on issues involving the internet, undoubtedly in ways that we haven’t contemplated.
The times, they are a changing. The San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News are among the papers to report on this decision and its importance. The established press is changing too, and some are becoming bloggers [...]

Gutenberg invented the printing press and that is what the colonists had--hand cranked presses when the First Amendment freedom"of the press" was written. I've seen those presses at Williamsburg and told my son how important they were. Back then you had to own a press to get out information. Now you can do the same, but you don't have to own the internet. There is nothing I am doing on a daily basis that is different from those first journalists in America. If you want to read about this, I suggest "INFAMOUS SCRIBBLERS: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism" by Eric Burns.

The First Amendment should not be for sale in California with the vendor being the established press. We don't need the equivalent of a poll tax for journalists. I value my freedom and don't want to sit at the back of the bus. I'll be driving to Sacramento tomorrow to cover the news. Stay tuned.

It is vital to the future of new media that this gets resolved. Whether the ultimate outcome goes through the courts or is reached through compromise, it is vital that the means of journalistic production does not become an impediment to access to the tools needed to create that production. Some establishment journalists fear the blogosphere and want to keep the responsibility of a free press all to themselves. If the California Legislature was interested in serving the people, they would put pressure on the CCAC to allow those dedicated enough to want to amplify their message to be able to do so.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Big Media D-Day

I'd like you all to head over to Capitol Weekly, an excellent newspaper covering Sacramento politics, and take a look at my op-ed on the prison crisis. I've written a lot about this issue lately because I think how we treat other human beings, no matter what offenses they have committed, speaks fundamentally to who we are as citizens. The state has dug itself into a a deep hole through neglect, a willingness to appear "tough on crime" and a belief that you could lock the problem up and throw away the key. It's a shame it doesn't get more attention, as I certainly think it merits it.

This is the second week in a row that a Calitics writer has been featured in an editorial in Capitol Weekly, and it's just another way in which the netroots is asserting itself as a force in state politics. Let me know what you think. Thanks.

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Quick Hits

This gives me something to do while I try to ignore the horror show that is "The Interpreter" on my teevee.

• Michelle Bachmann, freshman Rep. from Minnesota, is a clairvoyant, having access to secret knowledge of Iran's plans to split up Iraq, which included putting the Shiite region in the area most dominated by Sunnis. Her local paper is demanding her to explain how she got this information, which is silly of them, for nobody, not even Bachmann, can explain the inner workings of the human mind!

• Hey, guess what, Somalia's the next Afghanistan!

Weeks after Ethiopia routed the ICU from Mogadishu and the rest of the country, violence is flaring in the capital and throughout Somalia. While some of this violence is being instigated by the Islamists who lost power, there is evidence that warlords who have returned to the country after being defeated by the Courts movement are also to blame (, February 22). Reports coming out of Mogadishu claim that some warlords are rearming their militias and planning attacks on Ethiopian and TFG troops. These warlords—such as Mohamed Dheere, Muhammad Qanyare Afrah and Abdi Nur Siyad, who have allegedly formed an alliance—are angry over their role in the TFG government that is now controlling Somalia; the three warlords were reportedly seen purchasing large supplies of arms at the Bakaara weapons market (Shabelle Media Network, February 22).

That's a tribal country, one that would never become pliant in the face of an imposed governmental structure and a show of force from the country they hate most, Ethiopia. It was lunacy to think that they'd be pacified and have that be that.

• In more news of "making the world less safe," Venezuela is spending a mint on weaponry!

• John Kerry Swiftboated a Swiftboat Vets for Truth contributor yesterday at a Senate hearing. Crooks and Liars has the vid. It's a few years late, but Kerry realy raked this guy, a nominee for an AMBASSADORSHIP for cryin' out loud, and revealed him in all his hypocrisy. It was a clinic.

• This happened a little while back, but Prince Harry is going to serve in Iraq. No word on the military readiness from our version of the scions of royalty, Britney Spears' kids.

Yet another Virgin Mary found, this time on a school cafeteria cookie sheet. I know the Lord is supposed to work in mysterious ways, but with baking grease? By the way, that looks as much like a guy flipping the bird as it does the Virgin Mary. I guess it's all how you look at it.

• This is an absurd ruling in Florida, where election officials simply decided that everything was fine with the election in the 13th District, and that the 18,000 missing votes had nothing to do with the voting software. Naw, those voters were probably just tired and skipped the most contested, most high-profile race on the ballot. Christine Jennings, who's been royally jobbed by this, has vowed to keep up the fight to obtain the voting machine source code.

• Last week the Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi stepped down from his post because he couldn't get a foreign policy vote adding troops in Afghanistan and expanding a US military base in Northern Italy through the Parliament. Two Communists pulled out of the center-left coalition to vote against Prodi. We've really triggered a global isolationist movement. Afghanistan is in bad need of help. But our wrongheaded policies that look like imperialism have caused the whole world to adopt this isolationist pose, making things more dangerous. Prodi then survived a no-confidence vote to maintain his position, narrowly defeating Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing faction, and the only positive in all of this is to see Berlusconi lose again.

• Why aren't more people talking about the fact that a GOP fundraiser has been accused of funding terrorist training camps? And why doesn't anyone know that the President met yesterday with an anti-Semite who gloried in the killing of American soldiers? Why don't we have a media that reports this more often than the latest twists and turns on American Idol?

• And finally, a new study shows that college students are more narcissistic than ever... I'm sorry, what was I writing about? I was too busy Googling myself and touching up my Facebook picture in Photoshop to remember.



In other news, water is wet

So Strom Thurmond's people owned Al Sharpton's people. It's certainly an interesting coincidence, but people are shocked by this why? A family of plantation owners in South Carolina had slaves that were freed and moved north. Welcome to the Department of No Surprise at All. And is anyone shocked that Strom Thurmond's ancestors would have slaves? The man was an avowed segeregationist, it's not like he was a civil rights leader in his lifetime. It reminds me of that whole Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings brouhaha, remember that a few years ago, when the descendents wanted to run DNA tests on Thomas Jefferson? And everyone was so shocked that our Founding Fathers could exhibit such behavior. “Oh my God, they had sex with slaves!” How about the fact that they had slaves? Isn’t that enough of a black mark? They sold humans like chattel, how’s that for an imperfection?

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There is the makings of a major scandal in New Mexico, something that may have national significance like no other story since perhaps the outing of Valerie Plame. It comes out of the Justice Department's purge of 7 federal prosecutors. The Bush Administration has already taken a lot of flack and received a lot of attention from the US Senate from this brazen act. But today things got a little more interesting.

David Iglesias, US Attorney for New Mexico, stepped down today, and he did not go quietly. In a bombshell article by McClatchy, Iglesias claimed that he was fired for expressly political reasons. This has been alleged in most of the other firings, but what's different here is that we have the personal involvement of members of Congress.

The controversy flared up early Wednesday afternoon after David Iglesias, the departing U.S. attorney from New Mexico, told McClatchy Newspapers that he believes he was forced out because he refused to speed up an indictment of local Democrats a month before November's congressional elections.

Iglesias said that two members of Congress called separately in mid-October to inquire about the timing of a federal probe of a kickback scheme. They appeared eager, he said, for an indictment to be issued before the elections in order to benefit the Republicans. He refused to name the members of Congress because, he said, he feared retaliation.

Two months later, on Dec. 7, Iglesias became one of six U.S. attorneys who've been ordered to step down for what administration officials have called "performance-related issues." Two other U.S. attorneys also were asked to resign.

Iglesias, however, had received a positive performance review before he was fired and said that he suspected he was forced out because he resisted the pressure and didn't indict anyone before the election.

"I believe that because I didn't play ball, so to speak, I was asked to resign," Iglesias, who stepped down Wednesday, told McClatchy.

Iglesias is being a little coy. There are only three Republican members of Congress in the New Mexico delegation; Rep, Steve Pearce, Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson. One would wonder why anyone outside the state (except perhaps those involved with the Republican campaign committee) would care. Pearce has officially denied contact with Iglesias; Domenici and Wilson haven't.

And there is certainly motive for Wilson. She was involved in a very difficult race in her district this past election with former state Attorney General Patricia Madrid. The allegations that Iglesias was asked to investigate and prosecute quickly involved a kickback scheme with a former state senator. Madrid spent the previous number of years in Santa Fe, and a big issue in the campaign for her was how she "ignor(ed) corruption in the state despite her being the top law enforcement official there." An indictment before Election Day would have been a crucial blow to Madrid's hopes to beat the incumbent Wilson. And it only STARTS with Wilson. As Josh Marshall writes:

If you're a nervous member of Congress in a tight election and you're pissed you can't get any action out of Iglesias, you probably don't call the DOJ. You call the White House, specifically the political office. So who at the White House got called? And what did they do?

So this involves most of the Republican New Mexico delegation in Congress, the White House's political team, and the Justice Department who eventually meted out the punishment.

This is one of those stories that is moments away from becoming a full-fledged feeding frenzy. The Senate Judiciary Committee exploded today, particularly Sens. Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Linda Sanchez, demanding more information from the DoJ and vowing to subpoena the fired US Attorneys for more information. There will be votes in the Senate and the House as early as tomorrow. You'll recall that earlier this month, deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty testified to Congress that the attorneys were all fired for cause. Subsequent releases of records showed that their personnel evaluations were all positive. So you can add lying to Congress to the list of charges. Along with members of Congress tampering with federal investigations.

This will be on A10 of the WaPo tomorrow. It could hit the front page within days.

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Ask, Tell

The first Marine to be injured in Iraq just came out today, and only Pat Robertson, Tim Hardaway and Jerry Falwell would believe that this is a bad development.

Once a Marine, always a Marine. That pretty much sums up the life of retired Sgt. Eric Alva, who was sworn into the Marine Corps at 19, stationed in Somalia and Japan and lost his right leg when he stepped on a land mine on March 21, 2003, the first day of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As the war's first injured soldier, Alva was an instant celebrity. He was on "Oprah." President Bush awarded him the Purple Heart. Donald Rumsfeld visited. And strangers in Alva's native San Antonio still insist on paying for his dinner at Chili's. Last fall Alva, 36, contacted the Human Rights Campaign, the gay rights group, and asked to be involved in its lobbying effort. Today he'll stand alongside Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Mass.) when he introduces a bill to repeal the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on gay, lesbian and bisexual military personnel.

There's a Q & A with Alva on the Washington Post's website, and he's deadly accurate with his comments.

Q: You come from a military family?

A: I come from a family of servicemen. My dad, Fidelis, is a Vietnam vet. My grandfather, also named Fidelis, was a World War II and Korean War veteran. I was named after them. My middle name is Fidelis. Fidelis means "always faithful."

Q: What does sexual orientation -- gay, straight, bisexual -- have to do with being a soldier? A Marine?

A: First, thanks for recognizing that I am a Marine. Second, to answer your question, I have tons and tons of friends that were in the military at the time who knew I was gay because I confided in them. Everybody had the same reaction: "What's the big deal?" . . . The respect was still there. Your job is what you're doing at its best. Your personal life, your private life, is something you do after work. What's funny is, when I was based in San Diego, Calif., people would go to a gay club and everyone would have a haircut like mine. They had their dog tags on. But come Monday morning, nobody talked about it, nobody dealt with it, everybody was back to work.

Despite the fact that a large segment of the population still can't deal with homosexuality, the truth is that it has no bearing on one's professional capabilities. At a time when the military is starving for fresh recruits, denying patriotic Americans to serve and also publicly disclose their sexual orientation is a relic of a backwards-thinking age. The American public actually supports repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and I'm of the same opinion. Anyone who thinks otherwise, who uses their bigoted beliefs to demean men and women who want to serve, doesn't support the troops. In 30 years, when this policy is overturned, people are going to scratch their heads and wonder why anybody cared about the sexual orientation of a military member.

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A-Hole of the Week

You know, Atrios has the market covered on Wanker of the Day, but I think some kind of award has to go to this guy.

Today on the House floor, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) blamed yesterday’s market drop — the largest since the September 11 terrorist attacks — on members of Congress supposedly “talking about…more regulation” and “undermin[ing] the President’s national security policy.”

Gohmert said, “In two months of talking about raising taxes and more regulation and [referring to Murtha] one committee chairman talking about how he’s going to undermine the President’s national security policy — two months! — we have this terrible damage to the stock market, to the economy. Unbelievable.” He added: “I just encourage my friends across the aisle, be careful. We built a great economy. Don’t blow it quite so quickly.”

Republicans are right where they want to be: firmly in the minority, unchained and allowed to let loose on Democrats who control everything. Of course, the President's team sets monetary policy, and nothing has even been passed out of the Democratic Congress, and the reasons for the stock drop are numerous - but it doesn't matter. Attack, attack, attack.

Bizarrely, there are still people who think that both sides need to heal partisan differences. Physician, heal your own party first.

By the way, let me be the first to give Jack Murtha credit for the Dow going up 52 points today.

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Switching Teams

Something truly bizarre is going on in Washington. It's like both teams switched sides and started wearing each other's uniforms. I can't seem to figure it out.

The Bush Administration is bowing to pressure from the Democrats and the public on a host of fronts. Steve Benen chronicles them all nicely in the context of this new report that Condi Rice will atend a high-level conference in Baghdad of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria.

Many of the media reports this morning emphasize that the Iraq Study Group recommended this course of action several months ago, but it was rejected by the Bush administration until now. I’d add that it wasn’t just the ISG — John Kerry and several Democratic presidential hopefuls from 2004 were recommending the exact same thing (regional conference, U.S. talks with Iran and Syria, etc.). At the time, the White House and its GOP allies said Dems didn’t know what they were talking about.

Is it me, or has this been happening a lot lately?

* The Bush administration did a complete 180-degree turn on its policy towards North Korea this month, embracing Bill Clinton’s approach to the conflict, despite years of blasting Clinton’s policy.

* In 2004, John Kerry insisted that the size of the military needed to be increased. At the time, Bush said Kerry was completely wrong. In December, Bush embraced Kerry’s policy as his own.

* Throughout 2006, Dems said the administration’s warrantless-search program through the NSA needed to be subject to judicial oversight. The Bush gang said it would be dangerous, and practically impossible, to do so. Last month, the White House acceded to Dems’ demands.

* The White House argued that criticism of the war in Iraq from congressional Dems was pointless and counterproductive. Then the White House decided the criticism served a diplomatic purpose after all.

I can think of another one, with Dick Cheney threatening Pakistan that Democrats will cut off financial aid unless they take a harder line toward terrorism and Al Qaeda. So there are at least three instances where the Bush Administration was willing to let Democrats play bad cop and use their ideas on foreign policy as a wedge to get others to act. And it's not like core conservatives are happy about this approach, particularly with respect to the North Korea deal, which they lambasted.

What is clear is that even as nutty a group as the Bush Administration is capable of responding to public pressure. There may be a variety of reasons for these responses, and the cynic in me can pull out a bunch of them (North Korea was back-burnered to clear the decls for Iran, Bush wants to increase the size of the military to wage more wars, the regional conference in Iraq would happen even without the US so we're there to babysit and veto things we don't like), but obviously, the Bush Administration sees value in adopting the language and policies of the Democrats. If they don't, their party will sink even further into the morass.

And yet, at the same time when Democrats are finally starting to move the debate in their direction, they have apparently decided to unilaterally disarm with regard to Iraq. Why?

House Democratic leaders are developing an anti-war proposal that wouldn't cut off money for U.S. troops in Iraq but would require President Bush to acknowledge problems with an overburdened military.

The plan could draw bipartisan support but is expected to be a tough sell to members who say they don't think it goes far enough to assuage voters angered by the four-year conflict.

Bush "hasn't to date done anything we've asked him to do, so why we would think he would do anything in the future is beyond me," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., one of a group of liberal Democrats pushing for an immediate end to the war.

The Jack Murtha readiness plan, which has been victim to a vicious smear before it was even finalized, is now not likely to gain majority support in the House, despite the fact that it has majority support in the country. So we're going to let troops forego desert training and increase their chances of being killed? Bush will have to sign waivers now that admit he is letting troops be deployed without proper equipment or training. The man hasn't an ounce of self-awareness or shame, so what will this impact? But yet even Nancy Pelosi has now backed off from the readiness strategy. I really don't get it.

And in the Senate, it's even worse.

In the Senate, a group of senior Democrats wants to repeal the 2002 measure authorizing the war and write a new resolution restricting the mission and ordering troop withdrawals to begin by this summer. But Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Iraq would have to wait until the Senate finishes work to improve homeland security.

"That would mean we would hold off the Iraq legislation for a matter of days, not weeks," he said.

They couldn't attach the proposal to homeland security measures because Joe Lieberman chairs that panel. But surely they knew that already. And when they do introduce this de-authorization resolution, the word is that it will also be nonbinding. I am beginning to question the commitment to actually end this war, or just to scowl with disapproval about it.

The thing is that the kitchen sink strategy was working. Concessions were being made. The White House was back on its heels. And then the Democrats let up on the gas. Antiwar leader Tom Andrews is unhappy.

"The Republicans should be on their heels," Andrews says. "They have put the troops in these conditions -- and they're the ones on the offensive!"

"There should be a relentless attack" from Dems, Andrews continues. "Dems in Congress should be talking relentlessly about the lack of equipment, the lack of training, the multiple deployments, every day. There should be a relentless demand for accountability."

Russ Feingold is unhappy.

Wisconsin's Russ Feingold says the Iraq bill his fellow Senate Democrats are working on is so weak that it "basically reads like a new authorization" of the war.

"I am working to fix the new proposal drafted by several Senate Democrats," Feingold said in a statement this afternoon. "I will not vote for anything that the President could read as an authorization for continuing with a large military campaign in Iraq."

He hasn't given up on "using our Constitutionally-granted power of the purse to bring this catastrophe to an end," he said, though the Senate leadership has not only rejected that approach, but said it would be tantamount to abandoning the troops.

One of Jack Murtha's top supporters is unhappy.

To think that Mr. Murtha would take an action that is not in the best interests of our troops is lunacy. No one in the Congress has spent more years in combat nor more time listening to the young men and women and their families who serve our country than Jack Murtha. Just as Mr. Murtha forced Congress and the President to spend money on protective body armor and up-armored Humvees, Jack is now the first American leader to propose a true plan that "supports our troops" in a more genuine way than simply cheering them on into battle.

But for the most part, Democrats are perfectly willing to let this nightmare in Iraq continue without pressuring the Administration to bring it to a close, a strategy that was WORKING. What happened, where the Republican President started listening to the other side and the Democratic Congress started laying down their arms? It's baffling and it really disappoints me, as it does Chris Bowers.

It is hard for me to decide what pisses me off about this the most. It angers me to no end that Democrats are crushing aside a strategy, the Murtha plan, which has overwhelming popular support. The Democratic majority in congress, when considered as a whole, is clearly far behind the public on Iraq.

It also angers me that one of the main reasons Democrats are backing away, if not the main reason, is that Democrats are too scared of Republican talking points to do anything that might anger the Republican Noise Machine. Even though the public never did, Democrats on the hill bought so thoroughly into the "cutting off funding" for troops in the field line that they were too scared to do anything. Clearly, Democrats are far more scared of the Republican media machine than they are of the people who put them in power.

It further angers me that we won't even get a roll call vote on Murtha's plan, or on binding legislation to rewrite the AUMF. If they are not going to push for a roll call vote, I can only assume that there is no majority for Murtha's plan in the House. We need to know which Democrats are in opposition to it, but we are not going to. Instead of pushing members to support Murtha's plan, the leadership is dumping the plan altogether, and not even forcing the Democrats who oppose it to stand up and be counted. The leadership is covering for these cowardly Democrats, rather than leading them.

It is now difficult to see another opportunity for Democrats in Congress to restrict and / or end the war in Iraq for another year. I don't know who is behind this, but I strongly suspect Steny Hoyer. No matter who is behind it, it is clear that many Democrats in Washington, D.C., do not view their position as derived from the electorate, but rather than conditional upon their favor within beltway circles. As long as that attitude persists, you will never see a populist, much less a progressive, majority in Washington, D.C.

We're going to have to get together and make sure everyone in the Democratic caucus is held accountable on Iraq. That goes for Presidential candidates as well, especially ones who say things like "She believes in executive authority and Congressional deference, her advisers say, and is careful about suggesting that Congress can overrule a commander in chief." These are people who mean to rule with the same iron fist that has characterized the Bush years. It's un-American to say the very least.

We need leadership in Congress and not this backsliding. They may not get a winning vote, but each time they further isolate Republicans and the President. And it's been WORKING. I really don't get it.

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