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

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Environmental Bush

People were skeptical when Bush did this abrupt move to call on 15 nations to set targets to reduce greenhouse gases. Skeptical because the maneuver pre-empts what other G8 nations wanted to implement, not more talks as Bush called for but a real standard for reducing emissions. Indeed this is part of a pattern.

New penalties against Sudan — check. More dollars to fight AIDS in Africa — check. A respected internationalist to lead the World Bank — check. Friendly words about tackling global warming — check.

George Bush is ready to go to Europe.

His bag packed with a pre-emptive agenda he spent all week detailing, the president leaves Monday on a trip that will take him to six countries in eight days. Bush journeys from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean, with the centerpiece of his travels a three-day summit in Germany with leaders from Europe, Canada, Japan and Russia.

The president made certain not to arrive empty-handed.

"The operative phrase ... that sums up the week is when the president said, 'We are a compassionate nation,'" said Charles Kupchan, director of Europe studies for the Council on Foreign Relations.

Most of Bush's presidency has been about "hard power" — fighting terrorism and waging the Iraq war — and still is. But heading into the Group of Eight meetings, he chose a different focus.

"He's cycling back to this nicer, kinder America," Kupchan said. "This is an agenda that is much more popular in Europe than the talk about fighting al-Qaida and chasing the Taliban through the mountains of Konar province" in Afghanistan, on the eastern border with Pakistan.

In one sense, Bush is making this move because he has to in order to get anything done internationally. Perhaps that's a good thing. But in the other sense, this is merely an attempt to get out in front of issues so they have the least impact possible to Republican causes and allies. The global warming talks are the best example. Bush is trying to talk the issue to death.

Jim Connaughton, the president's adviser on the environment [...] briefed reporters on the plan at noon.

"Will the new framework consist of binding commitments or voluntary commitments?" asked CBS News's Jim Axelrod.

"In this instance, you have a long-term, aspirational goal," Connaughton answered.

Aspirational goal? Like having the body you want without diet or exercise? Or getting rich without working?

"I'm confused," Axelrod said. "Does that mean there will be targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions, and that everybody will be making binding commitments?"

"The commitment at the international level will be to a long-term, aspirational goal," the Bush aide repeated.

Axelrod had his answer. "Voluntary," he concluded.

"Well," said Connaughton, "I want to be careful about the word 'voluntary.' "

This isn't a plan but a series of talks that may or may not arrive at a plan. If you looked closely at the other "plans" Bush announced this week I'm certain you'd see the same thing. Nancy Pelosi rightly called Bush in denial about the issue, and vowed to pass tough initiatives through the Congress. Of course, there's been a lot of talk and somewhat less action. We have to push harder to ensure some real action on climate change before it's too late. I'm more in favor of a carbon tax, while what they're discussing in the Congress is more like mandatory emissions caps (I don't know if they'll incorporate a market-based cap and trade system as well. Whatever they come up with, it's better than talking about it while the globe sizzles.

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Fooled Me

The "Who Wants a Donated Kidney?" reality show, it turns out, is a hoax. I think the real story here is how the standards of television have sunk so low that this kind of show was completely plausible.

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Please Go Home, Joe Biden

I don't even know why I'm wasting my time on Joe Biden, a guy who has about as much of a chance getting the Democratic nomination for President as Joe Lieberman does (for that matter, as much of a chance as I do). But this is pretty low. Most of the top Presidential candidates are skipping a debate put on by the CBC that is being shown on Fox News. There are legitimate reasons for this, because Fox News is simply not a credible news outlet, and the last time they held a Democratic debate it was a complete debacle. But Biden played the race card in trying to focus the attention on the CBC instead of Fox News.

"The single most important constituency in the Democratic Party -- African Americans, led by the Black Caucus, which are the leadership of the black community, asked us to show for a debate and we're not going to show up?" he said.

"Let me put it this way -- if the African American community stayed home or voted Republican, we're not going to elect another president."

That's not the point and Biden knows it. But he wants to make some cheap points with black voters. This is particularly amusing coming from the guy who approvingly called Barack Obama "clean" (by the way, Obama's skipping the debate, does that mean HE doesn't care about black people?) and burnished his credentials in South Carolina by proudly stating that he's a southerner because Delaware was a slave state (maybe that can be their new state motto; Delaware - Remember, We Were A Slave State!).

But that wasn't the only thing Biden was chatty about. He decided to criticize Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for voting against the Iraq spending bill, buying into the right wing frame that it would "hurt the troops" by cutting off funding for them in the field, which is patently untrue. But that wasn't the most outrageous statement. He defended his own vote to fund the occupation on CNN by saying this:

BIDEN: This gets down to how do you change this war, Wolf?

Do you think the president of the United States, over the next four months -- this is only a four-month funding bill, for four months -- do you think, by us cutting off funding, he's going to withdraw troops?

And what do you think is going to happen to those troops in the field, as they run out of money?

Do you think this guy's going to pull them out? I'm not about to do that.

He's literally saying that the President would defy Congress and hold American troops hostage in a war zone, so there's no choice but to give in to his demands. That's the weakest, most infuriating statement I've seen on Iraq yet. Funding the war because the President won't listen anyway? Why hold Congress in session, in that case?

Joe Biden can go on that debate on Fox News, and then stay there as an analyst. Don't go back to Washington if you don't think your job is worth doing.

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RIP Steve Gilliard

That's really sad. I didn't read The News Blog religiously, but I would check in on occasion, and it just feels bad to have a member of the progressive blogosphere pass away before his time. I spend so much time immersed in blogs that the personalities are something akin to close freindships or even family.

My deep condolences to his loved ones. Hard to know what to say at a time like this.

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CA-41: Connecting the Dots

As mentioned a couple times on Calitics, Bob Novak is reporting that corrupt con Jerry Lewis may retire in 2008.

Republican sources on Capitol Hill and in California say Rep. Jerry Lewis, ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee who has been criticized on ethical grounds, will not seek a 16th term next year.

Lewis came under fire last year for pouring millions of dollars worth of earmarks into his heavily Republican southern California district. He has not apologized and vigorously defended himself behind closed doors in the House Republican Conference.

Lewis is one of at least six Republican House members from California who have faced ethical scrutiny, beginning when Duke Cunningham was sent to prison. Most recently, Rep. Ken Calvert, who was sponsored by Lewis for a coveted Appropriations Committee seat, is under attack. He replaced Rep. John Doolittle, another Californian who resigned from the committee because the Justice Department was investigating him.

Novak may be a douchebag of liberty, but he usually has excellent inside information from the GOP (you know, like who's a covert CIA agent and who isn't). It started me wondering why Lewis would retire at this point, when the investigations into his practices have slowed to a crawl. Then I remembered this story I read in yesterday's LA Times:

As Congress investigates whether U.S. attorneys across the nation were fired or forced out for political reasons, the Bush administration appears to be poised to nominate a respected career prosecutor as U.S. attorney in Los Angeles.

Thomas O'Brien, 47, the chief of the office's criminal division, worked for five years in the district attorney's hard-core gang division before moving to the U.S. attorney's office.

"He's probably the most apolitical person selected to that job for some time," Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said. "He's an excellent pick. He's a career, professional prosecutor."

The position of US Attorney for Los Angeles, which holds jurisdiction over Lewis' case, has been vacant since Debra Wong Yang left in January to go to Gibson Dunn, a high-powered Republican law firm that is also REPRESENTING Lewis. O'Brien appears to be an unlikely pick for an ideological White House - he's competent, apolitical, and a respected prosecutor - but because the Congress is sniffing around all of these US Attorney threads these days, they may have no choice but to hire someone of his stature:

Carl W. Tobias, professor of constitutional law at the University of Richmond, said O'Brien's nomination would be a healthy sign that the Justice Department is changing its policies.

"My sense of what's going on is that there is an inclination at the Justice Department to pick these kinds of people to defuse the controversy," Tobias said. "It seems like it's going to be much more of a meritocracy."

And this could be bad news for the thoroughly unmeritorious Lewis. An independent prosecutor would follow the evidence, and there's a mountain of it where Lewis is concerned. He used the Appropriations Committee in the 109th Congress as his own personal earmark factory, steering contracts to clients of connected lobbyist Bill Lowery, who has graciously given half a million dollars to Lewis campaigns over the years.

A guy like this as US Attorney in LA could be Lewis' worst nightmare:

...O'Brien motivates attorneys to be creative and volunteer for cases. When an assistant U.S. attorney passed out during opening statements last week due to a medical problem, O'Brien took over personally. On Thursday, he was in court on the case.

"He came out with that background as a D.A. where you get a file the day before and go try it," Carter said.

A hard-charging former D.A. versus Jerry Lewis? That's no contest. Maybe it's better for him to get out of Washington while the getting's good, and focus more time and money on saving his own posterior.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

The Intelligence Is Still Being Fixed Around The Policy

Watch the military leaders upon which the entire future of the Iraq mission is predicated admit that "wait 'til September" is all a big con:

U.S. officials told ABC News that the troop levels in Iraq cannot be maintained at the present level, either politically or practically, with the military stretched so thin.

But that does not imply an immediate drawdown. Officials told ABC's Martha Raddatz that the senior commanders in Iraq -- Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno and Gen. David Petraeus -- want the surge to continue until at least December and expect to report enough progress by September to justify the extension.

The drawdown would begin in February 2008, although each of the two generals supports a slightly different plan.

Plan one, which officials say Odierno is pushing, would start with a draw down of one brigade (5,000 troops) every month starting in February, with a reduction in troops from roughly 150,000 today to 100,000 by December 2008.

Petraeus champions a slightly different approach that would cut the troops down to roughly 130,000 by the end of 2008, with further reductions the following year.

They're going to cook up as much evidence as they can ("Those schools are more freshly painted than EVER!!") to make sure they can keep the Iraqi adventure going. It'll be thin gruel to anyone paying attention, but just enough so the supposed "concerned Republicans" can be mollified, and head back to their districts saying "It's almost done, just give us a few more months!"

This war is more and more feeling like "The Money Pit" with Tom Hanks. The contractors keep saying "two weeks" to finish the house.

And look at this new tactic:

The U.S. military is working more aggressively to forge cease-fires with Iraqi militants and quell the violence around Baghdad, judging that 80 percent of enemy combatants are "reconcilable," a top U.S. commander said Thursday.

However, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno also warned that he may not be able to make a full assessment of the situation in Iraq by September, as demanded by lawmakers.

Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, told Pentagon reporters by video conference that he is pressing his military officers to reach out to the tribes, to some small insurgent groups and to religious and political leaders to push them to stop the violence.

"We are talking about cease-fires, and maybe signing some things that say they won't conduct operations against the government of Iraq or against coalition forces," Odierno said from Camp Victory in Baghdad. "We believe a large majority of groups within Iraq are reconcilable and are now interested in engaging with us. But more importantly, they want to engage and become a part of the government of Iraq."

The only cease-fires will come when the occupiers leave. Face facts. Sadr's already doing this without US help. Yes, Odierno has finally admitted that Sadr's grassroots movement is real, and yes, Sunni Arabs in Baghdad sought US help in Baghdad against Al Qaeda in Iraq, but the biggest enemy in the country remains the US military. There may be a mechanism for Sunnis and Shiites to work together, if they're weary enough of fighting each other, to toss out Al Qaeda, who is hated. But that doesn't involve the US at all. In fact, it will only have a chance of succeeding if we leave.

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On the Bright Side

Marty Lederman must have been channeling my despair over the seeming permanence of torture on the American landscape, and he brings us some encouraging quotes on the subject from two of our top-tier Presidential candidates.

Barack Obama (April 23d):

To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.

John Edwards (May 23d):

We must always seek to protect our national security by aggressively gathering intelligence in accordance with proven methods. Yet we cannot do so by abandoning human rights and the rule of law. As two former generals recently wrote in the Washington Post, "If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable ...we drive ... undecideds into the arms of the enemy." And we must avoid actions that will give terrorists or even other nations an excuse to abandon international law. As president, I will close Guantanamo Bay, restore habeas corpus, and ban torture. Measures like these will help America once again achieve its historic moral stature -- and lead the world toward democracy and peace.

Of course, there's one other candidate conspicuously absent there - the lady in the lead.

I believe that Edwards and Obama are sincere. But they will be up against a LOT of resistance from a complex that treats the Presidency, especially a Democratic presidency, with contempt. This train has left the station and it will take supreme effort to return it.

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Why I Mourn For America

The deceitful actions of this Administration have permanently harmed the fabric of America. I was hopeful after the 2006 elections that we would be bringing in a new majority committed to overturning the worst abuses and returning a basic respect for Constitutional law. News that Senate Democrats were moving to restore some of the most basic judicial practices to the awful military tribunals compact that they barely lifted a finger to fight last year gave me some hope, although the most important part, the restoration of habeas corpus, is absent from the bill. But this action on a different piece of legislation returned me to my depression, and my belief that our torture policies, which are now ingrained into law by default, will always be a feature of 21st-century American life, at great cost to our collective souls.

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday questioned the continuing value of the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret interrogation program for terrorism suspects, suggesting that international condemnation and the obstacles it has created to criminal prosecution may outweigh its worth in gathering information.

The committee rejected by one vote a Democratic proposal that would essentially have cut money for the program by banning harsh interrogation techniques except in dire emergencies, a committee report revealed [...]

In a closed session on May 23, two Democrats, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Dianne Feinstein of California, proposed barring spending on interrogation techniques that go beyond the Army Field Manual, which bans physical pressure or pain.

Under their proposal, the only exception would have been when the president determined “that an individual has information about a specific and imminent threat.”

The amendment failed when Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, joined all the Republicans in voting no.

So tough talk about the uselessness of torture, how it damages our moral standing, weakens our relationship with our allies, puts our soldiers at risk and doesn't pay off with decent information... but when the rubber hits the road, Bill Nelson must retain the culture of permanent fear and ensure that such tactics will continue without limits. And this isn't about Bill Nelson, per se. In our political system and especially in our political age, it's nearly impossible to undo a vote once it's been codified. There's no enthusiasm for right and wrong, just for winners and losers. And once that's been sorted, everybody moves on to the next thing. There's no examination of the underlying reasons, no testing the assumptions, no call to sanity and morality. Even a horrific policy like torture GAINS in stature the more it's allowed to operate. The Republican Party wants to nominate Jack Bauer at this point. And even Democrats like Bill Nelson won't do anything to get in the way. When the McCain Amendment came up for a vote, 90 Senators opposed torture as it's defined in the Army Field Manual. With this vote, every Republican and one Democrat refused to deny funding to a CIA program if it's not in compliance with that same Field Manual. The consensus is going TOWARD, not away from, sanctioning torture as an acceptable policy in this country.

Let's be clear what we're talking about here. The United States reverse engineered programs designed in the Cold War era based on Soviet techniques like “prolonged use of stress positions, exposure to heat and cold, sleep deprivation and even waterboarding.” These techniques were migrated to Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and given a euphemistic title of "enhanced interrogation techniques" which is a term that is directly out of Nazi interrogation manuals, although even they objected to things like hypothermia and waterboarding. While military interrogators at Gitmo and Bagram and Abu Ghraib used these new tools, despite the fact that leading intelligence experts have concluded that the techniques are "outmoded, amateurish and unreliable," the CIA enlisted private companies to help them with rendition flights of terror suspects plucked off of the streets in foreign countries, in essence making the private companies, like Boeing, an accessory to "the forced disappearance, torture and inhumane treatment" (the ACLU is now suing Boeing over this). All the while conservatives cheer on this barbarism in the name of "getting tough with terrorists," claiming that any critic of this policy "doesn't understand the nature of the threat we face" (something Paul Waldman does an excellent job of rebutting, pointing out that, considering the leading GOP candidates are routinely conflating Iraq and Al Qaeda and grouping everything Muslim into one enemy, "understanding terrorism" must mean knowing as little as humanly possible about it). And yet these are the same people who will find some random news item about terrorists torturing and kidnapping people, and try to make the argument that critics of US torture policies are being hypocritical because they don't point out terrorist torture policies. Conservative with a brain John Cole makes quick work of this argument:

It isn’t news because they are terrorists, you fucking simpletons. Yesterday, my cat scratched himself then shit in a box. The media didn’t report that, either.

But it really shows an insight into the modern-day conservative mind that the best argument they can think of for the wholesale torture of detainees - at great peril to our moral standing, international cooperation, and troop safety - is that Al Qaeda does it too. There's never any thought to the notion that Al Qaeda should not be the human rights measuring stick for a country supposedly committed to freedom and liberty such as this one. Here's Glenn Greenwald.

The reason that it is news that the U.S. tortures, but not news that Al Qaeda does, is because Al Qaeda is a barbaric and savage terrorist group which operates with no limits, whereas the U.S. is supposed to be something different than that. Isn't it amazing that one even needs to point that out? [...]

And with that twisted equivalency bolted into place, they have dragged our country on a path where that premise is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our own interrogation methods are reverse-engineered from the most brutal and barbaric countries and groups on the planet. And the policies and practices we have adopted over the last six years embody everything which this country, for decades, vocally deplored. But all of that happened because of this "belief" -- which is really just a self-justifying rationalization -- that we not only have the right to be, but that we must be, exactly like Al Qaeda, do what they do, in order to defeat them.

That is what leads to such indescribably inane though revealing protests: "Hey, you reported that the U.S. tortures, so why aren't you reporting that Al Qaeda does? Whose side are you on?" That is the rancid depth to which our public discourse and our national standards have descended, and those who brought it to that point have designs on dragging it far lower still.

And that's a slippery slope which is unlikely to be able to scale. A country that uses "enhanced interrogation techniques," that denies basic rights of habeas corpus and evidentiary grounds for detention, is what we are right now. We have a Democratic Congress and this continues. We will have a Democratic President, maybe by January 2009, and yet this will still continue. There is little outrage and less principled opposition to the road these authoritarian zealots have taken us down. The conservative base, while abandoning the original messenger, is still whipped into a frenzy of fear and vengeance that is unlikely to dissipate. And there remains a foreign policy consensus that trusts American power to manage the world's conflicts and wage war on Islamic radicalism. It's a genie that's been out of the bottle for many decades, and I would suggest that naivete guides the thinking of anyone who thinks we can immediately put it back inside. Or that our leaders in Washington even want to. Sometimes I think the only thing that raises the ire of anyone in Congress about torture is that news of it leaked out publicly.

It's with a great deal of sadness that I write this. Sad for the country that was built on idealism but quickly descended into the business of scoundrels. Sad for what the political system has mutated into, with its fondness for victory and defeat instead of liberty and justice. Sad for the realization that this is a staple of American life in 2007, as much a part of things as Dancing With the Stars and congested freeways. We have now become what we have long despised, and there's little we can do about it except hang our heads in shame.

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Marked Man

Really, I'm just begging for Republicans to nominate Rudy Giuliani. The accompanying outrage will make the Swift Boaters look like a tea party. Not only will the hardcore religious right go out of their minds:

The early success of Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid has provoked a groundswell of opposition from disparate forces including conservative Catholics, remnants of Pat Buchanan's presidential campaigns and regional political operatives seeking to break into the Republican firmament....

The new organizations are relying on two fundraising models, both of which were highly successful in previous attacks. One is the drive in 2005 to force White House counsel Harriet Miers to withdraw her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. That campaign, spearheaded by conservatives opposed to Miers, raised an estimated $2 million. The other is the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign in 2004, which began with a modest budget but ended up raising millions in an effort to destroy John Kerry's reputation as a war hero....

Paul Nagy, the group's top-gun in New Hampshire, believes nominating Giuliani would be disastrous for the American conservative movement. Along with other activists, Nagy signed a letter seeking additional signatories to the anti-Rudy declaration. The letter states: "Rudy Giuliani is an unacceptable Republican nominee for President of the United States. He is pro-abortion, pro-partial birth abortion, pro-registration of handguns, and pro-homosexual rights. He is the most liberal Republican candidate for President in our nation's history."

But groups very close to Rudy are going to follow him around.

Here’s an unwelcome birthday gift for Rudy Giuliani, as he travels around the city raising money: protests from fire fighters and family members of September 11th victims.

They've shown up in the past at Giuliani's presidential events. Today, they’re gathering in Bay Ridge, and they have plans to follow him nationwide starting sometime around January, according to Jim Riches, a deputy chief with the fire department whose son was killed in the World Trade Center attacks.

“We have all the UFA, the UFOA, and the fire members are all behind us -- the International Association of Fire Fighters,” said Riches. “And we’re going to be out there today to let everybody know that he’s not the hero that he says he is.”

The group’s complaints center on the faulty radios used by the fire department that day and what they say was a lack of coordination at Ground Zero.

And Riches disputes the notion that Giuliani provided any form of leadership on September 11 or in the days following.

“If somebody can tell me what he did on 9/11 that was so good, I’d love to hear it. All he did was give information on the TV”

“He did nothing,” Riches continued. “He stood there with a TV reporter and told everyone what was going on. And he got it from everybody else down at the site.”

Please, please, please nominate Giuliani. He doesn't have the temperament to handle this kind of pressure. I want to see the headline "CANDIDATE HITS PROTESTER." I don't ask for much, just this. It'd be the best 9 months ever.

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A Look At The Monster

To see the monster that the Republican noise machine has created, you have to watch this rant by Bill O'Reilly with John McCain, where he

O’REILLY: But do you understand what the New York Times wants, and the far-left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you’re a part, and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right. So I say you’ve got to cap with a number.

MCCAIN: In America today we’ve got a very strong economy and low unemployment, so we need addition farm workers, including by the way agriculture, but there may come a time where we have an economic downturn, and we don’t need so many.

O’REILLY: But in this bill, you guys have got to cap it. Because estimation is 12 million, there may be 20 [million]. You don’t know, I don’t know. We’ve got to cap it.

MCCAIN: We do, we do. I agree with you.

This is essentially what people who get bombarded with the Republican noise machine hear day after day. They hear that brown people are filthy gutter people, white male Christians deserve to be the leaders of the nation by divine right. They hear that this is a deeply religious country and that religious leaders should govern our politics. They hear that everybody who isn't down with the Republican program is a witch and an America-hater. They even hear that the 90s were a horrible time to be an American even though it was a decade of peace and prosperity.

In a potential preview of next fall’s presidential contest, Mr. Giuliani, who is seen as the front-runner for the Republican nomination, directly attacked the leading Democratic candidate, Mrs. Clinton, over a speech she gave Tuesday in New Hampshire bemoaning the return of “robber barons” and promising to pursue “shared prosperity” by increasing taxes on Americans making more than $200,000 a year.

“This would be an astounding, staggering tax increase,” Mr. Giuliani told reporters yesterday after a visit to a restaurant on the edge of California’s Silicon Valley. “She wants to go back to the 1990s…. It would hurt our economy. It would hurt this area dramatically. That kind of tax increase would see a decline in your venture capital. It would see a decline in your ability to focus on new technology.”

Giuliani's telling VC people in Silicon Valley that they shouldn't want to go back to the 1990s, when the NASDAQ was double what it is today. But in the upside-down world of wingnut logic, this makes sense.

John Boehner is out there trying to polish the GOP brand. He should abolish it. They kept adding new pieces into the mythology that were contradictory and doctrinaire and just plain thunderingly stupid that it's unsustainable. You have to believe so many wrong things about the world to be a true conservative that only the self-delusional can participate. The simple ideas of small government, freedom and personal responsibility are hoplessly gone. You can't have freedom AND torture, you can't have small government AND massive military spending and porkbarreling, you can't have personal responsibility AND blaming Democrats for mistakes that happened under one-party rule. The whole ideology is twisted into knots, and it's not surprising that the result is incoherent. Maybe that works for O'Reilly, but my sense is that the rest of the country is tuning it out.

UPDATE: The New Yorker article on the Republican implosion is a good read along these lines, though it sort of just presents the folly and you have to do the work yourself.

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The End of The Republican Grassroots

Moonie Times:

The Republican National Committee, hit by a grass-roots donors’ rebellion over President Bush’s immigration policy, has fired all 65 of its telephone solicitors, The Washington Times has learned. Faced with an estimated 40 percent falloff in small-donor contributions and aging phone-bank equipment that the RNC said would cost too much to update, Anne Hathaway, the committee’s chief of staff, summoned the solicitations staff and told them they were out of work, effective immediately.

Guess they didn't like hearing about how many people hung up the phone while screaming "Aztlan! Reconquista! Brown hordes!"

I get the feeling that Republicans have created a monster, and now that they realize they need a broader coalition to win elections, they have no idea how to put the genie back in the bottle. The problem is that the Republican base is a very loose coalition, despite the message discipline. The corporate base, the elite, wants the cheap labor. And Rove hasn't figured out who he can do without: the immigrant-haters or the growing Latino population. There's no good place for them to go on this one. It's really fascinating to watch the GOP crack up over this issue.

I suppose that they're expecting to make up for the loss in low-dollar money with corporate donations. But that corporate money won't help you if nobody's listening to the message...

UPDATE: Peggy Noonan's all hacked off because Bush is trying to do to his base what he's done to the rest of the country the last six years: give them the finger. Sorry Peggy. You voted for him, you got to live with him.

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Friday Random Ten

This is a really strange list:

Sleepless - Soul Coughing
Snappin' and Trappin' - Outkast
Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash
Weapons of Mass Destruction - The Crystal Method
Helft Mir - Stereo Total
Down on the River by the Sugar Plant - Mike Doughty
So Fresh, So Clean - Outkast
Shunned & Falsified - Mike Doughty
Rising Sign - Mike Doughty
The Winner - The Crystal Method

8 of the 10 from 3 bands (Soul Coughing was Doughty's band, so that counts)? Weird. I need to bulk up the iPod again, methinks.

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CA-37: Tempers Flare

I know, another post about the open-seat Long Beach-area race that essentially looks at identity politics. But this is pretty interesting. The Congressional Black Caucus will not endorse a candidate in the race, which includes two high-profile black candidates, Assemblywoman Laura Richardson and neophyte politician Valerie McDonald, daughter of the late Juanita Millender-McDonald. Apparently, it got heated within the CBC:

The decision, in part, stems from an internal political feud between two of California's most visible black members of Congress: Rep. Maxine Waters and Rep. Diane Watson, who split over who should get the Caucus' backing in the June 26 special election. In the end, the Caucus declined to endorse either one in the Long Beach-area race. Waters favors Assemblywoman Laura Richardson and Watson supports Valerie McDonald, the daughter of the late congresswoman. The dispute over the endorsement was marked by heated exchanges involving Waters and Watson.

The Congressional Black Caucus' decision was in sharp contrast to the state Legislature's nine-member Black Caucus, which endorsed Richardson.

Diane Watson is one of the few California legislators to back McDonald, and she was enough to get the CBC not to endorse. I still think the California Federation of Labor support for Richardson will ultimately be crucial, but the CBC would have been a nice capper as well.

I'll be covering this race a bit more in my Congressional roundup (look for it next week), but I'd say right now, Richardson has a slight edge over State Sen. Jenny Oropeza because of the labor endorsement and the fact that turnout will be low.

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All Things Plame

(This, incidentally, is my 4,000th post. Go read them all if you have a spare week and a half.)

One thing about Valerie Plame, she's a fighter. Despite suffering all the slander from the right, the end of the career for which she was trained, heaps of abuse, she's still as strong as ever.

Valerie Wilson, the former Central Intelligence Agency operative at the heart of an investigation that reached into the White House, sued the agency in federal court in New York today over its refusal to allow her to publish a memoir that would discuss how long she worked for it.

Although that information is set out in an unclassified letter to Ms. Wilson that has been published in the Congressional Record, the C.I.A. insists that her dates of service remain classified and may not be mentioned in “Fair Game,” the memoir Ms. Wilson hopes to publish in October.

Agency employees sign agreements requiring them to submit manuscripts to the agency for permission before they are published.. Ms. Wilson’s suit said she worked with agency officials for 10 months to avoid disclosing national security information. But the agency’s refusal to allow her to include material already in the public domain, the suit said, violates her right to free speech.

The CIA is in different hands than when Plame worked there, remember, and this is a textbook case of bureaucratic incompetence. They said that they sent Plame a letter with her dates of employment by mistake. The information, then, is public BUT classified at the same time. There's probably a good deal of political pressure to keep this book off of the shelves, as well.

Meanwhile, the judge involved in sentencing will make public all of the panty-sniffing letters sent by the conservative movement on Libby's behalf, so we'll be able to see out in the open their love for a criminal. Here's a sample, from Libby's lawyers:

Prosecutors want Libby to serve up to three years in prison for lying about his conversations with reporters regarding CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose 2003 outing touched off a leak investigation.

Libby's lawyers said Thursday would be unfair. Citing numerous letters from former colleagues and friends, they said Libby deserved only probation.

"His dedication to promoting freedom abroad and keeping American citizens safe at home is beyond question," the attorneys wrote [...]

One letter quoted by Libby's attorneys, from a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: "I always came away from our encounters thinking how lucky the country was to have someone of his caliber helping think through the great security challenges we all faced."

How lucky indeed to have someone so angry at criticism that he goes after the critic's family the way the Mafia would. How lucky to have someone who believes national security should be defined by his ideological beliefs alone.

And just to put a cap on this sorry episode, read this bit from leading intellectual light Glenn Reynolds, who pretty much admits that nothing in the insaneosphere is true at all.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Just talked to a reporter from Salon who wanted to know if I was going to "retract" an earlier blog post in which I said it looked as if Plame wasn't covert. I noted that one normally issues a retraction for original reporting, not commenting upon other people's news stories.

In other words, I don't have to be responsible for anything I say, nor does anyone else on the right, because we just comment on other people's news stories. That's the dedication to the truth we've come to expect from the insaneosphere.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Edwards: WiFi For Everyone!

This is the "chicken in every pot" for the 21st century. And as you will see, it's extremely doable and completely worthwhile for American competition, entrepreneurship and technological advancement.

In short, the FCC is about to auction off a portion of the broadband spectrum. All the major telcos like Verizon and AT&T are expected to bid on the prime real estate. But John Edwards has a better idea. He wants to have the FCC use that spectrum to increase Internet access for all Americans, young or old, rich or poor. This is the text of his letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin:

Dear Chairman Martin:

The upcoming 700 megahertz spectrum auction presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape the next generation of American technology.

In recent years, the Internet has grown to touch everything and transform much of what it touches. It's not the answer to everything, but it can powerfully accelerate the best of America. It improves our democracy by making quiet voices loud, improves our economy by making small markets big, and improves opportunity by making unlikely dreams possible.

As you know, the Federal Communications Commission is now preparing to auction the 700 megahertz slice of the spectrum. This "beachfront" band is particularly well suited to wireless broadband because it has wide coverage and can easily pass through walls.

By setting bid and service rules that unleash the potential of smaller new entrants, you can transform information opportunity for people across America -- rural and urban, wealthy and not. As much as half of the spectrum should be set aside for wholesalers who can lease access to smaller start-ups, which has the potential to improve service to rural and underserved areas. Additionally, anyone winning rights to this valuable public resource should be required not to discriminate among data and services and to allow any device to be attached to their service. Finally, bidding should be anonymous to avoid collusion and retaliatory bids.

I urge you to seize this chance to transform the Internet and the future.


John Edwards

Not only is Edwards asking that the principle of net neutrality be mandated for anyone who buys this spectrum (which is a big victory in and of itself), but he wants a significant portion to be used to wire America. Ultimately, broadband should be no different than electricity; the access should come standard in any home, and you should pay the way you pay your electric bill. Additionally, we should be wiring rural areas the way that FDR pushed rural electrification projects as part of the New Deal. It was actually predicated on the same premise.

Although nearly 90 percent of urban dwellers had electricity by the 1930s, only ten percent of rural dwellers did. Private utility companies, who supplied electric power to most of the nation's consumers, argued that it was too expensive to string electric lines to isolated rural farmsteads. Anyway, they said, most farmers, were too poor to be able to afford electricity [...]

By 1939 the REA had helped to establish 417 rural electric cooperatives, which served 288,000 households. The actions of the REA encouraged private utilities to electrify the countryside as well. By 1939 rural households with electricity had risen to 25 percent [...]

When farmers did receive electric power their purchase of electric appliances helped to increase sales for local merchants. Farmers required more energy than city dwellers, which helped to offset the extra cost involved in bringing power lines to the country.

Just as FDR worked to bridge the electrical divide in the 1930s, we should be bridging the digital divide today. Poor and rural areas should be given the capacity to use the Internet, which will open new markets, allow for increased communication and expanded educational tools, and create that equality of opportunity that ought to be a goal. That a top-tier Presidential candidate is pushing this forward-thinking a policy is very cheering.

Combine this with Edwards' plan to take on the oil companies over rising gas prices, which is good and bad but is certainly bold, and you're seeing a pattern of someone committed to real change, and standing up for the middle class and the poor. The thing a lot of people wonder about Edwards is whether or not his progressive stances in 2007 are the real deal, compared to his fairly moderate voting record in the Senate. He was a neophyte politician then, and he relied on Beltway consultants like Bob Shrum, who details in a new book how he talked Edwards into voting to authorize the Iraq war, against Edwards' better judgment. In an excellent post by Chris Bowers that you ought to read, he discusses this evolution in Edwards' political development.

Returning to Edwards for a moment, I don't actually find this passage to be a particularly damning characterization of his political instincts or lack of leadership. Rather, I think is shows how his decision to originally support the war in Iraq probably served as a useful object lesson for a politician still trying to find his comfort zone. In 2002-2003, against his own instincts, against the advice of his wife, and against what he had seen as a member of the Intelligence Committee, Edwards listened instead to the contorted rationalizations of the Democratic establishment. Unsurprisingly, that establishment was also entirely wrong about the Iraq war, which has indeed become one of the biggest mistakes this country has made in decades. It is difficult to imagine a better way to learn to trust yourself then the catastrophic results of not trusting yourself on Iraq. Considering the many ways that Edwards has since bucked that same establishment--not firing McEwan and Marcotte, being the first to refuse a Fox News debate, publicly apologizing for his vote on Iraq, developing a populist, anti-corporate message--my belief is that Edwards learned from his past misplacement of trust in the Democratic establishment and the DLC, and has decided instead to trust his own, far more progressive instincts. For a politician who has been in the game for less than a decade, such a transformation seems entirely believable and genuine.

He may get nicked for this from the likes of Tim Russert. But I wish someone would have the cajones to go on that show and say, "Tim, have you ever changed your mind before? Are you supposed to be some kind of robot that has the same opinions and beliefs from the cradle to the grave? Have you ever been presented with new information? What you may call flip-flopping, I call learning." It's hard to divine who's being honest when so many politicians tell the electorate what they believe it wants to hear. But I think Edwards is genuine, for all these reasons, and I believe he would make an amazing President.

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Chauncey Billups?

Really, you have 6'0" Chauncey Billups guard 6'8" LeBron James (without help) on an isolation play with 10 seconds left in double OT? When you have Tayshaun Prince, who's actually the same size as LeBron, on the floor? And you don't converge to make him pass but take a two-footer layup?

I think Detroit contracted the curse of Chris Webber.

(amazing game by LeBron. He scored the last 25 of Cleveland's points himself. That's Jordan-esque. However, I have not forgiven James for refusing to sign teammate Iraq Newble's letter to China regarding their indirect support for the Sudanese government and the genocide in Darfur. Maybe he doesn't want to mess up his Nike contract by criticizing the country where a lot of their shoes are made. Great basketball player, bad human being.)

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Just Give Me 50 More Years

Does anyone still believe this "wait until September" claptrap?

The U.S. ground forces commander in Iraq says he might need more time to assess the impact of the new security plan, beyond the September assessment President Bush and the Congress are expecting. Lieutenant General Ray Odierno made the statement Thursday during a news conference via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon. He also spoke about increased efforts to reach out to insurgent groups and a new threat some of his forces are facing as they move into new areas in and around Baghdad.

This is no different than a junkie asking for a few more lines of coke to satisfy his drug fix until he "goes clean for sure." In truth the junkie has no intention of going straight, and neither does the Bush Administration. They're war junkies, and they'll be damned if someone will tell them to get out of the land they worked not hard enough to conquer.

Tell you what, I have no problem giving these guys a few more months, as long as with each extension, we get to send somebody like Paul Wolfowitz over to be the mayor of Baghdad. Maybe after that Sen. Jim DeMint can fill in. After all, the Democrats are such "wimps" by talking about defeat, maybe he can go be the mayor of Baghdad and set an example!

After all, it's easy to be a war junkie, when you're not the one fighting the war.

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A Chance for Clean Money In California

This is an enormous development. Today was the day that all of the bills in the California Assembly that involve funding get whittled down from the Appropriations Committee's "suspense file." Those that pass move on to a full vote on the floor. The extremely important Clean Money bill, AB 583 pushed by Asm. Loni Hancock, passed that process in an amended form. I really like what they've set up here as a pilot project. They would pick three races to run as publicly financed elections in 2010; one Assembly seat, one Senate seat, and the Governor. If the bill passes both State Houses, it would go on the ballot in June 2008 to be approved by voters (this will be a low-turnout election, which actually may be a good thing, considering how Clean Money was slapped down in 2006). The Governor would need to sign the bill to get it on the ballot.

The funding mechanism for this bill is similar to the public financing measures in Arizona and Maine, which improves upon what was on the 2006 ballot. Doing this as a pilot program that can test the system and get both legislators and voters comfortable with it really improves its chances of passage as well.

But this is a beginning and not an end. This is from California Clean Money Campaign Chair Susan Lerner:

We're grateful to Speaker Nunez and Appropriations Chair Mark Leno, as well as bill author Loni Hancock, for their creativity and steadfast support for Clean Money. We've come so far, but we need the help of your blog readers in passing the amended bill through the Assembly.

Blog readers can fax their Assemblymembers by using our on-line letter-writing tool,

If you believe that money has corroded American politics, if you would like to see a system where anyone can choose to run without having millions to self-fund, if you would like to reduce the power of corporations and lobbyists, if you would like to see government return to its ideals of being of the people, by the people, and for the people, you will click on the link and fax your letter to your Assemblyperson. We know that California is a national bellweather, so a successful clean money program here could spread nationwide. It's too important not to put everything we can into it.

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Sex And Slavery In Iraq

A war zone is a terrible brreding ground for desperation, where survival means doing whatever is necessary. Usually that means leaving, but what if left for the refugees to sustain themselves? The sex trade, of course. This is shocking but it's all too typical an example of how refugees survive:

Back home in Iraq, Umm Hiba’s daughter was a devout schoolgirl, modest in her dress and serious about her studies. Hiba, who is now 16, wore the hijab, or Islamic head scarf, and rose early each day to say the dawn prayer before classes.

But that was before militias began threatening their Baghdad neighborhood and Umm Hiba and her daughter fled to Syria last spring. There were no jobs, and Umm Hiba’s elderly father developed complications related to his diabetes.

Desperate, Umm Hiba followed the advice of an Iraqi acquaintance and took her daughter to work at a nightclub along a highway known for prostitution. “We Iraqis used to be a proud people,” she said over the frantic blare of the club’s speakers. She pointed out her daughter, dancing among about two dozen other girls on the stage, wearing a pink silk dress with spaghetti straps, her frail shoulders bathed in colored light.

As Umm Hiba watched, a middle-aged man climbed onto the platform and began to dance jerkily, arms flailing, among the girls.

“During the war we lost everything,” she said. “We even lost our honor.” She insisted on being identified by only part of her name — Umm Hiba means mother of Hiba.

The sex trade has always been an outlet of last resort for poor women, alone and stranded in foreign countries. And in the war zone itself, there is such horror and confusion that deviance appears to rise to the surface, as if the only way to make sense of madness is through more of it:

A U.S. contractor who worked at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was sentenced to more than three years in prison Friday for possessing child pornography that he obtained using the prison's computer network.

Ahmed Hasan Khan, 31, of Woodbridge, had been working at Abu Ghraib for contractor L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. in November 2005 when a network administrator at the prison saw that Khan had been visiting suspicious sites. A search of Khan's laptop computer later found hundreds of child pornography images, including children as young as 4, officials said.

I'm not defending a purveyor of child pornography, just saying that up is down in a war zone, where human life appears to mean a little less, and so the ugliest thoughts are given sanction. These are the stories of war that are shielded from a sheltered nation. Here's another one:

In the months following September 2005, complaints began coming in to the US State Department that all was not well with its most ambitious project ever: a sprawling new embassy project on the banks of the ancient Tigris River. The largest, most heavily-fortified embassy in the world with over 20 buildings, it spans 104 acres-- comparable in size to the Vatican.

Soon after the State Department awarded a $592-million building contract to First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting in July 2005, thousands of low-paid migrant workers recruited from South Asia, the Philippines and other nations poured into Baghdad, beginning work to build the gargantuan complex within two years time. But sources involved in the embassy project tell Slogger that during First Kuwaiti’s rush to the finish the project by this summer on schedule, American managers and specialists involved with the project began protesting about the living and working conditions of lower-paid workers sequestered and largely unseen behind security walls bordering the embassy project inside the US-controlled Green Zone....

The Americans protested that construction crews lived in crowded quarters; ate sub-standard food; and had little medical care. When drinking water was scarce in the blistering heat, coolers were filled on the banks of the Tigris, a river rife with waterborne disease, sewage and sometimes floating bodies, they said. Others questioned why First Kuwaiti held the passports of workers. Was it to keep them from escaping? Some laborers had turned up “missing” with little investigation. Another American said laborers told him they were been misled in their job location. When recruited, they were unaware they were heading for war-torn Iraq.

Forced labor of this nature is common in Iraq, I wrote about this exact circumstance in October 2005.

So the desperately poor in Bangladesh, Nepal and elsewhere are brought into Iraq to scrub toilets and such. Never mind that unemployment in Iraq is skyrocketing, these migrants come much cheaper to KBR and the like. The system for transporting them from their countries to Baghdad is no different than the system for sending girls from Malaysia and Eastern Europe into the international sex trade. Workers get paid pennies in Iraq, and must pay that money back to their job placement agencies at predatory lending rates. Once they get there, they are not benefited by any labor protections. Should they die in insurgent attacks (and at least 200 of them have so far), their surviving next of kin are not likely to receive the death benefit that all families of federal contractors deserve by law. In a place as dangerous as Iraq, that's arguably the greatest motivating factor for subcontractors to use migrants.

This is called indentured servitude, and in a country where supreme effort is required just for it not to explode, this kind of dehumanization is the last thing that gets rectified. Obviously so, this has been known as a problem for two years. Taxpayers, you and I, are funding a 21st-century indentured servitude in the form of no-bid Congressional contracts funneled to the companies engaging in this practice.

I think what this all underscores is that wars should never be entered into frivolously or through deception, because they are so disruptive to society that it can break down at the edges. These stories of sexual slavery and deviancy and forced labor are now commonplace in Iraq; they weren't before. And it makes a mockery of this so-called "mission to spread democracy."

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That's My Media

On yesterday's Hardball, Chris Matthews responded to a long soundbite from Al Gore about the unseriousness of our media and its focus on irrelevant issues by asking his guest if she thought Gore "had cosmetic surgery around the eyes."

Is it bad that I saw this live yesterday, and just chuckled and muttered "typical"?

Is it back that this is now what I expect from the modern media?

Here's another example of this, albeit a little different, as Dana Milbank bases a whole column on whether it's wise politically for Al Gore to be so smart, instead of just stating for the record that it would be wise for America to, you know, have a smart President.

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The Disease of Racial Bigotry

Lou Dobbs was called out in the New York Times for flat-out making up statistics about undocumented immigrants being responsible for an increase in leprosy, and accepting the "research" of white supremacists as truth, and the only thing shocking about this is that it doesn't happen more often. By the way, Dobbs gave a weaselly and self-serving answer to this criticism.

But when asked about this on Scarborough Country, Pat Buchanan agreed with the discredited Dobbs, and went even further, blaming the case of the man with the extreme strain of tuberculosis on... yep, on immigration.

BUCHANAN: Well, this is a serious problem because he‘s got what‘s called multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, Joe. Something like 60 percent of them die. It costs $200,000 to $1.2 million to treat folk with this. But let me tell you, it underscores a larger problem. TB is back in the United States primarily because of mass illegal immigration, folks who have got poor hygiene, poor health services in their country, walk across the border. Many of them don‘t know they got it. Out in Prince William County in Virginia, in my book, it‘s got a 188 percent increase in TB. Immigrant kids are 100 times as likely as an American kid to be carrying tuberculosis.

SCARBOROUGH: Now, Pat, let me stop you right there, and let me ask you this question...


SCARBOROUGH: ... because Lou Dobbs has gotten in trouble talking about leprosy and all these other issues.

BUCHANAN: He‘s right about leprosy! I can give you the numbers!

Of course, this is a very familiar line of argument, the idea that immigrants are somehow dirty and diseased, that they are polluting white culture, that they breed like animals and create sickness. David Neiwart discussed this a couple years ago.

All this has a familiar ring to students of American history. The very same kind of associations -- equating immigrants with pestilence -- were part and parcel of previous nativist outbreaks in the United States, particularly those in which the targets were Asians. Here's an excerpt from Elmer Clarence Sandmeyer's The Anti-Chinese Movement in California (1991, University of Illinois Press), pp. 37-38:
In addition to the stench, filth, crowding, and general dilapidation with which Chinatown was accused of afflicting the community, another serious charge was made that the Chinese were introducing foreign diseases among the whites. For instance, it was claimed by both civil and medical authorities that Chinese men and women were afflicted with venereal disease to an uncommon degree. The Chinese prostitutes were accused of luring young boys into their houses and of infecting them with the disease. A medical journal charged that the blood stream of the Anglo-Saxon population was being poisoned through the American men who, "by thousands nightly," visited these resorts. A cause of rather frequent concern to the officials were outbreaks of smallpox. The Chinese were suspected as the source of the disease, since cases appeared among them while they were still on shipboard. They were condemned especially for not reporting their cases of the disease. "It [Chinatown] is almost invariably the seed-bed of smallpox, whence the scourge is sent abroad into the city.

The most exciting charge under this head, however, was that the Chinese were introducing leprosy into California. The very strangeness of the disease made this charge all the more ominous. It was claimed that wherever Chinese coolies had gone leprosy had developed, and that purchasers of Chinese goods were likely to contract the disease. Dr. Charles C. O'Donnell, a politically minded physician, discovered a case in a Chinese warehouse, placed him in an express wagon and drove through the streets, haranguing the crowds on the street corners concerning the dangers to which the community was being exposed. The contention of some physicians that it was not real leprosy but rather a "sporadic case of elephantitis" did not help matters a great deal. During a period of less than ten years the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco arranged for the deportation of forty-eight cases [...]

There is no small irony in all this, of course. Because racial bigotry is like a virus, too. Given the proper iteration -- especially by disguising itself as part of the discourse over the "war on terror" -- it can quickly spread from the fringes into the mainstream. Of course, it always takes special transmitters, modern-day Typhoid Marys, to do it.

It serves the fearmongers on the far right well to blame increases in disease on the dirty immigrants. Not on a broken health care system that cannot serve the poor, not on the increase in chemical agents in our food. No, it's those filthy wetbacks that get all dirty by rolling in the mud and swimming across the Rio Grande. This is a classic technique to scare Americans, going back centuries. It's not provable, any more than any statistics are about immigrants forced to live in the shadows (they don't willingly show up for a lot of polls). And to his credit, Joe Scarborough asked Buchanan for documentation of his crazy claims, to which Buchanan simply blustered and shouted. But the fact that it's not provable HELPS the propagandists who want to find scapegoats for the nation's ills. It's not possible to verify these charges, but it's also not possible to not verify them.

Buchanan, Dobbs, and the others who try to scare Americans by intimating that they and their children can get sick and die if more immigrants are allowed in the country are simply following a common script. Demonizing the other means that you don't have to engage with the issue. You can just refer to the problem in the way you would refer to a bug that must be stamped out. This is the language of white supremacism, and it will lead to more hate crimes, as people take action on this kind of ugly rhetoric.

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Iraq 4-Evah

Well, at least they're being honest:

President Bush envisions a long-term U.S. troop presence in Iraq similar to the one in South Korea where American forces have helped keep an uneasy peace for more than 50 years, the White House said Wednesday.

The comparison was offered as the Pentagon announced the completion of the troop buildup ordered by Bush in January. The last of about 21,500 combat troops to arrive were an Army brigade in Baghdad and a Marine unit heading into the Anbar province in western Iraq [...]

Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said Bush has cited the long-term Korea analogy in looking at the U.S. role in Iraq, where American forces are in the fifth year of an unpopular war. Bush's goal is for Iraqi forces to take over the chief security responsibilities, relieving U.S. forces of frontline combat duty, Snow said.

"I think the point he's trying to make is that the situation in Iraq, and indeed, the larger war on terror, are things that are going to take a long time," Snow said. "But it is not always going to require an up-front combat presence."

Instead, he said, U.S. troops would provide "the so-called over-the-horizon support that is necessary from time to time to come to the assistance of the Iraqis. But you do not want the United States forever in the front."

South Korea is a terrible model for what we face in Iraq. First of all, it wasn't a democracy for most of the time - Syngman Rhee was a dictator who ruled the South for decades - so unless there's an admission here that Iraq needs a strongman, it's a strange analogy. Second of all, the Korean War was conventional warfare with an actual front (the DMZ), not a series of sectarian battles with different ethnic groups and competing interests.

But it's a great model if the goal is to set up a permanent presence in the Middle East to control the flow of the world's oil supply. Which is clearly what this delusional maniac wants to do:

[B]y all reports, President Bush is more convinced than ever of his righteousness.

Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated "I am the president!" He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of "our country's destiny."

The entire neocon projects hinges on staying in Iraq forever. The permanent bases had to leave Saudi Arabia, so they had to be relocated to Iraq. The more disruptive our presence is, the more pulling out would trigger a catastrophe, the better these guys feel. And most of the Democratic candidates appear to have bought this, even while sounding antiwar. We are likely to have some kind of troop presence in Iraq for the rest of all of our lifetimes unless some brave politician decides differently.

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It's Not Corruption, It's A Series of Tubes!

Ted Stevens has earned his reputation as America's angriest Senator (tm) over his long career. Now he's starting a new tradition as America's most devilishly corrupt:

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) jacked his house off the ground, inserted a new first story and placed the old first floor on top, thanks to the help of a top executive at local oil company Veco Corp. who hired at least one key contractor to complete the feat of a job.

That's inventive. I've never come across a house and thought "You know what, I want that floor to be the top floor now, we should squeeze another floor underneath. And people think Stevens knows nothing about technology!

Veco, the company that helped Stevens, is under investigation for a broad series of bribery and conspiracy crimes in Alaska, a scandal that includes the participation of Stevens' own son, who's the President of the State Senate. It's increasingly looking like Stevens, he who wears an Incredible Hulk tie for important votes in the Senate (really), may get caught up in this investigation as well, particularly because Veco doesn't do remodeling for a living. And you know he's vulnerable on this because he's screaming bloody murder:

Neither Ben nor Sen. Stevens have been charged. But actions by the federal government to keep the senator away from the investigation indicate that he may be involved. In Aug. 2006, the Bush administration took the unusual step of blocking the Sen. Stevens from having any say in choosing the new U.S. attorney for the state:

Stevens has been trying to get an Alaska lawyer appointed U.S. attorney here, but for one reason or another the people he recommended have been knocked out, a spokesman for the senator said Wednesday.

Instead, the Justice Department brought in a prosecutor from Pittsburgh. A Stevens aide told the Anchorage Daily News that the senator was “furious at the way the attorney general handled this.” In Sept. 2006, the Justice Department recused the entire U.S. attorney’s office in Alaska from the case, explaining that it would be run out of the department’s Public Integrity section.

Veco is also a frequent donor to Stevens' political campaigns.

I don't know if there's anyone more deserving of going down in this kind of scandal than the guy who's been raiding the federal treasury for porkbarrel projects in Alaska for close to 50 years. And just to see him pop a vein as he's frogmarched out of the Capitol would be choice.

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Fuck You, Joe, And Let Us Out Of Here

Joe Lieberman had a real welcome wagon in his extra-secret trip to Iraq.

Spc. David Williams, 22, of Boston, Mass., had two note cards in his pocket Wednesday afternoon as he waited for Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Williams serves in the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., the first of the five “surge” brigades to arrive in Iraq, and he was chosen to join the Independent from Connecticut for lunch at a U.S. field base in Baghdad.

The night before, 30 other soldiers crowded around him with questions for the senator.

He wrote them all down. At the top of his note card was the question he got from nearly every one of his fellow soldiers:

“When are we going to get out of here?”

The rest was a laundry list. When would they have upgraded Humvees that could withstand the armor-penetrating weapons that U.S. officials claim are from Iran? When could they have body armor that was better in hot weather?

The rest of the article continues in this manner, though unfortunately Holy Joe projects his feelings onto the troops and doesn't hear these concerns. And the troops didn't feel free to share any contrary opinions with him. So despite the quotes in the article like “It just seems like we drive around and wait to get shot at” and “We don’t feel like we’re making any progress,” none of these were actually expressed to Holy Joe.

We have nothing left to do in Iraq; indeed, we're "fighting to defend that which is not there". There are no "Iraqi nationalists" or a "unity government" and yet that's what we're trying to support. The troops are closer to the situation than some propagandist from Washington, and closer to the truth.

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Team Thompson

So Tim Griffin, the Karl Rove protege and caging expert, is officially resigning as the US Attorney for Arkansas, announcing this on the same day that Fred Thompson announces his exploratory committee. Thompson has been rumored to be in touch with Griffin over hiring him as a campaign manager. We already know that his campaign-manager-in-waiting is a former tobacco industry executive. Now from Rick Perlstein comes news about another Thompson staffer:

I've been reading up on the latest Republican presidential candidate, and in an article in the new Weekly Standard when the following line caught my eye:

The conference call began around 2:00 pm. Ken Rietz, a top executive with Burson Marsteller and a close adviser to Thompson, welcomed the participants."

Kenneth Rietz. I knew I'd heard of that name before.

I used my MacIntosh's function that lets you search for any string of characters that's on your hard drive. I found what I was looking for in my "Watergate" file. The following is a quote from my favorite book about the Nixon presidency, Jonathan Schell's The Time of Illusion (page 221):

In Washington, a taxi-driver was hired by the Nixon reelection committee to join the Muskie campaign. He was taken on as a volunteer, and was eventually assigned the task of carrying the Senator's's mail between his Senate office and his campaign headquarters. On the way he would give the Senator's's campaign documents, including internal memoranda and drafts of speeches and position papers, to a Republican operative whose code name was Fat Jack and who held a post in the Office of Economic Oportunity. Fat Jack would photograph the papers in a downtown office rented for that purpose, and would pass the film along; for the first few Kenneth Rietz, director of the youth division...and then, after Rietz E. Howard Hunt on a Washington Street corner.

A current Republican presidential contender has a Watergate spy as a "close advisor": surely interesting, and perhaps even relevant to the character of the candidate.

I'm telling you, the moment that anybody finds anything out about Thompson, the 20-year lobbyist, whose last two high-profile political jobs were running Scooter Libby's Legal Defense Fund and shepherding John Roberts and Sam Alito through their Supreme Court confirmations, they're going to see that he's the same old Republican, with ties to every low-down dirty trickster in the business.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

More On Obama and Health Care

This Ezra Klein article, a summary of the Obama-care health plan released yesterday, expresses exactly my concern with him, and why I'm not likely to be supporting him unless those concerns are relieved. His taste for half-measures and incremental steps in a time when we need a President arguing for transformational change simply doesn't cut it.

His is a plan of almosts. It is almost universal, without quite having the mechanisms to ensure nationwide coverage. It almost offers a public insurance option capable of serving as the seed of single-payer, but it is unclear who can enroll in it, and talks with his advisors suggest little enthusiasm or expectation that it will serve as a shining alternative to private insurance. It almost takes on the insurance industry, but asks for, rather than compels, their participation [...]

All the ingredients are in place for this to be a great plan -- a public insurance component, a commitment to universality, an understanding that coherence is better than fractiousness, a willingness to regulate the insurance industry -- but, in each case, at the last second, the policy is hedged before the fulfillment of its purpose. In this, Obama's plan is not dissimilar from Obama himself -- filled with obvious talent and undeniable appeal, sold with stunning rhetoric and grand hopes, but never quite delivering on the promises and potential. And so he remains the candidate of almosts. But as he told Morgan Miller back in March, there is time yet. And he is so very close.

There is time. But I believe this constant hedging and "almosting" reflects the true nature of the man. We should not be afraid to articulate for real change, especially on issues like health care where the vast majority of the people are with us. Obama's instinct seems to me to be to fold his cards before the hand is fully dealt.

I'm not saying there isn't room for compromise. I don't think it's good negotiating to compromise FIRST, instead of stating the principle and then dealing with the compromise. That's negotiating from strength instead of weakness.

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The Comeback Kids

Anybody who says that there are no second acts in American politics out to flip on Hardball today, where they can see, posing as a Homeland Security expert talking about the tuberculosis-infected plane passenger scare, no less than...

Brownie. Heckuva job Brownie.

What does it take to get disqualified as a pundit?

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We Can't Have you Keeping The Meat Clean! What If People Stop Getting Sick?

Best opening sentence to a news item evah.

The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease.

"We're standing up for what we believe in! We're not going to let these femimeatpackers test to see if their product has infectious disease! That's not the American way! Some people said we shouldn't take this fight. It's too tough, nobody will think you're at all sane. Well, I say sometimes you have to stand up and fight, and I can think of no better fight to make than one on behalf of mad cow disease!"

If you read on, you'll see that one rogue meatpacking company (Al-Qaeda Meats?) wants to test their cattle, but that would mean all the other agribusiness conglomerates might have to test their cattle too, so the Bush Administration is boldly saying "No!" to testing for food safety. The great Rick Perlstein has more.

First, observe the contempt for liberty. When E. coli conservatives say self-regulation is preferable to government, they're even lying about that. Second, observe the contempt for small business. When a small company want to - voluntarily! - hold its product to a higher standard, the government blocks it, in part because bigger companies have to be protected from the competition, in part because a theoretical threat to the bottom line (false positives) trumps protection against a deadly disease.

There's your conservatism, America: not extremism in defense of liberty. State socialism in defense of Mad Cow.

Perlstein calls them "e.coli conservatives." That's being charitable.

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The Law and Order Candidate

It was pretty obvious from his increased profile and appearance schedule, but Fred Thompson is making it all but official by forming a Presidential exploratory committee, and goes even further in an interview with USA Today.

In an interview with USA TODAY, however, the former Tennessee senator not only makes it clear that he plans to run, he describes how he aims to do it. He's planning an unconventional campaign using blogs, video posts and other Internet innovations to reach voters repelled by politics-as-usual in both parties.

I would say that's a near-total miscalculation and also likely a fabrication. The whole "unconventional campaign," which everybody says they're running these days, is designed solely to get traditional media attention. You're not going to reach voters repelled by politics-as-usual by writing on a blog, least of all National Review Online and RedState, where Thompson has been blogging. It's a news peg so that people who read the paper can get a story like "Thompson's different!" He as much as admits in the article that the whole "unconventional" meme is a gimmick, as much as his "red pickup truck" shtick was a gimmick in 1994:

Thompson, who's left a five-season stint playing Manhattan District Attorney Arthur Branch on NBC's Law & Order, says his model will be the untraditional campaign he ran for the Senate in 1994.

After a lackluster start, Thompson swapped his suit for a plaid shirt and began driving a pickup across the state in a bid to fill the final two years of Al Gore's term. Despite his background as a Washington lawyer and lobbyist, Thompson derided Congress as larded with legislators who had lost touch with their constituents and principles [...]

"I feel some of the same feelings that I felt in the latter part of that '94 campaign about what is going on in the country today — only greater," says Thompson, citing public cynicism toward the Republican president and the new Democrat-controlled Congress. "You can't drive the truck all the way across the country, but since '94 other opportunities have opened up in terms of ways to communicate."

By the way, USA Today, it's Democratic.

So far, Thompson has distinguished himself by writing sophomoric generic Republican crap on blogs and calling Michael Moore insane in a Web video. This, apparently, is the savior of the Republican Party. He's essentially running as Bush, but competent.

And he's borrowing all the Bush dirty tricksters to do it:

Backers look for Fred Thompson to use a June 2 speech to Virginia Republicans to step closer toward the race. Thompson allies have had discussions with Tim Griffin, the Arkansas U.S. attorney and Rove protégé, about taking a top job with the campaign.

Griffin, of course, was installed as the U.S. attorney for Little Rock last year. Emails from Kyle Sampson have shown that the Justice Department and White House were plotting to use a little noticed provision in the USA PATRIOT Act Reauthorization Bill to keep Griffin in place throughout Bush's term without the need for Senate confirmation. Alberto Gonzales has somewhat unconvincingly disavowed the plan.

So the guy's hiring Karl Rove's protege to help run the campaign. His presumed campaign manager is a tobacco lobbyist. Were George Steinbrenner and Satan busy?

Fred Thompson is essentially a stand-in for George Allen; a guy who looks the part, who can talk tough and act like a shitkicker without all the nasty side effects of being pro-abortion and pro-gun control like Rudy Giuliani. He certainly has a shot at the Republican nomination; whether the public will be so bamboozled as to pick someone on a facade of personality alone, again, remains to be seen.

As a side note, wouldn't a Gore-Thompson Tennesee two-step be special?

UPDATE: Thompson also apparently thinks that the Republicans lost the election because of spending and not the Iraq war. Sounds like someone with his pulse on the electorate. All that time hanging out at NRO and RedState has got him believing that's how the country thinks. This could be the first-ever Freeper candidate.

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Gonzogate Update

Josh Marshall gives a nice rundown of what's ahead in the US Attorney scandal. The President amusingly complained that the investigation is being dragged out for "political reasons." To which I say: exactly. For political reasons, the Justice Department is hiding what they know and resisting all efforts to obtain documents to finish the process.

But onward it goes. The Inspector General of the Justice Department is expanding its investigation to include those political, illegal hiring practices that Monica Goodling discussed in her testimony. But it's actually bigger than Goodling.

Goodling admitted last week to improperly taking poltiical considerations into account in the hiring of assistant U.S. attorneys, immigration judges and appointments to the Board of Immigration Appeals. But the IG and OPR's investigation appears to go far beyond Goodling.

Allegations concerning political hiring for the Honors Program -- the Department's historically rigorous program for hiring entry-level lawyers -- have centered on Michael Elston, the chief of staff to the deputy attorney general. A group of anonymous Justice Department employees raised alarms with Congress last month, complaining that Elston rejected hundreds of potential applicants to the program last year seemingly based on their political backgrounds.

And Goodling also hasn't been implicated in allegedly political hiring practices in the Department's Civil Rights Division. Those allegations have centered on Bradley Schlozman, the former #2 at the division, who has been accused of recruiting Republicans for career spots and then asking them to scrub mentions of their GOP bona fides from their resumes. Schlozman subsequently was appointed as an interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City -- and returned to main Justice to work in the Executive Office of United States Attorneys after he was replaced by a Senate-confirmed U.S. attorney. He's scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this coming Tuesday.

On June 5, Bradley Schlozman and his predecessor in the USA for Missouri slot, Todd Graves, will be testifying to Congress, which should be very interesting. Schlozman is the Zelig of this scandal, appearing at virtually every spot, particularly where voter fraud cases are concerned. We know that the central rationale for firing these federal prosecutors, and for politicizing the Justice Department in general, was to push bogus voter fraud investigations in order to inavalidate and intimidate potential voters, and suppress turnout. We know that this hue and cry served to curb legitimate voting:

During four years as a Justice Department civil rights lawyer, Hans von Spakovsky went so far in a crusade against voter fraud as to warn of its dangers under a pseudonym in a law journal article [...]

Now, amid a scandal over politicization of the Justice Department, Congress is beginning to examine allegations that von Spakovsky was a key player in a Republican campaign to hang onto power in Washington by suppressing the votes of minority voters.

"Mr. von Spakovsky was central to the administration's pursuit of strategies that had the effect of suppressing the minority vote," charged Joseph Rich, a former Justice Department voting rights chief who worked under him.

He and other former career department lawyers say that von Spakovsky steered the agency toward voting rights policies not seen before, pushing to curb minor instances of election fraud by imposing sweeping restrictions that would make it harder, not easier, for Democratic-leaning poor and minority voters to cast ballots.

Those four paragraphs tell pretty much the entire story of this scandal. The idea was to use voter fraud cases as a pretext to impose draconian voting laws that would suppress Democratic turnout. This is an ongoing, decades-long project, where fake grassroots "voting rights" groups just appear and disappear at opportune moments, when it's useful to powerful interests to have a cabal yelling from the outside.

The American Center for Voting Rights... has literally just disappeared as an organization... With no notice and little comment, ACVR—the only prominent nongovernmental organization claiming that voter fraud is a major problem, a problem warranting strict rules such as voter-ID laws—simply stopped appearing at government panels and conferences. Its Web domain name has suddenly expired, its reports are all gone (except where they have been preserved by its opponents), and its general counsel, Mark "Thor" Hearne, has cleansed his résumé of affiliation with the group. Hearne won't speak to the press about ACVR's demise. No other group has taken up the "voter fraud" mantra.

The death of ACVR says a lot about the Republican strategy of raising voter fraud as a crisis in American elections. Presidential adviser Karl Rove and his allies, who have been ghostbusting illusory dead and fictional voters since the contested 2000 election, apparently mounted a two-pronged attack. One part of that attack, at the heart of the current Justice Department scandals, involved getting the DoJ and various U.S. attorneys in battleground states to vigorously prosecute cases of voter fraud. That prong has failed. After exhaustive effort, the Department of Justice discovered virtually no polling-place voter fraud, and its efforts to fire the U.S. attorneys in battleground states who did not push the voter-fraud line enough has backfired.

And this is why the investigations will be as slow as molasses. The Republicans do not want this criminal enterprise to really get into the consciousness of the electorate. They would rather it remain the stuff of he said-she said, the sturm und drang of modern politics. The truth is that this was a systematic effort to disenfranchise Democrats.

UPDATE: President Pissypants, on Rove:

Q How central a role did Rove play in the U.S. attorney business? That's what everybody wants to know. Was he the main guy drawing up the list?

THE PRESIDENT: Just look at the facts as they've come out.

Q It's unclear.

THE PRESIDENT: There has been plenty of testimony, plenty of hearings, plenty of statements. And one thing is for certain, that there was no wrongdoing done. And --

I believe it's cut off because the interviewer's head exploded and Bush was unsure of whether or not to continue.

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Unannounced Visit

Joe Lieberman thinks he's part of the Administration or something, dropping in on Baghdad unannounced and all ninja-style.

Except I think ninjas are dressed differently.

Have John McCain and Joe Lieberman become the same person? Did McCain capture him in some kind of body snatcher experiment, and now the two share the same life-force?

By the way, we're apparently making good progress in Iraq. Other than the progress of chewing up more American soldiers, I'm not getting where he's going with that statement.

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CA-42: Miller Playing the Blame Game

(cross-posted at Trash Dirty Gary)

My friends at the D-Trip passed this along to me:

Congressman Gary Miller (R-CA-42), under scrutiny for a shady land deal and introduction of legislation that benefited campaign supporters and business partners, is now attempting to the blame the cities and counties he represents for his legal and ethical problems.

In a letter sent to newspapers in his district, Gary Miller stated that he was implementing a new office policy: cities and counties seeking federal funding must submit documentation stating that the community would be the sole beneficiary of the project.

This is positively Orwellian. Miller brokers all sorts of side deals with cities and counties in his district which end up personally benefiting him. Then, when he gets caught, he tries to blame the cities and counties which were forced to play ball with him in the first place. Miller forced the city of Monrovia to sell his parcel of land and then claimed eminent domain status to save himself millions in taxes. Changing office policy won't impact that in the least. The cities aren't the problem - Miller is.

More from the Whittier Daily News:

Reacting to what he calls "unfounded allegations in the press that I have used my office to benefit certain individuals or private business," Rep. Gary Miller said Thursday he has adopted a strict new rule for cities or counties who come to him seeking federal aid.

"From this point forward," he wrote in a letter to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, "any city or county submitting an appropriations request to my office will be required to certify in writing that the request is for the benefit of the community and not the specific benefit of any individual, organization or business entity."

In early 2005, the San Dimas Republican recommended adding three provisions to a transportation bill that would have benefited projects proposed by real estate developer Lewis Operating Corp.

In those same months, Miller, who ran for re-election unopposed, took $8,100 in campaign contributions from top executives at Lewis.

How dare these cities and counties force Miller to enrich his friends! I'm sure this new directive will put a stop to that!

This is my favorite part:

"To avoid even the appearance of impropriety," he wrote, "I have added this new certification requirement to the rigorous review process that is already in place in my office.

"If you have any suggestions as to how these certification requirements might be strengthened or improved, I would certainly appreciate your thoughts."

Who wants to send him some ideas?

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