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

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Early Projections: CA House Races

There are no Senate seats up in California in 2008, and no statewide offices up for election, so the biggest seats outside of the Presidency will be in the House of Representatives. While we're 18 months out, I thought I'd give a snapshot of what races are most inviting for a Democratic pickup.

I'm going to concern myself solely with pickup opportunities, because the only realistic possibility of a GOP pickup is in CA-11, and I'm confident that Jerry McNerney and his grassroots army can handle whatever's thrown at him, plus he'll have the power of incumbency and the focus of the CDP. There may be some retirements that would make things interesting (Lantos, Stark, Woolsey), but those are very blue areas. So let's look at the best opportunities to add to the Democratic majority:

1) CA-04 (Doolittle): The Doolittle watch continues, and what is most clear is that the best thing for California Republicans would be for Doolittle to just go away. Charlie Brown has a $200,000 CoH advantage and the taint of the intensifying Abramoff scandal won't be as easy to wash off the second time around. If it's a fresh challenger and an open seat, Brown will still have a higher name ID, but it would be more difficult.

2) CA-26 (Dreier): Hekebolos has mentioned David Dreier's fundraising troubles. Plus, as a member of the GOP Leadership, he can be very much tied to their failures over the years. And the Partisan Voting Index (PVI) in the district is only +4 Republican, comparable to McNerney's district, and has been shrinking over the years. It's the third-closest PVI district in the entire state, and yet Dreier is anything but a moderate. Russ Warner ran in the 2006 primary (losing to 2004 candidate Cynthia Matthews, who then raised almost no money for the general) and will be running again, and appears to have the right makeup to pull off this upset.

3) CA-50 (Bilbray): The replacement for the Duke-Stir has not distinguished himself (does Bilbray live in that district yet?), and Howie Klein, at least, is intrigued by the potential candidacy of Michael Wray, a former Busby campaign worker and rocket scientist. I think he'd have a somewhat better chance than Francine Busby. This would be tough, but not a hopeless district.

4) CA-24 (Gallegly): Elton Gallegly maintains that he's running. He tried to retire in 2006, and then abruptly returned to the race because California election law mandated that his name would appear on the ballot regardless. He eventually defeated Jill Martinez with 62% of the vote. The word is that Martinez is running again. Ventura County Democrats have done an amazing job turning around voter registration numbers in the region of late, adding to hope that this could be winnable even against the incumbent. The PVI is R+5.

5) CA-42 (Miller): See above. Not hopeless but tough. The fact that it's more Republican than CA-50 is balanced out by the fact that Gary Miller is a thieving scumbag who is under investigation by the feds. Unlike last year, there will be a candidate, and the race is definitely on the CDP's radar screen. If we win this one, it'll be a very good year.

6) CA-25 (McKeon): Buck McKeon is always a threat to retire, and this is a R+7 PVI, so it's not impossible. And this is one of those seats, in northeastern LA and San Bernardino Counties, that we have to start competing in, because the job growth in the inland areas of Southern California are outstripping the coasts. Robert Rodriguez did a decent job here in 2006 (McKeon won 60%-36%). I hope he runs again.

7) CA-52 (open seat): The only Republican open seat to date, but it's almost not open at all, because Duncan Hunter is trying to give the seat to his son, also named Duncan Hunter, and he's likely to be fighting in Iraq during the election. Kind of hard to compete against someone with that circumstance.

8) CA-45 (Bono): David Roth raised a decent enough amount of money in 2006 to at least make Mary Bono sweat. The PVI is only R+3. But it was one of the lowest-turnout races in the entire state. If we can excite people out in the desert, ya never know.

9) CA-41 (Lewis): The Jerry Lewis investigation has gone cold, but the fact that Debra Yang appears to have been bought off the probe by the law firm representing Lewis means that the scandal might have a different set of legs. And again, this is a part of Southern California where we need to have a presence; eventually there will be more and more people in this region, and probably more seats. And the fact that they are likely to be coming from liberal Los Angeles means it's an opportunity to get some infrastructure going.

10) CA-44 (Calvert): This district has actually less of a PVI (R+6) than CA-25. And Calvert has some earmark and lobbying problems. And the guy was caught with a prostitute in his car back in 1993. So the atmospherics are there. But Democrats have done little in this district. His challenger last year raised 8 grand. Total. And he STILL got 38% of the vote! It's time to give this guy a real challenge.

Realistically, 2 pickups would be a really good tally; 3 would be amazing. But the goal should be getting some of these incumbents to around 55%.

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LAX living wage law blocked by court

Sounds to me like the city council got too cute and tried to finesse the law in a way that didn't satisfy legal requirements.

A judge Friday delivered a stinging rebuke to Los Angeles' labor and political leadership, barring the city from enforcing a ballyhooed new ordinance that would have extended the city's "living wage" protections to workers at hotels near Los Angeles International Airport.

The eight-page order by Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe went far beyond merely blocking a law that had been considered a point of pride for the city's powerful labor interests. As a practical matter, Yaffe dealt a political defeat to the City Council, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the union that championed the law.

The City Council initially passed a living wage law. Hotel interests in the LAX area bitterly opposed paying their workers enough so they could eat, so they collected signatures for a citywide referendum. Then the City Council pulled the law, and replaced it with a "new" one that resulted from a negotiation with business and labor. Apparently that law wasn't new enough:

Instead of scheduling a referendum, the council rescinded the ordinance and, after talks with the business community, replaced it with a new living wage ordinance.

It included incentives for businesses near the airport, as well as some restrictions on extending living wage protection to other parts of the city. But the hotels and some people who had signed the referendum petition went to court to challenge it.

On Friday, the judge ruled that the new ordinance was essentially the same ordinance. In passing the new one, the council had deceitfully dodged the voter referendum and thus violated the constitutional rights of the public, the judge ruled.

"The elected representatives who enacted the new ordinance tried to make it appear different from the old ordinance," Yaffe wrote, "but their purpose was to avoid the effect of the referendum petition, not to respect it."

I would think the best strategy at this point would be to put the law before voters; in fact, I thought so at the time. It's more impactful for a living wage law to pass that way, and the latest polling shows that it would. Obviously the hotels will fight like hell and raise lots of money to oppose it, so it would be better if unions didn't have to break the bank ensuring that their workers are paid decently. But that's more of an election reform issue.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Some Things Are More Important Than Terrorists Getting Uzis, K?

This was actually a brilliant bit of politics, and just because something is designed for political means doesn't mean it isn't revealing. Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey created legislation called the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act and somehow got the Justice Department to support it, daring gun groups to oppose it. They obliged.

The National Rifle Association is urging the Bush administration to withdraw its support of a bill that would prohibit suspected terrorists from buying firearms. Backed by the Justice Department, the measure would give the attorney general the discretion to block gun sales, licenses or permits to terror suspects.

In a letter this week to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, NRA executive director Chris Cox said the bill, offered last week by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., "would allow arbitrary denial of Second Amendment rights based on mere 'suspicions' of a terrorist threat."

I guess the idea is to use the terrorist watch list in background check screening, and if that's the same watch list that is used for airline passengers I'm against it too, considering how awful that list is (Ted Kennedy's on it). But Sen. Lautenberg has cited a GAO study showing that "35 of 44 firearm purchase attempts over a five-month period made by known or suspected terrorists were approved by the federal law enforcement officials." And there are apparently various protections and challenge options in the bill. I'm wary of denying constitutionally protected liberties based on suspicion, so hopefully if it is enacted there are safeguards. Of course, there are already background checks for purchasing firearms, so if this adds something to else, well, maybe.

I'm ambivalent on the bill. But regardless of that, the NRA is now on the record for allowing terrorists to buy guns. This is, as thereisnospoon said, a brilliant wedge between the authoritarian "stop the terrists" crowd and the pro-Second Amendment crowd. They literally don't know what to do on this one.

I would imagine you could create 20 bills like this, that get in the cracks of 21st-century conservative ideology, and just drive the wingnuts crazy.

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A Government Without A Head

There are these two big scandals looming under the surface that are affecting people right now, and they cannot be twisted as political, they cannot be explained away by blaming Democrats or Bill Clinton or whatever trick the executive branch wants to use. They are the pet food scandal (I should say human food too at this point) and the student loan industry scam, which was well-known to this government for six years and yet they did nothing to stop it, allowing predatory lenders to buy their way into university's favor and limit choices for consumers. These aren't political scandals; they're simply the obvious outgrowth of an ideology that views the mechanisms of government with contempt, and perceives power as a way to make money for cronies and friends.

In the case of both the student loan industry and the pet food industry, oversight was non-existent, and companies were allowed to subvert the rules at the expense of taxpayers. This is not incidental - it's what Republicans call "good, solid American enterprise." This is exactly what they want, and they turn a blind eye to the consequences. As someone said to Bill Kristol in his embarrasing display of a debate with Robert Kuttner at yesterday's "Failure of Conservatism" conference, "Why is it that, 6 years after 9-11, this government can't guarantee the safety of my cat's food supply?" The answer is because they have no interest in it. And Republicans usually won't tell you that, although sometimes they'll slip up and tell the truth:

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today joined an exodus from President Bush's first-term Cabinet, announcing his resignation at a press conference in which he also warned that the world faces a potentially catastrophic flu pandemic and that the U.S. food supply is vulnerable to terrorists [...]

Thompson said he also worries constantly about food poisoning.

"I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorists have not, you know, attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do," he said. "And we are importing a lot of food from the Middle East, and it would be easy to tamper with that."

Although inspections of food imports have risen sharply in the past four years, "it still is a very minute amount that we're doing."

That idiot wants to be President, after he admitted that in four years as Health and Human Services Secretary he made no effort to inspect the human food supply coming into the country.

But there are even more examples of this failure of governance that have come out in the last couple days. The White House used a rural Internet financing program to reward rich companies, and did nothing to actually finance Internet infrastructure in rural areas, which was its intent:

Members of a House committee charged yesterday that a five-year, $1.2 billion program to expand broadband Internet services to rural communities has missed many unserved areas while channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidized loans to companies in places where service already exists.

The Post reported that since 2001 more than half the money has gone to metropolitan regions or communities within easy commutes of a mid-size city. An Internet provider in Houston got $23 million in loans to wire affluent subdivisions, including one that boasts million-dollar houses and an equestrian center.

Congress created the rural broadband program in 2002. To date, according to Andrew, 69 loans for $1.2 billion have been approved to finance infrastructure in 40 states. Only 40 percent of the communities benefiting were unserved at the time of the loan, Andrew said.

They can't implement laws they've passed because they have no interest in doing so. And the laws they don't like, they try to change, if the change can reward big businesses or their own pocketbooks:

An Interior Department official who was recently rebuked for altering scientific conclusions to reduce protections for endangered species and providing internal documents to lobbyists resigned Monday, officials said.

Julie A. MacDonald, a deputy assistant secretary who oversaw the Fish and Wildlife Service's endangered species program, also faced conflict-of-interest questions in a report issued by the Interior Department's inspector general in March. [...]

In 2004, MacDonald was criticized for overruling field biologists on the habitat requirements of the greater sage grouse, disputing their conclusion that oil and gas operations could interfere with the birds' breeding and nesting.

The inspector general's report outlined instances where MacDonald, a civil engineer with no formal training in natural sciences, advocated altering scientific conclusions in ways that favored development and agricultural interests.

H. Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, told investigators that MacDonald overrode field experts on designating habitat for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher.

Hall, a wildlife biologist, told investigators he was in a "running battle" with MacDonald over the issue. Hall said MacDonald had a particular interest in endangered species rulings that affected California because her husband had a ranch in the state.

California property records show that MacDonald and her husband, Charles, own 80 acres identified as crop land in Yolo County near Sacramento.

McDonald was about to face a House committee on this issue, so she did the brave thing and resigned first.

Right wingers like to call the anger that comes from hearing these stories "Bush Derangement Syndrome." Actually, the anger comes from living in a country where anarchy is reigning. The government doesn't exist for any primary function other than profit-taking. This makes principled, reasonable people furious, because it's our government, and we're paying the price. I guess those who would rather spin the truth and dismiss the effects, one must conclude, enjoy being ripped off this way, and don't care that their government has been turned into a cash register for the rich and connected. I do care, and so do a lot of people. At the roots, this is the real reason that conservatism is a dirty word nowadays. People actually want a government they can count on to be minimally competent in carrying out its mission and its policies. That is sadly lacking today.

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Out of Guantanamo

Dianne Feinstein continues to impress.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a measure Monday to force the Pentagon to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and move the trials of Al Qaeda suspects to the United States [...]

In a statement, Feinstein said the detention facility had hurt America's credibility around the world because of allegations of abuse there and doubts about the legal rights afforded detainees.

"We must recognize the sustained damage this facility is doing to our international standing," she said in the statement. "We are better served by closing this facility and transferring the detainees elsewhere."

The Administration doesn't want any of the Gitmo suspects to be moved stateside because they get away with stupid technicalities in court like saying that they are not allowed to have various prisoner protections because they're not on American soil. They also know that, because of torture, they can't try any of these subjects in federal courts, and they would rather segregate them in a detention center where they can be forgotten.

But this is a crucial error. The continued presence of Guantanamo is a symbol of the perversion of justice that has taken place over the last six years. It shows the world that we don't really care about human rights, that we don't care about international treaties, that we don't care about global goodwill. It is well-known that many of the detainees sent to Gitmo were plucked off the streets of Pakistan and fingered by greedy friends and colleagues who wanted to collect a bounty. They weren't terrorists, they were just kids in the wrong place and with the wrong friends. And now we've stripped their rights and their humanity, and we keep this place open anyway. Feinstein is absolutely right, every day that we don't close Guantanamo is another day we inspire rage and hatred throughout the world and lose support among our allies. It's also not who we are as a people.

Of course, we have to go further. We need to overturn the shameful Military Commissions Act, which stripped habeas corpus rights in contravention of hundreds of years of common law. The Supreme Court won't hear detainee challenges to military commisssions, and they probably ought not to do so, since the legislative act has been signed. That genie can only be put back in the bottle by the Congress, the judiciary shouldn't have to bail them out. Chris Dodd's Effective Terrorists Prosecution Act isn't getting much traction in the Senate; if Feinstein wants to truly restore our international standing, she should work with Sen. Dodd on this legislation.

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LA May Day Rally Update

The FBI will investigate the LAPD's conduct in firing rubber bullets to disperse the crowd at the end of Tuesday's immigration rally, and everybody is doing their best to distance themselves from the incident and show that they're doing something about it.

Authorities have launched several investigations into the Police Department's actions at Tuesday's rally at MacArthur Park, where police fired 240 rubber bullets. Video images of the incident were broadcast worldwide.

"I was very disturbed by what I saw," (LA Mayor Antonio) Villaraigosa told reporters in Mexico City on Thursday.

The FBI said Thursday it would open an inquiry into whether the officers' conduct violated citizens' civil rights.

Prior to the FBI announcement, Police Chief William J. Bratton had said he would inquire whether an FBI probe was possible.

"I have no issues with the FBI coming in ... and taking a look at it," he said.

The FBI probe is the fourth official investigation of the incident. The Police Department opened two investigations almost immediately after the violence, one to create an "after-action report" that evaluates planning and operations, and another by internal affairs to probe complaints against officers.

The mayor even left Mexico early to deal with the public relations fallout. See, he means business!

The LAPD doesn't exactly have a sterling record with regard to police brutality, and the tensions inherent in that kind of scenario, with a few agitators on one side and an armed force on the other, with the addition of the emotional nature of the immigration debate, made this more possible. Investigations are nice, but this kind of thing happens because of training and rules of engagement. I guarantee you that the police officers didn't do anything wrong in the eyes of their superiors, and that's the problem.

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So Much To Be Proud Of

I think half of the corrupt Republican Congressmen in this clever DCCC "Law and Disorder" spoof are from California.

Cunningham, Doolittle, Lewis, Miller, Calvert... they missed Bilbray, I think.

We truly are the Golden State, aren't we?

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Friday Random Ten

Almost let this slip by today...

(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea - Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Gone Daddy Gone - Gnarls Barkley
Lovefool - The Cardigans
Mutual Slump - DJ Shadow
All Apologies - Nirvana
King of Rock - Run DMC
What Ever Happened? - The Strokes (I think I'm the only one left who'll still defend them)
Extra Savoir-Faire - They Might Be Giants
Passenger Seat - Death Cab For Cutie
Please Accept My Love - B.B. King

Happy listening.

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Absolutely Strange Quotes from the Republican Debate

San Brownback, moments after saying that overturning Roe v. Wade would be a glorious day for America, and before saying that we shouldn't take a life in order to heal a life: the present tax system "ought to be taken behind the bar and killed with a dull ax." It's apparently appropriate to advocate for a culture of life unless you're talking about something inanimate, in which case you can kill it in the most gruesome way possible.

John McCain, on the capture of Osama bin Laden (which hasn't happened yet): "We will catch him. We will bring him to justice and I'll follow him to the gates of hell." Yes, by the power of Grayskull! I will slay his goat-boy minions with my bare teeth and drink his blood through a golden goblet! None shall ride the River Styx without answering to me!

We don't have two political parties in this country. We have one party and a bunch of old white guys yelling things out at the end of the bar. By the way, I'm sure the conservosphere had a collective orgasm at that "gates of hell" comment.

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Go Go Golden State Warriors

That's a fun basketball team. And when Baron Davis is on a roll, he's as good as any player in the league. Plus, I've never liked the Mavs.

Golden State-Houston would be perfect because Yao Ming would be guarded by someone a foot shorter than him.

This has been your annual sports diversion.

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Rick Renzi thinks that the Abu Gonzales Justice Department actively worked against him in 2006 to try to get him thrown out of office. Yes friends, the most partisan Justice Department in history was electioneering against a Republican to ensure that the Democrat got elected.

If this is Renzi's alibi, he might want to start wearing the orange jumpsuit around the house, just to get a feel for it and work his way into it.

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Obviously, the Republican candidates want no part of the Bush lagacy, and if a bunch of Democrats were running for President after one of their own was at 30% in the polls for close to a year, you'd see the same thing. But the fact that they have to go back 20-plus years to find a conservative figure that they respect, that they can trot out to the nation without everybody laughing in their face... that's just sad.

I was in elementary school when Reagan took office. There's an entire generation eligible to vote that doesn't remember him at all (considering what really happened in that era, and how cruel and vicious Reagan was to the poor, maybe that's a good thing for his legacy). I don't think wrapping Reagan in some hazy gauze and thinking that will appeal to voters in 2008 is really going to work. Neither will saying you don't believe in evolution (which is like saying you don't believe in gravity), but there you are.

UPDATE: Yes, that bit where Giuliani claimed Reagan got the hostages back from Iran because he "stared them down" is patently absurd. First of all, he negotiated arms deals with the Iranians later in his term; second of all, Reagan allowed Iraq to use chemical weapons on his own people, and he sent Donald Rumsfeld to tell Saddam Hussein it'd be OK; and third, he had back-channel talks with Tehran while he was running for President to ensure that the hostages wouldn't be released until his inauguration. It's a total fabrication that the Ayatollah released the hostages because he was scared by the manly steely glare of St. Ronnie.

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The Party of Hate Crimes

The House passed federal hate crimes legislation expanding the definition of a hate crime to gender or disability or sexual orientation. The Senate plans to to the same. This bill was first proposed in 1998, in the aftermath of Matthew Shepard. But the White House plans to veto because the far-right religious base that hates the gay wants to protect criminals (I thought that's what liberals do) who act on their discriminatory rhetoric.

Under intense pressure from conservative religious organizations to derail the bill, the White House on Thursday called it "unnecessary and constitutionally questionable," issuing the latest in a string of veto threats aimed at the congressional Democratic majority [...]

Opponents argue that the bill would create special classes of federally protected crime victims. "If someone commits a crime, they should be punished for that crime. Period," said Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.). "Today the Democratic majority has chosen to end equality under the law."

Added Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas): "Justice should be blind to the personal traits of victims."

Some bill opponents also say the measure could stifle religious expression. They derided the measure as "thought crimes" legislation, contending that a pastor who preached against homosexuality could be charged with a hate crime if one of his church members committed a hate crime. The bill's supporters dispute that, saying the measure preserves 1st Amendment rights.

Far be it from me to expect anyone to read the bill, but clearly it cites action and deed and not thought. And if a group in society is targeted on the basis of a particular trait, they ought to be prosecuted on that trait as well. Law enforcement groups all support it, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

We look to this country as some beacon of freedom, and one of the hallmarks of that is respect for minority rights. We're in this "greatest struggle in the history of civilization" with fundamentalist nations that stone women and execute gays publicly. Shouldn't we offer a full-throated differentiation?

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Floridians Will Have Their Say!

By moving their primary up to January 29. This is going to cause a major shitstorm in the DNC and RNC, and will probably be the touchstone needed to get us to a new primary system. But in the interim, it could lead to Iowa and New Hampshire moving up to December, other states filling in January (like Michigan), and Feb. 5 being far less important.

The primary calendar is a joke. Hopefully it'll become so much of a joke that it'll have to be fixed.

I'd type more, but I have to go vote in the primary, California just moved up again...

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Religion and Politics

While the mullahs of the Republican Party got together tonight to chat about forcing religion into the public square, in Turkey they are actually working hard to keep it out.

Turkish lawmakers on Wednesday set national elections for July 22, four months earlier than planned, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party submitted a package of bills that would bring it advantages in the coming political battle.

Elections had been scheduled for Nov. 4, but on Tuesday, Turkey’s highest court annulled Parliament’s vote for president, effectively blocking Mr. Erdogan’s candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a close ally with a background in Islamic politics. The ruling created a standoff between Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party and the secular establishment.

The secular establishment in Parliament blocked the Islamic candidate from taking the Presidency, with the tacit support of the military behind them. Now, the establishment probably just fears the more popular AKP Party, led by Ergodan, from getting power, and are using the religion card as a means to that end. This is a good take:

Turkey's 2002 election was a shocker, with AKP winning by far the largest share of the vote, and the results produced Turkey's first single party government since 1987 and the country's first two-party parliament in 48 years. It's vital to note, however, that AKP won not because of its religious conservatism but because the secular coalition was viewed as corrupt, out of touch, and stale. AKP and it's leader, current Prime Minister Erdogan, ran on a platform of reform, economic development, and technocracy. More importantly, AKP has mostly delivered on those promises.

This has occurred repeatedly, and yet people still don't understand it: in developing areas, especially the Middle East, the establishment secular rulers are thrown out for domestic reasons -- usually economic and developmental -- and replaced by reformers who happen to be religious conservatives. These groups often build grassroot support, provide services that the government neglects, and quietly but effectively grow their networks from the bottom up. Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Ahmadinejad in Iran. Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. AKP in Turkey. Further, many of those crappy secular governments are/were being propped up by the U.S., to the detriment of the nations' people. Turkey, which is, admittedly, uniquely founded upon the principles of secularism, is now struggling with just how religious politicians can be, and the results will be very interesting.

No, these aren't the brightest days for democracy in Turkey. But it's interesting that the separation of church and state, or mosque and state, can be used to appeal to the citizens of a predominantly Muslim nation. Religious freedom is typically strongest in those countries without a state religion and without a theocratic government; take for example the fact that Iraq has been added to a religious freedom watchlist because of the hardships that come with worship there. A country that values one religion over another will always suffer from this ignominy. A country that offers both freedom of religion and freedom from religion will eventually be more religious and more free. There are forces in this country trying to dismantle that wall between church and state, and in so doing they plant the seeds of their own destruction.

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Hillary Clinton just added a new wrinkle to the Iraq debate.

SENATOR CLINTON: Madam President, I rise to join my colleague and friend, Senator Byrd, to announce our intention to introduce legislation which proposes that October 11, 2007 -- the five year anniversary of the original resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq -- as the expiration date for that resolution.

As Senator Byrd pointed out, the October 11, 2002, authorization to use force has run its course, and it is time to reverse the failed policies of President Bush and to end this war as soon as possible.

Earlier this week, President Bush vetoed legislation reflecting the will of the Congress and the American people that would have provided needed funding for our troops while also changing course in Iraq and beginning to bring our troops home.

I believe this fall is the time to review the Iraq war authorization and to have a full national debate so the people can be heard. I supported the Byrd amendment on October 10, 2002, which would have limited the original authorization to one year and I believe a full reconsideration of the terms and conditions of that authorization is overdue. This bill would require the president to do just that.

This is the same legislation that Bill Richardson called for in San Diego. And it's very powerful. The situation in Iraq today bears no resemblance to the situation in October 2002. The 2002 authorization is outdated. It says nothing about a civil war. It says nothing about sectarian violence. It says everything about weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein. This is a no-brainer.

There is a problem with the alphabet soup legislation from all of these different candidates that kind of negates consensus. That's also good in a way, because the attacks on the status quo come from a variety of different angles. I would support this legislation.

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The Charge of the White Brigade

Looking at the stage at the Reagan library, and comparing it to the stage of Democratic candidates last week in South Carolina, let me ask you: which one looks more like America in the 21st century?

This is a debate that would be well-suited for 1984, but not today. This is a pastiche of backward-looking thinking. I think I've heard Ronald Reagan's name about 200 times more than George W. Bush. Outside of scaring the devil out of the population (OK, not Ron Paul, but he's somewhat out of place here), there's nothing here that articulates a vision of the future. It's just an unrelenting partriarchy that wants to control everything you do in your home, wants to put up walls and blame brown people for every societal problem, and wants to bomb our way to victory abroad. There's absolutely no vision beyond fear and control.

UPDATE: Romney and Brownback want to pardon Scooter Libby. Wow, it's hilarious how obstruction of justice and lying to a grand jury aren't crimes anymore.

UPDATE II: Just so you know, 30% of the Republican field for President, in 2007, don't believe in evolution. 30%. I hope none of them ever have to be treated with penicillin.

And perusing the conservative Internets, it seems like the winner of the debate was Fred Thompson.

UPDATE III: Let me just say that there was a LOT of abortion talk in that debate, with near-unanimity save Giuliani on the pro-forced pregnancy side. Resident expert commenter Hooper aside, this is in a county where a total forced pregnancy statute couldn't even get passed in South Dakota. Can you say "out of touch"?

UPDATE IV: By the way, gays fired just for being gay? No problem. And then Tommy "You Jews with your money" Thompson retracted the statement within minutes. What a field of candidates!

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CA Clean Money: Perata Endorses

This is an absolutely enormous development. Clean Money got kind of lost in the shuffle at last weekend's CDP Convention, but Loni Hancock's AB 583 has been quietly making its way through the Assembly. It cleared the Assembly Elections Committee, and yesterday there was a hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which was favorable. And now, the Senate President pro Tem has signed on to be a co-author. Considering that the CDP wouldn't take a position on Clean Money just a year ago, this is historic news. Susan Lerner writes in an email to supporters:

I want you to be among the first to hear the exciting news: California Senate President pro Tem Don Perata just became a co-author of AB 583, the Clean Money bill!

The President pro Tem joins an ever-growing list of Legislators who are co-authors of AB 583, the California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act. Clean Money supporters in Senator Perata's Oakland district and throughout California should be proud because it was your calls, letters, and petitions that convinced him to sign on as a active Clean Money supporter.

As Mark Leno said in yesterday's Appropriation Committee hearing, "AB 583 is more than just a bill, it's a movement." Two years ago it was stopped in committee. Last year it cleared the Assembly. And this year, Perata's support will go a long way to helping it pass both houses and go on to the governor. This movement understands that the ability to wage fair and clean elections is vital to sustaining our democracy. You can join the movement working to clean up our political process here.

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No Political Downside

I deeply repsect Juan Cole, but I think he's off base here:

John Edwards argues in his campaign commercials that the best response to Bush's veto of the supplemental spending bill on Iraq and the failure on Wednesday of Congress to overturn it, is to keep sending the same bill back to Bush.

It is satisfying to say so, but it probably isn't good political tactics. When Newt Gingrich played politics with the budget under Clinton and even shut down DC, it was Congress that took the hit in the polls. Just being obstreperous isn't very attractive.

I think the two situations are completely different. 60% of the American people weren't clamoring for Republicans to shut down the government in 1995. But they do want to see Congress take the lead on Iraq. I really don't think there's any political downside to standing strong on this. This is not just a base strategy. It's a strategy that tells the American people on which side each party stands.

Now, if Edwards wanted to sign on to Feingold-Reid, as Chris Dodd recommends, I would say that's a good thing as well. Dodd's taking a shot at Edwards to get some attention, but ultimately they're not that far off as far as priorities on Iraq are concerned, and I'd be happy to see them continue to advocate which one is more against the war. But like I said, I don't think that sending the same bill to the President would be an automatically bad thing.

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The Great Voter Fraud Swindle - Missouri in 2006

The Republican goal of pushing baseless voter fraud investigations as a means to suppress turnout, particularly minority turnout, has a long and ignominious history. They have used intimidation and fear to keep voters away from the polls, voters that have felt the force of justice administrated upon them disproportionately. The idea is to harrass, frighten, and confuse voters so that they will not want to involve themselves in the electoral process, for their own safety and personal liberty more than anything else.

This 40-year history, which includes the participation of a former Supreme Court Chief Justice and thousands of well-connected GOP operatives, have continued in the efforts of the Bush Administration's Justice Department, particularly in Missouri, where the GOP tried to save their Senate majority by using the US Attorney office and legislative arms to prosecute false voter fraud claims, maintain laws devoted to voter suppression, purge voter lists and police perfectly legal GOTV operations.

First, the history. This is from 1964:

John M Baley, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, charged today that "under the guise of setting up an apparatus to protect the sanctity of the ballot, the Republicans are actually creating the machinery for a carefully organized campaign to intimidate voters and to frighten members of minority groups from casing their ballots on November 3rd.

"'Let's get this straight,' Bailey added, 'the Democratic Party is just as much opposed to vote frauds as is the Republican party. We will settle for giving all legally registered voters an opportunity to make their choice on November 3rd. We have enough faith in our Party to be confident that the outcome will be a vote of confience in President Johnson and a mandate for the President and his running mate, Hubert Humphrey, to continue the programs of the Johnson-Kennedy Administration.

"'But we have evidence that the Republican program is not really what it purports to be. it is an organized effort to prevent the foreign born, to prevent Negroes, to prevent members of ethnic minorities from casting their votes by frightening and intimidating them at the polling place.

"'We intend to see to it that the rights of these people are protected. We will have our people at the polling places--not to frighten or threaten anyone--but to protect the right of any eligible voter to cast a secret ballot without threats or intimidation.'

Bailey said the Republican program, called "Operation Eagle Eye," is really "a program to cut down the vote in predominantly Democratic areas by harassing, frightening, and confusing the voters."

This is from 2006:

Few have endorsed the strategy of pursuing allegations of voter fraud with more enthusiasm than White House political guru Karl Rove. And nowhere has the plan been more apparent than in Missouri.

Before last fall's election:

• (Bradley) Schlozman, while he was acting civil rights chief, authorized a suit accusing the state of failing to eliminate legions of ineligible people from lists of registered voters. A federal judge tossed out the suit this April 13, saying Democratic Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan couldn't police local registration rolls and noting that the government had produced no evidence of fraud.

• The Missouri General Assembly - with the White House's help - narrowly passed a law requiring voters to show photo identification cards, which Carnahan estimated would disenfranchise 200,000 voters. The state Supreme Court voided the law as unconstitutional before the election.

• Two weeks before the election, the St. Louis Board of Elections sent letters threatening to disqualify 5,000 newly registered minority voters if they failed to verify their identities promptly, a move - instigated by a Republican appointee - that may have violated federal law. After an outcry, the board rescinded the threat.

• Five days before the election, Schlozman, then interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City, announced indictments of four voter-registration workers for a Democratic-leaning group on charges of submitting phony applications, despite a Justice Department policy discouraging such action close to an election.

• In an interview with conservative talk-show host Hugh Hewitt a couple of days before the election, Rove said he'd just visited Missouri and had met with Republican strategists who "are well aware of" the threat of voter fraud. He said the party had "a large number of lawyers that are standing by, trained and ready to intervene" to keep the election clean.

I want to focus in on Bradley Schlozman and his efforts to continue the voter suppression in Missouri that he began in the civil rights department of the DoJ. The indictments of the ACORN recruiters five days before the election is a violation of Justice Department rules, which explicitly state that USAs should not bring election-related cases to an indictment directly preceding an election. The case was about ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) registering minority voters in Kansas City during 2006. There doesn't seem to be much to the allegations that this was in any way wrong, other than the fact that they were registering minority voters. Registering fake voters is a crime, but those fake voters are not in any way able to vote, and there is no evidence that anyone has used any of those names at the polls. And in fact, the lead investigators on any potential fraud was ACORN itself:

According to Elyshya Miller, ACORN's head organizer for Kansas City, ACORN identified certain forms as potentially fraudulent and turned them over to prosecutors in late October; four organizers were responsible. A week later, all four organizers were indicted by a grand jury.

But in their evident haste to indict, the prosecutors made a mistake -- they indicted the wrong person. Three weeks after the election, Schlozman's office dropped the charges against one of the defendants, Stephanie Davis, admitting that her identity was used without her permission. It was not until January of this year that Schlozman's office finally indicted one Caren Davis, who was apparently the person they were really after. Caren Davis' lawyer Dana Altieri told me that Davis is currently undergoing a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether she is competent to stand trial.

But let's look at the indicted crimes themselves. The four defendants were accused of forging the registration forms for a grand total of six voters (Caren Davis was responsible for three). In some cases, the defendants simply made people up; others forged the registrations for real people.

Schlozman claimed this was a "national investigation," but he was the only US Attorney in the country to bring charges in 2006. He was appointed using the Patriot Act provision that circumvented Senate confirmation, replacing a USA that was previously on DoJ purge lists. Schlozman was installed to push voter fraud investigations and intimidate minority voters; but also there's the additional tidbit that his predecessor Todd Graves was investigating Medicare fraud cases, and Schlozman put a stop to that. Elsewhere, attempts to look into a particular Medicare-fraud case, involving Novation LLC, ended with a series of mysterious accidental deaths.

With Schlozman's job done after the election (and unsuccessfully, I might add), he went right back to the DoJ, to become an "attorney in the Counsel to the Director staff at the Executive Office for United States Attorneys." By the way, Schlozman's replacement, John Wood, is a former OMB general counsel, as well as ICE head Julie Myers' husband. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

When we look back at the events in Missouri - especially the mystery USA that swooped into town, investigated all kinds of voter fraud investigations, and then just as quickly swooped out - you can only conclude that this is the continuation of 40 years of suppressing minority voters to dampen the Democratic vote. In Missouri it was the US Attorney's office, but also the entire GOP delegation in the state, who publicized voter fraud allegations, created photo ID laws designed to suppress the vote, and did everything they could to stop minorities from casting a ballot. This is the nub of the entire US Attorneys scandal - it was a political plan to create a Republican majority.

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Recruitment Victories

While the GOP can't find a decent candidate anywhere willing to represent the party of George W. Bush, Democrats are finding good progressive alternatives all over the map. In Florida:

Pledging to be a leader who produces results for Florida's families in Congress, Paul Rancatore, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserves and a Captain with American Airlines, announced today that he is running to represent Florida's Fifteenth Congressional District in the United States Congress.

"I am running for Congress because seniors, veterans and working families on the Space Coast deserve a Congressman who will provide efficient, effective, and accountable leadership," said Rancatore. "After more than 12 years of Dave Weldon's failure to create job opportunities, protect our nation, strengthen social security and create a real energy policy, the Space Coast is ready for a change. I offer a record of proven leadership and will fight for the concerns of all Floridians in Congress."

In Oklahoma:

According to the Tulsa World (Andrew) Rice met with Schumer in Dallas and told the DSCC Chair he was open to the run. Rice is just 34 years old and in his first term as a state senator. I decided to see if he is another reactionary Democrat like Oklahoma's Dan Boren. Wow! Is he ever not! Rice is a real populist with plenty of progressive ideas about how government should serve people. Rice seems strong on the important issues and his approach to government starts with being on the side of the people, not the Big Money interests. He was a founder of the Progressive Alliance Foundation, a public advocacy group seeking to advance progressive, fair-minded and constitutional values in Oklahoma. One way he keeps in tune with real people is as a Daily Kos blogger. Oklahoma progressives are clamoring for him to take on Inhofe and Blue Oklahoma is in the forefront urging people to sign the petition to get Andrew to take on one of the most reactionary politicians in America. The Draft Rice Petition is worth signing at the RunAndrewRun site.

In California:

The Bush Administration has launched an all-out attack on the middle class. By proposing to reduce the number of tax brackets from six to four, they are trying to cover up the fact that the middle class is eroding due to their failed economic policies.

It is becoming more and more difficult for hard working people to achieve the American dream of home ownership, particularly here in California where housing prices have skyrocketed. Despite this, they have proposed scrapping the property tax deduction and severely reducing the mortgage interest write off.

When Bill Clinton left office, we were on the road to eliminating the national debt for the first time since Andrew Jackson was president - more than 170 years ago. The Bush administration has transformed that record surplus into record deficits, focusing on short-term policies that benefit large corporations and harm the middle class.

Education is at the core of this country's basic promise - that all Americans should be able to make the most of their potential. We need more than a slogan to ensure that our schools are properly funded, so that every young person receives the skills they need to succeed in life.

In California, one in five - more than 6.4 million people - lack medical insurance. Quality health care is a basic right that should be afforded to all Americans. It's time we put the well being of every American first and stop bowing to the medical and pharmaceutical industries and their Washington lobbyists.

Russ Warner will be a leader in the fight to eliminate wasteful governmental spending and begin the work of reducing our growing national debt. He will draw on his life experience and core middle class values as he calls on Congress to increase funding for education, to provide quality health care to every American, to secure our future by promoting environmentally responsible use of our natural resources and to expand middle class tax relief.

And there are plenty of others, like Michael Wray in CA-50 and a mystery candidate in CA-42 (more on him later). And these are just NEW candidates. I'm not bringing up those who came so close in 2006 and will return to win in 2008, like Charlie Brown and Darcy Burner and Eric Massa and Larry Grant and so many others.

Democrats are in a positive environment, Republicans aren't. And the candidate recruitment you're seeing reflects that.

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They Don't Care About What You Eat

The crisis in food safety has just grown larger, and this is a slow-motion train wreck that is laying bare the failure of conservative government to fulfill any of its obligations. Now we've learned that millions of chickens were fed melamine-tainted feed, and that millions of consumers ate those chickens.

People have eaten millions of chickens that were given feed tainted with recalled pet food, federal officials said Tuesday, though they said the threat to human health is minimal.

The announcement came after an investigation of chicken farms in Indiana found that 38 of the facilities had given contaminated feed to poultry raised for human consumption, and that 2.5 million to 3 million people ate them.

The officials added that they expect to discover that chickens on possibly hundreds of farms in other states were also given tainted feed.

In a teleconference with reporters, an official with the Food and Drug Administration said no recall has been issued because "the likelihood of illness after eating chicken fed the contaminated product is very low."

This is of course what the FDA says now, although last week they said that no consumers ate anything tainted with melamine, and they also said it was only a couple hundred pets that have died when it was actually tens of thousands. So what will next week bring?

Well, don't worry, because there's now a food safety czar. Isn't that supposed to be the head of the FDA?

The Bush administration appointed a new "food safety czar" yesterday and directed him to develop a plan for addressing shortcomings exposed by recent scares in the human food supply.

Dr. David W.K. Acheson, a former University of Maryland medical school professor who had been chief medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration's food safety center, immediately stepped into the job.

The creation of the new position underscored the extent of public concern about the country's food safety system over a dangerous chemical found in pet food entering the human food supply, in addition to recent outbreaks of bacterial contamination in bagged spinach, Taco Bell lettuce and Peter Pan peanut butter. But Democrats said fears have intensified to a degree that a new appointment alone won't quell.

You're darn right it won't quell those fears. You hire a "czar" when you have admitted that you can't handle the problem. It's a way to place blame apart from the system itself.

Conservatives care nothing about government, and yet they act surprised when the mechanisms of government breaks down. They will somehow try to blame liberals for dismantling the public safety apparatus that has served the country well for decades. But this is an obvious conclusion to the consistent attempts to delegitimize government, drown the funding of public programs in a bathtub and staff regulatory agencies with the lobbyists for the industries they mean to regulate. I'm watching Robert Kuttner take down Bill Kristol in a conference called "The Failure of Conservatism." Bob, don't forget the food.

UPDATE: The audience didn't. A sample question from them: "Why is it that, 5 years after 9-11, the Bush Administration cannot guarantee my cat's food supply?"

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Rewarding Bad Behavior

Apparently, Condi Rice hates America.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said her meeting with the Syrian foreign minister, the first high-level talks in years between the United States and Syria, was "professional" and focused on how to improve security in Iraq.

Rice met with Walid Moallem for a half-hour on the sidelines of a two-day conference about Iraq's future, taking the opportunity to air U.S. concerns about Syria's notoriously porous border with its neighbor.

"I didn't lecture him and he didn't lecture me," Rice said afterward. "I would say it was professional. It was businesslike."

Rice obviously doesn't understand the nature of the threat we face. She's a traitor to her country for rewarding bad behavior by the Syrian government. How dare she talk to our enemies. Condi Rice should be prosecuted under whatever law we can find for subverting our foreign policy.

Oh wait, that's Nancy Pelosi.

(By the way, Tony Snow is bobbing and weaving like crazy on this issue at the press briefing today.)

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They Hate Us For Our Freedom

The soldiers fighting to protect and defend our basic freedoms are blocked from using them.

The U.S. Army is tightening restrictions on soldiers’ blogs and other Web site postings to ensure sensitive information about military operations does not make it onto public forums.

Soldiers in war zones are already subject to restrictions on blogging and public posts. But the Army’s new regulation could affect service members who have returned from war zones and started blogs about their combat experiences.

Under a new directive issued in April, soldiers must consult with their immediate supervisor and an officer responsible for what’s known within the military as operational security, or OPSEC, for a review of planned publications.

Reviews will be needed for Web site postings, blog postings, discussions on Internet information forums and discussions on Internet message boards, according to the Army directive.

E-mail that will be published in a public forum is also subject to review under the regulation. But Army officers said personal e-mails will not be reviewed, calling that impractical.

Oh good, at least they're not breaking into their personal e-mail. That'll wait until they get back stateside, I guess.

Anyone who thinks this is about making sure soldiers don't give away troop movements are not being hoenst. This is about making sure no unfiltered information gets out from the battlefield. It is the nature of war to clamp down on information and control the message. That's true if the "Information Minister" is Donald Rumsfeld or Baghdad Bob.

Milibloggers provided a valuable service, and lots of them didn't share my opinion on the war. But I'd rather hear from them than a DoD press release. People need good information to understand what's happening in Iraq, to make good judgments on its conduct. This crackdown is positively un-American.

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Goodling Bad

(blog title stolen from FrankensteinBlog)

Monica Goodling clearly used ideology in the hiring decisions of entry-level assistant US Attorneys, and now the Inspector General is looking into it.

The Justice Department has launched an internal investigation into whether Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales’s former White House liaison illegally took party affiliation into account in hiring career federal prosecutors, officials said yesterday.

The allegations against Monica M. Goodling represent a potential violation of federal law and signal that a joint probe begun in March by the department’s inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility has expanded beyond the controversial dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys last year.

Of course, the House Judiciary Committee offered immunity to Goodling, so if she's under investigation at the same time, she may not be able to testify. And we all know that Goodling's testimony may be crucial to understanding just what went on in the prosecutor firing; after all, she was the liaison between the DoJ and the White House.

I'm not sure where that impasse will lead. But it's clear that Goodling broke the law and deserves to be held accountable. As does practically the entire top staff of the Justice Department. I mean, there's a US Attorney in Montana who's also an associate deputy attorney general, and he changed the law to allow him to to run the Montana office from Washington while never setting foot in there.

It's a tough call to decide whether it's worth it to let Goodling have immunity to testify, or not.

UPDATE: Balkinization brings up a great point, whether or not immunity will be placed upon Goodling is up to the DoJ:

So let's get this straight: It is up to the DOJ to decide whether Congress will be able to give immunity to Ms. Goodling. Whom, if anyone, would "we" trust in the current DOJ to make that decision? I can imagine that the Inspector General would be reluctant to grant immunity, but why should his decision control? Even those of us who are rabidly partisan shouldn't really be consumed by a desire to see Ms. Goodling go to jail (unlike others I could name). It will be more than enough to see her testify, under oath, in public before the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, and to use her testimony to nail others who are for more important than the 33-year-old graduate of Regent '99.

Isn't it clear that an independent prosecutor should be appointed (but by whom and under what authority) since everyone in the DOJ is hopelessly conflicted out?

I agree. Immunity for the lesser lights if they turn on those up the ladder is commonplace. And the independent prosecutor is a no-brainer.

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Commander Guy and the League of Democracy

They're all comic book heroes in their own minds:

And that’s what we do. We put in more troops to get to a position where we can be in some other place. The question is, who ought to make that decision? The Congress or the commanders? And as you know, my position is clear — I’m the commander guy.

Get that gun right up to my head when you shoot me, I don't want there to be any mistakes...

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Wanting to Give Up So Bad They Can Taste It

I think there are elements of the Democratic leadership that so want to give up and give the President everything he wants on the supplemental Iraq funding now that they got their symbolic victory with the veto. They think that would somehow innoculate them from owning this war. Heck, Steny Hoyer is saying it right out in the open. But the conscience of the party is saying not so fast, and if you sell out on Iraq everybody's going to know why.

To Mr. Feingold, giving too much ground to the administration would repeat the mistake Democrats made in lending support to the war in the first place. He said he would regard it as a retreat from progress made in assembling Congressional majorities urging an end to the war.

“There is virtually no one in our caucus who does not want to be associated with trying to get us out of this war,” said Mr. Feingold, whose outspokenness made him a hero to the varied antiwar groups that were an integral element of Democratic success last November. “The only thing that is slowing some of them down is the fear that somehow they will be accused of doing something that will put the troops at risk. The desire for political comfort is still overwhelming the best judgment even of some Democrats.”

I would have guessed that Ben Nelson would have joined Hoyer in the Capitulation Caucus until he went to Baghdad and saw what was happening:

Mr. Nelson, like his colleague Mark Pryor of Arkansas, was uneasy about any withdrawal timeline. And the fact that the White House sees him as crucial to the debate was reflected in how quickly the administration reached out to him on Wednesday to try to arrange a meeting.

But Mr. Nelson has also expressed intensifying misgivings about the war, and his trip to the region did not allay his concerns. He said the sounds of rockets whistling around the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad were audible reminders of the dangers to American troops who “are literally at the crossroads of the civil war in Iraq.”

“There is still fighting in the streets of Baghdad,” said Mr. Nelson, who said meetings with leaders of political factions indicated that any reconciliation remained far off. “Things have not changed to the good.”

They really, really want to sell out the base on this one. But then they see the lack of progress, the shambles of a government, the men and women dying every day... and whaddya know, they start to use their brains for a second. I'm skeptical, but the leadership needs to be pushed, and they need to understand that the American people are behind them. Time to fire up the phones and the faxes and the emails. Tell your representative that a blank check is unacceptable.

UPDATE: There's a lot of talk about "benchmarks" in forging a compromise. It's ridiculous. There are no penalties to the Iraqis for not meeting the benchmarks. And by the way, it's a virtual certainty that they won't meet them:

Kurdish and Sunni Arab officials expressed deep reservations on Wednesday about the draft version of a national oil law and related legislation, misgivings that could derail one of the benchmark measures of progress in Iraq laid down by President Bush.

The draft law, which establishes a framework for the distribution of oil revenues, was approved by the Iraqi cabinet in late February after months of negotiations. The White House was hoping for quick passage to lay the groundwork for a political settlement among the country’s ethnic and sectarian factions. But the new Kurdish concerns have created doubts about the bill even before Parliament is to pick it up for debate [...]

Iraqi Blocs Opposed to Draft Oil Bill
Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Bush with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid at the White House on Wednesday.

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Published: May 3, 2007
ERBIL, Iraq, May 2 — Kurdish and Sunni Arab officials expressed deep reservations on Wednesday about the draft version of a national oil law and related legislation, misgivings that could derail one of the benchmark measures of progress in Iraq laid down by President Bush.

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The Reach of War
Go to Complete Coverage » The draft law, which establishes a framework for the distribution of oil revenues, was approved by the Iraqi cabinet in late February after months of negotiations. The White House was hoping for quick passage to lay the groundwork for a political settlement among the country’s ethnic and sectarian factions. But the new Kurdish concerns have created doubts about the bill even before Parliament is to pick it up for debate.

The issue comes at a delicate moment for Mr. Bush, who on Wednesday began negotiations with Congressional Democrats over a new war-spending measure.

The president vetoed a $124 billion bill on Tuesday because it included timetables for troop withdrawals, and a House vote on Wednesday fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto, with 222 voting in favor and 203 opposing the override.

In a speech to a construction industry trade group in Washington, Mr. Bush said he was “confident that with good will on both sides, that we can move beyond political statements” and agree on a new measure.

But he continued to criticize Congress for trying to use the bill to dictate timelines for withdrawal.

“The question is, ‘Who ought to make that decision, the Congress or the commanders?’ ” Mr. Bush said. “As you know, my position is clear — I’m the commander guy.”

In Iraq, the Kurds have taken issue with a new provision that was quietly packaged with the draft oil law by the Shiite-led Oil Ministry last month. The measure would essentially cede control of the management of nearly all known oil fields and related contracts to a state-run oil company to be established after passage of the law, said a spokesman for the Kurdish regional government.

The spokesman, Khalid Salih, said the provision violated a clause in the Constitution that says the central government must work with regional governments to determine management of known fields that have not been developed. The Kurds, who have enjoyed de facto independence in the north since 1991, have been arguing for maximum regional control over oil contracts.

There is no legitimate functioning government in Iraq, why would anyone think that they could work out a deal on the most important piece of legislation they'll ever negotiate? Also, the oil unions actually wield a little power in Iraq, and they won't let their fields essentially be seized by Big Business.

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My Kingdom for a Junta

Thomas Sowell at NRO has a "Whoops, did I say that out loud?" moment.

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can't help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.

This is the problem with the rage generated by the authoritarian element on the other side of the aisle. They've been told for a couple decades now that having a Democrat in charge of the country would basically be the end of civilization as we know it. That doesn't breed the kind of thinking that leads to a peaceful transition of power. It breeds the kind of thinking that leaves bombs in front of an abortion clinic. Sowell is just musing, but the conservative movement has engendered such hate and bile, that it's not a giant leap from thought to deed.

This is not unique to modern conservatism, but they have more shrieking commentators who whip up their supporters into a frenzy, it's just the truth. Remember Sean Hannity saying that "there are things in life worth fighting and dying for and one of 'em is making sure Nancy Pelosi doesn't become the Speaker"? Nobody acted on that one.


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Blaming The Victim

The President has become ever more incoherent when talking about Iraq, today going back on everything he's been saying since 2004 and suggesting that there's such a thing as an acceptable level of violence in that country.

Either we'll succeed, or we won't succeed. And the definition of success as I described is sectarian violence down. Success is not, no violence. There are parts of our own country that have got a certain level of violence to it. But success is a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives. And that's what we're trying to achieve.

Shorter Bush: If Iraq is, say, the Gaza Strip, then we've done our job and we've won.

So now, if you want to line everything up, it looks like this to the Bush spinners. If there's less violence, that means we're winning. If there's "an acceptable level of violence," we're winning. If there's more violence, we're winning because that means the insurgents are desperate. Under literally any security situation in Iraq, there's some spin that this means the United States is winning the war. And that's what has Americans so frustrated, because they cannot hope to expect that they are being told the truth when confronted with this twisted logic.

Furthermore, any attempt to pole vault reality over the castle walls of conservatism that they built for themselves is an exercise in futility.

Hugh Hewitt: [Lawrence Wright] said absolutely, it is not the case it’s a strategic disaster. While there may be more jihadis in Iraq than there were before, it’s not like our intervention in Iraq created them, and he went on to characterize their camps in Mali, their camps in Gaza…

Michael Isikoff: Right.

HH: Their Waziristan…that they are manufacturing…they were manufactured for a decade in Afghanistan.

MI: Right.

HH: And now, they’re coming to al Anbar Province, because that’s where they can kill the great Satan. And so we’re not manufacturing them, we’re gathering them in one place…

MI: Right.

HH: And they’re surging against us. That’s a different spin. I’m not saying it’s the facts on the ground, either.

MI: We have to guess. We have to guess. I mean, we know that a lot of bad guesses were made by this administration in the invasion.

HH: Again, that’s spin.

MI: No, no, no, no, no, no. We know that.

HH: Give me a specific.

MI: They did not…a specific?

HH: Of a bad guess.

MI: Did they anticipate the sectarian warfare that was going to take place?

HH: No. Okay…

MI: Did they tell the country that there’s a high risk that we’re going to be enmeshed in a civil war in Iraq, in which thousands of Americans…

HH: Civil war is itself a spin, though.

MI: Well, what do you call it?

HH: That is a characterization…I call it an insurrection, I call it an al Qaeda surge, I call it bad militias in Baghdad.

MI: Well…

HH: But a civil war, where you’ve got Sunni and Shia…actually, the one thing Petraeus has also said…

MI: Fighting each other. Fighting each other. That’s…

HH: There are lots of definitions. It’s spin.

Reality has no meaning to committed Bush-defending conservatives. They can shrug it off and call it spin while at the same time employing the argument "If there's more violence, that means we're winning" without considering that spin at all. The American people are sick to death of these bullshit justifications for an unnecessary disaster of a war.

And that is the point at which they pull out the biggest spin of all; that the people who are tired of the lies about Iraq are the ones to blame for the loss.

TROUBLING THOUGHTS ON IRAQ, from Rick Moran. Sadly, I agree that our domestic political situation will make constructive action difficult. As I've said before, it was obvious in the 1990s that we had a dysfunctional political class, but it's become much more obvious in the current decade. (Via TMV). And yes, time's the enemy now. Pentagon planners talk about the "three year rule" for domestic support in a war, and it's been four -- five if you count Afghanistan.

This "blame the American people" idea has been building for some time - Jonah Goldberg did a typical column for this genre a little while back saying that you can't use public opinion polls as a judge because people are stupid. And in fact, Vietnam was only lost because America lost their will to win. This Tinkerbell strategy ("clap louder!"), this exceptionalist myht that America can never lose at anything, this is all the most dangerous attitude in the world. It pre-empts rational thought, and ensures that if a mistake is ever made, it will be compounded over and over because only glorious victory is acceptable. This isn't 300 and this isn't the turning point of Act II. This is real war, where real lives (not chickenhawk conservatives, but somebody else's) are at stake, and you cannot put aside facts as inconvenient and blame only those who pay attention to them. It's like someone trying to cook an egg, and burning the food and the skillet and the stove and nearly the entire kitchen, the whole time saying "just a sec, have some patience, I'm almost done," and then when they're finally taken out of the house, yelling at the fire crews because "you ruined my perfectly good breakfast!"

I will not let this smear merchants who want no responsibility for the death march across Iraq try to pin this tragedy on people who are simply pleading for this to stop. It is the opposite of reason to claim that America can only be stopped by itself. I've had it.

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Ad Policy

Now that I've begun to receive a couple Blogads, allow me to present to you, the reader, the D-Day ad policy:

I don't have an ad policy.

I believe my readers are adult enough to look at an ad, and accept or reject it on the merits. It's called the marketplace of ideas.

If you want to give me money that I can funnel to building a progressive majority and passing progressive legislation, I don't care what wacky idea you're pushing.

This has been the D-Day ad policy. Good afternoon.



Are You Safer Than You Were Seven Years Ago?

John Edwards is attacking the Republican candidates on the war and on terrorism right now on The Situatiion Room in an extremely targeted way. After seeing this exchange, there is no doubt in my mind that he would crush any opposition in the general election. He comes off as smart and serious, and he does an excellent job laying the blame for the war at the feet of George Bush and the Republicans. And he's using a very simple method that has worked for Presidents in the past, framing the choice in a very accessible way:

Are you safer than you were seven years ago?

The most crucial part of the exchange was when Wolf outsourced the questioning (a familiar tactic) by playing clips of Edwards' would-be Republican rivals and asking him to comment. In the first instance, Rudy Giuliani was shown talking about how Democrats would roll back the Patriot Act and illegal warrantless wiretapping and military action in Iraq (heaven forbid!) and how we'd be more vulnerable to terrorist attack in that case. Here's Edwards' response:

Fearmongering. It's the same old fearmongering that they've been engaged in for years. Hey, what I would ask Americans is do you feel safer than you did when George Bush was elected in 2000? Do you feel safer today? Are you happy with what's happened in Iraq? Because what Giuliani, McCain, Romney, all of them, the best I can tell, are saying is, that we're going to stay on this same course. I mean, the question for the American people is, do they believe we can be smarter and still be aggressive about protecting this country. And I think they're going to answer that question in a resounding way come November 2008.

That's some expert rhetorical ju-jitsu there. It puts the onus right back on the Republicans to prove that they haven't made the country less safe as a result of the failure in Iraq. It's an impossible task for them to do. We all know that terrorist attacks globally are on the rise. We know that the focus on Iraq has come at the cost of Afghanistan, Somalia, and all sorts of other hotspots all over the world. We know that our homeland security is a joke - the ports, the chemical plants, the cargo screened in the airports, and on and on. So Edwards asks the question. And he does this in a direct way to the Republicans, not his fellow candidates. Edwards is fighting the real fight that we have right now, and his strong stand on Iraq, where he has called on Congress to keep sending the funding bill over and over again, is another way to put the focus where it belongs. Edwards, earlier in this exchange, said that George Bush is the only one denying funding to the troops. He completely gets the issue, and his simple question "Are you safer than you were 7 years ago?" will resonate in the country. The American people are on the same side.

Then Wolf tried to switch gears, reading a Mitt Romney joke about the $400 haircut. Edwards could have laughed this off, but coming out of this discussion on Iraq, he connected it in exactly the right way when asked to respond:

What I say is, Governor, we ought to be talking about what we are going to be doing about men and women who are dying in Iraq, not this kind of silliness. And if you believe what we ought to be doing in Iraq is to continue what George Bush is doing, you are completely at odds with the American people. That's true of Romney, that's true of Giuliani, it's true of Senator McCain. And Senator McCain I've known for years, I have a lot of personal respect for him, but he is dead wrong about what we ought to be doing in Iraq. And we ought to elevate the discussion about, when we're in a war, Wolf, when we have men and women dying, and we have $500 billion dollars being spent, that should be central to the next Presidential election, and hopefully we'll focus on issues like that.

This is as much an indictment of the question itself as it is an indictment of the unseriousness of conservative gasbags. Stop talking about American Idol when there's a war on! Stop reporting on Britney and Anna Nicole! Stop the stupidity that stands in for Presidential campaign coverage and start focusing on what matters! I'm watching a dog taking a drink of water on CNN right now. Stop it!

Connecting all the Republican candidates to the Bush policy in Iraq is exactly the right thing to do in a general election. Edwards has been doing this for a while, he was the one that started the "McCain doctrine" language. And he's the only one to have fundamentally challenged the phrase "global war on terror":

At last month's Democrat debate in South Carolina, moderator Brian Williams asked the eight candidates: "Show of hands question: Do you believe there is such a thing as a global war on terror?"

Senator Hillary Clinton's hand shot up. After hesitating noticeably, Senator Barack Obama joined her. Edwards did not, even though he has used the phrase himself and a policy paper on his Web site refers to "winning the war on terror." And now, in his first interview to explain his turnabout, Edwards tells TIME that he will no longer use what he views as "a Bush-created political phrase."

"This political language has created a frame that is not accurate and that Bush and his gang have used to justify anything they want to do," Edwards said in a phone interview from Everett, Wash. "It's been used to justify a whole series of things that are not justifiable, ranging from the war in Iraq, to torture, to violation of the civil liberties of Americans, to illegal spying on Americans. Anyone who speaks out against these things is treated as unpatriotic. I also think it suggests that there's a fixed enemy that we can defeat with just a military campaign. I just don't think that's true."

John Edwards is the only candidate that I've seen willing to challenge the assumptions that led us to this disastrous war. And he's asking exactly the right questions and framing the debate in an expert way.

UPDATE: In a great maneuver, Edwards sent a question to The Politico for their Republican debate:

"Has the Bush doctrine of a Global War on Terror backfired? Does the president's focus suggest a fixed enemy that can be defeated through a permanent military campaign or do you think we need a broader approach as many military leaders believe?"

If they accepted this, it'd be brilliant to see the fumferring as the candidates walk into Edwards' trap.

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Blog Outsourcing

Just go to TPM Muckraker today, there's a host of good stuff on the US Attorney scandal. Apparently Michael Elston, DoJ official, told Carol Lam she had to leave in weeks and not months, REGARDLESS OF THE IMPACT on existing cases. And fired prosecutor Bud Cummins heard from a DoJ official that Tim Griffin would stay as his replacement no matter what and that the plan was to circumvent the Senate. And another fired prosecutor, Paul Charlton, was asked to keep quiet about his circumstance in return for the Attorney General's silence. Oh, and Paul McNulty said USA Daniel Bogden's performance had nothing to do with his firing, in variance to his earlier statements to Congress. AND, the Senate Judiciary Committee has granted subpoenas for Karl Rove's emails.

And this is ONE DAY of reporting. TPM Muckraker is amazing.

I have another long US Attorney post that I'm readying, but as an example of how damaging this entire scandal has been, take a look at this:

Lawyers for former Poway defense contractor Brent Wilkes yesterday asked a judge to dismiss indictments stemming from the Randy “Duke” Cunningham scandal because the government deliberately and illegally disclosed grand jury secrets to the media.

Wilkes' attorney, Mark Geragos, also alleged in documents filed in federal court that the leaks were part of a campaign by former U.S. Attorney Carol Lam to use Wilkes and other defendants as “pawns” in a “political squabble” with bosses at the Justice Department who wanted her fired.

Geragos contended that Lam wanted the indictments to happen before the Bush administration forced her from office. The indictments were issued Feb. 13; Lam left two days later.

“The United States Attorney used the leaks to create a public atmosphere that compelled the grand jury to return indictments and present (the Justice Department) with a fait accompli, a gesture of defiance by Carol Lam as she was forced out of office,” Geragos wrote.

Because there was such a sloppy process to fire these attorneys, because it did impact ongoing investigations, the perception that Lam rushed her indictments through may be seen as legitimate, even though it's clear from the evidence that Brent Wilkes is a complete scumbag who was bribing legislators, government officials, everyone in sight. This is the damage done when you mess with the administration of justice.

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A Lawsuit for the CA Term Limits Initiative

Robert Salladay reports that a group called U.S. Term Limits is announcing a lawsuit today over the term limits initiative, and particularly Attorney General Brown's "Title and Summary." You'll recall that the title and summary goes like this:

"LIMITS ON LEGISLATORS' TERMS IN OFFICE. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Reduces the total amount of time a person may serve in the state legislature from 14 years to 12 years."

Because the measure would actually extend the amount of time one legislator can spend in the Assembly or Senate, and because the measure would allow current legislators to extend their time in office (particularly the Speaker and the Senate President Pro Tem), U.S. Term Limits considers this a weakening of the law, and wants the wording changed.

Wording like this is always slippery, and whether there's "right" or "wrong" language is debatable. I bring this lawsuit up, however, because it was obvious that there would be a coordinated effort to derail this initiative. Term limits are one of the backbone principles of the conservative movement, and while across the country that movement is breaking down, in this state it still means something, even if it's marginalized. I don't know if U.S. Term Limits will be successful, but to me it's a sign that there will in fact be vigorous opposition to the initiative.

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Creating Their Own Reality

On the heels of Conservapedia now comes QubeTV, the conservative YouTube. Apparently watching videos has a well-known liberal bias.

I've got an idea, why don't they just take over a little chunk of Alabama and call it "Conservamerica," because their prospects in this actual country are remote:

President Bush's unpopularity and a string of political setbacks have created a toxic climate for the Republican Party, making it harder to raise money and recruit candidates for its drive to retake control of Congress.

Some of the GOP's top choices to run for the House next year have declined, citing what Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) called a "poisonous" environment. And Republicans' fundraising edge, an important advantage over the last five years, has dwindled.

With GOP clout diminished after November's election losses, the Republicans' national committee and their House and Senate campaign committees together raised the same amount as the Democrats in the first quarter of the year — and Democrats ended the period with more cash in the bank. At this point four years ago, Republicans had more than twice the money Democrats did.

"The reality is the Republican brand right now is just not a good brand," said Tim Hibbitts, an independent Oregon pollster. "For Republicans, the only way things really get better … is if somehow, some way, Iraq turns around."

Considering there's been no discernable change in strategy; considering that even the "good news" from Al-Anbar is nothing more than proof that Iraqis want foreign elements out of their country, including the US; considering that the Iraqi security forces have little training and less money; considering that leader of the Iraqi government is pursuing a shadowy, theocratic, Shiite sectarian agenda by using a secret office to override Interior and Defense Ministry dictates;

Well, good luck with "Iraq turning around."

And it's clear to anyone who's not a rabidly partisan Bush defender that this is the case, that the failure in Iraq will cost the GOP dearly for decades to come. Bob Novak is publicly predicting a loss of GOP seats in 2008, which would be unprecedented after such a big victory like 2006. And David Brooks sees blood in the water as well.

On Capitol Hill, there is a strange passivity in Republican ranks. Republicans are privately disgusted with how President Bush has led their party and the nation, but they don’t publicly offer any alternatives. They just follow sullenly along. They privately believe the country needs new approaches to the war against Islamic extremism, but they don’t offer them. They try to block Democratic initiatives, but they don’t offer the country any new ways to think about the G.O.P. They are like people quietly marching to their doom.

And at the presidential level, things are even worse. The party is blessed with a series of charismatic candidates who are not orthodox Republicans. But the pressures of the campaign are such that these candidates have had to repress anything that might make them interesting. Instead of offering something new, each of them has been going around pretending to be the second coming of George Allen — a bland, orthodox candidate who will not challenge any of the party’s customs or prejudices.

To Brooks, who is right in this column, the fealty to various conservative interests has put the party into gridlock, unable to reverse course on Iraq or anything else. And none so less a leading conservative light as William F. Buckley had this to say:

The political problem of the Bush administration is grave, possibly beyond the point of rescue. The opinion polls are savagely decisive on the Iraq question. About 60 percent of Americans wish the war ended — wish at least a timetable for orderly withdrawal. What is going on in Congress is in the nature of accompaniment. The vote in Congress is simply another salient in the war against war in Iraq. Republican forces, with a couple of exceptions, held fast against the Democrats’ attempt to force Bush out of Iraq even if it required fiddling with the Constitution. President Bush will of course veto the bill, but its impact is critically important in the consolidation of public opinion. It can now accurately be said that the legislature, which writes the people’s laws, opposes the war [...]

It is simply untrue that we are making decisive progress in Iraq. The indicators rise and fall from day to day, week to week, month to month. In South Vietnam there was an organized enemy. There is clearly organization in the strikes by the terrorists against our forces and against the civil government in Iraq, but whereas in Vietnam we had Hanoi as the operative headquarters of the enemy, we have no equivalent of that in Iraq, and that is a matter of paralyzing importance. All those bombings, explosions, assassinations: we are driven to believe that they are, so to speak, spontaneous.

When the Romans were challenged by Christianity, Rome fell. The generation of Christians moved by their faith overwhelmed the regimented reserves of the Roman state. It was four years ago that Mr. Cheney first observed that there was a real fear that each fallen terrorist leads to the materialization of another terrorist. What can a “surge,” of the kind we are now relying upon, do to cope with endemic disease? The parallel even comes to mind of the eventual collapse of Prohibition, because there wasn’t any way the government could neutralize the appetite for alcohol, or the resourcefulness of the freeman in acquiring it.

General Petraeus is a wonderfully commanding figure. But if the enemy is in the nature of a disease, he cannot win against it. Students of politics ask then the derivative question: How can the Republican party, headed by a president determined on a war he can’t see an end to, attract the support of a majority of the voters? General Petraeus, in his Pentagon briefing on April 26, reported persuasively that there has been progress, but cautioned, “I want to be very clear that there is vastly more work to be done across the board and in many areas, and again I note that we are really just getting started with the new effort.”

The general makes it a point to steer away from the political implications of the struggle, but this cannot be done in the wider arena. There are grounds for wondering whether the Republican party will survive this dilemma.

The need to create a new reality is so great for Republicans because the current reality is so bleak. They can say that the election of 2006 proved that the middle is ascendant, and that Democrats are taking extremist positions, but honestly their heart doesn't even seem in it anymore. Republicans used to thrive in the minority but now they are just sad figures, marking time until they are completely out of

UPDATE: This reminds me, I should get my tickets for the Failure of Conservatism Conference. Maybe in an alternate universe some Bush defenders will put together a "Failure of the Party that Just Won Power in the Congress" conference.

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