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

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

I suppose you know by now that the US military is building a three mile-long wall in Baghdad, a wall the troops are calling The Great Wall of Adhamiya, to separate Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods. Walls are always a great sign that things are working, and they can do as much to trap oppressed communities in and make them easy targets, as they can keep them safe. But I was wondering the same thing as the blogger at the excellent photojournalism site BAGNewsNotes, who wondered, if the military is putting up a wall, why haven't we seen it?

As such, there are at least two explanations for the absence. One, it is too difficult or dangerous to get a photographer to the spot in Adhamiya where this potentially-visually explosive structure is going up. Two, the media is punting on the visual side of the story to avoid heat from (and therefore, colluding with, and running interference for) the Administration.

As fuel for possibility two, we know that the LAT had a photographer in Adhamiya with the U.S. military because yesterday's Times article featured his photo of American soldiers searching a house in the district. Beyond that, even the photo caption refers to the wall. If the reporter and photographer are embedded in the neighborhood with the U.S. military, it's the military building the wall, and the wall is the subject of the story, I'll just ask again...

Where's the picture?

It simply doesn't make sense that the wall is in an area safe enough to be built but not safe enough to be photographed. So what you have to conclude is that somebody doesn't want you to see that wall.

Just like that certain somebody didn't want you to see this:

Because if there are shots of the US military having to resort to putting up a wall to keep Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq from killing one another, a tactic that almost never works (remember, these guys put a berm around Tal Afar, which did nothing to stop the continuing violence), and people in the United States get a look at them, they'll know for sure that Harry Reid wasn't being a defeatist when he said that the war is lost, he was being a realist.

The modus operandi for all countries at war is to hide the evidence. If people really knew how horrible war was they'd think twice about committing to it. They at least wouldn't consider it unless it was absolutely necessary.

UPDATE: I've been alerted to pictures here and here. One is from Agence France Press; the nighttime one is AP. They haven't made it into the NYTimes or LATimes articles, or on cable news.

Also, after looking at it, maybe that's why they're not showing it in the States: it's hard to tell from the perspective, but it doesn't look like it would keep anybody out.

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Get the Minimum Wage Bill to the White House already

OK, I'm going to slam the Democratic leadership again. In general I think they're doing a good job, but this one baffles me.

So the House and Senate decided on a compromise on how much money in corporate welfare it'll cost to give poor people a $2/hour pay raise (turns out it's $5 billion. They also had to throw out a limit to deferred compensation plans, which are a major corporate giveaway.

So, the bill's done, and the President has incdicated that, with these welfare payments to corporate America in place, he'll sign it. So the Democrats threw it into the Iraq spending bill?

The White House has indicated support for the minimum wage increase, but the measure is attached to an emergency spending bill for the Iraq war that President Bush has threatened to veto. Should he follow through on the threat, Democrats are likely to revive independent minimum-wage legislation.

Look, everybody's already on the record on this legislation. Those who voted against it will alredy be clubbed by negative ads. I sort of get that you can club those who voted for it in the first place with a "Congressman X voted against the minimum wage" ad when the Repubs vote against the final Iraq bill en masse, but here's the thing. Somewhere in America tonight a family is going hungry. They have to figure out if they're going to buy medicine or pay the rent. They have to figure out which child gets a Christmas gift this year, or if they don't. They actually need this pay raise, without delay. The House is for it, the Senate is for it, the President is for it. But the Dems just want to play a little bit more politics with it before these people can get their money.

Even if that's not a consideration, because the wage increase are gradual and timed and those timings won't change with a delay in passage (I'm not convinced), Democrats need to get a piece of their agenda to the President's desk. Most of the other 100 hours legislation has been bottled up in the Senate or in conference. Nothing's become law. The minimum wage is low-hanging fruit, and even though I detest the fact that you have to give rich businessmen money to let a poor guy make $7 an hour, this would be a major accomplishment. It should happen immediately.

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Idiot Liberal

Before the Iraq supplemental bill got to the floor, Rep. David Obey got into a celebrated shouting match with an antiwar protester and Marine Mom, calling her an "idiot liberal" for agitating against Obey's plan to add a withdrawal timeline when she "didn't know what was in the bill."

The key passages here were these two:

The liberal groups are jumping around without knowing what the hell is in the bill! You don't have to cut off funds for an activity that no longer is legal! [...]

That bill ends the war! If that isn't good enough for you, you're smoking something illegal!

Turns out that, after the conference report, the activity won't be illegal, as House Democrats have caved and will accept the Senate's language that the end date for withdrawal is "advisory."

Next week, the House and Senate will reconcile the competing pieces of legislation they passed last month and send a new bill to the White House. House Democratic leaders have convened meetings throughout the week with their members, urging them to accept a compromise calling for a goal, as the Senate has done, not a mandatory deadline.

Liberals who want to end the occupation for Iraq were idiots because they didn't trust Rep. Obey and the Democratic leadership not to roll over and submit a useless, advisory withdrawal timeline. If the President had any sense he'd sign the law and commence laughing for the next 19 months. Fortunately, he's a stubborn fool, so he won't sign it. But I've had it with our "betters" in the Democratic Party telling the grassroots to shut up and they'll handle what's best for us.

The party line here is that the President's going to veto it anyway, so what difference does it make? The answer is, plenty, as Kagro X explains.

"The president is going to veto it anyway, so what difference does it make?" A good question. Of course, the same question could be asked of Senate Democrats who refuse to go along with the binding timeline language. Why not go along? The president is going to veto it anyway, so what difference does it make?

And yet, no one asks that question of conservative Democrats. Only of progressives. What difference do your principles make? The president says they don't matter, and the Congressional leadership concurs.

So the plan now is, Democrats offer the president full funding for the troops, a billion more for veterans' health care, in exchange for "advisory" language on redeployment as a "goal," plus the ability to waive requirements that troops sent to Iraq be fully trained and armored.

What difference does it make? The president is going to veto it anyway.

Well, he damned well better, at this point. Though frankly, I can't see why he would. Can you?

After years and years of watching Democrats lose every seat of power in the government, the progressive movement coalesced, got moving again, and dragged the stinking carcass of the Democratic Party across the finish line. For a reward, we are told to shut up, sit down, and mind our manners.

Forget the fact that the strategy is nonsense. Forget the fact that, if the bill is going to be "vetoed anyway," it makes sense to offer the strongest possible opposition to ensure that there's a clear contrast between the President and the Congress. This comes down to a matter of respect.

David Obey, you're a keen mind and a longtime stalwart in the Congress, but in this case, you're just an idiot liberal.

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Quick Hits

Just to get me through the weekend:

• John Edwards' hiring of Joe Trippi seems like a smart move by his campaign, but considering that Edwards was reportedly staffed up on consultants, I can't help but think that this is more of a public relations move to get the netroots on his side by hiring the hero of the Dean campaign. Still, the fact that a candidate is reaching out to the netroots at all is progress in this Presidential race.

• The House has been quietly moving forward on a variety of bills, including representation for DC residents in Congress and allowing shareholders a say in executive compensation packages. While completely reasonable (the DC bill is balanced by an extra seat for Utah, which will get one in 2010 anyway), it'll be a struggle for both these bills in the Senate. Man, we need some more friendly Senators and a Democratic President in 2008.

• It's absolutely disgusting that a known terrorist was set free from an American jail, solely because he's the RIGHT kind of terrorist - an anti-Cuban one. Luis Posada Carriles blew up an Air Cubana flight in Barbados in 1976, with the tacit support of the CIA. His whole dirty dossier is at the link.

• Somalia, the "big success" in the war on terror, is still a horror show. Over 300,000 people have fled the capital and it's rapidly becoming a humanitarian crisis. Speaking of which, I saw an hourlong committee hearing about Darfur on C-SPAN yesterday. It occurs to me that cable news is entirely useless on giving any kind of national or global perspective. As a result, the world has dithered for years on Darfur while hundreds of thousands die. Next week begins several days of global action at Save Darfur.

• Reasonable conservative Jon Swift was funnier than I was about Alberto Gonzales' memory loss.

Charging drivers to enter congested areas in Manhattan sounds crazy, but as an environmental initiative it's pretty bold. New York is hardly the problem with regard to greenhouse gas emissions; in fact, on a per capita basis it's the greenest city in America, mainly because most people DON'T have cars. Apparently there is a 20-year history to this legislation, which is in place in central London.

• I missed out on writing about the Pulitzer Prizes. Charlie Savage's Boston Globe reporting on signing statements was extremely worthy of the honor. Why a reporter from Boston had to reveal this Washington issue should be of some consternation to the Washington Post.

• Hugo Chavez is putting a Zeppelin in the sky over Caracas, equipped with a camera to monitor street crime. But I agree with this comment at Unqualified Offerings: "Now they need to arm them, hang biplanes from them or pack them full of monkeys. Or pack them full of armed biplane-piloting monkeys."

• According to a report, "The French knew in 2001" that al Qaeda was plotting hijackings of aircraft within the United States, delivering 9 reports to US intelligence services.

• If you want a legal analysis of Gonzales v. Carhart, there's this from Yale law professor Jack Balkin. An excerpt:

The second point worth noting is that Justice Kennedy invokes what has become the new rhetoric of abortion opponents-- the notion that women often regret abortions and that they are deceived by doctors into having them... The new anti-abortion rhetoric attempts to demonstrate that few women in their right minds, who really understand what abortion involved, would defy their natural love for their children and consent to an abortion, much less seek to procure one. It tries to perform a rhetorical jujitsu move on the idea of choice, by suggesting-- without any empirical evidence, that women don't really choose abortions, and that to have an abortion is actually a violation of their "true" choices...

In fact, the argument about mother love seems to be a makeweight; it seems to involve the claim that Congress knows better than women do about what they would choose in certain situations. The law forecloses choice rather than informing it. As Justice Ginsburg points out in her dissent, this is the very sort of paternalism about women ability to make decisions about their reproductive lives that the right to abortion seeks to counter. Justice Kennedy's use of this new form of anti-abortion rhetoric reveals that this particular line of opposition to abortion, at least, is premised on the notion that women don't really know or really understand what they want when they seek abortions.

• "The tax burden in the U.S. is shifting away from the rich, to the point where in a few years it could change from being progressive to effectively flat, a new study says." Sorry, I'm playing class warfare. By quoting the Wall Street Journal.

• And finally, "I am the lizard king! I can do anything! Even get pardoned for a 37 year-old incident!" Seriously, Gov. Charlie Crist might be my new favorite Republican. He's not an action hero, but if the national media wanted to find a REAL post-partisan figure, it'd be Crist.



Friday, April 20, 2007

"I hope it's your family members that die"

Of all the wingnutty statements from Rep. Dana "you say Taliban, I say Paliban" Rohrabacher, this may be the wingnuttiest. What makes it worse is that he said it in the presence of Col. Ann Wright, who served this country for 45 years in the military and the diplomatic service, fighting for the very values on which Rohrabacher spits.

During a Congressional hearing this week with members of the European Parliament on the practice of extraordinary rendition, whereby detainees are flown on CIA planes to secret prisons all over the world to be tortured either at Guantanamo or their countries of origin, Rohrabacher scoffed at all notions of eliminating this deeply troublesome program, which has harmed our stature with our allies and around the world and has debased our souls, and then busted out with this:

Rohrabacher railed against anyone who questioned the right of the Bush administration to do whatever it wanted, legal or illegal, to prevent terrorist acts and said that by not supporting the Bush policies was consigning their country to the terrorists. In particular he said that any Americans who questioned the extraordinary rendition were un-American [...]

Rohrabacher never once mentioned due process, the rule of law, right to a trial for anyone picked up in the extraordinary rendition program. Merely because persons were “rendered” and imprisoned by the US meant to Rohrbacker they were guilty.

Rohrabacher said if European countries did not cooperate with the United States and go along with whatever the Bush administration wanted, they were condemning their countrymen to death by not using extralegal methods to imprison terrorist suspects. When citizens attending the hearing, including members of Codepink Women for Peace and Veterans for Peace, heard Rohrabacher’s statement, they collectively groaned. Then, much to the shock and disbelief of everyone in the hearing room, Rorhbacker said to those who had expressed displeasure at his statements: "I hope it’s your family members that die when terrorists strike."

So a US Representative wished for death on his fellow Americans because they disagree with him that the best way to fight terror is to hook people's genitals up to electrodes so they can give us false information.

This is of course nothing new for Rohrabacher. During the election he told the father of an Iraq soldier that "you're the one calling your son a war criminal." (go about 5:15 into the clip)

But this is pretty low on the scale of human discourse. Hoping that your critics are killed by terrorists. And don't forget, after the fact he'd exploit those dead to justify permanent and endless war.

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The Nuttiest Nut in the Tree

I'm a bit outraged out at comments from the right about the Virginia Tech shooting, but Dinesh D'Souza's contribution, that when bad things happen, atheists are nowhere to be found, is choice.

What's hilarious is that historically the Problem of Evil has always been a problem for the devout - how can an all-perfect, all-loving God allow evil in the world?

These insane ideologues have actually turned that on its head and now think that the Problem of Evil is a problem for ATHEISTS, as if evil's existence proves God's existence or something. And D'Souza KNOWS this, and even addresses it!

Many responders informed me that tragedies are normally considered a problem for religion, not atheism. Where is God when bad things happen? Yes, people, I know this. My point was that if evil and suffering are a problem for religion--and they are--they are an even bigger problem for atheism.

When there is a tragedy like the one at Virginia Tech, the ones who are suffering cannot help asking questions, "Why did this have to happen?" "Why is there so much evil in the world?" "How can I possibly go on after losing my child?" And so on.

My point was that atheism has nothing to offer in the face of tragedy except C'est la vie. Deal with it. Get over it. This is why the ceremonies were suffused with religious rhetoric. Only the language of religion seems appropriate to the magnitude of tragedy.

Maybe to you. You certainly never asked Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris what they would say to the mourners. And because you can't imagine a world without a God doesn't mean nobody else can. People ask those questions out of a human need to try and impose order on chaos, meaning on the meaningless. Needs do not imply existence. You're building the world that works for you and then insisting that somebody else built it. You believe in God because it makes you feel better. You are more comfortable in a world with Osama bin Laden (D'Souza has previously agreed with bin Laden's critique that American culture is depraved), with a God who is angry and vengeful and enforces strict codes on His subjects, than a world which is secular.

And you have taken a senseless tragedy where even our god-lovin' evangelical President couldn't make up any meaning to it and used it as a club with which to beat atheists for no reason.

Feel threatened?

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Expect Them To Politicize Tragedy

Digby points us to this tidbit in a CNN story speculating on who will replace Abu Gonzales once he decides to spend time forgetting the names of his family:

Several other officials said Republicans have begun discussing a possible replacement.

One name that consistently comes up is Ted Olson, former solicitor general. Olson is seen as having the experience, reputation and credibility needed to steer the department for the next year and a half, through the end of Bush's term.

Digby goes through all of Olson's dirty dealings over the years, his role as a top dog in the hunting of President Clinton, a leader of the Arkansas Project. Digby doesn't mention that Olson argued Bush v. Gore before the Supreme Court as well. The conclusion is thus:

I think it's time for Republicans to realize that their political hitmen are going to have to take a rest and go out into the private sector and make some millions for a while. I'm sure they'll be back. They always come back. But right now, the VRWC needs to take a break. They aren't installing any more dirty trickster, character assassins for the next two years. Nah guh happ'n.

Sounds right, except for one thing: Ted Olson's wife Barbara was on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on 9-11.

If Olson was nominated, the conservative noise machine would play up the "his wife was on one of the 9-11 planes" angle, saying things like "Liberals are hypocrites for attacking a 9-11 widow when THEIR 9-11 widows are unassailable," and it would generally be the most crass set of confirmation hearings you can imagine, and would lower the discourse in this country more than you could have ever possibly thought it could go.

Which is why it will almost certainly happen.

There's another thing at work here which would make Olson almost certainly radioactive in any Administration but this one. He is somewhat caught up in the US Attorney scandal. He currently works at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a top-flight wingnut law firm in L.A. They were, for a time, handling the Rep. Jerry Lewis investigation (and he paid them over $900,000 to do it). The US Attorney in charge of that investigation, Debra Wong Yang, was suddenly hired by Gibson Dunn for $1.5 million dollars, and her replacement dropped the Lewis case. Dianne Feinstein made an oblique reference in the Gonzales hearing yesterday to an incident where "Harriet Miers discussed whether to remove Deborah Yang from Los Angeles," which was new information.

Now, we don't know how involved Olson was in Lewis' case, but clearly he knows Harriet Miers, having been Solicitor General when she was working under Bush in his first term. And he knows pretty much everybody at the Justice Department too. So there's a client of his law firm's that needs the government to get off his back, and the firm is trying to buy the prosecutor off but it may not be working, so somebody places a phone call to the White House, and all of a sudden, Yang takes the job?

Not the most implausible thing in the world. It ought to certainly come up in any confirmation hearing.

Of course, none of that will matter 'cuz he's a 9-11 widow.

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Doolittle: I'm a Duke lacrosse player

Stunning audio from John Doolittle's press conference today. The key part of the transcript:

I have been an effective representative for the region and shall continue to be one despite this situation. Finally I will just say that if there is anything we should have learned from the Duke lacrosse case, it is that the destruction of the reputations of innocent people can occur when the government, the press and the public jump to unfounded conclusions. I ask everyone to withhold judgment until the all facts are known and the truth can prevail.

I've come up with a new slogan for him. Vote Doolittle '08: he didn't assault that girl!

This statement, by the way, is the standard Republican template of scandal denial, handed out via Republican National Committee fax to any corrupt Congressman who requests it. There's a blank line for your name (Cunningham, Ney, Doolittle, Renzi) and your state, and the martyr du jour that you can compare your situation to (Duke lacrosse case, Anna Nicole's baby daddy, Joan of Arc Sanjaya Malakar, Richard Gere kissing an Indian woman, Jesus Christ).

It comes in very handy.

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Serious Man

John McCain's little joke, and more to the point the response to it, has made him righteously angry!

The Arizona Republican was asked for his reaction to any negative response to the joke when he arrived in Las Vegas for a fundraiser Thursday night.

“Please, I was talking to some of my old veterans friends,” he told reporters. “My response is, Lighten up and get a life.”

When reporters asked if the joke was insensitive, McCain said, “Insensitive to what? The Iranians?”

The Iranians? They're just human scum! Words like "bomb Iran" from an American political leader should never make them nervous! Right?

Here's the double standard made manifest.

...that if an Iranian leader with great visibility--say, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad--had been videotaped singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb America," (which, yes, sounds foolish but you get the idea) it wouldn't be taken lightly here. Fox News would treat it as a sign that the regime was unstable and dangerous and, voila, we'd allow it to bring us a step closer to war.

I don't know what the reaction to the McCain video has been in Iran. But since they're the weaker nation, if their reaction is anything other than passive acceptance of our dear senator's foolishness, then our reaction to their reaction will determine whether this becomes a big deal or not.

I predicted that this would turn into a campaign ad and MoveOn has already done it. People who want to be President don't get to treat foreign policy crises like Iran by making jokes about raining bombs on them. Or at least, they should be exposed as not being serious.

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Please Help

Hi, I'm Alberto Gonzales. You might remember me from such scandals as "the torture memo," "wiretapping American citizens without a warrant," and the US Attorney Scandal. I'm writing today to ask for your support. You see, I want to be the best Attorney General for this country. But my inability to remember anything that's ever been done during my tenure at the Justice Department severely hampers my ability to do my job. Fortunately, I can take weeks off at a time to practice for Congressional hearings, and I have a crackerjack staff who can handle all of the loyalty oaths for interns and direct meddling into ongoing investigations on their own.

But my failing mind is really hampering my ability to look like I'm doing my job. How can anyone believe it when I say that nothing improper was done in the firing of US Attorneys, when I can't even remember what was done in the first place? And I'm not alone. There are so many of us Bush Administration officials that have chronic memory loss. Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, Condoleezza Rice, just to name a few. Do you want to see these noble figures slurping up soup and playing imaginary poker games in their head while they struggle to understand how to tie their own shoes? (Democrats don't answer)

That's why I've started the "Alberto Gonzales Center for Wiping Out Republican Memory Loss." For just the price of a cup of coffee, you can help fund research into studying the Republican brain, and treatments to make sure these lapses never happen again. Call now at 1-800-... Damn, what are those numbers again? Help me, dammit!

Thank you.

(UPDATE: Sadly, Republican politicians aren't giving to the Gonzales Memory Loss Fund. They just want him to go away.)

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You Knew It Would Happen

Harry Reid's clear-eyed recognition that the war is lost has led to howls of derision from conservative politicos and gasbags. Of course, as Greg Sargent notes, he was just repeating the thoughts and feelings of the American public.

Actually, Reid is expressing an opinion held by pluralities of Americans. It's not easy to gauge public opinion on this question -- because few if any polls ask bluntly whether people think the war is completely lost already -- but these numbers strongly suggest that Reid's position is a far more mainstream position than the one held by Bush and the GOP:

USA Today poll, March 5:

Which comes closer to your view about the war in Iraq?
Definitely win: 11%.
Probably win: 17%.
Can win, but don't think will win: 20%
Do not think it can win: 46%

CNN poll, March 13:

Do you think the U.S. can win or cannot win the war in Iraq?
Can win: 46%
Cannot win: 46%

Washington Post/ABC News poll, April 16:

Will U.S. win or lose the war?
Lose: 51%
Win: 35%

Rasmussen poll, April 16:

Thirty-three percent (33%) of American voters believe that history will ultimately judge the U.S. mission in Iraq a success. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 50% of Likely Voters believe the mission will be deemed a failure.

At least one GOP Senator understands that.

In another sign of Republican unease with the president's Iraq policies, a third GOP senator expressed support Thursday for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq under certain conditions.

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe announced she would sponsor a bill to require American commanders to plan a withdrawal within 120 days of the bill's enactment, unless the Iraqi government meets a series of benchmarks.

"The Iraq government needs to understand that our commitment is not infinite," said Snowe, a moderate from Maine who frequently departs from the party line.

President Bush has insisted that Congress not impose any limits on his conduct of the four-year-old war. But Snowe has taken issue with that view.

"It is our business as well," she said Thursday.

I forgive Harry Reid and Olympia Snowe for responding to their constituents and fulfilling their Constitutional duty. I do not forgive a bunch of magical thinkers who are making up their strategy in Iraq as they go along in a desperate attempt to run out the clock and escape blame.

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The Bank

This is funny stuff:

All this creativity from the progressive movement. Very encouraging. Now if it would only pay anyone money...

Apparently, Wolfowitz also got his chippy a contract to be an advisor to the Pentagon on Iraq in 2003. Man, I need to hook up with some Republican powerbroker to get myself on Easy Street. Any takers? Victoria Clark? Dana Perino?

You can take action and demand that such cronyism has no place at the World Bank at Avaaz.

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In For The Long Haul

We've dispensed with the fiction that if we just train the Iraqi Army, we'll be out of Iraq in no time:

Military planners have abandoned the idea that standing up Iraqi troops will enable American soldiers to start coming home soon and now believe that U.S. troops will have to defeat the insurgents and secure control of troubled provinces.

Training Iraqi troops, which had been the cornerstone of the Bush administration's Iraq policy since 2005, has dropped in priority, officials in Baghdad and Washington said [...]

U.S. officials don't say that the training formula - championed by Gen. John Abizaid when he was the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and by Gen. George Casey when he was the top U.S. general in Iraq - was doomed from the start. But they said that rising sectarian violence and the inability of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to unite the country changed the conditions [...]

President Bush first announced the training strategy in the summer of 2005.

"Our strategy can be summed up this way," Bush said. "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

Military leaders in Baghdad planned to train 325,000 Iraqi security forces. Once that was accomplished, those forces were to take control. Casey created military transition teams that would live side by side with their Iraqi counterparts to help them apply their training to real-world situations.

Throughout 2006, Casey and top Bush administration leaders touted the training as a success, asserting that eight of Iraq's 10 divisions had taken the lead in confronting insurgents.

The problem was never going to be solved by training. There is no coalition of "anti-violence" in Iraq right now. The British just handed over control in Maysan province to the same Shiite militia that we're fighting in Diwaniya. The Shiites are fighting the Sunnis. The Sunnis are fighting the Shiites. The Kurds are kicking the Arabs out of Kirkuk and that whole situation is about to spill over into yet another war zone. And everyone's fighting the US forces.

Essentially, what this article says is that we're going to dig in and occupy Iraq even more strongly, while still not putting the forces on the ground necessary to actually do that (it'd take half a million). Meanwhile we're doing things like building walls between Sunni and Shiite areas, which didn't work when we tried it years ago. What we're REALLY doing in Iraq is rowing in place, a metaphor made all too real in this Needlenose post:

For the past week, I've been thinking about what to do with this copy of Baghdad Weekly (PDF - 2.3MB) Swopa forwarded to me. The Weekly is the official newsletter of the MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) program run by Halliburton's KBR division inside Baghdad's Green Zone (they're hiring, btw.)

Trouble is, I can't get past a page 1 story on a recent rowing relay race called the Tigris 6K. I don't know about you, but when I hear about a rowing race on the Tigris, I think of boats, water, and a river in Iraq. The actual race, however, involved stationary bikes rowing machines on asphalt, surrounded by concrete blast walls and guardposts. Ironically, the Tigris river itself is literally on the other side of the protective walls.

If that doesn't sound like the British playing tennis behind the walls of the consulate in the Punjab, I don't know what does. And it will be greeted with the same result; an eventual driving out of the colonial power.

This was written a while ago by an Iraqi, but it captures the full spirit of what we've accomplished after 4 years in Iraq:

Iraqis became more courageous and fearless because they used to the daily killing by all the types of the gunmen including Iraqi army, US army, insurgents, thieves and the security companies.

Some Iraqis became cleverer and they started to invent new ways in killing each other, stealing each other, hiding weapons, kidnapping and cheating.

We have more ministers than any other country on this crazy earth. We have even useless ministries which were invented to please some political parties. We have as far as I know 36 ministries while the USA has only 15 ministries. So we have more than double. I couldn’t know almost 30 of them because they don’t show on TV and we have no idea about their work or whether they do some work or not. In fact and as far as I knew, most of them have no idea about the work of the ministries they run.

Iraqis never feel afraid of the electric shocks because we have electricity power for only two hours a day or three hours as a maximum. The rest of the day we have to use small Chinese generator that cost something like 100 $ which are not really powerful enough to kill people.

Iraqis found new ways to save almost everything and the most important thing is the fuel which costs Iraqis fortune. Because the ministry of oil increased the prices of the fuel many times, Iraqis started to invent ways of saving the fuel like mixing one type of fuel with another one which is cheaper to save some dollars or using the cars and the electricity generator for limited times like using the car only to go to work and using the generator only at night. To be honest, until now, I don’t know why we suffer of fuel shortage although our officials and specially our minister of oil who knows nothing about oil always boast that we are one of the richest oil country and we have the best oil qualities and the cheapest extracting costs.

We have the largest number of blast walls which I believe that can form three matches of China great walls. Each ministry blocks the roads that lead to its building with tens of these walls. I think that the cement used in these blast walls is enough to build 1000 skyscrapers.

We have the biggest number of the bodyguards in the world. Each minister has not less than 15 4 wheel cars carrying at least 5 bodyguards. Each of the 275 members of the Iraqi parliament has the same number of the bodyguards and some of them (the heads of the political blocs) has even more than that. By the way, I didn’t count the bodyguards of the presidential committee members, the prime minister and his two deputies and the parliament president and his two deputies because they have foreign bodyguards.

And we're going to double these achievements, by taking the Iraqi forces out of the equation and fully becoming the French in Algeria.

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Single Payer Moves Forward In California

Randy Bayne reports that Sheila Kuehl's single-payer health care bill, SB 840, passed the Senate Health Committee which she chairs on a party-line vote, and so did the companion bill (SB 1014) which describes how it would be funded. Randy's post details the hearings on the subject, and it's a good read.

There's some more here, but essentially, Kuehl's bill signs up all residents of California for health care through a tax, split between payroll and employers. There are additional taxes on investment income. This will of course be the big stumbling block, because the numbers for taxation sound big. But ultimately, the cost to everyone in California is likely to be cheaper than the current costs of our broken employer-based health care, without getting into details.

Kuehl, my Senator, is doing the absolute right thing in continuing to push for transformational change in our health care system, and building popular support along the way. She will continue to pass the bill until somebody signs it, and this puts more pressure on the governor, especially in this year that he said would be a year of health care reform. Now he still hasn't gotten a sponsor for his plan, but Kuehl's bill is moving forward. By having that out there early, the pressure increases for compromise to go to SB840 rather than away from it.

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Blogiversary Random Ten

A little music to coincide with what, by all rights, should be a national holiday:

Marching Bands of Manhattan - Death Cab For Cutie
Irish Blood, English Heart - Morrissey
Just A Thought - Gnarls Barkley
Sleep Tonight - Stars
Women's Prison - Loretta Lynn
Motion Picture Soundtrack - Radiohead
Girl You Have No Faith In Medicine - The White Stripes
Lovefool - The Cardigans
Steam Engine - My Morning Jacket
I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor - Arctic Monkeys

As a side note, this is pretty awesome:

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Happy Blogiversary To Me

I started this site three years ago. Since then, I've had, according to sitemeter, 57,765 unique visitors and served 69,771 pages (plus a few more because I don't think I put a traffic tracker on right away). Last year that number was 16,000 visitors and 20,000 pages. So it's been a good year. Based on current stats, next year will only get better.

People have this view that blogging is just this fun little diversion where you talk about what your dog ate or what movie you saw last night. This site started as a diversion, maybe a post a day. This is my 3,635th post, which averages out to about 3 1/2 a day, but I'd guess that has gone up to 7 or 8 a day this year. For political blogging, in this age when the news never stops, it's much deeper and richer, and I feel like the collected output of this online journal represents a public policy education that outstrips any political science class I've ever had. I do this because I have a love of country and a desire to see it work for the greatest number of people. It can be tiring, to be sure. You sometimes can feel overwhelmed, a case of information overload. But in the 3-year history of this site I've only taken one extended break, for about two weeks after Hurricane Katrina because it was just getting too big.

(By the way, just so I can add some news into this post, FEMA is asking for money back from students who they initially encouraged to apply for assistance. That's all class. They decide after the fact that they were being too generous, and ask for money back? Seems like they're trying to recoup the fruits of their own incompetence. Ahh, life in the Bush Administration...)

This next year should be great, it'll start with a bang, as next weekend is the California Democratic Party convention. I'm going to try and bring you as much color and flavor of the big meeting, which will feature speeches by every Presidential candidate but Biden and Gravel. I'll also get a sense of how the Party is progressing all over the state. So stay tuned.

Anyway, I'm going on and on, but I wanted to thank everyone who's stopped by over the years, including my precious few regular commenters (start commenting, people!). This started out with maybe 10 hits a day, and even then I couldn't believe that people found me. Now we're cruising at over 200 unique visitors a day during the week, and even though that pales in comparison to the big boys, it knocks me out to think about it. When I did stand-up more, it would be an event to play to a crowd of 200. Now that's the daily average. It's humbling to me, and I sincerely thank you.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Down Goes Renzi! Down Goes Renzi!

Yet another Congressman raided by the FBI.

In a second blow to House Republicans this week, the FBI raided a business tied to the family of Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) Thursday afternoon as part of an ongoing investigation into the three-term lawmaker.

Details of the raid on Patriot Insurance Agency in Sonoita, Ariz., were not immediately available. Renzi’s most recent financial disclosure form lists the business as an asset belonging to his wife, Roberta, and valued at $1 million to $5 million.

Little is known about the inquiries into Renzi’s activities, but according to media reports the Justice Department has been running a two-track investigation into Renzi regarding a land deal, as well as a piece of legislation he helped steer that may have improperly benefited a major campaign contributor. It was not immediately clear which investigation the raid pertained to, and neither his attorney nor his spokesman could be immediately reached for comment.

As a result of the raid, Renzi is stepping down from his seat on the House Intelligence Committee, according to a statement from his office obtained Thursday evening by Roll Call.

In the interest of bipartisanship, I should mention that a district staffer to Rep. William Jefferson was subpoenaed for testimony this week. But that makes it about 30-1 or something.

The 109th Congress is going to go down in history, man, I can sense it. You think they can a quorum in the federal pen?

Connection to the US Attorney scandal: the federal prosecutor in Arizona (Paul Charlton) was removed and wondered if it was because he started the ball rolling on the Rick Renzi investigation.

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Keeping Score

According to various conservative bloggers, the massacre at Virginia Tech happened because of:

Microsoft (for coming out with Counterstrike), Trent Reznor, collegiate grade inflation, the students were too wussy to fight back, the lack of God in the classroom, not enough concealed weapons, nobody listened to the shots closely enough to know when the shooter was out of bullets, not locking people up if they act in any way weird, co-ed dorms, being an English major (same link), the shooter was a closet Muslim, and whatever comes into Debbie Schlussel's head every five minutes.

I'm sure I'm missing a few, and for that I'm thrilled. Dumpster diving like this is giving me a headache.

UPDATE: The devil made him do it.

UPDATE II: This was a dumb statement by Obama. Mass murder is like outsourcing and Imus? I almost get the outsourcing thing, certainly more than Imus, but both are unfortunate statements.

UPDATE III: The massacre happened because too many people hate McDonald's.

And the massacre in no way happened because of a loophole in Viriginia's gun laws that allowed someone who "presents an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness" to buy two handguns.

UPDATE IV: It goes without saying that this was also the Democrats' fault.

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War Is Over

Harry Reid, who voted for the war, has really impressed with his evolution and his willingness to say what needs to be said. For the Majority Leader of the United States Senate to say something like this is very unusual.

The war in Iraq "is lost" and a US troop surge is failing to bring peace to the country, the leader of the Democratic majority in the US Congress, Harry Reid, said Thursday.

"I believe ... that this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything, as is shown by the extreme violence in Iraq this week," Reid told journalists.

Reid said he had delivered the same message to US President George W. Bush on Wednesday, when the US president met with senior lawmakers to discuss how to end a standoff over an emergency war funding bill.

"I know I was the odd guy out at the White House, but I told him at least what he needed to hear ... I believe the war at this stage can only be won diplomatically, politically and economically."

That must have been a cheery meeting. In fact, it was even colder than that:

"Reid talked about a recent conversation he had with a retired general where they talked about the similarities between the current situation and Vietnam," the source relates. "He talked about how the President and Secretary of Defense [during Vietnam] knew that the war was lost but continued to press on at the cost of thousands of additional lives lost."

"The analogy to Vietnam appeared to touch a nerve with the President. He appeared a little sensitive to it," the source continued. "And he clearly didn't like to hear people in the room say that the war couldn't be won militarily."

More: "Reid made it clear to the President that he understood that the President and Vice President after the veto would come after him and Speaker Pelosi with everything they have. Reid said that he and Pelosi would respond just as aggressively. He said he was convinced that they were on the right side of the issue."

It's about time that somebody said that the war, in military terms, is lost, though of course it hasn't been a war for 4 years or so but an occupation. The "war," if you can call it that, was won; the peace was lost almost from the beginning, and continues that way to this day. It's gotten progressively worse with each botched idea to find the pony.

The right will no doubt call Reid a defeat-o-crat, but he's actually a realist. You cannot police a civil war any more than you can win an occupation. I really think that Reid has determined that there's absolutely no downside to fighting aggressively to end our occupation of Iraq. There's only one quibble I have; I hope that his calls for withdrawal include contractors, which are almost as plentiful as troops over there, yet never get included in the death statistics (I believe that about 700 mercenaries have died).

The more that the President talks about this issue, the bigger a hole he digs for himself. But more important, each passing day brings such carnage and horror upon our soldiers and the people of Iraq that, on moral grounds, there's no sense in supporting the same failed strategy. The war is lost, and it's not a defeat to say that. It's a defeat to military families to stubbornly deny the truth that's staring you in the face and keep their sons and daughters in danger for nothing.

UPDATE: By the way, the President was completely lying when he said that delaying the supplemental would cause the Pentagon to run out of money. The Pentagon admitted today that they would be fine until the end of June. Last year's emergency supplemental wasn't finished until June 15, so this comes as no surprise, but history gets swallowed up by the constant news churn and nobody in the media bothers to check back, so the prevaricators get away with it.

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A Bloodbath

Tom Coburn called on Gonzales to resign and he was pretty relentless in his testimony. He is flailing about, trying to say that he was both disconnected enough from the process not to be blamed for it, yet confident enough about the process to say definitively that nothing improper was done.

He's pretty much done, and it's actually getting to be a little painful to watch this. But I think Sen. Feinstein's second round of questioning shows that she wants to get to the facts, whether Gonzales is gone or not. She said that nobody has taken responsibility for coming up with the names to be fired, not Abu G, not Kyle Sampson, not Bill Mercer, not Michael Battle, nobody. Gonzales couldn't answer the question of where the names came from, but the implication is clear. Feinstein suspects that they came from the White House, and that's where this investigation will ultimately lead.

JMM says the same thing:

From the buzz I'm hearing toay, if Alberto Gonzales were a stock, we'd be at that point when those automatic trading halts kicked in because so many people are trying to sell. But let's not get distracted by Alberto Gonzales. He's just a cog. In almost every case, what we're talking about here is Gonzales's willingness to take orders from the White House -- most importantly from Karl Rove and President Bush -- on firing US Attorneys for corrupt purposes and using the Justice Department to suppress Democratic turnout in swing states. Mr. Gonzales is a secondary issue. The real players are in the White House.

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Doolittle Gives Up...

his seat on the Appropriations Committee.

What, you don't think he'd plead guilty YET, did you? That comes after he's cornered by an indictment.

Which is going to happen. This pattern is very consistent with Cunningham and Ney.

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I was watching this when it happened and Dick Durbin got really hot about it. As well he should, that was beyond the pale.

"Watch what you say" is the watchword of the Bush Administration. For all the bluster they're a bunch of sissies. They claim to be hurt as the persecuted majority, and try to make any criticism of them as a criticism of people around them who have nothing to do with it. It's a disgusting tactic.

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The Courage of John McCain

Just interrupting the US Attorney hearings for this gem.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in South Carolina: “Another man — wondering if an attack on Iran is in the works — wanted to know when America is going to ’send an air mail message to Tehran.’ McCain began his answer by changing the words to a popular Beach Boys song. ‘Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran,’ he sang to the tune of Barbara Ann. … He stopped short of answering the actual question.”

There's video, too.

McCain should pretty much withdraw from the race now. People are probably already intercutting this with Lyndon Johnson's "Daisy" ad. What a warmongering ignorammus.

By the way, the only certainty in American politics these days is that John McCain will be campaigning and miss every Senate vote.

UPDATE: The video.

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Schumer Thunders


Sen. Schumer (D-NY) catches Mr. Gonzales in one of several lies. Gonzales says Carol Lam was well aware of the DOJ's concerns about her immigration policy. Lam says that's false. Kyle Sampson says that's false. The documents say that's false.

First he claims the 'documents' show she was told. Not true. He gives up on that. Now he's saying that members of Congress told her, which is of course a non-sequitur since the question is whether the DOJ told her that they were concerned.

This is a telling moment for Gonzales since not only is he lying but he doesn't even seem to be even marginally prepped with what's in the public record.

And it gets much worse.

On December 15, Abu G had a conversation with Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Bud Cummins was just forced out of the US Attorney seat there, and Tim Griffin, Karl Rove's oppo research guy, was installed as an interim USA. Gonzales told Pryor that he would have a chance to nominate someone else and that they would not use this Patriot Act provision to keep Griffin installed. Four days later, in an email dated December 19, Sampson details a plan to keep Griffin in the office. Sen. Pryor basically went nuts on this and said "The Attorney General lied to me and the people of my state."

Abu G kept saying "I didn't like" the Patriot Act provision, but yet his Chief of Staff was implementing it. Schumer finally said, "Who's running the department?" and concluded that:

It defies credulity that your Chief of Staff, 4 days after you assuring Mark Pryor that you would go one way, he went the other way. And Sampson says that you never rejected the plan even though you said you did.

Indeed, Gonzales has said a few times today that he supported the provision.

This guy's just a liar.

Man, even Lindsay Graham's saying that they "made up reasons" to fire the US Attorneys. This should be called off as a TKO.

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Feingold's Up

Russ Feingold, as expected, did an admirable job dressing down Alberto Gonzales this morning.

He started by discussing the Georgia L. Thompson case, and asking if Wisconsin constituents should be concerned about the politicization of the Justice Department as a result. Good on him for stopping Gonzales from peddling the BS about the Georgia Thompson case. The problem is one of perception, that people would see such a quick dismissal by an Appeals Court, and then assume that politics were involved in the case. This scandal has corroded the public trust in the administration of justice.

Feingold's now arguing that, essentially, Gonzales is an absentee landlord in the Justice Department. He had virtually nothing to do with the basis for the decision on these firings, he was singularly uninterested in tracking down any information about the firings, and yet in a USA Today op-ed in March he claimed that "the US Attorneys had lost my confidence." How would he know, factually, that there is no factual basis for thinking that USAs were fired for "improper reasons."

The problem is that Gonzales is arguing two things at the same time. One is that he was uninvolved and uninterested in the basis for firing these USAs. The other is that he knows that nothing improper was done, and he knows that their performance-related issues were to blame for the firing. He's arguing that he was both smart and stupid. Now he's saying that there is documentation about specific issues related to the USAs. Then Feingold delivers the knockout:

"There is no credibility to the notion that it was your considered judgment that those justifications were the reasons for removing those people at the time. There's simply nothing in the record that demonstrates that you had a sufficient effort made to make that determination."

Feingold essentially got Gonzales to admit that he is not needed at the Department of Justice. He had him arguing strenuously that the senior leadership at the Department made all the determinations for the firings, that they implemented it, and all he did was sign the order. These senior staffers have lied under oath. They have contradicted each other in their public statements. But a fish rots from the head down. Because Alberto Gonzales is so uninterested in doing his job, because he's not concerned with looking into any information about who his employees are, he really is not a necessary actor as the Attorney General.

This is no different from George Bush running the country like a CEO - disconnected and unconcerned with what the underlings are doing.

(Just an insert, Abu G is now pleading to Sessions that he's such a busy man that he can't possibly remember meetings about firing attorneys that happen in his office. Wasn't that the Scooter Libby defense?)

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Thank You For Shooting Down That Talking Point

Sen. Leahy spelled it out for the mouth-breathers.

Carter replaced all the Nixon/Ford USAs, Reagan replaced all of Carter's, Bush replaced most of Reagan's, Clinton replaced all of Bush's, and Bush replaced all of Clinton's.

That's NORMAL. What is not normal is replacing a select few mid-term, especially when they all happened to have something to do with prosecuting public corruption cases of Republicans, and not prosecuting Democrats.

It is a very rare event, an unprecedented one.

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Don't these Republican Senators who keep making these statements about no wrongdoing care about lying to Congress? I can give you about 10 statements that Abu G has made to Congress that he's now contradicting. They used to care about lying to Congress during the Clinton years.

I also think that Gonzales is REALLY pushing this "performance-related issues" line, continuing to slander these US Attorneys. Even Sen. Cornyn is trying to talk him off that ledge, before going all wingnutty and talking about the Lou Dobbs Two (the Border Patrol agents who are now in jail).

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Feinstein's Up

Starts with asking who's idea was it to amend the Patriot Act to allow USAs to be hired without Senate confirmation.

AG: I did support the change in the law. I do not like the idea of the judiciary dictating my staff (which is besides the point).

DiFi: Were you the decider or not? Your written comments say "I did not make decisions." Today you said "I accepted the decisions, I accepted the recommendations of the staff." What's going on?

AG: Huh? (DiFi clarifies: There has been constant equivocation.) Says Sampson periodically updated him on the review. I didn't make decisions during the deliberative process (actually says "I don't recall" making decisions). I signed off at the end.

DiFi: So you made the decisions?

AG: I don't recall the decision, I made the decision.

DiFi: And you never looked at the performance reports?

AG: Yes. (!!!) Performance reports are just one factor.

DiFi; Was Mr. Mercer in charge of looking at the performance reports? (She corrects - Mr. Battle) Gives a quote from Mr. Battle - about how he looked at the report and nothing jumped out at him.

AG: Can I see the page?

Leahy jumps in and tells AG that he told him this page would be referenced.

AG: gives a non-answer.

DiFi: Let me speak about Carol Lam. You said "we could have done better than Caorl Lam." Distinguished record of service. Did well in drug, guns, and public corruption cases. ICE, Border Patrol, other groups praised her. Immigration cases were the largest amount of cases out of her office. Now bringing up the Moschella letter and reading it. Nobody talked to Lam about immigration cases. Shouldn't somebody have talked to her about department concerns on immigration cases?

AG: I believe she was acutely aware of our concerns. Congressmen made her aware. I don't recall the Moschella letter. Illegal entry and re-entry are just as important as smuggling (trying to deflect the meat of the letter). She served well for four years, but it was time for a change.

DiFi: Regarding Congressmen, she had a meeting with Issa and Sensenbrenner, and it was constructive.

AG: There's a record of gun and immigration prosecutions.

I think Feinstein did pretty well.

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Abu G's Big Day

I woke up a little late for the beginning of Alberto Gonzales' testimony, but I'm watching it now. It's amazing to me that after three months, he can't seem to give a decent answer on why he should keep his job. Herb Kohl just asked him that question, and he flustered and fumfered and gesticulated wildly. He's also clearly saying things that he memorized, which makes sense considering he spent three weeks in lockdown remembering what to say.

He just said "The scandal is not supported by the testimony, much of which I've never seen."

The Orrin Hatch freak show is up, so I'm going to take this time to read Christy Hardin Smith's liveblog and catch up.

UPDATE: Specter -

"In my opening statement, I referred to the fact that you appeared to not be candid and open. And in your opening statement, you appeared to carry that lack of being candid forward to today. It is not exactly a matter of precision to say that you discussed things. That is a fundamental fact. Gonzales makes a snotty aside that he prepares for every hearing, and Specter snaps back: Do you prepare for all of your press conferences?"

Apparently Abu G has moved from having no involvement with the firings to "limited involvement." Reading through the liveblog, that doesn't appear to be washing with most of the Senators.


How can you tell us that things were proper when you had a limited involvement, the process wasn't vigorous and you basically left it to someone else? (CHS notes: ouch, that one stung.) AG says since then he went back and looked at the reasons for those prior decisions and thinks they were okay. AG says that he thinks he is justified in relying on the judgments of senior staff. He is not aware that anyone made decisions based on improper reasons — but he's asked the office of professional responsibility in the DoJ to look into whether there might be questions. (CHS notes: so, there might be something, but someone else is looking into it. Gotcha.)

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Let me offer the brief statement that, if a college student has been in trouble with police for stalking women and had definitive mental health problems and suicidal tendencies and was deemed a threat to himself and others, he maybe shouldn't be allowed to walk into a store and purchase two guns as easily as he did.

Let me also offer the statement that, if the same same student goes on a mass killing spree and in between shootings sends videos and writings and pictures to NBC News, it would probably behoove that news organization to NOT run them on their air, essentially validating the aims of a twisted mind who could easily spawn copycats if they knew their words, too, could make it onto the teevee.

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Redistricting Comes Back To California

Frank Russo has all the details about Fabian Nunez' redistricting proposal announced today. Essentially it puts redrawing the state boundaries in the hands of the Little Hoover Commission, minus the legislators that normally sit on that panel. This would have to go before voters as an initiative once it passes the legislature with a 2/3 vote (it's a Constitutional amendment).

The precise wording from Attorney General Brown is here: That's apparently a different initiative which is gathering signatures, I misread.

REDISTRICTING. CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Amends process for redistricting California’s Legislature, Board of Equalization, and U.S. House of Representative districts. Establishes Citizens Redistricting Commission comprised of 11 qualified registered voters formed by the Secretary of State pursuant to detailed selection process. Requires Commission to submit redistricting plan, consistent with specified criteria, after each national census. Requires Commission to hold public hearings and receive public input before finalizing the redistricting plan. Requires legal challenges to be made within 45 days of certification of plan. Subjects adopted plan to challenge by referendum. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local governments: Potentially increased redistricting costs every ten years–probably of less than $1 million. Any such costs would be accommodated within the Legislature’s existing budget. (Initiative 07-0005.)

Without the lawmakers, the Little Hoover Commission includes 4 citizens appointed by the legislature and 5 citizens appointed by the governor. Seven panel members would have to agree for a plan to move forward.

The Little Hoover Commission has a decent enough reputation as an independent study group; their report on California's corrections crisis was well-done. I'm a bit wary of subjecting district shapes to be subject to referendum, it seems to invite an endless series of low-information elections. And overall, I don't think redistricting geographically will have as massive an impact as everybody thinks. People largely gerrymander themselves.

But there you have it, and I've seen worse plans in my life. I ultimately believe that two candidates with the same basic money pool can overcome any gerrymander thrown at them, which is why I think that election reform begins and ends with public financing.

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Nearing The End of Roe

Let me revise and extend my remarks about the Supreme Court upholding the so-called "partial-birth abortion" ban, in case they weren't clear. I called the procedure imaginary, and what I meant was that the phraseology "partial-birth abortion" is imaginary. The procedure of dilation and extraction is very real, and as there's no exception for the woman's health in the upheld law, this will mean that this procedure which can save lives will be outlawed. Here's a very powerful example of that in action.

As a young child -- I guess I was about 3 years old, given that my youngest sister is two years younger than me -- my mother had a late-term abortion. Now, to be fair, I don't know if she had a D&E or some other procedure -- it's a very painful memory for her, understandably, and I'm not going to ask her about it. But the circumstances were as follow:

The baby was sick. I don't know exactly what was wrong, but the doctors told my parents that there was only about a 50/50 chance the baby would survive to term. They also said the chances my mother would survive childbirth -- I'm one of four kids, and apparently the only one whose labor was relatively easy -- were only infinitesimally better than the probability of finding the missing WMD in Iraq. Even if my parents didn't have four children aged five or younger at the time, the decision to have an abortion would have been a no-brainer -- as painful a decision as it was, my mother's life and health were, are, and forever will be far more important than the potential for the life and health of another human being not even born yet.

And so my mother had a late-term abortion that saved her life.

Abortion foes like to deflect this criticism by saying that it doesn't happen very often. One mother who has to die needlessly because a bunch of male judges say that she has to is one too many. And that's the reality of what was done today. Let there be no abstraction in this debate; there's a real cost in lives. I don't like abortion; nobody does. I want to see less of them. But to deny medical treatment to women who will surely die is unnecessarily cruel. And every one of these sitting Democratic senators who voted for the original bill cannot think about their vote in abstract terms. There's a human cost.


One of these Senators is running for President. Another is the Majority Leader. On certain issues I like all of them. But this is really shameful.

This is the beginning of the end of Roe v. Wade as we know it, as many states will now continue to chip away bit by bit until the law has no meaning. "Elections have consequences" is a headline I've seen all over the blogosphere today. How true that is.

UPDATE: I should mention that all of the top-tier Democratic Presidential candidates are lambasting this decision. Obama:

I strongly disagree with today’s Supreme Court ruling, which dramatically departs from previous precedents safeguarding the health of pregnant women. As Justice Ginsburg emphasized in her dissenting opinion, this ruling signals an alarming willingness on the part of the conservative majority to disregard its prior rulings respecting a woman’s medical concerns and the very personal decisions between a doctor and patient. I am extremely concerned that this ruling will embolden state legislatures to enact further measures to restrict a woman's right to choose, and that the conservative Supreme Court justices will look for other opportunities to erode Roe v. Wade, which is established federal law and a matter of equal rights for women.


"This decision marks a dramatic departure from four decades of Supreme Court rulings that upheld a woman's right to choose and recognized the importance of women's health. Today's decision blatantly defies the Court's recent decision in 2000 striking down a state partial-birth abortion law because of its failure to provide an exception for the health of the mother. As the Supreme Court recognized in Roe v. Wade in 1973, this issue is complex and highly personal; the rights and lives of women must be taken into account. It is precisely this erosion of our constitutional rights that I warned against when I opposed the nominations of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito."


"I could not disagree more strongly with today's Supreme Court decision. The ban upheld by the Court is an ill-considered and sweeping prohibition that does not even take account for serious threats to the health of individual women. This hard right turn is a stark reminder of why Democrats cannot afford to lose the 2008 election. Too much is at stake -- starting with, as the Court made all too clear today, a woman's right to choose."

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Give Em Hell Harry

The President held his "you guys should agree with me" meeting on Iraq, and reiterated that, hey, you guys should agree with me. Even with a President at 30%, there's a lot of pressure on the leadership when he says something like that,

Harry Reid passed the test.

During an hourlong meeting at the White House, the president told lawmakers directly he will not sign any bill that includes a timetable for a troop withdrawal, and they made it clear Congress will send him one anyway.

"We believe he must search his soul, his conscience and find out what is the right thing for the American people," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, told reporters after the session. "I believe signing this bill will do that."

There's simply no reason for him to say anything otherwise. The American people are overwhelmingly on his side. There is no political downside at all to defying this President. Furthermore, Iraq is falling apart and this surge strategy is simply not the solution, if there is any. Our troops, fine men and women though they are, are culpable but not capable to stop the raging violence that killed 200 Iraqis today. And the White House's top officials can't even get their stories straight, with Robert Gates calling the debate helpful. Rahm Emanuel thanked him for that today.

It looks like the conference report/final vote/veto will go down next week. I still submit that I would send Bush the exact same bill again and again until he signs it. We'll see where this goes.

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John Doolittle Calling Warren Zevon

Send lawyers, guns, and money...
the shit has hit the fan.

FBI Raids Doolittle's Home: The FBI has raided the Northern Virginia home of Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), according to Congressional sources. No details are publicly available yet about the circumstances of the raid, but Doolittle and his wife, Julie, have been under federal investigation for their ties to the scandal surrounding imprisoned former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

So two days ago Kevin Ring, the former Doolittle aide and Abramoff-employed lobbyist, abruptly resigns from his law firm. We also hear that Abramoff is getting a possible reduced sentence because of his cooperation in providing information in corruption cases. And today, this And today, we learn this; the house was apparently raided the same day that Ring resigned. That's some swift administration of justice.

Charlie Brown, the Democrat who almost knocked Doolittle off last year, released this statement:

This is a sad day for the people of the 4th District, for our Congress, and our country. It is my sincere hope that the ongoing investigation will bring the era of corruption and scandal ridden politics to a close, so that we can move forward on addressing the real priorities of the American people: like ending the war in Iraq, winning the war against Terrorism, securing our borders, keeping faith with our veterans, expanding economic opportunity, and achieving energy independence.

For his part, Doolittle appeared to try to deflect the scandal and make it about his wife and not him:

Doolittle said, "My wife has been cooperating with the FBI and the Justice Department for almost three years and that cooperation is going to continue in the future. I support my wife 100 percent and fully expect that the truth will prevail."

Doolittle's wife is only in trouble because she was on both the Congressman's and Jack Abramoff's payroll. Try as he might, he cannot localize this scandal to her.

We may have a special election soon, folks. And it would lean pickup, with Charlie Brown already out and raising money.

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Who's In Charge Here

According to the President and the Vice President, the Congress daring to insert themselves into the Iraq debate is deeply damaging for America, goes against the will of the troops, and will cause all Americans to suffer and die in a fiery wreck.

But according to the Secretary of Defense, the Iraq debate is a good and necessary thing to be having in a democracy, and is helping our efforts to reach a political solution:

Gates, on a Middle East tour, called for a range of efforts from inside and outside Iraq to speed up the formation of a broad-based government of Iraq’s majority Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.

….”The debate in Congress…has been helpful in demonstrating to the Iraqis that American patience is limited,” Gates told Pentagon reporters traveling with him in Jordan. “The strong feelings expressed in the Congress about the timetable probably has had a positive impact…in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment."

In fact, we know that Condi Rice has used the Democratic calls for withdrawal to force the Maliki government's hand in Iraq, and so has John McCain.

Who's in charge here? We have two sides of the government speaking with two completely different voices on the efficacy of the Congressional debate on Iraq. To anyone with a brain, it should be obvious that the Congress has a duty to act in the interests of their constituents, and has a Constitutionally mandated power with respect to foreign affairs. Yet this is a DEBATE within the executive branch. And that it's a debate at all represents progress, that's the crazy thing.

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Senate Republicans filibuster prescription drug bill

The bill allowing the federal government to actually negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies to lower prescription drug costs just ran aground in the Senate. The vote was 55-42 in favor of cloture, with the usual Republican suspects joining the Democrats (Hagel, Snowe, Collins, Smith, Coleman, and Specter), but not enough to stop debate. Tim Johnson wasn't there and Harry Reid voted no for procedural reasons. So realistically the Senate is three votes away from invoking cloture.

It's always tough to get Congress to rewrite a law once it's been passed. This is a textbook example.

Apparently, leaders are negotiating "off the floor" on how to move forward with the bill. I'm not sure how you could have any compromises here. What, are you going to set price floors? It's ridiculous that the largest collection of bargaining power in health care cannot use that leverage to get a positive result for their consumers. It's nearly unprecedented. How many businesses supported by Republicans maintain their market share by using it to negotiate favorable deals with vendors? There's nothing inherently wrong with that, for the business, the vendors, or the consumers at the end of the scale (unless the savings aren't passed on to them).

I don't know if this effectively kills this legislation or not. It can certainly become an issue in some of the hotter Senate races. The votes by Domenici and Sessions and Dole and others come to mind.

UPDATE: Sen. Byron Dorgan's speaking now about "cloture petitions" that Democrats are needing to file to debate anything at all, needing to vote on motions to proceed to debate anything at all. Senate Republicans mean to shut down the governing body. See yesterday's White House-engineered stoppage on the intelligence reauthorization. I think the strategy is to claim that the Congress is doing nothing under Democratic leadership while Republicans do everything to ensure that in the Senate. It's getting so you can't get anything done in America anymore. Sigh.

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The Courage of John McCain

Today's horror show in Iraq shines the light back on the dishonest candidacy of John McCain, whose dissembling on the conditions on the ground are now thrown into stark relief. Lawrence Korb's report from the Green Zone is even more evidence of this.

We spent the morning listening to briefings from consultants advising the individual ministries on the TATWEER project. Most were American and many spoke Arabic. Listening to the briefings, it is easy to see how people making a quick visit to the region with very little understanding of the situation can go away with the impression that things are getting better and that there is “light at the end of the tunnel.” These men and women believe in what they are doing and are close to their clients.

But if one uses the reports of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction and pushes the briefers, a different picture emerges. The place is a mess and despite the almost heroic efforts of some Americans and some Iraqis it is not getting better. One of the consultants told me not to believe anyone who says that the situation is getting better.

In other words, John McCain is lying.

And McCain himself admitted it last week in a conference call with conservative bloggers, telling them he was "digging for the pony" in hoping that Muqtada al-Sadr would back down on his threats to attack American forces. This was before Sadr's cabinet ministers resigned from the government. So much for the pony.

And this great military strategist has no plan B for Iraq, has no alternative strategy because he can't bear to give an outcome that isn't rosy. The military thrives on wargaming all possible scenarios, not putting all of their chips in one situation and crossing fingers and closing eyes and wishing their best hopes were true. That's the work of a fantasist and not a leader. Of course, McCain could never give an assessment anything less than fantabulous, because it would upset his consistent worldview of warhawkery, which has been a part of McCain's outlook from the very beginning of his political life (there's that Matthew Yglesias again).

I think there's oftentimes a tendency to discount the possibility of sincere disagreement in politics. As in assuming that McCain's fantastically stupid views on national security policy represent some kind of grubby and dishonorable act of political expediency. For quite a number of years, however, dating back to the late 1990s at least, McCain has been a consistent apostle of the Bill Kristol school of foreign policy -- all problems should be solved through force, and all problems with the use of force should be solved through the application of more force.

This is just the way he thinks, and America ought to know that in assessing him as Presidential timber. McCain believes in perpetual war as a means for security, bottom line. You can agree with that or not. But you have to understand it. He is far, far to the right of anyone in this government, in line with Dick Cheney and the neocons, on foreign policy. And on economic issues he promises the moon by claiming to make Bush's tax cuts permanent, balance the budget, end all earmarks and raise no new revenue while fixing Social Security and Medicare. Sounds like just the same fairy-tale plan as he has in Iraq! I guess there's no Plan B. And on social issues, he doesn't support hate crimes legislation and lines up firmly with the NRA and antiabortion activists.


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My Blogging Doppleganger

I find myself agreeing with Matt Yglesias more and more these days. He's right, there's this cottage industry online of "don't politicize this tragedy" posts, when the only time you can have a national conversation on anything is when something so big happens that everybody manages to look up from American Idol long enough to take notice. Tragedies are, well, tragic, but a national discussion on gun control, or mental health, or whatever, is not going to happen just because it's July 7th. And I also agree with (and have been saying for two days) this:

The only thing I would note with something like the VT shootings is that as terrible as an incident like that is, it's simply not the case that spree killings are a significant problem in American life, statistically speaking. I believe the USA suffers from more spree killings than do other non-war-torn countries, but still very few people die that way. You could completely eliminate mass-murder in the United States and you wouldn't save very many lives. Which isn't to say that we shouldn't try to prevent this kind of thing. But it is to say that it doesn't make sense to engage in policy shifts with large costs (in terms of money or even just inconveniencing tons of people) in order to reduce the risk of something that's already very rare.

Which isn't that different than saying that we shouldn't freak out and take everybody's civil liberties away in the even more event of a terrorist attack.

If this didn't happen at Virginia Tech, the revelation that Governor Corzine's car was going 91mph on the Garden State Parkway when he was severely injured in an accident, and the fact that he wasn't wearing a seat belt, would be a major story, and it may have spurred a national debate on the importance of seat belt laws and personal responsibility in wearing them, and that would also be a good thing, despite the expected calls of "you're politicizing this tragedy!"

Other things I agree with Yglesias about: Pundits talk about blogger incivility because they feel threatened by the medium, and white people feel resentful and threatened by their status in the persecuted majority.

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A Whole New Ballgame

Kind of remarkable that there's no frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, but I think this analysis by Hotline is spot-on:

There is no Democratic front-runner. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards all have a plausible claim on the nomination.

The usual metrics are all jumbled. Clinton leads the money race, leads in New Hampshire, and tops the national polls. Obama leads in South Carolina, in media love, and in enthusiasm. Edwards has the tightest message, the best organization in Iowa, and the lead in Iowa.

Because Iowa is currently first, and because there's an undeniable Iowa effect, I give Edwards more of a chance than the Hotline does, as they put him slightly under Clinton and Obama. But clearly all three are well-positioned in their own way. And Richardson's been moving lately, so I think he should be in the conversation.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, you've got someone who tells conservatives to "get over it" on abortion, a guys who claims you can skip through Baghdad and imitate the Gene Kelly scene in "Singin' in the Rain," a varmint hunter, and an actor. And the actor's practically winning before he declares, because he looks the part.

I like where we're sitting.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, I forgot Tommy "You Jews can sure make money" Thompson, whose hometown newspaper has asked him to withdraw after those comments to a Jewish group. Hell of a second tier.

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You Won't See It On Cable News

But 127 people 157 people have died in four separate bombings today in Baghdad, where a pleasant stroll down the street is just 100 Army soldiers and three Blackhawk helicopters away.

I know that the media has their sleuthing hats on and are giving Cho-Seung Hui the Citizen Kane treatment, finding out everything they could ever know about him. But FIVE TIMES as many people died on streets where we have hundreds of thousands young Americans. And by the way, gun advocates, they're all armed. And they still die.

UPDATE: The death squads are back.

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Banning the "Imaginary"

The Supreme Court reversed course today and upheld a Congressional law banning "partial birth" abortion, a made-up term that Congressional leaders tried to admit wasn't even an applicable or real procedure, but which will end up representing nothing more than the chipping away of abortion rights at the state level. Reasonable people have always diasgreed on this issue - so have a good deal of unreasonable people - but I don't think anybody can actually support this illogic:

The opponents of the act "have not demonstrated that the Act would be unconstitutional in a large fraction of relevant cases," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.

A large fraction? That's doesn't make any sense. If the law would be unconstitutional in any fraction of cases, even a small fraction, then it's an unconstitutional law. Bean at LGM concurs:

Just because in the majority of cases a law is not unconstitutional as applied means that it does violate the rights of some. Backwards logic if I ever saw it -- a failed attempt to justify an obviously political decision that is bound to do damage to the Constitution.

This definitely heralds that, on reproductive rights at least, this Court as currently constructed will continue to chip away at Roe, although it's not entirely clear that this signals an overturning of it. It'll just make it harder for a woman to make that very difficult choice. Five men have cemented that today.

UPDATE: The only woman on the Court's dissent:

Ginsburg, in a lengthy statement, said “the Court’s opinion tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. For the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception protecting a woman’s health.”

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