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

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Brinksmanship in the Straits of Hormuz

The Iranians are using practiced propaganda tactics, having the prisoners make statements admitting to their error in venturing into Iranian water space, and claiming that all Britain has to do is to say they're sorry to end the whole thing. Meanwhile, Britain has simultaneously taken out the rhetorical big guns through surrogates (Bush) while personally speaking more softly and attempting to manage the situation diplomatically.

But former British foreign service officer Craig Murray gives me pause by suggesting that the Brits were lying through their teeth with that map of maritime borders:

The British Government has published a map showing the coordinates of the incident, well within an Iran/Iraq maritime border. The mainstream media and even the blogosphere has bought this hook, line and sinker.

But there are two colossal problems.

A) The Iran/Iraq maritime boundary shown on the British government map does not exist. It has been drawn up by the British Government. Only Iraq and Iran can agree their bilateral boundary, and they never have done this in the Gulf, only inside the Shatt because there it is the land border too. This published boundary is a fake with no legal force.

B) Accepting the British coordinates for the position of both HMS Cornwall and the incident, both were closer to Iranian land than Iraqi land. Go on, print out the map and measure it. Which underlines the point that the British produced border is not a reliable one.

Clearly everyone's trying to make themselves as the forthright ones while dissembling up a storm. And I don't have faith that, even if nobody wants to go to war (debatable), they are skilled enough diplomatically to stop themselves from bungling their way into one, especially if the Texas cowboy gets involved (as he's itching to do, it seems). Meanwhile, to see how a complete maniac would handle this, I give you what I got in my email box from Newt Gingrich (I like to see what the other side is doing):

The Iranians are deeply dependent on imports for gasoline, not for oil. They have one refinery that produces gasoline in Iran . And I think our strategy should be very direct.

There should be a covert operation to sabotage the one refinery. And the United States navy which has overwhelming comparative power should simply stop any tanker that has gasoline.

And we should say on the Iranian dictatorship, within 30 to 45 days you will be walking. If you prefer walking with British hostages and trying to build a nuclear weapon in the dark, then we’re prepared to withhold gasoline for as long as you’re prepared to be stupid.

It doesn’t mean we have to fight a war. We have to calmly and pleasantly eliminate their capacity to get gasoline, do it in a nonviolent manner, and tell them the morning they want be reasonable, they get to drive a car again.

Yes, we just have to calmly and pleasantly pursue a covert military operation to blow up a refinery in a foreign country, expecting no payback.

Gingrich for President! The Peace candidate!

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Bernie: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Bernard Kerik is going to go to jail for a long time. The charges range from tax evasion to conspiracy to commit criminal wiretapping. His rap sheet includes ties to the mob, banging Judith Regan in an office rented to the city to handle post 9-11 organizational duties, filing false information to the government when he was briefly President Bush's nominee to run the Department of Homeland Security (remember that)?, hatching a plan with former New York lawmaker Jeanine Pirro to wiretap her husband to see if he was having an affair, and about 300 other examples of dirty dealing.

And his old boss, Da Mayor, knew all about this.

Rudolph W. Giuliani told a grand jury that his former chief investigator remembered having briefed him on some aspects of Bernard B. Kerik’s relationship with a company suspected of ties to organized crime before Mr. Kerik’s appointment as New York City police commissioner, according to court records.

Mr. Giuliani, testifying last year under oath before a Bronx grand jury investigating Mr. Kerik, said he had no memory of the briefing, but he did not dispute that it had taken place, according to a transcript of his testimony.

Mr. Giuliani’s testimony amounts to a significantly new version of what information was probably before him in the summer of 2000 as he was debating Mr. Kerik’s appointment as the city’s top law enforcement officer. Mr. Giuliani had previously said that he had never been told of Mr. Kerik’s entanglement with the company before promoting him to the police job or later supporting his failed bid to be the nation’s homeland security secretary.

He specifically said that he doesn't remember, adding to the Republican culture of memory loss we've seen lately. It's a get out of jail free card; just blame everything on your darn junker of a mind. This didn't work with Scooter Libby, isn't working with Alberto Gonzales and won't wotk with Giuliani. His close association with what amounts to a common street thug speaks directly to judgment, and as the campaign continues that judgment will be called into serious question.

I don't know which lame Republican candidate I'm rooting for MORE at this point.

UPDATE: In the interest of fairness, I appreciated this from Rudy, though not for the same reasons:

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said Thursday it was a mistake to coin the term "war on terror" because it allows enemies to redefine the United States incorrectly as a nation that prefers war [...]

But Giuliani told a gathering of newspaper reporters that "America is seen as a country by too many that wants to have war, or exercises its power too much, pushes its weight around too much." [...]

Later, in questions with television journalists, Giuliani explained.

"This is a terrorist war against us. We've got to keep reminding ourselves of the fact that they are in various parts of the world planning to come here and attack us or attack us overseas."

Uh, actually Rudy, it's a terrorist war where a small band of fundamentalists attacked us, and we hauled off and went after a country that had nothing to do with it. This is really "We didn't start this war, but we'll finish it" under different cover. The real reason to disavow the war on terror label is explained here.

The "war on terror" has created a culture of fear in America. The Bush administration's elevation of these three words into a national mantra since the horrific events of 9/11 has had a pernicious impact on American democracy, on America's psyche and on U.S. standing in the world. Using this phrase has actually undermined our ability to effectively confront the real challenges we face from fanatics who may use terrorism against us [...]

But the little secret here may be that the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors. Constant reference to a "war on terror" did accomplish one major objective: It stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue. The war of choice in Iraq could never have gained the congressional support it got without the psychological linkage between the shock of 9/11 and the postulated existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Support for President Bush in the 2004 elections was also mobilized in part by the notion that "a nation at war" does not change its commander in chief in midstream. The sense of a pervasive but otherwise imprecise danger was thus channeled in a politically expedient direction by the mobilizing appeal of being "at war."

It's not about how foreigners can smear us. It's about how we can smear the truth and use fear to justify literally anything.

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10 Down, 260 To Go

Maryland's going to become the first state to adopt National Popular Vote legislation, though it won't go into effect just yet. The state will opt to apportion their electors to the Electoral College to the winner of the Presidential popular vote, once enough states pass the same legislation (totaling 270 EVs) to ensure that the man or woman with the most votes wins, the way every other election from dog catcher on up works in this country.

Arkansas, Colorado and Hawaii have passed this bill through at least one State House this year.

It's about the most common-sense legislation I've seen in many a decade. The electoral college is a relic and ought to be outlawed for its violation of one-person, one-vote.

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The Lies of George W. Bush

Bush defenders usually explain away his truthfulness by saying he is very careful NOT to lie, which in many ways is more damning. But I'd like to see them spin their way out of this:

The Bush administration has been trying to force Congress to abandon its support for an Iraq withdrawal time line by claiming that a “clean” Iraq spending bill must be signed by mid-April or U.S. troops will suffer. The Hill reported, the Pentagon and the White House have been “sounding alarms and sketching worst-case scenarios if Congress does not pass the 2007 supplemental by April 15.” [...]

Meanwhile, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) and others have been arguing that Bush is wrong, and that funds won’t dry up until June, giving plenty of time for negotiations [...]

Now we know who’s right. A new report from the Congressional Research Service makes clear that Bush’s deadline is completely fabricated:

In a memo to the Senate Budget Committee dated Wednesday, the congressional analysts said the Army has enough money in its existing budget to fund operations and maintenance through the end of May — about $52.6 billion. If additional transfer authority is tapped, subject to Congress approving a reprogramming request, the Army would have enough funds to make it through nearly two additional months, or toward the end of July. Using all of its transfer authority, the Army could have as much as $60.1 billion available.

That was such obvious bullshit, that a department with the largest share of the federal budget wouldn't be able to scrounge up the funding to get the troops bullets. Bush can justify his fearmongering by saying he was specifically talking about non-transferable funds or something, but the implication is there.

Then there's this, which is more about the lies of the military brass, with Bush as the cherry on top:

Just seven days after Pat Tillman's death, a top general warned there were strong indications that it was friendly fire and President Bush might embarrass himself if he said the NFL star-turned-soldier died in an ambush, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press.

It was not until a month afterward that the Pentagon told the public and grieving family members the truth — that Tillman was mistakenly killed in Afghanistan by his comrades.

The memo reinforces suspicions that the Pentagon was more concerned with sparing officials from embarrassment than with leveling with Tillman's family.

Bush never quite made mention of how Tillman died, but he didn't exactly neglect to invite the implication either. It's one of those "technically true, operationally false" statements on which this whole Presidency hangs.

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The Gitmo Report

It would be hard for the current occupant in charge of the Pentagon to be performing poorly relative to the war criminal he succeeded, but Robert Gates is actually impressing me with his mop-up role of trying to restore credibility to this country. For instance, his advocacy of closing Gitmo is noble and consistent.

Congress and the Bush administration should work together to allow the U.S. to permanently imprison some of the more dangerous Guantanamo Bay detainees elsewhere so the facility can be closed, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.

Gates said the challenge is figuring out what to do with hard-core detainees who have "made very clear they will come back and attack this country." [...]

Lawmakers said Thursday the Guantanamo facility hurts U.S. credibility with its allies. They asked that Gates give more thought to how it could be closed and detainees moved to a military prison.

"I hope that we can work to find some way to correct this problem, because as you say, it is a stain on our reputation and we can't afford it," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis.

Of the 385 detainees at Guantanamo, fewer than 100 would be considered hard-core, Gates said. He said he assumes there would be room in the military prison system for them.

Gates inherited this problem and he moved quickly to try and close it down before being outflanked by Cheney and Gonzales. He understands how this black mark has shamed us globally, and also put us in the precarious situation of not being able to prosecute through normal means people who we clearly violated American law and moral principles by torturing and coercing confessions. That can be plainly seen by the sentencing of David Hicks, who will serve only 9 months in Australia for providing support to terrorism, in exchange for a 12-month "gag order" so he cannot talk about his incarceration or what was down to him at Guantanamo. Hicks is a broken human being who would say or do anything to get out of that hell-hole. The idea from the beginning was to keep this facility out of the United States so the prisoners there wouldn't be subject to US law. But this was unsustainable, and ultimately more damaging to the cause of stopping extremism and getting the world behind the righteousness of the American cause.

Gates is to be commended for his effort to do something about this nightmare, though the legal aspect of his ideas ("we should come up with some way to keep them locked up forever because... uh, because") is a little dubious.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Dean Raking in Big-Donor Dollars

This very heartening story is perfect for a Friday, and I dare say it's a vindication of what we on this site have been doing and saying for a long time. There's of course a long way to go, but when the money men start listening and taking notice, it's a major win.

This is interesting: Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean, who was greeted with intense skepticism by the party's big-money donors at the outset of his tenure, appears on track to bring in far more cash this quarter from those top fundraisers than many expected.

The DNC is on track to haul in roughly $14 million this quarter, approximately $3.8 million of which comes from major donors, who are defined as donors who gave more than $5,000 as an individual or from a PAC, the DNC says. That's a significant jump from the first quarter of 2003 -- the last comparable year -- when the DNC raised only $2.23 million from major donors, according to the DNC's numbers.

Let's take a trip down memory lane...

I don't think a day went by in early 2005 when we didn't hear about how Howard Dean taking over the DNC would lead to its ruin, and in particular that the big-money donors would leave the party in droves. This was a representative sample, and unsurprisingly it came from Robert Novak, to whom DLC types were no doubt running in droves to try and run down Dean:

Dean's chairmanship, thought extremely unlikely when he first indicated his availability three months ago, is itself testimony to his party's aimlessness.

Just as no power broker selected the former Vermont governor as DNC chairman, none is charting a strategy for regaining power. The mindless course leading to Dean's election by acclamation reflects a party adrift, its senior leaders mired in unreality.

Then there were repeated claims that Dean was hurting fundraising, based on first-quarter results after an election year, which isn't exactly charitable. Here's another one from Novak. And here. And here.

Not all of that was actually true, mind you. But the growing perception was that the big-money donors were angry, angry! that unhinged crazy man Howard Dean was running the DNC show. And certainly, it's been well-documented that the D-Trip wasn't exactly happy with the 50-state strategy that Dean implemented.

Whatever, Dean was always able to use the small-money revolution to get the funding he needed to grow the party. But this money coming in now is from the same big donors that were supposedly cool to him.

Top Democratic donor Robert Zimmerman describes the jump in money from the big contributors as "very significant."

"The major donors initially were skeptical of Dean and his 50-state strategy," Zimmerman says. "Dean had to prove the merits and logic of his strategies. But the success of his 50-state strategy certainly has impressed the establishment donor community. Unlike in 2004, when there was an overreliance on 527s that undermined the idea of a strong party structure, the support Dean is receiving from major donors shows a growing recognition among them that a strong DNC is an essential tool for victory in 2008."

Running operations in 2008 through the national party rather than a bunch of loosely connected 527s is going to be much improved for GOTV. And having the field teams in place since 2005 in all 50 states is the main reason why. Add to this the fact that the DCCC under Chris Van Hollen is supportive of Dean's efforts, and you have a much more united party that is using the models of the progressive movement to bring about victory.

Obviously, winning turns a lot of enemies into friends, and turns finger-pointing into handshaking. But let's step back and consider the significance. Howard Dean's victory as DNC Chair was one of the netroots' first major triumphs. We were told that we sabotaged the party. We were told that we just cost the Democrats elections for the next decade. We were told that the big money would dry up. We were told that we needed to steer the party to the middle and resist the angry left tendencies of the former Governor from Vermont.

I believe the password is, vindication.

And do consider giving a little cash to the DNC before tomorrow's deadline, so we can continue to vindicate Howard Dean's strategy of building Democratic infrastructure everywhere.

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Handwriting, Meet Wall

Bush is through letting Alberto Gonzales bring down the juggernaut that is his Administration. Or something.

Asked about Gonzales during a closed-door meeting with House Republicans on Thursday, Bush did not defend his longtime friend, according to one official who attended the session and demanded anonymity because it was private.

Instead, Bush tepidly repeated his public statement: The attorney general would have to go up to Capitol Hill and fix his problem, according to this official.

That's the first chink in the "he's my buddy and I like him" armor that I've heard tell of. Meanwhile Gonzales is defending himself by saying the same damn thing that's been proven false six ways to Sunday, that he had nothing to do with the firings.

Who has "five minutes from now" in the office pool?

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Time For a Cable News Ethics Panel

I noticed this too yesterday on Hardball, Margaret Carlson was going on and on about Fred Thompson without mentioning anything about some particular rumors that she may have been dating him.

On the Republican side, Sen. Fred Thompson is said to have hurt his vice-presidential chances when his name was linked romantically to that of Margaret Carlson. The Time columnist and "Capital Gang" regular is reportedly too liberal for George W. Bush. Thompson's standing was not enhanced when gossips said he was simultaneously involved with another woman.

This is the same woman who has no problem talking about Bill Clinton's sex life and how he hasn't learned his lesson yet.

Has she?

Short answer: no.

(on a related note, James Carville is working for the Hillary Clinton campaign, and as such shouldn't be commenting on the 2008 race without disclosing that fact.

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Friday Random Ten

Sorry for the delay.

Spider Monkey - Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man
Pura Saudade (Nova Bossa Nova) - Fantastic Plastic Machine
Piccadilly Palare - Morrissey
Ce Soir Je Vais Boire - Claude Francois (literally translated, "Tonight I Go To Drink")
The Same Boy You've Always Known - The White Stripes
Steady, As She Goes - The Raconteurs
Ouija Board - Morrissey
I Will Survive - Cake
Maybe I Know - They Might Be Giants
Jeez Louise - Grandaddy

Bonus track: Mass Romantic - The New Pornographers

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Quick Hits

Here we go with a little trip down news 'n' blog lane:

• CNN just reported (can't find a link yet) that Rudy Giuliani was briefed about Bernard Kerik's ties to the mob BEFORE hiring him as the NYC Police Commissioner in 2000. Look for that to be a major story tomorrow. UPDATE: link.

• As if Alberto Gonzales didn't have enough problems, he also looked the other way while the Texas Youth Commission was apparently running wild, with administrators sexually abusing the children in their care. And here I thought Alberto was doing it for the kids.

• Expect to hear this nonsense in the coming days about the Democrats' budget, that it's "the biggest tax increase in American history." Of course, this counts not extending the ridiculous Bush tax cuts for the wealthy as an increase, but you won't hear that part. And the Republicans are apparently going to set it up as a choice between popular entitlements and government programs or a tax increase for the wealthy, which is not a winning argument for most people, just their base.

• Apparently not learning the lesson of the Nevada Democratic Party, the Congressional Black Caucus has agreed to put a Democratic debate on Fox News. I imagine that the progressive blogosphere will ramp up on this one. What a shame.

• I thought this was an interesting post about Hillary and her appeal to women. I've experienced this exact situation described in this post. Clinton's highest level of support is among younger women, and this will be tough for any opponent to counteract. I believe in the words of Douglas Wilder, the first black governor in American history, who said "Don't run to make history as an African-American candidate, run to be the best-qualified candidate for that job." And I think Hillary (and Obama) is doing that, but the various groups that identify with them will find the historical implications hard to resist.

• There was a broad and systematic effort to undermine research on climate change coming out of the federal government, which we knew, but a report this comprehensive just brings it home so fully.

The group says it has identified hundreds of instances where White House-appointed officials interfered with government scientists' efforts to convey their research findings to the public, at the behest of top administration officials.

"The evidence suggests that incidents of interference are often top-down reactions to science that has negative policy or public relations implications for the administration," the group says in its report.

One-way streets on my doorstep? It's an idea, but the congestion is just too, too much for that to make any real impact. It'd just put twice as many cars in each direction on those streets, which would have twice as much capacity. Net result: negligible.

Great article on Jim Webb, who is fast becoming my favorite Senator. Someone near the top of the federal government talking about high incarceration rates? Hurt me!

• And finally, a guy got into a high-speed chase in Connecticut, and when he was pulled over, he claimed he was Dick Cheney. And then:

John Spernak, 42, later admitted he wasn’t Cheney but said he was actually “Charlie’s Angels” star Jaclyn Smith, police said. He also claimed to be the husband of Paris Hilton’s sister.

Cheney could not be reached for comment because he was busy designing a new line of handbags and stopping a ring of bikini smugglers.



Hack Joke Made Manifest

There's been a minor comedy world brouhaha between Joe Rogan and Carlos Mencia over Mencia's propensity to steal jokes. In particular, Mencia appeared to have stolen a joke from Ari Shaffir about the building of the border fence with Mexico, with the punchline "The President wants to build a fence on the border. Who's going to build it?" Hundreds of people have done that joke, but Mencia lifted it with the exact same language.

As I've said 200,000 times before, satire is dead.

Two executives at a company that once helped build a fence to keep illegal immigrants from crossing the Mexican border were sentenced Wednesday to six months of home confinement for hiring undocumented workers.

Mel Kay, founder, chairman and president of Golden State Fence Co., and manager Michael McLaughlin had pleaded guilty in federal court to knowingly hiring illegal aliens. U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz ordered each to serve 1,040 hours of community service and spend three years on probation.

Kay, 64, was fined $200,000 as part of a plea agreement, and McLaughlin, 42, agreed to pay $100,000.

Federal prosecutors took the rare step of seeking prison time after the men acknowledged hiring at least 10 illegal immigrants in 2004 and 2005. The charges carried a maximum possible penalty of five years in prison.

However, prosecutors were unable to find a previous case in which an employer had been sent to jail for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

You simply can't make a joke anymore without it becoming reality. It's driving me out of the comedy business, I tells ya.

(by the way, here's some more on Mencia, who's a complete liar and a thief. And more. His stock response to this is "I think Joe Rogan's in love with me because he's so interested in me." I wish the White House used this tactic. "I think these Senators who want to stop the war in Iraq are GAY! Why are they so interested in me and my war?")

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Sampson Wrap-Up

Other Senators beyond the Whitehouse got some excellent information out of Kyle Sampson in his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee today. Here's a wrap-up:

• Sampson admitted to Sen. Durbin that he brought up firing Patrick Fitzgerald, and was met with cold stares by the principals.

"On one occasion in 2006, in discussing the removal of U.S. attorneys... that I was speaking with Harriet Miers and Bill Kelley and I raised Pat Fitzgerald, and immediately after I did it, I regretted it. I thought, I knew it was the wrong thing to do, I knew it was inappropriate. And I remember at the time that Harriet Miers and Bill Kelley just looked at me.... I said, "Patrick Fitzgerald could be added to this list."... They just looked at me."

Ya gotta admit, this guy's honest. This almost implicates Gonzales and Miers and Rove MORE, because it's clear that they knew there was a line they couldn't cross, that Fitzgerald was the gold standard and eliminating him in the middle of the Libby trial would set off a firestorm. You can credibly inference, then, the fact that they did essentially the same thing to those who had a lower profile than Fitz.

• Carol Lam was so bad at proseucting immigration cases that she received a special commendation from US Customs and Border Protection for her work on the issue. What's more, Sampson admitted that nobody at DoJ talked to Lam about her relative success or failure on border issues:

Are they so incompetent at DoJ that they'd just fire someone without giving them a chance to reverse what they considered a troubling trend? Or is this a complete red herring, initiated by a planted story from Rep. Darrell Issa that appears to have violated House ethics rules.

(Meanwhile, this didn't come out in the hearing, but the FBI station chief in San Diego, who publicly stated that Lam's firing would jeopardized ongoing investigations and received a rebuke from Kyle Sampson for those remarks, announced his retirement today.)

• Sampson also essentially called the entire mess a PR problem and really only admitted that the wrongdoing was not the firing itself, but how it was handled. This was expected, but Sen. Cardin's look of incredulity at this was priceless.

Overall, I think that today's testimony was more revelatory than I expected, as well as more harmful. Sampson came off as a true believer, and of course he evaded here and there, but I honestly saw him as fairly sincere when talking about discussions with other staff. He's drank the Kool-Aid on this thing and obviously put up the firewall (a self-immolating one) on whether or not these attorneys were fired for purely political reasons, but on other subjects I think he came off as somewhat credible. And that spells doom for Gonzales.

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CA-11: Faster Than Rapid Response

It's great to see the McNerney campaign fight back so quickly after being attacked. Not only was McNerney at the top of the target lists in Karl Rove's presentation to the GSA which was revealed in yesterday's House hearing, but the Repubs set up a hit piece disguised as a website:

SACRAMENTO - National Republicans have begun their attempt to unseat Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, a full 20 months before Election Day 2008.

The Republican National Campaign Committee, which spent tens of thousands of dollars in an unsuccessful effort to save former Tracy Rep. Richard Pombo last fall, has included McNerney in its first round of targets posted on

The NRCC will also send about 100,000 e-mails into McNerney's 11th District highlighting their criticism of the freshman Democrat's voting record.

"Jerry McNerney needs to explain to his constituents why his voting record is identical to that of the San Francisco Speaker Nancy Pelosi," NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said. "His voters didn't send him to be liberal lap dog of the Democrat Party. If Jerry McNerney is so interested in representing the liberal interests of San Francisco voters, then maybe he should have considered running for office there."

McNerney has voted with Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time so far this year.

A Public Policy Institute of California poll released today shows that 49 percent of Central Valley residents approve of the way Speaker Nancy Pelosi is doing her job, while 30 disapprove.

McNerney spokesman Andy Stone says they were expecting the attack.

"We knew it was coming, and they can continue to attack," Stone said. "We're going to keep working for the people of the 11th District."

Guess that whole "San Francisco values" thing won't exactly play in a district right outside of San Francisco with a lot of former San Francisco natives.

My favorite part on the site is the part that says McNerney is "Wrong On Energy". Yep, if there's one thing a wind energy scientist doesn't know anything about, it's energy.

But like McNerney's spokesman said, they were ready for this attack, and they hit back.

It’s only March, 2007. But it might as well be November, 2008.

Yesterday, our campaign got hit with a one-two punch. First, a scandalous House hearing unearthed a secret document from a deputy of Karl Rove revealing that the GOP “architect” is targeting me as #3 on his political hit list.

Then, the National Republican Congressional Committee carried out Rove’s hit yesterday with “The Real Jerry McNerney” -– launching a slick Swift Boat-style web site that smears my record of service to you in Congress. The NRCC plans to promote this deception site by spamming voters in our district with over 100,000 e-mails.

Make no mistake. I will respond to this malicious assault on my character and my record. But, I can’t fight back without your help. To stop the right-wing political hacks plotting to kill our movement before it changes Washington, I need your support today -– before this Saturday’s critical Federal Election Commission campaign finance reporting deadline.

They've already raised over $260,000 on their site, which is pretty strong 20 months out. Karl Rove is as good for Democratic fundraising as Hillary Clinton or some such boogeyman/woman is for Republicans. This is appearing to backfire.

Support Jerry McNerney at the Calitics Act Blue page.

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One Of Those Safe Streets

Maybe Sen. McCain will tell us what street this was on:

Bombers launched two deadly strikes Thursday in crowded Shiite marketplaces in Baghdad and a town north of Iraq's capital -- killing 90 people and wounding dozens. At least 15 others died in other bombings around the country.

The attacks erupted as Iraqi shoppers filled marketplaces Thursday to buy goods at the start of the weekend and the eve of the Muslim holy day of Friday.

In the deadliest attack, at least one suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest detonated in a crowded open-air marketplace in Baghdad's Shiite district of Shaab. At least 60 people were killed, and 41 others were injured.

"It was a very, very crowded market. All those killed are innocent," a man who was wounded in the explosion told Reuters news agency.

"I saw heads separated from the bodies and legs blown off," Wissam Hashim Ali, 27, told Reuters from the hospital.

You can add to this the fact that Green Zone attacks have increased, with rocket attacks occurring 6 out of the past 7 days. The Green Zone is probably the most secure area in the entire country, and yet a US soldier died from one of these rocket attacks this week. Plus you have the gruesome situation in Tal Afar, where tit-for-tat revenge killings were carried out by Iraqi police who we trained in the first place. And in the scariest story I read today, it appears that Muqtada al-Sadr is losing his grip on his militia.

Iraq's most powerful Shiite militia is increasingly splintering as radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr -- now believed to be in Iran -- faces fresh challenges to his leadership, according to senior Pentagon and administration officials.

In the near term, the deepening divides in Sadr's movement have contributed to a lull in fighting that is benefiting U.S. and Iraqi operations to secure Baghdad, where Shiite militia and death squads fomenting sectarian violence are considered the greatest threat to Iraq's stability, the officials said.

Yet the group's fracturing in the long run could make it harder to defeat militarily and could also complicate political reconciliation, they said.

"It's much more difficult to go after small, violent splinter groups than if you can get one organization to come in from the cold and reconcile," said a senior Pentagon official. "You have to fight with more people and kill more people, and it's much harder to bring them over to our side. The bright side is that, at least for the near term, they are keeping kind of quiet."

That's a dim bright side.

I'm not convinced Sadr's in Iran, but clearly he's been losing control of his militia for some time. And it's far easier to negotiate a political solution with an individual actor than it is a chaotic and diverse group of what amounts to warlords, each with oppositional interests.

It's OK though because we're making great progress and Gen. Petraeus can walk the streets in a thong and umbrella doing his "Singin' in the Rain" impersonation, right Sen. McCain?

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NH-SEN: That's Gonna Leave A Mark

I don't think Jeanne Shaheen was announced whether or not she will engage in a rematch for the US Senate seat held by John Sununu, but, uh, maybe now she will, as she holds a 44-34 lead in a hypothetical matchup. And Bush's approval rating is 17%, in a state he won in 2000 and only narrowly lost in 2004.

They say that any incumbent under 50 is in trouble. How about 16 points under 50?

The landscape almost looks better for Democrats in 2008 than it did in 2006, when they swept the House and the Senate. Of course, there's a ways to go, and the Presidential race will be the 800 lb. gorilla here. As long as the consultants don't mess it up, however, this is shaping up to be another great cycle for Democrats, one in which we could see historic high-water marks for Democrats in the House and Senate. Let's keep working.

UPDATE: Sununu has also voted in lockstep with the President on Iraq this year. That'll hurt in a major way; in fact, it's likely to be decisive. In addition, you have the New Hampshire phone-jamming scandal (where Republican operatives with ties to the RNC blocked the phone lines of Democratic GOTV workers in the Shaheen-Sununu race) and a palpable sense of wanting revenge. This is looking VERY good.

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Shut 'Er Down

Wow, I stepped offline for a few, and apparently this happened.

2:25 Update: Sen. Leahy interrupts Grassley to say, "we've just recevied word that the Republicans have objected under the Senate rules to this meeting continuing. I think that's unfortunate, but I will follow the rules of the Senate... The Republicans are the ones who don't want to have the hearings, the Republicans have the right under the rules to do that.... we will stand in recess until the Senate recesses."

And then it was almost immediately reversed. But clearly the instinct was to shut 'er down, that Sampson was killing the cover story, that he was sealing Gonzales' fate, that he was giving up too much.

Democrats probably straightened them out with a simple "Do you really want to go to bat for this White House?"

And they fell in line.

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Kudos to the Whitehouse

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has not been a major figure in the US Attorney scandal, but he did the best job today in the Judiciary Committee hearing with former Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson. In fact, he was the only one that got any news out of him:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and President Bush's former counsel approved the firings of eight federal prosecutors, Gonzales' one-time chief of staff told the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.

"I and others made staff recommendations but they were approved and signed off on by the principals," Kyle Sampson said, referring to Gonzales and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers.

Responding to questions from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Sampson rejected the notion that the dismissals were ordered by young or inexperienced Justice Department officials.

"The decision makers in this case were the attorney general and the counsel to the president," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And the way in which Whitehouse got this information out was great.

He started by asking if there was a file about this plan to fire these federal prosecutors (this is a rough transcript):

SW: When you were in charge of this project, did you keep a file, on this project?

KS: I think it would be too much to say that I kept a file. In my lower right hand desk drawer I kept the charts that I referred to in answering Senator's Harden's question. It was just sort of a drop file that was changed in and out. I think in looking back and reviewing the documents in preparation for this testimony, I see there were a lots of lists at different times, but as I say to Seantory Cronyrn, I didn't keep one list.

SW: But, did you keep one file where you kept information related to this project?

KS: Again, just sort of a drop file in my lower right hand desk drawer.

SW: Did somebody else keep it for you?

KS: Uh, no. Uh, There really was no file...there really was no documation of this, it was an aggregation of views. Various lists and notes at different points in time. AS the process finalized in the fall of 2006, it became a little more formalized, but only in the sense that we were working in the SR. leadership of the Dept to finalize the list.

SW: So, this was a project that you were in charge of...this was a project that lasted for 2 years....this was a project that would end the careers of 8 United States Attorneys and neither you nor anybody reporting to you kept a specific file in your office about it?

Sampson fought back on that, claiming that it didn't end the careers of the USAs, but the damage was done. He was put on the defensive. And Whitehouse was building the case of giving Sampson two bad choices: either there was a file that investigators maybe haven't seen, or this situation was done with such a cavalier attitude that they didn't even bother to make it in any way official. Sampson went with the half-answer "drop file." But it looked evasive, and was a disappointing answer on both counts.

Whitehouse then asked some basic facts about how the Justice Department handles witnesses who take the 5th Amendment, things you would expect senior officials in the DoJ to know, and Sampson had no clue about any of them. Again, he was building to his ultimate question.

And then, Whitehouse asked how many cases Sampson and Monica Goodling have ever worked on. Sampson mentioned a couple cases he helped with, and didn't know about Goodling. Whitehouse then cut to the chase; he expressed his concern that these major decisions about firings were being made by people with such inexperience. This set Sampson right on his heels, put him on the defensive, and forced him to defend the process and get himself out of repsonsibility at the same time. So he extracted the answer from Sampson, that this was Gonzales and Miers' deal, without having to say it himself, which was much more powerful.

And on follow-up, Sampson said, "You'll have to ask the principals." Which includes the White House counsel, who the WH won't allow to testify. So Sampson's essentially agreed that invoking executive privilege will obstruct the investigation.

A masterful performance. One I would expect from a former prosecutor.

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The Senate is on the record, passing an emergency supplemental bill that includes a timeline for withdrawal. And they appear to be completely unified on this score.

Their aggressiveness and unity on a major foreign-policy challenge to the president is a striking change for a party that has, on many occasions over many years, seemed to be on the defensive on national security issues.

In fact, for much of the post-Vietnam era, the Republican advantage on those issues has been a defining feature of American politics. Many Democrats felt they needed to prove, again and again, that their party was tough enough to defend the nation’s interests — to fight the notion, often stoked by Republicans, that Democrats were the party of George McGovern and the nuclear freeze.

Critics on the party’s left complained that Democratic leaders had grown risk-averse, too consumed with defending against old charges from the 60s and 70s, too reluctant to stand up against the president.

But the Democratic votes over the past five days, calling for the withdrawal of most American combat troops from Iraq next year despite repeated threats of a presidential veto, show how much that image has shifted.

Yes, I do hope that we've gotten past this stupid reliance on Vietnam-era tropes. This is a new day and the public opinion is quite different on the war, which obviously is wind at the Democrat's back. They ought to be confidently explaining their stated goals in foreign policy, which do exist, even if the press largely ignores them.

Now, after conference committee, the veto will commence, and Democrats will need to plot their next move. We'll be watching.

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Sampson's Up

Specter is questioning him right now. He's now claiming that Iglesias was added "to the list" in mid-October even though nothing pops up in the documents until November 7.

This guy is a true believer, and he's sinking the whole boat here.

Specter is now asking about the provision in the Patriot Act that his deputy slipped in! No mention of that, however, just the DoJ's use of it. "That was a bad idea by the staff that was not adopted by the principals. I made that recommendation at one point, but it was rejected by the Attorney General." There's no record of this, of course, and indeed the provision was adopted. I guess the staff runs the show.

Schumer's up now. This is too fun.

UPDATE: Did you know that they're running attack ads against David Iglesias in New Mexico? And that they're funded by top funders of Heather Wilson, it appears? Wow, these guys will slander anyone to keep power.

UPDATE II: Sampson just got caught big-time. He just essentially admitted that Gonzales lied to Congress, to add to the admissions that he lied to the press and to the public.

UPDATE III: Feinstein is going to be ruthless here. She's going after Sampson on the Dusty Foggo/Brent Wilkes/Carol Lam issue. Sampson's still claiming that "the real problem we have right now" with Carol Lam is her failure to prosecute immigration cases. And yet Feinstein read the Moschella letter right to him moments before. He's saying that the California House Republicans were critical of Carol Lam. No kidding, they included Duke Cunningham and Jerry Lewis!!!

Now Sampson's admitting that he tried to keep an FBI agent quiet about Carol Lam's resignation and her impact in ongoing investgations. Wow, he's just a true believer.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Quick Hits

Some wrap-up that will hopefully allow me to get away from this damn computer for a minute.

• Ladies and gentlemen, meet the next Michael Moore: Rick Santorum. I heard he just finished a two-week course at the LA Film School and picked up a Canon XL-1 with a really good camera mike. And he knows someone that knows someone that knows Final Cut. Ready to go!

• This is lovely from a military recruiter:


-- U.S. Army recruiter Sgt. Marcia Ramode, using her military email address to respond to Jersey City resident Corey Andrew, after Ramode learned Andrew was gay.

Tell me again how Gen. Peter Pace's thoughts about homosexuality being "immoral" isn't the prevailing opinion of the officer corps.

• The ERA is back and it looks like it will get a vote this year. 25 years ago it came within three states of being ratified. I wonder how far it could get now. In many ways the country is more socially liberal now, but the concentration of conservatives in the smaller states may make it difficult to get the required 3/4 of them to ratify. Which is ridiculous, since it's such a simple document. "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." How could that be controversial in a country where 50.7% of the population are women?

• Putting a hold on a bill to ban cockfighting is just the latest example that Tom Coburn is running to be the leader of the island nation of Crazydumbfuckistan.

• It's come to this in the US Attorney scandal: DoJ officials are now apologizing to Congress for lying. Can you get off from a federal crime just by saying "I'm sorry?" We'll soon find out.

• Just when you think that nothing is possible anymore in the world, you read a story about Iain Paisley and Gerry Adams agreeing on a power-sharing agreement, and you begin to have hope that dreams can become reality.

• The director of the National Institutes of Health has now come out for repealing the ban on new lines of stem cells for research purposes, and said that "American science will be better served" by Bush reversing his policy and giving hope that life-saving cures can be discovered. He'll be leaving the NIH to spend more time with his family soon, I'm sure. Maybe some other Karl Rove aide needs a job!

Dissent in Iran: "activists burned an effigy of (Ahmadinejad), set off firecrackers and interrupted his speech with chants of 'Death to the dictator!'" Dissent in America: "Though the participants say they did nothing more than wear T-shirts with peace signs and carry peace banners with messages like "Kids Not Bombs"... one cop kneed a woman in the groin as she lay on the ground. Another broke a wooden peace sign that one of the participants had been carrying... one photo shows a cop with his arm around the neck of a retired priest, Frank Cordaro, in an apparent chokehold." Freedom isn't free!

• And finally, this is an hilarious account of yet another person banned by Bill O'Reilly... only this one talks back and is frankly more entertaining than the show could ever be.

Boy, you really know how to hurt a girl.

You got me fired from a job I didn't have, at a station that wasn't paying me.

Now what am I going to do? I thought a had a real future there! I mean, okay, maybe I guested twice a month for something like 5 years and never got any compensation. But it's not like I had to pay to park!



The Courage of John McCain

Don't let me be President? I'm taking my ball and going home.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was close to leaving the Republican Party in 2001, weeks before then-Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) famously announced his decision to become an Independent, according to former Democratic lawmakers who say they were involved in the discussions.

In interviews with The Hill this month, former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and ex-Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) said there were nearly two months of talks with the maverick lawmaker following an approach by John Weaver, McCain’s chief political strategist.

Democrats had contacted Jeffords and then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) in the early months of 2001 about switching parties, but in McCain’s case, they said, it was McCain’s top strategist who came to them [...]

Daschle noted that McCain at that time was frustrated with the Bush administration as a result of his loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 Republican primary.

Daschle said that throughout April and May of 2001, he and McCain "had meetings and conversations on the floor and in his office, I think in mine as well, about how we would do it, what the conditions would be. We talked about committees and his seniority ... [A lot of issues] were on the table."

Yes, this is the end of John McCain having any hope of winning a Republican nomination; the conservative movement is tribal, and anyone caught wanting to switch sides will be thrown off the island.

But I like that the party switch wasn't motivated by any gradual change in principles or beliefs, but motivated by whining like a little brat because he didn't get to be President.

Frankly the tactics of the Bush team in South Carolina would make it hard for the victim of those tactics to continue to support them. But that would suggest going independent, not signing up with a party whose beliefs you don't share. And then wrapping your big arms around Bush in 2004, when you were willing to step on all of your beliefs and everything you hold dear a few years earlier, well that's just a profile in cowardice.

UPDATE: There is the possibility that this was McCain's chief of staff John Weaver just freelancing. But clearly the Senator was involved at least at some level.

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After The Veto

Chris Bowers lays out the Democratic options now that the course has pretty much been set for a veto showdown on the Iraq appropriation.

So, once the veto comes, what is the plan? Do we:

1. Engage in a standoff with Bush, saying that he either gets this bill or none at all. This is the showdown tactic, and it would require us to not lose a single vote from either our House or Senate caucuses. Or, at least holding together 41 Dems in the Senate.

2. Try to work out a compromise with Bush somewhere between this bill and a blank check. This is the "get anything you can" strategy, but keep in mind that the current bill is already compromised.

3. Say that we tried to end the war, but Bush and Republicans wouldn't let us, and then give them a blank check. This is the "we tried, but its on your shoulders now strategy." The obvious danger here is much of the country might view us as weak, and failures when it comes to stopping Bush on Iraq. Not to mention that it, you know, funds the war without any restrictions.

4. Something else?

I'm very down for number one, and if the Democrats can set the rhetorical agenda I don't see how they can lose; the problem is that they've proven inept at setting the rhetorical agenda. I've said time and again that if Bush vetoes the appropriation, he would be cutting off funding to the troops in harm's way. All they have to do is say this clearly and forcefully, and make the vote about the separation of powers, ultimately. "Congress did its duty; the President must now do his."

The war isn't about to get any better. Barry McCaffrey spelled it out in the Washington Post today. This is an intractable conflict and the American people know it. There's no amount of wheedling or cajoling that could change these facts.

These are the facts.

Iraq is ripped by a low grade civil war which has worsened to catastrophic levels with as many as 3000 citizens murdered per month. The population is in despair. Life in many of the urban areas is now desperate. A handful of foreign fighters (500+) --- and a couple of thousand Al Qaeda operatives incite open factional struggle through suicide bombings which target Shia holy places and innocent civilians. Thousands of attacks target US Military Forces (2900 IED’s) a month---primarily stand off attacks with IED’s, rockets, mortars, snipers, and mines from both Shia (EFP attacks are a primary casualty producer) ---and Sunni (85% of all attacks---80% of US deaths—16% of Iraqi population.)

Three million Iraqis are internally displaced or have fled the country to Syria and Jordan. The technical and educated elites are going into self-imposed exile---a huge brain drain that imperils the ability to govern. The Maliki government has little credibility among the Shia populations from which it emerged. It is despised by the Sunni as a Persian surrogate. It is believed untrustworthy and incompetent by the Kurds.

There is no function of government that operates effectively across the nation--- not health care, not justice, not education, not transportation, not labor and commerce, not electricity, not oil production. There is no province in the country in which the government has dominance. The government cannot spend its own money effectively. ($7.1 billion sits in New York banks.) No Iraqi government official, coalition soldier, diplomat, reporter, foreign NGO, nor contractor can walk the streets of Baghdad, nor Mosul, nor Kirkuk, nor Basra, nor Tikrit, nor Najaf, nor Ramadi---without heavily armed protection.

The police force is feared as a Shia militia in uniform which is responsible for thousands of extra-judicial killings. There is no effective nation-wide court system. There are in general almost no acceptable Iraqi penal institutions. The population is terrorized by rampant criminal gangs involved in kidnapping, extortion, robbery, rape, massive stealing of public property ---such as electrical lines, oil production material, government transportation, etc. (Saddam released 80,000 criminal prisoners.)

It's frankly immoral to sink more lives and treasure into such an impossible nightmare, especially when it risks breaking our Army and making us less prepared for other conflicts and ultimately less safe. Of course, everyone knows that you don't pull out an Army in a day, and you don't stop a war with one vote. But you can take a stand now, and offer up a bill that has a specific timeline, a bill you know Bush can't support, and dare him to take it or leave it. I don't see what the Democrats would have to lose from that. They've already set a timeline and sustained whatever political fallout comes out of that. The American public is overwhelmingly on their side; the only people who aren't wouldn't vote for Democrats anyway, or Lieber-Dems who lie with impunity every time they talk about Iraq.

Whether the Democrats will be tough enough to hold the line on this is another question. Matt Taibbi is skeptical.

In my visits to Washington in the past few months I've heard different stories from Democratic congressional aides about what the party's intentions are. Some say they think the leadership is just going to stall and pass a bunch of non-binding, symbolic, Kumbayah horseshit to help propel whoever the Democratic candidate is into the White House two years from now. Others claim with a straight face that all of these non-binding resolutions are only a start, that the strategy is to really end the war via a death-by-a-thousand-cuts type of legislative grind, with the leadership sending to the floor bill after bill after bill designed to eat away at either war policy or war funding. They claim that all of these votes are exercises in coalition-building, necessary steps to gathering the support needed to pass real biting measures later on.

But I'll believe that when I see it. Right now, it all looks too convenient. With Bush a thrashing, drowning lame-duck whose endorsement in '08 will almost certainly be political poison to whomever has the misfortune to earn it, Republicans like Hagel and Oregon Senator Gordon Smith are conspicuously free to break ranks and save themselves. Moreover, the Democratic measure is crafted in such a way that the Hagels and Smiths and Ben Nelsons of the world can safely get on a soapbox about the war without having to face accusations of depriving the troops of equipment and "what they need" to fight, which just so happens to be the leitmotif/preoccupation of the Rush/Hannity talk shows of late. While Rush and the rest of the radio monsters blast Nancy Pelosi and Hillary for being army-haters ("These people are not just against victory. They are against the military," sez Rush), Hagel et al can say that they voted for both a scheduled withdrawal and a $20 billion increase in war funding. That is called having one's cake and eating it too, and folks on the Hill love that kind of political diet. There's a reason why there are not many skinny Senators.

I share the skepticism but think that there is at least some room to take a stand right now. And at this point in the 21st century, with the power vested in the hands of the executive (too much) and the political theatrics being what they are (too loud), a death by a thousand cuts can really be the only possible death there is. We've actually seen dramatic moves in the House and Senate already that should not be discounted. The Senate is about to pass Kerry-Feingold, essentially; last year it got 13 votes. In another 3 months, does it get 60? 67?

There aren't any good answers here, but the obstinacy of the President will actually work in the Democrat's favor should they use it. He is incapable of winning an argument with the American people anymore. Progressives and the antiwar movement need to make sure he doesn't win it because the other side gets laryngitis.

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Rush on Popcorn in Liberal Enclaves

Kyle Sampson is tesifying tomorrow in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he's going to tell the Senators, essentially, yeah, the US Attorneys were fired for political reasons, what's it to you?"

Eight federal prosecutors were fired last year because they did not sufficiently support President Bush's priorities, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former chief of staff says in remarks prepared for delivery Thursday to Congress.

"The distinction between 'political' and 'performance-related' reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial," said Kyle Sampson.

The aide, who quit because of the furor over the firings, is to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. A copy of his prepared remarks was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

"A U.S. attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective … is unsuccessful," Sampson said.

I think I know what Sampson is trying to get at, but this is just terrible spin. He's peddling a viewpoint that has been totally discredited by everybody in government. You can't use the Justice Department as a proxy for the Republican National Committee, period. US Attorneys serve the President but they also serve the law, and when they're asked to investigate bogus claims of voter fraud to specifically target Democrats, or when they're asked to prosecute more Democrats and shield Republicans, that's simply territory which is forbidden.

Of course, Sampson has apparently already lied to Congress once, so why should he care about peddling this nonsense on his return trip?

The Justice Department turned over yet more documents to Congress today -- documents which seem to show that Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson was responsible for misleading Congress about Karl Rove's role in replacing a U.S. attorney.

On February 23, acting Assistant Attorney General wrote Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other senators in response to questions about the appointment of Timothy Griffin, a former aide to Rove. In the letter, Hertling stated "The Department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin."

But emails subsequently released by the Justice Department showed that wasn't the case. Last December, for example, Sampson wrote in an email that Griffin's appointment was "important to Harriet, Karl, etc." Other emails showed that Rove's deputy had been intimately involved in the effort to get Griffin installed as the U.S. Attorney in Eastern Arkansas.

There's another email where Sampson suggests that a letter which references Rove "to [the White House Counsel's Office] today for their review," further implicating their involvement.

And in a related story, Rove is mentioned in a curious thank-you note from Sen. Pete Domenici's chief of staff:

“Thanks for everything,” Domenici chief of staff Steve Bell wrote Rove and two other White House officials, including Rove’s political deputy, Scott Jennings, in a Jan. 8, 2007 e-mail that forwarded the name of a candidate to replace Iglesias.

It's more than curious that new documents came out TODAY impeaching Sampson's prior testimony, the day before he is set to testify again. Clearly there's a siege mentality at the Department of Justice right now. Steve Benen says "it's open warfare over there" with all the top staffers turning on one another. Paul McNulty is blaming Monica "I plead the Fifth because I was intimately involved with this whole thing and I'd have to lie to you if I testified" Goodling. Gonzales is trying to blame Sampson, and he's running away from reporters who seek to ask him about the scandal. This document dump is of a piece of the open warfare. And Sampson appears to be less pissed off with Gonzales than just thick-headed about what is allowable and unethical in the Justice Department. But his obstinacy is about to blow the whole cover story.

Tomorrow's gonna be FUN.

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Obama Nails The Big Question

There was a good long interview with Barack Obama in today's Situation Room, and in it he addressed what I feel is the most crucial question facing the new President, Democratic or Republican, in 2008.

Over the past six years we have seen the fundamental destruction of American democracy in favor of an ideological theory of unitary executive power. This has essentially been the one organizing principle from which all the other scandals and incompetence and failed policies have spread. A unitary executive doesn't have to answer to Congress; doesn't have to answer to American allies; doesn't feel any need for accountability for the multitudes of bad hires and cronyism, doesn't need to consult with anyone else in the government over policy, and further is willing and able to use government offices for partisan purposes of aggrandizing the power of the executive. So really, the only question I have for the current crop of Presidential candidates is, "How do you understand the theory of the unitary executive, and will you follow the standard of executive power as set by the Bush Administration, or the standard set forth by the framers of the Constitution 230 years ago?"

Obama nailed this.

Here is the context: the discussion turned to the US Attorney scandal, and the White House's decision to use to the Justice Department to reward political allies and silence political enemies. Obama had no problem cutting to the core of the scandal in that way (maybe he's been reading ePluribus Media, and the Shields-Cragan study showing that local Democrats have been investigated by the DoJ five times as much as Republicans). Here's the relevant quote:

OBAMA: That is a fundamental breach of rule of law, and it's one of the reasons, by the way, that I voted against Alberto Gonzales, because I feel very strongly that he is someone who sees himself as the President's attorney and not the people's attorney.

Then Wolf Blitzer asked the question that I sought, albeit in the worst way possible, essentially asking if cracking down on official mal-administration and lying would affect his ability to mal-administrate and lie:

BLITZER: Are you worried that any steps you might take now would tie your hands if you were to become President?

OBAMA: I think that the issue of executive power and executive privilege is one that is subject to abuse, and in an Obama Presidency, what you will see will be a sufficient respect for law and the co-equal branches of government, that I hope we don't find ourselves in a situation in which we would be having aides being subpoenaed for what I think everybody acknowledges is some troublesome information out there.

Now, this is an obvious answer. And once you get into the Oval Office and you actually have all that power, it becomes a lot easier to compromise on these principles. But I would say that I have a great deal more belief in Obama's position on this than, say, Hillary Clinton, for example, who has a much cozier relationship with executive power by virtue of her past statements (I know it's the New Republican, but this is a fantastic article, with some great reporting):

In her October 2002 speech explaining her vote for President Bush's war resolution, Hillary was clearly conflicted. She listed several reasons why war might be necessary, including the Iraqi chemical and biological arsenal--which she called "undisputed"--and her purported special perspective, as a New Yorker after September 11, on the "risks of action versus inaction." She also offered several counterarguments, including her fear that Bush might make a dangerous precedent of "preemption."

But, in concluding that she would support Bush, Clinton offered another rationale of a very different sort. She argued that she was inherently predisposed to grant the benefit of the doubt to a president asking Congress for support in matters of war. In the '90s, Clinton had watched congressional Republicans undermine her husband's foreign policy for political gain. They mocked his interventions in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo--Tom DeLay called it "Clinton's war"--and they cried "wag the dog" when he launched a cruise-missile attack on Iraq in the midst of the Lewinsky scandal. "[P]erhaps," Hillary mused in her floor speech, "my decision is influenced by my eight years of experience on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in the White House, watching my husband deal with serious challenges to our nation. I want this president, or any future president, to be in the strongest possible position to lead our country in the United Nations or in war."

In short, Clinton was arguing that Congress should have an innate deference to presidential authority in matters of diplomacy and war. As she explained to ABC's George Stephanopoulos in December 2003, "I'm a strong believer in executive authority. I wish that, when my husband was president, people in Congress had been more willing to recognize presidential authority." To this day, when Clinton refuses to apologize for her war vote, she explains that she doesn't regret deferring to Bush's authority, but rather "the way he used that authority."

That is a view of executive power that does not much differ from the unitary executive of Bush; it can be said that the Bush and neocon theories are the logical outcome of what Clinton is asserting here. And I truly believe that the kind of deference to the executive demanded by these past Presidents is a slippery slope that leads us to where we are today.

So when the presumed chief challenger to Sen. Clinton makes such a forceful statement about how executive power must be tempered and how the rule of law must be respected, it makes for a stark contrast. I have not seen all of the candidates' views on this subject: here is Sen. Dodd's mention of the unitary executive theory, found during a Blue America live chat.

"President Bush and his lawyers adopted an expansive interpretation in their view of executive power, particularly in relation to the War on Terror and the conflict in Iraq. In fact, President Bush has cited the 'unitary executive' theory in several recent instances to override congressional provisions he finds objectionable. I am disturbed that the President has claimed, for himself, the authority to overrule the will of the Congress in passing its antitorture legislation--legislation which received the overwhelming support of congressional Members. This undermines the separation of powers and democratic principles."

That's a mild rebuke without connection to how Sen. Dodd would handle those theories, and even while Obama's answer is solid, I would like to see it fleshed out and role-played. In my view, the next President needs to completely rebuke this insane theory of government, and if they don't, our democracy will limp to an early grave. There is no greater threat to this republic than the notion of President-as-king. Good for Obama to come out so strongly.

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Karl Rove Is Afraid of You

You may have seen the hysterical House hearing today with the head of the General Services Administration over their using federal property and taxpayer dollars for partisan campaign activities.  If you haven't, here it is.

This is a scandal.  But one interesting aspect is that the Republican playbook has been cracked open; we can now plainly see what Republicans Karl Rove believes needs defending in 2008.  And guess who pops up on the defense list?  John Doolittle.  And who's on the "2008 House Target" list? Jerry McNerney.

This isn't your humble progressive blogger talking here, this is "the Architect."  The one who has the "real math."  And the one who's going to marshal vast resources against Jerry McNerney and Charlie Brown in 2008.  The funding deadline is Saturday.  You know what to do.

Calitics Act Blue page

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The End of Obamamania?

The media honeymoon with Barack Obama is over, and while some of the rationales for nitpicking are absurd (he forgot which magazine he read when he was nine! Obama is making rookie mistakes!), others are pretty cogent, and I'm glad they're getting out of the way early.

While Greg Sargent is correct about the silliness of this AP hit piece on Obama, it's also true that there's a grain of truth here. Obama came to a scheduled forum on health care without anything resembling a coherent health care policy. It's comforting that he didn't try to spin that he actually had a plan, but it was an easy news peg for a media that wants to spin a story about Obama's style over substance. But this isn't entirely true. Here's Sargent:

But wait -- no policy speeches since the campaign started? What about this speech on March 21? What about this one on March 2? Those are both foreign policy speeches -- or doesn't that count?

Would it behoove Obama to go into more detail about his plans and policy prescriptions, and would it behoove him to do better on health care than he did over the weekend? Sure it would -- and his lack of experience is undoubtedly a valid topic. But taking things to the point where you're suggesting that the guy may have "little substance" on the strength of this stuff alone seems pretty damn thin. It's deeply superficial and stinks of the worst sort of slavishness to predetermined narratives -- today's being that Obama is a closet lightweight. Your Hack Pack at work, ladies and gentlemen.

Indeed, Obama took to the floor of the Senate yesterday to pass an amendment to the Iraq appropriation removing the red tape for returning veterans that has hampered their ability to receive quality health care. In fact, he's been in the lead on this issue ever since Walter Reed. So I don't buy the lightweight stuff. The media doesn't like to carry policy speeches, anyway, so they're essentially creating a sin of omission by refusing to cover the substance and then claiming there's no substance there.

But I do think that there are some traps here for the Obama campaign. His campaign theme is about creating a new kind of politics, and he's specifically eschewed policy prescriptions in favor of changing the system in Washington. There is a definite peril here, elucidated by Ron Brownstein in an excellent op-ed.

Obama's early support is following a pattern familiar from the campaigns of other brainy liberals with cool, detached personas and messages of political reform, from Eugene McCarthy in 1968 to Gary Hart in 1984 to Bill Bradley in 2000. Like those predecessors, Obama is running strong with well-educated voters but demonstrating much less support among those without college degrees [...]

Since the 1960s, Democratic nominating contests regularly have come down to a struggle between a candidate who draws support primarily from upscale, economically comfortable voters liberal on social and foreign policy issues, and a rival who relies mostly on downscale, financially strained voters drawn to populist economics and somewhat more conservative views on cultural and national security issues.

It's not much of an oversimplification to say that the blue-collar Democrats tend to see elections as an arena for defending their interests, and the upscale voters see them as an opportunity to affirm their values. Each group finds candidates who reflect those priorities

Brownstein terms this dichotomy "the warrior and the priest," and he plants Obama in the latter camp:

Obama's aides resist the collar, but in the early stages, he looks more like a priest. He's written two bestselling books. Like McCarthy, Hart and Howard Dean, he's ignited a brush fire on college campuses. His initial message revolves heavily around eloquent but somewhat amorphous promises of reform and civic renewal. He laments "the smallness of our politics … where power is always trumping principle."

Not only have priests — including Hart, Tsongas and Bradley — run better among voters with college degrees, they've tended to run well in the Northeast, the West Coast and portions of the upper Midwest where wine track voters congregate; the warriors usually thrive in interior states such as Ohio, Missouri or Tennessee, where college graduates constitute 40% or less of the Democratic electorate.

I agree that this is an oversimplification of Obama; he began as a community organizer, and so he can speak to the concerns of everyday people with a great degree of sincerity. But, as the president of the Wisconsin branch of the firefighter's union said in the article, "In my view, that's really not a message for our guys... They're really not afraid of politics."

You know, politics can be rough-and-tumble, but running against politics can be a familiar trope for failed campaigns. Ultimately the candidates who use politics as a way to affirm their values end up winning the game. Style vs. substance is something Obama can overcome. Warrior vs. priest? Maybe not.

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Paid Political Announcement

This is pretty hilarious, and yet another example of the politicization of the agencies of the federal government. The head of the General Services Administration is grilled for holding a partisan political event on helping Republicans in 2008 on GSA grounds, in complete violation of the Hatch Act against using federal property and federal taxpayer dollars for these campaign activities.

This is unquestionable. The GSA was holding a PowerPoint presentation that included slides labeled "Top House Targets 2008," "2008 House GOP Defense" and "2008 Battle for the Senate." We paid for that, Democrats and Republicans paid for a Karl Rove-led presentation on using a government agency to help elect Republicans.

Can you believe Democrats have only been in power 3 months and all this garbage is coming out?

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Swift Boat Down

Funder to Swift Boat Vets Sam Fox out as ambassador to Belgium. John Kerry and Chris Dodd led the fight.

You can't help slander the military service of a Senator, and then hope that same Senator gives you an all-expense-paid yearlong vacation to Brussels, can you?

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The Success of the Kitchen Sink Strategy

This is pretty much exactly what I've been saying all along about the most effective strategy to end our involvement in occupying Iraq.

Precisely. A lot of people were pretty upset at the beginning of this Congress by what seemed like the Democrats' fecklessness. I was one of them. And I can remember at least 336,298 segments of The Daily Show dedicated to lambasting the "non-binding resolution" "expressing disapproval".

But now I've come to believe that their strategy is the only one that will work. Effectively, they've had three choices. The first I supposed, would have been to do nothing. But that was obviously a non-starter, given all the reasons Democrats were elected in the first place. The second option would have been for the leadership to, from day one, stand behind strong bills. Bills that, in their substance, would have put an end to this mess. (Bills like Russell Feingold's, for instance.) It's frustrating, but those bills don't pass. And they don't get the Gordon Smiths and Chuck Hagels of the world on to your side.

So instead, they picked a third strategy: Keep hacking away. Make Republicans vote no. Make them say, "I want this war to continue." Make them say, with a straight face, "I want the president in charge." Make them answer to reporters and constituents. These people don't have epiphanies. They will not go from a pro-war position to Feingold's position over night. But they will ultimately be nudged, as they have been, into supporting incremental improvements like dates-certain. Then it's up to the president to veto those bills, alienating himself from members of his own party and from the public at large.

If you keep making Republicans vote against the American people, eventually the ones who want to keep their job will have little choice but to vote yes. In the Senate we went from 13 votes for a timetable to 50 in a matter of months, and a de facto 60, since the Republicans won't filibuster. Now Bush is on his own, and the Democrats are pushing him to move forward. This is what I was worried most about but it appears that they're standing strong:

WASHINGTON - Congressional Democrats are showing no signs of backing down on their rebuke of the Iraq war, insisting President Bush will have to accept some sort of legislative timetable in exchange for the billions of dollars needed to fund the war.

"We would hope that the president understands how serious we are," said Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record), D-Nev., after the Senate voted to uphold a proposal in a war spending bill calling for the troop withdrawal [...]

"Members of Congress need to stop making political statements, start providing vital funds for our troops and get a bill to my desk that I can sign into law," Bush was expected to say in a speech at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association meeting in Washington. Excerpts were released in advance by the White House. "If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund our troops on the front lines, the American people will know who to hold responsible."

But Reid and other Democrats say they won't back down.

"Rather than making all the threats that he has, let's work with him and see if he can give us some ideas how we can satisfy the wishes of a majority of the Senate, the majority of the House and move forward," Reid said.

The Democrats have an easier argument to make here. They've provided the funds. If the President vetoes, he's cutting off funds for the troops. And I expect the Democrats to make that point loudly.

Ultimately this is the beginning of the end in Iraq, which doesn't look from the outside all that different as the end of the beginning. The kitchen sink strategy is working, but still needs continued effort and support.

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The 800 Pound Gorilla

The Brits released satellite data showing that their sailors were within Iraqi waters and not in Iran at the time of their detainment. They are playing hardball by freezing all business with Iran until the situation is resolved. And Iran is vowing to release the only female member of the crew, perhaps a result of the discreet talks the two sides have been engaging in.

And in the middle of all this, with Iran appearing to fudge the truth and world opinion moving to Britain's side, we have this (h/t The Left Coaster):

The U.S. Navy on Tuesday began its largest demonstration of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, led by a pair of aircraft carriers and backed by warplanes flying simulated attack maneuvers off the coast of Iran.

The maneuvers bring together two strike groups of U.S. warships and more than 100 U.S. warplanes to conduct simulated air warfare in the crowded Gulf shipping lanes.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl said the U.S. maneuvers were not organized in response to the capture of the British sailors — nor were they meant to threaten the Islamic Republic, whose navy operates in the same waters.

He declined to specify when the Navy planned the exercises.

Aandahl said the U.S. warships would stay out of Iranian territorial waters, which extend 12 miles off the Iranian coast.

How many times does the older asshole brother America have to come around and change the whole dynamic? While I'm sure this is part of the British strategy in some sense, gunboat diplomacy is not really what's going to get the world on your side in this case. There's soft power and there's stupid power. This is a damn stupid provocation.

UPDATE: This is also true, there's not a compelling reason to believe Tony Blair on much of anything, given his track record. But I'd give them the benefit of the doubt if it wasn't also accompanied by these naval war games.

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Revenge Spree

This would be what happens during a civil war.

Shiite militants and police enraged by massive truck bombings in the northwestern town of Tal Afar went on a revenge spree against Sunni residents there Wednesday, killing as many as 60 people, officials said.

The gunmen began roaming Sunni neighborhoods in the city, shooting at residents and homes, according to police and a local Sunni politician.

Ali al-Talafari, a Sunni member of the local Turkomen Front Party, said the Iraqi army had arrested 18 policemen accused of being involved after they were identified by the Sunni families targeted. But he said the attackers included Shiite militiamen.

He said more than 60 Sunnis had been killed, but a senior hospital official in Tal Afar put the death toll at 45, with four wounded.

Remember when Tal Afar was supposed to be the great success story in Iraq? The police have been put in charge of several areas in the country, even though they are the most dangerous elements in the whole society. Maybe they're walking those streets that John McCain says you can walk down.

By the way, Maverick, the capital is NOT the country, and violence has gone up outside the capital (in Diyala province, in Baquba, in Tal Afar, for example) while remaining the same or lowering slightly inside.

You cannot put a political solution on a country whose police force often goes on revenge sprees.

UPDATE: "Walk through those neighborhoods, I never said you could walk those neighborhoods! Where'd you get that idea?"

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

News of the Odd

Just some fun stuff, some political, some not, I've noticed over the past couple weeks.

• This Jonah Goldberg mini-controversy is hilarious. Anyone who says he's writing a book that "is a very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care," especially when the book has a cover of a smiley face with a Hitler moustache on it and is called "Liberal Fascism,"... well, is there any need to mock? Oh yeah, by the by, the book is about 24 months late in publication. Probably because he is so diligently making it more thoughtful and more serious. And Wolcott has the last word:

Parenting Bleg [Jonah Goldberg]

Okay, so my four year old daughter desperately wants me to do more magic tricks. All I can really do for her are variations of "Hey, I found a quarter in your ear" stuff. And even then, the prestidigitation isn't really up to snuff. If she were five, she'd be on to me. So, I need really simple, stupid in fact, magic tricks that can be done with little skill, that will impress a four year-old. Any suggestions? -03/24 01:09 PM

Perhaps you could pull a completed manuscript out of your ass and watch those little eyes light up with wonder.

• Ann Althouse bullies yet another person who dares mention the fact that she criticized a liberal blogger for the unforgivable sin of having breasts. This one's on video, and it's pretty hilarious.

• Missile defense strike called on account of rain. Seriously, how much money have we sunk into this crappy system, which can't even FIND targets, yet alone blow them up? And if it rains, it gets washed out? Fortunately, thanks to global warming, that may not be a problem anymore.

• Batshit crazy Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann, bucking for the Katherine Harris scattered-mind-a-like award, wrote campaign supporters asking them to send in astroturf letters to local newspapers as a show of support. The only letters this plea elicited were from a State Senate staffer and the son of a Bachmann aide.

• The former "Pimp of the Year" is headed to prison for running a prostitution ring. Couldn't they have busted him the moment that he won the "Pimp of the Year"? For that matter, shouldn't the runner-up, and indeed every applicant for Pimp of the Year, be similarly arrested? Incidentally, this is serious, he abused these women he employed, but this is among the best quotes ever:

"If he gets out, I know he'll do it again," she said. "That's all he ever talks about - pimping and ho-ing."

• Scientists made a sheep that's 15-percent human. This is yet another example of the President not following through on his promises. He totally said he would ban human-animal hybrids (by the by, if you read that link, you'll see that human-animal hybrids actually have a role to play in medical science and should not be banned at all).

• Rahm Emanuel says Democrats should stay away from Stephen Colbert. Colbert fights back, calls him "Emanuelle," as in Emanuelle in Space.

• Three Jeopardy contestants ended up tied for the first time ever. Full disclosure: this should have happened to me. I was on Jeopardy (almost four years to the day before this tie) and ended up tying for first, and the third contestant would have tied as well, but in Final Jeopardy she crossed out the correct answer and put in a wrong one. I'm just peeved that I didn't get in an AP story.

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