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

Saturday, May 19, 2007

"Wasting My Time"

Charlie Rangel is shocked that there's so much misunderstanding about the secret trade deal, the contents of which have still not been released publicly or even to members of the Democratic caucus:

"I think there's a lot of misunderstanding with the agreement," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, told PBS' Nightly Business Report. "I cannot see how anybody would be upset in the Democratic Party, except for one thing: they were not included when we had the press conference."

That's actually why YOU would be upset, Charlie, because you've never met a microphone you didn't like. Why the party rank-and-file is upset is because you've kept the deal under lock and key, and what is leaking out suggests that the White House is rewriting the deal as we speak and any labor provisions will not be binding.

This is NAFTA II, the re-NAFTA-ing, (how many times can I go back to the well of that joke?), and despite qualified support from labort organizations, the process of this deal should give anyone who expects fairness in trade policy pause.

Rangel is a creature of the past when it comes to trade policy. The majority of the House Democratic caucus wants to see American worker competitiveness protected and not sold out so multinationals can roam the world looking for the cheapest wage. Ignoring that majority opinion is not advisable, but it's precisely what Rangel wants to do.

Rangel has stressed his desire to restore bipartisan support for trade through an "American" trade policy, rather than a Republican or Democratic one.

In the interview, Rangel offered no apology for the deal that was struck and said the only thing he would do differently was to reach it "much faster. I'd ignore a lot of people that really was just wasting my time, and didn't intend to support it all."

Carl Pope of the Sierra Club offers the best explanation I've seen of why these trade deals still benefit lobbyist-driven interests instead of the public interest:

What do I mean by saying these agreements are unbalanced? Well, if a signatory to a typical trade agreement violates the patent protection rights of a US drug manufacturer to provide cheaper life saving medicines for its population, the drug company can bring a legal action against it. But if the same country brings down drug prices for import into the US by using forced labor, a union can't do anything about it. If Peru revokes a logging concession granted to US timber companies, regardless of the fairness of the original agreement, the timber company can sue for damages. But if the same US timber company illegally logs Peruvian mahogany and imports it into the US, a sustainable US hardwood competitor can't file for damages -- even under the proposed, "environmentally more friendly" terms being talked about.

Certain laws -- those which protect businesses -- are given a special priority, and companies can use trade agreements to sue governments for cash compensation if a pesky environmental or public health measure stand in the way of their profits. Neither unions nor environmental groups have the rights given to businesses to make sure that worker’s rights and the environment are protected; for this they would have to depend on the US government which, under its present leadership, is hardly a reliable cop on the beat.

It's actually worse than that, if the labor and environmental deals in the bill are stripped out by the President or put into unenforceable "side deals." What little media exposure there has been on this issue has taken the side of the "bipartisan compromise" that is neither bipartisan or a compromise. And every day that they remain secret, and especially every day that Charlie Rangel insults the majority of the Democratic caucus, I will be incredibly skeptical.

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CA-42: Award Season for Gary Miller

(cross-posted at Trash Dirty Gary)

So when you rip off city governments and the IRS, threaten to destroy neighborhoods to blackmail them into paying you off, and generally run roughshod over the laws governing fair business practices in this country, what does that get you? An award, of course!

MILLER HONORED: The National Association of Manufacturers has given its Award for Manufacturing Legislative Excellence to Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea.

The award, which was presented by a delegation of property managers visiting from Orange County, recognized Miller's efforts to provide tax relief for small businesses, reduce regulatory barriers to community development, and bolster the nation's housing market.

Yes, if there's ANYTHING that's bolstered the nation's housing market, a bubble now bursting at a real estate office near you, it's Republican policies.

Who are the National Association of Manufacturers, by the way? A right-wing lobbying outfit headed by former Michigan Governor John Engler. NAM's executive vice president is a guy named Michael Baroody, who the President wants to make the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That's right - a guy who helps run a lobbying group for manufacturers is going to be put in charge of regulating product safety for manufacturers! That's life in Brownie's America! And then there's this:

Amid growing scrutiny of the government's consumer safety record, lawmakers are focusing their fire on President Bush's nominee to run the Consumer Product Safety Commission: A Washington-based lobbyist for the nation's biggest manufacturers' association, whose members produce many of the items the commission regulates.

That criticism intensified Wednesday with news that Michael Baroody, executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, will collect $150,000 in severance pay from the association if he accepts the new government regulatory post.

That is not a bribe and how dare you think so.

So this is the "ethically pure" organization that sees fit to give a corrupt sleazebag like Gary Miller an award. Birds of a feather...


More on Moore

So the Michael Moore "anonymous" gift to his biggest critic is apparently in the movie SiCKO. Moore had planned to call Jim Kenefick of before the Cannes premiere, but by then word had leaked out about it.

Moore makes his points with a blunt instrument, and they're designed to provoke a response. I still think this was a shrewd and somewhat brilliant maneuver, and the carping from Jim Kenefick after taking the money smacks of ingratitude. But I think you can certainly say that it wasn't an act of altruism. It was an investment in the production of a movie with a definitive slant.

If we had a functioning health care system in this country this would be a moot point. And we could do it without anyone having to rely on $12,000 gifts.

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Proof That Bloggers Are Foul-Mouthed

Just look at the nastiness and uncouth, vile language these bloggers spew... oh wait that's a Presidential candidate.

At a bipartisan gathering in an ornate meeting room just off the Senate floor, McCain complained that Cornyn was raising petty objections to a compromise plan being worked out between Senate Republicans and Democrats and the White House. He used a curse word associated with chickens and accused Cornyn of raising the issue just to torpedo a deal.

Things got really heated when Cornyn accused McCain of being too busy campaigning for president to take part in the negotiations, which have gone on for months behind closed doors. “Wait a second here,” Cornyn said to McCain. “I’ve been sitting in here for all of these negotiations and you just parachute in here on the last day. You’re out of line.”

McCain, a former Navy pilot, then used language more accustomed to sailors (not to mention the current vice president, who made news a few years back after a verbal encounter with Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont).

“[Expletive] you! I know more about this than anyone else in the room,” shouted McCain at Cornyn.

I could care less about saying f-you, I use it to make the point about how the media faints at the sight of any profanity directed at them. What should concern everyone is the line directly after the curse, "I know more about this than anyone else in the room." Do we really need another President that's as arrogant as all get out?

And by the way, if I had spent months in negotiations over this legislation, and this yahoo who's missed the last 42 roll call votes because he's running for President jumps into the press conference like he's been there all along, I'd be pretty pissed off myself.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Moore the Single Payer

Jim Kenefick is one of the several making a cottage industry out of hating Michael Moore. He runs, so his entire life (online at least) is consumed with the award-winning director.

Well, take a look at this story and see how it clearly illustrates the difference between liberals and conservatives.

Filmmaker Michael Moore has come to the rescue of his harshest critic.

For several years now, Jim Kenefick has been railing against the Oscar-winning director on Recently, Kenefick wrote about the difficulty he was having paying his wife's medical bills. Fellow conservatives guided him toward a cheaper health insurer, but Kenefick said he still had trouble making payments.

"Someone e-mailed me and asked if an 'anonymous' benefactor could offer to pay my first year's premiums - $12,000," Kenefick wrote on his site.

He was skeptical when the check arrived. "I opened a whole new account at my bank, waited for it to clear, checked twice with bank personnel to make sure it wasn't a scam, and waited a full 60 days before spending the money. At that time, I started drawing on it and paying the monthly premiums until it was gone."

We can now confirm to Kenefick that his secret benefactor is none other than the dreaded, detestable, loathsome Michael Moore.

What conservative friends of Kenefick's were willing to do was give him some other options and say "pay the man." YOYO - You're on your own - is the guiding principle there. Not so for Moore.

Moore didn't contact us. We heard it on our own. Yesterday, his reps said they couldn't reach the director, who is in France getting ready for tomorrow's screening at Cannes of his new movie, "Sicko."

One friend of Moore's did say, "We sure are happy Jim's wife received the care she needed."

Kenefick admitted the $12,000 "was like manna from heaven at that time. ... My business was almost dead, my wife was very, very ill, and I was racking up a few little health problems of my own. That money made it possible for us to begin to turn our lives around."

My thoughts about Michael Moore are somewhat conflicted, but there's no doubt that he cannot be beat when it comes to these kinds of matters. A vociferous critic of his was struggling with a problem that is the subject of his next movie. What better way to show how a more rational health care system can lift people up and give them the ability to succeed that to do this? It might be used in the movie, it might not. But it doesn't matter; it's illustrative of his entire point while also being completely disarming.

But get this, Kenefick still isn't happy with Moore.

Having suspected Moore might be his secret patron, he contends that his bete noir made the gift just to publicize "Sicko," which takes aim at America's health-care system and, we've heard, touches upon Moore's covert generosity.

"I knew he was using me," said Kenefick. "Moore is going to try to make me into one of his little puppets."

Kenefick wants it known that "I'm not an idiot. I know when to say yes to something, even if the string attached is obvious. What kind of moron turns down a free 12 grand?"

Does this sound completely bogus to you, or does Kenefick just have Moore on the brain all the time that he would naturally assume that he was the benefactor? And should I admire Kenefick for the fact that his appreciation cannot be bought, or should I consider him maybe the most ungrateful person of all time?

Either way, Moore has done it again. And there's a larger point. A society that's not constantly fretting about how to pay for medical bills is a BETTER SOCIETY, and the "magic benefactor" can easily be a single-payer system that would cost less than we pay for health care now, and provide better quality service. Moore is a genius at finding real-world ways to illustrate his point of view. This is an excellent example.

(h/t Filmick)

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Cloak of Invincibility

It's really breathtaking what the Vice President is asserting in the Valerie Plame civil trial. This is what he'll be spending the rest of his natural-born life saying in the courts. It's in line with the wackiest of the unitary executive branch theories. Just pay attention to the argument here:

Attorneys for Vice President Cheney and top White House officials told a federal judge yesterday that they cannot be held liable for anything they disclosed to reporters about covert CIA officer Valerie Plame or her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.

The officials, who include senior White House adviser Karl Rove and Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, argued that the judge should dismiss a lawsuit filed by the couple that stemmed from the disclosure of Plame's identity to the media [...]

The lawyers said any conversations Cheney and the officials had about Plame with one another or with reporters were part of their normal duties because they were discussing foreign policy and engaging in an appropriate "policy dispute." Cheney's attorney went further, arguing that Cheney is legally akin to the president because of his unique government role and has absolute immunity from any lawsuit.

If the President does it, that means it's not illegal has apparently migrated to the Vice President as well. Mighty convenient.

That's what the Vice President is arguing. He's saying that nothing he can do, in this case or any case, will open him up to prosecution, whatsoever. That's the logical reading of his argument. Even the judge caught on to the real insanity of it all.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates asked: "So you're arguing there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- these officials could have said to reporters that would have been beyond the scope of their employment," whether the statements were true or false?

"That's true, Your Honor. Mr. Wilson was criticizing government policy," said Jeffrey S. Bucholtz, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division. "These officials were responding to that criticism."

The Vice President is asserting the right to deliver classified information to anyone he wants, information that can ruin careers, put CIA agents in the field at risk and punish enemies by selective disclosure. And that's just if you read this narrowly. More broadly, he's saying that he has the unique right, by being the guy who, until his tenure, had the job of laying wreaths at state funerals, to commit any violation of the law at any time, during or after his elected role as Vice President, without ever being held accountable by the courts. At all.

Wow. That this isn't headlining the news every day for a year is stunning to me. Actually it isn't, as we don't really have anymore what you would call "news." If I were the Democrats, however, I would put out a press release a day showing what Dick Cheney has decided he's allowed to do that day. "Vice President Asserts Right to Carjack." "Vice President Says He Can Beat Up Woman In An Alley." "Vice President Allowed to Burn Crosses On Church Lawn."

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Joke of the Day

Conan pretty much nails it on the war czar idea:

I haven't really weighed in on this new hire because I thought it was exactly that silly. To think that the President will just slough off any accountability on Iraq on this "war czar" and that it will fly with the American public is simply absurd.

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Harry Reid on Senator MIA

John McCain is the loudest voice on the Senate supporting George Bush on Iraq. But he's just a voice, unmatched by deed, because when it comes time to actually vote, McCain has other priorities:

Sen. John McCain (R-Campaign Trail) missed another vote today on a resolution related to the Iraq war, skipping a procedural move on a war funding measure in favor of hitting the campaign trail in New York.

In fact, McCain's missed vote today marked his fifth straight week without casting a vote on the Senate floor, with this morning's vote marking the 42nd straight roll call that he has missed.

Since the first-quarter fundraising period for presidential candidates ended March 31, McCain has made just three floor votes. He hasn't cast a single vote since the full details of his wildly disappointing presidential campaign's fundraising report were revealed in mid-April.

If McCain misses the next three votes -- the $2.9 trillion fiscal 2008 budget is likely to be voted on this afternoon -- he will officially have been absent for 50 percent of the more than 170 roll calls held in the chamber so far in the 110th Congress.

There are other Senators running for President - Clinton, Obama, Dodd, Biden, Brownback - and somehow they've managed to show up to vote. I think this is less about McCain wanting to be out on the campaign trail and more about him not wanting to be tied to a bunch of votes about Iraq next year.

Harry Reid said the exact right thing on this today.

Liz Oxhorn, a spokeswoman for Reid, told The Hill, “Sen. McCain has spent considerable time defending the president on Iraq and catering to the Republican base on immigration, but has only managed to show up for four of the last 14 Iraq votes and parachute into [yesterday’s] immigration press conference at the last minute. Who is the real John McCain?”

In fact, the other 5 Senators have made every single one of those 14 roll calls. All the candidates in the House have made the Iraq votes as well. Only McCain is AWOL. This is about him not wanting to vote on the terrible policy in Iraq he endorses, because he knows it's so unpopular.

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CA-52: Residency

Duncan Hunter's son lives in Boise, Idaho. Which would be fine, if he wasn't planning to run for Congress in San Diego. Didn't Bilbray have the same issue last year? The funny part is that the revelation comes from Hunter's own Presidential website.

A biography of the veteran San Diego County congressman and long-shot Republican presidential candidate has this to say about the congressman's son, Duncan D. Hunter: "Duncan D. and his wife, Margaret, have three children, Duncan Lee, Elizabeth Grace and Sarah Louise, and reside in Boise, Idaho.

One problem: Duncan D. is running for his father's 52nd District seat in East San Diego County. Of course, members of Congress aren't required to live in their districts, but living more than 1,000 away in another state might be a tough sell on the campaign trail.

Of course, Hunter isn't likely to be on the campaign trail, but in Iraq at the time of the campaign. For his part, Hunter
(through his wife) claims that the site is outdated, and that he lives in Lakeside now. Mm-hm. Doesn't that reflect horribly on Hunter's Presidential campaign, that they can't even get the basic information right of where his own son lives?

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"I believe that there is market manipulation at the refinery level"

That was Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez today at an event in downtown Los Angeles, in front of a Chevron station (that was selling gas for a low low $3.49, I think the advance man could've found stations 30-40 cents higher without too much trouble), as he announced with Assemblymen Mike Davis, Mike Feuer and Mike Eng a series of bills to combat rising gas prices and the artificial depression of refinery supply. The bills will seek to oversee refinery maintenance, expand regulatory authority, and deal with the "hot fuel" issue. The Speaker said that "During the electricity crisis a few years ago, California adopted similar measures to keep energy companies from using these convenient (refinery) shutdowns to amp up their profits, and today we're going to make sure oil companies can't use Enron-like tactics on California consumers."

This is an object lesson in why now was the exact wrong time for the CDP to accept $50,000 from the prime progenitor of those Enron-style tactics. And it actually came up in the press conference.

Nunez referenced a Wall Street Journal article (behind the wall, sadly) that detailed how refineries are cashing in on high gas prices by artificially lowering their supply through various methods, particularly shutdowns. The three bills work out this way:

1) new oversight committee: Nunez and Eng's bill would create the California Petroleum Refinery Standards Committee, made up of the Attorney General, the State Controller and a couple political appointees, which would develop standards for maintenance and operations at California refineries, would look into shutdowns and would increase mandatory reporting from oil companies regarding them, would take audits and inspections, and would ensure compliance. Penalties for not complying to these standards, would be "very stiff" and would be considered felonies, not misdemeanors.

2) "Hot fuels": temperature varies in fuel, and it impacts the weight of gasoline, which since it's sold by the gallon impacts the price. The suspicion is that oil companies are manipulating temperature variations to give the consumer less for its money. Assemblyman Mike Davis' bill would seek a comprehensive study, cost-benefit analysis, and recommendations on what the national standard for gasoline temperature should be. Right now it's 60 degrees; the concern is that the number should be higher.

3) Petroleum Industry Information Reporting Act: oil companies are not releasing enough data to determine properly the efficacy of inventory levels and profit margins. Assemblyman Mike Feuer's bill would mandate monthly financial reports on oil supply, demand, and price issues. It would also allow that information to be shared with the Attorney General and the Board of Equalization.

These appear to be decent bills that correctly address the issue of artificial refinery supply. However, in the question-and-answer session that followed, there was an example of why it is not smart to play both sides of this fence.

The fact that the backdrop of the press conference was a Chevron statement is telling; after all, they own 25% of the refineries in the state, and they are getting rich off the high gas prices being made by their actions at those refineries. The VERY FIRST QUESTION offered to Speaker Nunez was about his trip to South America paid for in part by Chevron. Nunez replied that the trip was "insignificant," that the trip was taken to learn more about alternative fuels in South America, that he stands for issues that are important to Democrats, and that he resented any attempt to question his ethics. And right after the presser was over, during a sort of press gaggle, he told the radio reporter who asked that question that is was either a "cheap shot" or a "chicken shit" question (I wasn't quite close enough to fully make it out). The reporter replied that the information was out there and she was just giving the Speaker a chance to respond.

Clearly that's a fair question. And clearly it's fair to ask whether, at a time where the Speaker of the Assembly is accusing Chevron of market manipulation and of engaging in "Enron-like tactics," it's the best time for the CDP to be taking a $50,000 contribution from that same corporation. Now more than ever, the message should be united, and the perception here is quite confusing, and more hurtful than the money is helpful. I appreciate these efforts to stop market manipulation, but I do not appreciate giving the opposition another arrow in their quiver through the appearance of impropriety of this donation. I renew and strengthen my call for the Party to return the money and work in more innovative ways to fundraise and grow the party.

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New Stakes

The President has now said that he will block a symbolic timeline that he could waive. He would block that bill even if everything was stripped except the spending he wants.

The Democrats, in a meeting with Bush's top aides on Capitol Hill, said they would strip from an emergency appropriations measure billions of dollars in domestic spending. They also pledged to give Bush authority to waive compliance with a timetable on the war.

But no agreement emerged.

I don't see how you can do anything at this point but send the same bill that was vetoed before. The President is a rogue agent who will not compromise about anything. While the punditocracy is bending over backwards to demand that the Democrats compromise on the bill, everything they've offered has been turned down. The only thing Bush will allow in the bill are benchmarks without consequences.

I think this occupation can be realistically ended by stalemate. It's time for the Democrats to come out and say "the President refuses to accept any check on his power, so there's nothing we can do. The bill is done and has been passed by both houses of Congress. If he wants the money, he'll sign them. If not, I would suggest that the President takes the appropriate steps to remove our troops from Iraq."

Considering that every Republican wants to wait until September, and considering that Gen. Petraeus himself has said that September will not be definitive, it's clear that the strategy is to keep kicking this down the road until the President leaves office. The Democrats are offering legislation that would LET HIM DO THAT and he still stubbornly refuses. I know that it's risky but given all these developments, I don't think there's a choice.

I've never been a big fan of having votes in Congress just for the sake of having them (i.e., having a vote on an issue you know you're going to lose). Case in point: the Alito filibuster. Falling on your sword for principle is nice, and perhaps looks good in the history books (or on film), but if you're trying to truly accomplish something, guaranteed failure should be your last option, no matter how "just" it feels. But there's an exception to that rule, if by failing you start inching towards victory. That's been the Democratic strategy on Iraq since the election (and even before). Every Iraq vote, even though we keep losing, chips away at Republican congressional support for the war. And what's more, it also has been chipping away at Democratic support for the war. Every time we vote, the numbers for our side increase.

It's still a risky game. The public doesn't like gridlock, and that's what the Iraq war votes signify. But in this case, there's only one party in town that's talking about ending this war, and that's the Democrats. The public knows this. And after another year and a half of votes, their increasing frustration could boil over, again, at the ballot box. At least that's the plan, and I like it.

The surge isn't working. The Iraq government wants us to leave, and the Republican leader of the Senate has stated that he would comply with such a request. This is the end of the line, folks, and if the President can't compromise at all, he can end the occupation all by himself. That's the choice here. Stand strong, Democrats, we've got your back.

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Friday Random Ten

Bit of a delay on this one...

Gorgeous George - Edwyn Collins
Circles (Live) - Mike Doughty
Disseminated - Soul Coughing
Mr. Bobby - Manu Chao
Brown Girl - Jurassic 5 featuring Brick & Lace
International Dateline - Ladytron
Come As You Are - Nirvana
July Jones - The New Pornographers
Blues from Brother George Jackson - Archie Shepp
Have Mercy - Loretta Lynn

In other entertainment news, apparently The Simpsons is running its 400th episode this week. This is an instance where their use of animation actually has cut against them. If it was like a normal sitcom, where the kids grow up and the stars leave to make movies and changes have to made, it would have ended five years ago. Because they're caught in amber (or celluloid), they can do the same storylines with the same family unit over and over, which is what they've been doing the past 5 years, and it's become almost unwatchable. It's long wore out its welcome.

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Giving Back To The Economy

The Republican Congress is single-handedly propping up the legal profession! Who says they're not encouraging strong growth in the private sector? If they didn't get in all that legal trouble, they wouldn't be spending $5 million on lawyers, would they? Ever think that maybe that's the point?

You libs...

(by the way, the USA Today article strives for balance with its party-nonspecific headline of Lawmakers embroiled in scandals spent $5M, and to be fair, they mention two Democrats - Bill "money in my freezer" Jefferson and Robert Menendez (defending himself from a discredited fishing expedition by USA Chris Christie) - and four Republicans. I have a feeling that if you looked at the full list of 24 names, there'd still only be two Dems. Just a hunch.)

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Pat On The Back

Some nice amendments got into the defense authorization bill yesterday, though not everything I wanted (like restoring habeas corpus). One amednment passed demanding "that the administration develop a plan to transfer detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." The Mitt Romney "we should double it!" amendment never made it to the floor. Also, another amendment would create a database and rules of engagement for contractors in a war zone. This is sorely needed, as contractors in Iraq have no controlling legal authority as it stands right now. The defense bill is a must-pass bill, so if these amendments make it through Congress they're likely to become law.

We all want the Democrats in Congress to do better, but we shouldn't overlook the very good progress they're making in trying to roll back the most heinous elements of the Bush agenda.

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The Calvert Chronicles

This is pretty hilarious. Ken Calvert got an earmark inserted last year that would put a transit center within walking distance of seven properties that he owned. This would obviously boost the value of those properties. But the House Ethics Committee said he did nothing wrong because:

"any benefit to Calvert would be shared by other similarly situated landowners."

So because other people would get as rich as him, it's not unethical for him to write his own laws that get him rich.


OK, so let's just say that I'm a property-rich lawmaker who wants to push the boundaries and play the earmark game for all its worth. What would it take for me to get into trouble? Just how self-serving of a project would actually garner the House ethics committee's disapproval?

“You’d have to be remodeling your kitchen,” Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense told me.

Meanwhile, in the continuing Calvert/Red State saga, they're still going after him, and they think they've found proof that he lied to the GOP caucus by saying that he was not being investigated. The Hill has an update. Unfortunately, the Steering Committee isn't taking their phone calls:

According to House staffers, Boehner's staff is out putting pressure on Steering Committee members to not say how they voted on Calvert.

Two different people tell me the deck is so stacked in Boehner's favor that even if a majority of the Steering Committee voted against Calvert, he could still get on Appropriations. But, that would look terrible to have a majority vote against Calvert and him still getting on Appropriations.

So, Boehner is pressuring the Steering Committee to totally ignore us.

Pretty funny that these guys are solely focusing on Calvert when even his replacement is under investigation for corruption. If corruption was a disqualifying event for Republicans, we'd have a 9/10 majority in the House.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Ship of State Travels Slowly

Oh dear. I knew Nancy Pelosi was heroically pushing strong lobbying and ethics reform bills (modeled after the Honest and Open Government Acts from last year) and meeting some resistance. Well, when the bill got marked up today, one of the key items was stripped out of it.

The House Judiciary Committee has stripped from a lobbying overhaul bill a provision that would have extended the current ban on “revolving door” practices from one year to two.

During a Thursday markup of the bill (HR 2316), the panel also changed the measure to allow members to negotiate for an outside job in secret while still representing their constituents.

Both moves are sure to draw strong opposition, including from some Democrats, when the measure reaches the floor next week, but both had the support of Chairman John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and ranking member Lamar Smith, R-Texas.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It's hard to tell someone like John Conyers, who's been in the Congress since, I don't know, Lincoln, that what he's been doing all of these years needs to change. But it does, because the public has lost confidence in the Congress' ability to cleanly deal with the nation's issues and not make themselves personally wealthy in the process. The House also rejected a proposal to stop lobbyists from throwing parties at the nominating conventions.

Ultimately, it's going to take a lot more hard work before these sensible ethics standards are adopted. Nobody wants to eliminate lobbying, a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution. It needs to be regulated and disclosed, and split from the money that it trafficks in.

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More on the Chevron/CDP Situation

I got a lot of comments over at Calitics in my somewhat provocative post on Chevron's $50,000 donation to the CDP and why I think there's a better way to do business. I'm no hallowed saint when it comes to politics, and I understand that right now it takes lots of cash. But my main point is that money received from this particular company at this particular time with these particular underlying scenarios, whether taken in good faith or bad, will not do as much to reach new voters as it will alienate old ones. People have every right to assume that a politician or a party who receives a large donation from a corporate entity will be expecting something in return, as the instances of such exchanges being consummated are too numerous to count. And $50,000 buys 1 ad in LA during election season, maybe not all of it, but it drives hundreds of activists crazy, and every decline-to-state voter that hears about it just shakes their head and continues to believe the perception that "they're all the same" in politics. I know personally, from the reaction this has gotten, that people are upset. It doesn't mean they'll stop working for the party, but maybe they'll stuff one less envelope. Maybe they'll make one less phone call. And maybe they just won't feel as invested in a big-donor top-down party as they would in a small-donor bottom-up one.

I don't know if everyone's aware of this, but the CDP has a horrible reputation in this state, if it has a reputation at all. At a time when people are deserting the GOP in record numbers, we're barely moving the needle. The only way to turn this around is to erase this idea that both parties have their own special interests and that politics is politics and "a pox on both their houses." This donation, particularly from this company (I wonder how Steven Bing feels about it?), particularly with gas prices and oil co. profits both at an all-time high, particularly where the company is artificially decreasing supply like they're OPEC, is to me a no-brainer. It hurts the party. To those who think that parties rise and fall on candidates rather than who gives the candidates money, I advise you to consult Wikipedia under "corruption, culture of," which was universally given as the biggest reason for the Democratic success nationwide in 2006. I fail to see why you would willingly invite comparison, when there's a better way to raise money that brings more people into the donor pool and proud to be a part of the party at the same time.

Further, something the party did in the past doesn't innoculate it from future criticism. Just supporting Prop. 87 and abandoning the issue when it loses is not enough. The gas crisis is playing out right now. CA Democrats have done nothing about it, haven't really talked about it, since November, save for spending money on infrastructure bonds that call for more roads and make the problem worse. Maviglio has said "just wait, we're working on it" so we'll see. But I can't help but believe that pressure LIKE WHAT I AM NOW DOING is a driving factor in that.

What this is all about is how the party can break with the past and move into the future. Taking a stand on this particular contribution, coming up with a more innovative and respectable solution, will reap a hell of a lot more goodwill than $50,000 ever could.

There is a draft letter being circulated among delegates requesting respectfully that Chairman Torres returns this money and works on better funding solutions that are more about party growth. If anyone would like to sign on to it, email me through the site and I'll send you a copy.

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Wolfowitz Out

Per AP.

I've already pretty much made my thoughts plain on this matter. But one other thing. Isn't it amazing the kind of accountability you can get when it's a GLOBAL body doing the oversight, instead of the US Congress? Not that the Democratic Congress is doing a bad job, but they have all sorts of institutional and political and mental constraints.

This isn't a ringing endorsement for global government, just pointing out the obvious.



I hate to praise Chris Hitchens...

But this is a riveting five minutes of television that lays aside all of this pretension that we have in our society that we're supposed to venerate anyone who simply says they're a man of the cloth, regardless of their deeds. There are very few people in America today who would have the fortitude to say this publicly, at least not among the class of those who are regularly allowed to speak on television. Credit where due.

HITCHENS: The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing, that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend. Who would, even at your network, have invited on such a little toad to tell us that the attacks of September the 11th were the result of our sinfulness and were God's punishment if they hadn't got some kind of clerical qualification?

People like that should be out in the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup. The whole consideration of this -- of this horrible little person is offensive to very, very many of us who have some regard for truth and for morality, and who think that ethics do not require that lies be told to children by evil old men [...]

HITCHENS: How dare he say, for example, that the Antichrist is already present among us and is an adult male Jew, while, all the time, fawning on the worst elements in Israel, with his other hand pumping anti-Semitic innuendoes into American politics, along with his friends Robertson and Graham? ... encouraging -- encouraging -- encouraging the most extreme theocratic fanatics and maniacs on the West Bank and in Gaza not to give an inch of what he thought of was holy land to the people who already live there, undercutting and ruining every democratic and secularist in the Jewish state in the name of God?


HITCHENS: This is -- this is -- he's done us an enormous, enormous disservice by this sort of demagogy.

We are a nation that has a large segment with receptiveness to demagogues, sadly. It's why we are where we are in the White House. And the invisibility cloak of faith - this piece of fabric that you can place around yourself and make yourself supposedly immune to any criticism. It's out of courtesy, we're told. So the biggest monsters walking the Earth, who pervert the minds of Americans too blinded by faith to know the difference, who use the authoritarian nature of the church to line their pockets and get rich off of wholly imaginary enemies they construct, end up being treated as the second coming of Mother Teresa because they decided to be a thief with a pulpit instead of a thief with a gun.

HITCHENS: ...the fact is that the country suffers, to a considerable extent, from paying too much, by way of compliment, to anyone who can describe themselves as a person of faith, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Chaucerian frauds, people who are simply pickpockets, who -- and frauds -- who prey on the gullible and...


COOPER: Do you believe he believed what he spoke?

HITCHENS: Of course not. He woke up every morning, as I say, pinching his chubby little flanks and thinking, I have got away with it again. [...] Lots of people are going to die and are already leading miserable lives because of the nonsense preached by this man, and because of the absurd way that we credit anyone who can say they're a person of faith.

Jerry Falwell was a charlatan, and despite the fear to call a spade a spade, at least there are some with the courage to do it. Look, I don't like what Hitchens has become on the war, and I think he distorts and takes things on faith as much as any preacher to justify his absurdities on Iraq and the war on terror. Yes, he has a shtick which relies on being a contrarian for contrarian's sake. But in a way, there IS some internal consistency to what he's saying, which comes forward in his new book God Is Not Great It comes from a belief that religion has been used as a tool to confuse clear-minded people, to set them upon enemies they didn't know they had, and to incite them to hatred and violence. This is behind the adversarial nature of Hitchens' rhetoric against Islamic fundamentalism, and it's behind his vivisection of carnival barkers like Falwell. And it informs this crucial point that just saying you're close to God doesn't make it so.

HITCHENS: Look, the president endangers us this way. He meets a KGB thug like Vladimir Putin, and, because he is wearing a crucifix around his neck, says, I'm dealing with a man of faith. He's a man of goodwill.

Look what Putin has done to American and European interests lately. What has the president said to take back this absurd remark? It's time to stop saying that, because someone preaches credulity and credulousness, and claims it as a matter of faith, that we should respect them.

If a man can be credited for one vital contribution to the discourse, I would wish Hitchens' would be this idea that liturgy does not automatically communicate respect, rather than his less factual pronouncements about how America is such a beacon of freedom in the Middle East.

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The Ebb and Flow

The reason it would be advantageous for the White House to fire Abu G, while he's worse as a firewall for Rove in the DoJ than out on the street, is that every time a new piece of the scandal comes into focus, like James Comey's amazing testimony this week, calls for his resignation spike. These are very negative days for the Bush Administration, and Gonzales is nothing more than a loss leader. Feinstein and Schumer may call for a no-confidence vote. Pat Roberts, Chuck Hagel, John McCain, and now Norm Coleman have called for his ouster in the last couple of days. He's not helping the cause in any way, and the stubbornness keeping him in office could bring down the whole government (yes, I said it).

Why would you want a situation in place where every news story elicits a "Gonzales should resign" headline?

UPDATE: By the way, the President won't comment on whether or not he made the call to send Gonzales and Card to the hospital to get a sedated Ashcroft to sign on to the warrantless wiretapping program (or whatever it was). They don't seem to understand that, if Gonzales resigns, some of the heat of this scandal goes away. I don't think it should, but realistically it will. Until then, the questions over this lawlessness will mount. See also Greenwald on how this government has operated outside the law for years and nobody seems to get it.

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The Real Ron Paul

I remember getting a Ron Paul newsletter back in college, which intimated that Hillary Clinton murdered Vincent Foster and was "very close" friends with Donna Shalala (get it?). I had it aorund my house somewhere until a couple years ago but I can't find it now. He's no friend to progressive ideas, he's essentially a Taft isolationist Republican who has the same biases and bigotries with regard to criminal justice as the base of his party. He should not be celebrated.



Immigration Deal

There's a live press conference going on right now on a bipartisan deal on immigration reform. John McCain won't be speaking, but he's in the background, and I've never seen someone look so uncomfortable. You'd think that he'd step out of camera range. This may be the end of his nomination run, because anyone stepping forward and saying that we should take 12 million people out of the shadows and begin to deal with them in a comprehensive way for them to earn legalization will be a persona non grata in the "hate-the-brown" GOP.

Here are some details of the plan:

The key breakthrough came when negotiators struck a bargain on a so-called "point system" that would for the first time prioritize immigrants' education and skill-level over family connections in deciding how to award green cards.

The proposed agreement would allow illegal immigrants to come forward and obtain a "Z visa" and — after paying fees and a $5,000 fine and returning to their home countries — ultimately get on track for permanent residency, which could take between eight and 13 years.

They could come forward right away to claim a probationary card that would let them live and work legally in the U.S., but could not begin the path to permanent residency or citizenship until border security improvements and a high-tech worker identification program were completed.

A new temporary guest worker program would also have to wait until those so-called "triggers" had been activated.

I would think that the President will push extremely hard for this, in an effort to cement some kind of legacy and mount a comeback - which is not going to happen, but that will be the working theory. In truth this will probably hurt Bush among conservatives and send his poll numbers lower. As for the plan itself, well, they're trying to split the atom with this thing. Ultimately, enforcing the workplace would work in two seconds, but there's this fiction that immigrants do the jobs Americans won't do. Not true - they do the jobs Americans won't do AT THAT PRICE. And my real concern is how many protections those immigrants and citizens-in-waiting would be entitled to in those 8 to 13 years. Would they be eligible for the minimum wage? Would they get Social Security?

I don't think a lot of immigrants have $5,000 to pay in fines, so I don't know how this is much more than a feel-good measure. I believe in a comprehensive solution, but there will still be a multi-tiered economy under this system, unless workplace enforcement is made more stringent.

UPDATE: Incidentally, the right is going batshit crazy over this. They're calling it a "GOP cave". Their thoughts on this issue make them appear to be living in one.

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Out of the Ashes, Election Reform?

The LA Times gets downright progressive about voting reform, in the wake of the horrible turnout for Tuesday's school board runoff, where $9 million dollars in voting infrastructure and campaign expenditures yielded a 6% turnout.

A much better solution is to use instant runoff voting, an electoral method that elects a majority winner in a single election.

Here's how it works: Voters rank the candidates in their order of preference instead of just picking one candidate. If a candidate wins a majority of first rankings, the election is over, just like now. But if no candidate wins a majority of first rankings, voters' other rankings are used to determine the winner instantly. The candidate with the fewest first rankings is eliminated, and voters who ranked that candidate first can now have their second choice counted. All ballots are recounted in the "instant runoff," and the process of dropping the last-place candidate continues until one candidate has a majority of the votes [...]

Because this method of voting would save millions of tax dollars, part of that money could be used for an expansion of Los Angeles' public financing system, which might produce more candidates and more competition — which could induce higher voter turnout.

Los Angeles also could change to an all vote-by-mail system. Oregon votes this way, as does Burbank, and it has led to higher turnout in non-November elections. It also saves tax dollars by avoiding the high costs of setting up polling stations and hiring election workers.

Maybe it takes a disaster like the school board election to make people see the light. Of course, IRV and vote by mail and public financing have been around for decades. They were seen as flaky Birkenstock ideas at one point; only some hippie commune like San Francisco could use Instant Runoff Voting, right? But if the staid LA Times can figure out that IRV is efficient, smart and leads to better campaigning.

I am very hopeful that this work will get done in Los Angeles to make voting more in line with the 21st century. Now there's one more hurdle to clear. We just need the Governor to sign the National Popular Vote bill that would reform the electoral college by eliminating the outdated and anti-democratic idea. The Governor has taken no position on the bill this year. He ought to be urged to sign it.

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"The Greatest Battle Civilization Has Ever Known"

But it's not worth a pay raise, of course.

Troops don’t need bigger pay raises, White House budget officials said Wednesday in a statement of administration policy laying out objections to the House version of the 2008 defense authorization bill.

The Bush administration had asked for a 3 percent military raise for Jan. 1, 2008, enough to match last year’s average pay increase in the private sector. The House Armed Services Committee recommends a 3.5 percent pay increase for 2008, and increases in 2009 through 2012 that also are 0.5 percentage point greater than private-sector pay raises.

The slightly bigger military raises are intended to reduce the gap between military and civilian pay that stands at about 3.9 percent today. Under the bill, HR 1585, the pay gap would be reduced to 1.4 percent after the Jan. 1, 2012, pay increase.

Bush budget officials said the administration “strongly opposes” both the 3.5 percent raise for 2008 and the follow-on increases, calling extra pay increases “unnecessary.”

I would think that the noble cause of fighting for freedom and saving us from certain doom would rate 3.5%, no? I think some Americans would gladly sacrifice our tax cuts to give soldiers in the military a little more money for them and their families, right?

If you're in the military, as a new hire you may make as little as $14,000 a year.

The truth is that this Administration doesn't want pay raises for ANYONE unless you make millions.

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I had the same reaction as Gavin to the execrable Ace of Spades' post about Ron Paul:

It’s interesting that the term ‘truther’ is starting to be used as a pejorative by the extreme right not only toward anyone who questions the official narrative of 9-11 (which the right has become near-hysterically defensive in maintaining, whatever the merits of its critics or their arguments), but also toward those who question the official fables of the War on Terror — the ones which posit Osama Bin Laden and other radical Islamists as reasonless fiends outside of all recent history and precedent, who ‘hate our freedoms’ and ‘want to conquer the world’ (or ‘want to kill the Jews,’ according to the specific flavor of paranoia on offer).

The notion that Bin Laden came from somewhere, that he has a history and antecedents parallel to ours and engaged with our own American policies; that he possesses motives and is capable of rational choices, is intolerable to the WingNet. It makes them scream and wave their fists, because as absolutists, they’re unable to perform basic moral triage, and can’t distinguish insight into an enemy’s behavior from sympathy for his cause.

Yes, "truther" is now a pejorative, made up completely by the insaneosphere, out of the soup of insults they could have used. In other words, someone who tells the truth is now an enemy. The 9-11 Truth movement invites a little mockery; but applying that "truther" insult to everything you don't agree with, well.... that's letting your slip show a little bit.

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The Ladies Are Talking

Monica Goodling, America's most partisan Justice Department hack, will testify next Wednesday about the US Attorneys scandal and the politicization of her office and the Justice Department. Now we learn that Susan Ralston is likely to testify before Henry Waxman's committee in the House. Ralston is Karl Rove's former assistant, and she also had ties to Jack Abramoff. She was apparently something of a go-between, the liaison between Abramoff and the White House. Goodling was the liaison between the DoJ and the White House.

Those are some dangerous liaisons.

By the way, if you're wondering why the oversight committee in the Senate doesn't seem to be doing anything relative to the complement in the House, that's because Joe Lieberman chairs the Senate committee and he doesn't think his job is worth his time, which could be better spent raising money for Republicans like Susan Collins.

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The Second Program

Laura Rozen is absolutely right:

Why were FBI director Mueller and the FBI so involved in Comey’s decision-thinking on the NSA warrantless domestic spying program? Was this about a separate component of the program, that involved the FBI spying without warrants on Americans? Not just the NSA?

This would certainly get Gonzales off the hook for lying to Congress, although the Justice Department refused to retract his sworn testimony today. But it would be much worse. A purely domestic spying program run by the FBI would almost certainly be put to the use of spying on Americans, and for who knows what purpose. Digby has a clue:

How over-the-top must this have been for staunch Republican John Ashcroft to have risen from his ICU bed to argue against it and the entire top echelon of the DOJ were preparing to resign? These are not ordinary times and the law enforcement community has not been particularly squeamish about stretching the Bill of Rights. None of those people are bleeding heart liberals or candidates for the presidency of the ACLU. For them to be this adamant, it must have been something completely beyond the pale.

My suspicion has always been that there was some part of this program --- or an entirely different program --- that included spying on political opponents. Even spying on peace marchers and Greenpeace types wouldn't seem to me to be of such a substantial departure from the agreed upon post 9/11 framework that it would cause such a reaction from the top brass, nor would it be so important to the president that he would send Gonzales and Card into the ICU to get Ashcroft to sign off on it while he was high on drugs.

Unbelievably, there's going to be 20 more months of this unless a bunch of defenders of the Constitution suddenly pop up.

UPDATE: Apparently Fred Hiatt is all scratching his head and wondering why this "Enzo the Baker" story with Ashcroft and Gonzales and Andy Card is only coming out now. Actually, it was out a year and a half ago, and you never reported on it, Fred. You were too busy defending Bush, ignoring violations of the law, and bashing Democrats. Greenwald has more.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Someone's got another I lied to Congress issue:

The Justice Department considered dismissing many more U.S. attorneys than officials have previously acknowledged, with at least 26 prosecutors suggested for termination between February 2005 and December 2006, according to sources familiar with documents withheld from the public [...]

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified last week that the effort was limited to eight U.S. attorneys fired since June, and other administration officials have said that only a few others were suggested for removal.

It's no more an issue to fire 26 attorneys as it is 1, really, if the reasons are equally flawed. But the fact that lots of the prosecutors on the list of two dozen are in either swing states or states with competitive 2006 House races is the key.

Feb. 24, 2005

Thirteen U.S. attorneys recommended for removal by D. Kyle Sampson, who sends the list to the White House in early March.

Steven Biskupic (Milwaukee)
Margaret Chiara (Grand Rapids, Mich.)***
Bud Cummins (Little Rock)***
Thomas Heffelfinger (Minn.)*
David L. Huber (Louisville, Ky.)
Carol C. Lam (San Diego)***
Dunn Lampton (Jackson, Miss.)
John McKay (Seattle)***
Greg Miller (Tallahassee)
Paula Silsby (Maine)
Ana Mills Wagoner (Greensboro, N.C.)
Kasey Warner (Charleston, W.Va.)**
David York (Mobile, Ala.)*


January 2006

Justice documents show two separate lists compiled by Sampson around this time.

List 1, 5 names

Todd P. Graves (Kansas City, Mo.)***
Heffelfinger (Minn.)*
Bill Leone (Colo.)*
David O'Meilia (Tulsa, Okla.)
Silsby (Maine)

List 2, 8 names
Chiara (Grand Rapids, Mich.)***
Cummins (Little Rock)***
Graves (Kansas City, Mo.)***
Lam (San Diego)***
Kevin Ryan (San Francisco)***
Heffelfinger (Minn.)*
Leone (Colo.)*
O'Meilia (Tulsa, Okla.)

Sept. 13, 2006
Sampson sends a memo to White House including nine prosecutors recommended for firing, five of whom would be dismissed.

Daniel Bogden (Nevada)***
Chiara (Grand Rapids, Mich.)***
Paul K. Charlton (Arizona)***
Lam (San Diego)***
McKay (Seattle)***
Thomas Marino (Scranton, Pa.)
Miller (Tallahassee)
Silsby (Maine)
Wagoner (Greensboro, N.C.)

Nov. 1, 2006

Michael Elston, chief of staff to the deputy attorney general, suggests five other firing candidates.

John Brownlee (Roanoke, Va.)
Christopher J. Christie (Newark, N.J.)
Colm F. Connolly (Delaware)
Mary Beth Buchanan (Pittsburgh)
Frank Maxwell Wood (Macon, Ga.)

Remember, the whole motivation for these firings comes from Karl Rove's "permanent Republican majority" fantasy (along with the hive mentality of protecting Republicans from prosecution and investigating Democrats). The entire process here was to fire as many attorneys as was politically allowable, to ensure that the new hires would use their office to intimidate voters push bogus voter fraud cases and suppress the vote.

McClatchy adds to this tonight, focusing on two of these new attorneys selected for prosecution, Gregory Miller, of the northern district of Florida in Tallahassee, and Bill Leone, of Colorado. Once again, they're both swing states, and voter fraud allegations have run rampant in both places. And Josh Marshall notices a huge catch at the end of the article, at a part where the writer is going through other USA cases:

A U.S. attorney in Minnesota, who disagreed with the Justice Department on a case involving voting rolls, was asked to resign early last year.

Wha now? Thomas Heffelfinger, who was replaced by the notorious Rachel Paulose, was asked to leave his job because he wouldn't purge the voter rolls? Can we have more about this, please?

Gonzales has to be gone now, right? I mean, the Senate is openly questioning whether he lied to them during hearings on the warrantless wiretapping case, in the wake of James Comey's riveting testimony yesterday (shades of John Dean in 1973). And now, this out-and-out lie to Congress. I would like to see Abu G prosecuted for contempt of Congress and sent to hais namesake prison, frankly. I'll SETTLE for a resignation.

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Andrews Amendment on Iran Fails

Not a good day for the good guys. An amendment to block funds authorized for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be used in a military strike on Iran failed 216-202. 29 Democrats crossed the aisle to ensure its defeat.

Got that? 29 Democrats think it's OK for money appropriated by Congress for specific actions in Iraq and Afghanistan to be shuttled over to attacking Iran. That's a violation of statute on its face, but to 29 Democrats, no problem. They are:

Bishop (GA)
Boyd (FL)
Carney (I hope we lose this seat in PA, honestly)
Herseth Sandlin
Klein (FL) (bit of a surprise)
Mahoney (FL)
Mitchell (another fake progressive in Arizona)
Murtha (Whoa! I would guess that he doesn't think this is necessary, but extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Jack made a mistake.)
Scott (GA)
Sherman (CA)

Shame on them. The public is overwhelmingly against any attack on Iran and so is the military. This vote enables George Bush.

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Tweety Loses It

Chris Matthews went off on right-wing Rep. Jack Kingston on Hardball today. Crooks and Liars has the video. I've been confronted with this particularly ludicrous talking point, that we were in South Korea and Germany for 60 years, so what's wrong with being in Iraq a little while? The difference is that those weren't hot shooting wars where multiple bomb attacks kill dozens, and photographers have to be banned from violent areas lest they actually report on what's happening. Matthews unloaded on Kingston:

Matthews: Will the people of Georgia support ten more years of American involvement, military involvement in Iraq?

Kingston: Well, people know we're still in Germany and in South Korea…

Matthews: Yea, no no no no. I won't let you get away with that. That's not a fair comparison. We do not have a war in South Korea. There's no German that's fired on an American since 1945. That's not a fair comparison…That is not an acceptable argument! These comparisons to previous eras…it's lazy thinking, Congressman. It's the kind of propaganda that does not help this country understand the situation. You stepped into a dishonest comparison. Some people come on this show over and over again saying things that-JUST-aren't-true.

The only thing I disagree with there are the words "some people."

And as long as we're chronicling talking-head shouting matches, I just saw Sean Hannity go after Christopher Hitchens because Hitch refused to say that he was sorry for Jerry Falwell and his family. I don't understand why we make a fetish out of that "I'm sorry for his family" phrase, even if it is to be directed at someone as contemptible and hateful as Jerry Falwell. Steve Benen has the goods on who this man really was. I wonder, would he have been sorry for, say, Isaac Mizrahi's family? Harvey Firestein? Matthew Shepard? Maybe in words, but certainly not in deed. So what do the words really matter? Also, NOBODY needs a lesson in courtesy from Sean "some things are worth dying for, like keeping Nancy Pelosi out of the Speaker's chair" Hannity.

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Major Internal White House Battle Over Iran

There are a host of conflicting signals coming out of the US on Iran, which suggests a war within the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House itself over whether or not to attack. It's very hard to decipher who is winning this debate. While Cheney usually has the upper hand in these fights (after all, it's his Administration), he's outnumbered these days, more so than when Rumsfeld was at his side. And it appears the commanders are very reluctant to go along with any attack plans for Iran as well.

Let's chart this battle on the flip.

We know that the US announced this week that it plans to engage in bilateral talks with Iran over the Iraq crisis and how it can be managed. But the Vice President was very quick to qualify that the two sides would only be talking with respect to Iraq. On other issues, such as the country's nuclear program, neoconservatives are continuing to press for attack. Take a look at what John Bolton said today:

A nuclear Iran would be as dangerous as “Hitler marching into the Rhineland” in 1936 and should be prevented by Western military strikes if necessary, according to a leading hawk who recently left the Bush administration.

John Bolton, who still has close links to the Bush administration, told The Daily Telegraph that the European Union had to "get more serious" about Iran and recognise that its diplomatic attempts to halt Iran's enrichment programme had failed.

Iran has "clearly mastered the enrichment technology now...they're not stopping, they're making progress and our time is limited", he said. Economic sanctions "with pain" had to be the next step, followed by attempting to overthrow the theocratic regime and, ultimately, military action to destroy nuclear sites.

Mr Bolton's stark warning appeared to be borne out yesterday by leaks about an inspection by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of Iran's main nuclear installation at Natanz on Sunday.

This is eerily similar to the Iraq debate, when neoconservative claims about the need to attack quickly were buttressed by leaked information coming out of the New York Times, possibly provided by the same group of people that are quoting it.

Inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency have concluded that Iran appears to have solved most of its technological problems and is now beginning to enrich uranium on a far larger scale than before, according to the agency’s top officials [...]

In a short-notice inspection of Iran’s operations in the main nuclear facility at Natanz on Sunday, conducted in advance of a report to the United Nations Security Council due early next week, the inspectors found that Iranian engineers were already using roughly 1,300 centrifuges and were producing fuel suitable for nuclear reactors, according to diplomats and nuclear experts here.

However, scrolling down the article, we see that the IAEA qualifies their finding:

It is unclear whether Iran can sustain its recent progress. Major setbacks are common in uranium enrichment, and experts say it is entirely possible that miscalculation, equipment failures or sabotage — something the United States is believed to have attempted in the past — could prevent the Iranian government from reaching its goal of producing fuel on what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran boasts is “an industrial scale.”

The material produced so far would have to undergo further enrichment before it could be transformed into bomb-grade material. To accomplish that, Iran would likely first have to evict the I.A.E.A. inspectors, as North Korea did four years ago.

Even then, it is unclear whether the Iranians have the technology to produce a weapon small enough to fit atop their missiles, a significant engineering challenge.

The fact that we are then far away from the point at which Iran can successfully enrich enough uranium for a warhead is pushed to the side and obscured, and the information which can be twisted into a campaign of fear and warmongering but right at the top.

But despite this, not everyone within the Administration is on board for this new marketing campaign, as made most clear by Admiral William Fallon, the new chief of CENTCOM, who not only denied the release of a third carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf, but also said this:

Fallon's refusal to support a further naval buildup in the Gulf reflected his firm opposition to an attack on Iran and an apparent readiness to put his career on the line to prevent it. A source who met privately with Fallon around the time of his confirmation hearing and who insists on anonymity quoted Fallon as saying that an attack on Iran "will not happen on my watch".

Asked how he could be sure, the source says, Fallon replied, "You know what choices I have. I'm a professional." Fallon said that he was not alone, according to the source, adding, "There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box."

Yet while one side is trying to put the crazies back into the box, the other side is inviting the crazies over for meetings, and looking to them to incite grassroots support for an attack on Iran:

President George W. Bush met privately with Focus on the Family Founder and Chairman James Dobson and approximately a dozen Christian right leaders last week to rally support for his policies on Iraq, Iran and the so-called "war on terror."

“I was invited to go to Washington DC to meet with President Bush in the White House along with 12 or 13 other leaders of the pro-family movement," Dobson disclosed on his radio program Monday. “And the topic of the discussion that day was Iraq, Iran and international terrorism. And we were together for 90 minutes and it was very enlightening and in some ways disturbing too." [...]

Dobson went on to enumerate a series of meetings convened by Christian right leaders in Washington to discuss the supposedly existential threat to the United States from a nuclear Iran.

“I heard about this danger [from Iran] not only at the White House but from other pro-family leaders that I met during that week in Washington," he said. “Many people in a position to know are talking about the possibility of losing a city to nuclear or biological or chemical attack. And if we can lose one we can lose ten.

"If we can lose ten we can lose a hundred," he added, “especially if North Korea and Russia and China pile on.”

Since the Administration is getting such internal resistance to their saber-rattling on Iran, they're taking the case directly to the base through the conduit of the theocratic right. This also has a parallel to Iraq, as one of the last people Bush met with before the invasion was Pat Robertson.

So clearly, there's a lot of argument and arm-twisting back and forth. Into this breach step the Democrats. And they are gradually becoming more united on this issue, and more importantly appear to be taking it seriously.

House Democrats, who have been divided on whether the president needs authorization from Congress to attack Iran, suggested yesterday that they are more united on the controversial issue.

But with Iran measures possibly headed to the House floor as early as today, it is unclear if Democrats have the votes to pass legislation calling for the president to seek authorization from Congress for a preemptive strike on Iran [...]

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) promised several members, including Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), and Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), that she would allow for an up-or-down vote on an Iran amendment, though it is unclear which amendment or amendments will be voted on.

In the 109th Congress, Iran amendments offered by DeFazio and Hinchey were easily defeated.

But a new amendment by Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) could attract the most votes. His measure would prevent funds authorized in the bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from being obligated or expended to plan a contingency operation in Iran.

Andrews said in an interview that he has spoken to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) about his amendment to the pending defense authorization legislation.

The DeFazio Amendment is likely to come up for a vote today, and it's vital that you call your Representative and ask that they support it. It's going to come down to the wire to see if they can get this into the Defense Authorization Bill. With all of the turmoil surrounding where the White House is at on Iran, it's important that the Democrats are clear and direct: no funds for any activities regarding Iran without explicit authorization from the Congress.

I don't know if anyone can figure out where this will lead. What's clear is that there are still a significant number of those in power, including the Vice President and possibly the President, agitating for war with Iran. This is insanity, and those inside the Administration doing the yeoman work of trying to stop it need to be supported by the Democrats.

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CA-37: Already As Ugly As Can Be

Read Juls. At some point we're going to have to get a grip on this persistent identity politics. If someone has an antipathy to GLBT issues and GLBT legislation, that's fair game in politics. But the whole tenor of this campaign, with it's explicit appeals to racial unity, is really the antithesis of what we should be talking about in 2007 in a Congressional race. I don't think you're going to hear a policy discussion between now and June 26.

(If you don't want to go read, Sheila Kuehl called Laura Richardson homophobic, while the African American community wants Valerie McDonald out of the race so blacks can unite to defeat a Latina. It's unseemly, and it's only a few days into it)

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CDP: Please Give Chevron Back Their Money

I am fairly surprised that more has not been made in the blogosphere of the unwelcome news that Chevron is doing everything it can to buy off the California Democratic Party and some of its top legislators. Outside of this small item in The Oil Drum, pretty much nobody has said a word about the fact that the CDP accepted a $50,000 check from a company that is attempting to artificially depress capacity and manipulate the energy market in a way that is shockingly similar to how Enron made themselves a fortune during the 2000-2001 energy crisis. You can read the details here.

As a delegate to this party, I feel personally tainted by this donation. I feel like there is a concerted effort to buy my silence. It will not work, and I want to outline why I am respectfully asking this party, of which I am a member and to which I pay dues, to return the money.

I don't think I have to go into how Chevron controls the oil market in California by owning most of the refineries, and that in another era that would rightly be called a trust. I don't need to discuss their record profits or their expenditures of $44 million to defeat ballot propositions like Prop. 87 and Prop. 89 last year, or their consistently greedy profit-taking at a time of record gas prices throughout the state, or how they refuse to increase refining capacity to keep that profit artificially high. And I don't need to explain how corporations aren't in the business of charity, and that every expenditure they make has a stated outcome, whether for public relations purposes or to engender favorable legislation or just to keep government off their backs while they continue to rake in billions. What I can talk about is the poverty of imagination that leads the CDP to take a gift like this.

What bothers me most about taking a fat corporate donation like this, from the very interest group you fought tooth and nail against on Prop. 87 just 6 months ago, is how LAZY it is. There are an unlimited amount of ways to raise $50,000 that not only show no appearance of impropriety or corporate favoritism, but bring people into the process and grow the party, which are the key metrics for politics in the 21st century. If you really needed $50,000 in a state of 37 million people, how about this: ask 50,000 to give a dollar to specifically ensure that the CDP won't be beholden to big corporate money. You can hold dollar parties and write about how giving citizens a stake brings them closer to the party. And in return for that dollar, you could give people prominent space on the CDP website to upload a minute of video about what problems facing California most affect them. Then, once the money is collected, PUBLICLY REBUFF Chevron by telling them that their donation has been paid by the people. Not only would you be seen as populist folk heroes, you would be investing in the party by allowing 50,000 Calfornians get a share and a stake. That's called people power. The new metrics for the Presidential campaigns, for example, are not just money but numbers of donors, because that shows a broad base of support. A party that gets rich off fat $50,000 checks is a mile wide and an inch deep. We already have a party like that in California. It's called the Republican Party.

If that corporate money were even drilled in to infrastructure and party building, that would be something. But typically, it's not. And the party that continues on a traditional model of collecting big corporate checks and running big broadcast ads will be obsolete in a new media environment. Stoller:

We need to figure out new metrics for receiving party support aside from money and polling. Perhaps opt-in email addresses acquired? Friends on MySpace? Newly registered voters (I like this one)? Chatter across blogs using sites such as Blogpulse?

I'm not sure, but the whole landscape of politics is shifting. It's like an entirely new grammar is emerging, but we're not there yet.

A "dollar party" strategy, that could spread virally through social networking sites (is the CDP even on MySpace or Facebook?), that would bind more people to the party in a small way and set up a core of activists for GOTV, that would allow a press release that says "50,000 donors!" instead of hiding the fact that one polluting Big Oil ripoff artist gave you 50,000 dollars... would simply be a forward-thinking way to grow the party and gather attention.

I'm sure that there are a host of conciliators and "my-party-right-or-wrong" types that have a problem with me sharing even a scintilla of disagreement with the state party (there's another guy that believes in the silencing of any alternative voices, he resides at 1600 Penn. Ave, Wash, DC, 20500). First of all, I would have them take a look at the rise of DTS voters and the lack of success in joining the progressive wave in 2006 and ask them where all that brushing aside criticism has gotten them. But the second thing I would ask them is, why are you a Democrat? What do you believe, if anything? And how do you square that belief with the fact that one of the companies most committed to stopping any progress on global warming or reducing dependence on foreign oil just handed you - you! - a wad of money in order to shut you up?

The Speaker's Office claims that these donations won't impact Democrats' ability to take a hard look at what Chevron is attempting to do on refining capacity, and that "tough" legislation is forthcoming. I would hope so. I cannot impact what individual candidates receive in gifts; at least, not until election season. I can have an impact when it's my party. I'm a delegate and a member in good standing. I know for a fact that members of the Party leadership read this site. I'm asking those in charge at the CDP, nicely, to give back the Chevron money. I want to work on innovative fundraising solutions that can simultaneously fund the important work of the party and bring it closer to the people whom it serves. But like any addiction, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

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Smell The Accountability

Looks like Wolfowitz is a goner.

World Bank officials say the bank's board is completing an "exit strategy" that will allow World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz to resign this afternoon and "still save some face" over the issue of his efforts to seek a promotion and pay raise for his girlfriend at the bank.

The officials say the bank's board will accept Wolfowitz's resignation but will also acknowledge that the World Bank's Ethics Committee bears "some responsibility" for giving him bad advice on the issue of his girlfriend.

The decision is likely today, officials say, because Wolfowitz had been scheduled to leave tonight for a European trip.

Only took a few months and the full weight of the international community (and most important, the threat that the US wouldn't be allowed to accuse Wolfowitz' successor) to get the Bush Administration to accept defeat. See, we have checks and balances!

Again, there's a "getting Al Capone for tax evasion" angle to this, but you cannot go out into the world and rail against corruption in the developing world when you commit an obviously corrupt and nepotisitc act yourself, one that wouldn't be out of place in an African dictatorship. There are other things to concern one about Wolfowitz' stay at the World Bank, including his selective enforcement of those corruption standards based on who is in line with American military goals. But clearly, Wolfowitz needed to go.

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Lawless Authoritarian Thugs

I guess I didn't take much notice of James Comey's amazing story about his mad dash to John Ashcroft's hospital to head off Abu G and Andy Card from getting a bedridden Ashcroft to sign off on the warrantless spying program. That's because it was already known to me for at least a year. But it is significant that Comey testified to it in open testimony, because it forced the traditional media to take notice:

JAMES B. COMEY, the straight-as-an-arrow former No. 2 official at the Justice Department, yesterday offered the Senate Judiciary Committee an account of Bush administration lawlessness so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source. The episode involved a 2004 nighttime visit to the hospital room of then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft by Alberto Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff. Only the broadest outlines of this visit were previously known: that Mr. Comey, who was acting as attorney general during Mr. Ashcroft's illness, had refused to recertify the legality of the administration's warrantless wiretapping program; that Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card had tried to do an end-run around Mr. Comey; that Mr. Ashcroft had rebuffed them.

Mr. Comey's vivid depiction, worthy of a Hollywood script, showed the lengths to which the administration and the man who is now attorney general were willing to go to pursue the surveillance program. First, they tried to coerce a man in intensive care -- a man so sick he had transferred the reins of power to Mr. Comey -- to grant them legal approval. Having failed, they were willing to defy the conclusions of the nation's chief law enforcement officer and pursue the surveillance without Justice's authorization. Only in the face of the prospect of mass resignations -- Mr. Comey, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and most likely Mr. Ashcroft himself -- did the president back down.

The real revelation in the testimony is that, when Comey asked what Gonzales and Card were doing at the hospital and if they were going behind his back, they replied that "they were just making a social call." That's well-written black comedy right there.

And apparently the President himself was involved in this:

COMEY: Mrs. Ashcroft reported that a call had come through, and that as a result of that call Mr. Card and Mr. Gonzales were on their way to the hospital to see Mr. Ashcroft.

SCHUMER: Do you have any idea who that call was from?

COMEY: I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself.

So the President himself was instructing his personal Rosencrantz and Guildensterns to get the near-unconscious Attorney General to sign a piece of paper essentially allowing illegal spying to continue for another 45 days. And there's another disturbing side to this testimony.

In a 2006 hearing, when Sen. Chuck Schumer asked him about Comey’s objections to the NSA wiretapping program, Gonzales denied there was any “serious disagreement about the program“:

GONZALES: Senator, here is a response that I feel that I can give with respect to recent speculation or stories about disagreements. There has not been any serious disagreement, including — and I think this is accurate — there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations, which I cannot get into. I will also say –

SCHUMER: But there was some — I am sorry to cut you off, but there was some dissent within the administration, and Jim Comey did express at some point — that is all I asked you — some reservations.

GONZALES: The point I want to make is that, to my knowledge, none of the reservations dealt with the program that we are talking about today.

Gonzales’ answer suggests two possibilities.

1) Comey’s objections apply to the NSA warrantless wiretapping program that Gonzales was discussing. If so, then Gonzales quite likely made serious mis-statements under oath. And Gonzales was deeply and personally involved in the meeting at Ashcroft’s hospital bed, so he won’t be able to claim “I forgot.”

2) Perhaps Comey’s objections applied to a different domestic spying program. That has a big advantage for Gonzales — he wasn’t lying under oath. But then we would have senior Justice officials confirming that other “programs” exist for domestic spying, something the Administration has never previously stated.

Gonzales often used weasel phrases like that when talking about the spying program, confining his remarks to "the program we are talking about today." It was often suspected that there are other, more wide-ranging programs that have yet to be determined. So I opt for #2.

Glenn Greenwald, who rose to prominence over the warrantless wiretapping story, writes a tour de force post about this new development today, focusing not on the high drama of the Ashcroft visit, but what else Comey's long-sought testimony revealed. He makes clear that Ashcroft and Comey both believed that the NSA program was illegal, and that the President sought to continue the program anyway without authorization from the Justice Department (This was back when the Justice Department wasn't headquartered under the RNC). So lawbreaking wasn't really a problem to this White House.

The overarching point here, as always, is that it is simply crystal clear that the President consciously and deliberately violated the law and committed multiple felonies by eavesdropping on Americans in violation of the law.

Recall that the only federal court to rule on this matter has concluded that the NSA program violated both federal law and the U.S. Constitution, and although that decision is being appealed by the Bush administration, they are relying largely on technical arguments to have it reversed (i.e., standing and "state secrets" arguments) and -- as has been true for the entire case -- are devoting very little efforts to arguing that the program was actually legal or constitutional [...]

But the more important issue here, by far, is that we should not have to speculate in this way about how the illegal eavesdropping powers were used. We enacted a law 30 years ago making it a felony for the government to eavesdrop on us without warrants, precisely because that power had been so severely and continuously abused. The President deliberately violated that law by eavesdropping in secret. Why don't we know -- a-year-a-half after this lawbreaking was revealed -- whether these eavesdropping powers were abused for improper purposes? Is anyone in Congress investigating that question? Why don't we know the answers to that? [...]

How is this not a major scandal on the level of the greatest presidential corruption and lawbreaking scandals in our country's history? Why is this only a one-day story that will focus on the hospital drama but not on what it reveals about the bulging and unparalleled corruption of this administration and the complete erosion of the rule of law in our country? And, as I've asked many times before, if we passively allow the President to simply break the law with impunity in how the government spies on our conversations, what don't we allow?

If we had a functioning political press, these are the questions that would be dominating our political discourse and which would have been resolved long ago.

The Bush Administration simply feels that they have no checks on their power because the press, and to some extent the Democrats, and certainly the American people, don't bother to hold them accountable. This is the most lawless Administration in history, beyond even that of Ulysses S. Grant. They have nothing but contempt for the rule of law, and the lasting impact of that was on display at yesterday's "Three Cheers for Torture" Republican debate. This needs to be swiftly and directly rejected. I feel like we're on the precipice of an era not unlike the fall of Rome.

UPDATE: Chuck Hagel thinks Gonzales should resign now, and therefore gives me a sliver of hope that all is not lost in this country.

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