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

Saturday, April 14, 2007

US Attorney Scandal Going Faster Than The Speed of Light

The revelations in the past 24 hours have been considerable. To wit:

• According to NPR (via JMM), Karl Rove's plan from the very beginning of the second term was to fire all 93 US Attorneys as a cover for getting rid of the ones he really wanted. I think he could have gotten away with that, too, despite its unprecedented nature. It was the selective firing that raised red flags for me. The plan was dismissed as impractical, and given all of the cases being pursued it probably would be, but to go ahead and fire the ones he wanted anyway without a cover story has led the White House to the mess they are in today.

• As I mentioned briefly yesterday, Kyle Sampson suggested replacements for US Attorneys a full year before they were fired. This is a direct contradiction to his sworn testimony, when he said that the prosecutors were fired without concern for who would succeed them. Gonzales comes out looking bad on this too, as his chief of staff was talking about this for a year, and it's not credible that he wouldn't have known something about it, despite his repeated claim that he was kept in the dark.

• It turns out that Steven Biskupic, the US Attorney for Wisconsin who prosecuted the bogus case against a top aide to Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle during the past election year, was indeed targeted for removal by the DoJ at some point, but then was saved for some reason.

Congressional investigators looking into the firings of eight U.S. attorneys saw Wisconsin prosecutor Steven M. Biskupic's name on a list of lawyers targeted for removal when they were inspecting a Justice Department document not yet made public, according to an attorney for a lawmaker involved in the investigation. The attorney asked for anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the investigation.

It wasn't clear when Biskupic was added to a Justice Department hit list of prosecutors, or when he was taken off, or whether those developments were connected to the just-overturned corruption case.

Nevertheless, the disclosure aroused investigators' suspicion that Biskupic might have been retained in his job because he agreed to prosecute Democrats, though the evidence was slight. Such politicization of the administration of justice is at the heart of congressional Democrats' concerns over the Bush administration's firings of the U.S. attorneys.

It's clear that the narrative that Rove and the Republicans have been developing about voter fraud centered on Milwaukee, and Biskupic's reluctance to prosecute those cases clearly left him vulnerable. So it appears he ramped up the Georgia Thompson case as a means to prove he could play ball.

• The Justice Department included membership in the far-right Federalist Society as a criterion for evaluating the US Attorneys. Those with membership in the Society remained in place.

• Regarding the amazing vanishing emails, the White House will let the Senate send in a cleaner to find them, but has not yet agreed to let the Senate see any of the emails once they're found. Meanwhile Karl Rove's lawyer is admitting that some of the lost emails include those written by Rove in 2003 which would have been central to the CIA Leak Investigation. Emptywheel has much more on that. And Henry Waxman wants documents and missing emails related to the Bush Administration's financial deals with MZM, the company that bribed Duke Cunningham (bringing this full circle, since Carol Lam was the former USA who prosecuted that case).

That's a LOT for 24 hours. I think this missing email thing set off a real firestorm within the press, at least. It was such a demonstrably lame excuse, so redolent of the 18-minute gap in the Watergate tapes, that it simply didn't pass the smell test. And this document dump has already revealed a lot. Under every rock there's some more dirt. It's nuts.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Why Primarying Joe Lieberman Was A Blessing, STILL

People seem to forget that the goals in primarying Joe Lieberman were met, even though Ned Lamont is not currently the junior Senator from the state of Connecticut. Lieberman is no longer able to speak for the Democratic Party, which was the biggest problem. He stands outside it now as an independent, and therefore all the trouble he caused with going on Fox News and parroting right-wing talking points and undermining the party leadership are made moot. A PERFECT case in point is his endorsement of Susan Collins today in the 2008 Maine Senate race. Before his conversion to the Connecticut for Lieberman Party, a Democrat supporting a Republican, even a so-called moderate like Collins, would have been a negative for efforts to challenge her. Now, according to Collins' likely opponent Rep. Tom Allen, it's a tremendous opportunity:

Maine Democrats say the endorsement of Republican Sen. Susan Collins by Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman underscores a central argument in their challenge of the two-term senator next year: the war in Iraq. A political adviser for Democratic Rep. Tom Allen -- an unannounced but likely candidate against Collins -- said Lieberman's support for the war and Collins' support for the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tie her to the Bush administration's politically unpopular war policy. "I think the Lieberman endorsement is significant. For us, it's a gift," the Allen adviser said. "It paints a picture of Susan Collins with people like Lieberman and McCain, who support the war."

The war will be the defining issue of the 2008 campaign, sadly, and Collins is now yoked to the two most visible war defenders, both of whom are deeply disliked along with anyone else who tries to defend the indefensible occupation of Iraq. Lieberman's support is a double-edged sword in a way that it wouldn't have been if he were still a Democrat.

Allen still needs to catch up in the money race, but he's well-positioned to knock off yet another Republican incumbent. Thanks, Joementum!

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Zombie Lies

You can't kill them if they're already dead. Does CBS News live in that much of a bubble that they could repeat the "Obama was in a madrassah" lie without regard for the fact that the whole thing was debunked months ago?

Let me note that this was not on the CBS Evening News but Katie Couric's "video blog," which in a way is even worse, that they think they can get away with the nasty rumors if they don't let them on the air but put them on their website where the smear merchants can link to them and give their stupidity the patina of legitimacy.

I haven't watched more than 10 minutes of Katie Couric since she took over the news, and it appears to me that she's completely out of her element, unable to distinguish fact from fiction, and a symbol of the decline of the modern media.

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Wolf Whistle

It's kind of amazing to me that, after all the harm he has caused the world, the indiscriminate slaughter of hundreds of thousands, the loss of America's moral credibility, the one thing that may take down Paul Wolfowitz as the head of the World Bank is that he got his girlfriend a plum job. This is busting Al Capone for tax evasion all over again.

We live in a strange world. What offends people's sensibilities, and what does not, constantly baffles me. A man can help push a country into an immoral war that is the greatest foreign policy disaster in generations, but when he pays off the girlfriend, noses are upturned. America has become a culture of scandal, but the filtering mechanism is broken so that each scandal is treated with equal relevance, whether it's Imus saying something racist or torturing prisoners in Iraq.


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Principled Moderate

Rudy Giuliani, savior to moderate Broderists everywhere, has in the past few days:

Restated his support for the federal government to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case, a position supported by maybe 20% of the country, only the most hardcore theocrats (how's this going to play in the Libertarian West?)...

• Is being advised on Iraq by Jack Keane and John Bolton, one the co-author of the "surge" strategy, the other the most neoconny neocon of the entire bunch.

This guy is no moderate. He's an authoritarian narcissist with strong ties to the some magical thinkers who got us in the current foreign policy mess.

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Friday Random Ten

Once again, doing this earbud-style:

Canto De Ossanha - Jurassic 5
Dusty - Kings of Leon
Debaser - The Pixies
Romeo - Basement Jaxx
Olvidela Compa - Clorofila + Panoptica
Closet Romantic - Damon Albarn
Don Loope - Hiperboreal
Chronometrophobia - Outkast (Andre 3000)
2:1 - Elastica
Pow - The Beastie Boys

Man, my new music cream I keep loading on here can't seem to rise to the top (except that new Kings of Leon song). Good stuff though.

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What To Do About the Emails?

I liked this idea from Mark A.R. Kleiman:

Fielding proposes to use the RNC-held emails as bargaining chips in the struggle over whether Rove and his accomplices will testify under oath. In the meantime, every day increases the risk that "erased" emails that could in fact be recovered from RNC hard drives will instead be written over and lost permanently.

There is every reason for the Congress to act to secure those computers immediately and protect the data on them. By the same token, it is urgent to get Rove and his colleagues on record under oath right now, before they know what will and won't prove to be recoverable. Obviously, the Justice Department is not going to investigate this matter, and there is no longer a Special Prosecutor statute. That leaves only the Congress, "the grand inquest of the nation," to uncover the facts.

The Congress has plenary power to compel both the production of both documents (including the hard drives those documents sit on) and the attendance of witnesses. It need not use the courts for that purpose. A majority vote of either house can order the Sergeant-at-Arms of that house (presumably using the Capitol Police as deputies if necessary) to enforce its subpoenas.

The quicker they act, the better. I wouldn't be surprised to see computers suddenly dropping off the roof of the RNC building today. This is an investigation that is necessary for the integrity of the justice system in this country, and we have to have an accountable executive branch. Let's get going.

By the way, there's a new document dump this morning. And Paul Kiel found something interesting: indeed Tim Griffin was NOT the only replacement USA suggested by Justice. There were others tapped to fill positions there, under the Patriot Act powers (since reversed) that would bypass Senate confirmation.

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LA Times Gives the Emperor's Clothes an Alteration

Two months ago, I wrote a story about how Arnold Schwarzenegger is not that great on the environment, and the hype surrounding His Greenitude is largely a media creation. Today, the LA Times gets around to the same thing, in what is actually a brave move to rewrite the narrative by using the actual facts.

Back home, environmentalists see the governor's green credentials as thin.

The governor has taken more than $1 million in campaign money from the oil industry, whose products contribute to the greenhouse gas buildup that Schwarzenegger says he wants to roll back. And he is not reliable in using his bill-signing powers to protect the environment, activists say.

Each year, the California League of Conservation Voters puts out an annual scorecard that rates the governor on a scale of 0 to 100, based on the environmental bills he has signed or vetoed. Last year, Schwarzenegger's grade was 50, down from the previous two years when he logged a 58.

Gray Davis, the governor Schwarzenegger ousted in the 2003 recall, scored 75 in 2002 and 85 the year before that.

"Despite the governor's public embrace of the environment, his record on signing good environmental bills into law remains mediocre,'' the league said in its annual report card.

I don't expect the national media to understand this. After all, Arnold's bringing sexy back to the environment. But locally, there has to be some pushback against this absurd notion that the guy with the fleet of Hummers is the nation's biggest environmentalist. In fact, within the article, Peter Nicholas explains that this is all mainly an election strategy: recordings of the governor's private meetings show that his aides have seen political value in making the environment a pet issue.

"Every four or five weeks, we're going to spend an entire week on the environment,'' the governor's communications director, Adam Mendelsohn, told him in a private meeting in early 2006. " … I do not believe it's smart politics here in California to not talk about your environmental stuff." [...]

In the recordings, Schwarzenegger seems to wonder if people would accept a high-living, Hummer-driving ex-muscleman as an environmentalist.

"Here I was driving Hummers," he says at one point. "I don't know if I leave myself open here by calling myself an environmentalist. So we should just be aware of that.''

(These were the real revelations in the not-so-secret Schwarzenegger tapes, not the "hot-blooded" nonsense.)

I would argue that now, Arnold's green lip service keeps him nationally relevant, and keeps his approval ratings up. He's a decent environmental governor for a Republican, but he falls well short of even Gray Davis' record. This makes him useful to the environmental movement, as they can say "See, even a REPUBLICAN supports our cause," but it doesn't do much to roll back global warming pollution, up 18% since 1990.

Nicholas also remembers something the whole country never knew - that he didn't write AB 32, and it wasn't a slam dunk that he would support it:

With only one day left in the legislative session, it was by no means certain that Schwarzenegger would sign the bill. Powerful interests stood in opposition. Business groups — the core of Schwarzenegger's fund-raising base — feared that it would jack up costs.

Schwarzenegger wanted business-friendly provisions that would allow companies to trade emissions credits, meaning some could pay for the right to pollute.

The governor's office offered "a number of amendments that would have watered down provisions of the mandatory reductions,'' Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles), a coauthor of the bill, said in an interview.

A game of chicken followed. Nuñez told the governor's staff that he would push forward with or without Schwarzenegger's support. The governor threatened to veto the bill if his changes weren't adopted, Nuñez said.

With Nuñez poised to tell a news conference that he was proceeding alone and Schwarzenegger needing legislative achievements to fuel his reelection campaign, the governor signed on. The trading system Schwarzenegger wanted is allowed under the law but is not mandatory.

"It was touch-and-go until the very end as to whether or not the governor would sign the bill,'' said Ann Notthoff, California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who was involved in the discussions.

We all know that he vetoed other environmental bills. We know that his appointee voted to approve the environmentally harmful BHP Billiton LNG Terminal which was thankfully stopped by Democrats on the Land Commission panel. We know that Senate Democrats are so fed up with his lax regulation of AB 32 that they offered a raft of new legislation to fight global warming.

I believe that environmental activists don't speak up about this much because they find Arnold to be a useful advocate. He can be heard by groups that would normally tune out the message. And that's helpful. But they should use this as a lever to get real action and change in California. Every threatened veto, every slip on legislation, they should be tied to Arnold like an anvil. "He talks the talk but refuses to walk the walk." That's how an effective environmental movement would act.

UPDATE: It shouldn't be forgotten that Schwarzenegger is largely responsible for bringing the Hummer to American roads: January 1991, millions of Americans watched their televisions and saw the company’s work in action as Humvees rolled across the Kuwaiti desert.

About a year earlier, Arnold Schwarzenegger had seen a Humvee making its way down an Oregon road while he was filming the movie Kindergarten Cop. The big, rugged 4x4 met the Terminator’s expectations for transportation and he contacted AM General to see how soon he could buy one.

AM General’s CEO Jim Armour had long been thinking about a civilian version of the Humvee, and had a military HMMWV converted into civilian use for Schwarzenegger. With Schwarzenegger making an appearance to tell AM General ownership “you guys are nuts if you don’t do this,” plans were approved for production of a civilian HUMMER, a vehicle that at first was sold by mail order. AM General set up an 800 number that prospective customers could call. They were sent a videotape, a brochure that unfolded into a poster, and an order form. Eventually, several dealerships were organized. As many as 1,000 HUMMERs were sold in a single year.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Case of the Missing Emails

The latest report is that the White House lost over 5 million emails in a two-year period, which isn't a heck of a lot when you think about your own email usage and then multiply it by an entire office of people who are manic obsessives, BUT... these are emails from the Executive Office of the President and it's actually the law that they are to be preserved, in accordance with the Presidential Reocrds Act. So not only are White House staffers going offline to do their secret dealings by using RNC email servers, they're purging the emails that are ONLINE.

Furthermore, the RNC instituted a "document retention" policy under which all emails were supposed to be preserved, particularly Karl Rove's, as Patrick Fitzgerald asked that this be done during the CIA Leak investigation. But even still Rove was deleting his emails up a storm.

Mr. Kelner's briefing raised particular concems about Karl Rove, who according to press reports used his RNC accountfor 95%o of his communications. According to Mr. Kelner, although the hold started in August 2004, the RNC does not have any e-mails prior to 2005 for Mr. Rove. Mr. Kelner did not give any explanation for the e-mails missing from Mr. Rove's account, but he did acknowledge that one possible explanation is that Mr. Rove personally deleted his e-mails from the RNC server.

Mr. Kelner also explained that starting in 2005, the RNC began to treat Mr. Rove's emails in a special fashion. At some point in 2005, the RNC commenced an automatic archive policy for Mr. Rove, but not for any other White House officials. According to Mr. Kelner, this archive policy removed Mr. Rove's ability to personally delete his e-mails from the RNC server. Mr. Kelner did not provide many details about why this special policy was adopted for Mr. Rove. But he did indicate that one factor was the presence of investigative or discovery requests or other legal concerns. It was unclear from Mr. Kelner's briefing whether the special archiving policy for Mr. Rove was consistently in effect after 2005.

And as if we had to guess, the New York Times is reporting that the missing emails may be related to the firing of the US Attorneys. Ya think? That was the whole point! The missing links in the paper trail are all emails to the White House about various prosecutors, meetings, et al. And now even the White House is acknowledging the "mistake," still sticking to the story that email can vanish when everyone knows it can't. And they're also sticking to the notion of executive privilege, even for email that comes out of the RNC (I guess that's party privilege):

It also exposed the dual electronic lives led by Mr. Rove and 21 other White House officials who maintain separate e-mail accounts for government business and work on political campaigns — and raised serious questions, in the eyes of Democrats, about whether political accounts were used to conduct official work without leaving a paper trail.

The clash also seemed to push the White House and Democrats closer to a serious confrontation over executive privilege, with the White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding, asserting that the administration has control over countless other e-mail messages that the Republican National Committee has archived. Democrats are insisting that they are entitled to get the e-mail messages directly from the national committee.

In a letter to Mr. Leahy and Representative John Conyers Jr., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Fielding, the White House counsel, said the administration was prepared to produce e-mail from the national committee, but only as part of a “carefully and thoughtfully considered package of accommodations” — in other words, only as part of the offer for Mr. Rove and the others to appear in private.

Mr. Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, issued a tart reply: “The White House position seems to be that executive privilege not only applies in the Oval Office, but to the R.N.C. as well. There is absolutely no basis in law or fact for such a claim.”

Ben Smith at The Politico has more.

We are moving into uncharted territory here with this scandal, and the press has been spending the entire week talking about Imus getting fired. They need to get their eyes back on the ball. The White House is acknowledging that they broke the law, and is refusing to comply with a Congressional subpoena. Keep your eyes on the ball, people. There's a Constitutional crisis under your noses and you don't even know it.

More tomorrow.

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Pop Quiz

I do think that the whole "Rudy Giuliani doesn't know how much a gallon of milk costs" brouhaha was a bunch of nonsense, but the notion of out-of-touch politicians making judgments on working people's lives without understanding the challenges they face is salient. It's just that the gallon of milk is not the most salient example of that. Michael Tomasky comes up with 10 better ones, and they track with Andy Stern's examples in his book A Country That Works. I'll put the ten here, and add my estimates next to them, without looking them up (you're just going to have to trust me):

1. The median U.S. household income. $35,000.

2. The median salary of a schoolteacher (chart gives a range). $32,000.

3. The median salary of an active-duty enlisted soldier (table gives a range). $28,000.

4. The average yearly cost of a family health-care plan (see fourth graf). $18,000

5. The cost of an average American car, a standard-equipment Chevy Malibu (on this page, select “Base” style and fill in your ZIP Code). $17,500.

6. Average cost of a four-year college education including tuition, fees, room, and board at a public university (2005 figures; see third graf and multiply by four). $87,000.

7. The unit cost of an Army Black Hawk helicopter. $30 million.

8. How much the United States pays every year to farmers who don’t farm. $5 billion.

9. How many billions’ worth of weapons the United States sells to other countries (2005 figures). $25 billion.

10. Number of articles in the U.S. Constitution. 7.

I underestimated #1 because I misread the question (didn't see HOUSEHOLD). I was at the low end of being right on #2. I was at the high end of #3. I was over on #4. Exactly right on the Chevy because I bought a car last year. Under on college ($120,000, wow). Way over on the helicopter. Over on farmers (only $1.3 billion). Over on weapons sold by 3X (I clearly have an oversized view of the military-industrial complex). Nailed #10.

I can simply not run for President.

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More Democrats Stepping It Up

Joe Biden accuses Petraeus of rose-colored glasses, claims the surge is doomed.

Harry Reid surprises everyone with his principled stand to set a deadline for troop deployment.

The Democrats are united on Iraq.

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The Global Iraq Effect

Even when excepting the death of Kurt Vonnegut, I feel like the entire world is spiraling out of control. And this flaring up of violence in numerous trouble spots is happening in direct connection to a new British report alleging that the occupation of Iraq has spawned "new terror" in the region. The headlines over the past few days show this to be undeniably true.

Just look at what's been happening over the past few days:

1,000 people have died in clashes in Mogadishu, where unrest and anarchy still reign after the supposedly successful effort to drive Islamic fundamentalists from the capital. Half of the city's population, well over a million people, have fled.

• Two major suicide bombings have killed dozens in Algeria, where local groups affiliated with Al Qaeda have claimed responsibility. This tracks with increasing fundamentalist activity throughout North Africa, including but not limited to Somalia.

• Just look at Sudan, where Janjaweed militia killed hundreds in eastern Chad by opening fire on villagers, moving the Darfur genocide across the border and threatening a wider war. Incredibly, this came as President Bush's Ambassador to Sudan, Andrew Nastios, claimed that there is no genocide going on in Darfur.

MENENDEZ: Do you consider the ongoing situation in Darfur a genocide, yes or no? […]

NATSIOS: There is very little violence in Darfur right now.

MENENDEZ: I asked you to answer my question.

NATSIOS: I just answered your question.

MENENDEZ: Is the circumstances in Darfur today a continuing genocide? Yes or no?

NATSIOS: There is very little fighting between rebels and the government and very few civilian casualties going on in Darfur right now.

Incidentally. 80,000 Darfurians have fled from attacks in just the past two months.

• And there's a reconstituted, newly resurgent Taliban operating from strongholds in Pakistan, bolstered by members of their group who are returning from Iraq, teaching new techniques like suicide bombing and IED attacks, and pulling off attacks with unusual sophistication and deadly force.

This is EXACTLY the type of global landscape we should expect to see given the total lack of leadership, and the harm caused by the irrational and ridiculous occupation of Iraq. Let's go back to the British report about Iraq spawning new terror:

The countries had tried to "keep the lid on" problems by military force and had failed to address the root causes, the Oxford Research Group warned.

It said Iran, Syria and North Korea had become "emboldened", while the Taleban was on the rise in Afghanistan [...]

"Treating Iraq as part of the war on terror... created a combat training zone for jihadists," it says.

Lead study author Chris Abbott said: "There is a clear and present danger - an increasingly marginalised majority living in an environmentally constrained world, where military force is more likely to be used to control the consequences of these dangerous divisions.

"Add to this the disastrous effects of climate change, and we are looking at a highly unstable global system by the middle years of the century unless urgent action is taken now."

We know the direct results of jihadist training in Iraq and how that relates to a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. In North Africa, the Iraq effect plays itself out in a mix of negligence, bolstered jihadist action, and a neoconservative unilateralist foreign policy which alienates allies to collectively act on behalf of the less fortunate. That we have not yet gotten a hold on Darfur is to the world's undying shame. That we used Ethiopia as a proxy to defeat Somalian Islamists without concerning ourselves with the fact that Ethiopia is hated in Somalia has led to the continued chaos in that nation. That we have given recruiting posters for Al Qaeda and jihadism every passing day in Iraq leads to events like that in Algeria (although it's also home-grown). It's not that the cauldron wasn't simmering already; what we've done is turn the heat up to 500 degrees and closed the lid tighter.

We cannot afford 22 more months of this global anarchy, where Iraq is a hot poker stoking the fires of violence in that country and all over the region. This lack of leadership is actually costing us the war on terrorism, which we are undeniably losing.

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Charging Ahead On Iraq

I should add that even the Establishment Democrats in Washington are speaking with one voice on Iraq. They may be coming at it from different angles, they may have their own motives, but they're getting the policy right. And they're not backing down from the constant threats by the White House.

Senator Dodd challenged his fellow Presidential nominees to support the Feingold-Reid proposal to end funding for the war at a date certain, as a next measure should the President veto the emergency supplemental.

"I am calling on all the candidates in this race to join me in clearly standing up to the president once and for all by stating their support for the Feingold-Reid legislation that sets a firm timetable to end this war by March 31st, 2008. After more than 3,200 lives lost, tens of thousands wounded and $400 billion spent, it is time to bring an end to a war that at every turn has failed to make America safer. The hour is late. It is time to begin putting our country on a more secure path."

Dodd wants to become prominent on the national scene with this measure, sure, but he's doing it by leading, and showing that he understands that the American people are on his side. Further, Rahm Emanuel has put out a long memo asking members of Congress to hold firm on Iraq. He goes after it in purely political terms, as one woud expect. But this is not where he was a few months ago. It's significant that Emanuel finally understands that he must get out in front of the public on this.

As we return from the district work period, the Congress continues to have an historic opportunity to change direction in Iraq, protect and provide for American troops, and pressure Iraqis to take responsibility for their own country.

We find ourselves in a strong position because the American people support our policy objectives and our plan for Iraq, especially as they measure up against the failures of the administration’s policies. As we continue through the process of sending an Iraq spending bill to the President for his approval, we need to go beyond the debate about the funding for the war, and remind the American people of the policies we are recommending -- benchmarks for the Iraqis, support for our troops through training and equipment, and a plan for a responsible and strategic redeployment of our troops. It is also important that we remind the country of the policy position of Congressional Republicans on Iraq – their rubberstamping of the President’s Iraq policies, and their refusal to conduct responsible oversight.

The military is being considerably broken through extended tours of duty, paying over a billion dollars to retain recruits, and the loss of future generals and top officers who are walking away from the force. If Establishment Democrats have to stop this by citing political polling, or by burnishing Presidential credentials, I don't have a problem with it. This has to end.

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Term Limits Gets A Boost, Maybe

Are people really easily swayed by whatever it says on the ballot? Most experts seem to think so, and certainly when the ballot question is put to people in polls differently, it changes the outcome. But I am not sure that this is so epochal. The campaign over this term limits extension (which is exactly what it is for people in office right now, while a reduction for later) hasn't even begun. And you can bet that there will be ads excoriated the perceived power grab, no matter what the ballot says. I don't think that you can give an election to one side or the other based on language. What we know about initiatives in the past couple elections is that the default position is no. And the "Yes" people now have a really odd argument to make. They have to say that term limits should be relaxed for the 128 lawmakers serving right now, but tightened for everybody else. They have to talk about the benefits of more experience and wisdom in the California legislature, while defending a proposition that, according to the ballot, will guarantee LESS experience in that body. It's a bit incoherent. And the opening for opponents of the measure is so wide you can drive a truck through it.

I'll go on record and say this is going to lose. But I'm sure a lot of money will be bet against that.

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Our Fine Government Agencies Update

The FBI, last seen not solving the anthrax crime that killed 5 and injured 17, has nevertheless put so much time and money and effort into stopping terrorism that they've pretty much stopped being the FBI:

Thousands of white-collar criminals across the country are no longer being prosecuted in federal court — and, in many cases, not at all — leaving a trail of frustrated victims and potentially billions of dollars in fraud and theft losses.

It is the untold story of the Bush administration’s massive restructuring of the FBI after the terrorism attacks of 9/11.

Five-and-a-half years later, the White House and the Justice Department have failed to replace at least 2,400 agents transferred to counterterrorism squads, leaving far fewer agents on the trail of identity thieves, con artists, hatemongers and other criminals.

Two successive attorneys general have rejected the FBI’s pleas for reinforcements behind closed doors.

While there hasn’t been a terrorism strike on American soil since the realignment, few are aware of the hidden cost: a dramatic plunge in FBI investigations and case referrals in many of the crimes that the bureau has traditionally fought, including sophisticated fraud, embezzlement schemes and civil rights violations.

There goes the Bush Administration again, protecting white-collar criminals with whom they share such affinity and a public profile.

This White House hates government and all of the functions of government except the ones they can use to political ends, like spying on every American. So the FBI-NSA-national intelligence apparatus wants to know everything you do, every phone call you make, every email you send, but they don't want to bust you for any crimes unless they decide you're a terrist (or a political opponent). The National Intelligence Director wanting to "expand surveillance powers" under FISA because technology has changed is absurd. This has nothing to do with technology and "speed" in finding terrorists; you can get a warrant AFTER the fact. This is about having the ability to find any information at any time and put it to use at the service of the conservative movement. That's all.

We have lost all reason in this country when legitimate crimes are not being prosecuted because of the fear-gripping hype of terrorism which is used as a cover for all sorts of nefarious deeds. We have a Constitution that demands a separation of powers and an inability for the executive branch to take all that power or himself. We have a situation now where Department of Justice lawyers are literally doubling as White House lawyers, as if their job is to protect the President instead of protecting the rule of law. Kurt Vonnegut may have been right to get unstuck in time now; I hardly recognize this country anymore.

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A Correction

I probably should have known better than to trust the CEO of Ford, who gave himself a $30 million dollar raise of something after 3 months on the job, but apparently his contention that he saved the President from blowing himself up was untrue and a "botched joke." While CEOs are typically comic geniuses, this one didn't take.

I'll wait for the Right to be all over the CEO of Ford forthwith.

Apologies for publishing the sounded-a-little-weird-but-I-went-with-it story.

Now I have to give up my "Have you President-proofed your house" bit!

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Edwards/Obama: Change vs. Caution

I'm glad that MoveOn is getting positive coverage for its "virtual town hall" on Iraq. It's a great moment for the progressive movement. But something funny came out of the results, which I think reflect the dynamic of this campaign on the progressive left.

If you look at the poll numbers from MoveOn members on who had the best position on Iraq at the forum, you get these results:

Sen. Barack Obama 28%
Sen. John Edwards 25%
Rep. Dennis Kucinich 17%
Gov. Bill Richardson 12%
Sen. Hillary Clinton 11%
Sen. Joe Biden 6%
Sen. Chris Dodd 1%

But when the results are filtered for those MoveOn members who actually attended the virtual town hall, you get these numbers:

Sen. John Edwards 25%
Gov. Bill Richardson 21%
Sen. Barack Obama 19%
Rep. Dennis Kucinich 15%
Sen. Joe Biden 10%
Sen. Hillary Clinton 7%
Sen. Chris Dodd 4%

I don't know if I'm the only one, but I find that to be a very emblematic shift.

Let me say that I have a lot of respect for Sen. Obama's pre-political work as a community organizer, his liberal advocacy in the Illinois state Senate, and his unique gifts to bring new people who never cared about politics into the system and to get them energized and activated. These are very good qualities. What worries me is that these talents are being put to the uses of establishment Broderism, and his attempt to castigate "the smallness of our politics" hasn't led to being small about politics himself. His statement on the emergency supplemental that the President will eventually get what he wants because we cannot be seen as playing chicken with our soldiers had a significance that I don't even think he realized. It's now been picked up by war apologists who use it to support their position that the President should get whatever he wants.

“When the President vetoes, as he should, the bill that refuses to support General Petraeus’ new plan, I hope Democrats in Congress will heed the advice of one of their leading candidates for President, Senator Obama, and immediately pass a new bill to provide support to our troops in Iraq without substituting their partisan interests for those of our troops and our country.”

While Obama rightly slammed McCain for his remarks, the truth is that McCain had every right to turn those words against him. Obama essentially was throwing up his hands, saying that despite the overwhelming support of Americans to do the unthinkable, he cannot conjure it. It's symptomatic of a theme I see in the Obama campaign - the idea that you cannot really fight the establishment, that you have to noodle within the system and cannot make any transformational change. When you actually listen to Obama instead of just feed off the energy his campaign has created, this is what you find. It's not surprising from the campaign that has brought Tom Daschle back into the fold.

The best articulation of this worry about Obama came from Ezra Klein's blog last weekend, and I'll reprint an excerpt:

Twice in the last week, when people were hoping Barack Obama would stake out an aggressive position on important issues, he instead gave a third-person analysis of the situation that didn't seem to acknowledge his role as a potential agent of change. First, there was the Iraq War supplemental, on which Obama speculated that Bush would get the bill he wanted if he vetoed the Democratic plan [...]

Then at his town hall meeting to discuss health care in Portsmouth, NH, he declined to commit himself to anything beyond the banal, and offered the observation that "I think [health reform] can be done, but we've got to build a movement in this country behind that during this election cycle so that there's a mandate for that to take place, for the next president." As Ezra notes, the time to build that mandate is now, and to date, Obama hasn't expended any effort to build it.

...what all his Senate policy successes have in common is that they don't express any clear ideological stance. And that gets us to the core of why I'm not supporting Obama. Is he willing to descend from the ether of cautious bipartisanship and highflown rhetoric, and push with all his might for the progressive reforms America needs? So far, he's steered suspiciously wide of making any substantial progressive commitments. I'm happy to have a guy like him in the Senate, where he can work with Republicans to get some low-key but important bills passed. But 2008 is likely to deliver us a solid Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, and we need the kind of president who will make the most of our opportunities [...]

At the ebb of the Republicans' power, what would Obama do? I know perfectly well what Edwards would do -- he'd pass an amazing health care plan, take major steps to reduce our dependence on oil, and make an unprecedented effort to fight global poverty. He's made major policy commitments on all these issues. But what is it that has stopped Obama from actually presenting any plans to meet these challenges? A failure of leadership? The smallness of his politics?

Obama appears to make a lot of excuses and promise little more than vagaries when he explains how he would be different. On the other hand, John Edwards is staking his entire candidacy on bold and transformational change.

Unraveling Edwards' subtext does not require a Derrida-spouting graduate student. Hillary Clinton is the obvious apostle of these "cautious, incremental steps," while Barack Obama is the undeniable master of feel-good rhetoric. What is most intriguing about the Edwards 2.0 campaign is how a once carefully calibrated, pro-war, mainstream Democrat has fashioned himself into the candidate of "big, bold transformational change."

...the 53-year-old former trial lawyer, who was mentioned as a presidential possibility from the moment he entered the Senate in 1999, added, "I think it's also combined with me being more seasoned and more comfortable with taking stronger, bolder positions." Edwards returned to this theme in response to an interview question about what he had learned from voting for authorization for the Iraq war. "Making a mistake, which I did, about something that important gives you enormous strength going forward," he said, trying to make a virtue out of necessity. "Because now I have absolutely no hesitation standing behind my independent judgment about what needs to be done. I don't care if it's popular or unpopular. Or what the political considerations are. You probably see some element of that in everything I'm doing."

I already have seen that in what he's doing. He is practically the only candidate talking about global warming, calling on people to sacrifice and organizing events to educate and engage on the issue. A few days ago he worked at a nursing home as part of an SEIU-sponsored campaign, and his advocacy for labor issues like the Employee Free Choice Act is without peer. His health care plan is at this point the most detailed of any of the candidates. On Iraq he has showed a commitment to end our occupation, and while not the ideal of a Richardson plan, he has rightly pinned the repsonsibility for this disaster where it deserves to be, and proving to have the right strategic take as well.

"McCain and Bush are brazenly trying to claim that Congress is failing to provide our soldiers the resources they need. Nothing could be further from the truth. Congress funded the troops. If the President vetoes that funding, he's the only one responsible for blocking funding for the troops. And John McCain knows that.

"I have urged Congress to stand up to the President's veto threat, rather than back down in a false game of chicken. If he does veto funding for our troops, Congress should send the same bill right back to him. And they should do this again and again, until the President finally understands that he cannot reject the will of the overwhelming majority American people.

"We must end the conflict in Iraq, and force the Iraqis and their neighbors to find a political solution to the conflict. The plan I announced months ago would cap funding at 100,000 troops to stop the McCain Doctrine of escalation and force an immediate withdrawal of 40-50,000 troops followed by a complete withdrawal in 12-18 months. Under my plan, complete withdrawal is not just a goal, it is a requirement backed by Congress' funding power."

This is someone who can think about what to do today to bring about change, as well as look toward the future, and unlike Obama he is not hemmed in by perceptions of inadequate strength or smallness of politics. Politics can be big and bold if the leadership required to move mountains is there. Right now, John Edwards is the only figure in the top tier providing that leadership. And my belief is that the GOP is so worried about 2008 because they can see the leadership deficit on their side.

I was pretty cool to John Edwards' first campaign for President. While I admired his attempt to bring the topic of poverty into a political race, which is almost unheard-of, he was in the Obama mold back then, a little too careful, a little too cautious, unable to really step up and stand for something. He is not perfect, but he has certainly changed that aspect, and for the better. And I feel like if people would actually tune in and listen instead of believing the hype, they would reach the same conclusion. I am not fully endorsing Edwards, but right now my Instant Runoff ballot looks like Edwards-Richardson-Dodd-Obama. I'll discuss Hillary in a later post.

UPDATE: Edwards on Iraq:

When we say complete withdrawal we mean it. No more war. No combat troops in the country. Period. But we're also being honest. If John Edwards is president, we're not going to leave the American Embassy in Iraq as the only undefended embassy in the world, for example. There will be Marine guards there, just like there are at our embassies in London, Riyadh, and Tokyo. And just the same, if American civilians are providing humanitarian relief to the Iraqi people, we're going to protect them. How in good conscience could we refuse to protect them and then allow humanitarian workers to be at risk for their lives or the work not to happen at all? Finally, it's also Senator Edwards' position that we will have troops in the region to prevent the sectarian violence in Iraq from spilling over into other countries, for counter-terrorism, or to prevent a genocide. But in the region means in the region - for example, existing bases like Kuwait, naval presence in the Persian Gulf, and so forth. I hope this helps explain Senator Edwards' position.

I don't think anyone's talking about not defending the Embassy when they ask for removing all combat troops. And troops in the region is not troops in Iraq. This is detailed, and I appreciate it, but it doesn't have to be this hard. Richardson easily stated "no residual force" and that's all that you have to say. Generally, however, I would say that I'm somewhat comfortable with this approach.

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A Noble Call For Sacrifice

Sen. Edwards' campaign has done a cool thing in conjunction with National Climate Action Day on April 14. Reduce Your Carbon is a pledge that you sign to take several steps (reducing your driving, replacing light bulbs with compact fluorescents, keeping your tires inflated, lowering your thermostat) to reduce their carbon footprint. This is smart and affordable besides. The worst thing you can do in this country, it seems, is to ask people to sacrifice. Sen. Edwards should be commended for crossing this third rail of American politics.

I'll have more thoughts on Edwards later today or tomorrow.

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The only "fraud" about the issue of voter fraud is the fraud perpetrated on the people of this country. The New York Times has dug into this issue over the last couple days and hasn't found a damn thing.

Five years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.

Although Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process and, possibly, cost the party election victories, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year.

Most of those charged have been Democrats, voting records show. Many of those charged by the Justice Department appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, a review of court records and interviews with prosecutors and defense lawyers show.

White House officials will tell you that there is a deliberate effort to go after voter fraud. What they won't tell you, which Josh Marshall and the Times will, is that most of these cases are either mistakes my immigrants, a lack of proper purging from the rolls that doesn't lead to multiple votes, or people gathering voter registrations who put in fake names to collect more money, which also never results in multiple votes. This is a massive effort to find a crime that doesn't exist. And the goal is to subvert confidence in elections, and give a pretext to suppress the vote. Here's Josh:

Republican party officials and elected officials use bogus claims of vote fraud to do three things: 1) to stymie voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote efforts in poor and minority neighborhoods, 2) purge voter rolls of legitimate voters and 3) institute voter ID laws aimed at making it harder for low-income and minority voters to vote.

This sounds like hyperbole but it is simply the truth. (A great example of this in microcosm was the 2002 senate election in South Dakota -- Johnson v. Thune -- in which Republicans spent the entire election ranting about a massive voter fraud conspiracy on the state's Indian reservations, charges which turned out to be completely bogus but had the aim of keeping voting down on the reservations.

The power of the Justice Department has been mustered to meet these political goals. Ultimately, this is a large part of why the US Attorneys were fired, and more important, why others were retained. Tom Maguire of Just One Minute commented here about the Steven Biskupic case, saying that the timeline was "way off" and that the US Attorney for Wisconsin did not indict an aide to Gov. Jim Doyle to affect the election. Apparently, you can't time indictments so that the much more impactful conviction and sentencing comes when you want it. But there was more at work here; Biskupic may have been on the edge of getting fired and needed to prove his loyal Bushitude:

Iglesias and Biskupic were the only U.S. attorneys in the country to have launched task forces to investigate voter fraud in the 2004 elections. There's arguably not another U.S. attorney in the country to have so thoroughly investigated such allegations. A review of Biskupic's manifold efforts demonstrates that without a doubt.

Despite that fact, Karl Rove and President Bush himself passed along complaints to Alberto Gonzales in October 2006 about Biskupic's and Iglesias' performance on voter fraud. Iglesias was fired. Biskupic, for some reason, wasn't. But it looks like it was a very close call.

Read the whole thing. It's clear that Biskupic was feeling the heat prior to January 2006, when he indicted Georgia Thompson. He was getting letters demanding voter fraud prosecutions in late 2005.

Voter fraud doesn't exist at any meaningful level. This is being ginned up by Republicans for purely political motives, and the Justice Department is being used as a tool in that political game. In fact, a panel report investigating voter fraud was altered by the administration, changing the text to read that it was "open to debate" instead of infinitesimal in scope. It's like changing the global warming reports. This is an absolute scandal. And you can't understand the US Attorney probe without it.

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Our Bad

The White House is now resorting to the excuse that didn't work for me in fourth grade, so good luck to them:

The White House said Wednesday that it may have lost what could amount to thousands of messages sent through a private e-mail system used by political guru Karl Rove and at least 50 other top officials, an admission that stirred anger and dismay among congressional investigators.

The e-mails were considered potentially crucial evidence in congressional inquiries launched by Democrats into the role partisan politics may have played in such policy decisions as the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

The White House said an effort was underway to see whether the messages could be recovered from the computer system, which was operated and paid for by the Republican National Committee as part of an avowed effort to separate political communications from those dealing with official business.

"The White House has not done a good enough job overseeing staff using political e-mail accounts to assure compliance with the Presidential Records Act," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said in an unusual late-afternoon teleconference with reporters.

I'm sure it's a herculean effort to find those emails. I also like how the spokesman is admitting to breaking the law here. He must be new.

There's no way to positively spin this. It's the equivalent of an 18-minute gap, with the added element that you can't really lose emails, and anyone who isn't technically illiterate knows that (and even those people will know that soon, because Democratic leaders are speaking up about it).

President Bush's aides are lying about White House e-mails sent on a Republican account that might have been lost, a powerful Senate chairman said Thursday, vowing to subpoena those documents if the administration fails to cough them up.

"They say they have not been preserved. I don't believe that!" Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy shouted from the Senate floor.

"You can't erase e-mails, not today. They've gone through too many servers," said Leahy, D-Vt. "Those e-mails are there, they just don't want to produce them. We'll subpoena them if necessary."

Of course, the rubber hits the road with the fact that only the US Attorney for the District of Columbia can prosecute a contempt of Congress charge, which is where the White House is headed with their stonewalling. So even while they're backed into a corner, there's still a way out for this Administration. Unless the Congress really wants to do something about it.

We again have an executive branch that believes the law does not apply to them. When this is all over, the most important thing that'll need to be done is to re-establish the rule of law so something like this can never, ever happen again.

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Spiraling Out Of Control

They hit Parliament today.

A suspected suicide bomber blew himself up in the Iraqi parliament cafeteria Thursday, killing at least eight people in a stunning assault in the heart of the heavily fortified, U.S.-protected Green Zone.

The blast came hours after a suicide truck bomb exploded on a major bridge in Baghdad, collapsing the steel structure and sending cars tumbling into the Tigris River, police and witnesses said. At least 10 people were killed.

This happened moments after Joe Lieberman called on Congress to stop the backbiting.

If the biting of backs were the only thing we had to worry about. And not the 47 Americans dead in 11 days in Iraq.

The good news is not just around the corner. There is no corner. Iraq is a circle where everything folds in on itself. Those who continue to push this fiction on the American public because they don't want to admit their own mistakes are as guilty as any criminals would be who lead to so much death.

UPDATE: Shorter Condi Rice: "Forget about it America, it's Chinatown. I mean Iraq."

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

So it goes.

This is very sad.

Kurt Vonnegut, whose dark comic talent and urgent moral vision in novels like "Slaughterhouse-Five," "Cat’s Cradle" and "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" caught the temper of his times and the imagination of a generation, died last night in Manhattan. He was 84 and had homes in Manhattan and in Sagaponack on Long Island.

His death was reported by Morgan Entrekin, a longtime family friend, who said Mr. Vonnegut suffered brain injuries as a result of a fall several weeks ago.

I have practically an entire bookshelf devoted to all my Vonnegut. Great writer, great man, nobody captured the wistfulness of comedy, the comic response to catastrophe, better than he.

And his last book, A Man Without A Country, was an informative and engaging collection of essays which described the absurdity of our current times with biting wit and, underneath, a real anger at these so-called patriots who took away the country he served in WWII. He could run rings around this collection of fools, and he did. He knew the suffering of war because he saw it first-hand in Dresden. He wasn't so blithe about the tragedy of human life. He laughed because there was nothing else to do.

He said it would be his last book. He was right. Kilgore Trout must have told him.

So it goes.

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”

-God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

UPDATE: Scouring the 'Net it occurs to me that I've finally found something that could unify the whole progressive blogosphere: they were all reading Vonnegut books in high school and college. This is a significant passage from 2003:

I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened, though, is that it has been taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d’etat imaginable. And those now in charge of the federal government are upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka “Christians,” and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or “PPs."

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They Never Learn

In 2006, the issue of stem cell research arguably gave the Senate to the Democrats. It was certainly a factor in the Missouri Senate race, especially with the attendant controversy surrounding Michael J. Fox in Rush Limbaugh.

Today the Senate passed a bill fully funding all stem cell research by one vote less than a veto-proof majority. A significant amount of Republicans up for re-election in 2008 voted against the bill. Here are the Senators voting no, with the significant ones in bold:

Allard (R-CO)
Bond (R-MO)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Casey (D-PA)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Coleman (R-MN)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Craig (R-ID)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Dole (R-NC)
Domenici (R-NM)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Hagel (R-NE)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Martinez (R-FL)
McConnell (R-KY)
Nelson (D-NE)
Roberts (R-KS)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Sununu (R-NH)
Thomas (R-WY)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Voinovich (R-OH)

Sununu is done. Coleman is done. Domenici will be in trouble. Hagel shows his true colors, again, as well.

There is an alternative measure, but that won't matter. The House passed the same bill that passed last year, and now the Senate hs done the same.

The American people have spoken on this issue, and they have decided that the promise of medical breakthroughs and cures is worth losing a few nonsentient blastocysts. The Republicans, yoked to their theocratic base, cannot see themselves through to break with them. So fire up the commercials, and we'll see everybody here in two years. Well, not EVERYBODY.

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Standards in Journalism

OK, that was hilarious.

MSNBC is doing their all-Imus-was-fired, all-the-time coverage, and David Gregory on Hardball just introduced a panel to discuss the situation for the umpteenth time. He starts out by introducing Armstrong Williams. Good to know their policy of who to give a public megaphone to is so SELECT.

Craig Crawford, who clearly didn't know he'd be paired with a guy who was taking money from the Department of Education to shill for them, VISIBLY LAUGHED and rolled his eyes.


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Bill Richardson Makes His Case - Through Action

I hate to dismiss the big breaking "Don Imus has been fired for being the real father of Anna Nicole's baby" stories, but this Bill Richardson/North Korea deal deserves more scrutiny.

Richardson went over there solely to get the remains of American soldiers who died during the Korean War. In his spare time, he managed to broker a deal with the North Koreans on the dismantling of their nuclear program. They will return to nuclear negotiations, let the inspectors back in, and begin to destroy the Yongbon nuclear reactor.

Here's what Richardson had to say about the deal (via email):

The bottom line is that diplomacy works - there is no other lesson to draw from this monumental breakthrough. And we desperately need someone in the White House who understands this and can restore American international leadership.

In today's world, we have to be willing to engage our adversaries in tough and direct talks that lead to resolution, not more confrontation and isolation. I don't have to tell you that there are trouble spots all over the world that could use some of this tough and smart American diplomacy.

I'm running for President, in part, to keep our country safe and secure. I'm proud that yesterday in North Korea I was able to make a contribution to real progress toward that goal.

It's such an indictment of this Administration that even their successes have to be helped along by Democrats to be implemented.

Richardson also received well-deserved plaudits for affirming his belief in the complete removal of ALL troops from Iraq, without a single exception. That means no permanent bases, no force confined to fighting terrorism, nothing. This is a major difference between him and most of the top candidates. And Markos explains the significance:

Richardson, in just the last couple of months, has brokered landmark deals in Darfur and North Korea -- efforts that had stymied the Bush Administration through two terms. There is no one in American politics today more respected and accomplished on foreign policy than Bill Richardson [...]

Of all the top candidates, Richardson is the only candidate who currently advocates a complete withdrawal from Iraq. That he's also the sharpest mind on foreign policy issues isn't a coincidence.

I don't know if Richardson just vaulted himself into the top tier or not. But he's had an incredibly good week. And his resume is without peer in the Democratic field. He deserves a long look.

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Consumer Not Producer

No time to do much more than read the news today. Please patronize the D-Day family of sites (which aren't a family, just a list on the blogroll to your right).


The Lincoln-Douglas Debate Where Lincoln and Douglas Agree

Newt Gingrich and John Kerry debated global warming in Washington yesterday, but both of them agreed that global warming is real and a dangerous threat. Therefore, neither side of the debate reflected the mainstream Republican position on global warming, which is that it doesn't exist. Only 13 percent of Congressional Republicans agreed with either side of the Gingrich-Kerry debate.

I think that discussing the best way to move forward is a good debate to have. But most every Republican in the Congress isn't there yet. And even if Gingrich is the nominee, you wouldn't hear two words about climate change at the 2008 RNC. And this is an issue that will cause millions of people around the world to starve if nothing is done. So before you have this debate, which I do feel is worthwhile, maybe it's more important for Gingrich to get his own troops in line.

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War Czar?

Um, wouldn't that be the Commander in Chief? Isn't this "war czar" nonsense a way to find someone to blame when Iraq fails to improve, other than the President? Isn't that pretty much how the "Drug Czar" position has been handled, as a convenient scapegoat?

Maybe that's why nobody wants the job.

At least three retired four-star generals approached by the White House in recent weeks have declined to be considered for the position, the sources said, underscoring the administration's difficulty in enlisting its top recruits to join the team after five years of warfare that have taxed the United States and its military.

"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," said retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks,' " he said.

We already have generals responsible for day-to-day operations. The "war czar" would just add another layer of bureaucracy. And this is supposed to be the party of smaller government.

What is needed in Iraq is a permanent diplomatic envoy, to try and forge a political solution, a cease-fire, something. Maybe they could get Bill Richardson, he seems to be able to negotiate landmark deals with supposed enemies in his spare time, when he isn't running New Mexico. By the way, he didn't need a "North Korea czar" to do it.

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The Deadly Shiite-Sunni Alliance That Doesn't Exist

According to the RNC fax that went out today and got reprinted by the Associated Press, now the Shiite militias receive training on how to build EFPs from Iran. See, before American military leaders claimed that the EFPs could only be built in Iran, until they found bombmaking factories inside Iraq. So now, they've changed the story to fit the new facts. Subtle.

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell would not say how many militia fighters had been trained in Iran but said that questioning of fighters captured as recently as this month confirmed many had been in Iranian training camps.

"We know that they are being in fact manufactured and smuggled into this country, and we know that training does go on in Iran for people to learn how to assemble them and how to employ them. We know that training has gone on as recently as this past month from detainees debriefs," Caldwell said at a weekly briefing.

I don't doubt that some Shiite militia has been trained in Iran; heck, a lot of them, including Sistani, were EXILED in Iran before the war. But here's the thing: we know that the EFPs are mainly being used by SUNNI groups. The vast majority of American troops who have been killed by EFPs were killed by Sunni insurgents. So, the question remains, who's training them? Who's supplying them? And who's manufacturing them? It certainly isn't Iran. It probably is Saudi Arabia. But we can't say that out loud.

Here's some more darling news.

Also Wednesday, Iraqi Cabinet ministers allied to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threatened to quit the government to protest the prime minister's lack of support for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal.

Such a pullout by the very bloc that put Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in office could collapse his already perilously weak government. The threat comes two months into a U.S. effort to pacify Baghdad in order to give al-Maliki's government room to function.

Meanwhile, bodies lay scattered across two central Baghdad neighborhoods after a raging battle left 20 suspected insurgents and four Iraqi soldiers dead, and 16 U.S. soldiers wounded, witnesses and officials said.

The fighting Tuesday in Fadhil and Sheik Omar, two Sunni enclaves, was the most intense since a massive push to pacify the capital began two months ago.

This gun battle apparently lasted throughout the day in central Baghdad, where it's so safe you can stroll hand-in-hand with John McCain. By the way, the surge is going so well that 15,000 more National Guard troops are going to be called up, because the numbers have to get larger to really undertake this counterinsurgency strategy. In other words, we were lied to about the eventual size of the escalation, which continues to escalate.

It's just interesting that the US military would try to pin all Iraq's problems on meddling from Iran at this point, when we know this:

An Iranian opposition group based in Iraq, labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, gets protection from the U.S. military despite Iraqi pressure to leave the country.

The U.S. considers the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MEK, a source of valuable intelligence on Iran.

The group also is credited with helping expose Iran's secret nuclear program through spying on Tehran for decades.

Iranian officials tied the MEK to an explosion in February at a girls school in Zahedan, Iran.

We are shielding an Iranian terrorist group responsible for bombings inside their country, while yelling about Iranians responsible for bombings inside Iraq.


UPDATE: Apparently they're now saying that Iran's ACTUALLY arming Sunnis. Too much. They're all swarthy people, right, so who cares if they're mortal enemies with 1400 years of historical feuding? They want to come to our house and kill us!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Noted Funnyman "Don Stewart"

Dana Perino, subbing for Tony Snow as the White House press secretary, played it for laughs today...

MS. PERINO: I’m not — I know that would be great to get me to negotiate from here. I would refer you back to the position of the President –

Q I don’t want to negotiate. I want a definition.

MS. PERINO: He has said that an arbitrary timetable in which we send a save-the-date card to the Iraqis is unacceptable to him.

Q So you say save-the-date? So you –

MS. PERINO: I stole that from Don Stewart. (Laughter.)

I guess she meant either the actor from Guiding Light or the minister. Or Jon Stewart, but she's too out of touch to know the difference.

Dana Perino reminds me of the kind of person who gets this extreme self-satisfaction out of saying something smart, even when she says it wrong. Unfortunately, the camera wasn't on her when she said "I stole that from Don Stewart" so I could see the shit-eating grin on her face.

Hey, let me give you some advice, Dana, that you could use for the rest of your stay. Ditch the comedy. Stick to the lies. It's what you have to do behind that podium.

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Subpoena Power

Democrats in the House and Senate have requested additional documents about the US Attorney activities. Did I say requested? I mean demanded. Not only do they want redacted and withheld documents related to the purge, but they want to hear more about the strange case in Wisconsin, where an aide to Gov. Jim Doyle was jailed by the US Attorney in the region right before the 2006 Election, and subsequently hastily dismissed on the basis of "very thin" evidence. Here's part of Leahy and Schumer's letter:

We are concerned whether or not politics may have played a role in a case brought by Stephen Biskupic, the United States attorney based in Milwaukee, against Georgia Thompson, formerly an official in the administration of Wisconsin's Democratic governor. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals was reportedly so troubled by the insufficiency of the evidence against Ms. Thompson that it made the unusual decision to issue an order reversing Ms. Thompson's conviction and releasing her from custody immediately after oral arguments in her appeal.

They also go into the fact that Wisconsin voter fraud cases suddenly shot up right after the counselor to the President claimed that Bush himself complained about a lack of voter fraud cases in the state. The whole myth of voter fraud is well-documented; it's a phantom that allows Republicans to push political cases (by the way, the wheels of this are greased by those fatalists on the Left who believe that every election is doomed because Karl Rove can flip a switch and change the voting outcomes from a master command center. What suffers is electoral confidence, which allows Republicans to make these bullshit claims which have little or no evidentiary basis).

I find it interesting that the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are already looking into the Biskupic situation. It shows that they understand how the real scandal in this case may be the US Attorneys who have NOT been fired, rather than the ones who have (although they shouldn't be neglected either). Indeed, do you know who Alberto Gonzales picked just today to be his new chief of staff? The US Attorney for Connecticut.

It appears that the Justice Department is going to fight the release of these documents. I don't know who'll be doing the fighting, as Gonzales is deeply immersed in "Cover-Yer-Ass-Lie-Telling School" somewhere in a Washington gym, where he's hitting the heavy bag with a picture of Patrick Leahy taped up to the mirror. But you knew that, at some point, the White House would have to stonewall. Something out there is too incriminating. They've been skewering federal law enforcement for years. It's only catching up with them now because of an excess of "D's" on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, Henry Waxman's going to hold hearings on the disinformation campaigns by the miltary over Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch.

Isn't the majority just DIFFERENT?

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Can We Talk

The President wants to talk to the Democrats about Iraq. He doesn't want to discuss a compromise, or negotiate or anything, he just wants to turn on that Bush charm and tell Pelosi and Reid why we're in the struggle of our very lives.

Bush is not aware, and from the coverage the media may not be aware, that nobody likes him, and that they like this new Congress a lot more.

Apparently a few Republican Congressmen, sensing disaster in 2008, want a compromise spending bill on Iraq. I don't see that happening either, although the Democratic leadership will probably negotiate with them and make an even more wishy-washy Iraq bill while not adding enough members to the coalition to override a veto. So it's really on the President, if he wants to actually move forward and get his money, to come off his high horse. Harry Reid will not be bullied by this nonsense talk because the President doesn't have the bully pulpit anymore. Nobody's listening to him and nobody likes him. So he can keep yelling and screaming, but if he actually wants the appropriation, I really think the Democrats will hold out until he submits to some strings.

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Only the Beltway Listens To Imus

Digby has a great piece about how the Beltway media and political class will return to Don Imus' show again and again because he's part of their little fraternity and he helps them sell their crappy books. What's even more stunning about this is the fact that nobody actually listens to Imus. When he suddenly became this Beltway darling about 10 years ago, I was very confused, because his ratings practically don't exist. But Bob Schieffer gives the game away in this 2005 piece:

CBS’s Bob Schieffer, Senators John McCain, Chris Dodd, Richard Santorum, and so on, seem remarkably, at times, willing to be part of the Imus gang on every morning from 6AM to 10AM on radio in 50 major markets, plus the MSNBC simulcast. The recent Arbitron ratings, if you find them reliable (and many don’t) show Imus listeners were down 25% in the first quarter. But up in others.

Book sellers, Senators, Congressmen, media personalities and even clergy are always after the same audience as Imus’s advertisers: affluent, educated and influential men, many of whom not only buy books, but count as swing voters. Imus’s show, while politically charged, skews neither right nor left, which makes it a refreshing switch from the wing-nut harangue of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or the Air America Crew. “I don’t know anyone in Washington who doesn’t listen to Imus or watch him on TV,” says CBS News and Face The Nation anchor Bob Schieffer, a frequent guest, who politely admitted to me the show has become a more valued outlet for many DC elite than either of his programs. “I get more feedback off my spots on Imus than from my own shows,” laughs Schieffer.

Notice how the author has to discount the sincerity of the only radio ratings service there is to make his point?

Just like everything else, the Beltway elite think that because all their friends are paying attention, everybody is. Don Imus gets 3 million listeners in 50 markets. Break that down, and those numbers are wretched. Absolutely awful. He'll probably do better now, after his suspension. This is the only time in the past 10 years that anyone but the pundit class has paid any attention to him. Of course, they've been overlooking his incivility for years because they all feel like they're part of his little club. Not that they wouldn't clutch their pearls and tut-tut about the deeply incivil blogosphere, mind you.

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Double Duty

Remember when the big reason for firing David Iglesias was that he was an "absentee landlord," because he spent 40 days a year in the Naval Reserve?

Well oh boy, does it go from bad to worse over at Justice.

A half-dozen sitting U.S. attorneys also serve as aides to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales or are assigned other Washington postings, performing tasks that take them away from regular duties in their districts for months or even years at a time, according to officials and department records.

Acting Associate Attorney General William W. Mercer, for example, has been effectively absent from his job as U.S. attorney in Montana for nearly two years -- prompting the chief federal judge in Billings to demand his removal and call Mercer's office "a mess."

Another U.S. attorney, Michael J. Sullivan of Boston, has been in Washington for the past six months as acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He is awaiting confirmation to head the agency permanently while still juggling his responsibilities in Massachusetts.

These are the most loyal of the loyal Bushies, who are the only ones to be trusted with these key positions. Of course, if they weren't loyal enough, and spending 10 minutes extra on their lunch hour out of the office, then they were presiding over chaos because of their rampant absenteeism.

The whole that Justice has dug is bigger than the building that houses them, at this point.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

VICTORY: Cabrillo LNG Terminal Stopped

I was unexpectedly yet unavoidably unable to attend any of today's public hearing in Oxnard for the proposed BHP Billiton LNG Terminal, but enough people showed up to make a difference.

The State Lands Commission decided late Monday not to award a lease essential to a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal off the Southern California coast, citing environmental concerns.

In the 2-1 vote, commissioners complicated efforts by Australia's BHP Billiton LNG International Inc. to build an $800 million terminal in the ocean northwest of Los Angeles, about 14 miles off Malibu and about 20 miles off Oxnard. BHP officials have said the facility would provide a reliable source of low-polluting energy.

The decision was met with loud cheers by the estimated 900 people who packed the auditorium for Monday's commission hearing. Many were opponents who wore blue shirts emblazoned with the words "Terminate the Terminal."

900 people, WOW. That's some real grassroots action. I'm guessing that Garamendi and Chiang did the right thing here (although a 2-1 vote the other way elected not to certify the environmental impact report, which keeps the door open for future predations, I fear).

LNG is a lower-polluting energy, but this terminal was unecessary, would have increased foreign consumption of oil, and would have lessened air quality. It's good to see it go down (for now).

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Can't Play This Game Anymore

Maybe in 2003, when Democrats weren't organized and didn't have as coherent a vision of the Party, and were willing to kid themselves into believing that if they were just a little MORE milquetoast, a little MORE moderate, maybe they could win over the average Rush listener, maybe then you could get away with a debate on Fox.

Not. This. Time. And even the more moderate Democrats in the race are secure enough to know that this won't hurt them in any way, shape or form, and in fact it will help disabuse America of the notion that the Fox News Channel is a legitimate broadcasting outlet and not a wing of the Republican National Committee. It's been a long time coming to have this argument in public, instead of just assuming that the whole country is as perceptive as people in Washington. If it says "News" on it, to a great many people it is, and it's high time that there's at least a little pushback, not against individuals but against the entire concept of Fox News as a whole.

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Pimp My Campaign Coffers

Come on, this can't be true, can it? Our governor is going on "Pimp My Ride" to pimp his own environmental policies, by overseeing the conversion of a classic Chevy Impala to biodiesel... but he can't even do something like that unless he gets paid?

It might appear that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to appear on MTV's popular reality show "Pimp My Ride" later this month is just another of his Hollywood crossover moves. But a closer look shows one of Schwarzenegger's big campaign donors is also getting a boost in the April 22 episode -- Galpin Motors.

One of Galpin's Southern California showrooms is where the hit TV show is filmed. Owners of the company, H.F. Boeckmann and Jane Boeckmann, are also among the governor's big supporters.

The Boeckmann's gave $44,600 to the governor's re-election committee last year and in 2005, they also gave another $44,600 to the governor's primary ballot committee, the California Recovery Team.

Also, Alan Skobin, general counsel for Galpin Motors is one of Schwarzenegger's appointees to the state's New Motor Vehicle Board.

Seriously, you have to be kidding me. Is there an political appointee who isn't one of Arnold's personal friends or cronies? Is there a single appearance that doesn't have campaign dollars involved? I know this is how Hollywood works, but does it have to be how Sacramento works?

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Ungrateful Bastards

What BarbinMD said. How dare those tens of thousands of protesters not be happy that we got rid of Saddam Hussein for them! How dare they not be thrilled that we gave them all open sun roofs on their houses and cars! How dare they not appreciate the contribution we have made to the Iraqi rubble industry!

I mean, where's that statue of George W. Bush in Baghdad's largest square? I know reconstruction hasn't gone well, but surely they can get a few contractors to put Dubya on a horse!

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He's The Madman We Listen To!

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held a press conference, so the whole Western world should stop what their doing and listen to what he had to say, right?

Um, why?

A year ago he claimed that Iran has successfully enriched uranium, without saying how much or whether it could even power a flashlight. Now he's coming back with more boasts, and the Western media follows happily along (although at least there's a little skepticism):

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran said today that his country has started to produce nuclear fuel on an industrial scale, and had reached the next phase of what he described as an irreversible program that his country had a right to pursue.

Some diplomats who follow the standoff between Iran and the West over its nuclear program wondered whether the claim might be at least partly a bluff.

OF COURSE it's a bluff, in the sense that he's making a claim, the impact of which is unknown. And all publicizing the bluff does is play into the hands of those in our government who have already decided on their desire for war, and are just hoping for a pretext. The Europeans get this:

Iran’s penchant for exaggerated public boasts about its atomic program made it difficult to assess the significance, if any, of today’s announcement. A European diplomat said the declaration seemed to have more to do with political showmanship than with technical breakthroughs.

But our homegrown neocons, who are desperate for an angle to allow them to put on their war helmets and lay maps on the floor and make attack plans, are lapping it up. Stanley Kurtz is breathlessly reporting estimates based on... well, the words of Ahmadinejad and scribbles on the back of an envelope. Gateway Pundit gets angry because Iranians are calling Americans names. Blue Crab Boulevard sees the Ahmadinejad statement as proof that, "While the West fiddles along, Iran is busy charging ahead with its nuclear weapons program." And here's some suggestive talk from Instapundit:

Everyone says that a nuclear-armed Iran is intolerable, but they mostly seem inclined to tolerate it rather than actually do anything, and even mild suggestions about doing anything are treated as beyond the pale. The likely consequence of this squeamishness and sloth, of course, is that when things come to a head more people will die than if we took effective action now.

He doesn't explain what that effective action is, but you can figure it out. And there are enough posts and stories like this out there to pretty much know that the Republican establishment welcomes the rhetoric.

All of this fretting and belligerence is based on an Ahmadinejad press conference. Mind you, these are the same people who often say that Ahmadinejad cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons. We can't trust him in that sense, so... why are we trusting him now? There is no independent confirmation that Iran will be able to have a bomb in, say, a year. Not even the IAEA can determine if there is an active weapons program. The rest is noise. And the noise is coming from the Iranian President who is routinely derided as "an irrational madman." Except when he's talking about the precise details of uranium enrichment.

The British sailor crisis averted last week showed to me that the inner workings of Iranian government is incredibly complex and occasionally contradictory. Public statements from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bear little resemblance to official Iranian policy, and both the ruling mullahs and the President have their own motives. We cannot base our policy on celebratory government statements, any more than we should base the war on terror on every word that comes off Osama bin Laden's lips. We have unreliable narrators in Iran when it comes to their nuclear program. I know that the White House is willing to be duped by statements like this because they have a vested interest in finding a pretext for war. But Democrats shoudn't make the same mistake, and they should demand some independent confirmation from the intelligence community before believing anything coming out of Tehran.

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