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

Saturday, April 07, 2007

REO Speedwagon Played a Wal-Mart

Here's some Saturday night fun for the "that's the saddest thing I've ever heard" file (h/t Cable & Tweed).

REO Speedwagon became a rock icon with number one hits "Can’t Fight This Feeling" and "Keep On Loving You." They played giant stadiums in the 70’s and 80’s, but Friday they performed at the Walmart in Eagan (Minnesota).

The band is promoting it’s first new album in a decade and it has an exclusive deal with Walmart.

"I’ve been watching them for 30 years," said Jay Powell from Cottage Grove, "and I had to come to Walmart to meet them, I never would have thought that."

This is where we're at, kids. Never mind the embarrassment of hearing that the Speedwagon had to roll up to the Wal-Mart to get out their message of rock. No, the sadness here is that it was such a good business move for them. In far too many small towns, the Wal-Mart is pretty much the only place you can physically buy new music. It's completely normal and great to see in-store performances at Virgin or Amoeba Music or HMV; this is just an extension of that. But the fact is that there's literally NOWHERE ELSE TO GO in much of the country other than a big-box store if you're a band and you want to reach people. The 'wagon admits that.

Walmart has an exclusive deal to sell a three CD set that includes a DVD and some greatest hits. For two weeks it is the only place to buy the new music.

"We're people-people," said lead singer Kevin Cronin, "and this is where people come to buy music."

Teaming up with a big retailer like Walmart or Best Buy is the latest sales gimmick by artists targeting adults.

"Because they're the ones still buying music in the CD jewel case form while their kids are downloading it for their iPods," said John Rash, Director of Media Negotiations for Campbell Mithun Advertising.

Of course, this isn't limited to music. The Wal-Marts of the world have muscled out the competition in lots of sectors. It's become the de facto town square, and now, an events center.

We can imagine what this means for the culture. Wal-Mart can and has dictated what they will sell in their stores. That's their right, but when they're the only game in town, it has the effect of walling off music or art or magazines or books to entire regions of the country. The Internet obviously mitigates this effect, but not completely. The culture becomes homogenized, then, as bands have to sign exclusive deals with department stores to ensure their distribution.

I think there's a larger point here beyond it being unbelievable that Kevin Cronin took to the stage Friday and yelled "Hello, Wal-Mart!"

The question is, given this development, how far are we from this being on the pop charts?

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Bizarro Candidate

FACT: John McCain was at one point the front-running establishment candidate for President on the Republican side.

FACT: Once McCain took a strong stance for the surge in Iraq, his support cratered among independents and his electability was questioned as his financial support began to dry up.

FACT: Facing a campaign in tatters and his lifelong dream of the Presidency on the rocks, McCain has decided to revive his candidacy by... you guessed it...

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will launch a high-profile effort next week to convince Americans that the Iraq war is winnable, embracing the unpopular conflict with renewed vigor as he attempts to reignite his stalling bid for the presidency.

With the Virginia Military Institute as a backdrop, McCain plans to argue in a speech on Wednesday that victory in Iraq is essential to American security and that President Bush's war machine is finally getting on track after four years, aides and advisers said.

McCain's rosy assessment of safety on Iraq's streets after his recent visit to a Baghdad marketplace was mocked by many, prompting him to tell a television reporter that he "misspoke" and now regrets the comments. But, in the interview to be broadcast tomorrow, the senator sticks by his defense of the overall war effort, predicting that failure in Iraq would be "catastrophic."

... doing exactly the thing that got him in trouble in the first place!

People tend to forget that the only reason McCain had any chance of winning in 2000 was because of his success in open primaries that allowed independents to vote. Those independents appreciated McCain's perceived "maverick" streak and the fact that he wasn't like the other monolithic Republicans. Now McCain is seeking the nomination by alienating those independents with his unflagging support for this failed war. I don't know what's stupider, the fact that he's charging headlong into the disaster he created, or the fact that this gambit actually has a shot at winning over the GOP (although he's ensured his defeat in the general, with the loss of independent support).

I tend to agree with Frank Rich that not only does this end John McCain's career, but may hasten the end of the war (behind the wall, here's a taste).

It can’t be lost on those dwindling die-hards, particularly those on the 2008 ballot, that if defending the indefensible can reduce even a politician of Mr. McCain’s heroic stature to that of Dukakis-in-the-tank, they have nowhere to go but down. They’ll cut and run soon enough. For starters, just watch as Mr. McCain’s G.O.P. presidential rivals add more caveats to their support for the administration’s Iraq policy [...]

The center will not hold, no matter what happens in the Washington standoff over war funding. Surely no one understands better than Mr. McCain that American lives are being wasted in the war’s escalation. That is what he said on David Letterman’s show in an unguarded moment some five weeks ago — though he recanted the word wasted after taking flak the morning after.

Like his Letterman gaffe, Mr. McCain’s ludicrous market stunt was at least in the tradition of his old brand of straight talk, in that it revealed the truth, however unintentionally. But many more have watched the constantly recycled and ridiculed spectacle of his "safe" walk in Baghdad than heard him on a late-night talk show. This incident has the staying power of the Howard Dean scream. Should it speed America’s disengagement from Iraq, what looks today like John McCain’s farcical act of political suicide may some day loom large as a patriot’s final act of sacrifice for his country.

I guess I should be thanking McCain, but I can't help but pity him. It'll get worse when his 60 Minutes profile airs tomorrow. I think the best words on this subject could be Jim Henley's:

McCain added, “My campaign is essentially over at this point, and it’s time to prepare for life beyond the hustings. If I’m vociferous enough about Iraq and kiss the right asses, my planned blog could debut in at least the Mortal Humans section of the blogosphere ecosystem. That means some serious blogads money, baby. It worked for Michelle Malkin!”

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Unintended Consequences

California should get ready for scenes like this:

Five convicted sex offenders are living under a noisy highway bridge with the state's grudging approval because an ordinance intended to keep predators away from children made it nearly impossible for them to find housing.

Some of them sleep on cardboard raised slightly off the ground to avoid the rats. One of the men beds down on a pallet with a blanket and pillow. Some have been there for several weeks [...]

The conditions are a consequence of laws passed here and elsewhere around the country to bar sex offenders from living near schools, parks and other places children gather. Miami-Dade County's 2005 ordinance — adopted partly in reaction to the case of a convicted sex offender who raped a 9-year-old Florida girl and buried her alive — says sex offenders must live at least 2,500 feet from schools.

"They've often said that some of the laws will force people to live under a bridge," said Charles Onley, a research associate at the federally funded Center for Sex Offender Management. "This is probably the first story that I've seen that confirms that."

Am I asking for sympathy for sex offenders? Absolutely not. But putting people into desperate situations like this only exacerbates their despair and will do nothing but lead to more crimes. Statistics show that it doesn't matter where sex offenders live relative to where their sex crimes are committed. Laws like this are pieces of feel-good legislation that does nothing to actually protect minors and does violate the civil rights of the perpetrators, if we care about that anymore. And Prop. 83, passed by the voters last year and subsequently ruled partially unconstitutional, will lead to this kind of scene in urban areas.

Everyone feel safer now?

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Keep Your Presidents Away From Flammable Objects

Can it get more embarrassing than being two seconds and some quick thinking away from the President being eligible for a Darwin Award?

Credit Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally with saving the leader of the free world from self-immolation. Mulally told journalists at the New York auto show that he intervened to prevent President Bush from plugging an electrical cord into the hydrogen tank of Ford's hydrogen-electric plug-in hybrid at the White House last week

Mulally told journalists at the New York auto show that he intervened to prevent President Bush from plugging an electrical cord into the hydrogen tank of Ford's hydrogen-electric plug-in hybrid at the White House last week. Ford wanted to give the Commander-in-Chief an actual demonstration of the innovative vehicle, so the automaker arranged for an electrical outlet to be installed on the South Lawn and ran a charging cord to the hybrid. However, as Mulally followed Bush out to the car, he noticed someone had left the cord lying at the rear of the vehicle, near the fuel tank.

"I just thought, 'Oh my goodness!' So, I started walking faster, and the President walked faster and he got to the cord before I did. I violated all the protocols. I touched the President. I grabbed his arm and I moved him up to the front," Mulally said. "I wanted the president to make sure he plugged into the electricity, not into the hydrogen. This is all off the record, right?"

I don't necessarily expect the President to know exactly what to plug in where. But don't you think he would actually FIND OUT before sticking cords into sockets willy-nilly?

I'm wondering, has the White House been made President-proof? Are all the knives locked away or up on high shelves? Are there safety barriers on the electrical outlets? Are the pretzels kept out of his reach?

I'd like to see the book on "How To President-Proof Your Home".

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Those Damn Iranians of Iraqi Origin Living In Iraq

Funny story about those explosively formed penetrators:

"Iraqi army soldiers swept into the city of Diwaniya early this morning to disrupt militia activity and return security and stability of the volatile city back to the government of Iraq," the U.S. military said in a statement.

Bleichwehl said troops, facing scattered resistance, discovered a factory that produced "explosively formed penetrators" (EFPs), a particularly deadly type of explosive that can destroy a main battle tank and several weapons caches.

I thought they all came from Iran. It simply can't be possible that the Bush Admnistration would stretch the truth to serve their political goals, right?

Of course, we'll see this spinned into how Iran just supplied the "technology and know-how" for the EFPs, which have been mostly used in Iraq by Sunnis, so somebody tell me why Shiites in Iran would be aiding Sunnis in Iraq who kill Shiites.

Meanwhile, another Iraqi-made weapon favored by insurgents, the chlorine bomb, killed 30 in Ramadi. We're doing an excellent job providing the training ground for the terrorists of the future.

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CA-42: New Blog Targeting Gary Miller

I'm involved in a new site called Trash Dirty Gary, a netroots attempt to shine a light on the corrupt dealings of Inland Empire/Orange County Congressman Gary Miller, one of the biggest sleazebags on Capitol Hill. I just distilled all my previous posts on Miller into one monster to get everyone up to date on what this guy's been doing with his office.

This effort is along the lines of Say No To Pombo and Dump Doolittle, and hopefully by continuing an insistent focus on Miller and his actions we can energize support throughout the local community and spur a challenge. Go check it out.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Quick Hits

Think I'll just do a little wrap-up and call it a day.

• John Edwards has taken the lead by pulling out of the CBC debate to be broadcast on Fox News. Edwards is definitely positioning himself as the movement candidate, as well as the one standing for bold, transformational change which appeals to populists and the rank-and-file. This is something to watch, and at this moment I do give him the inside track.

• I have hit Fabian Nuñez for a variety of reasons, but the grief he's taking for his support of the Compassionate Choices Act, being called a proprietor of the "culture of death" and worse by Catholic leaders. This demonization is so unhelpful, and obscures the point that the terminal should be allowed to choose their own fate and end their own suffering. I support Nuñez' stand on this one.

• The head of the General Services Administration, Lurita Doan, last seen so paranoid by the House Oversight Committee that she asked aides to take her drinking glass, is now under an investigation into politicizing the GSA which should have a subheading of "easiest investigation in the history of ever."

• Drug companies spent $155 million lobbying Congress over the past year and a half, a new record. And we wonder how things like the Medicare Bill gets passed with riders like "the federal government cannot bargain with pharmaceuticals for lower drug prices."

• More bullshit from the government that claims to keep us safe.

The Bush administration announced new security requirements for the nation's high-risk chemical plants yesterday, capping years of internal debate over industrial regulations following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks [...]

Congressional Democrats, state officials and environmental groups said the rules will undercut stronger state laws and block future efforts to limit the threat.

The federal rules do not set a timetable for changes or require the industry to take specific measures, such as switching to less hazardous chemicals or "inherently safer technology," as New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine (D) has proposed. They give the homeland security secretary discretion to decide which plants pose a high risk.

• Sen. Whitehouse becomes the ninth Senator to support the Feingold-Reid proposal to cut funding for the war if the President vetoes the current spending bill. Courageous.

• In Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai is claiming that he has met with Taliban leaders to stop the violence, and the Taliban denied it. What exactly is going on there? Is Karzai trying to burnish his fundamentalist bona fides? Is it because he has to do so? Weird.

• If Wal-Mart is spending so much money and trying so hard to cozy up to Democrats, maybe they could explain why they spy on their own workers, critics, vendors and consultants. I would think a political party that generally likes and respects workers would want to know.

• Arianna Huffington makes a great point about how the Presidential candidates have been completely silent about the drug war. Of course, the last President or nominee who even mentioned the drug war at all was George Bush I in 1988.

• Finally, Republicans hate pigeons and are beholden to the anti-pigeon agenda.

This time, city warriors hope a new tactic will turn the tide against the downtown menaces. Their plan: Lure the birds to new rooftop nesting grounds and then steal their eggs.

"We'll build them little condos. We'll keep taking the eggs, and they won't have little ones," said Bill Stephenson, the city's animal control supervisor. "Slowly they'll die off, I guess."

The pigeon problem is just one of many housecleaning chores the city is tackling in advance of the Republican National Convention, which will come to the Xcel Energy Center next year. Flocks of pigeons have laid down their glop on skyway ledges and sidewalks and have sullied downtown's image, officials and property owners say.

You're either with us or you're with the pigeons.



Grocery Workers Contract Update

Just in from the UFCW:

Last Wednesday, in the middle of negotiations and with no notice whatsoever to our union negotiators, Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons announced to the press their intention to punish their workers and customers by locking out all of their employees if a limited strike is called against any of the markets.

Despite this needless provocation and attempt to intimidate us, we are still committed to working out our differences and getting an agreement at the bargaining table. That is why we agreed to resume negotiations with the employers after a cooling-off period suggested by the federal mediator.

Ultimately, we consider the employers' threats and intimidation a sign of desperation. They know that public opinion and momentum are on our side, and this latest move is simply a heavy-handed attempt to shift blame.

The chains used the same tactic of locking out employees during the last strike. Pretty interesting that they appear to understand the concept of strength through unity, no? But even more interesting is how the UFCW is counteracting this:

The Markets: "Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons are each negotiating individual contracts with each of the seven UFCW locals -- a total of 21 separate contracts."

The Truth: UFCW is negotiating with each of the markets separately to prevent them from forming potentially illegal “mutual aid pacts” like they did in 2003, a scheme still under investigation by the California Attorney General. The claimed 21 separate meetings are unnecessary and the markets demanded this as a delaying tactic. Stater Bros. and Gelsons negotiated fair contracts with UFCW without meeting each local separately, and if they could do it, so can Albertsons, Vons and Ralphs.

We know that April 9 is the day that the contract extension runs out. We'll have to wait and see what transpires in this weekend's contract talks before we know if there will be another strike.

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Bye Monica

Monica Goodling is resigning from the Department of Justice. Yet another shoe drops in the one big scandal that is the Bush Administration. She probably thinks that Congressional Democrats will leave her alone now, but to do so would short-circuit the investigation. She's not done by a long shot.

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The Right Must Be Thrilled

Turns out that the British sailors detained by Iran were indeed tortured, just like the wingnuts wanted.


“…On arrival at a small Iranian naval base we were blindfolded, stripped of all our kit and led to a room where I (Lieutenant Carman) declared myself as the officer in charge and was introduced to their local commander.

…Two hours later, we were moved to a second location and throughout the night were subjected to random interrogation.

…The questions were aggressive and the handling rough, but it was no worse than that.

…The following morning, we were flown to Tehran and transported to a prison - where the atmosphere changed completely.

…We were blindfolded, our hands were bound, we were forced up against the wall. Throughout our ordeal we faced constant psychological pressure.

…Later, we were stripped and dressed in pyjamas. The next few nights were spent in stone cells approximately 8ft by 6ft, sleeping on piles of blankets.”

The shame of this, outside of idiot righty bloggers welcoming torture because the sailors didn't look like they were resisting enough (which would have gotten them killed), is that we literally have no moral standing to cry foul, giving the chronicles of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. This is a point made often by Democrats over the years, never so forcefully than by Joe Biden to John Ashcroft in 2004:

"There's a reason why we sign these treaties," Senator Joseph R. Biden, Democrat of Delaware, reminded Ashcroft at the hearing. "To protect my son in the military. That's why we have these treaties, so when Americans are captured, they are not tortured."

That extends to allies, who we've also put in greater danger. Hopefully, everyone on the right that pushed this is very pleased with themselves. Since it serves to affirm their own twisted notions about how they just knew that Muslims were torturers, I'm sure they are.

UPOATE: On the heels of this announcement, today's New York Times story is particularly revolting, practically accusing these soldiers of being collaborators when they were trying to stay alive.

UPDATE II: By the way, conditions at Guantanamo are worsening. Our moral standing is shot.

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GOP 2008: Doesn't Anyone Here Want To Win This Thing

I'm beginning to think that the only viable contenders to win the Republican nomination are Fred Thompson or a soon-to-be-revived Sonny Bono, or whatever other actor they can dig up. Because the current crop of candidates are really a bunch of losers, and they've collectively had a terrible week, by any objective rendering. Here's the report from the front-runners.

• Front-runner Rudy Giuliani came close to ending his candidacy this week by announcing his support for public funding of abortion, which I'm not even sure I support. Conservatives in South Carolina will have a slightly more extreme opinion than I. The National Review is already all over him.

• John McCain is still reeling from his career-ending stroll through Baghdad, with another member of his core constituency, the media, calling him out:

It's disgraceful for a man seeking highest office, I think, to talk utter rubbish. And that is utter rubbish. It's electoral propaganda. It is simply not true. No one in his right mind who has been to Baghdad believes that story.

Now, McCain and some other senators were there on Sunday, and they claimed, "Oh, we walked around for a whole hour…and we drove in from the airport. Gosh, aren't we great, we drove in from the airport." Excuse me, Mr. McCain, you drove in in a large convoy of heavily armed vehicles. The last one had a sign on it saying "Keep back 100 yards. Deadly force authorized." Every single car that they approached or passed pulled over and stopped, because that's the way it is. When one of those security details goes by, every ordinary person gets the hell out of the way, in case they get shot.

It's getting so bleak for McCain that reporters are credibly talking about his dropping out. Of course, they wrote that about John Kerry too before he won the nomination. But McCain's difficulties, especially his enduring support for a failed occupation in Iraq through willful lying, are going to be near-impossible to transcend.

• And Mitt Romney, this week's "juggernaut" due to his fundraising numbers (which include a $2 million-plus personal loan to himself), has hurt himself with his statement that he's "a lifelong hunter," when "lifelong" apparently means twice in his entire life, 45 years apart. I guess by this standard, I am a "lifelong gun enthusiast" because my dad took me to a shooting range when I was 11. This seems like a minor point, but once you get that mojo as a serial fabricator on you, it's hard to get off, particularly where the media is concerned. Just ask Al Gore.

I really think that the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination at this point is "VACANT."

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You Go To Court With The Loyal Bushies You Have

Steve Benen finds more evidence that the real scandal with the fired US Attorneys were the ones who were allowed to stay.

Federal judges Thursday ruled that former state purchasing supervisor Georgia L. Thompson was wrongly convicted of making sure a state travel contract went to a firm linked to Gov. Jim Doyle’s re-election campaign and freed her from an Illinois prison.

The three-judge panel in Chicago acted with unusual speed, ruling after oral arguments by Thompson’s attorney and the U.S. attorney’s office.

During 26 minutes of oral arguments, all three judges assailed the government’s case, with Judge Diane Wood saying at one point that “the evidence is beyond thin.”

During a news conference later Thursday, Doyle, a former state attorney general, said the three judges did an “extraordinary thing” by entering an order finding Thompson innocent and ordering her immediate release.(emphasis added)

The man who wrongly convicted Ms. Thompson on the basis of such thin evidence was U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic. This indictment of Thompson occurred a few days after Jim Doyle's unsuccessful Republican opponent Mark Green jumped into the race and won the GOP nomination. Here's Benen's summary of the case:

I’ll spare you the minutiae of the case, but here’s the story in a nutshell: Thompson, who was originally hired under Doyle’s Republican predecessor, awarded a state contract to Adelman Travel, which became controversial because two of the company’s officers had donated the state maximum to Doyle’s re-election campaign.

There was no evidence that Thompson personally profited from the contract and nothing to suggest she approved the contract for political reasons. Biskupic brought charges anyway and managed to win a conviction, which was thrown out swiftly yesterday.

Steven Biskupic is obviously not the only sitting US Attorney with a cloud over him. We know that New Jersey's USA Chris Christie has investigated Democrats at a rate 3-4 times higher than Republicans, and that he stepped into the Menendez-Kean Senate race last year to push investigations into Sen. Menendez that were dubious. And today we hear about US Attorney for Minnesota Rachel Paulose, four of whose staff voluntarily quit:

It’s a major shakeup at the offices of new U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose.
Four of her top staff voluntarily demoted themselves Thursday, fed up with Paulose, who, after just months on the job, has earned a reputation for quoting Bible verses and dressing down underlings.

Paulose was appointed before the 8 U.S. Attorneys were given their pink slips, but she has deep connections to the scandal.

She was a special assistant to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, worked as a senior counsel for deputy attorney general Paul McNulty and is best buds with Monica Goodling – the assistant U.S. Attorney who recently took the Fifth rather than testify before Congress.

Add to the suspicions the fact that Minnesota’s former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger stepped down just as the White House was developing its hit list.

And Steve Benen mentions a few more cases that are more than a little odd:

* In New Hampshire, Democrats want Congress to investigate whether prosecution of a Republican phone-jamming scheme on Election Day 2002 was intentionally delayed until after the presidential election two years later.

* Did the U.S. Attorney’s office in Pennsylvania intentionally target Bob Casey allies to undermine his Senate campaign against Rick Santorum?

* Why was the career U.S. Attorney in Guam removed in 2002 after he started investigating disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff?

* Why has Western Pennsylvania’s U.S. attorney, Mary Beth Buchanan, spent a disproportionate amount of her time launching public-corruption investigations against Democrats, while overlooking Republicans?

* In July 2005, the U.S. Attorney in Denver decided not to pursue a matter in which bouncers at a Bush event impersonated Secret Service agents to throw out three law-abiding ticket-holders because of their bumper sticker (the Denver Three controversy). Did politics dictate the decision?

I would add the case of Debra Wong Yang, who, after opening an investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis, was bought out for $1.5 million dollars and hired by... the law firm representing Rep. Lewis.

Now, Alberto Gonzales is hemhorraging support on Capitol Hill, and his initial testimony to clear his name has been delayed to twist the knife even more and give the Senate Judiciary Committee more time to investigate all these threads.
But the real result of this scandal is that it has irreparably damaged the credibility of the Justice Department and its field offices, both in the public eye and potentially in court cases. Nobody can look at US Attorney indictments without a jaundiced eye; this latest case in Wisconsin proves it. And a record is now being built of politically motivated corruption cases, so that when an actual corrupt Democrat comes before a court, his lawyers can credibly argue that this was a political witch hunt and as a result the case should be dropped.

This is a cancer to the legal system that will be difficult to wash out, even with a Democrat in the White House and the Justice Department. You know that you can see freshly-scrubbed Federalist Society lawyers arguing in court that all corruption cases they defend are political witch hunts. Of course, we see that already. But now there's evidence that this was the case. Having politics creep into the administration of justice is terribly damaging for the future of the country.

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Vein-Popping Alert

So, yeah, Billo blew a gasket last night.

And Geraldo had to be the voice of reason, bizarrely enough, explaining that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than citizens. He could have added that immigrants are the only people propping up US cities from a total collapse in population (though I think this discounts gentrification and urban renewal a bit, which is happening, if not all over), as well as the fact that even illegal immigrants pay money to have their taxes done.

When the bashers of brown people harp on how much money immigrants take out of the economy, they never mention how much they put into it, which is substantial. I believe in vigorous workplace enforcement, especially once a comprehensive solution is reached, but I can't countenance this constant demonization of the other that drives one side of the immigration debate. It's simple scapegoating.

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Friday Random Ten

Working from home today, and can't find my USB connector to the laptop at the moment, so I actually have to go the earbud route to get the crucial iPod information, rather than listen in the car. The things I do for y'all...

Stand On Your Own Head - They Might Be Giants
Buena - Morphine
Black Horse And The Cherry Tree - KT Tunstall
Too Drunk To Fuck - Nouvelle Vague
I Don't Live Today - Jimi Hendrix
Eugene's Lament - The Beastie Boys
Perfect Way - Sebadoh
The Last One Standing - Ladytron
She Bangs The Drums - The Stone Roses
Esa Banda en Dub - Panoptica (Nortec Collective)


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Wherein I Round Up Some Horrors From Iraq

Now that it's as clear as mud why we went to Iraq, maybe we should take a look at what's been happening there over the past few days.

• Turns out the Iraqi government is modeled on American democracy after all. Just as the Coalition Provisional Authority lost $8 billion dollars when they were in power, so too has the Iraqi government misplaced the same amount.

Iraq's top corruption fighter said Wednesday that $8 billion in government money was wasted or stolen over the past three years and claimed he was threatened with death after opening an investigation into scores of Oil Ministry employees.

Radi al-Radhi, who runs the Public Integrity Commission, leads one of the more dangerous missions in the country. He said in an interview with The Associated Press that 20 members of the organization have been murdered since it began its work.

In perhaps the most publicized recent case, an estimated $2 billion disappeared from funds to rebuild the electricity infrastructure.

Former Electricity Minister Ayham al-Samaraie, who holds both U.S. and Iraqi citizenship, was convicted in that case and sentenced to two years in prison. He escaped from an Iraqi-run jail in the Green Zone on Dec. 17 and turned up in Chicago on Jan. 15. Al-Samaraie has said the Americans helped him escape.

Al-Radhi said the commission has investigated about 2,600 corruption cases since it was established in March 2004, a few months before the United States returned sovereignty to Iraq. He estimated $8 billion has vanished or been misappropriated.

This kind of corruption is endemic to a war zone. When warlords can kill anyone who questions them, of course they're going to steal and dare anyone to say different. Al-Radhi is a special kind of hero, while the Iraqi government is the kind of kleptocracy you'd expect to be nominally in charge of such chaos.

• We've lost 8 soldiers in the past 3 days in Iraq, and four British soldiers died as well in an ambush. Meanwhile, a report from an incident in February suggests that two Americans died from friendly fire, both of whom were rushed into the field without adequate training. Here's Nitpicker:

For those of you with no military experience, imagine your kid gets her driver's license having spent only the bare minimum of time behind the wheel of a car. Wouldn't you feel better if, before she got out on the interstate, you could give her four weeks of realistic test driving with a car made of rubber, highly-skilled instructors and ready access to the latest info on how to survive in different types of traffic?

Now add guns. And IEDs.

• In the war at home, Rudy Giuliani is now urging compromise like the statesman he is, a statement he must have made before saying that the President has an inherent authority to fund the troops even if Congress doesn't give up the money. I'm a bit confused on his rhetoric. And a big story on Wednesday revealed that unrelated pork has been a part of Iraq spending bills since the war began, which doesn't necessarily make it right, but does add context. Particularly of interest are the number of earmarks inserted into these bills by the President himself.

"Frankly, I don't see a lot of vote-buying here. And if that was what they were after in some cases, it didn't seem to work," said Scott Lilly, who was a longtime senior House Appropriations Committee aide and is now at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress.

The president's own request last year for emergency war spending included $20 billion for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery, $2.3 billion for bird flu preparations, and $2 billion to fortify the border with Mexico and pay for his effort to send National Guardsmen to the southern frontier.

Sadly, that's pretty much how the sausage is made in Washington, and while I objected to some of the spending because it gave the Republicans a talking point, I understand that you sometimes try to get worthwhile projects into bills that you know will eventually pass. The dishonesty of the White House, meanwhile, who put up a list of earmarks from the 109th Congress WITHOUT INCLUDING THEIR OWN, is predictable but saddening.

Now you can get on with your day.

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No Relationship

There are still PLENTY of Bush defenders who insist, as the Vice President did yesterday, that Saddam Hussein had a working relationship with Al Qaeda. That list got one smaller yesterday, as the Defense Department's report on Doug Feith's alternative intelligence shop revealed this:

...the inspector general's report, in a footnote, commented that it is "noteworthy . . . that post-war debriefs of Sadaam Hussein, [former Iraqi foreign minister] Tariq Aziz, [former Iraqi intelligence minister Mani al-Rashid] al Tikriti, and [senior al-Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh] al-Libi, as well as document exploitation by [the Defense Intelligence Agency] all confirmed that the Intelligence Community was correct: Iraq and al-Qaida did not cooperate in all categories" alleged by Feith's office.

From these sources, the report added, "the terms the Intelligence Community used to describe the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida were validated, [namely] 'no conclusive signs,' and 'direct cooperation . . . has not been established.' "

So the CIA was right all along in describing the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda as nonexistent. In 2002 putting that question to the public would probably get 80-90% in the affirmative, because it was a central case for war. Even NOW it's a central case for staying, indirectly, as the spin goes that because of September 11, we cannot leave a safe haven for terrorists, yadda yadda yadda (Even though, of course, there are vast swaths of Waziristan which are, you know, safe havens for terrorists). The truth is that it was all wrapped up into a big lie, and a KNOWING one, as the intelligence community was well aware that there was no collaborative relationship, in addition to their doubts about WMD. This is the strongest indication yet that Doug Feith's shop was literally designed to rewrite history, to fix the intelligence around the policy. More than anything, this is why there will be no second chance on Iraq with the American public. It's because it began in bad faith, and so it will end the same way.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Good News on the Voting Front

In addition to the big picture stuff of the widening fundraising gap for Democrats, and the enormous generic ballot edge for Democrats, some of the mechanics of voting in the states are favoring Democrats - and democracy - as well.

First of all, as another continuing sign that Florida's new Republican governor Charlie Crist is a sensible guy after all, he approved returning the franchise to some felons after they serve out their sentences.

Most Florida felons will regain voting and other civil rights more quickly after completing their sentences under changes approved Thursday by the governor and the state clemency board.

Republican Gov. Charlie Crist pushed the change, saying the rights to vote, hold office and serve on a jury were fundamental to being part of a democratic society.

Florida was one of three U.S. states, along with Kentucky and Virginia, that required ex-felons to take action to restore their civil rights no matter how long they had been out of prison. Other states have waiting periods before restoration, though most restore rights automatically when felons complete their sentence.

This brings Florida into the 21st century. Remember that purging reputed felons from the voting rolls in 2000 was a key to the Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris-engineered "victory" in the Sunshine State for

Add this to the news that Iowa, one of only two states to flip blue to red in 2004, approved same-day registration today.

Gov. Chet Culver signed a bill Tuesday that allows voters to register on Election Day, ending the 10-day cutoff for registration.

"Here in Iowa, we want to make it as easy as possible for Iowans to be involved in the democratic process. This bill achieves this goal," Culver said in a statement.

The bill requires voters to present photo identification if they register on Election Day. This is not required for registration at other times.

Both are important. Same-day registration increases turnout everywhere it's been tried, and many claim it provided the difference in Wisconsin in 2004. Throw in the fact that the other state to go blue to red in 2004 may have a native son on the ticket (in the 2nd spot, one imagines), and the electoral map looks better and better.

And here's the point I want to make. A democratic society should be as open and welcoming with extending the franchise as possible. Whether it's allowing those who have paid their debt to society to return to it, or giving American citizens as low a barrier to entry as possible to casting a ballot, these things are vital to the vibrancy and continued success of our country. So it's not so much about improving chances for Democrats as it is making sure everyone in this country has an equal voice, at least for one day.

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Darrell Issa Hearts Terrorists!!1!!!

This Pelosi-to-Syria story has gotten totally ridiculous. Now we have a Republican lawmaker, Darrell Issa of California, not only meeting with the Syrian leader, but criticizing the Administration in the same breath:

Commenting on Bush’s criticism, California Republican Darrell Issa said the president had failed to promote the necessary dialogue to resolve disagreements between the U.S. and Syria.

“That’s an important message to realize: We have tensions, but we have two functioning embassies,” Issa told reporters after separate meetings with Assad and his foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem.

Republican leaders are now actually arguing that it's OK for Congressmen in their Party to visit Syria but not Pelosi because she's... because she's a Democrat.

They're actually going ahead and arguing this now. They're making the It's OK If You're A Republican (IOKIYAR) theory into OFFICIAL STATED POLICY.

Wow. Just wow. Sometimes it doesn't pay to blog - this stuff is so self-evident.

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Getting Called On Their Crap

Pretty ballsy move by the Democratic National Committee. They're sanctioning six debates, one per month, leading up to the primaries, and they just announced that none of them will be on Fox News, including the one set up by the Congressional Black Caucus.

It's tough to go against the CBC but this is the right move. For too long there has been literally no accountability for what Fox News has done with its biased reporting and Republican propaganda. The last time they ran a Democratic debate it was a nightmare. If they hold the microphones, if they control the cameras, then they control how the candidates are presented. Jesse Jackson has joined a chorus of African-American bloggers and new-media types in slamming the CBC's decision, which may have been motivated through News Corp. donations to them.

The Democratic Party is now branding and headlining the effort to marginalize Fox News, and to call it exactly what it is.

It truly is a new day.

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We Are All Feckless Legislators Now

Very bizarre and weird proposal by Don Perata in Sac'to today. He wants to put a nonbinding "Out of Iraq" resolution on the California state ballot for the Presidential primary on Feb. 5, 2008. Got a website and everything. Here's part of the press release:

BERKELEY - California would become the first state in the nation to call on President Bush to immediately withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq under legislation unveiled today by Senate President pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland).

Frustrated by the Bush Administration's failure to end the war after more than four years, Perata announced plans to place an advisory measure on California's statewide ballot as part of next year's February 5th presidential primary.

"We've had nearly 3,300 Americans killed and spent more than $350 billion, with no end in sight," Perata said. "We've established a democratic government in Iraq, now it's up to the Iraqis to make it work. With the possible exception of George Bush, we all know it's time to go."

"We moved up California's Presidential Primary to make our vote matter. Let's take that same opportunity to tell the President where California stands on Iraq - and ask every presidential candidate to stand with us," Perata said. "If we convince other states to join us, we can make February 5th a national referendum to end this war."

Look, there are binding resolutions being discussed in the Congress right now. If Perata would like to support them and encourage others to do the same, all to the good. But waiting until Feburary 2008 to make a statement already passed by representatives in Congress a year earlier is useless.

I'm more interested in the question of why Perata would pull this silliness. Maybe the CDP wants to show it's doing something on Iraq to satisfy the Progressive Caucus. Maybe they know that there are nearly 100 Iraq resolutions ready to go to committee. Maybe they're trying to placate the base. I don't know.

How about the Legislature and the CDP vowing to cut fundraising efforts for any CA Congressional lawmaker not on board with binding language getting the US out of Iraq? That might ACTUALLY make a dime's worth of difference.

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The Myth of the Sci-Fi Solution

This week-old article in the Christian Science Monitor (actually a decent paper) has been nagging at me. I feel like this represents science trying to hit a 465-foot home run when all that is needed are some opposite-field singles. It seems to me like there's too much effort put into stopping global warming with "the big idea" rather than with a series of little ideas. In addition, this search for the big idea ignores the elephant in the room, that it's global dependence on fossil fuels that is the real problem, and no amount of giant space mirrors or atmospheric carbon vacuums or massive algae blooms is going to really change that.

I'd like to think that there's some technological "killer app" that can make global warming obsolete, but it just doesn't seem like the best way to address the issue. This is science as practiced in Hollywood movies ("We can push the asteroid BACK into space with a giant slingshot!") rather than one applicable to the present day. I agree with Bill McKibben, quoted in the article:

But others say the discussion over mitigation seems to have gotten ahead of itself. Why talk about fixing symptoms when we have the technology to address the root cause? "There's no getting around the fact that we're in a very desperate situation," says Bill McKibben, author of "The End of Nature" and more recently "Deep Economy." But "before geoengineering, let's do a little policy engineering first."


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All You Need To Know About The National Popular Vote

E.J. Dionne's for it.

David Broder's against it.

'Nuff said.

I could add that Broder doesn't want to see the Electoral College go away because it was his idea, but that would be mean. But mocking Broder's actual position, that the EC should be preserved because "No one knows" what would happen without it - that's literally his entire argument - is well within the bounds of acceptable discourse.

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Ooh, Alberto

One thing you gotta give to Abu Gonzales: he's a fighter.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has retreated from public view this week in an intensive effort to save his job, spending hours practicing testimony and phoning lawmakers for support in preparation for pivotal appearances in the Senate this month, according to administration officials.

After struggling for weeks to explain the extent of his involvement in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, Gonzales and his aides are viewing the Senate testimony on April 12 and April 17 as seriously as if it were a confirmation proceeding for a Supreme Court or a Cabinet appointment, officials said.

Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, and Timothy E. Flanigan, who worked for Gonzales at the White House, have met with the attorney general to plot strategy. The department has scheduled three days of rigorous mock testimony sessions next week and Gonzales has placed phone calls to more than a dozen GOP lawmakers seeking support, officials said.

I would suggest that this kind of intense lobbying and preparation is kind of a disqualification in and of itself. If you have to take off time from your job and spend weeks coming up with an explanation of why you should keep it, you probably shouldn't have it in the first place.

Of course, Abu G didn't want it this way. He wanted to testify immediately... I mean, as soon as Kyle Sampson did, anyway:

The White House said Monday that Gonzales' testimony cannot come too fast for the besieged attorney general to explain his explanations about the firings that Democrats contend were politically motivated.

"Look, the attorney general thinks it's in everyone's best interest — and we agree with him — that he be able to get up and talk to Congress sooner than later," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

"I think the American people would like to see us resolve this, so that we can move on and work on other things. So we'd like to see the hearing moved up to next week," Perino said.

Of course, the Attorney General stonewalled the committee for weeks until he had some discrepancies to clean up from the Sampson hearing. And if the White House and the Justice Department really wanted this to go away, they'd compel Monica Goodling to testify instead of pleading the Fifth, which apparently is happening because of Goodling's role at the DoJ:

As White House liaison, Goodling was part of a small cadre of senior Justice officials responsible for vetting U.S. Attorneys, a position that became far more significant after the 2006 reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, which gave Justice authority to install interim U.S. Attorneys without congressional approval. She played a central role in the appointment of her one-time boss J. Timothy Griffin, who replaced ousted U.S. Attorney H.E. "Bud" Cummins III in Arkansas. Beyond that, she wielded significant power in determining which U.S. Attorneys would go -- or stay [...]

Interviews for U.S. Attorney replacements took place with only a handful of people: David Margolis, the department's top-ranking career official and a 40-plus year veteran; a member of the White House Counsel's Office; the head of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys; and Goodling.

Charles Miller, whom Gonzales appointed as interim U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, interviewed with the panel in the fall of 2005. "They asked me what I'd done to support the president," Miller says. It wasn't a question Miller expected. He told them he'd voted for Bush.

But a former prosecutor who did not get a U.S. Attorney post was left with a sour feeling after his interview in 2006. "Monica was in charge, in essence, of the interview," recalls the former supervisory assistant U.S. Attorney. "I walked out of that room and thought, 'Wow, I've just run into a buzz saw.'"

If Goodling was using political tests for jobs at the Justice Department, she was violating federal law. The House Judiciary Committee has looked at her request to take the Fifth and deemed it without merit.

"We are concerned that several of the asserted grounds for refusing to testify do not satisfy the well-established bases for a proper invocation of the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination," the two Democrats on the Judiciary Committee wrote. "The Fifth Amendment privilege, under long-standing Supreme Court precedents, does not provide a reason to fail to appear to testify; the privilege must be invoked by the witness on a question-by-question basis." [...]

"The fact that a few Senators and Members of the House have expressed publicly their doubts about the credibility of the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General in their representations to Congress about the U.S. Attorneys' termination does not in any way excuse your client from answering questions honestly and to the best of her ability," Conyers and Sánchez explained.

The more information that the respective Judiciary Committees can get from Goodling and the several other DoJ officials who testified behind closed doors late last week, the more informed they can be in hearings with Gonzales. Emptywheel thinks that Abu G was trying to move up his testimony before the Congress got any of this information. But there's little chance of that now (except for holding off Goodling), and so he's going to war with the evidence they have. And despite his lobbying efforts, Gonzales doesn't even have the support of his own party:

Several House Republicans are scoffing at Justice Department assertions that a principal reason for several of the dismissals was that the lawyers were not aggressively prosecuting immigration violations.

"It stretches anybody's credibility to suggest that this administration would have retaliated against U.S. attorneys for not enforcing immigration laws," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, told The Washington Times. "This administration itself is so lax in its attitude towards immigration laws and controlling the border."

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, said he didn't think immigration cases had "a single thing to do with" the firings.

"I really just think it was political -- filling political jobs with political appointees," said Mr. Tancredo, who is running for president mostly on his stand against illegal aliens.

An aide to House Republican leadership agreed that the Justice Department's explanation for the firings is hard to believe.

"I don't think Republicans buy that," said the aide.

In the meantime, with everyone against him, Gonzales trains... and waits. As Paul Kiel said, you can almost hear "Eye of the Tiger" playing in the background.

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The reason the Founders granted the Presidential power of the recess appointment is because Congressmen would have long periods outside of Washington and there was no bullet train or airplane to get them back quickly if an important position needed to be filled. Surely the recess appointment was not supposed to be an end run around the advise and consent clause of the Constitution. Yet George W. has used the recess appointment clause over 100 times to put through radicals who would not win a vote of confirmation in the Senate. Not only was Sam Fox, Swift-Boat funder, made ambassador to Belgium on this recess appointment, but an advocate for Social Security privatization was made deputy commissioner of Social Security, and an anti-regulatory maven put in charge of regulatory policy at the Office of Management and Budget.

Bush may be a CEO President, but he certainly governs like a lawyer, looking for any loophole in the Constitution to allow him to do what he wants. These loopholes are seen as idiosynchracies from a bygone age, but shouldn't they be closed by now? Would there EVER be a situation when an emergency recess appointment would have to be made? When you couldn't get the Senate back in session for its confirmation duties? Of course not.

We pretty much need a new Constitutional Convention in this country to take a look at everything once again. That's the REAL legacy of this President.

P.S. Apparently the Sam Fox appointment may be illegal:

To fight the Fox appointment, Democrats are questioning the Bush administration's plan to have Fox serve in a voluntary capacity -- receiving no pay for his duties as ambassador. This is an important legal technicality, as federal law prohibits "payment of services" for certain recess appointments. However, if the recess appointee in question agrees that he or she will take an unpaid position and not sue the government at a later date for compensation, then the appointment can go forward, at least as the White House sees it.

So as long as Fox -- a multi-millionaire -- agreed not to sue the Bush administration later for not paying him, the White House would be comfortable with giving him an unpaid, "voluntary service" recess appointment as ambassador to Belgium.

But here's the rub that makes Democrats view Bush's recess appointment of Fox as a major-league no-no: Federal law prohibits "voluntary service" in cases where the position in question has a fixed rate of pay, as an ambassadorship does. That's how the Government Accountability Office, an arm of the Democratic-controlled Congress, interprets the law.

In other words, according to senior Democratic Senate aides, the salary is a "statutory entitlement" and cannot be waived. While Fox would not be receiving a salary, he would still be entitled to live in government-owned housing and receive other benefits due any ambassador.

"How to reconcile this clear conflict between the pay restriction, which says that Fox cannot be paid, with the voluntary services provision, which says that the State Department cannot accept voluntary services from Fox?" queried one senior Democratic aide who asked for anonymity to speak frankly about the matter.

"That is the $64,000 question," he added.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

ACTION ALERT: Cabrillo Port LNG Terminal Hearing Next Monday

It is very critical that everyone in Southern California who is interested in breathing decent air at some point in the next century attends a meeting on Monday, April 9 in Oxnard. The details on the meeting here:

California State Lands Commission Hearing:
Monday, April 9, 2007
Location: Oxnard Performing Arts Center
800 Hobson Way, Oxnard, CA 93030
Times: 10:00am and 5:00pm

The largest mining company in the world, BHP Billiton, wants to build a massive LNG (liquefied natural gas) storage and processing terminal 14 miles off the coast of Malibu, at the Los Angeles/Ventura County line. This fossil fuel terminal is not necessary; the US has plenty of natural gas reserves, and this terminal would mainly import natural gas from abroad for processing. What this terminal would do is:

• cause 20 "Class One" impacts to air and water quality, public safety, marine wildlife, views, recreation, noise, and agriculture;

• based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates, "the Cabrillo Port project will emit over 200 tons of smog-producing pollutants (NOx and ROC) each year," which would make it the largest smog-producing polluter in Ventura County.

• put a giant terrorist target 14 miles off the coast of Los Angeles and Ventura counties;

• be a fixture off the Pacific coast for at least the next 40 years (actually, the license has no firm expiration date, so this could be forever or until California falls into the sea, whichever comes first).

There's much more here.

Despite the EPA draft report on the environmental impact of this terminal, the agency actually reversed its initial position and granted BHP Billiton an exemption from Clean Air Act restrictions, enabling them to continue moving forward. At this point, all that can stop this project... is you.

The April 9 meeting in Oxnard will be one of the last opportunities for public comment on the LNG Terminal project. Staff members of the California Coastal Commission are recommending rejecting this project, and local lawmakers are fighting to keep BHP Billiton off the coast. But the State Lands Commission will be vital to making the decision. There are actually two statewide elected Democrats that sit on this baord: Lt. Governor John Garamendi and State Controller John Chiang. Based on what I've heard from activists, NEITHER HAS COMMITTED to blocking this proposal. They need to be heard from.

Lt. Governor John Garamendi
(916) 445-8994

California State Controller John Chiang
(916) 445-2636

In addition, if all else fails, the Governor can show his commitment to the environment by vetoing the proposal, and you can tell him why he should at the link.

We need to mass support to get this destructive environmental hazard away from our coastline. I'll be attending the April 9 meeting and will have a full report.

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Fun Story About How All The Bees Are Dying And We're Fucked

Pleasant evening reading, a couple months old, but the first I've seen of it.

A mysterious illness is killing tens of thousands of honeybee colonies across the country, threatening honey production, the livelihood of beekeepers and possibly crops that need bees for pollination.

Researchers are scrambling to find the cause of the ailment, called Colony Collapse Disorder.

Reports of unusual colony deaths have come from at least 22 states. Some affected commercial beekeepers - who often keep thousands of colonies - have reported losing more than 50 percent of their bees. A colony can have roughly 20,000 bees in the winter, and up to 60,000 in the summer.

"We have seen a lot of things happen in 40 years, but this is the epitome of it all," Dave Hackenberg, of Lewisburg-based Hackenberg Apiaries, said by phone from Fort Meade, Fla., where he was working with his bees.

As much as we humans think we lord dominion over all of Earth's living creatures, actually no, we're as dependent on nature's ecosystem as all the rest. And if all the bees die, we lose three-quarters of all flowering plants. The reason for this mass death of the bee population is as yet unknown. There's more discussion here.

Environmentalists aren't seen so much as wackos anymore, but that's due mainly to the issue of climate change. There are dozens of other ways in which our presence on this planet, and more important, what we have decided to do to it, has had an extremely negative impact. We pollute rivers and oceans and send billows of smoke into the air and drill every last morsel of petroleum out of the ground, and we stumble around thinking that we're übermensches and that none of this will ever come back to bite us in the ass.

Wrong again, Ronald. And while technology is on our side, the willingness of man to refuse to hold himself responsible for his actions is not.

(h/t Brendan)

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Headline of the Year

Stones star denies snorting ashes

Mainly because Keith Richards HAS TO DENY snorting his father's ashes with coke.

As a stand-up I used to know once said, "Keith Richards did drugs so you don't have you."

P.S. On a somewhat related musical note, I'm completely obsessed with Hype Machine and may stop blogging in favor of downloading mp3s. Yeah, I'm late to the party, I know.

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Shadow Government

Since when did Suzanne Malveaux become Karl Rove's sock puppet? She's spent the past several days helming CNN's Situation Room, during which she has called Nancy Pelosi "the most controversial speaker yet," asserted that opposing the war is a bad strategy for Democrats, and then busted out with these greatest hits:

Here she is in a comfy chat with shit-canned former UN ambassador John Bolton about Speaker Pelosi's trip to Israel and Syria:

MALVEAUX: Do you think that this also perhaps portends to something that might happen in the future? I'm being somewhat flip. But, you know, Syria today, Iran tomorrow, I mean, where does it end?

BOLTON: I think that's part of the problem.

Additional comments to Paul Begala on Speaker Pelosi's trip:

MALVEAUX: Now, Paul, she has no standing officially to do any negotiations here. She is on her own. I mean, if Syria was serious about peace, they would be reaching out to Secretary Rice or the president. Why isn't this any more than a political theater? What can she accomplish?

For a moment, let's dispense with the notion that these comments are right out of an RNC fax list (which they are). It's no surprise that Malveaux doesn't read the foreign press, but it appears that Pelosi actually is accomplishing something in Damascus, at the behest of the Israeli government, who clearly trusts her more than Condi Rice:

Israel's political and military leadership has been preparing in recent weeks for the possibility of a Syrian attack on the Golan Heights that will start as a result of a "miscalculation" on the part of the Syrians, who may assume that Israel intends to attack them.

Israel, however, has delivered a calming message, and has no plans to attack its northern neighbor.

According to information Israel received, the Syrians are concerned that the United States will carry out an attack against Iran's nuclear installations in the summer, and in parallel Israel would strike Syria and Lebanon.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who visited IDF forces in the North last week, heard an intelligence assessment and was informed of the dangers of a Syrian "miscalculation."

Following his visit to the forces in the field, a decision was made to publicly address the concerns of a possible deterioration with the Syrians, and to send a message that Israel has no intention of attacking Syria, nor is there any coordinated plan with the U.S. for a joint attack against Iran.

The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is scheduled to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus today, and will deliver a message of calm from Israel.

"We hope the message will be understood," political sources in Israel said yesterday. "The question is whether Assad is looking for an excuse ... so that he can carry out an attack against Israel in the summer, or whether this is a mistaken assessment."

So when the Israelis are worries about the wrong message being sent to Syria, to relieve the tension they turn to... the Speaker of the House of Representatives, because the State Department is in such disarray and the chief executive is such a belligerent cowboy that they simply can't trust him. This is perhaps the biggest indictment of the Bush Administration yet, that the rest of the world would rather deal with a shadow government at this point than these fools.

And all the insaneosphere gets out of this is yelling about Pelosi wearing a scarf on her head. It's amazing that there are literally two separate realities going on in this country.

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Strange Bedfellows

Great read of the conservative reaction to the release of the British hostages by Iran:

Two days ago we had a situation in which America was very nearly at war with Iran and Iran was holding British soldiers captive. Today we have a situation in which America is perhaps slightly less than very nearly at war with Iran and Iran will be releasing those hostages. And this, in the conservative mind of today, is somehow a bad thing.

Yep. It's probably also seen as a bad thing by the hardliners in Iran, who are followers of Ahmadinejad. This was clearly a decision made by the mullahs, who sought to lower tensions because they proved their point and were about to damage themselves globally. The "neocons" of Iran wanted to push this as far as it would go, which is suicide. But cooler heads prevailed.

So Iranian hardliners = conservative critics of peace. Sounds about right.

UPDATE: I wonder if this release means that the Americans actually did negotiate with "the terrists". Apparently an Iranian envoy will be allowed to look in on the five Iranian detainees in Iraq, and another was released to Tehran. Add in the fact that a botched raid of some senior security officers may have caused this whole thing, and really this was an incident wholly caused by the US, and resolved without the US being involved (which is the only way you can get anything done in the world these days).

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What A Bastard

We know that the President has failed at just about every level of governance, has isolated this country, made us less safe and less respected in the world, and left as a legacy a mess that it will take decades to clean up. It's easy to forget that he's also a garden-variety asshole.

President Bush named Republican fundraiser Sam Fox as U.S. ambassador to Belgium on Wednesday, using a maneuver that allowed him to bypass Congress where Democrats had derailed Fox's nomination.

Sam Fox funded the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and had absolutely no explanation for why when John Kerry demanded one in the Foreign Relations Committee.

This guy slandered the good name of an American hero, and for this act of devilry he gets to sip tea in Brussels for the next two years. I guess it's a reward for services rendered.

Worst. President. Ever.

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You've Got RNC Mail

I've been following but not writing about this related scandal to the US Attorney purge, which concerns the fact that many White House communications are coming from RNC email servers instead of those from the White House, which is a violation of the Presidential Records Act.

Apparently this has become standard practice, and while it sounds like an inside baseball thing, it's just an extension of the secrecy under which this White House operates.

White House staff are using non-governmental e-mail addresses to avoid leaving a paper trail of their communications, a senior congressman charged Monday.

In a pair of letters Monday, House Oversight and Investigations Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman, D.-Calif., asked the Republican National Committee and the Bush-Cheney '04 Campaign to preserve e-mails sent and received by White House officials using domains controlled by the two groups [...]

"Such e-mails written in the conduct of White House business would appear to be governmental records subject to preservation and eventual public disclosure," Waxman wrote.

The use of e-mail addresses from domains like "" by White House aides surfaced in the news earlier this month when the Justice Department released hundreds of e-mails between political appointees discussing the firing of several U.S. attorneys. E-mails from Scott Jennings, a deputy to White House political adviser Karl Rove, came from an address featuring the domain.

But Waxman also pointed to e-mails his committee received last year in connection to convicted superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, which show White House aides sending and receiving work-related e-mails from domains like "" and "".

It appears that the White House deliberately went off the grid because they knew internal emails could be subpoenaed. Rep. Waxman has made public emails that circumvent the White House communications system that he uncovered during the US Attorney probe, but also the Jack Abramoff investigation, and emails sent to the General Services Administration, which is a target for holding meetings on helping Republican candidates in 2008 with taxpayer dollars.

Apparently Karl Rove sends 95% of his email on RNC servers, yet the White House is paying him to do that. Rove's top aide, Susan Ralston, was walking around with an RNC Blackberry. This is a security issue as well, since the RNC servers are not as locked up as the ones in the White House, and could be subject to spying from foreign intelligence agencies. And in the end, this won't help White House staffers avoid scrutiny as easily as they thought:

But as we noted earlier with Karl Rove, this may have been too clever by half. If the president's aides were using RNC emails or emails from other Republican political committees, they can't have even the vaguest claim to shielding those communications behind executive privilege.

Now Rep. Waxman is asking for all RNC emails regarding the General Services Administration probe, and he'll get them. This was a stupid idea from an executive branch obsessed with secrecy, and it won't even achieve the stated purpose. And it's against the law, but that's almost expected at this point.

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The Secret

Mitt Romney is the only person in America who looked at Democratic Senator Mark Pryor's "we'll set a troop withdrawal deadline but won't tell anyone" plan and thought, "Good idea!"

Asked yesterday by Robin Roberts if he would “set a deadline for bringing the troops home,” Romney said only that he “wouldn’t publish it for my adversaries to see.” Romney added, “I would certainly sit down with al-Maliki as well as his government, plot out a series of milestones, timetables as well, measure how well they’re doing. But that’s not something you’d publish for the enemy to understand.”

The theory here is that the "enemy," such that they are, won't notice that we're pulling 150,000 military personnel out of the country.

Also, isn't publishing that there will be a secret withdrawal timeline, um... doesn't that blow the secret?

The fantasy-world scenario here is so ludicrous I don't even know why I'm dignifying it by writing about it. I may delete this.

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Money Vs. Votes

I'm glad the Q1 Presidential fundraising game is over, and while it's certainly impressive that Barack Obama got 100,000 people to donate money to him, and that his total take completely undercuts the only reason to vote for Hillary Clinton (that she and only she can raise gobs of money), when you look at the hard numbers in the early primary states, it's clear that the Democratic candidate with the most momentum in John Edwards. He's ahead in Iowa and gaining in New Hampshire.

Money makes a candidate viable, but it doesn't make a candidate win. It's easy and lazy to look at fundraising numbers and spin a narrative about the campaign. The voters will decide, and right now, at this too-early-to-really-tell stage, at least 3 Democrats still have a chance to win the nomination.

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News From The Second Tier

When I see Chris Dodd signing on to Feingold-Reid, and when I see the President sending supporting a private effort by Bill Richardson in North Korea as part of a delegation retrieving remains of US troops from the Korean War, I see that even the second tier of Democratic candidates is far superior to the Republicans' first tier. Dodd and Richardson are serious, competent public officials. There is literally nobody that George Bush can think of who is more qualified to handle diplomatic missions abroad than Bill Richardson. If he doesn't quite make it in the Presidential race, he'll be one hell of a Secretary of State. And Chris Dodd, by signing on to something that punishes Bush for his intransigence, is helping to change the dynamic of the Iraq debate, showing that he gets where the American people are on this issue.

We have a really solid group of candidates on the Democratic side. I hope they all can get a fair hearing (though in this accelerated primary season, it's questionable).

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They Won't Even Get A Nightline Out Of This

I don't know what this Iran-Britain crisis proved, as the Brits were released today. Other than diplomacy and negotiation works (and apparently Syria was a mediator). Iran probably feels that they humiliated the West and proved their point, Britain probably feels they successfully managed a global incident without any bloodshed.

Well, OK. And maybe this will stop an accidental war in the Middle East and show that crises can be averted. But I pretty much don't see how something that inflamed tensions and prolonged animosities really helped matters.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Massacre to Preserve Ego

John McCain's little Sunday stroll would be more hilarious if it didn't get 21 Iraqis killed.

The latest massacre of Iraqi children came as 21 Shia market workers were ambushed, bound and shot dead north of the capital. The victims came from the Baghdad market visited the previous day by John McCain, the US presidential candidate, who said that an American security plan in the capital was starting to show signs of progress.

I was thinking today that the new McCain plan for Iraq should be for him to walk the country, as the markets are never more secure when he is in them. But apparently the next day there would be mass carnage in his wake, so that's not much of an idea.

Let's understand this: John McCain used a market in Baghdad as a campaign prop to prove to his supporters back home that Iraq is a winderful and secure place. Insurgents see this and retaliate by killing 21 innocent people. It is not at all a stretch to suggest that McCain got those people killed for the service of his ego and his political needs. They're all practically a human sacrifice.

If ever a Republican were capable of shame, it ought to be John McCain. Every dime gained in this new fundraising strategy of his should be handed over to those victims' families, as reparations for what he did to shatter their lives.

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Here's the thing: everybody and their mother knew that Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria wasn't special. John Kerry and Chris Dodd and REPUBLICAN Arlen Specter were there late last year. There's a GOP House delegation there right now. The only way you could possibly parrot the White House spin that Pelosi's trip is wrong is if you set your brain on "marinate."

And that's where we're at with today's media. Josh Marshall is correct.

Unless I'm a lot more dense than I think, neither of those was an answer. So it stands: Republicans visiting Damascus, Okay. Democrats, visiting, Hurts America.

As Greg notes here, the president said today that he doesn't like Republicans or Democrats visiting Syria. But he only gets his press office to make a stink when it's a Democrat.

Enough on this one. A bunch of reporters got played on this one. And now they're too embarrassed to retrace their steps.

It's really not enough to claim that news is made because of what the White House says. That's stenography. You can actually do the extra step, and consider whether or not the stupid crap they say is news. A lot of the time, it's not. And such a determination is not suggestive of bias, it's suggestive of journalism.

UPDATE: This picture of Pelosi in a hijab is really going to set the authoritarian Islamo-haters on the right ablaze. Apparently respect for culture should never be abided.

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Unitary Executive II: The Unitarying

Bumped because I fleshed it out.

Via Yglesias, Rudy Giuliani is insane:

Rudy was asked about the Iraq supplemental. He said he finds it "irresponsible and dangerous." Then he began to muse about, after a veto, "would the president have the constitutional authority to support them [the troops], anyway?" He said he's a lawyer so he wouldn't offer an opinion "off the top of his head," then he proceeded to do just that. He seemed to suggest that Bush could fund the Iraq war without Congress providing funding, but it was confusing. In an interview with a New Hampshire TV reporter after his remarks, he seemed more categorical and said, since the war had been authorized by Congress, the president has "the inherent authority to support the troops." But he added, "You have to ask a constitutional lawyer."

It seems impossible, but based on this quote, it appears that Rudy Giuliani is MORE dismissive of American government and the separation of powers than the current occupant of the office. And this is why I think he has the inside track to the Republican nomination.

The social issues are a red herring; yes, he differs from the conservative party line on choice and guns and gays, but he's finessing each issue. We have a President who for six years has been ranting that "the most important part of my job is keeping America safe." And under this regime, that has translated into wielding supreme executive power, putting fanciful notions of security ahead of civil liberties, Congressional authority, the vastness of public opinion, etc., etc.

It's a simple equation; Rudy's the biggest authoritarian. And the modern Republican Party will swoon at that prospect. Look at what he's saying here. He believes that the Congress has one shot to weigh in on foreign policy matters, and once they do so, no matter how much events on the ground have changed, they forfeit their right to say anything about the policy from that point on. What kind of government is he describing?

In a brief press availability in front of his campaign bus, I asked Rudy whether he was saying Bush could veto the supplemental and, in the absence of a deal with Congress, fund the troops in Iraq under his own authority. "If he vetoes it, he's going to have to find a way to support the troops," Rudy said. "They have given him the authorization to fight the war," and "Bush has the power to redirect the money and time to work something out" with Congress. The last bit suggests that maybe Rudy is thinking in terms of only the next few weeks and not making a broader claim about presidential authority (although he kept on saying "inherent authority" over and over).

I completely disagree with Rich Lowry (no surprise). Rudy is not thinking in terms of only the next few weeks; he's an egomaniac who thinks that the job he covets is that of a supreme emperor, a position with no constraints and no strings attached. To his credit, Lowry did agree that Rudy is wrong here. But if he was President, the "wrongness" of his position wouldn't matter. He'd claim an even more extreme form of executive power than we have now, and since the whole country is used to such a power grab, and since constitutional lawyers could then use Bush Administration policies as a precedent, he'd be able to at least make the argument.

Rudy Giuliani is at once the most dangerous man in America running for President, and the most likely to win the hearts of the authoritarian worshippers that make up a large chunk of the Republican base. The Democrats' challenge will be to link this strain of authoritarianism to Giuliani and, by extension, Bush. They exist on a continuum. Right now Rudy is seen as a kindly moderate and separate from the White House. The challenge will be to change that dynamic.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, and Rudy's third wife is hands-off (I mean hey, what's a little dog-killing amongst friends?). The only person that gets to humiliate Giuliani's wives is Giuliani.

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McCain's Dukakis Moment

It just gets worse and worse for the Senator from Arizona:

A day after members of an American Congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain pointed to their brief visit to Baghdad’s central market as evidence that the new security plan for the city was working, the merchants there were incredulous about the Americans’ conclusions.

“What are they talking about?” Ali Jassim Faiyad, the owner of an electrical appliances shop in the market, said Monday. “The security procedures were abnormal!”

The delegation arrived at the market, which is called Shorja, on Sunday with more than 100 soldiers in armored Humvees — the equivalent of an entire company — and attack helicopters circled overhead, a senior American military official in Baghdad said. The soldiers redirected traffic from the area and restricted access to the Americans, witnesses said, and sharpshooters were posted on the roofs. The congressmen wore bulletproof vests throughout their hourlong visit.

“They paralyzed the market when they came,” Mr. Faiyad said during an interview in his shop on Monday. “This was only for the media.”

He added, “This will not change anything.”

Now THAT'S some winning of hearts and minds!

It's so interesting to me how the major Republican candidates, in order to win the nomination, are having to resort to Bush's old tricks to satisfy the increasingly radical Republican base. In McCain's case, it's the stupid staged photo-ops (is he going to fly into Baghdad on Easter with a fake chocolate bunny next?) and the insistence on blaming the media for failing to report all the good news. The bulk of the American people have had it with these tactics, and yet they're paradoxically the way to the nomination. It's cringe-worthy.

Meanwhile, there's more news about how McCain wanted to sell out his own party, news from which he cannot recover IMO:

Jonathan Singer: There's a story in The Hill, I think on Tuesday, by Bob Cusack on the front page of the paper talking about how John McCain's people -- John Weaver -- had approached Tom Daschle and a New York Congressman, I don't remember his name, about switching parties. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what your discussions were with him in 2004, how far it went, who approached whom... if there was any "there" there.

John Kerry: I don't know all the details of it. I know that Tom, from a conversation with him, was in conversation with a number of Republicans back then. It doesn't surprise me completely because his people similarly approached me to engage in a discussion about his potentially being on the ticket as Vice President. So his people were active -- let's put it that way.

Singer: Okay. And just to confirm, you said it, but this is something they approached you rather than...

Kerry: Absolutely correct. John Weaver of his shop... [JK aswers phone]

Seriously, he should run for Prime Minister of Iraq at this point. It's useless for him to even come back to this country. The man has managed to alienate everyone who pays even the least amount of attention to politics in America.

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Thank You Sen. Reid

The Majority Leader seems to get it.

The President today asked the American people to trust him as he continues to follow the same failed strategy that has drawn our troops further into an intractable civil war. The President's policies have failed and his escalation endangers our troops and hurts our national security. Neither our troops nor the American people can afford this strategy any longer.

Democrats will send President Bush a bill that gives our troops the resources they need and a strategy in Iraq worthy of their sacrifices. If the President vetoes this bill he will have delayed funding for troops and kept in place his strategy for failure.

It has the benefit of being true. We'll see if that's enough to get the media's attention.

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Prison Policy No Longer Invisible

This was surprising to me: grassroots action last week protesting the Governor's prison policy.

Busloads of protesters fighting the construction of new penitentiaries swarmed the Capitol on Wednesday, while inside the statehouse, the simmering politics surrounding the prison overcrowding crisis boiled into full view.

The protesters attacked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to build 78,000 new prison and jail beds, saying that $11 billion worth of "bricks and mortar and debt" are no substitute for true reform.

Instead, the demonstrators — some dressed in orange prison jumpsuits and standing in makeshift cells — said lawmakers could quickly thin the inmate population by releasing geriatric and incapacitated convicts and by sanctioning thousands of parole violators in their communities rather than in state lockups.

I would add revising sentencing guidelines through a newly-created independent commission, but just the presence of these protesters at all suggests that this issue will not be as invisible as it has been in previous years. Which makes sense, as we're two months from a court-imposed deadline to do something about overcrowding.

And good for Gloria Romero for stepping out on something that will win her no friends in the voting public, but is simply the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, political fireworks were flying over a decision by Senate Democrats to place a moratorium on bills that would lengthen criminal sentences and thereby exacerbate prison crowding.

The maneuver infuriated Republicans, but Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), chairwoman of the Senate Public Safety Committee, said it could not be "a business-as-usual year" in Sacramento given the overcrowding emergency.

"The Legislature bears a share of the responsibility for the crisis, and we must accept that," Romero said. "We can't keep having bills fly out of committee like pancakes just because we want to appear tough on crime."

There have been over 1,000 such bills in the last 30 years. They look good on glossy mailers and they can easily be used as a club to damage opponents. But they have a major indirect impact on our quality of life.

And this mass incarceration is a symptom as well, a function of increasing inequality in the Bush years. As the chasm between haves and have-nots grows, desperation leads to increased crime. And then the imprisonment itself keeps the snowball rolling down the hill:

Imprisonment does more than reflect the divides of race and class. It deepens those divides—walling off the disadvantaged, especially unskilled black men, from the promise of American life. While violent criminals belong in jail, more than half of state and federal inmates are in for nonviolent crimes, especially selling drugs. Their long sentences deprive women of potential husbands, children of fathers, and convicts of a later chance at a decent job. Similar arguments have been made before, but Western, a Princeton sociologist, makes a quantitative case. Along the way, his revisionist account of the late 1990s detracts from its reputation as an era of good news for the poor…

The 1990s were said to be a time when rising tides finally did lift all boats. Western warns that part of the reason, statistically speaking, is that many poor men have been thrown overboard—the government omits prisoners when calculating unemployment and poverty rates. Add them in, as Western does, and joblessness swells. For young black men it grows by more than a third. For young black dropouts, the jobless rate leaps from 41 percent to 65 percent. "Only by counting the penal population do we see that fully two out of three young black male dropouts were not working at the height of the 1990s economic expansion," Western warns. Count inmates and you also erase three quarters of the apparent progress in closing the wage gap between blacks and whites.

The increased recidivism rate and the drive to incarcerate more and more for longer and longer walls off opportunity to families on the wrong side of the race and class divide. Prison policy is job policy, poverty policy, family policy, education policy, and so on. It took a massive crisis to get anyone to focus on it, but I hope that in the future, we can understand it in these terms.

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